The Quarry Gardens are glowing right now with 14 species of goldenrod in various stages of bloom. If that seems like a lot, know that solidago, or goldenrod, is a genus of 100–120 species of flowering perennial plants in the aster family (Asteraceae), and most may be found in North America.
The most prominent species at the overlook platform is Gray goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis, seen above and in the highlight photo.
Nine species are QG legacies—found here in the pre-garden surveys of biota. Among those legacies is Pineywoods or Small’s goldenrod, Solidago pinetorum, pictured below, about 3 feet tall, discovered only weeks ago as a volunteer along the walk from the Visitor Center through the pine woods—a Nelson County first.
Other legacy goldenrods:
- Tall goldenrod,Solidago altissima, (to 4 feet)
- White goldenrod, Solidago bicolor
- Blue-stemmed goldenrod, Solidago cassia
- Slender goldenrod, Solidago erecta
- Gray (or Field) goldenrod,Solidago nemoralis
- Anise-scented goldenrod, Solidago odora
- Stiff goldenrod,Solidago rigida var. rigida
- Wrinkle-leaf goldenrod, Solidago rugosa
The Slender goldenrod at left is definitely a legacy but the Stiff goldenrod at right, found in the overlook prairie, might have sneaked in with purchased seeds of other plants.
New to the site are five more species—native to the immediate area—that Rachel and her CUH crew have added:
- Early goldenrod, solidago juncea, greets visitors from the prairie planting at the entrance gate.
- Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa, may be found among the thousands of plants in the prairie over the original filled-in quarry pit between the two quarry pools.
- Stout goldenrod, Solidago squamosa, is in the North Quarry’s waterside pollinator patch.
- Zig-zag goldenrod, Solidago flexicaulis,may be found in the dry shade near the Whispering Waters
They are often difficult to distinguish from one another
Goldenrods are among the most important late-season pollinator plant. Honeybees collect the nectar for winter, and other bees use the pollen to supply late-season nests.
No honeybees in this photo, but at least a dozen species of bees and wasps were working the plants when it was taken.
Here are some things from Wikipedia of interest about goldenrod:
- Although frequent handling of goldenrod and other flowers by florists can cause allergic reactions, goldenrod is inaccurately blamed for hay fever: the blame for that lies with the ragweed that often grows in proximity and blooms at about the same time.
- Goldenrod does make a spicy honey, but it sometimes has a rank odor and taste until fully processed (by bees). It is not a big commercial success, but apparently has its followers.
- Thomas Edison and Henry Ford experimented with growing goldenrod for its rubber content before and during World War 2, anticipating a need for synthetic rubber. Ford even gave Edison a Model T with tires made of it in late 1920s. After Edison died in 1931, Ford enlisted the aid of Washington Carver, a well-known agronomist, and they succeeded in producing a hybrid goldenrod that yielded as much as 12 percent rubber. Unfortunately, it was not very good rubber, and by the time that first Carver and then Ford died by 1947, the project was abandoned.
We haven’t seen a rattlesnake of the reptilian kind here at the Quarry Gardens site in 20 years. (…unfortunately—since their presence indicates a healthy forest environment). We do have other forms of rattlesnakes, however—three plants whose common names associate them with rattlesnakes. Among them is the Rattlesnake fern, depicted in the featured photo.
Rattlesnake fern, Botrychium virginianum, is a charming small fern, so named perhaps because the fertile spike is said to resemble the tail of a rattlesnake. Such resemblance may have led Cherokee and Chippewa peoples to use the plant as a topical treatment for snakebite (treat likes with likes). Each plant consists of a single sterile leaf directly attached (no stem) to an erect basel stalk; the roots are shallow, fibrous and fleshy. These unusual features tell us that rattlesnake ferns arose early on the planet, before the fern world evolved to arrange spore-producing sporangia as neat little fruit-dots or sori on frond undersurfaces, or to have the hairy, efficiently absorbent roots typical of modern ferns.
Another of our rattlesnakes is Downy rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera pubescens (not named for young tires), blooming now along the streamside trail, where it may be found at any time. One of the eastern U. S.’s most common native orchids, it was the Virginia Native Plant Society’s Wildflower of the Year 2016—http://vnps.org/wildflowers-of-the-year/wildflower-of-the-year-goodyera-pubescens-downy-rattlesnake-plantain/. Its bloom stalk rises in summer from a whorl of evergreen, ground-hugging, dark green leaves with a delicate pattern of light veins. Native Americans used the plant to treat snakebite and other conditions. Here is a composite of it and its flower.
Yet another is Rattlesnake weed, Hieracium venosum, in the aster family. It sends up yellow ray dandelion-like flowers in May on slender leafless stalks. Its ground-hugging basel leaves are marked by a network of purple veins. It is said to grow in high, dry woodlands preferred by rattlesnakes. We see it here on the thin soil above the South Quarry’s south wall, where little else but reindeer lichen thrives. It also has been used to treat snakebites. Although there is no reliable information about its effectiveness against poison (nor of the other two), the plant is rare enough that one is cautioned not to harvest it in any event.
Hikers at the QGs on a recent Saturday morning saw the remains of an enormous spider web stretched across the North Quarry wall trail, with what appeared to be a piece of lichen stuck in one corner. The featured photo of the spider en camouflage was taken (and shared) by QGs hiker Gerry Bishop. Closer inspection revealed the “lichen” to be a Giant lichen orbweaver spider, araneus bicenetenarius—an insect-trapper by night that employs camouflage to hide by day, reflecting what our consulting naturalist Devin Floyd calls “deep evolutionary time, and a ton of predation from reptiles, amphibians, and birds.” Harmless to humans, this one, about 2.5 inches long, was a female—males are much smaller. Here she is in a wider view.
Orbweavers build a new wheel-shaped web each day, using trees or shrubs for support. After the night’s trapping/dining, they consume the web, rest awhile, then start a new one. Part of a large family of orbweaver spiders with many colorful variations, Giant lichen orbweavers are more common in the South, especially in Texas. This one was a first for the Quarry Gardens biota, which now includes some 600 species of plants and animals.
In deep camouflage—photo by Lynne Billman:
Bernice gets the credit for adding this one to our biota list, and I have to admit it’s classier than my last addition, the lowly worm snake.
Doing our bit to add to the Web’s vast store of misinformation, we incorrectly identified the tiny creature in yesterday’s post as a cricket frog (which we also have at QGs). This one is not a different colored cricket frog—it’s a half-inch-long baby toad (that comes from an even smaller tadpole): either an American toad, Anaxyrus americanus, or Fowler’s toad, Anaxyrus fowleri—too young to have warts. Its call is a long “waaaaah” —like most toads. Thanks go to Devin Floyd, of the Center for Urban Habitats, for setting us straight.
Here is CUH’s photo of one of our cricket frogs from last summer—and Devin says they do vary wildly in pattern and color. Curiously, the frog has warts, whereas our toad does not.
Tiny Northern cricket frogs, Acris crepitans, are plentiful and active now along Quarry Gardens trails. America’s smallest vertebrate, this cricket frog may leap up to three feet in a single jump. The featured photo shows one, about half an inch long, posing on the palm of a Quarry Gardens trail hiker. Their patterns vary; many have a green Y-shape on the back and a triangle on the head; this one has black-bordered red-orange spots—cute as a spotted frog. It’s tempting to think of them as “babies” but, of course, baby frogs are tadpoles. If you hear calls that sound like marbles clicking together, you’re hearing cricket frogs.
Tiny and elusive is the Quill fame flower, Phemeranthus teretifolius, pictured above at about twice life size. Related to portulaca, whose leaves it resembles, it grows in thin, dry soils—at the Quarry Gardens, through a patch of asphalt near the Visitor Center, and in a half-inch of gravel on a rock at the overlook platform. Sporadically, a 6-8-inch flower spike produces brilliant half-inch fuchsia blossoms that bloom for about two hours in the afternoon—after which each new flower fades away. So ephemeral are they that not much is known about them. And so elusive of pollinators are they that, lacking them, they self-pollinate.
Tiny and charming are the slender leafless flower wands of Naked flowered tick trefoil, Hylodesmum nudiflorum, along QGs trails this week. Scattered through the dry woods, they are a native in the pea family. More familiar may be their seeds: those flat little green triangles that stick like Velcro to socks and pants legs in late summer. Come and let us send some home with you.