Indian Marker Trees: Separating Folklore from Fact

January 22, 2021, I revisited the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of the nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I bushwhack this area at least monthly, especially during the dormant season, when understory vegetation is leafless, briars are easier to avoid, mushrooms are more visible, sweating must be earned, and redbugs, ticks, and biting insects are absent. Sure, saturated soils and some standing water (see below right) often re-route my passage, but waterproof boots handle all but the swampiest locales.

I decided in advance that on this visit, in addition to remaining alert for edible mushrooms, I would focus my attention and camera lens on Indian marker trees. The June 2017 online Treehugger:

If you’ve ever encountered a bent tree while hiking in North American woods, you may have simply happened upon a tree that was bowed by weather, disease or other natural causes. However, you might have stumbled upon an ancient trail marker created by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. Known as trail trees, these markers were used to designate trails, crossing points on streams, medicinal sites to find plants, and areas of significance like council circles.

The online Trail Tree Project offers additional insight:

Hiking along the crest of our mountain ridge in North Georgia, one has little question that the bent trees along the path are the living relics of a lost civilization. Even a century and a half after the Cherokees were shipped west along the Trail of Tears, the shape of the trees themselves maintain the sharp angles that characterize human design rather than the gentle curves that nature carves with wind and climate – curves amply expressed in the neighboring trees. And, in this area, they seem to connect well known Cherokee tribal sites. But how can we know for sure? They’re not particularly huge trees to be centurions. Could their placement on the mountain crests roughly paralleling the path of the original Appalachian Trail have some simple physical explanation? How can we be certain that this isn’t just another romantic rural legend?

I offer this Post to shed some light on whether the tree form oddities and curiosities I encountered can be traced to Native American trail markings, memorials, or other physical demarcations of significant features. I’ve noticed that many of my trail-trekking acquaintances accept the romanticism of “seeing” Native American presence in our forests, embracing the palpable “evidence” of our present day connection to the Native populations forced to leave these lands for western reservations more than 150 years ago. Some see the two sweetgum trees below as interpretable messages left behind. There is no doubt that both trees point to something. I spent years managing industrial forestlands in the southeastern USA, where we achieved maximum timber value production on lands well-suited to intensive management (planting genetically improved stock, competition control, fertilization, and thinning). In gest, I often point out to colleagues that any two trees in our natural stands are arranged in a straight line. Of course they are — just as any leaning tree “points” to something.

The tree below right reminds me of a long-necked green-skinned reptile, head high above the photo frame, with its left foreleg (we can assume one on the other side as well) leading the creature toward the standing water ahead. Both trees at some point suffered a near-crushing blow from above, slamming the then-seedling/sapling to the ground. The left-frame individual sent two shoots (now twin main stems) from the point where the original smashed tree lost its top. The other bent severely, but was not damaged sufficiently to prevent it righting itself, straightening, and reaching toward the vertical again.

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During my nine-year faculty and administrative tenure at Penn State University, I often conducted weekend forestry workshops for forest landowners, who almost invariably believed that Pennsylvania’s forests date back as far as “the time of Christ.” However, most of that state’s forests had been clearcut at least once by the mid-to-late Nineteenth Century. Original and old-growth stands are rare. Similarly, most of north Alabama’s forests had been harvested at least once by 1900… nearly a half a century since most Natives had been ushered west. The particular stand I hiked January 22, had been clearcut to prepare for flooding of Lake Wheeler once the TVA completed Wheeler Dam construction and began filling the impoundment. These bottomland hardwood forests occupy lands acquired with purchase of what is now submerged, serving as a TVA-owned buffer to the reservoir. No Native American has hunted or foraged in these forests since well before the TVA acquired and clearcut them. Every tree form oddity and curiosity I encountered originated from Nature acting unassisted by the hand of man.

Like the two individuals above, some force (falling branch, top, or tree) brought a younger version of the trees toward the horizontal. Both “recovered” by sending shoots vertically from the bent saplings. Were these the result of Native American handiwork, what message would you take from the convoluted branching below left? I just visited some of the Indian marker trees (or thong trees) web sites. I see images of larger trees that look just like the tree below left… trees old old enough, I suppose, to have been shaped by the work of Native Americans. Yet, I remind myself and readers that the forest I trekked is no more than 100 years old. In 1831, the U.S. government forced Native Americans to leave their homes in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama and relocate to Oklahoma, the procession westward becoming known as the Trail of Tears. We can deduce that any Native American-created marker trees would now be at least 190 years old.

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The area I hiked supports an even-aged forest naturally regenerated 70-90 years ago. The Native Americans that had roamed this land for 13,000 years, had already been forcibly relocated 100 years before all of the trees in these photos first reached for sunlight. Every tree form oddity and curiosity I encountered is the work of Nature, unassisted by human design, leather thongs, or purposed directional bending. I’ll repeat a 500-year-old Leonardo da Vinci quote that I use frequently in my speaking and writing:

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

Please know that I am not debunking the notion that Native Americans had learned and applied a means of marking trails, springs, villages, burial grounds, and other such places and memorials of significance. I offer da Vinci’s observation only to remind us that those remarkable first Americans simply borrowed from Nature’s toolkit. Long before Native Americans crossed the Bering Land Bridge and ventured south and east into our state, trees and heavy branches had fallen onto other trees, bending, breaking, and laying them toward the horizontal. Through her inventions, Nature found ways to deal with those physical abuses. Recall the axiom: Necessity is the mother of invention. The driving imperative across Nature is to survive and reproduce, to ensure species (and individual) sustainability.

da Vinci also observed, Necessity is the mistress and guardian of Nature.

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Every tree in this photo-series suffered physical damage… and survived, continuing to reach into the canopy and achieve seed-bearing age. Native Americans survived and thrived over 13 millennia by learning from Nature and living in harmony with her. I am certain that they learned from Nature how to create marker trees. This sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), bent severely as a sapling, sent three sprouts vertically.

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The two sweetgum trees below recovered from being slammed to the ground as a seedling/sapling, and sending sprouts vertically, now reaching into the intermediate canopy.

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The pattern of battery and recovery repeats often and continuously. We’ve all heard the human wisdom, what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I am not suggesting that these trees are stronger because the fates dropped a branch on them. Instead, Nature prepares for any eventuality.

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Our esteemed da Vinci did not miss much, observing that:

Nature is the source of all true knowledge. She has her own logic, her own laws, she has no effect without cause nor invention without necessity.

I won’t speculate on the injury and response mechanism that shaped the two forms below. Nor did da Vinci, knowing the infinite range of possibilities within Nature, try to imagine and catalog all possibilities:

Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occurred in experience.

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More than two centuries ago, English poet William Cowper observed, Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour. I found a forest of rich variety as I roamed the January bottomland forest.

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I’ve travelled through time for nearly 70 years (at a constant pace of 60-minutes-per-hour) and made 13 interstate moves. We have friends who have across those seven decades resided in the same town where we graduated high school. They have lived deep; Judy and I have lived wide. I’ve now visited this bottomland hardwood forest a dozen times. My understanding is deepening. Each visit opens my eyes to the incredible richness of variety:

  • Hour by hour
  • Day to day
  • Season to season
  • Tree by tree
  • Stand by stand

Nothing in Nature is static. With his timeless wisdom, da Vinci noted, Nature never breaks her own laws. Whether instigated by a falling branch or guided by the hand of man securing a rawhide binding, Nature follows her own laws. She worries not of the cause (man or gravity-induced fate), but simply applies her wisdom to secure species/individual sustainability.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late November trek through the bottomland forest:

  • Everything in Nature occurs in accord with her own immutable laws
  • Folklore and fancy often reach beyond reality
  • Yet, woods-lore enriches our appreciation of Wildness

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: Bottomland Hardwood Tree Form Oddities

I returned November 30 mid-morning to the eastern end of nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. As is often the case for my Refuge excursions, I bushwhacked through the bottomland hardwood forests. I saw and photographed enough magic and wonder to yield two Blog Posts. I focused the first one last week on the fungi and non-flowering plants I encountered:

I celebrate the bottomland hardwood and its forest tree oddities and curiosities with this second Post. I hope you’ll pardon a little mirthful image play!

The Bottomland Hardwood Forest

 

Typical of these very productive bottomlands along the Tennessee River (now Lake Wheeler), the forests are diverse, generally 70-90 years old, and 80 to well over 100 feet tall. During this walk I found a recently wind-thrown oak and paced its height (well, okay, its length) at 112 feet. The point is, these are rich sites.

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Although there is nothing unusual about this shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), the species’ signature bark is a curiosity in and of itself. Some species of bats seek shelter under the bark strips. I have long been a fan of shagbark hickory, even when as a practicing forester I had to maneuver my diameter tape under the strips to make an accurate measurement of a tree’s diameter. The sawyer doesn’t care what the diameter is of the shagginess; he cares only about the wood and its merchantable yield.

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Okay, now I enter the realm of true tree form oddities and curiosities.

Tree Form Curiosities

 

Bear with me. Upon encountering this misshapen sugar maple (Acer saccharum), I snapped a photo because of its distorted burl shape, the few small stems protruding from surface warts, and its profuse covering of mosses. It wasn’t until I inserted the photo in this Post that I noticed the image of my favorite Wookie, Chewbacca, gazing to the forward right, just like he is in the photo I borrowed from a uncredited website.

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Why Chewbacca Should've Died in 'Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I discovered no hidden images in this wounded sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) that is fighting a losing battle with heart rot. The stem is attempting to callous over the old wound even as the decay is eating more deeply and most likely extending upward into the trunk. Keep in mind that the fungi is consuming only dead wood, the structural and load-bearing interior wood. Only the rind of any tree constitutes the living cambium, the conducting xylem and phloem tissue. Apparent in this view is that some living creature (e.g. chipmunk. squirrel, bird, insect) is working to increase the hollow, depositing excavated woody debris from within. The fight will continue until some tipping point is reached or the tree succumbs from other causes.

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The Morton Arboretum website describes cankers, the growths below on a red oak species and a hickory: A ‘canker’ is really a symptom of an injury often associated with an open wound that has become infected by a fungal or bacterial pathogen. Canker diseases frequently kill branches or structurally weaken a plant until the infected area breaks free, often in a wind or ice storm. These are classic specimens. In effect, they act as benign tumors… a non fatal cancer. Both the oak and the hickory seemed otherwise healthy, the structural weakness not manifesting any detectable deterioration of tree vigor and vitality.

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This oak stands adjacent to the HGH access road, which leads me back to the gravel lot and my car after my forest ramblings. I’ve seen it many times, giving my brain ample time to construct a vivid image.

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A visage that takes me back to my days as Vice Chancellor at NC State University, home of the Wolfpack. The wolf with the cap greets me with an imagined wink when I pass. No menacing growl from this canine. More a faint good-natured smile. I suppose that were I a Duke Blue Devil or a Carolina Tar Heel (bitter rivals of the Wolfpack on the field of play), the thinly concealed grin would transform to a vicious snarl!

NC State Wolfpack Team Spirit Bottle Cap Wall Sign-Wolfpack on White

Big Bad Wolf Gray wolf, bad, vertebrate, cartoon, fictional Character png | PNGWing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, nothing fanciful with this tortured sweetgum, yet another individual fighting the good fight with heart rot. The swollen trunk signals deep decay. Fungi fruiting bodies along the left side suggest cambium on that side is dying. Fighting the good fight may be an overstatement; this tree is, it appears, losing the good fight. As I have said with nearly every one of my forest Posts, life and death operate hand-in-hand. Nothing mirthful about the situation facing this sweetgum.

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If possible, this oak may be in even worse straits, its life on the edge. Again, it wasn’t until I placed the photo in this Post that I saw proof that we are in Alabama, home of the National Championship Crimson Tide and its mascot Big Al. The photo speaks for itself.

HGH RoadBryant-Denny Stadium – Alabama Crimson Tide | Stadium Journey

 

The woods are filled with fanciful images and faces. I suppose they are, in fact, as Robert Frost proclaimed in Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening, lovely, dark and deep. Not dark and sinister, foul and repugnant, nor teeming with savage beasts. These bottomland hardwood forests fill me with their beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

Hardwoods Straight and Tall

 

I captured these two photos during a previous visit this past summer, depicting the forest in its full majestic glory. Trees stout and towering… no tortured forms nor blemishes. These are the trees of forest glamour magazines, with coifed hair, flattering makeup, fresh from the gym, six-pack abs, and just-right lighting. Except that these are the real thing… no photo-shopping. Yet, this isn’t Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Even these rich sites produce forests of mixed vintage, with trees ranging from the beauties below to the misshapen forms and curiosities above. I suppose such is the way of Nature. Variety, in point of fact, whether within forests or of human populations, is the spice of life, survival, and evolution.

Jolly B RoadJolly B

 

Beauty surely is in the eye of the beholder. Retired Steve sees magnificence across the forest spectrum.

Amazing Find

 

November 30 brought a big surprise, one of a very positive nature. August 8, 2020, I had bushwhacked this same bottomland forest. When I emerged onto the gravel road for trekking back to my vehicle, I noticed the empty selfie-stick sling at my side. I re-entered the woods to search, the forest rich with undergrowth all about me. See the two photos immediately above. While not impenetrable thickets, the forest floor is not bare and open to finding an 18-inch collapsed telescoping rod. I abandoned the search after 30 minutes of trying to retrace the rambling pathway I had taken. On each subsequent trundle through these woods, perhaps three times since mid-August, I stayed alert for the rod, without success. As I was nearing the road for my return to the parking area, I saw a shiny object in the autumn leaf litter several feet ahead. Only the two-inch square reflecting pad (below) peeked through the litter, the rest of the rod effectively hidden!

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I observe often that Nature keeps much of her beauty, magic, wonder, and awe hidden in plain sight. Apparently that is not all she hides. So, November 30, 2020, proved to be a good day. Lots of fungi, ferns, and mosses; fanciful tree form oddities and curiosities; a months-long missing piece of equipment revealed to a forest wanderer (and wonderer)!

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my late November trek through the early winter riparian forest:

  • There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest… whether in towering trees or in strange and distorted sylvan Nature-creations
  • Each tree tells a story, demanding forest sleuthing and, occasionally, vivid imagination

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: Winter Ferns, Fungi, Mosses, and Lichens

I make it often to the eastern end of nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, occasionally issuing Blog Posts from my ventures, for example: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/19/august-riparian-forest-roaming-at-the-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/

I returned November 30 mid-morning on what for north Alabama was an unusually cold day following a wet (0.91″) overnight cold frontal passage. During my hike, a strong northwesterly breeze brought spits of sleet from time to time. Later that evening after I had returned home the sleet transitioned to snow flurries. That’s a big deal for us!

As is often the case for my Refuge excursions, I bushwhacked through a bottomland hardwood forest. I saw and photographed enough magic and wonder to yield two Blog Posts. I focus this first one on the fungi and non-flowering plants I encountered.

Bottomland Hardwood Forest

 

But first, a broad introduction to the bottomland hardwood forest. These are rich sites, supporting high canopies of mixed species, including poplar, diverse oaks, hickories, sweetgum, elm, beech, and others.  Although I still have not purchased an instrument to measure tree height, I did find a recently downed oak that I stepped off at 112 feet. Tree height (at an indexed base age) is the best indicator of site quality in closed forests. I conducted my doctoral research on estimating site quality in the Allegheny Hardwood forests of SW NY and NW PA. I’m partial to deciduous forests…and consider these Tennessee River bottomland stands particularly impressive and inspiring. Before I shift to the associated fungi and non-flowering plants, I offer these representative photos of the stands I explored November 30.

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Revealing another bias, this one seasonal, I so welcome the dormant season with cooler temperatures, no ticks, red bugs, or mosquitoes, no obscuring foliage, desiccated ground cover, and unobstructed views deep into the surrounding forest.

Fungi

 

Best of all, relevant to this Post, fungi are visible, even at distance. I can spot them and go to them, rather than awaiting them to appear as I proceed through the sometimes dense undergrowth during the growing season. However, the easier passage through the forest does not magically sharpen my ability to identify mushrooms. I’m still climbing a very steep learning curve. I will offer tentative identification on many based upon my iNaturalist iPhone App crutch, but even these without great confidence.

Both of these, I believe are species of Trametes, a common hardwood forest decay fungus. Because this forest is 70-90 years old, some overstory trees are fading from the stand, dying in place, losing large branches, uprooting, and otherwise crashing to the ground. Dead and down woody debris is within sight nearby wherever I stopped to observe my surroundings. As I’ve often observed, death is a constant participant in the life of our forests.

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There is no reason for me to introduce the following images by describing my uncertainty. Instead, I will simply say, for example, here is smoky polypore (Bjerkandera adjusta). Accept, unless I indicate otherwise, that implicit in my statement is “at least that is what I think this species is or may be.” From iNaturalist, “Bjerkandera adjusta, commonly known as the smoky polypore or smoky bracket, is a species of fungus in the family Meruliaceae. It is a plant pathogen that causes white rot in live trees, but most commonly appears on dead wood. It was first described scientifically as Boletus adustus by Carl Ludwig Willdenow in 1787.”

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Below is a species of Trametes, very common in our Alabama hardwood forests. Life and death and life and death… the cycle is continuous. Life never outruns death. Death, in turn, brings life. Perhaps if I were once again a young forest scientist I would strive to find answers to my questions about life and death in a typical Tennessee River bottomland hardwood forest:

  • Total biomass per acre
  • Living and dead
  • Tree, shrub, herbaceous
  • Animals from mega-fauna to micro-organisms
  • Above ground and below ground
  • Plant, animal, and fungi kingdoms
  • Annual carbon turnover
  • My list is long

Wood decay fungi are major players in this cycle of living and dying. And Trametes is not an insignificant character.

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Violet-toothed polypore (Trichaptum biforme) is a multi-story inhabitant of this standing dead white oak.  Wikipedia, I find, often provides a succinct description: a species of poroid fungus in the order Hymenochaetales. It is a saprobe that decomposes hardwood stumps and logs. It is inedible. The tree, however, is not inedible — the fungi find it quite palatable! The tree will stand until its ever-weakening wood crosses a threshold where physics prevail in form of gravity, wind, ice, or lateral forces to bring the decaying wood back to its soil home, where it will give life-force to other living organisms.

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I am confident that the orange mushroom is crowded parchment (Stereum rameale), another common wood decay fungus, in this case sharing a downed branch with foliose and bearded lichen, a rich community…a natural work of art.

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The corticioid fungi are a group of Basidiomycete fungi. Wikipedia offered some description of this group, paraphrased as: This group typically have effused, smooth fruiting bodies that are formed on the undersides of dead tree trunks or branches. They are sometimes colloquially called crust or patch fungi. This one was a bit soft and spongy to the touch. It clearly occupied a dead and down branch, and was not growing on the underside of a dead tree branch. I viewed this fungus as quite unusual. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve previously encountered it in my recent, more-mushroom-enlightened woods ramblings. So unusual that I imagined identification being easy! My iNaturalist could only observe, “We’re not confident enough to make a recommendation, but here are our top 10 suggestions.” None of them resembled my specimen. A 2021 New Year’s Resolution — spend some time in the forest with someone who knows local mycology far better than I!  

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Another species of which I am somewhat certain, cracked cap polypore (Phellinus robiniae), is a fungus of the family of Hymenochaetaceae. The fungus primarily infests black locusts, aided by openings caused by Megacyllene robiniae infestation, but also grows on various other trees such as Carya (hickory) and oak (Wikipedia). Although I find this species growing abundantly on dead black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), this individual is on an oak.

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This one, too, is quite distinctive, Ganoderma sessile. It’s shiny lacquered-looking upper surface calls out to the passer-by, particularly vivid before, in this case, dulled by deep tannish spores from neighbors. The literature attributes medicinal value to this abundant wood decaying polypore.

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I am learning, slowly and surely… and pledge to even greater effort in 2021!

Lichens

 

Repeating my parchment mushroom photo from above, I give you a foliose lichen, and in the lower left a tuft of bearded lichen. As with the fungi, I need to learn more about lichens, a common resident in our southern forests. The US Forest Service offers one of the better descriptions I’ve encountered:

There are approximately 3,600 species of lichens in North America and those are just the ones we know about! New discoveries are being made every year. Lichens are found all across North America and all over the world. They are found in a vast diversity of habitats and climates, from the Sonoran desert on the Coronado National Forest, to the alpine tundra of Alaskan mountains on the Chugach National Forest, and in the tropical rainforests of the El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico.

Have you ever seen a lichen and knew that it was a lichen? Not many people know what lichens are, and who would? They seem as though they are from another planet! Lichens are bizarre organisms and no two are alike.

Lichens are a complex life form that is a symbiotic partnership of two separate organisms, a fungus and an alga. The dominant partner is the fungus, which gives the lichen the majority of its characteristics, from its thallus shape to its fruiting bodies. The alga can be either a green alga or a blue-green alga, otherwise known as cyanobacteria. Many lichens will have both types of algae.

In North America alone, 3,600 known species! There will never be a paucity of things I do not know.

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This bushy beard lichen is a member of the Usnea genus. I will attempt no further delineation, but surely a delightful organism of uncommon utility, beauty, and function.

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Mosses and Ferns

 

From family Neckeraceae iNaturalist: “We’re pretty sure this is in the family N…” — Some compelling names among the top ten species: Tree-skirt moss; seductive entodon moss; dendroalsia moss; American tree moss. American tree moss has a nice ring to it.

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Another New Year’s Resolution: spend some time in the forest with someone who knows local bryology far better than I!

I feel confident identifying this moss by genus. From the online Britannica: Hair-cap moss, also called pigeon wheat, any of the plants of the genus Polytrichum (subclass Bryidae) with 39–100 species; it often forms large mats in peat bogs, old fields, and areas with high soil acidity. About 10 species are found in North America. Hair cap moss is soft, delicate, and spring-green.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Here’s American tree moss with fully turgid resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides). I’ve included this fern occasionally in my Posts, with condition ranging from absolute desiccation to full flush in this case. For this tree- and rock-dwelling species, life is either feast or famine… and it copes quite well with the extremes.

HGH Road

 

Without attempting to identify the mushrooms, I offer this rich community of at least two species of fungi, thick American tree moss, and resurrection fern. Diversity is a common theme in these forests.

HGH Road

 

Once again, resurrection fern in its glory.

HGH Road

 

And our abundant Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), growing from Nova Scotia to Florida, and west to Minnesota and eastern Texas.

HGH Road

 

I love eastern hardwood forests, even as I am in love with our bottomland hardwood forests, where life is robust, diverse, and inspirational.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my late November trek through the early winter riparian forest:

  • There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest… no matter the season
  • Trees alone do not make a forest
  • I am embarrassingly ignorant of forest fungi, lichens, and mosses!

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

TVA’s Marbut Bend Nature Preserve

October 26, 2020, I visited TVA’s Marbut Bend Trail, managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) with fellow Nature enthusiast, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell. From the Marbut Bend Trail website (https://www.tva.com/environment/recreation/tva-trails/tva-trails-detail-page/marbut-bend-trail):

Looking for a lovely, hand-holding stroll for two? You’ll find it at TVA’s newly opened Marbut Bend Trail. This easy, flat and A.D.A.-accessible 1.1-mile walk will take you across boardwalks through a wetland and a pond created by a beaver dam, along the shoreline of two embayments (or coves) of the Elk River and through an open field filled with hay bails. The combination of wetland and field draws a lively mix of wildlife; expect to see migratory shore birds, wood ducks, blue-winged teals, great blue herons, egrets, deer, raccoons—and, of course, beavers. Throw out a blanket on the farmland and snuggle in for a romantic picnic. The trail is about 12 miles northwest of Athens, Alabama, on Hwy. 99.

I could not have prepared a better description. Located near Elk River’s entry to Wheeler Lake (the Tennessee River impoundment above TVA’s Wheeler Dam), Elk River at this point assumes the same level as the Lake. I spent little time off-trail. I do not intend for this Post to offer deep insight, reflection, and discussion of this very family-friendly slice of the broad Tennessee Valley. I feel more like a Chamber advocate than a naturalist with this Post. However, my motive for presenting this rather Nature-shallow Post aligns with my retirement Mission:

Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Anything I can do (and write) to encourage fellow citizens to immerse themselves in Nature helps achieve that mission. I had not heard of Marbut Bend Trail until Mike suggested we visit. I know that many residents of the Huntsville metropolitan area are also likewise ignorant of this wonderful preserve just 30 miles from city center. Importantly, all Huntsville citizens (USA) hold joint title to Marbut Bend, just as we do for all federal Forests, Parks, Preserves, Memorials, and Monuments.

So, allow me a quick catalog of natural features and landscapes along Marbut Bend Trail. Wet meadows and marshes dominate this view from the entrance.

Elk River

 

Diverse Wetland Habitats

I’m fascinated and inspired by wooden walkways across otherwise inaccessible ecotypes (below left). I snapped the lake image from a wooden deck later along the trail. Not visible in the photo are dozens of great egrets and a single great blue heron. Although a forester, I retain within me a closet meteorologist, obsessed with the firmament. The sky provides nuance and character to every Nature scene and viewscape, even as in and of itself the sky and its associated weather merit study and understanding. Perhaps this cloud deck presaged the October 28 deluge (I measured 3.25″) dumped by the remnants of hurricane Zeta. The lower right image confirms my memory of calmness, with not even a breeze to ripple its mirrored surface.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Excellent signage helps visitors understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature.

Elk River

 

Cattails grow in abundance (below left). Duckweed covered the water adjacent to the boardwalk (below right).

Elk RiverElk River

 

The cattails below left are releasing countless windborne seeds. The woolgrass is providing a feast for marauding birds. A fool for autumn, I cherish the signs, signals, and look of summer (hot, humid, persistent) in full retreat!

Elk River

Elk River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, signage assists the casual observer (and the forest naturalist) in understanding and appreciating Nature’s marsh-side wonder.

Elk River

 

Marbut Bend’s is a story of ecotones, one ecotype transitioning to another, including the forest edge with marsh (below left) and the forest edge to mudflat (below right). Wildlife of all manner capitalize on the panoply of habitats.

Elk RiverElk River

 

From upland forest to marsh to mudflat to open lake — a pure gift to biological diversity, all easily accessible along a well-maintained gravel path and boardwalk trail.

Elk River

 

This set of photos reminds me that there is a world of Nature’s inspiration close to home and within reach of a 1.1-mile easy stroll!

Upland Margins

Too dry for obligate wetland species, the transition zones support trees (shrubs) like black willow (Salix nigra; below left) and climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens; below right). Both species offered late October aesthetic value, the willow with its red twigs and the hempvine still in full flower.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Roundleaf greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) likewise occupied the transition and upland sites. Various birds will appreciate its contribution of ripe berries.

Elk River

 

Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) verified the advance of autumn, providing a dash of fall color.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an aggressive invasive, and hickory (Carya sp.) likewise added seasonal color to the uplands.

Elk RiverElk River

 

Same for pawpaw (Asimina triloba) and basswood (Tilia americana) matching the hickory’s color.

Elk RiverElk River

 

 

 

 

 

I find our common mosses attractive occupants of forest floor, windthrow soil mounds, lower tree trunks, and rocks and outcrops. This patch has colonized and decorated a windthrow soil mound.

Elk River

 

 

I’ll end with a photo of an abrupt transition, where loblolly pine meets marsh. Mike stands in full appreciation of the vivid demarcation.

Elk River

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

A late October 1.1-mile hike at Marbut Bend Trail, a TVA property, afforded:

  • Diverse habitats
  • Rich biodiversity
  • Manifold fall indicators

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksElk River

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

A Few Fungal Highlights from an Early Fall Trek through a River Terrace Forest

As a forestry undergraduate I took courses with titles like Plant Pathology and Eastern US Forest Diseases, studying economically important tree diseases like chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, beech-scale-nectria, white pine blister rust, fusiform rust, and oak wilt. I learned fungi as disease agents and causes of decay and wood deterioration reducing the commercial value of important timber species. I also understood the crucial role fungi played in the great cycle of life… returning dead and dying woody material to the soil. In graduate school I delved more deeply into the positive synergy between tree roots and mycorhizal fungi. Most importantly, I paid little heed to mushrooms common to the forests I roamed as a teenager, or to those I am sure I encountered during my 12 years of forestry practice in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Likewise, I passed through my 35 years at nine universities (seven states) nearly oblivious to the ubiquitous fungi-kingdom inhabitants in natural areas that I explored and wandered.

A Day of Visual Mushroom Bounty

But, in retirement that has changed. If you’ve followed these Posts over the past four years you will have noticed my ever-increasing fascination with fungi and their fruiting bodies. In the old days, my attention focused above-ground from tree trunks to their towering heights. I find myself these days visually scouring the ground for colorful, diverse, odd, and edible mushrooms. When I mention in these Posts that this or that species is edible, I offer a necessary caveat that the reader not take my word for it. The lion’s mane fungi (Hericium erinaceus; below) is one I harvest, prepare, and consume. Its vivid whiteness in our fall and winter woods makes it easy to spot. Its delicate filamentous structure is unique and a sensory delight to hold and examine. I found this specimen on a well-decayed downed tree October 17, 2020 in a bottomland hardwood forest on the eastern end of Alabama’s Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. Other names for lion’s mane include: monkey head; bearded hedgehog; pom-pom; bearded tooth.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

The October 17, 2020 trek offered other fungal rewards. This large willow oak (Quercus phellos) looked sound and healthy until I glanced above to about ten feet (below right), where a foot-wide cluster of shaggy bracket fungi (Inonotus hispidus) extended from the trunk. I could just reach it with my fingertip, feeling its soft pliant texture. Many other fresh brackets hung above me to 25 feet. This fungus is a decay organism, feasting upon a living tree. The old Steve-as-timber-beast would have lamented the reduction of commercial value and perhaps marked the stem for harvest. Now I marvel at the simple beauty of this shelf fungus. Its deep color and large dimensions. First-Nature.com remarks, White rot results from attack by the Shaggy Bracket, and infected trees have to be felled because this aggressive decay agent weakens the timber and can result in trunks or branches breaking and falling in stormy weather. Although still living, this oak is doomed. How long will it survive? I certainly cannot hazard a guess. Perhaps last night’s gusty winds have already felled it. Or it may continue to run its annual cycles of bud break and leaf abscission another decade…or three. The circle is in fact unbroken, even if the tree (or, shall I say, especially if and when) the tree crashes to the horizontal. The material of its cells will become soil organic matter, then will find warm absorption in a new plant…or slug or insect or small mammal or a future mighty oak and perhaps once again hang from the side of an oak within the structure of a shaggy bracket fungus.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Another oak, this one dead on its stump, sprouted a colony of (Ganoderma sessile), a polypore fungus. Like all Ganoderma species, G sessile has a shiny lacquered surface, especially when fresh like this grouping.

HGH Road

 

I found its distinctive beauty to0 special to include just a single photo. Enjoy all three, taken within ten feet of each other!

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two weeks later (November 4, 2020), I retraced my steps (more or less), coming across the same colony of G. sessile. Their lacquered sheen lies hidden beneath a thick dusting of countless spores. Nothing in Nature is static.

HGH Road

 

This is upright coral fungus (Ramaria stricta), common in forests across most of the US, growing on dead wood. Also known as strict-branch coral, this fungus appears throughout our local bottomland hardwood forests.

HGH Road

 

My iNaturalist app did not provide a definitive identity on these two beauties. It offered ten suggestions, most of them of the genus Amanita, which I accept, but not with certainty. The taller specimen stands about six inches. The cap and stalk are firm. The cap is scaly. Those features seem distinctive, yet I could not secure a firm identity.

HGH RoadHGH Road

 

Two Days Later at Big Cove Creek Greenway

Two days later (October 19) I biked at Big Cove Creek Greenway, City of Huntsville. Here I am standing by a trail-side river birch (Betula nigra) with its exfoliating bark. I append these additional photos because the timing fell so close to my discovering the mushroom menagerie above at the Wheeler Refuge and because of the spectacular display offered by what I found along the greenway. I had grown a beard, confirming my old man of the woods look, and verifying the image of a mushroom geezer! The beard is no longer with me (I exfoliated it!), so I felt compelled to include bearded-Steve in one of these Posts.

Big Cove Creek

 

Here is the spectacular display — these eastern American jack-o’-lantern mushrooms (Omphalotus illudens) visually shouted at me as I passed them. I couldn’t resist gathering images. What better time to find these jack-o’-lanterns than the Halloween season!

Big Cove Creek

 

My growing interest in fungi and mushrooms enriches my forest wanderings. I’ve discovered that the more I know, the harder I look, and the more I see. What in prior years had been invisible to me is now in plain sight. And what is in plain sight generates deep feelings of respect, admiration, learning, and inspiration.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my mid-October fungi explorations through an aging hardwood bottomland forest:

  • Nature’s gifts come in all sizes and variations, from a towering oak to the mushrooms of its decay fungi
  • We can find whatever we seek when we know where to look within Nature

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksHGH Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Mid-Summer Life-Flourish along a Wheeler NWR Gravel Road

August 18, 2020, Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I focused our Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge explorations interior to the Blackwell Swamp loop road on the Refuge’s eastern extension. See two previous Posts from our wanderings in both a pine terrace forest (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/09/pine-forest-on-a-rich-terrace-above-lake-wheeler-on-the-wnw-refuge/) and through a bottomland hardwood ecosystem (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/16/hardwood-forest-on-seasonally-flooded-lowlands-along-lake-wheeler-on-the-wnw-refuge/).

Even as our main target had been the two forest types, we marveled at the floral and butterfly extravaganza along the gravel road.

Floral Elegance

 

We appreciated that maintenance crews had not mowed vegetation between the woods edge and driving surface. A wall of vegetation grew to head height…and higher. Although we did not inventory every species in bloom that we encountered, we did photograph some of the more impressive late summer flowers. Mike stands admiring the roadside botanical garden below.

 

Pineland (or snow) squarestem (Melanthera nivea) grew profusely along the road (below left), standing 5-8-feet. We spotted an occasional buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), a species of flowering plant in the coffee family. It is native to eastern and southern North America. From the Morton Arboretum online: Buttonbush is a great shrub for naturalizing in wet areas. The glossy green leaves and fragrant, round flower clusters during mid-summer attract butterflies.  Native to the Chicago area and the eastern United States, buttonbush attracts more than 24 species of birds, as well as numerous species of butterflies. No wonder the roadside attracted so many butterflies!

Jolly BJolly B

 

And what a gem we discovered with this halberd-leaf rosemallow (Hibiscus laevis), one of just a few we spotted. I felt fortunate to read this from the NC State University online Extension Gardener: White to pink flowers bloom from June to August and are 5 petaled with a deeper colored throat and up to 6 inches wide. Prominent long stamens in the center of the cup-shaped flower. Each flower lasts for a day. Fortunate because we were there for that flower’s single day performance! And I learned more from the site:

The Halberd-leaved Rose Mallow is a native perennial in the mallow family.  It has erect green stems and large showy white or pink flowers.  It is a relative of the okra and has a slimy mucilaginous sap.  It grows quickly in warm weather and works well in wetland gardens and woodland habitats. This plant prefers full or partial sun, fertile soil, and wet conditions. Use in the water or rain garden, along streams or ponds or wet areas of the cottage or native plant garden. Although the text is intended for adventurous home gardeners, as a naturalist intending to understand Nature’s natives in-place, I can better appreciate that this rosemallow is perfectly suited to flourish along the Blackwell Swamp Road.

 

Jolly BJolly B

 

We identified a few specimens of Carolina horsenettle (Solanum carolinense) in flower. I turned to Wikipedia’s simple paragraph: Solanum carolinense, the Carolina horsenettle, is not a true nettle, but a member of the Solanaceae, or nightshade family. It is a perennial herbaceous plant, native to the southeastern United States that has spread widely throughout much of temperate North America. The Plants for a Future website offered more complex detail, including:

All parts of the plant are potentially poisonous. Fatalities have been reported with children. I’ll make sure not to ingest any parts!

Jolly B

 

I did not recall previously encountering American groundnut (Apios americana) in flower. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Texas) describes the species as a Climbing vine with maroon or reddish-brown pea-like flowers in compact racemes arising from leaf axils. This legume has a cord-like rootstalk with edible tubers the Indians gathered for food. The Pilgrims relied on them as a food source during their initial years in Massachusetts. The tubers can be used in soups and stews or fried like potatoes; the cooked seeds can also be eaten. The flowers are sufficiently beautiful to warrant cultivation, but the plant tends to take over. The generic name, from Greek for pear, alludes to the shape of the tubers. I can understand why a gardener might be tempted to transplant a seedling or two into a perennial landscape bed, risking the plant’s propensity to take over.

Jolly B

 

We found abundant bear’s foot (Smallanthus uvedalia). Also known as hairy leafcup, this species is a member of the Asteraceae, the Sunflower family. A USDA online source notes that this leafcup is a species of moist to dry, lightly shaded to open woodland, savanna, thickets, fields, and bottomland. This species is found from Michigan southwest to Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas, south to Oklahoma and Texas, east to New York and New Jersey, and, south to Florida. Some manuals also consider it native from Mexico to Panama. This species flowers in July to September. It is an excellent nectar/pollen plant and is visited by many species of bees and wasps. 

Jolly BJolly B

 

We also found a member of the pea family, bigpod sesbania (Sesbania herbacea). I find the technical plant manual descriptions written in a language (yes, it’s English) uniquely their own, both confidently specific and accurate, yet somewhat lyrical and mystical. From a USDA online source: Bigpod sesbania is a semi-woody, native, perennial where it can be grown yearlong in frost-free zones or as an annual warm-season legume where it is frost-killed. It has smooth, green, tapering stems that become woody with age. Although it only has a few wide-spreading branches, it can grow 3–10 ft tall. The Natural Resources Conservation Service Plant Guide former species name exaltata means extremely tall, and refers to the plant’s height. The alternately arranged 30 cm leaves are even-pinnately compound, with approximately 20–70 oppositely arranged leaflets. Leaflets are 0.75–2.5 cm long, with smooth margins and a pointed tip. They are somewhat hairy or waxy underneath.

Jolly B

 

We encountered many other plants in late summer bloom, but did not see our role to inventory an exhaustive list.

Lepidopteran Abundance

 

We saw any number of bee, wasp, and fly pollinators. However, we focused our attention on our Lepidopteran friends. Two of the more showy species common along the road shoulder were Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papillio glaucus; below) and black swallowtail (Papillio polyxenes; further below). From Wikipedia: The Eastern swallowtail is a species of butterfly native to eastern North America. It is one of the most familiar butterflies in the eastern United States, where it is common in many different habitats. It flies from spring to fall, during which it produces two to three broods. Adults feed on the nectar of many species of flowers. The male is yellow with four black “tiger stripes”  on each forewing. Females may be either yellow or black, making them dimorphic. The yellow morph is similar to the male, but with a conspicuous band of blue spots along the hindwing, while the dark morph is almost completely black.

The green eggs are laid singly on plants of the families Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae. Young caterpillars are brown and white; older ones are green with two black, yellow, and blue eyespots on the thorax. The caterpillar will turn brown prior to pupating. It will reach a length of 5.5 centimeters (2.2 in). The chrysalis varies from a whitish color to dark brown. Hibernation occurs in this stage in locations with cold winter months. The eastern tiger swallowtail is the state Alabama state butterfly (as well as state mascot). State mascot? I had no idea. I suppose most Alabamians, depending upon their perspective, assumed our state mascot was either Aubie the Tiger or Big AL!

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

Likewise, the black swallowtail is also a common butterfly in our region and along our road shoulder. From a University of Florida entomology website: The eastern black swallowtail is one of our most common and most studied swallowtails. Although it is admired for its beauty, it is one of the very few butterflies that may occasionally be considered a pest. It has been known by a variety of other names including black swallowtail, American swallowtail, parsnip swallowtail, parsley swallowtail, celeryworm, and caraway worm. Several subspecies of Papillio polyxenes occur in Mexico, Central America and South America. Habitats of the black swallowtail are generally open areas, including both uplands and wet areas—wet prairies, fields, flat-woods, pine savannas, roadsides, weedy areas, and gardens. Males perch and patrol open areas for females—often near patches of host plant.

Eggs are laid singly on the host plants—usually on new foliage and occasionally on flowers. Development time is variable depending on temperature and host plant species, but generally the egg stage lasts four to nine days, the larval stage 10–30 days, and the pupal stage nine to 18 days (except for overwintering pupae). Pupae are the overwintering stage. There are two generations in northern parts of the range but at least three generations in the South.

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

Mike identified and photographed a long-tailed skipper (Urbanus proteus). From the Alabama Butterfly Atlas: No other skipper in Alabama has iridescent blue-green on its upper wings and body! These flashy skippers avidly visit flowers for nectar, and often hang upside-down to feed.   In most years, Long-tails move into Alabama from Florida, usually appearing by early summer.  They colonize as far north as the New England States, where the arrival of cold weather sees them start a southward movement to warmer climates. They cannot tolerate freezing temperatures in any stage of their life cycle. Long-tailed Skippers overwinter as reproductively arrested adults in tropical and subtropical areas. It is likely that this widespread species will eventually be documented in every county in Alabama, where they are welcome and frequent garden visitors.

The Long-tailed Skipper is distributed from Argentina northward through Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico to southeastern Texas and along the Gulf coastal states to Florida.

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

We saw many individuals of Gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae). From iNaturalist: The Gulf fritillary or passion butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) is a bright orange butterfly in the subfamily Heliconiinae of the family Nymphalidae. That subfamily was formerly set apart as a separate family, the Heliconiidae. The Heliconiinae are “longwing butterflies,” which have long, narrow wings compared to other butterflies. Gulf fritillary is the only member of genus Agraulis. Agraulis vanillae is most commonly found in the southern areas of the United States, specifically in many regions of Florida and Texas.

Gulf fritillaries have a chemical defense mechanism in which they release odorous chemicals in response to predator sightings. As a result, common predators learn to avoid this species. Pheromones play a critical role in male-female courtship behaviors, with male gulf fritillaries emitting sex pheromones that contribute to mate choice in females.

Jolly B

Photo Credit: Mike Ezell

 

Blackwell Swamp

 

From floral elegance to butterfly abundance along the roadway, allow me a sidelong gaze into Blackwell Swamp from a view-point at road’s edge. We stopped to enjoy the view eastward just as a barred owl swept silently from our left as we enjoyed the open panorama of water, aqua-vegetation, and the hardwood forests fronting the swamp.

Jolly B

 

The barred owl (Strix varia) alighted on a willow oak branch just a dozen feet above ground. The lighting (too-bright background) did not allow a clear image, yet we thrilled nevertheless at seeing this magnificent true owl. From the All About Birds website: The Barred Owl’s hooting call, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a classic sound of old forests and treed swamps. But this attractive owl, with soulful brown eyes and brown-and-white-striped plumage, can also pass completely unnoticed as it flies noiselessly through the dense canopy or snoozes on a tree limb. Originally a bird of the east, during the twentieth century it spread through the Pacific Northwest and southward into California.

Jolly B

 

I’ll repeat that Mike and I had no advance intent to explore roadside vegetation. Its richness and beauty came as a bonus, meriting this third Blog Post from our wanderings on the eastern end of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge on a seasonably hot and humid mid-August day. A bit of sweat and insects was a toll rewarded amply by a full dose of beauty, magic, wonder, and awe!

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from our mid-August observations along the Blackwell Swamp loop road:

  • There’s pure magic along the southern riparian forest-edge roadside
  • Sunlight fuels Nature’s explosion of botanic (and pollinator) power 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Hardwood Forest on Seasonally Flooded Lowlands along Lake Wheeler on the WNW Refuge

August 18, 2020 Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I drove the Blackwell Swamp Loop Road at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. We occasionally parked, spending hours on foot exploring a vibrant bottomland hardwood forest within the loop road on lowlands seasonally flooded. Earlier that morning we spent a like amount of time in a nearby pine forest on a sandy loam terrace a few feet higher than the bottomland hardwood forest. See the Blog Post: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/09/pine-forest-on-a-rich-terrace-above-lake-wheeler-on-the-wnw-refuge/

Bottomland Hardwood Forest

 

The hardwood forest originated naturally when the Corps of Engineers harvested the forest then present in the early 1930s, when the Corps acquired the property destined for flooding by Wheeler Dam and the associated buffer lands, this hardwood bottomland and the pine terrace included.

Jolly B

 

We marveled at a diverse hardwood forest. I’m standing (below left) beside a 46-inch diameter willow oak (Quercus phellos), a magnificent specimen, towering 100-110 feet, with wide spreading crown (below right). Thirty-six years has passed since I left the forest products industry where, within my 12-year employment, I spent two years supplying logs to the company’s hardwood sawmill in Waverly, VA. Four decades hence, I still appreciate high-value standing timber. This oak rose more than 60 feet to its first branch, with four clear 16-foot logs. The first two are veneer quality. Although I can’t deny viewing such trees through my commercial forestry lens, that perspective does not dominate my assessment. Today I see magic and wonder, overwhelming me with humility (I am nothing in Nature’s presence) and inspiration (Nature moves and elevates me). Just 85-90 years ago Corps of Engineers crews harvested the standing forest, passing the baton to Nature, which viewed the cutting as just another natural disturbance, calling upon her resilience and hidden talents to regenerate and renew. This nearly four-foot diameter oak is a gift of God and a purely natural creation.

Jolly BJolly B

 

As a former CEO of four different universities, I long ago realized that Nature teaches many lessons. In fact, I hold that every lesson for leading, living, learning, and serving is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature. Peering into the lofty reaches of the willow oak reminded me that as leaders and citizens we must feel deep humility for the tremendous responsibilities we bear for serving others and sustaining our Earth for future generations. I felt absolute humility gazing heavenward into the oak’s crown, even as I felt meagerness and inadequacy leading an intricate university ecosystem touching literally thousands of individuals preparing for tomorrow. How could I not be inspired by Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe standing in the presence of such grandeur! Likewise, I viewed the universities I led with absolute inspiration, in their own way as wondrous as the mighty oak. I cannot imagine effectively leading without full doses of humility and inspiration.

Jolly B

 

This double-barreled (forked) white oak (Quercus alba; below) measured nearly 60-inches in diameter. The old commercial forester in me, instead, saw two 30-inch stems, each one drawing merchantability from where loggers would buck it… above the fork. I can’t help myself… the commercial forestry filter remains intact, yet, I often elect to disengage from it, viewing Nature through a lens of broader appreciation and awe. Once again, we stood at the base absorbing a living organism just 20-25 years my senior. Ah, the stories these oaks could tell: of powerful thunderstorms; occasional (infrequent) snows; cold winter rains; long nights; deep heat; droughts; floods; terrifying winds; courting owls; migrating neotropical songbirds; deer, fox, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, and skunks; tree frogs; snakes and other reptiles.

Jolly B

 

Both oaks stood on relatively higher ground (by 12-18″) within the bottomland. Note the dense understory and ground cover in the prior photos. For much of the winter and spring the higher ground stood above the seasonally flooded lower land. The lower ground, represented below, would have been inundated from late November through April most years. The leaf-matted somewhat ground-cover-free understory evidences the wetter condition. Some 100-feet beyond the photo-point below left lies Blackwell Swamp, where conditions are too wet to support forest cover.

Jolly BJolly B

 

My first forestry position with the company (Union Camp Corporation) after my May 1973 graduation from forestry school involved managing company-owned forestland in southeastern VA. I remember early-on learning the land and forests on the lower coastal plain. One of my colleagues (a coastal plain native) orienting me (a central Appalachian trained forester) pointed to the hill a few hundred feet distant. I saw nothing that met my definition of hill. Instead, I learned that a couple feet in elevation carried great meaning in terms of operability for forestry operations, site quality, and species preference. During the wetter winter season, a hill meant dry feet! The massive, 46-inch willow oak stands on such a hill.

Some Hardwood Tree Oddities

 

During my current woods walks I am not blindly distracted by the commercial value of trees and forests. Instead, I am taken by both the towering individuals with straight boles and with individuals I describe as tree form oddities. What I used to see as timber defects I now cherish as curiosities, triggering my latent interest in forestry forensics, my urge to puzzle the cause of such unusual form and structure. Understanding the oak below required little imagination. Picture its life beginning as a twin, a double stump sprout resulting from the 1930s harvesting. Perhaps originally there were more than two, yet only two made it to what I’ll estimate was 20-30 years ago, when the nearer twin snapped away during a windstorm. That stem was noticeably smaller than its twin is now, reflecting my 20-30-year estimate. The old wound continues to callous, again confirming my time estimate since such large wound callousing takes years. Another point of confirmation is that the twin broke away long enough ago that all evidence of it has disappeared into the soil through decay.

 

Perhaps coincident with the wind that toppled the oak twin, the top of a nearby tree crushed this sweetgum below to almost horizontal. Laying it flat but not killing it. The sweetgum shot a sprout vertically from a position about three feet above the ground. That sprout has become the dominant main stem, even as the prostrate tree sent other sprouts along its stem vertically. They, too, have survived, but are clearly subordinate to the main trunk.

Jolly B

Jolly B

Nature specializes in mysteries that I can sometimes interpret, but not always, yet that is part of the fun. There is great joy in not knowing…and equal thrill in solving. I shall never again walk in the woods and find nothing to challenge my mind, heart, soul, and spirit. The forest fills me with wonder… and deep appreciation.

Fungal Associates

 

A forest is far more than just a community of trees. The forest ecosystem is a complex, interwoven collection of life forms, all interdependent in a symphony of forms and functions. I am a tree guy. I know something about forest components in the animal and plant kingdoms. Only since retirement have I dedicated time and intellectual energy to knowing, understanding, and appreciating the fungi kingdom, admittedly driven in part by a new-found fondness for edible wild mushrooms. I also find their beauty and function captivating. I offer below just a glimpse of the bottomland fungi we stopped to admire. This is a two-colored bolete (Baorangia bicolor). It’s also called red and yellow bolete. I believe it’s a tasty edible, but I have not yet gained confidence enough to harvest and test.

Jolly BJolly B

 

iNaturalist identifies this specimen as scaly rustgill (Gymnopilus sapineus). The iNaturalist description says it has a bitter taste and that it is unclear at this time whether this species or its relatives contain the hallucinogen psilocybin. No, I won’t be trying this species!

Jolly BJolly B

 

iNaturalist confirmed my field-identification that this common mushroom is of the genus Trametes. I find Trametes throughout my rambling zone here in northern Alabama. Dead and down hardwood material doesn’t stand a chance against this rapacious decay fungi.

Jolly B

 

Here is reddening lepiota (Leucoagaricus americanus). This one also carries a less-than-convincing iNaturalist edibility endorsement: It is considered edible, but it might be harmful to ingest the mushroom sometimes. Clearly not on my harvest to consume list!

Jolly BJolly B

 

So, whether it’s bottomland hardwood giants, odd tree forms, or myriad fungi reducing woody material to reincorporate with forest soil, I am intrigued, humbled, and inspired by these complex forest ecosystems. Robert Service in Spell of the Yukon spoke elegantly 120 years ago of the far north:

There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,

And I want to go back — and I will

Although our northern Alabama Tennessee River bottomland hardwood forests do not match the freshness, the freedom, the farness of the untrammeled wildness of the high latitudes, there is magic, mystery, and stillness in these seeming ancient riparian forests. Yes, I know that this forest I trekked has not yet lived a century, yet its ways, forms, functions, wildness, and wisdom are timeless. These forest ecosystems learned their ways long before we humans ventured into them 10-12 millennia ago. And, unless we are much smarter than I fear we are, they will thrive countless millennia after we depart the scene.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer two observations from my mid-August trek through the bottomland forest:

  • A forest is far more than just a community of trees.
  • The forest ecosystem is a complex, interwoven collection of life forms, all interdependent in a symphony of forms and functions.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

Pine Forest on a Rich Terrace above Lake Wheeler on the WNW Refuge

We’re now into the second week of September. Continuing to enjoy our early morning walks, Judy and I are aware that dawn now breaks as we complete our circuit. And we’ve noticed near silence from our avian friends who chattered and clamored in greeting spring and early summer dawns. I’m reminded of Aldo Leopold’s observation in A Sand County Almanac:

By September, the day breaks with little help from birds. A song sparrow may give a half-hearted song, a woodcock may twitter overhead en route to his daytime thicket, a barred owl may terminate the night’s argument with one last wavering call, but few other birds have any thing to say or sing about.

From my September vantage point I’m drifting back to August 18, 2020, when Alabama State Parks Naturalist Emeritus Mike Ezell and I visited the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I had previously posted a photo-essay from my August 1, 2020, bushwhacking through a nearby riparian hardwood forest:  http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/19/august-riparian-forest-roaming-at-the-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/ And just last week I posted an essay from my August 8, 2020 ramblings in a nearby aging hardwood bottomland forest: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/09/01/an-aging-tennessee-river-riparian-forest/

Those reflections led Mike and me mid-month to explore a stand of towering loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) on a terrace along Wheeler Lake. While there, we also examined adjacent hardwood lowlands and investigated the rich floral displays along Blackwell Run Road, the gravel route that took us all the way around Blackwell Swamp. I focus this Post on the pine terrace. Watch for two subsequent Posts offering observations from the hardwood bottoms and then the linear botanical garden along the gravel road.

Standing Tall

 

I bicycled the gravel road loop around Blackwell Swamp last winter. I admired the magnificent pine forest along the route just north of the Wheeler Dam-impounded Tennessee River, vowing to return on foot at some future date. I found the opportunity to do just that some eight months later. My entry into the stand proved well worth the wait. I’m committed now to visit again this coming winter…to enjoy cooler temperatures, no biting insects (i.e. mosquitoes and chiggers), wandering free of spider webs hung at face level, views unencumbered by those pesky hardwood leaves. I’ve learned that mid-summer is not the favored forest bushwhacking season!

I’ve written so many of these Posts that from time to time I have little choice but to repeat prior observations, reflections, lessons, and stories of inspiration. Loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) is the principal pine here in northern Alabama. Loblolly is an early successional species, flourishing in full sunlight, responsive to catastrophic forest disturbance (filling in after hurricane, tornado, and fire), and quick to reclaim abandoned agricultural land. The terrace that supports the subject pine stand runs roughly east-west parallel to the river. It is bordered to the north by a bottomland hardwood forest reaching into the actual Blackwell Swamp. The terrace width varies along its quarter-mile length from 200 to 500 feet. The gravel road along the river perches on a natural levee above the now-impounded river.

Picture this terrace prior to the 1930’s completion of Wheeler Dam as cultivated with crops of corn and cotton. Pine and hardwood would have populated the immediate river bank. These pine and perhaps individuals at field-edge bordering the bottomland provided the seed source to reforest the field when the Corps of Engineers completed buffer land purchase and terminated farming. The US Forest Service silvics manual observes this about loblolly seed production and distribution:

Seedfall usually begins in October, and the bulk of the seeds are released in November and early December. Seedfall is hastened by dry, warm, windy weather and retarded by cool, wet weather. Seed dispersal in or adjacent to a stand varies with height and stocking level of the seed-source trees, magnitude of the seed crop, terrain, and weather conditions at the time of seedfall. The effective seeding distance ranges from 61 to 91 m (200 to 300 ft) in a downwind direction from the seed source and 23 to 30 m (75 to 100 ft) in other directions.

The pine trees adjacent to the terrace would have been tall, wide-crowned, and vigorous…attributes suggesting abundant seed production and height sufficient to accommodate full dispersion coverage of the terrace. The abandoned field would have provided a perfect seedbed, free of competing woody vegetation. Lush herbaceous vegetation would have also immediately invaded the field, but loblolly has long ago mastered the art and science of competing with such short-lived competitors. Loblolly quickly owned the field, drawing deeply from its fertile depths, and reaching rapidly skyward. Because loblolly does not tolerate seasonal flooding, its seedlings did not flourish on the bordering bottomland soils. The tree below is 24 inches in diameter (4.5 feet above ground level). We estimated its height at 110-120 feet. Its age at roughly 85-90 years. Height at a specified age (the base age) is the surest measure of site quality. When I practiced forestry in central and south Alabama (early 1980s), we used base age 25 years. During my forestry undergraduate days in the northeast we used base age 50 for hardwoods.

Jolly B

Jolly B

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Loblolly pine matures more rapidly than northern hardwoods. Its rate of height growth lessens over time. By age 50 the slope of increase slackens toward plateauing. The dominant trees we examined are by now becoming flat-topped, failing to extend further. Although I have scant empirical evidence to support my conclusion, I estimate site quality (base age 25) for this naturally generated stand at 65-75 feet. Were this a planted stand of genetically-improved (through selective cross-breeding, provenance studies, and evaluative culling) stock, I believe this site could produce 80-foot trees by age 25.

This pine at the bottomland edge measured 30 inches in diameter, reaching high above us, dominating the adjacent trees.

Jolly BJolly B

 

My doctoral dissertation evaluated soil-site factors for Allegheny Hardwood forests of SW NY and NW PA. I spent many days excavating soil pits, describing soil characteristics, and collecting soil samples by horizon for laboratory analyses. I was able to predict site quality on the basis of soil and site factors even without trees present to measure.

The Essence of a Rich Site

 

I carried my trusty sharpshooter spade (yes the very same one I used for my 1985 PhD field sampling!) into the pine stand. Compared to my very stony NY and PA sites, the terrace soil was heavenly. I scraped aside the forest litter layer. The spade slipped easily into the soil…nary a rock encountered. Yes, a root or two, but I had carefully avoided major roots.

Jolly BJolly B

 

I have never lost my learned knowledge of determining soil texture (an approximation of percent content by sand, silt, and clay particles) by feel, a measure serving as a surrogate for moisture- and nutrient-holding capacity. I judged the soil to be sandy loam. We detected the old plow line (6-8 inches below the surface) still evident some nine decades after abandonment. Funny how being on my knees, connecting viscerally to the essence of the vitality, fertility, and heart of the site thrilled me to my forester’s core. I wondered how any Nature enthusiast could traipse through our magnificent forests never having looked beneath the litter layer. I know a man who cherishes old cars with souped up engines. He could not imagine appreciating the car without peering intently under the hood. Below left I am under the hood, admiring the power and strength of the thing…the soil…that ultimately sustains all terrestrial life on Earth.

Jolly BJolly B

 

To most lay readers I stake professional claim to being a lifelong Nature enthusiast…a naturalist. Yet, given my recent re-acquaintance with my sharpshooter, I admit to still being a soil scientist. I relish getting my hands dirty. That is, the dirt of life — soil, the essence of life! There is nothing unclean about soil.

Vines in the Pine Forest

 

We found this hefty poison ivy vine co-living with a two-foot diameter loblolly. Some would see this and assume that the vine climbed the 110 feet into the pine crown. Such is not the case. Within a couple of years of the pine seedling taking root, a bird, having recently gorged on ripe poison ivy seed, deposited the undigested (but chemically scarified) seed from its perch atop the seedling. The vine seed sprouted the following spring, found the site fertile and suitable, and began climbing with the ascending pine. The vine kept pace, always staying in the upper reaches of the pine crown, enjoying its free ride and the full canopy-top sunlight. Theirs is a partnership. It’s clear to me what the vine takes from this joint venture. I have not surmised what’s in it for the pine. A wild guess. Perhaps pine trees with ivy entangled are less susceptible to pine bark beetle infestation. Maybe birds that reduce bark beetle numbers are more common within the ivy-draped canopy. I shall continue to search for definitive answers. I have quoted Leonardo da Vinci often, including this applicable gem:

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous.

The vine and tree partnership, sustained over eons, I am sure is not without beauty, simplicity, and purpose. Ah, I love Nature’s revelations and mysteries. Every day in her wildness I find many more questions than I will ever answer.

Jolly B

 

We found aerial roots cascading from a muscadine vine. I have discussed their form and function in prior Posts. The literature on Vitus is less than helpful describing function. I’ve offered that they serve as emergency backup should some force of Nature drop the tree (and its accompanying vine) to the ground, these adventitious roots stand ready to vegetatively propagate the vine, whether the tree is dropped in-place or carried miles downstream by rampaging floodwaters. I wonder, too, whether the air roots draw moisture from high humidity air or from morning fog common along the river. Another mystery I shall be content to mull.

Jolly B

 

The loblolly below died in place, holding its grapevine aloft until the weakening pine stem yielded to gravity, bringing the vine with it. Interestingly, the vine had also died, falling leafless to the ground. I saw no evidence of a long ago fatal lightning strike, yet that is my assumption. Why else would both tree and vine be simultaneously dead? The level of decay leads me to conclude that the lightning ended both lives 7-10 years prior.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Muscadine and poison ivy vines are complemented here by supplejack (Berchemia scandens), the smooth-barked green vine below, intertwined with a larger muscadine. Both keep intimate company with the loblolly, sharing more direct sunlight high in the canopy. From iNaturalist online, The Rattan vine or Alabama supplejack is a species of climbing plant in the buckthorn family Rhamnaceae. It is native to the central and southern parts of the United States. I appreciate it for its soft green color, a sharp contrast to either poison ivy or grape.

Jolly B

 

Near the road, fortified by sunlight leaking into the understory, this muscadine supported leaves and fruit within our reach. Wildlife benefits immeasurably from the rich diversity of edible fruits and seeds, as well as forage and cover, within this wonderful riparian and terrace forest ecosystem.

Jolly BJolly B

 

I also like supplejack for its apt moniker. It appears especially supple…twisting, twining, and assuming intricate shapes and designs, leaving its indelible signature on all woody stems that it binds and grasps.

Jolly B

 

I’ll bring this Post to closure with a final set of observations, evidencing intentional forest management, in this instance a forest protection treatment.

Signs of Forest Protection Measures

 

For the most part, this 80-90-year-old pine terrace forest would strike the casual, lay observer as an untouched ancient forest, unmanaged and all natural. Yet, Mike and I discovered very real evidence of human intervention occurring since stand origin. We noticed a cut stump, standing 12-18″ above ground level. Then we noted three others in a rough semi-circular pattern. All four had been felled inward toward the center of the subscribed arc. They had obviously not been cut to remove commercially; the trunks (clear and straight) still lay where the sawyer felled them, some ten years earlier. Below are the first two of the four. All are well decayed.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Likewise with the remaining two. Look down the stem to see where all four intersect in a jumble.

Jolly BJolly B

 

And a closer view of the jumble reveals that when felled the live crowns stacked together. For what purpose were these four felled, with crowns overlapping on the ground? Imagine a southern pine beetle outbreak a decade or so ago. I recall outbreaks during my forest products industry days. At the first indication of pine beetle epidemics (they occur every 8-12 years across the south), we would map (by road and aircraft) pockets of infestation, and systematically harvest the infested trees and a buffer.

Jolly B

 

Here is what the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) offers:

The southern pine beetle (SPB; Dendroctonus frontalis), is the most destructive insect pest of pine in the southern United States. A recent historical review estimated that SPB caused $900 million of damage to pine forests from 1960 through 1990. This aggressive tree killer is a native insect that lives predominantly in the inner bark of pine trees. Trees attacked by SPB often exhibit hundreds of resin masses (i.e., pitch tubes) on the outer tree bark. SPB feed on phloem tissue where they construct winding S-shaped or serpentine galleries. The galleries created by both the adult beetles and their offspring can effectively girdle a tree, causing its death. SPB also carry, and introduce into trees, blue-stain fungi. These fungi colonize xylem tissue and block water flow within the tree, also causing tree mortality. Consequently, once SPB have successfully colonized a tree, the tree cannot survive, regardless of control measures.

Most IFAS-recommended treatment measures involve cutting and removing the infested trees. However, IFAS offers a final option that I believe is precisely what the Refuge managers performed at this spot infestation:

Where tree removal is not feasible, infested stems can be felled, bucked and hand-sprayed with an approved insecticide. Where none of the above approaches is feasible, infested trees, with or without a buffer strip, may be simply felled toward the center of the spot. This cut-and-leave approach has had limited use with variable results.

In this case, with four infested trees, the treatment either worked or took place coincident with the natural end of infestation. We could offer no other explanation for our four felled mystery trees in the heart of this lovely river terrace pine forest. We both relished our efforts as forensic naturalists. I’ll repeat my mantra that every wild place has at least one story to tell, oftentimes at the intersection of human and natural history.

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early August trek through the river terrace pine forest:

  • Rich soil, abundant moisture, and long growing seasons create cathedral forests.
  • Southern vines are canopy co-dominants.
  • Every wild place has at least one story to tell, oftentimes at the intersection of human and natural history. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

An Aging Tennessee River Riparian Forest

August 8, 2020 I bushwhacked (Webster definition: to travel by foot through uncleared terrain) through a Tennessee River riparian forest on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge north of the river in Limestone County Alabama. I restricted my wanderings to off-trail, insisting that my ramblings keep me within the closed-canopy forest. I wanted to experience, feel, sense, and see the forest intimately. I had previously passed along the forest’s northern edge on a gravel access road by bicycle and on foot. I have often mused that I  prefer hiking alone or with another naturalist who is content with (more accurately, demands) walking in the woods… not racing through the forest. Just as is true with life and living, it is the journey and not the destination that rewards!

I wandered off-trail nearby just a week earlier, issuing a Post of my general observations and reflections: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/08/19/august-riparian-forest-roaming-at-the-wheeler-national-wildlife-refuge/ This subsequent Post focuses on the transition this forest is making from vibrant mature to old growth.

A Vibrant Forest with Healthy Trees

The Corps of Engineers completed Wheeler Dam November 9, 1936. TVA had begun purchasing lands destined for impoundment and as a buffer in 1934, including this forestland. As was often the case along the necklace of TVA dams and lakes, either timber harvesting or agricultural abandonment occurred on the buffer acreage. Because the forest I hiked evidenced numerous old windthrow mounds (from a forest predating 1934) I concluded that this land had not been cleared and cultivated. Instead, I believe the prior forest had been cutover in the mid-1930s, naturally regenerated to mixed hardwoods, predominantly oak with hickory, poplar, and sweetgum, and a scattering of loblolly pine. The forest has flourished on these rich lowland sites for the past 85 years or so. I have biked along nearby stands dominated by pine. I will devote a future wandering hike to exploring that stand, which I believe will prove to be established on abandoned farmland, perhaps even planted to pine.

Many of the dominant canopy trees (below) reach 100-feet and higher. I characterize the forest as mature… transitioning toward a state I’ll call old growth: big trees, lots of dead and down woody debris, and some other large trees showing signs of decline and death, with sporadic canopy openings (from blowdowns and standing tree demise) regenerating and filling in from below and from adjacent main canopy trees reaching into the openings. The two photos below depict the conditions typical across the acreage I walked. Beautiful sylvan conditions that big-tree lovers like me admire and adore. Oak (Quercus sp.) has some traits offering hints about stand origin. I surmise that the cutting in the mid-1930s removed the higher quality oaks then present, leaving unmerchantable saplings and poles, including some damaged by the logging. Oak regenerates often from stump sprouting after cutting. I am confident that seedling regeneration accounted for few stems in today’s forest. I will offer explanation as we proceed through the photo-essay below.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Because this riparian site is fertile and moisture plentiful, these oaks (above) grow tall, beautifully negatively geotropic. Likewise for the yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) below. From the Google online dictionary: geotropism is the growth of the parts of plants with respect to the force of gravity. The upward growth of plant shoots is an instance of negative geotropism. No question about where gravity pulls these tall straight stems. The old industrial forester in me still appreciates those clear logs, blemish-free, reaching toward a canopy high above.

Jolly B

 

This black oak (Quercus velutina) also reaches for the sky, rising from a stout trunk.

Jolly B

 

Oaks, poplar, shagbark hickory (Carya ovata; below), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua; not pictured) dominate the stand.

Jolly B

 

The trees I included above are healthy, full-crowned, and show no signs of disease or decline. They suggest to the uninitiated a forest that has flourished for centuries, that will likely persist for many more, unchanging and static. I’ve queried forest landowners in Pennsylvania (where I conducted workshops during the 12 years I served on the faculty at Penn State University (1987-96)) about the age of various forests where we stood. At the time, most of the state’s forests had been cut clean 70-90 years prior. Respondents commonly guessed that the forests ranged between hundreds of years to “since the time of Christ.” I am certain that were I to ask about the age of the Wheeler NWR riparian forest, the answers would have fallen within the same range. We 21st Century northern Alabama citizens, like lay citizens everywhere, are sadly uninitiated about about Nature. Our ignorance extends to Alabama’s 23.1 million acres of forestland, home to what the US Forest Service Southern Research Station in 2016 estimated as 16.98 billion trees. Although our southern forest trees will outlive most of us, they, too, have finite lives. In fact, I saw unmistakable signs of decline as I meandered through the forest.

And Some Not So Healthy

Not all individuals stood strong and carefree. This white oak (Quercus alba) looked sound, yet a large bracket fungus mushroom (a resinous polypore) sprouted from its base, suggesting that dead wood is within reach. I could not discern with certainty whether the dead wood is of the oak, or just nearby. I viewed it as a signal (an indicator) of potential trouble, not as a definite sign of ailment. Were I, as I did decades prior, still purchasing standing timber for a hardwood sawmill in Waverly, Virginia, I would be skeptical that this individual had interior rot, significantly degrading log quality and value.

Jolly B

 

Other trees evidenced signs (not just symptoms) of certain degradation and reduced vigor, vitality, and value. This 30-inch diameter oak still has a vibrant crown, yet is clearly hollow, likely home to critters of various sorts. Fungal fruiting bodies (to the right of the trekking pole below right) evidence dead wood along a vertical seam. I pondered why this large diameter oak appears to be long-hollowed. My forensic forestry yielded an answer. This oak is a residual from the mid 1930s logging, perhaps too small to harvest, damaged by that operation, and left to populate the new forest. The scarred trunk served as an infection court for decay fungi. It has lived with the decay for nine decades, inconvenienced but not fatally limited. As a surviving remnant in the new stand, it likely stood 30-40 feet above the regenerating stems, and had advantageous access to sunlight as well as soil nutrient and moisture resources. I have no idea how many more years it will withstand the stresses of decay, wind, ice, and gravity.

Jolly BJolly B

 

The burled-base black oak (below left) does not just suggest heart rot… it proclaims it with full throat. As does the black oak (below left) with direct external access to its hollowed interior. Like the 30-inch tree above, these two black oaks are probably original stand remnants injured 80-90 years ago and extending life into this new forest.

Jolly BJolly B

 

These are the walking wounded, spanning a forest generation, bridging a 19th-century forest into the 21st. I can’t imagine them lasting into the 22nd. The force and facts of Nature argue to the contrary. Their time will come within the remaining 80 years of this century.

And Some in Various Stages of Standing Dead

 

Others no longer walk, yet remain standing, awaiting that threshold of physics when strength no longer exceeds the force of gravity. The twin-oak below has not yet completely shed its bark, suggesting that its death knell sounded no longer than five years ago. I found no obvious cause of death. However, I know that usually some precipitating factor triggers demise. Perhaps I missed seeing a lightning scar, or evidence of deep decay. Or a disease of some sort. I suppose we could conclude that it died of natural causes. This twin had mastered its neighborhood, reaching high, spreading wide, and flourishing. We’ve all lost friends who flourished until an untimely and unexpected illness (or accident) took them.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Here’s the vertical view from the double-tree’s base. Its crown has lost all small branches, leaving only a coarse skeleton, indicating to me that death arrived on the far end of no longer than five years ago. Already, its neighbors are filling in the canopy-opening. Nature really does abhor a vacuum!

Jolly B

 

Yet another oak is under full fungal attack, its lower three feet of trunk decorated by hundreds of fruiting bodies. The view skyward reveals another crown already having shed all small twigs and branches. And like the large twin oak, its canopy opening is rapidly filling.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Others among the standing dead are mere snags. Both of these below lost their tops at 20-30 feet above the ground. The hollow and well-rotted snag below left will slump, tip, or slip to horizontal before too many more Earth orbits. The other, an oak (below right), retains some bark, and likely died more recently, and may persist in the vertical a few years longer. It’s another 30-inch diameter remnant from the 1930s logged stand.

Jolly B

Jolly B

 

 

 

 

 

The US Forest Service published a definition of old growth forest in 1989, paraphrased here: Old growth forests are ecosystems distinguished by large old trees (living and dead) and related structural attributes…that may include tree size, accumulations of large dead and down woody material, multiple canopy layers, species composition, and ecosystem function. Most scientists would now include vertical and horizontal diversity in tree canopy as an important attribute. To this point I’ve described the standing elements of this aging riparian hardwood forest.

And Others Dead and Down in Various Stages of Decay

 

This stand also meets the dead and down woody debris criterion. As with many other stems described above, the poplar (below left) and oak (below right) had stood hollowed for decades, with the pace of decay and growth in equilibrium until the physics of strength and stress brought them to the ground. With every instance of main canopy stem attrition the forest shifts toward meeting the old growth definition. Openings encourage a layered sub-canopy and a forest patchwork of tree ages and species composition. Nothing is static in our forests.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Trunks failed on both the poplar and oak above. The physics of relative stem strength, root anchorage, and wind torque determine whether a crown topples earthward, the trunk fractures along its lower length (above), or the roots and soil mass lift 90-degrees as below. In whatever way the threshold is surpassed, gravity ensures the final pivot to the forest floor. Oh, what a wonder to behold, were I given assurance of no personal harm, to experience the visual fury, concussive noise and wind blast, shattering vibrations, and even the fresh-fractured fragrance of wood and heaving soil. If a tree falls in the forest and no human is there to witness, will it make a sound? I am not a student of metaphysics, therefore I will not (now or ever) argue the question and its answer. Instead, I believe that physics does not give a rip whether a person is nearby or not. The catastrophic forces at play when the massive oak trembled, yielded, and toppled are evident. The ground heaved, the trunk shook the earth, crushing nearby stems to the ground, the whipping and falling crown fanned powerful gusts, and the noise would have been audible for half-a-mile, even if no person stood within its reach. Will such a falling tree make a sound if no one is present? Damn right!

Jolly B

 

Bark still held to the big tree above, suggesting it had fallen within the past five years. More time has passed for the fallen two-foot diameter victim below. Let’s consider my estimates courtesy of forensic observation. The transformation from standing vigorous main canopy occupant to prostrate decaying log to forest floor duff occurs predictably within a given location, varying with climate, the factors that killed and brought the tree to horizontal, and species. I don’t claim to be an expert, however, I am learning through disciplined observation.

Jolly B Road

 

Death, decay, and recycling to the soil is a process as certain as taxes, and far more practiced through time. Nature exacts a price on all living organisms. Nature demands a death tax, her way of assuring that life continues forevermore… so long as Earth remains in our sun’s inhabitable zone. The carbon cycle of life and death will persist, with or without the presence of humans. And trees will fall whether anyone will ever hear them again.

Jolly B

 

A secondary tree-death tax comes in the form of releasing sunlight to successors. The former main canopy tree, represented by the broken snag (below left) fought many decades to achieve its full access to its sunlight-fuel, igniting chloroplasts that year after year added new wood, incremented vertical and horizontal shoot growth, and committed roots to exploiting soil nutrients and moisture. Death liberates the precious sunlight to the ever-changing forest, including the next generation and beyond. The dead and down woody debris refreshes and enriches the essential soil.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Forest forensics traces the carbon recycling from majestic tree to soil organic matter.

Deeply Decayed — Nearly Fully Recycled, Beginning the Cycle Anew

 

This stump is still upright, but its days are numbered. I found no trace of the trunk and branches that toppled near the stump decades ago. Let’s view this stump as a monument… for the moment. Its only lasting legacy is the forest that succeeds it and the nearby trees tapping the rich forest soil.

Jolly B

 

As I develop my formal Land Legacy Stories (a consulting product I offer through my Great Blue Heron, LLC), I always recommend that the property owner install permanent photo points, returning every 5-10 years to chronicle long term change. Imagine if one had been established near the two locations below back in the 1930s. We would be able to track the life, death, and decay of the trees that are now nearly fully soil-incorporated.

Jolly BJolly B

 

Yet, as nice as the photo record would be, my forest forensic services would be of little value. I enjoy hiking within the forest, this one or any of hundreds that I’ve explored over the nearly five decades that I’ve practiced forestry, and reflecting upon Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I draw two lessons from exploring this aging riparian forest on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge:

  • Every forest tells a compelling story, one rich with Life and Death
  • And every story accents my appreciation for Nature-Inspired Life and Living

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

August Riparian Forest Roaming at the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge

August 1, 2020 I invested more than three hours bushwhacking (hiking off-trail) through the upland riparian forests along the Tennessee River on the east end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. I admit that my hunger for golden chanterelles served as incentive to challenge mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, ticks, chiggers, briers, poison ivy, draped spider webs, and perhaps a venomous snake or two. I suffered no wounds, venom, or other insults. I harvested some seven pounds of golden chanterelles for my own consumption, a bounty worth every bit of sweat!

The Upland Riparian Forest

Allow me to introduce the forest. First the entrance sign, the road passing into an upland forest dominated by loblolly pine (Pinus taeda). The gravel parking area where I began my ramblings lies about a mile to the south, just a few hundred feet from where a flooded slough blocked the road for much of the winter and spring. No standing water now, even in depressions matted with leaves indicating wet season inundation.

Spring 2020

 

Moss-draped, buttressed white oak (Quercus alba) bases suggest deep shade and moist understory micro-climate. Rich alluvial soils support towering individuals, reaching more than 100 feet heavenward and spreading wide.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

I felt small and insignificant among the giants in this maturing forest. Had I stayed on the Refuge’s gravel roads my respect, admiration, inspiration, and sense of humility would have been lessened by the perspective of looking into the forest instead of witnessing the grandeur from within the forest and wandering under the high canopy. Nothing beats the view directly vertical and the intimate physical contact with thick trunks.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Perhaps some day I will own and operate a camera that better captures the depth of field intimated by the image below. There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest. For those readers (western big tree effete snobs) who may peer down their noses at this old southern forester who sees the wonder in such eastern forests. Sure, I’ve stood jaw-dropped among the ancient redwoods, coastal Douglas firs, and giant sequoias. If I were to visit them again I would prescribe a period of recovery and recalibration upon returning to our eastern forests, readjusting my amazement scalar. Similarly, nearly two years passed after my four years living in Alaska before salmon here in the East once again earned my culinary respect and delight. The forest I visited is just a relative youngster compared to 1,000-year-old Douglas fir; 2,000-year-old redwood; 3,000-year-old sequoia! Eighty to 90 years ago, TVA crews cleared the forests growing in the areas to be flooded and on the buffer-lands acquired along what would be the lake shore. My Dad wasn’t yet a teenager when this natural hardwood forest regenerated. When my Dad was ten, The General Sherman sequoia looked much as it does today.

Jolly B Road

 

Watch for a near-future Post when I chronicle my wanderings through a similar riparian stand beginning to slip from a maturing stage of development into what I’ll refer to as old-growth, when age begins taking its toll, but I digress. The forked shagbark hickory (below left; Carya ovata) retains good health and vigor. Even the poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) clinging to the sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) speaks vibrancy.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Not a main canopy resident, devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) adds an element of curiosity to the understory. Aptly named, this species sprouts thorns that would slice the careless hand that dared employ it as a trekking pole! Only Satan can use it without self-harm.

Jolly B Road

 

These forests are filled with magic and wonder, whether the magnificent main canopy residents or a humble devil’s walking stick surviving in the understory. But it’s not just the living and vibrant that drew my attention as I wandered off-trail.

Life (and Death) in the Forest

I repeat time and again that no forest is fixed in time. Our dynamic forest ecosystems represent a continuum, developing constantly across the seasons, years, and decades. This current stand originated 80-90 years ago, not from thin air, but as a result of a prior forest cut during the years of Wheeler dam construction, as the Corps of Engineers prepared the future lake bed and cleared buffer forests on adjacent lands purchased as part of the original property acquisition. The resultant naturally regenerated buffer zone forest is a work in progress, changing year in and year out. We’ll explore some elements of the ongoing life and death processes that define these wonderful forests along the Tennessee River (Wheeler Lake). The loblolly pine (below left) measured about ten inches in diameter when it succumbed sometime 5-10 years ago. It still retains an intact bark ring at ground level. The sapwood (Merriam-Webster online definition: the younger softer living or physiologically active outer portion of wood that lies between the cambium and the heartwood and is more permeable, less durable, and usually lighter in color than the heartwood) has fully decayed and disappeared in the damp and more favorable decay environment within a foot of the ground. The sapwood is rotted above that level, not yet fully consumed. The heartwood (Merriam-Webster online: the older harder nonliving central wood of trees that is usually darker, denser, less permeable, and more durable than the surrounding sapwood) appears decay-free and retains strength sufficient to keep the dead snag upright. I found nearby a rather ornate three-foot loblolly heartwood remnant (below right). The accompanying sapwood has long since returned to the soil. This section is resin-soaked, dense, hard, and decay resistant. I confess to bringing it home to serve as a landscape complement. It will last as long as I do, me being far less able to stave off the advance of time and aging!

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Saprophytic fungi are laboring (feeding voraciously) throughout the forest. This standing dead oak stem (about five-inches in diameter) will not remain vertical for more than another year or so. Again, nothing in Nature is static. The false turkey tail (Stereum ostrea) will continue its work after the stem is horizontal. Another Stereum (it may even be the same species) also sprouted fruiting bodies before it fell (below right). Note that some of the mushrooms on the left end are aligned vertically, evidencing that they predated the stem’s fall. Those aligned along the lower part of the photo emerged after the stem lay horizontal. Nature evidences her dynamism vividly to those who take time to see and care deeply enough to understand.

Jolly B Road

Jolly B Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much of the dead woody debris is already on the ground where many varieties of fungi are doing their recycling duty. A species of Trametes adorns the branch below left. I believe the lower right mushroom is another Trametes, perhaps species coccinea or cinnabarina, but I offer those possibilities with little confidence. Most of the Trametes live on dead wood, as do the two below.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

Honeycomb coral slime mold (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa) decorates the fibers of the well-decayed log below. Gary Emberger, Messiah College, posted this excellent description: While not fungi, slime molds often form spore-bearing structures that resemble those of the true fungi. Although many slime mold species fruit on wood they do not form a penetrating and absorptive mass of hyphae in the wood
substrate. Rather, slime molds form structures called plasmodia which are naked (i.e., without cell walls) masses of protoplasm which can move and engulf particles of food in an amoeboid manner. Slime mold plasmodia creep about over the surfaces of materials, engulfing bacteria, spores of fungi and plants, protozoa, and particles of nonliving organic matter. At some point, plasmodia convert into spore-bearing structures. In Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa, the plasmodium converts into a clustered mass of stalks bearing spores on their surfaces. There is evidence that the spores are actually one-celled sporangia. So, I admit to assuming that this was a delicate coral fungus. It’s a strange new world for a forester who knows trees… and is trying to know more about all living elements of the forest ecosystem!

Jolly B Road

 

And if you thought the honeycomb coral slime mold an oddity, hang on for this one, wolf’s milk slime mold (Lycogala epidendrum). From midwestnaturalist.com: Found after rains on well-rotted logs throughout the Midwest (and the rest of North America), Lycogala epidendrum is probably our continent’s most frequently noticed slime mold. The fruiting bodies, called “aethalia,” are round and pink at first, but they become gray to brownish with age. They look very much like puffballs. But Lycogala epidendrum is not a mushroom; it just looks like one. Poke one of the fresh, pink lumps with a stick or knife, and you will quickly discover something very un-mushroom-like: it is filled with bright pink, sticky goo (presumably the “wolf’s milk” in the slime mold’s common name). However, as the slime mold grows older, the surface becomes purplish, then gray or brown. I’m learning more and more each time I write one of these Blog Posts!

Jolly B Road

 

I loved the red-varnished surface of this polypore shelf fungus, which I believe is Ganoderma lucidum. I like to explore the internet for confirmation of my mushroom identification and to learn more about the level to which any species might be medicinal, edible, or fatal. Here’s what I found on Tom Wolf’s Fungus of the Month for March 2005 page: Ganoderma lucidum is important as a medicine in the Far East, in places such as China, Japan and Korea. G. lucidum is of particular interest because it has been portrayed as a “fix-it-all” herbal remedy for maladies such as: HIV, cancer, low blood pressure, high blood pressure, diabetes, rheumatism, heart problems, paralysis, ulcers, asthma, tiredness, hepatitis A, B, and C, insomnia, sterility, psoriasis, mumps, epilepsy, alcoholism, and the list goes on. These claims are mostly made by the people who are selling G. lucidum herbal supplements, but G. lucidum, also known as Reishi, ling chih, and ling zhi has a long history of being used as an herbal remedy. Wow, maybe I’ll just cancel my upcoming annual physical… or, perhaps not!

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

I routinely call this common yellow mushroom, ubiquitous in our summer forests dominated by oaks, yellow patches (Amanita flavoconia). As is so often the case, I have not confirmed the identity. Unforgivably, I take what I think will be photographs with detail sufficient to make a definitive identity, only to find that without the specimen in hand, I cannot. I need to explore a better field guide…I can’t take the internet into the woods in the many places I explore without adequate signal. So, for now, this beauty shall remain yellow patches.

Jolly B RoadJolly B Road

 

This white coral fungus (Ramariopsis kunzei) occurred throughout the riparian forest… as scattered individuals and occasionally in groupings of several. The mushroom guides I consulted online declared them edible, but not with enough enthusiasm to prompt me to collect a bagful next time. One source offered that the mushroom, while edible, is fleshless and flavorless. Other authors concur that the odor and taste are not distinctive. Fleshless and flavorless do not excite my culinary interests!

Jolly B Road

 

Heaven on Earth — from the Soil, the Essence of Earth

Now, here’s a golden jewel that does lead me to drool in anticipation. The WildEdible site declares that golden chanterelles (Catharellus cibarius) are probably the most well known wild mushrooms. They’re sought after by chefs and foodies due to their delicate flavor, which some describe as “mildly peppery.” Ranging in color from yellow to deep orange, golden chanterelles are easy to spot in the summer forest. They can be as big as 5 inches in diameter, but 2 inches is closer to average. The cap is wavy and generally funnel shaped. Their false gills appear as wrinkles that are forked and wavy with blunt edges and run down the stem, the same color as the rest of the chanterelle. Chanterelles also have a distinct fruity apricot-like aroma.

Here’s the news from the website that had my heart racing in anticipation: Chanterelles generally occur from late spring through late summer or early fall here in North Georgia. They love moisture, shade and lots of organic matter. Drenching rain followed by a couple of days of stifling heat is the natural sauna necessary to spawn a good bloom. Okay, bring on those drenching rains… the stifling heat is not going anywhere until mid-September!

Jolly B Road

 

My new-found edible mushroom foraging has unleashed a literal hunger within. I want to learn more. I searched without success this past spring for morels. I am determined to find the right places next spring. I found oyster mushrooms last fall and summer oysters since then. And recently I discovered black-staining polypore. And toss in the incredible lions main! All of these are culinary delights! Now I’m beginning to look for chicken of the woods. I am approaching a level of near-obsessive. Who could not be excited by the display below, ready for sauteing?

Jolly B Road

 

The local forest ecosystem offers rewards of wonder, inspiration, nutrition, and culinary delight. We are continuing to deal with Covid-19… five months after China released it Earth-wide. Yet, I have yet to don a mask when wandering through the woods. I am grateful beyond words that I live in a place rich with Nature… and not place-bound in some densely populated urban zone.

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer three observations from my early August trek through the woods:

  • There’s pure magic in the southern riparian forest.
  • Nature evidences her dynamism vividly to those who take time to see and care deeply enough to understand.
  • I am grateful beyond words that I live in a place rich with Nature.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2020 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksJolly B Road

 

All three of my books (Nature Based Leadership; Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading; Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.