Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) in Spring

Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) is a perennial member of the Carrot family – Apiaceae - and is uncommon to rare in the Wake County portion of Falls Lake.  A few years ago, there was a very large population at the tailrace below the Falls lake Dam, but it is difficult to find any there now.   The very interesting divided, compound foliage of Aniseroot appears above ground in late fall and persists throughout the entire winter.  This  allows identification of the plant before the energetic spring growth and bloom.    The common name is derived from the scent of anise - mild in the leaves and strong in the roots.

Osmorhiza longistylis Aniseroot

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot  – Winter Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis Aniseroot

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot  -  Winter Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis  has a close relative – Osmorhiza claytonii  (Sweet Cicely), which has very similar late fall and winter foliage and is quite difficult to distinguish from Aniseroot until the bloom occurs.  The flowers of Aniseroot have styles that are significantly longer than the petals, while the flowers of Sweet Cicely have styles that are shorter than the petals.  Sweet Cicely also has a more westward distribution and is not found in the Falls Lake area.

The long styles of Aniseroot are quite striking as illustrated in several of the following photos demonstrating the mature plant and the bloom.

Osmorhiza longistylis Aniseroot Mature Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Mature Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis  Aniseroot Mature Plant

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Mature Plant

Osmorhiza longistylis  Aniseroot Flowers

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Flowers

Osmorhiza longistylis  Aniseroot Flowers and Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Flowers and Foliage

Another plant with interesting and persistent  winter foliage is Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima).  Yellowroot comes from the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and has similar but slightly less complex compound foliage.  It is more common in the Falls Lake area than Aniseroot and tends to occur right at the margins of streams and lakes.  The winter foliage is low and spreading, but in the spring, the growth is upright with woody stems.

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Mature Plants in Bloom

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Mature Plants in Bloom

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Flowers

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Flowers

Depending on the location, both Aniseroot and Yellowroot are blooming or starting to bloom now, in mid April.

Herb Amyx

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The Obscure Life of the Ground Bee (Andrena sp.)

Heritage Day at the B. W. Wells Rockcliff Farm is this coming Saturday, April 5th.  The hundreds of visitors who park in the grassy lot and walk through the open field behind the Wells House will scarcely notice the enormous colonies of Andrena sp. Ground Bees that are directly under foot.  The Ground Bee burrows either go unnoticed, or are mistaken for ant hills.  Lacking bright colors, the bees themselves are obscure, and their weaving flight pattern, low to the ground, renders them faint and indistinct, looking a lot like flies.  The bees also appear to completely ignore visitors, with stings being somewhere between extremely rare to never.

In spite of their undistinguished  appearance, the Andrena sp. Ground Bees are  vitally important pollinators of early spring wildflowers, shrubs and trees.  One species, Andrena erigeniae,  collects pollen almost exclusively from Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica).

Even when the bees are at rest, their small size and dull colors make them difficult to spot.

Andrena Ground Bee at Rest

Andrena Ground Bee at Rest

The red clay of the burrow entrances stands out in the grass of an open field.  There are many colonies of Ground Bees (also known as Mining Bees) scattered in open spaces throughout the Falls Lake area.

Ground Bee Burrows in a Field

Ground Bee Burrows in a Field

The burrow entrances can start out smooth, but as the bee extends its excavations, mounded soil begins to build up around the hole.

Andrena Ground Bee Burrow Entrance

Andrena Ground Bee Burrow Entrance

Andrena Ground Bee Mounded Burrow Entrance

Andrena Ground Bee Mounded Burrow Entrance

The Andrena are solitary bees, which seems contradictory when they live in such huge colonies, with burrows close together.  But each female bee has a separate burrow, with a number of side chambers, where a wad of pollen and nectar is placed and a single egg is laid.  When the larvae hatch, they feed on the nectar and pollen.  Thus the bees’ life cycle is completely dependent upon the pollen collected from spring flowering plants.

The following photos illustrate a pollen-laden bee returning to the burrow, a bee just emerging from a burrow entrance, and bees mating.

Andrena Ground Bee With Load of Pollen

Andrena Ground Bee With Load of Pollen

Andrena Ground Bee Exiting Burrow

Andrena Ground Bee Exiting Burrow

Andrena Ground Bees Mating

Andrena Ground Bees Mating

Like some of the spring ephemeral wild flowers they pollinate, the Andrena sp. Ground Bee adults are active above ground for only about 2 months in the early spring.

Herb Amyx

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The Curious Case of Bidens alba

A few years ago, two separate populations of Bidens alba strangely appeared in the Falls Lake Area.  They persisted for two years and then  completely disappeared.  Bidens alba (Shepherd’s Needles, Butterfly Needles) is primarily a Florida plant, with only spotty distribution north of Florida, and has been reported from only one county in North Carolina (New Hanover).  In the Falls Lake Area, one population of nearly one hundred plants was clearly associated with a large, newly planted screen of Glossy Privet (Ligustrum lucidum).  The other colony came up in the disturbed soil of land being cleared for a new development.

B. alba can be up to 5 ft. tall with luxurious f0liage and bright white flowers.

Bidens alba

Bidens alba

The Bidens genus is known for its slender, needle-like seeds terminating in 2 barbs, which allow the seed to stick to animal fur and human clothing, helping to disburse the seeds.  But Bidens alba made this large geographic jump by hitchhiking in soil at the base of landscape plants, and on equipment or supplies used for land clearing.  Outside of Florida, B. alba is considered an annual, so it must have seeded successfully for the second year of growth and then failed to persist thereafter.  It is one of the few members of its genus to have white rather than yellow flowers, which aids in identification.

Bidens alba

Bidens alba

Just a year previous to the appearance of B. alba, another visitor from out of state appeared at Falls Lake -  Jacquemontia tamnifolia (Smallflower Morningglory).  In keeping with its reputation as a landscape weed, it was spotted along with other weeds in a Falls Lake parking lot.  An annual and a member of the morning glory family, J. tamnifolia did not return to that site again.  It is primarily a coastal species and has been reported from only 2 North Carolina counties.  Seeds can be dispersed by wind or birds, with the latter the most likely in cases of isolated occurrence.  While the flowers are quite small and clustered, the leaves are large for the morningglory family.

Jacquemontia tamnifolia  Flowers

Jacquemontia tamnifolia
Flowers

 

Jacquemontia tamnifolia Leaf

Jacquemontia tamnifolia
Leaf

Finding plants out of place, like those described above,  may seem somewhat mysterious, but is an example of how dynamic plant distribution can be.  William Cronon’s classic eco-history of New England – Changes in the Land - describes the forces that determine why a particular species might be located where it is.  Ecological factors such as climate, soil, and slope provide the background to intermediate, sometimes catastrophic events such as fire, wind and disease (and development) that can shift the species composition of an area completely.    The two plants described above were unable to persist in their new location, unlike many of the invasive species we deal with today, which were able to establish permanent residence.

Herb Amyx

 

 

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Fire Ants Catch a Little Sun

It is early afternoon on February 19th, and after weeks of cold, harsh winter, the sun is bright and the temperature is 72 F.  Upland Chorus Frogs are calling from the wetlands, gnats swarm in circles in the meadows, and…large masses of fire ants bask in the sun.  Displaying  an unusual and little studied behavior, entire colonies of the Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) leave their underground chambers to lie in tangled masses in the warm sun.

The following photographs were taken during an identical occurrence in January 2010.

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -  Solenopsis invicta

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -
Solenopsis invicta

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -  Solenopsis invicta

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -
Solenopsis invicta

Red Imported Fire Ants Solenopsis invicta

Red Imported Fire Ants
Solenopsis invicta

Fire ants are highly temperature sensitive.  Because they are incapable of surviving long, cold winters, their range is limited.  In North Carolina, they have not spread into the northern border counties or most of the mountains.  In Virginia, they inhabit only a few southern coastal counties.

Thermoregulation is an important biological imperative for fire ants, as demonstrated by their willingness to completely expose most of the colony during sudden, short warm spells in the wintertime.  One or two days of warm weather in mid winter is not enough to warm the soil at the surface of the mound, so the only way for the ants to warm themselves is to come outside the mound into the sun.  Even queen ants have been reported on the outside surface during these basking episodes.  This would appear to be a risk to the colony, but apparently the benefit of warming outweighs the risks.

Herb Amyx

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Diamorpha smallii (Elf Orpine) and Early Succession

Three years ago, the worst incident of vandalism in recent memory occurred at the Mitchell Mill State Natural Area.  Thieves made away with huge blocks of moss and plants, including the subsoil and sand.  It is speculated that a truck was driven onto the granite flatrocks from an adjacent road, and chunks of sod and plants were scooped out with shovels and loaded into the bed.  Scrape marks from the shovels could be seen on the granite surfaces.

The following photo was taken by Hugh Nourse a few days after the incident was discovered.  The photo shows the nearly complete removal of all of the plant material in a wide area, leaving only the rock surface and sand.

Bare Granite Surface and Sand After Theft of the Plant Community

Bare Granite Surface and Sand After Theft of the Plant Community

Three years later, a photo taken of the same denuded area, from the same position, shows a remarkable colonization  by the adjacent plant community.  Especially interesting are the large numbers of Diamorpha smallii present now.  Three years ago, before the theft, very few were present here.  We noticed last year a large number of new colonies, and this year they have spread further, in even larger numbers.

Area of the Plant Theft 3 Years Later

Area of the Plant Theft 3 Years Later

The following photos illustrate the colonization of some of the remaining bare areas of sand with winter rosettes of Diamorpha smallii.

Diamorpha smallii Elf Orpine

Diamorpha smallii
Elf Orpine

Diamorpha smallii Elf Orpine

Diamorpha smallii
Elf Orpine

Plants have not only spread from the edges of the affected area, but have established scattered colonies in the middle of the area as well.  Below, colonies of lichens, mosses, and Selaginella can be seen.

Scattered Colonies of Mosses, Selaginella rupestis, and Lichens

Scattered Colonies of Mosses, Selaginella rupestris, and Lichens

Closer views of invading colonies of mosses, lichens, Selaginella, and Diamorpha smallii.

New Moss Colonies

New Moss Colonies and small rosettes of Diamorpha smallii

Selaginella rupestis and Diamorpha smallii

Selaginella rupestris and Diamorpha smallii

The beds of moss creeping into the affected area from the edges are also full of lichens and Elf Orpine.

Moss, lichen, and Diamorpha smallii

Moss, Lichen, and Diamorpha smallii

It is ironic that an unfortunate act of vandalism provided the opportunity to observe the colonization of a barren flatrock area by an interesting  group of plants, many of which are regarded as slow growing.   Although it is a rare annual, Diamorpha smallii has the capacity for rapid population expansion under favorable conditions, and has been thriving the past several years at Mitchell Mill.

Herb Amyx

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Galax Discovered at Rockcliff Farm

Until October of last year (2013), Galax (Galax urceolata) had never been reported from the 26,ooo  acres of woodlands in the Falls Lake State Recreation Area.  Although it is a common plant in the mountains of North Carolina, Galax is uncommon in the Central Piedmont, existing in small, isolated populations in specialized, forested sites with cool, north-facing slopes.

Last October, Hugh Nourse was walking through the forested slopes below the B. W. Wells home site at Rockcliff Farm.  He noticed a group of small, evergreen plants with rounded leaves, and immediately recognized them as Galax.  These plants did not have the long leaf stalks and large, glossy leaves typical of most Galax, but were small with short leaf stalks, causing them to lie close to the ground.

Galax urceolata First Colony

Galax urceolata
First Colony

Galax urceolata First Colony

Galax urceolata
First Colony

A week later we returned to the same site and were successful in locating a second, small  colony on a nearby slope.  These plants were even smaller and less concentrated than the first group, and barely visible more than a few feet away.

Galax urceolata Second Colony

Galax urceolata
Second Colony

The first colony faces North East and the second colony faces directly North.  Both sites are located well below the trails used for wildflower tours and educational walks.  A large population of Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is located about 50 yards away, although none are in the immediate area.   Beech, oak, maple and hickory trees are immediately around the two small colonies.

The next photograph shows the position of the two colonies as viewed from across Soapstone Cove.

Location of Galax urceolata Colonies Viewed from Across Soapstone Cone

Location of Galax urceolata Colonies Viewed from Across Soapstone Cone

The final photograph shows the location of the two colonies from the tip of Soapstone Point.  Before the creation of Falls Lake, these colonies were located at the top of bluffs that ran down to the Neuse River below.  Now they are at the bottom of the slopes, just above the edge of the lake.

Galax urceolata Colonies as Viewed From Soapstone Point

Galax urceolata Colonies as Viewed From Soapstone Point

In 2005, an extensive vegetation survey was conducted at Rockcliff Farm, with a dozen experts in field botany identifying and recording the plants found.  Galax was not seen then, nor on any of the many wildflower tours and walks that have taken place in that area over the years.  A visit to the site this month (Feb 2014) found the first colony completely covered with leaves and the second with only a few plants visible.

It is possible that the Galax colony flourished during Dr. Wells’ lifetime and fell into a compromised state as the lake was created and the surrounding forest changed.   We are hoping to manage this small population and revive it over the next few years.

Herb Amyx

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American Hazelnut in Winter

Winter in the Central Piedmont of North Carolina has been cold and windy, with below average temperatures and bursts of damaging winds. In the City of Raleigh, consecutive low temperatures of 9, 15, and 25 degrees Fahrenheit were recorded in early January.  These unusually low temperatures have had a stunting affect on a number of our native southern species.  However Corylus americana, the American Hazelnut, whose natural range extends deep into the Canadian Provinces, is unaffected by these conditions. Hazelnuts are extremely cold-hardy, even blooming during the winter when most shrubs are dormant . In the Falls Lake area, American Hazelnut usually blooms sometime in February. The winter bloom is thought to aid wind pollination since leaves are not on the trees and shrubs to block the wind-born pollen grains.
Below are photos of American Hazelnut male catkins and female flowers. The red ribbon-like structures in the female flowers are the styles. In the first photo, 4 small female flowers can be seen.

Corylus Americana Male Catkins and Female Flowers

Corylus americana
Male Catkins and Female Flowers

Corylus americana Female Flower

Corylus americana
Female Flower

American Hazelnuts are large, multi-stemmed shrubs that form small colonies. Although they are uncommon in the Falls Lake area, the absence of dense foliage in the winter makes them easier to spot from trails and greenways. The next photo shows a cluster of mature American Hazelnut stems in a small, isolated colony near a stream.

Corylus americana Multiple Stems

Corylus americana
Multiple Stems

The most important mode of reproduction is underground rhizomes, giving rise to young shoots that grow and mature near the parent plants. In the next shot, most of the older stems of this American Hazelnut are bent badly, but clusters of new shoots can be seen all around the older stems.

Corylus americana Multiple Stems and Shoots

Corylus americana
Multiple Stems and Shoots

When conditions are favorable, large numbers of shoots can form dense thickets. Native Corylus species are credited with playing an important role in soil conservation due to their strong and complex root systems.

Corylus americana Thicket

Corylus americana
Thicket

Corylus americana is a remarkably glandular plant, not only in the spring and summer, but even in the dead of winter. This twig was photographed just after the coldest period this area experienced in early January.

Corylus americana Twig Stipitate Glands

Corylus americana
Twig Stipitate Glands

The stalked glands emerging from the twigs are known as stipitate glands. The term stipitate is derived from the botanical term stipe, which is a stalk that supports another structure. So stipitate glands are simply glands on the ends of stalks. It is believed that glands such as these evolved as a means for plants to transport and store secretions (with potentially toxic by-products) outside the plant body where they can serve as a first line of defense on the surface of the plant. Stipitate glands are also a useful tool in differentiating Corylus americana from its close relative Corylus cornuta, the Beaked Hazelnut, which does not have stipitate glands. These glands are very obvious on spring foliage and do not require magnification to be seen. They can even be seen on the bracts of the nuts in the late summer and fall, as the following shot illustrates.

Corylus americana Bract with Stipitate Glands

Corylus americana
Bract with Stipitate Glands

 American Hazelnut is sometimes confused with the more common Smooth Alder – Alnus serrulata  –  a similar multi-stemmed, clumping shrub with winter catkins and early blooming female flowers. Both Smooth Alder and American Hazelnut are members of the birch family (Betulaceae) and are found in similar locations, sometimes directly adjacent to each other.

In the Falls Lake area, the catkins of Smooth Alder are often reddish purple until they bloom, and the female flowers are in upright clusters at the tips of the twigs, bearing no resemblance to the flowers of American Hazelnut.  The fruits persists into the winter and appear like little pine cones suspended above the male catkins.

Alnus serrulata Winter Male Catkins

Alnus serrulata
Winter Male Catkins

Alnus serrulata Female Flowers

Alnus serrulata
Female Flowers

Alnus serrulata Winter Fruits

Alnus serrulata
Winter Fruits

The nuts of Corylus americana are edible and are considered a delicacy by many, although their small size means that few are planted for commercial purposes.  A European cousin, Corylus avellana, is the main source of commercially produced Hazelnuts in the U.S.  The vast majority are grown in the Northwest U. S.  This species is also becoming an important source of Taxol, a critically important cancer drug.  The discovery of Taxol in Hazelnuts has a role in conserving rare Yew species, such as the Pacific Yew, which was originally the only source of Taxol.

Herb Amyx

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