Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Sure Signs of the Fall Season

Summers gone, it's getting dark earlier, time to set the clocks back, there is frost on the ground, and it is Buck Moth season. The progression of leaves and fruit changing color is the best part of fall. Winter is only six weeks away, yuck.

The barrel shaped fruit of the SpicebushLindera benzoin, mature into their bright red color mid to late September. Just one of the many signs that autumn has arrived.

The yellow spider like petals of Witch-hazel, Hamamelis viriginiana, bloom in October. While all other plants are going dormant for the winter, Witch-hazel is flowering all by its lonesome. That's because it has a spell on it. A witch cursed it you see. Of course if you sit under a Witch-hazel, you will be safe from witches. If you break off a Y shaped branch, it will chase evil witches away. That same Y shaped branch will not only locate water for you, but gold, silver, and every other precious metal. Yes, and I'm really Brad Pitt. Don't you just love folklore.

Coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus. A native shrub with bright magenta fruit. Where you find one, you may find others. They form thickets by sending up root sprouts. Coralberry is often used in landscaping.

Speaking of landscaping, I often advocate "plant native species". Viburnums are an excellent choice. Not only do many of them have showy flowers, great for attracting butterflies, but the fruit provides an important food source for winter birds. This one is Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium. The leaves turn a brilliant pink in October.

What about more caterpillars? I'm afraid they are finding cover on the ground for the winter. Others have pupated or spun silken cocoons like this Tulip-tree Silk Moth, Callosamia angulifera.

What about wildflowers? There may be a few more still in open fields, but in the forest they are few and far between. Barely hanging on in mid October was this Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Solidago caesia.

If you find anything this late, it is probably the asters. I posted on a bunch of them a couple years ago, right here, but I like to keep in practice. I'm still hoping an expert will go over my collection of species. This medium sized flower belongs to the Crooked-stem Aster, Symphyotrichum prenanthoides.

It can be identified by the long clasping leaves. Wherever the leaves clasp, the stem grows crooked. It's one of our most common species in moist woodlands.

Panicled Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, is a white flowering species that can be showy when first blooming. Flowers are few and scattered late in October. Panicled Aster can be recognized by the long willow like leaves interspersed among bunches of shorter leafy shoots.

One that remains tough for me to figure out for sure is the White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata. The flowers are smaller than the previous two, and with a slight lavender tinge. Except for the few most upper leaves, which are winged, the majority of the leaves are long stalked. The teeth are large but remain close to the leaf margin. If this is all you examine, it does look a bit like Heart-leaved Aster.

Take a closer look at the lower leaves. Here the teeth appear sharper and spread outward. In profile, it almost has the look of certain grape leaves.

This light blue species is rather attractive, and the flower clusters are more elongated than flat topped. Don't forget to check the leaves for identification.

The upper leaves are knife shaped, and clasp the stem.

Further down, the leaves start to narrow out and form a winged petiole.

Near the bottom, the leaves may be larger, but still show a narrow petiole, then widening into a wing at the stem. The variability of these leaves make identification tougher, not easier in my opinion. This is Wavy-leaved Aster, Symphyotrichum undulatum. A species of dry upland woods that still blooms into late October.

On a side note, I went out with the forest soils class back in September. Jerry and Dave from OSU Extension joined us to examine bottomland forests. I have spent many years in Zaleski, including right around the corner from here. Who would have thought, just a stones throw away was this woods full of monsters. Many large Swamp White Oaks Quercus bicolor, and Pin Oaks, Quercus palustris dotted the area. No big deal in northern Ohio, but down here it's exceptional. We cored and measured some. This Pin Oak is over 100 years old, has a 45 inch DBH, and is 120 feet tall. I can't wait to explore this area for potential vernal pools come spring.

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