Tasting an Orchid  in Winter

Tasting an Orchid in Winter

January views at The Quarry Gardens are open, revealing much that cannot be seen in the verdant months. In the gray-brown landscape, green is now an accent color contributed by pines and junipers, hollies, the unwelcome Japanese honeysuckle, some evergreen ferns, and emerging points of skunk cabbages in the wetlands—and some orchids.

One green presence is the Cranefly orchid, Tipularia unifolia. Cranefly orchids are easily recognized in winter, as their single 2-4″ leaves are deep green on the front and brilliant purple on the back.

Now, they may be seen all along—even within—the trails, where they are subject to being trod upon. Why there? Cranefly orchids depend on mycorrhizae generated by decaying wood—and what decays better or faster than wood chip trails?

The leaves persist into spring before senescing. Then, sometime in late July, after we’ve forgotten about them, the orchids will bloom. On spikes 8-12″ tall, they will produce small, pale beigey-green flowers that appear to swarm around the stems—hence the name “cranefly.”

Common in forests throughout the southeastern U.S., Cranefly orchids are pollinated by night-flying owlet moths, which transfer pollen on their eyes. The roots are a connected series of edible corms. Armand and I tried the tiny corms: They’re crunchy like potatoes but taste a little sweeter, and leave a persistent, slightly astringent, unpleasant mucilage in the mouth. (Once will be enough.)

Deer commonly eat the entire leaf, leaving the plant without a means of accumulating enough carbohydrates to bloom and make seed the following summer. Fortunately, Cranefly orchids are perennial, so they persist—and, so far, our deer have mostly found other plants of interest.

Other orchid species found at The Quarry Gardens include Puttyroot, Aplectrum hyemale; Downy rattlesnake plantain, Goodyera pubescens; Lily-leaved twayblade, Liparis lilifolia; Nodding ladies’ tresses, Spiranthes cereus; and Southern slender ladies’ tresses, Spiranthes lacera var. gracilis.

Fine Fall  for Fungi

Fine Fall for Fungi

Abundant rain made for highly productive mushroom hunting this fall. Two forays of the Blue Ridge Mycological Society in October and November added 14 fungal species to the Quarry Gardens consolidated biota (quarrygardensatschuyler.org/thegardens/), bringing the total fungi list to 38, with some specimens yet to be identified—including the featured mushroom of this post! Among October and November’s finds:

  • The famously psychoactive American yellow fly agaric, Amanita muscaria var. guessowi. 
  • The edible red-bleeding blue-gray milk cap, Lactarius paradoxus.
  • The notoriously toxic brown Deadly galerina, Galerina marginata, or Funeral Bell. 
  • Hericium erinaceus, an edible and medicinal mushroom belonging to the tooth fungus group.
  • The Bulbous honey mushroom, Armalaria gallica, whose modest fruiting bodies belie an extensive underground network of mycelia (A single specimen found in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula covered 37 acres.) This one is bioluminescent, and edible with caution.
  • The fleshy, pale lavender-gray Wood blewit, Clitocybe nuda, a powerful destroyer of soil bacteria.     It’s edible—we proved it, with pasta.
  • The shelf fungus Trametes betulina, commonly Gilled polypore, which has been found to have medicinal value, with antioxidant, antimicrobial, antitumor, and immunosuppressive properties.
  • The Dyers polypore, Phaeolus schweinitzii, which causes brown rot at the bases of conifers, and  is an excellent natural source of green, yellow, gold, or brown color, depending on the material dyed and the mordant used.


Results of these forays will be shared with the North American Mycoflora Project http://mycoflora.org. The project is a collaboration of professional mycologists and citizen scientists to identify and map the distribution of macrofungi throughout North America. It allows the scientific community to tap into the vast amount of knowledge and data amassed by individuals and mycology clubs.

The Blue Ridge Mycological Society meets on the second Sunday afternoon of each month at the Quarry Gardens Visitor Center. For more information, contact Pat Mitchell: g.patrick.e.mitchell@gmail.com.

A winter project for Quarry Gardens: Identify the most interesting mushroom photographs and compile a loop for the Visitor Center’s digital photo exhibit.

Some photos of the groups in action:


Mike McMahon’s daughters Claire and Emma found the tiniest mushroom (red)—and many others, perhaps advantaged by proximity to the earth.



To accurately identify a mushroom, it’s important to note the appearance of not only the top, but also the underside of any cap, the stem, and any underground bulb. Even after that, a spore print may be needed.




Exciting find!



Hunters: November’s hunters brought back specimens of thirty-some species for  loser study–and a pile of Blewits to eat.





Peak Color!

Peak Color!

Autumn color 2018 was late arriving to the Quarry Gardens, but some species—notably dogwood—were more brilliant than ever. Garden volunteer and Master Naturalist Victoria Dye brought her camera and keen eye along to join Rachel’s team on Friday. After the weeding, cutting, and seeding were done, she made this portfolio of photos.
Recent Visitors

Recent Visitors

In addition to the many individuals and families who visit for scheduled tours, we’ve hosted more than 40 groups this year.

Fifteen members of the  Madison Presbyterian Church Green Team visited the QGs in late September, and the two in the featured photo, above, made a souvenir selfie. Beyond beautifying their church, these garden and environmental  educators also maintain a meditation garden on Buford Road in Richmond.

On September 29. Will and Margaret Shaw collected seeds to propagate into plants for the Virginia Native Plant Society’s spring 2020 plant sale. Among the many seeds collected were those of three species of mountain mint, two of Asters, Carolina rose, Yellow false indigo, and Shrubby St. John’s wort.

Having recently completed a unit on geology, 17 of the 6th graders in Mrs. Sharon Cross’s class at  Central Virginia Christian School in Dillwyn came to check out rocks at the QGs in October. They completed an amazing number of sketches.

We’re honored to be the meeting home of The Blue Ridge Mycological Society, which held its first event at the QGs October 21. The group drank chaga (mushroom) tea and foraged briefly in natural areas near the Visitor Center. There wasn’t time to identify all of the great variety of specimens found, but documented findings will be shared with the Microflora Project, and many new species will be added to the QGs biota. They’ll be back November 11. If you would like to know more, contact Bernice through the QGs website.

Lorraine Momper brought a few of her plein air painting group to spend a chilly but brilliant October day. No shortage of vantage points.

Lorraine chose the overlook at the north wall of the south quarry. Julia Lesnichy chose a handy view of the road. The group will be back next week—when we hope the leaves will have turned.


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.