And summer continues, each day much like the last. We’ve had some overnight sprinkles, but none of the drenching storms that were an everyday event just a couple of weeks ago. Sunday was a trip to Gainesville (Virginia not Florida) where my Klezmer band played at a farm just outside the DC sprawl, but unfortunately I neglected to bring a functional camera. Monday morning was a stint in the garden, weeding tiny broccoli and less tiny leeks, uncovering full-grown onions from a bed fully overgrown with weeds, marking straight rows in the just-tilled loam in preparation for the late corn planting.
Monday afternoon, in between various commitments, I managed to slip away for a while. I wanted to get a better photo of the daylilly explosion down at the pond, as I was unsatisfied with the previous one.
Alongside the daylillies was this pink compound-type flower, which was a favorite of several species and many individual butterflies.
Walking through the field, noting that the horse nettle is in flower. This plant is for the most part a terrible pest, inedible to animals, unwelcome in hayfields (where it turns the hay prickly and painful to work with), and a bane to barefoot walkers. If I could, I would eliminate it from our fields, but since I can’t, I will appreciate its delicate light purple flowers.
In the woods, the time of the puffball has begun. I saw the first ones about a week ago, and day by day I’m seeing more and more of them, sometimes singly and sometimes in groups. The boys especially like finding them and checking the middle to see if they’re white and edible, or if they’re turned gray or black.
Today, I was able to finish my tofu delivery before lunch, allowing a couple hours for further exploration in the woods park below Monticello. It was an odd day, the sky cloudy but more blank and colorless than grey and ominous. It wasn’t especially hot, but extremely humid and muggy, the air thick and unmoving. I walked a couple of miles, and though I was mostly in the shade and not exerting myself too strenuously, I was instantly soaked with sweat. It seemed like it had rained more recently in Charlottesville, as the ground was pretty wet today and the forest smelled like rain. Here’s the little monument and the view right from the parking area.
Similar to the last time I hiked in this area, I had my most interesting fungal encounter just a few minutes from the car. This odd orange bulbous protrusion was growing from the base of a pine tree right next to the path.
Here’s a close-up of it. I’m not quite sure what it is! It was soft and squishy, and bruised dark orange in the spot where I touched. it. My closest guess is an immature Berkeley’s polypore, although that usually only grows from deciduous trees. Just another one I have to try to ID when I have time to get on it.
Oddly, that was the only mushroom of note I discovered all afternoon. I’m not sure what in particular causes the dearth of “charismatic fungus” in this particular patch of mature deciduous forest, if it something in the soil or what, but it certainly is odd, especially in comparison with the relatively fungus-filled woods around Twin Oaks. One thing that I did find, in great and glorious abundance, was Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius), a nonnative berry which was growing all over the place today.
Or, I should say, I’ve been watching this particular plant all year, noting its abundance in the Monticello woods, wondering what it was, and waiting for it to fruit to see if it’s any good. And I have to say, it is quite good. The berries are much like raspberries (in fact, another name for it is wine raspberry), but the flavor is milder, both less sweet and less tart. On this trip, the berries were ripe and growing by the hundreds and thousands all along the trail, all through the woods.
This is what my hands looked like for most of the time I was out today. I think I ate several hundred berries this afternoon. By the time I got back to the truck, my stomach hurt from eating so many berries.
This is an interesting spot. Last winter, in December, I encountered a chunk of dead tree covered with oyster mushrooms on this very spot. I had to negotiate a couple of vines to get to them, but it wasn’t too difficult. Today, it was impossible to even see the piece of stump for all the thick vegetation, such a contrast between the seasons here in Virginia.
The trail, as always in this area, was pleasant enough, but without finding any mushrooms, I found myself moving pretty fast, allowing my mind to drift as I cruised along the red clay path.
Mostly, as I hiked, I thought about the distribution of species within their range. Clearly, there are a lot of plants and fungus that can grow anywhere in mid-Atlantic deciduous woods. But that doesn’t mean that in any particular patch of deciduous forest you’re equally likely to find any or all of the species that could be growing there. Is it a matter of microclimates, land use history, soil type, or just chance that causes particular species to be abundant in one bit of woods, and absent in a (at least superficially) similar bit of woods. Fueling this train of thought was my observation of at least three species of wildflower that grew abundantly in patches here and there in the woods today, that I never see in the woods around Twin Oaks. The first was this five-petaled light purple flower (ID unknown), which I saw first growing under a stand of pine close to the road, then again further back in some deciduous woods.
The second was a spike of orchidlike flowers on a leafless stem, which was similarly abundant in one small section of the forest, but I didn’t see them anywhere else (nor have I seen them in the woods anywhere else in Virginia).
Here’s a close-up. It’s quite a pretty plant.
The third was a plant that greeted me as soon as I stepped out of the woods into one of the meadows scattered throughout the park. It looks like some sort of tiger lily, although not one I’ve ever quite seen before. There were many of these plants in the meadow, and the flowers were really quite stunning.
Even the tightly twisted unopened buds of this flower were amazing-looking.
When I saw “meadow” on the map, I thought I might do some off-trail exploring, but what meadow actually means, this time of year, is a mass of waist-high greenery crawling with ticks and underlaid with a solid layer of poison ivy. Not the sort of place you’d want to step off-trail.
Looking up at the mountain atop which Monticello sits, in the humid Virginia haze, another view that seems like it could be straight out of a tropical rainforest.
In a corner of the meadow was a small stand of milkweeds, covered with flowers. Although it only covered a few square feet, the patch of milkweed was swarming with butterflies and other insects, far more than the larger, more showy flowers.
As I watched and photographed the butterflies, I was startled to discover this odd bug. It’s larger than any bee I’ve ever seen, but not quite large enough to be a hummingbird. It looked to me not unlike a flying black and yellow crayfish. I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.
Seriously, if anyone’s ever seen this bug before, I’d appreciate some info on what it is.
Did I mention the wineberries? They were ridiculously abundant, and did I ever eat a lot!
Just before heading back to the truck, I passed a stand of thistle plants in full flower. Like the horse nettle, the thistle, is a thoroughly unpleasant and nasty sort of plant that just happens to have a really cool looking flower.
Here’s a close up. I hate stepping on these plants, but do appreciate their “bad-ass” aesthetic.
The last wildflower that I encountered in abundance was a patch of Queen Anne’s lace– I’ve been seeing plenty of it around Louisa county and central Virginia, but for some reason, it only was growing here in one spot, and there was a lot of it growing in that one spot.
And those are today’s unsolved questions of the day– why was there so much Queen Anne’s lace here, and not in any other part of the meadow? Why are there so many mushrooms in the relatively young forests of Twin Oaks and so few in the far older woods near Monticello? Why is the understory in one particular acre of woods thick with a particular wildflower, which appears nowhere else along the hike? I’ll probably never figure it out, but now it’s late and I’m going to bed.