Looking Back . . .                 And Forward

Looking Back . . . And Forward

During 2019, some 1400 native plant enthusiasts, geologists, naturalists, environmental science educators, school and college classes, professional landscapers, birders, history buffs, hikers, and photographers visited—taking 108 tours. The featured photo shows a few of the 49 Charlottesville homeschoolers who visited in April. Visitors came from throughout the Commonwealth and wherever Virginians have friends or family.

Starting February 1 with spring clean-up, a growing corps of volunteers contributed more than 300 hours to make visitors’ experience educational as well as enjoyable. Besides guiding visitors, volunteers assist the Center for Urban Habitats team in planting, grooming, and managing invasive species. Volunteers include Piedmont Master Gardeners, Master Gardeners of Nelson County, Rivanna Master Naturalists, and Central Blue Ridge Master Naturalists. A growing roster of Friends supports the Gardens with membership fees, gifts in kind, and volunteer service.

In February, Mountain Press released Albert Dickas’s Virginia Rocks! A Guide to Geologic Sites in the Old Dominion. The book includes The Quarry Gardens among 50 “compelling and accessible” sitesVirginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy also included QGs in its guide to notable geologic sites.

The Nelson & Albemarle Railroad exhibit was completed and the train is running. An exhibit of minerals and artifacts found on the site has been put in place. Bluebird nest boxes, part of a collection Paul Davis built using woods of each of Virginia’s native tree species, have been added; those made of woods found at QGs are on exhibit, others are for sale in Visitor Center.

Devin Floyd, here with Dr. Mary Jane Epps, led a summer survey by the CUH team of areas around the parking lot, and found them extremely rich in plant diversity including trees more than 200 years old. The total of plant and animal species now exceeds 950 of which 56 are Nelson Country firsts. QGs now has the largest documented number of native plant species of any botanical garden in Virginia.

The Blue Ridge Mycological Society continued to meet and foray each month, adding new fungi species to the QGs biota and sharing data with the North American Mycoflora Project. 

Brothers Ezra and Theo Staegl, of the Blue Ridge Young Birders Club, led a walk here for the public in May and designated the QGs a site for a Rarities Roundup in October. So far, 80 species of birds have been spotted. In other news, 39 young bluebirds fledged from the nine nest boxes tended by members of the Bluebird Society.

During 2020, we look forward to completing the picnic pavilion rising on the lawn between the Visitor Center and the Overlook. Under a metal roof matching the VC, it will accommodate 40 for lunches and other events needing tables—the same number as the classroom. We’ll also be completing a deer exclosure along the lower trail to protect plant species the animals can’t resist. We’ll be planting two more prairies, one along the entrance road, the other around the research beds, which have been planted with various grass seeds and blends.

And, finally, we’ll be looking for new ways The Quarry Gardens can realize the potential of their distinctive site.  

We wish you all the best for the New Year—and hope to see you at The Quarry Gardens.

Want More Butterflies?

Want More Butterflies?

There’s now an easy way to learn which of our native trees and shrubs host the greatest variety of butterfly and moth caterpillars—important because even seed-eating birds feed caterpillars to their young:

University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy, in a dazzling presentation on landscaping from a chickadee’s perspective at this month’s Central Shenandoah Native Plant Symposium, mentioned the Native Plant Finder now in beta on the National Wildlife Federation’s website: https://www.nwf.org/NativePlantFinder/. The feature’s content is based on Tallamy’s research. Enter your zip code and it will show your area’s trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses in order of those most valuable to breeding butterflies and moths. Select butterflies and it will show the butterflies and moths in order of those most choosy, i.e., a butterfly for which there is only one host plant will be at the top of the list. 

We were pleased to note that, of the 24 trees or shrubs that host 100 or more butterfly or moth species, The Quarry Gardens is home to 23. Oak species are the #1 favorites, hosting 513, followed by the cherry family with 390, the birches at 321, and willows at 316. 

This ragged Post oak leaf offers evidence of its usefulness to some insect.

Of the 20 flowers and grasses that nourish 20 or more butterfly or moth caterpillars, QGs are home to 16. Topping the list are Goldenrods and Asters, each preferred by more than 100 species, followed by Strawberries and Sunflowers.

The large Polyphemus moth (6″ wingspan), uses 37 plants as hosts for caterpillars including the top five trees and Sassafras, which hosts 34 other species.

Also, QGs is inviting some of the pickiest butterflies. The Gulf Fritillary, which chooses only one species for egg-laying, should like our Passionflowers. (The purple-flowering one grows on the railing of the platform overlooking the quarry pools, and the yellow-flowering one grows in the woods next to the Visitor Center.) 

Another single-species specialist is the Zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, our only native kite swallowtail, here nectaring on Butterfly weed. 

We have plenty of Violets for the Great spangled fritillary, Red cedars for the Juniper hairstreak, and Paw paws for the Zebra swallowtail—all of which love only one species. (Curiously, the Spicebush swallowtail enjoys four other plants in addition to its namesake: Sassafras, Redbud, Magnolia, and Tulip poplar.)

The site also offers a feature for making a personal list of host plants. Have fun!

Biodiversity Hotspot!

Biodiversity Hotspot!

September 24, 2019. Who would guess that The Quarry Gardens parking lot islands could be a biodiversity hotspot? Devin Floyd, that’s who. Several weeks ago he brought a team from the Center for Urban Habitats to take a close look.

They marked off six 100-meter plots and went over them inch by inch. Summing up their findings, Devin said, “Among all plots we’ve done over the years, these produced more species per square foot than any other, and they were in the top 10 for Diversity index when compared to all other survey plots we’ve done in the region.” In the photo, Mary Jane Epps studies mosses held by Rachel Floyd. (One new find: Atrichum angustatum, Slender starburst moss.)

Flora and Fauna

The team found 300 species of flora—including trees, vascular plants, and mosses—and confirmed the identities of 283. Forty-seven were new to the Quarry Gardens; nine were Nelson County records. 

Devin reports: “Of the new records, the most important species are Calystegia spithamaea ssp. spithamaea (low bindweed) and Vitis cinerea var. baileyana (possum grape). Both are mapped sparingly in Virginia, and the bindweed is a fairly rare species reported from only one other county in VA.”

Caption: Among Paw paw seedlings, Devin and Mary Jane sift through fallen leaves. Average number of species within a plot: 95.

They found 24 new species of animal—including birds, butterflies, reptiles, and insects—bringing the QGs faunal total 301. (So far, 76 bird species have been identified here, and Ezra Staengl’s upcoming fall migration “Rarities Round-up” might add a few.)

The record

These findings bring the total of naturally occurring flora at QGs to 551 of which 56 have been Nelson County records. Planting in the Galleries of about 100 species native to the immediate area but not naturally occurring here brings the QGs flora total to about 650. Add 301 fauna, and the QGs are home to more than 950 species—that we know about. The complete list of species (the Biota)—along with lists for the designed Galleries—may be found linked to the Gardens page at quarrygardensatschuyler.org.

Caption: Drew Chaney scans the ground while Rachel records. Along with camera and binoculars, Drew had the Flora of Virginia app at hand. Others on the team: Odonate expert Emily Luebke and Devin’s daughters Eva and Norah Floyd who helped find critters.

Wait, there’s more! 

Thanks to the survey, we now have data to identify the parking lot area as a combination of Southern Piedmont Hardpan and Ultramafic Woodland/Savanah. And it seems we have an emergent grassland that retains some of the old biodiversity typical of this part of Virginia a few hundred years ago. 

Now, Devin says, we should wake up the dormant seed bank with some light controlled fire, and  forest thinning. A burn is planned for this winter and, with help from our resident forest manager Forrest McGuire, we have already begun culling red maple and beach saplings in the forest around the perimeter of the parking area. This will increase light reaching the ground and allow for the natural community that is hiding there to emerge. It’s called “breaking the edge” in ecological restoration. 

In a few years, we expect more county records.

Blooms! Here! Now!

Blooms! Here! Now!

Late summer is a brilliant time at The Quarry Gardens. Golds, blues, purples and pinks dot the landscape—and the butterflies are loving it. Here’s a Spangled fritillary enjoying one of the two species of thistle (Pasture, Circium pumilum, and field, Circium discolor) in the roadside savannah next to the Visitor Center.

Not all flowers are large. This Purple love grass, Eragrostis spectabilis, its blooms glowing in the late afternoon light near a wall at the Visitor Center (and elsewhere), is among the many grasses, sedges, and rushes that prove flowers don’t have to be large to be charming

The Purple passionflowers, passiflora incarnata, have climbed through the Quarry overlook platform fence to frame a view of the prairie just below.

Three low-hanging fruits nearly touch the floor; they’re about the size of lemons; when they ripen to yellow-green, they are said to be delicious; we’ll give them a try—if we get there in time. (N.b., we did not. Dratted deer.)

Fourteen species of Goldenrod, Solidago, have begun their annual parade through the landscape. These are by the road near the overlook platform. Here’s a guide to identifying them, prepared by our partners and friends at the Center for Urban Habitats. (link to goldenrod sheet-pdf attached).

Partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata, continues the gold-yellow theme in dry, sunny areas of the gardens. As a legume, it thrives in recently disturbed areas, adding nitrogen to the soil and temporarily dominating while allowing other species to emerge.

Nearby, an Eastern tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus Linnaeus, forages on one of the nine species of Boneset, Eupatorium, that may be found here. They are also sometimes called Thoroughworts or Snakeroots. “Boneset” derives from the plant’s historic use to treat the extreme pain of dengue fever, which caused sufferers to break bones.

Blue mistflower, conoclinium coelestinum, has scattered itself about. Here it joins Clustered mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, and a bit of Flowering spurge, Euphorbia corrolata, to make a living bouquet.

The Euphorbia likes its high, dry, sunny spot by the quarry overlook. Peeking through the railing here, it is taller in stature and every bit as floriferous as the cultivars we see in garden centers.  

Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, likes a damp footing. Here it lights up the shade in the Fern gully wetland. 

Delicate Ladies tresses orchids volunteer in the most seemingly-unlikely spots. This is one of two Spiranthes species found here.

In the wetland between the two quarry pools, Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are loving the Pickerelweed, Pontederia cordata

At the overlook and elsewhere, the orange-red glow of Carolina Rose hips, Rosa carolina, forecasts the colors of autumn approaching. 

We hope you’ll join us soon to enjoy the changing season as it unfolds.

You may also wish to join Piedmont Master Gardeners’  celebration of its 30th year of bringing the resources of the Virginia Cooperative Extension to area gardeners. For the public, they will have noted speakers on climate and landscape at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville on September 8. For more information: https://piedmontmastergardeners.org/events/ 

An Ode to Odonates

An Ode to Odonates

Odonates—dragonflies and damselflies—those jeweled carnivores of the summer air, are in abundance at The Quarry Gardens now. This past week, some “ode” enthusiasts brought cameras to capture them.  

Terry Atkinson caught the featured Spangled skimmer dragonfly (Libellula cyanaea) posing above water.

Along with the large quarry pools, several swales, vernal pools, and a lively creek attract the aerialists. The permanent wetland between quarries—where blue Pickerel weed and White waterlilies bloom among rushes and sedges—fairly hums with their cruising flights. (A reason we have relatively few mosquitoes here.)

What’s the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly? Both have two pairs of elongated membranous wings. In dragonflies  the rear wings are larger than the front pair and have a broader base; damselflies’ front and rear wings are similar in shape and narrower at the base. Also, dragonflies lack hinges that enable them to fold their wings together (a feature that allows them to fly faster than damselflies). They are easiest to tell apart  when at rest: Dragonflies’ wings are spread and damselflies’ wings are typically folded back along their bodies.

This Variable dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis), wings folded, was caught by Emily Luebke during an early survey of QGs biota.

Both have very large compound eyes covering most of their heads.  It is said that about 80% of their brains are given to analyzing visual information—allowing them to both capture prey and elude predators while in flight.

Caught by Cindy Andrews, this view of an Eastern pondhawk (Erithemis simplicicollis), shows an eye that would be useful to an animal that can fly both forward and backward. . . . 

. . . as does Cindy’s image of a Banded pennant (Celithemis fasciata)

This large, relatively rare Gray petaltail  (Tachopteryx thoreyi), a species often found perching well-camouflaged on pine tree trunks, was a first for Cindy. 

While these sightings added no new species to our biota—which currently lists 39 species of odonates—the images made a fine addition to our photographic collection, for which we are grateful.