Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New to Science?

In my last post, about the spider-killing wasp, I mentioned the botanical foray that Rick Gardner, Ray Showman and I made last Sunday. We found many interesting things beyond that wasp, some we knew we'd see, others were new discoveries. The site that we explored was put on the botanical map earlier this year by Rick, who is botanist for ODNR's Division of Natural Areas. The fact that he found the place that we'll soon be trekking into via this blog is VERY impressive. Not only is it WAY off the beaten path, Rick is one of few botanists in the state who would have recognized some of the plants that we'll be visiting.

Ray Showman is author of the book Macrolichens of Ohio, the state's leading expert on lichens, and an all around great botanist. I've spent plenty of time in the field with these guys, and it is always a treat and I come away knowing much more than when we started.

We found a fascinating hybrid sedge - hybrid plants often look better than do the parents - and it apparently was previously unknown. We'll get to that in a bit.

The pink line roughly traces the route we took through the backwoods of Gallia County, in part of the Wayne National Forest. From the narrow gravel lane, we traipsed over hill and dale, finally working our way back to some fascinating swamp forest and buttonbush wetlands along a stream known as Lick Run.

The biggest of the buttonbush swamps. This wetland was pristine, with exceptionally clear water and dragonflies galore. I can't wait to get back in here and spend more time dragon-hunting. I'm sure there are some goodies awaiting discovery.

If you've not been out much, the mushrooms are fantastic. Sparked by lots of rain this summer, the fungi have erupted to the surface and we saw many species in profusion. This old male Eastern Box Turtle was caught in the act eating one. Box Turtles are mushroom connoisseurs and can eat even the nastiest fungus with apparent impunity. This includes even the deadly Amanitas, supposedly. This one is dining on Russula emetica, sometimes called "The Sickener". If we were to eat it, we'd both vomit and suffer diarrhea. The ill effects aren't felt by Mr. Turtle and he had a woods full of Russulas and other spore-bearing goodies to chow on.

We were excited to encounter this stunning wood borer, Cypriacis fasciata. It is one of the Buprestid beetles, same as the nasty Emerald Ash Borer, but this one is native and not a pest. Apparently next to nothing is known of the life history of this charming insect, and none of us had seen one before.

Hot steamy days, such as was the case on this expedition, really bring out the bugs. This is a Net-winged Beetle, Calopteron reticulatum. They look a bit like milkweed bugs, but don't frequent milkweed and often are found in the shade of woods.

It didn't take long to encounter our first rare plant. This is a giant member of the lily family, Featherbells, Stenanthium gramineum. We saw several of the threatened species, and the tallest were probably five feet in height. They have long grasslike leaves at the base of the plant, and the densely flowered inflorescences glow like beacons in the woodland gloom.

The telltale six-parted flowers that characterize the Liliaceae can be seen here.

Much more diminutive than the Featherbells was this Short's Hedge-hyssop, Gratiola viscidula. Another great rarity in these parts, but there were hundreds in and around the buttonbush swamp. It is only known from four southern Ohio counties, and in general is rare and limited in distribution everywhere in the nine or ten eastern states in which it occurs.

Not the most exciting thing you'll ever see, but this is a very cool plant and among the rarest of the flora that we saw. Rick had discovered this species on a previous visit, and we found some more plants this day. It'd make a great quiz plant - bet you don't know what it is. Believe it or not, this is a bizarre aquatic fern known as Engelmann's Quillwort, Isoetes engelmannii. This is the third known Ohio population, and as you can see it grows in thoroughly saturated soil that is under water much of the year. The megaspores are found in sporangia contained at the base of the plant.

Well, I don't want to make this a War and Peace of a blog post, so we'll return tomorrow for a look at some gorgeous and rare sedges, including the new hybrid.



Jana said...

The name featherbells is charming and fitting. I like descriptive common names. Wingstem is one of my favorites, but featherbells is right up there now.

Nicole said...

I really enjoy your blog. Thank you for keeping us updated on all your adventures!

Buckeyeherper said...

An excellent part of the state! It is also very rich in herp diversity and under surveyed. Just recently, common snakes like the northern watersnake were just documented there. That swamp looks like some wonderful habitat for rarities like the northern ribbonsnake and cricket frogs... I have seen a DOR ribbon at another nearby Gallie Co swamp, but that looks real nice...

Thanks for sharing!


Jack said...

It may be new to science..But not new to NATURE...I really like to visit your blog quite often..

Home Security Systems no CREDIT CHECK everyone is approved