Monday, June 30, 2014

Beauty Will Find You in the Stillness...

Beauty will find you in the stillness of an old country pond;

beautiful solitude.


Beauty will find you in the calm, clear waters;

beautiful companions.


Go outside, be still, and beauty will find you.

Fragrant Water Lily, Nymphaea odorata. 
Roadside pond, Glendon, North Carolina

Friday, June 27, 2014

Turkey Trot

Flowering plants aren't the only creatures visible along the roadsides in the Carolina summertime. 

This wild turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, was foraging in a pasture alongside a rural road in eastern Chatham County this week. Thanks to a highly successful reintroduction campaign by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, wild turkeys are now common again throughout much of the Old North State.

This female is accompanied by a young poult, perfectly camouflaged among the tawny grasses of the meadow.

Why, you might ask, did the turkeys cross the road?

To prove they weren't chicken, according to the old Thanksgiving joke; but in this case, we're pretty sure it was to reach the safety of the woods and pasture farthest from our car.

Safely obscured by the tall grass again, hen and poult resume their foraging for insects and seeds. Just a few decades ago, the idea of seeing breeding wild turkeys in this part of the state ever again might have seemed absurd, but for the observant traveler, a wild turkey sighting is a very real possibility now in almost any rural area of the state.

Great Balls of Flower! Buttonbush and Sensitive Briar

In March and April, we reveled in the diverse wildflowers of the forest floor, gleaning just enough sunlight from the open canopy; but in June, when the leaves are thick and green and the forest floor is dark and barren, the action has moved to the margins, the roadsides and ditches and open meadows...

And, if we're vigilant, when we're out and about, scurrying from one client to the next, we may catch a glimpse of these sun-loving bloomers, basking in the life-giving light. 
 This stunning beauty, littleleaf sensitive briar, Mimosa microphylla, was hanging out on the corner with greenbrier and maple, and we happened upon it in full bloom.  

The spectacular spherical blossoms have an exotic, tropical look, but sensitive vine is a native Southerner in the pea family, Fabaceae, although it doesn't have the classic blossom structure associated with many of the legumes.

Sensitive briar or sensitive vine takes its name from the tendency of its leaves to fold up or close when touched or stimulated. This is a fascinating process known as thigmonasty, and is achieved when the plant reduces the turgor pressure in a given leaflet, causing it to droop at the joint and "close" the leaf.

Ecologists believe this may be a defense mechanism; when an herbivore begins to munch on the tender leaves, the leaflets close up and appear to vanish, and the would-be diner is exposed much more readily to the prickly stem beneath as well.

As luck would have it, we spotted another early summer bloomer with similar globe-shaped blossoms just around the corner.

Although this individual was nearing the end of its blooming, we still managed to locate a few fresh blossoms amidst the profusion of older ones. This is the buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, and it is a wonderful native shrub. 

Besides its obvious aesthetic appeal, with abundant showy flowers and lush green leaves, bees make honey from the nectar, and the seeds are eaten by a number of different species of waterfowl and shorebirds. Whitetail deer love the twigs and leaves, and it provides habitat and shelter for a number of other animals. 

We were pleasantly surprised to find this bush in a roadside ditch, far from any obvious water source, because buttonbush loves the water. 

It is most often found in open marshes or along the sunny margins of ponds and streams, and can actually grow and thrive in up to three feet of water.

The ditch here adjoins a clump of low rich woods, so perhaps the site is wetter than it appears, particularly since the bush has flowered so abundantly. 

As the summer progresses, the seeds will mature inside the button balls and linger on the plant into fall. 

In the meantime, we'll keep our eyes open for more roadside summer surprises and share them when we can.

Wind Dancer - Halloween Pennant

Walked around the pond last night, munching on a few wild plums. 
High in the cattails, on the apex of the tallest blade, perched a pennant - 
Halloween pennant, Celithemis eponina.

In the approaching dusk, a lusty breeze prevailed, bending the rushes and reeds and cattail blades to and fro, but our pennant was unperturbed.

Firmly grasping the utmost tip of the cattail blade, the dragonfly rode the gust like a rodeo cowboy on a wild mustang pony, undaunted by the bucking and swirling and swerving and dipping.

In a brief moment of calm, it shifted its grip, gently swaying in the wind like its namesake pennant or one of those dragonfly kites in the dunes at Emerald Isle.

Motionless, frame firmly fixed to its mount,
yet a veritable study in the physics of motion,
wings adjusting constantly to the fickle breeze,
its miniscule mass balanced on the tip of a pendulum motored by the zephyr.

Pennant, dragonfly, mosquito hawk, wind dancer,
one and all,
this beautiful creature gyrated against an ever--changing backdrop of trees and clouds and water and clear blue sky;  

never moving, never still, 
occupying its little niche with a grace and aplomb refined over countless generations,

surviving and thriving here by this little pond in the wood.

I watched and I wondered at its serenity. 
Ten minutes gone, I had places to be and things to do, and still it danced, placidly, the picture of peace and calm.

Faithfully clinging to the tip of its leaf, oblivious or unconcerned by my intrusion; 
to what end, I wondered. 
What purpose, this persistent repose?

At last we parted, question unanswered,
my busyness to blame.

We dance to different beat, I and the dragonfly, 
as we move through this world of ours.

Perhaps tomorrow I'll request a slow dance.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Along About Angola - Coastal Plain Wildflowers

On the homeward leg of a day trip to Cape Carteret, we decided to swing south of our normal route to see what we might see... 
Once we cleared the suburbs of Jacksonville on Highway 53, the roadsides were rich with summer wildflowers, so along about Angola Bay, Cousin Layne and I stopped for a quick photo shoot. Here are a few of the more photogenic plants we saw...

There were dozens of these low pine barren milkworts or yellow savannah milkworts, Polygala ramosa , in the immediate vicinity of the ditch.

Just beyond the ditch, in the full sun, was a sandy bank a few meters wide which eventually gave way to the shade of the pine woods along a small black water creek. Dominating the ditchbank were several relatively dense patches of Carolina redroot, Lachnanthes caroliana, in full bloom.

The genus name of Carolina redroot roughly translates "soft woolly hair" and refers to the fuzzy flower buds.
Amidst the flowering plants, we spotted a number of ferns and club mosses, including this really cool one which may be southern bog clubmoss, Lycopodiella appressa.

The plants were so dense in our little roadside botanical garden, we were almost afraid to move for fear of trampling them. The blossoms on these tall pink meadow beauties were very similar to the Maryland meadow beauties back home in the Sandhills, but the plants were much taller and more slender, perhaps the savannah meadowbeauty, Rhexia alifanus

In either case, the plant lives up to its common name, as even the blossoms which are past their prime make a bold statement here along the roadside with their magenta hues and showy seedpods.

Also standing tall among the more diminutive plants in our coastal plains roadside garden was the tall yellow-eyed grass, Xyris sp. 

Layne spotted this meadowbeauty with slightly fresher blossoms a bit further along the way, so of course we had to make our way over for a closer look, and almost before we knew it, our waiting car  was out of sight.

Another impressive yellow-eye...

And a broader view, looking ahead down the highway right-of-way at an extensive gathering of Carolina redroot mingling with a couple varieties of fern along the forest margin.

A closer look at the redroot blossoms and a busy pollinator, 

and yet another example of yellow-eyed grass, presumably all the same species, but we're not quite sure which it is...

Almost as abundant as the redroot was the orange milkwort, Polygala lutea, close cousin to the yellow milkwort with whose photo we opened today's post.

Glowing bright orange in the late afternoon sun, these showy blossoms look to steal the spotlight...

while these clubmoss, most likely foxtail clubmoss, Lycopodiella alopecuroides, look to take it right back.

Some of the clubmoss stood erect, while others seemed to be growing laterally, not quite as bushy as most of the mammalian foxtails I've seen, but certainly similar enough to understand the origin of the common name.

And there in the midst of the foxtails, dainty and demure, Nuttall's lobelia sways gently on the most slender of slender stalks.

Another stand of Carolina redroot, with a good view of their flat iris-like leaves at the base of a tall stem which supports the cluster of furry white and yellow blossoms.

More orange milkwort, perfectly situated to catch the sun; we couldn't resist another photo.

And just when we thought we'd seen all there was to see, we bumped into these little white gems.

Lanceleaf rose gentian, Sabatia difformis, whiter than white in the bright sunlight, a crowd of ebullient faces, bringing smiles to ours as well.

By now it's long past time to rejoin Julie and Hunter in the car, but we pause for just one more shot.

Then Layne spied the tiny blackberries twining amongst the clubmoss and milkwort and grasses of every imaginable kind... 
A few tasty blackberries later, we carefully weave our way back to the waiting car,  

but not before spotting one more new (to us) face in the company of a young pine; yellow meadowbeauty, Rhexia lutea. 

Layne and I left our roadside wonderland amazed at the incredible bio-diversity of North Carolina's coastal plain; thrilled and humbled that our brief hike along the roadside had introduced us to such an impressive array of flora. We'll let you know when we head back down that way again, along about Angola...