Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Monday Volunteer Walk March 9th Part 2

The leaves of the False Rue Anemone were poking out through the dead leaves on Monday - another sign of spring-to-come. Later they will create carpets of delicate white wildflowers. There is also a True Rue Anemone - not sure why this is considered to be the false one!

More early wildflower leaves peeking up through the forest floor - this three-lobed leaf is much thicker and sturdier than the fragile False Rue Anemone leaves and belongs to Hepatica. The leaf was thought to resemble the three lobes of the human liver, and thus, logically, the plant must be good for treating liver ailments! Hepatica is the Latin word for "liver," and another name for Hepatica is "Liver-leaf." This belief, that the appearance of a plant indicates its medicinal purpose, is known as the "Doctrine of Signatures."
We found the Hepatica growing along the stairs up the hillside leading to the old cabin. Not a pioneer cabin, although it is fun to pretend! This would be far too large and difficult to heat for a pioneer family. The cabin was built in the 1950's by the CEO of Indianapolis power and light (I still need to double-check the date, so don't quote me on that), and is constructed of old telephone poles!

Driving through the park in winter, it is easy to notice all of the young American Beech Trees (Fagus grandifolia) in the understory of the forest. Older beech trees drop their leaves in late fall, like most deciduous trees, but the younger beeches hang on to theirs for some reason. It is fun to hear the dry papery leaves rattle in the breeze, and they often are bent up in the direction of the prevailing winds by the end of winter. Young beech trees are able to grow in the shade, unlike the oaks and hickories, and so beeches, along with maples, are part of the mature Climax Forest of Indiana.
The long pointy leaf buds of the beech tree were formed last fall, and have been waiting patiently all winter for warm weather to come. They look quite dangerous and sharp, but don't worry - they're harmless (although I wouldn't recommend getting your eyes within poking range - look closely, but not TOO closely). You'll see a lot of my fingers in these close-up twig and bud shots - that was the only way to convince my camera to focus!

Another fun leaf bud - this one reminds me of a tiny fuzzy knife blade and is found at the tip of the Paw Paw, or Indiana Banana. I like to pet them - they are so silky soft! The round fuzzy bud further down the stem will open up in to a dark maroon, bell-shaped flower.

The strange and interesting twigs of the Winged Euonymus (Euonymus alatus), also known as burningbush for the bright red color of the leaves in the fall. The corky ridges are thought to be an adaptation to discourage browsing by deer.
Unfortunately, winged Euonymus (pronounced YOU-WAN-IH-MUS) is considered an exotic invasive species in our woodlands, brought over from northeastern Asia as an ornamental in the 1860's. When planted as a landscape plant away from forests it is usually not a problem, and there are several cultivated varieties that are less invasive and provide beautiful bright red fall color, but recent studies have shown that native trees and bushes are much more valuable to wildlife, especially birds, than the exotic species commonly used for landscaping. The key is in the BUGS!
Native species are host to a whole community of caterpillars, beetles, and other invertebrates that are a vital source of FOOD for songbirds. Trees and bushes brought in from other parts of the world are missing the network of insects that have adapted to living with them in their home country. Although they provide some shelter, and some species may produce berries or nectar, their main value as an insect smorgasbord is missing.
Planting native trees and bushes is a much better choice for wildlife. It is a gargantuan task, but we also attempt to control exotic invasive shrubs and bushes in our forests, so that native shrubs have a chance to grow. There are native varieties of Euonymus, although they don't have the nifty wings on the twigs. We'll have to see if we can find some growing this year.
For some excellent reading on the value and importance of native plants to our declining bird populations, check out the book "Bringing Nature Home" by Douglas W. Tallamy:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was recently told that John Muir used the little paw paw leaf buds as paintbrushes. I don't know if he took several and tied them together or just used one at a time.