Ready for Take-off

Ready for Take-off

Last weekend, a few days after a weeding party spotted Monarch butterfly caterpillars in the Visitor Center’s Demonstration Garden, four chrysalises showed up attached to bluestem grasses and boneset.

Between showers this afternoon, we checked on them. One had apparently flown, leaving behind a ragged shell. Two were slowly drying and trying their wings in the mist. One has yet to emerge, but through the case, we can see the faintest stripes, which means it won’t be long.

The pupa seems entirely too small to contain all that butterfly—as if the metamorphosis were not enough of a miracle. Note the very faint lines visible through this one.

Next, a newly hatched monarch just out and still drying its wings.

Thrilling to see them, and to know their plan. Unlike the season’s previous three generations, which live no more than six weeks, these butterflies will migrate—up to 3,000 miles—to warmer climates and live for six to eight months until time to come north again.

In an earlier stage, before pupation, they were caterpillars, like this one.

The caterpillar is a voracious eater capable of consuming an entire common milkweed leaf in less than five minutes. In the process they gain a poisonous defense against vertebrate predators such as frogs and birds.  (This one was in the house garden last year, but succumbed to a praying mantis, against whom its defenses were ineffective.)

Here is the scene, the garden at the side of the Visitor Center near the loop road, where the monarchs emerged.

It’s That Golden Time

It’s That Golden Time

Fourteen species of Goldenrod grow at The Quarry Gardens, and most of them are blooming right about now. The featured image pictures a fine show of Gray goldenrod along the road at the quarry overlook platform.

North America is the world’s center for goldenrods with about 100 native species. Not surprisingly for such a large family of similar plants, they can be difficult to distinguish. In a timely move, Devin Floyd and Drew Chaney, of the Center for Urban Habitats, have created a user-friendly key to identifying those at the Quarry Gardens. Their key clusters the 14 species into five groups based on the shapes of their flower heads, and then goes into the details of leaf shape, stem hairiness, etc., each ending with a positive identification of one of these:

Stiff goldenrod, Solidago rigida                                                Silverrod, Solidago bicolor

Downy goldenrod, Solidago puberula                                     Slender goldenrod, Solidago erecta

Showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa                                     Gray goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis

Pineywoods goldenrod, Solidago pinetorum                         Early goldenrod, Solidago juncea

Blue-stemmed goldenrod, Solidago caesia                         Zig-zag goldenrod, Solidago flexicaulis 

Sweet goldenrod, Solidago odora                                          Late goldenrod, Solidago gigantea

Tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima                                        Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis

The key may be found printed at the QG’s Visitor Center, or here:  Key to the Goldenrods (Solidago) of Quarry Gardens Not being especially skilled (or patient) with dichotomous keys, we’re still mystified by several of these, but here are photos of some easy ones:

          Sweet goldenrod has leaves that smell like anise. It may be found in the meadow by the Visitor Center and the North Quarry waterside pollinator patch, among other places.

           Silverrod might fool you you didn’t know that there is one white-flowering species of goldenrod.  It may be found along the pine needle pathway to the overlook platform.

          Stiff goldenrod may be found in the Demonstration garden by the Visitor Center.

Devin found this Slender goldenrod along the road by the South Quarry.

     Pineywoods goldenrod volunteered—where else?—in the pinewoods along the path from the Visitor Center to the quarry overlook.

     Showy goldenrod frames a view of the prairie that now covers the site of the first (middle) quarry. It is also among the 69 species planted or seeded into that prairie.

 

A few facts about Goldenrods:

  • They are a food and nectar source for many insects.
  • Their pollen does not cause hay fever; the culprit is ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Goldenrod has been used medicinally to reduceallergy symptoms.
  • All  are members of the Aster family, short-day plants that bloom in late summer.
  • Thomas Edison, experimenting to extract the maximum amount of rubber from goldenrod, produced a 12-foot tall plant that was 12% rubber. The tires on the Model T Ford given to him by his friend Henry Ford were made of rubber from goldenrod.
  • The young leaves are edible, and the plant has had some uses in traditional medicine for kidney ailments.
  • The name Solidagomeans to make whole or heal.
  • Cluster galls are a species indicator as they are found only on Canada goldenrod.
Addendum, 9/16/18
In spite of Devin’s key, which I (Bernice) didn’t read carefully enough, I  misidentified two goldenrods in the previous blog. The one I called silverrod is actually boneset. Here are his photos of Silverrod, Solidago bicolor,
and Showy goldenrod, solidago speciosa.
Mea culpa.
Bird Walk Opportunity

Bird Walk Opportunity

Ezra and Theo Staengl know birds. They also know the Quarry Gardens, having walked here often and supplied images and text for the Visitor Center’s digital photo exhibit Birds of the Quarry Gardens. Here they are (at another site).

 

So far, our 40-acre site has yielded sightings of 75 species, including the Scarlet Tanager in the featured photo, and the Indigo Bunting, below.

 

On Thursday, September 13, Ezra will lead a two-hour walk to observe year-round and early fall migrating birds, starting at 7:30 a.m. at the Visitor Center. To join him, sign up online at quarrygardensatschuyler.org/visit. The event is limited to 12 participants.

 

Ecosystem Modeling With Devin Floyd

Ecosystem Modeling With Devin Floyd

A beautiful day last Wednesday at the Quarry Gardens for a continuing education workshop on Ecosystem Modeling, sponsored by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) and led by Devin Floyd of the Center for Urban Habitats (CUH).

The 25 landscape professionals in attendance came mostly from Virginia but also from parts of Maryland. Representing various specialties related to landscape design and management, they spent much of the day working in multidisciplinary teams. The three people standing are helpers with online research (l to r) Carol Heiser, DGIF; Rachel Bush, CUH; Devin Floyd, CUH.

 

At the confluence of three Virginia ecoregions and a river, including areas both disturbed and undisturbed, the QGs site presents a wide spectrum of ecosystems. The day’s  theme—Using Natural plant Communities as Models for Landscape Design—took participants from the Visitor Center’s classroom outside to analyze a disturbed site back of the Quonset hut, to find indicator plants in old forest remnants near the parking area, and to see a newly established prairie thriving over a former dump site. In these settings, they were able to  observe and try the research methods of ecosystem discovery and modeling, and to see its benefits. Here are two photos of members of the group finding clues in rocks, soil, and plants in a recently disturbed area back of the Visitor Center:

 

A few even had energy left at the end of the day to walk the main trail and see the quarries! We were happy to host the day, and hope that the QGs might be the inspiration and location for many more such educational  events.

 

Quill Fameflower And The Great Stone Head

Quill Fameflower And The Great Stone Head

The two topics of this week’s blog are the ephemeral Quill fameflower and the much more durable Great Stone Head. Ephemeral first: The Quill fameflower (Phemeranthus teretifolius) is a member of the Portalacacae family (and one of the eighteen varieties of Miner’s lettuce). It is one of my favorite flowers at the Quarry Gardens. We have it in two places, growing in dents in the asphalt patch at the start of the tour where is also found the Eastern prickly pear cactus, and on top of the sitting rock at the overlook platform where it grows in ¼ inch of gravel in a slight depression. From its portulaca-like basal leaves, it sends up slender stalks that top off in insignificant buds of brown, green, or fuchsia.

Then, on some sunny afternoon, one or more of those buds will blossom into a gorgeous little red-purple flower ¾ of an inch across that will last for only a couple of hours, its entire life cycle. The blossoms are so ephemeral that they have to be self-pollinating (although they are sometimes visited by opportunistic tiny bees), and unlike the great majority of native plants, have no known medicinal or nutritive use. One day I managed to catch a bunch of them blooming at once, a rare sight. Here are those I found on the sitting rock.

 

Here are others in the asphalt by the prickly pears.

Second subject: The Great Stone Head. A few months ago Bernice and I toured the Alberene Soapstone plant here in Schuyler, now a part of Polycor, Inc., a Canadian firm that also owns Georgia Marble Company where Schuyler soapstone is now processed into (mostly) kitchen countertops. In front of one of the industrial buildings was laying, almost out of sight, a slightly larger than life-sized stone head roughly carved out of soapstone. I asked about its provenance, and was told no one really knew. I suggested to Chadd Minor, the quarry foreman, that if the company ever decided to get rid of it, I would admire to have it for the Quarry Gardens. A few weeks later it arrived, along with its base, at our Visitors Center. Although deceptively heavy (upwards of 400 pounds), Frankie and Warren Graves managed to manhandle it to its new location at the last overlook of the north quarry pool, where, in my view, it looks great.

Chadd said he’d try to find out something about its history, but for the moment, it’s still an intriguing mystery.

Bernice feels that from some angles, the jutting chin makes him look like FDR, and threatens to give him a cigarette in a holder.

Blooming now!

Blooming now!

Yellow false indigo, the wild Baptisia tinctoria, is spilling over the wall of our Pineywoods pathway now, alive with bees. It’s a rounded shrub topping out at about two feet in height and width, and it makes a nice border.

Better known perhaps are the stately three-to four-foot tall wild indigos that produce dramatic spikes of bloom in blues or yellows for the middle to back of the border. “Carolina Moon,” in this  photo, is a found hybrid of B. Sphaerocarpa and B. alba (native, but not to here; therefore, not blooming here).

More common in the wild and in gardens is Baptisia australis, the blue form. The genus name is from the Greek word bapto, meaning to dye. The common name refers to its Native and Early American use as an inferior substitute for true indigo in making blue dyes; both blue and yellow baptisias were so used.

Whether round or tall, yellow or blue, the plants share the blossom and leaf forms that readily identify them as members of the pea, or Fabaceae family. Not fussy about soil, they like it dry to medium, in full sun to part shade. As bees prefer blue flowers, but see the color yellow as blue—any baptisia is sure to please them.

If you like tall (up to 7 feet) spikes topped with white candle-like chandeliers, there’s a native plant for you, whether your site is in sun or shade.

Blooming now in rich soil and dappled shade below the Giant’s Stairs is Black cohosh,  Actaea racemosa (formerly Cimifuga racemosa), AKA Bugbane or Black snakeroot. It blooms here for about three weeks in early summer against a dark background of soapstone boulders.

It’s odor is said to repel insects—but not the Spring azure butterfly, for which it is a host. Medicinally, the root has been used to treat many conditions, even snakebite, most notably women’s health issues.

If your place is in the sun, Culver’s root, Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Album,’ offers a similar aesthetic, and blooms at about the same time.

Unlike Black cohosh, which has a collar of basel leaves somewhat like peonies, Culver’s root has  whorled leaves all the way up the stem. Deadheading can prolong bloom, and cutting back after bloom can result in a second late-summer flush.

Native over much of the eastern United States, Culver’s root has been used medicinally as a cathartic. A bird seeded it into our home garden years ago, and it has established and spread there so that we have plenty to share for the Piedmont Master Gardeners Spring Plant Sale each May.