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

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: 

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. 

The N&A Is Up and Running

The N&A Is Up and Running

The development of the Nelson and Albemarle Railroad model has been three years in the making, and although still not quite finished, it’s up and running for the entertainment (and elucidation) of visitors to the Quarry Gardens.

The original intent was to have four bays at the Visitor’s Center devoted to the model: Rockfish Junction would be displayed in the westernmost bay, as seen in 1925; next, the stone plant in 1935; then a representative quarry in 1945; and finally the village of Esmont in the easternmost bay, as seen in about 1955. During the long incubation period (two years), we came to the harsh realization that we had too much space in the Visitor’s Center devoted to the railroad model and not nearly enough devoted to bathroom facilities, which led us to cut the railroad down to two bays-worth: The first, as seen below, has both the stone plant and a representative quarry (of indeterminate vintage but about 1935).

  The second bay is devoted to the little town of Esmont, with its bank, store, and train station, in about 1950.

Detail number 1, below, has the later, diesel engine and a bit of the goings-on at the factory.

  Detail number 2 shows town life and the lovely bank building (still extant).

The final detail is of the engine, itself. You might notice that the lettering misspells “Albemarle” as “Albermarle” on the railroad’s name. We are told it ran all (or most) of its life that way.

Notice, also, that the engine is running backwards. That’s because the N&A had no turntable, so could not reverse its engine, which always pointed west and so had to pull backwards when traveling east.

(I made some nice little movies, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to upload them to WordPress. In any event, the model is not quite fully finished. The consist–that is, the makeup of cars–of the train is not quite right: So far, for example, we have been unable to find a proper passenger car. Although boxcars were sometimes pulled, the train ran mostly with engine, passenger car, flatcar, and caboose. Stay tuned: we’re searching. Better yet, come visit and see for yourself.)

School Along  the Trail

School Along the Trail

This has been a week for young visitors. On Monday, six of a Madison County High School Environment Studies class, along with teacher David Matchen, spent Earth Day with us. They had two assignments: to gather ideas for final papers on habitat creation, and to help us eradicate a big patch of Japanese honeysuckle along the East trail. (In the feature photo, above, we have quarry dog Skyla making a new friend. So happy to have volunteers—Bobi, Mona, and Cora Chlebnikov—to help guide.)

Here’s QGs guide Bobi Thornhill setting off with the group for a circumnavigation of the two quarry pools.
The sycamore bench on the landing between flights up the North Quarry face is a favorite spot for group photos. 

After the walk and lunch, the students set to work on the honeysuckle, finding in the rock pile off the East trail a large, blackened half-rotted pair of work pants and rusted springs from a mattress—legacy of the site’s years as a dump. As a conservation area, the East trail is getting only clean-up—no planting. Many interesting species have been found there; we’re glad they’ll have less competition from the honeysuckle. A similar effort last year with Garlic mustard seems to have been effective: Only three plants found (and pulled) this spring. 

On Wednesday, 48-49 (we lost count) HEMS homeschoolers aged 18 months to teens, along with moms, joined us for a walk.

We divided them into two groups. Here’s some of Group One about to set off from the Visitor Center with Bernice. Note the earbuds. (Photo by Mona Peglow)
The South Quarry niche is a good spot to take note of the varied geology and quarrying techniques—and pose for a group shot.
The trail sound system we introduced late last season has been a hit. It allows visitors to string out along the trails and keep their own pace without missing any narrative. (Photo by Mona Peglow)

A few plants spotted along the route—a riot of Pussytoes (two species in bloom now); Dwarf crested irises in several spots; likewise Golden ragwort; Wild geranium near the Giant’s Stairs.

Among the many others in bloom now: Solomon’s seal, Ginger, Toadshade trillium, Dwarf larkspur, Golden Alexander, Silene, Blue-eyed grass, Birdsfoot violet, Woodland phlox, Black haw viburnum, Dogwood, Paw paw—all native to within 15 miles of Schuyler. And so much more to come!

Lunch followed—in the parking area.

Opening Day of 2019 Season!

Opening Day of 2019 Season!

Today was the opening day of the 2019 season of the Quarry Gardens—our third. It rained, of course, but eight of the seventeen souls who had signed up for the tour came with their umbrellas and rain gear, and seemed to have a good, if soggy, time walking the trails newly covered with fresh wood chips, gawking at the early risers of the spring ephemerals. 

A bright spot for the new season is that a couple of important modifications to the Visitor’s Center were completed in time for the opening. Visitors during the first two years were introduced to an unfinished  model of the Nelson and Albemarle Railroad that had to be explained as a “work in progress,” which they would have to return to see completed. This winter we decided we had to modify and compress the display anyhow to provide  some much needed additional bathroom space, so we reduced it from four bays to two and, mirable dictu, got those two bays furnished and completed in time. The layout now comprises one bay depicting the New Alberene Stone plant along with a representative quarry, and a second bay depicting the village of Esmont, through which the N&A ran on its way to the B&O junction at Warren.

In the first picture are (from left to right) the steam powerplant, several auxiliary buildings, a great hoisting crane lifting blocks of soapstone from a quarry to place on a flatcar, and the plant, itself, where the blocks were slabbed and fashioned into laundry tubs or laboratory countertops, or whatever. 

The second picture shows the same scene from a lower eye level, emphasizing the track layout.

The third picture shows the village of Esmont in the other bay, depicting the B&O-standard train station (now gone) with the bank in the background (now the post office and apartments) and the general store to the right (now vacant) .

The last picture is of the siding system used to get the engine from one end of the train to the other so that it would always be pulling the cars, although the engine itself would be running backwards in one direction. (The N&A had no roundhouse.)

Apologies that there is no actual train shown in these pictures. That’s because it is off being weathered for authenticity.  

Go to the visit page to sign up for a tour to see these new displays and what nature has to offer along the trails. If previous visitors are to be believed, it’s worth it.