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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, we had hard rains on Monday and again on Thursday, and on trips around the quarries on the days following the rains, we discovered morels (and other fungi—see below). Here are three nice ones:
We collected about two dozen from along the trails, and then our friends Nina and Forrest expanded the search to our property adjacent to the Quarry Gardens. One of the ones they found was next to a showy orchid in bud:
They amassed quite a pile of large morels. Here are some of them with Nina’s hand for scale:
About an hour later we put our two piles together and used some for a really nice meal of morels with homemade ricotta gnocchi, peas and asparagus. The rest, separately frozen on trays, are bagged in the freezer for future delights.
Apparently the mycological community can’t agree on the number of species of morels (properly “morchella”). They are “subject to intense phylogenetic, biogeographical, toxonomical, and nomenclatural studies,” and according to Wilipedia the consensus of experts is that there are as few as 3 to as many as 30 species, but also that there are perhaps really 70 distinct species with several new ones reported from countries around the world. (And you thought that keeping up with the changing Latin names of wildflowers was tough.) Fortunately, all of them taste good, but you are cautioned to not eat them raw. If you want to know more about them, there is a website, morels.com, which keeps track of where and when morels appear and seems to have thousands of active followers.
In addition to the morels, we also found some less appetizing fungi like the three below:
We did not collect or try to eat any of these.