Glades of Jefferson County

We stood a moment to contemplate the sublime and beautiful scene before us, which was such an assembly of rocks and water—of hill and valley—of verdant woods and naked peaks—of native fertility and barren magnificence… – Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, 1818-1819

In the Ozark Border south of St. Louis, a series of natural openings punctuate the dry, rocky forests of Jefferson County. Commonly called “glades” or “cedar glades,” these islands of prairie in a sea of forest are home to plants and animals more commonly associated with the Great Plains region further to the west. Extending in a narrow arc from central Jefferson County east and south into northern Ste. Genevieve County, these glades occur most commonly on south and southwest-facing slopes below forested ridges and are characterized by thin soils and exposed dolomite bedrock of Ordovician age. Glades are, in fact, a common natural feature throughout much of the Ozark Highlands, an extraordinary plateau where the great eastern deciduous forest begins to yield to the western grasslands. A much more extensive system of dolomite glades occurs in the White River Hills of southwest Missouri, where they often extend up steep slopes and over the tops of knobs to form what Schoolcraft called “naked peaks” and are now called “balds” (and spawning the “Baldknobbers” of Branson fame). Additional glade complexes occur throughout the Ozark Highlands on different rock substrates – igneous glades abound in the St. Francois Mountains, sandstone glades dot the Lamotte landscape in Ste. Genevieve County and the northern and western Ozarks, limestone glades can be found in the northern Ozarks near Danville and Lake of the Ozarks, and chert glades occur in extreme southwest Missouri. These different glade systems share a common feature – shallow soils where tree establishment is limited due to summer moisture stress. They differ vegetationally, however, due to differences in hydrology and soil chemistry as a result of their different substrates. Floristically, dolomite glades exhibit a high degree of diversity relative to other glade types.

The term “glade” is derived from the Old English “glad,” meaning a shining place – perhaps the early settlers found their open landscapes a welcome respite after emerging from the confining vastness of the eastern deciduous forest. Whatever the meaning, the glades of Jefferson County hold a special place in my heart, for I “grew up,” entomologically speaking, in those glades. As a young entomologist, fresh out of school, I spent many a day scrambling through the glades and surrounding woodlands. It was here where my interest in beetles, especially woodboring beetles, was born and later grew into a passion. For eight years I visited these glades often – attracted by the extraordinary diversity of insects living within the glades and congregating around its edges. My earliest buprestid and cerambycid papers contain numerous records from “Victoria Glades” and “Valley View Glades” – the two best-preserved examples of the glades that once occurred extensively throughout the area (more on this later). My visits to these glades ended in 1990 when I moved to California, and although I moved back to the St. Louis area in 1995, the focus of my beetle research has more often taken me to places outside of Missouri. It had, in fact, been some 10 years since my last visit to these glades until last week, when I was able to once again spend some time in them.

Ozark glades differ from the true cedar glades of the southeastern U.S. in that they are not a climax habitat – they depend upon periodic fires to prevent succession to forest. Some recent authors have suggested the term “xeric dolomite/limestone prairie” be used to distinguish the fire-dependent glades of the Ozarks from the edaphic climax cedar glades of the southeast (Baskin & Baskin 2000, Baskin et al. 2007). Fires have been largely suppressed throughout Missouri since European settlement, leading to encroachment upon the glades by eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Pure stands of red-cedar have developed on many former glades, crowding out the herbaceous plants that depend upon full sun and leading to soil formation that supports further encroachment by additional woody plant species such as post oak (Quercus stellata), blackjack oak (Q. marilandica), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) from the surrounding woodlands. Fire has returned to many of the Ozark glades situated on lands owned or managed by state and federal agencies such as the Missouri Department of Conservation, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Forest Service, as well as private conservation-minded organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. These agencies have begun adopting cedar removal and fire management techniques to bring back the pre-settlement look and diversity of the Ozark Glades. This is particularly true at Victoria Glades and Valley View Glades, the two largest and most pristine examples of the Jefferson County dolomite glade complex. Fires have been used to kill small red-cedars in the glades, as well as rejuvenate their herbaceous plant communities. Larger red-cedar trees are not killed outright by fire and must be removed by chainsaws. This above distant view of the TNC parcel at Victoria Glades shows many such burned red-cedars. The glades themselves are not the only habitat to benefit from this aggressive management – when I was doing my fieldwork here in the 1980’s the surrounding woodlands were a closed post oak forest bordered by fragrant sumac and with little or no understory in the interior. The photo at right now shows an open savanna with a rich understory of not only sumac and other shrubs, but also many herbaceous plants as well such as black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and American feverfew (Parthenium integrifolium). Such open woodland more closely resembles what Schoolcraft saw across much of the Ozarks during his journey almost two centuries ago.

Victoria and Valley View Glades are dominated by little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis). A smaller but highly charismatic non-grass flora is also found on the glades – species such as Missouri evening primrose (Oenethera macrocarpa) (left), pale purple coneflower (Echinacea simulata) (pictured above and below), and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) not only add beautiful color but also support both vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife. The Fremont’s leather flower (Clematis fremontii) is a true endemic, occurring only in this part of Missouri and entirely dependent upon these glades for its survival. Less well studied is the vast insect fauna associated with the glades. It is here where I first discovered the occurrence of Acmaeodera neglecta in Missouri. This small jewel beetle is similar to the broadly occurring A. tubulus but at the time was known only from Texas and surrounding states. In collecting what I thought were adults of A. tubulus on various flowers in the glades, I noticed that some of them were less shining, more strongly punctate, and exhibited elytral patterning that was often coalesced into longitudinal “C-shaped” markings rather than the scattered small spots typical of A. tubulus. These proved to be A. neglecta, which I have since found on many glade habitats throughout the Ozark Highlands. Both species can be seen in this photo feeding on a flower of hairy wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) – the lower individual is A. neglecta, while the upper individual and two inside the flower are A. tubulus. Another interesting insect-plant association I discovered at these glades was the strikingly beautiful Dicerca pugionata – another species of jewel beetle – and its host plant ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). Only a single Missouri occurrence had been reported for D. pugionata, despite the common occurrence of its host plant along rocky streams and rivers throughout the Ozark Highlands. This plant also grows at Victoria and Valley View Glades along the intermittent streams that drain the glades and in the moist toeslopes along the lower edges of the glades where water that has percolated through the rocks and down the slopes is forced to the surface by an impermeable layer of bedrock. Unlike the tall, robust, lush plants that can be found in more optimal streamside habitats with good moisture availability, the ninebark plants of Victoria and Valley View Glades are small and scraggly, usually with some dieback that results from suboptimal growing conditions. I surmise these plants have reduced capabilities for fending off attacks by insects, including D. pugionata, and as a result a healthy population of the insect thrives at these glades. Some might be inclined to call this beetle a pest, threatening the health of one of the glade’s plants. In reality, the insect finds refuge in these glades – unable to effectively colonize the vast reserves of healthy plants that grow along streams throughout the rest of the Ozarks, it strikes a tenuous balance with plants that are themselves on the edge of survival.

Despite the success in moving Victoria and Valley View Glades closer to their pre-settlement character, the integrity of these areas continues to be challenged. Poachers take anything of real or perceived value, and ATV enthusiasts view the open spaces as nothing more than tarmac. Pale purple coneflower occurs abundantly on these Jefferson County glades (but sparingly in other habitats – primarily rocky roadsides), where they provide a stunning floral display during June and sustain innumerable insect pollinators. Plants in the genus Echinacea also have perceived medicinal value, as herbalists believe their roots contain an effective blood purifier and antibiotic. There are no conclusive human clinical trials to date that fully substantiate this purported immune stimulating effect (McKeown 1999). Nevertheless, demand for herbal use has skyrocketed in recent decades, prompting widespread illegal harvesting of several coneflower species throughout their collective range across the Great Plains and Ozark Highlands. I witnessed massive removals of this plant from both Victoria and Valley View Glades during the 1980’s, but the pictures I took this year suggest that such illegal harvests have been suppressed and that the populations at both sites are recovering nicely.

The same cannot be said for the practice of rock flipping. This was a problem I witnessed back in the 1980’s, and I saw fresh evidence of its continued occurrence at both sites. The thin soils and sloping terrain leave successive layers of dolomite bedrock exposed, the edges of which shatter from repeated freeze-thaw cycles to create rows of loose, flat rocks along the bedrock strata. Lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and scorpions find refuge under these loose rocks, only to be ripped from their homes by flippers and transferred to a dark, cold terrarium to endure a slow, lingering death. As if poaching the glade’s fauna and watching them slowly die isn’t bad enough, the flippers add insult to injury by not even bothering to replace the rock in its original position after stealing its inhabitant, amounting to habitat destruction three times greater than the area of the rock itself. Firstly, the habitat under the rock is destroyed by sudden exposure of the diverse and formerly sheltered microfauna to deadly sunlight. Next, the habitat onto which the rock is flipped is also destroyed, as the plants growing there begin a slow, smothering death. Lastly, the upper surface of the rock, sometimes colonized by mosses and lichens that might have required decades or longer to grow, usually ends up against the ground – its white, sterile underside becoming the new upper surface. Rock flipper scars take years to heal, and nearly all of the flat, loose rocks seen in the more accessible areas of the glades exhibit scars of varying ages next to them. If a scar is fresh (first photo), I generally return to the rock to its original position – the former inhabitants cannot be brought back, but at least the original habitats are saved and can recover quickly. However, if a scar is too old (2nd photo) it is best to leave the rock in its new position – replacing it only prolongs the time required for recovery.

Even more damaging is ATV use. Herbaceous plants and thin soils are no match for the aggressive tread of ATV tires, and it doesn’t take too many passes over an area before the delicate plants are killed and loose soils ripped apart. I witnessed this become a big problem particularly on Victoria Glades during the 1980’s – actually finding myself once in a face-to-face confrontation with an ATV’er. Fortunately, he turned tail and ran, and it appears (for now) that such abuses have stopped, as I saw no evidence of more recent tracks during this visit. But the scars of those tracks laid down more than two decades ago still remain painfully visible. I expect several more decades will pass before they are healed completely.

My return to Victoria and Valley View Glades was a homecoming of sorts, and I was genuinely pleased to see the progress that has been made in managing these areas while revisiting the sites where my love affair with beetles was first kindled. Sadly, however, the larger glade complex of Jefferson County continues to deteriorate. Restoration acreage aside, red-cedar encroachment continues unabated on many of the remaining glade parcels – large and small – that dot the south and southwest facing slopes in this area. It has been conservatively estimated that as much as 70% of the original high quality glades in Missouri are now covered in red-cedar. Many of these are privately held – their owners either do not recognize their ecological significance or are loathe to set fire to them. An example can be seen in the picture here – this small parcel is part of the Victoria Glades complex but lies on private land in red-cedar choked contrast to the Nature Conservancy parcel immediately to the south. Small numbers of herbaceous plants persist here, but without intervention by fire or chainsaw their numbers will continue to dwindle and the glade will die. Aside from the loss of these glades, the continuing reduction of glade habitat complicates management options for preserved glades as well. Many glade associated invertebrates are “fire-sensitive” – i.e., they overwinter in the duff and leaf litter above the soil and are thus vulnerable to spring or fall fires. While these fires are profoundly useful for invigorating the herbaceous flora, they can lead to local extirpation of fire-sensitive invertebrate species within the burn area. Recolonization normally occurs quickly from unburned glades in proximity to the burned areas but can be hampered if source habitat exists as small, highly-fragmented remnants separated by extensive tracts of hostile environment. Grazing also continues to threaten existing remnants in the Jefferson County complex. Grazing rates are higher now than ever before, with greater negative impact due to the use of fencing that prevents grazers from moving to “greener pastures”. Over-grazing eliminates native vegetation through constant depletion of nutrient reserves and disturbance of the delicate soil structure, leading to invasion and establishment of undesirable plant species. Eventually, the glade becomes unproductive for pasture and is abandoned – coupled with fire suppression this leads to rapid woody encroachment. It is truly depressing to drive through Jefferson County and recognize these cedar-choked glades for what they were, able to do nothing but watch in dismay as yet another aspect of Missouri’s natural heritage gradually disappears. The continued loss of these remnant glades makes careful use of fire management on Victoria and Valley View Glades all the more critical – ensuring that a patchwork of unburned, lightly burned, and more heavily burned areas exists at a given time will be critical for preventing invertebrate extirpations within these managed areas.

I close by sharing with you a few more of the many photographs I took during this visit – stiff tickseed (Coreopsis palmata), three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), climbing milkweed (Matelea decipiens – see the excellent post about this plant on Ozark Highlands of Missouri), downy phlox (Phlox pilosa), green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora), and a “deerly” departed native browser.

Posted in Anacardiaceae, Asclepiadaceae, Asteraceae, Buprestidae, Coleoptera, Cornaceae, Cupressaceae, Fagaceae, Mammalia, Onagraceae, Poaceae, Polemoniaceae, Ranunculaceae, Reptilia, Rosaceae | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Saving Missouri’s tigers

For several years now, my friend and colleague, Chris Brown, and I have been studying the tiger beetles (family Cicindelidae) of Missouri in an attempt to characterize the faunal composition and in-state distributions of the included species. Our studies have relied on examination of specimens in museum collections along with several seasons of field work across the state. The data we’ve gathered so far have revealed a fauna that reflects the ecotonal position of Missouri, comprised of elements from the eastern deciduous forest, the southeastern mixed hardwood forests and pinelands, and the western grasslands. These beetles are most frequently associated with disturbed habitats containing sparse vegetation, such as sandbars and erosion cuts, but they also live in other habitats such as along muddy banks, on glades and in forest litter. Since European settlement of Missouri, drastic alterations have occurred in the abundance and distribution of these habitats across the state, and tiger beetle populations have been affected as a result. Dredging and straightening of natural water courses have impacted species that prefer the water’s edge, while fire suppression has impacted those that need dry, open habitats. Grazing has had a profound impact on species associated with sensitive, saline habitats. Conversely, some anthropogenic changes have benefited certain species – road, borrow sand pit and pond construction have increased habitat for species able to utilize such habitats. To date, our surveys have confirmed the presence of 23 species in Missouri (16% of the North American fauna). Some species are common and widespread, such as Cicindela sexguttata (six-spotted tiger beetle) (above, photo taken in a mature white oak forest in Warren Co.). Others have more specific habitat requirements, but their status within the state remains secure. A few are rare and highly localized, primarily representing species at or near the northern or western edge of their distributions that exist in the state as small, disjunct populations. Special conservation efforts may be warrented for these to ensure their continued survival within the state.

One species of potential conservation concern is C. pruinina (loamy-ground tiger beetle), a grassland species normally found in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas (left, photo by Chris Brown). This beetle is sometimes treated as a synonym or subspecies of C. belfragei but was most recently considered a valid species by Spomer et al. (2008). When we began our studies, the species was known from Missouri only by a small series of specimens collected in one of the western counties and deposited in the collection of Ron Huber. An additional specimen in the Huber collection labeled “Columbia, Mo.” is considered to likely represent student mislabeling. Several attempts at relocating the western Missouri population were required before we found it, and intensive surveys to determine the extent of its distribution in Missouri were conducted during 2006 using a combination of pitfall traps and direct observation. Those surveys succeeded in detecting the beetle only along one 2.5-mile stretch of county road in Johnson Co. The beetle seems to be restricted to red clay embankments occurring in a small localized area of the county. This season we plan to refine our survey by focusing tightly on promising habitats in this area near the sites identified in 2006 to more precisely define the distributional limits of this population. Regardless of what we find, the flightless nature of the species, its highly localized Missouri occurrence, and the disjunct nature of such suggest that special conservation status is warranted for the species to ensure its continued presence in the state. Despite the relatively low numbers of individuals we have seen, the protected status of the land on which this beetle lives leaves us optimistic about its future.

A Missouri species about which we are far less optimistic is C. circumpicta johnsonii (saline springs tiger beetle) (right, photo by Chris Brown), long known from saline spring habitats in the central part of the state. The Missouri population is highly disjunct from the main population further west and exhibits a uniform blue-green coloration rather than the mix of blue, green, and red colors exhibited by the main population. These features suggest that separate subspecies status might be warranted for the Missouri population. Numerous historical collection records exist from a handful of sites in Howard and Cooper Counties; however, surveys conducted by us during recent years revealed that the populations had suffered severe declines. This appears to be largely due to cattle disturbance and vegetational encroachment of the sensitive saline spring habitats upon which the beetle depends, especially at sites located on private land. Ron Huber, in a letter to me listing the collecting records he had for this species, reported seeing “hundreds of the wary little buggers” at one locality on private land, but in our visit to the site not a single individual was seen around the spring – badly trampled and overgrown with the exotic pasture grass tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea). In all, we were successful in finding the beetle at only one of the historical localities and at one new site located nearby. While both of these sites are located on state protected land, we concluded that the longterm viability of the C. circumpicta johnsonii population in Missouri was in serious jeopardy. Based on our recommendation, the species was placed on the Missouri Species of Conservation Concern Checklist with a ranking of S1 (critically emperiled). While this affords the species legal protection under the Wildlife Code of Missouri, the benefit may be minimal since the Wildlife Code does not address the main threat to this beetle’s survival – habitat degradation. We have not surveyed for this beetle since but plan to make field observations this summer (no trapping!) to check on its status. I sincerely hope we will not have to hang our heads with the realization that we have succeeded in extirpating yet another beautiful and irreplaceable gem.

Last year we finally succeeded in locating C. cursitans (ant-like tiger beetle) in Missouri (left, photo by Chris Brown). Adults are flightless, and at less than 1 cm in length, are among the smallest of North American tiger beetles. The species has been recorded broadly but sporadically between the Appalachians and Great Plains – a distribution that is probably underestimated due to its small size and general resemblance to ants. A significant distributional gap exists between the eastern and Great Plains records, which Ron Huber believes may be indicative of two disjunct forms and potentially two species. Missouri falls within this gap, and although the species has not yet been formally recorded from the state, a single specimen collected in 1991 “nr. Portageville” is deposited in the Enns Entomology Museum, University of Missouri, Columbia. We had made several attempts over the past few years to locate this species by searching what we thought were promising habitats along the Mississippi River near Portageville, but the species was not located until last year, when I relayed this information to Portageville biologist and tiger beetle enthusiast Kent Fothergill. Kent not only located the beetle at the location I suggested, but quickly found another population on a nearby parcel of land managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Hurriedly, we visited the first site and observed a few additional individuals at a nearby location just to the south. The bottomland forest habitat within which all of these individuals were observed is fairly extensive along the Mississippi River in the southeastern lowlands of Missouri, but at this point we can only speculate whether C. cursitans occurs throughout this habitat. Other habitats have been reported for this species, including mesic and wet prairies and meadows (Brust et al. 2005). Such habitats are also found in the southeastern lowlands, and while C. cursitans has not been seen through cursory examinations in such areas, it is possible that the small size, cryptic habits, and narrow temporal occurrence of C. cursitans have allowed it to escape detection. Kent will be helping us this season with additional trapping and direct observation at several selected sites along the Mississippi and St. Francois Rivers to determine whether the beetle occurs more broadly in the southeastern lowlands and whether it utilizes these other habitats in addition to bottomland forests.

I would be most interested in any additional reports of these rare tiger beetles in Missouri (contact me at the email address shown in the left sidebar copyright statement). Remember, C. circumpicta johnsonii is critically emperiled in Missouri – please do not collect it.

Posted in Cicindelidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

My Dad

My dad had knee replacement surgery a couple days ago. The surgery went off without a hitch, and he’s doing very well. All signs are that he will bounce back quickly and suffer few, if any, complications. I’ve spent much of the past three days here at the hospital – sometimes providing support and encouragement, other times just keeping him company. He should be released tomorrow, and I’ll spend the rest of the week with him at his house – hopefully he’ll be able to get around okay by then.

Some thirty years ago, my dad got an infection that settled in his left hip. By the time doctors found it and figured out what was going on, his left hip socket had degenerated badly, and the only medical option after cleaning up the infection was a year in a full body cast that resulted in fusion of the socket with the femoral head. This left him with a left leg two inches shorter than his right, a bad limp, and a lifetime of pain medications. His right leg became his ‘good leg’ and his left became the ‘bad.’ Decades of walking with a cane and favoring his bad leg put a lot of pressure on his good leg, and at age 73 his right leg had had enough. Now, his good leg is his bad leg, and his bad leg is, well, still his bad leg. This will add a wrinkle to his recovery, since he won’t have a healthy leg to carry the load while his good leg recovers. But I will be there to help, if needed, and in a few weeks his good leg should be good as new.

My dad is not only my dad, but also my best friend. We have a relationship that is based on mutual love and respect, and I don’t know which of us appreciates more what we have with each other. It wasn’t always this way – my dad and I were estranged for 25 years starting when I was 10 years old. My parents married far too young, and each had their own issues – they were but children themselves. Having first me, then my brother and sister, only delayed but could not prevent the inevitable break up that resulted in my fathers absence. I paid a heavy price by not having a father during those crucial, formative years as I finished growing up, but I seem to have turned out okay regardless. It would take many years before I would be ready for something so bold as reconciliation, but maturity and the support of a loving wife eventually made it possible. There were difficult questions to answer, but through it I realized that my father had paid a heavy price as well. Not the selfish irresponsible man I had been taught about, instead I saw a sensitive, deeply introspective man who had lived a life of hard knocks, suffered the consequences, learned from his mistakes and turned his life around.

My dad loves to ride bikes. I do too, but I did not learn the love of cycling from him. My dad is simple yet elegant, with an understated class that people adore. I, too, try to show respect and modesty, but I did not learn these things from my father. We both love classical music (he can live without the metal), listen to NPR, and enjoy humor with more than a touch of irreverance – tastes acquired by each of us before we knew each other. What I have learned from my father during these past 15 years is why I am me – a gift I didn’t know I lacked. I don’t mourn the loss of those 25 years spent without my father, rather I rejoice at the very special relationship that we now have – perhaps possible only because of our separate pasts. My father describes that year in a body cast as the darkest period of his life. I did not know him then, so I could not be there to help him through it. While his recovery from knee replacement will not be near that ordeal, neither will it be easy. But I am here with him, and I know in my heart that whatever difficulties he faces during his recovery, he will look back on this as a small part of the best time of his life.

Posted in [No taxon] | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Chrysobothris femorata “problem”

I found a young cottonwood tree (Populus deltoides) the other day that had recently fallen over in one of the many storms we’ve had this spring. Anytime I see one of these “windthrows” I immediately think – woodboring beetles! Windthrows are attractive to numerous species of Buprestidae and Cerambycidae, and when I find one I try to revisit it often as the season progresses and different beetle species – active at different times and attracted to wood at different stages of dying or death – are encountered. This particular tree was only partially uprooted and so still had fresh foliage in the crown. While death is inevitable, it will be a slow, lingering death as the remaining soil-bound roots try in vain to sustain the fallen tree. This is an ideal situation for attracting species of the genus Chrysobothris, which seem to respond to plant volatiles emitted from trees under duress or recently killed. In the deciduous forests of eastern North America, C. femorata and related species are the most commonly encountered Chrysobothris attracted to these situations. Nursery growers and landscapers know this insect as the “flatheaded apple tree borer” – in reference to the appearance of the larvae as they tunnel under the bark of one of its favored hosts. The species has in fact, however, been recorded breeding in some two dozen genera of deciduous woody plants throughout the continental states and Canada, an unusual level of polyphagy for a genus of beetles in which most species typically exhibit a fair degree of host fidelity.

The problem is, “C. femorata” is not really a species, but a complex of closely related species. Entomologists have recognized this for some time, and while diagnostic characters have been identified for some of the more distinctive members of the group, such characters have remained elusive for C. femorata and its closest relatives. As a result, the species has become sort of a “trash can” for specimens that could be not be assigned to one of these more distinctive species, and in many museum collections large series of specimens can be found labeled simply “C. femorata species complex”. Fortunately, some much needed clarity was provided earlier this year by Stanley Wellso and Gary Manley, who after years of careful, systematic study at last published a revision of the Chrysobothris femorata species complex. In their work, six new species were described and one species resurrected from synonymy under C. femorata. Three of the new species occur in the western U.S., another is restricted to Georgia and Florida, and the remaining two new species and one resurrected species occur broadly across the eastern or southeastern U.S. This brings to 12 the total number of femorata-complex species in North America, with nine occurring in the eastern U.S. and seven in Missouri. The characters used to distinguish the species are subtle but consistent, and available biological data seem to support the species as now defined.

Of the dozen or so Chrysobothris individuals I collected on the fallen cottonwood during this past week, all but one represent C. femorata (as now defined). The photos I share here show some of the characters that distinguish this species from its closest relatives – primarily the straight rather than curved lateral margin on the last third of the elytra and the generally distinctly reddish elytral apices (most easily seen in the full-sized versions of the photos – click to view). Females (first and second photos) tend to show distinct reddish tinges behind the eyes and on top of the head as well. Males (third photo) can be distinguished from females by their bright green face (I tried valiantly but could not get one of these guys to pose in a position showing such). The photos also illustrate some of the typical behaviors displayed by these beetles, with males rapidly searching up and down the trunk looking for mates (third photo), and females probing cracks and crevices in the bark with their ovipositor looking for suitable sites to deposit their eggs (second photo). Of the two dozen host genera recorded for this species, many likely refer to some of the newly described species. In particular, records of this species from oak (Quercus spp.) and hackberry (Celtis spp.) may refer to the new species C. shawnee and C. caddo, respectively. As now defined, this species is still quite polyphagous and occurs throughout the continental U.S., but it is more common east of the continental divide and appears to prefer maple (Acer spp.), birch (Betula spp.), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), poplar (Populus spp.), and especially rosaceous hosts such as hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), apple (Pyrus malus), pear (Pyrus communis), and cherry (Prunus spp.). Also, of all the species in this complex, C. femorata appears to be the most partial to stressed or dying trees (as with these individuals collected on live, windthrown cottonwood) rather than completely dead hosts. Wellso and Manley note that considerable variation still exists among individuals assignable to their more restricted definition of C. femorata. Thus, it is possible that more than one species is still involved, particularly among those utilizing hardwood hosts (e.g. apple, maple, etc.) versus softwoods (e.g., poplar, birch, etc.). Detailed biological studies will likely be required to identify any additional species that might be hiding amongst these populations.

Posted in Buprestidae, Coleoptera | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ozark Trail – Marble Creek Section

If you know wilderness in the way that you know love, you would be unwilling to let it go…. This is the story of our past and it will be the story of our future. – Terry Tempest Williams

During the past several years that Rich and I have been hiking the Ozark Trail, most of our hikes have taken place in the fall and winter months. From a hiker’s perspective, I really enjoy these off-season hikes – the foliage-free canopy affords unobstructed views of the terrain and vistas, the cool (even cold) temperatures are more comfortable under exertion (provided one has properly layered), and there are no mosquitos to swat, ticks to pick, or gnats to incessantly annoy. I also enjoy them as a naturalist, for the world is quiet and still, allowing me to focus on things I may not notice amidst the cacophany of life during the warmer months. By the end of winter, however, the biologist in me yearns to once again see bugs and flowers and the great interplay of life. Unfortunately, this makes something as simple as hiking from point A to point B rather difficult – too many distractions! Nevertheless, each spring Rich and I try to hike a small leg of the Ozark Trail before the crush of summer activities fills our calenders. Last week, we chose the Marble Creek Section, an orphan stretch (for the time being) in the rugged St. Francois Mountains that eventually will connect to the famed Taum Sauk Section. It would be our first return visit to the St. Francois Mountains since we first embarked on our goal to hike the entirety of the Ozark Trail.

The St. Francois Mountains are the geologic heart of the Ozark Highlands. Since their primordial birth 1.5 billion years ago, recurring cycles of erosion and deposition have worn them down and covered them up, only to see them reemerge once again as the younger rocks covering them were themselves stripped away. The Ozarks are an ancient landscape with ancient hills, and none are older than those of the St. Francois Mountains. It’s as if the Earth itself began in these mountains. We began our hike at Crane Lake, a clear, blue 100-acre lake built in the 1970s by the Youth Conservation Corps. The trail surrounding the lake was built in 1975 and is, in its own right, a National Recreation Trail. It meanders along the lakeshore and through hillside igneous glades and descends into a deep ravine below the dam where Crane Pond Creek cascades through spectacular rhyolite shut-ins. East of the lake the trail connects to the Ozark Trail proper and continues to Marble Creek campground. All told, we would be hiking a 9-mile stretch.

I knew we were in a special place almost from the beginning when I noticed a small flowering plant growing next to the trail under the mixed pine/oak canopy. I’m not a very good botanist, but I instantly recognized the plant as dwarf spiderwort (Tradescantia longipes), an Ozark endemic known from only a handful of counties in Missouri and Arkansas. I knew this only because I had just the night before read about this wonderful plant on Ozark Highlands of Missouri, a superb natural history blog focused on my beloved Ozarks. Reading about this lovely, diminutive member of the genus, I wondered if I might encounter it on my own hike the next day. As we searched off the trail and near the lakeshore we encountered dozens of the plants, each with one or two exquisite blue flowers. Our excitement at seeing a true Ozark endemic increased with each plant we encountered, giving us confidence that its future, at least in this area, appears secure. Of the numerous photographs I took, I share two that show its short, squat habit and filament-covered stamens. Eventually we decided we needed to move on – we had spent 20 minutes and only hiked 100 ft!

Looping around the south side of the lake, the trail traversed mesic to dry-mesic upland forest and afforded spectacular views of the lake and rugged north shore. The spring ephemerals had already come and gone, replaced by such classic woodland denizens as birdfoot violet (Viola pedata, pictured), fire pink (Silene virginica), cream wild indigo (Baptisia leucophaea), four-leaved milkweed (Asclepias quadrifolia), Pursh’s phacelia (Phacelia purshii), and shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia). Insect life was abundant, however, the only species seen in one of my chosen specialties, metallic wood boring beetles (family Buprestidae), were early spring species of Acmaeodera – pictured here is A. ornata on a dewberry (Rubus sp.) flower. This pretty little beetle occurs throughout eastern North America in early spring on a variety of flowers, where adults feed on pollen and mate. Eggs are laid on dead branches of certain hardwood trees, through which the larvae tunnel as they develop. Dry, dead wood contains little nutritional value, and the larvae cannot digest the cellulose. As a result, they eat considerable volumes of wood, extracting whatever nutrients they can for growth and ejecting the bulk as sawdust, which they pack tightly in their tunnels behind them. A year or more might be required before they have grown sufficiently to transform into the adult and emerge from the wood. A smaller relative, Acmaeodera tubulus, was also seen on flowers of native dwarf dandelion (Krigia biflora).

We stopped for lunch on a little point extending out towards the lake. The forest overstory was dominated by an open mixture of white oak (Quercus alba) and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). Thickets of highbush huckleberry (Vaccinium stramineum) and carpets of reindeer moss in the open areas belied the acidic nature of the igneous substrate. Stands of bastard toad flax (Comandra richardsiana) in full bloom were found at the tip’s dry, rocky tip. These interesting plants feed parasitically on neighboring plants, attaching to the roots of their hosts by means of their long, thin rhizomes. Resuming our hike, we descended down into a shaded, moist draw feeding the lake and saw a huge royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) bush. I had never seen this aptly named fern before, but it was immediately recognizeable by its large size (~5 ft in height) and presence of distinctive, fertile leaflets on some of its upper branches – a very striking and handsome fern, indeed. Nearby was a smaller, but no less attractive species of fern that I take to be marginal sheild fern (Dryopteris marginalis) – another species I have not seen before (or at least made the effort to notice).

Soon, we reached the dam and for the first time saw the spectacular rhyolite shut-ins. While perhaps not quite as impressive as the nearby and much more famous Johnson’s Shut-Ins, Rich and I nonetheless watched entranced as the water roared over the smooth igneous rock exposure, forming elegant cascades, rushing through narrow chutes, and swirling into small pools. Steep canyon walls rose sharply on each side of the shut-ins, as if standing guard. Clambering amidst the pines and cedars that cloaked them, we found this maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) nestled within a crack on a vertical rock face under continuous deep shade. Reaching the top of the bluffs, we were greated by one of my favorite of all Ozark habitats – the igneous glade. Glades are natural island communities surrounded by a sea of forest. Their shallow, dry, rocky soil conditions support plants and animals more adapted to prairie or desert habitats. Specific communities are influenced by the type of rock below – igneous and sandstone substrates support lichens, mosses, and other acid soil-loving plants, while limestone and dolomite substrates support a more calcareous flora. The photo here shows the massive boulder outcroppings typical of igneous glades and their weather-resistant bedrock. We hoped to see a collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris), perhaps Missouri’s finest saurian reptile, but today was not the day. We did, however, see adults of the beautiful and aptly named splendid tiger beetle (Cicindela splendida) sunning themselves on the bare rock surfaces – flashing brilliant green and clay-red. The adults we saw had spent the winter deep inside tunnels dug into the rocky soil the previous fall and were now looking for mates. Male tiger beetles grab females by the neck, their jagged, toothy jaws fitting precisely in grooves on the female neck designed specifically for such. As I looked upon this prairie island within the forest, I thought about how the St. Francois Mountains were once themselves islands. I realized the landscape we were exploring today was itself a fossil – with rhyolitic ‘islands’ amidst a ‘sea’ of cherty dolomite laid down a half billion years ago in the warm, tropical, Cambrian waters that surrounded the St. Francois Islands, by then already a billion years old themselves. Yes, the Earth itself seems to have begun here.

Leaving the glade and once again entering the acid pine forest, we came upon one of the most striking floral displays that either of us have ever witnessed – wild azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum) in the midst of full bloom! I have known about several colonies of this plant for many years now but had only seen them at the very end of the bloom period, with just a few, pitiful, limply hanging flowers still attached. Today, the plants were absolutely dazzling. The blossoms were not only visually attractive, a deep pink color, but also unexpectedly fragrant. We stood amongst several specimen plants as tall as ourselves, taking picture after picture amidst the clovelike aroma wafting around us.

We checked our watches – we were now 3 hours into our hike and had traversed just 2 miles. Clearly, this was not a sustainable pace, so we put our heads down and focused on covering ground. Once leaving the vicinity of Crane Lake, the trail became rather difficult to follow – it obviously receives little use, and in one stretch some logging activities had obliterated the trail completely. Were it not for the sporadic pieces of orange flagging tape tied just within sight of the previous, we would not have know where to go. At one point, we got completely off-track and had to backtrack a full half mile before we found the proper trail. The day put our contour map reading skills to their greatest test yet. It was difficult and strenuous terrain, with steep up and down grades and few long ridgetop stretches until (thankfully) the final 2 miles, which terminated in a long descent (more thankfully) to Marble Creek Campground. Despite the difficulties in following the trail and our not bringing enough water, I would have to rank this section a close second to the Taum Sauk stretch for its ruggedness, spectacular vistas, and unique plant communities. Yes, the St. Francois Mountains are truly the heart of the Ozarks.

Posted in Asclepiadaceae, Aspleniaceae, Asteraceae, Buprestidae, Caryophyllaceae, Cicindelidae, Coleoptera, Commelinaceae, Dryopteridaceae, Ericaceae, Fabaceae, Hydrophyllaceae, Osmundaceae, Primulaceae, Rosaceae, Santalaceae, Violaceae | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Saving turtles, one by one…

“You should be able to push him from behind,” said the other motorist, who had also seen the young snapping turtle sitting in the middle of the exressway right after I did and pulled up as I was taking some “pre-rescue” pictures. “Nyeah, I think I’ll go ahead and get something to push him with anyway,” I said, hoping that the tone of my voice did not betray my true thoughts, “What, are you crazy? I’m not putting my bare fingers or sandal-clad feet anywhere near that thing!” I’ve rescued plenty of snappers over the years, and I know first hand just how surprisingly quick they can be. Truth be told, snapping turtles can be safely moved by hand – apparently they cannot reach the back of or underneath their shell. However, it takes considerably more temerity than I possess to actually try this. I grabbed a bicycle pump from the back of the truck and hooked the base of it under its shell. Immediately, the young turtle snapped at the pump – startling the man as well as two other cyclists who had stopped to watch the goings on. I admit to feeling more than a little vindicated as they all stepped back a few steps. I was hoping the turtle would maintain his grip on the pump so I could just carry him over to the roadbank, but every time I tried to lift he let go. So I had to just keep hooking the pump under his shell and pulling him towards the side of the road – the turtle fought every bit of the way, hissing and snapping and clawing against the road. At last he was in the grass – it was then an easy matter to roll him over a few times down the bank and safely (for now) away from the road.

Road mortality is suspected to have contributed to widespread population declines in turtles across the United States. This seems especially true for freshwater aquatic species, which often make land migrations for breeding. Vehicles often do not stop for turtles in the road, and I have seen some (usually a pickup truck with very large tires) swerve deliberately in an attempt to hit them (or even more sadistically, “shoot” them across the roadway). Conincident with these declines has been a demographic change towards male-biased populations in many freshwater species. Adult female freshwater turtles make nesting migrations that males do not and are often attracted to road shoulders and embankments as nesting habitat, making them disproportionately more vulnerable to road mortality. The resulting male-biasing surely represents an additional risk factor to their populations, especially in areas where high traffic occurs in proximity to wetlands. In such places, mitigation measures such as barriers and wildlife underpasses are clearly warranted (Steen et al. 2006).

I’ve always been a little awed by snappers – so grizzled and ancient, almost dinosaurian, and while I doubt that my sporadic rescues have near as much impact as barriers or underpasses, I do know that they cannot possibly hurt. As for this turtle, whether it continued on its way or turned around and crawled back onto the road (due to my unwittingly placing it on the side from which it just came) will remain unknown. I was heartened to see that I wasn’t the only person who stopped, intent on saving this grotesquely beautiful creature. But as I scanned this miles-long stretch of very recently constructed roadway, which now enables St. Louis countians to rapidly zip along next to newly created wetlands in the Missouri River bottoms while avoiding the stop-and-go on I-270, I couldn’t help but wonder why barriers and underpasses, seemingly simple protective measures, weren’t also included on the final blueprints of the roadway before they were sent to the printers. If such had been done, then I would not have had this encounter. But I could’ve lived with that.

Posted in Reptilia | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Pipestone National Monument

Grandson, do not expect to accomplish much in this lifetime, for no one shares your vision… – The Oracle

Wednesday was my birthday, and it has been my custom for many years now to take the day off and go hiking/bugging somewhere. Coming as it does in early spring, it is usually the first real bug collecting trip of the year. This year, however, I was roped into a short business trip to visit a USDA lab in Brookings, South Dakota, so tradition would have to take a back seat. My visit at the lab ended early, though, and my flight back home from Sioux Falls didn’t leave until that evening, so I studied the map to look for any possible nearby points of interest in this landscape that has, for the most part, been unforgivingly converted to fields of corn, soybean, and wheat. I quickly noted a place called Pipestone National Monument just over the border into Minnesota. I love stopping at national monuments while traveling – they usually have some significant historical or geological interest, and their typically (though not always) small size means one can fully explore the area in a relatively short time. I did not know or had never heard of this place, but what I found was a charming little jewel tucked within a remnant of tallgrass prairie. At this far northern latitude, spring is still in its earliest of states. Few insects would be seen, but nevertheless I felt thankful for the chance to spend time outdoors and in a place of beauty where I could reflect on the years gone by and those (hopefully) still to come.

The area is named for a thin layer of catlinite – pipestone – exposed in this small area that has been quarried for centuries by Native Americans for carving into pipes (both war and peace). Quarrying within the monument continues to this day, with permission to do so reserved by law only to registered Native Americans. The area is identified as a sacred site associated with Native American spiritual beliefs and is preserved as a significant cultural and ethnographic landscape. Of particular interest to me was the site’s distinct hydrologic/geologic landscape and the native tallgrass prairie associated with it. A short ¾-mile trail loops through the area, providing a diverse glimpse of the area’s unique features. Pipestone may have provided the area’s namesake, but a narrow exposure of Sioux quartzite is the area’s most prominent geologic feature. Sioux quartzite is derived from billion and a half year-old layers of sand/silt sediments deposited thickly on the floors of ancient, Precambrian seas and compressed over the vastness of time into a hard, reddish metamorphic rock. Normally covered in this area by glacial till, the layers at this site are tilted upward 5–10 degrees towards the west and break through the surface to form a jagged, mile-long west-facing escarpment 23-30 feet high. Underneath the quartzite is the pipestone, a thin layer of metamorphosed shale. This fine-grained rock is derived from clay deposits, thus it is much softer and redder than the harder-than-steel quartzite. Pipestone Creek bisects the escarpment, giving rise to the lovely Winnewissa Falls, flowing over the escarpment and running down to a small, natural empoundment (Hiawatha Lake) before continuing its journey back into the glacial till and tallgrass prairie (for anybody surprised that there should be “falls” in this part of the country, it is interesting to note that nearby Sioux Falls is named after a grander example of of such flowing over quartzite exposures in its downtown).

Precious little remains of the expansive tallgrass prairie that once extended from horizon to horizon in this area. A few small parcels managed to escape the plow, but even in those tiny remnants dramatic alterations in plant communities have occurred due to fire suppression and the introduction of more than 70 non-native plant species. Prescribed burning programs are now being used at the Monument to restore the prairie’s native plant composition and appearance. Looking out over the tallgrass prairie remnants above and below the quartzite escarpment, it I was tempted to visualize circles of teepees on the higher ground away from the quarries (all Native American tribes worshipped this site and would never camp directly within it), with herds of American bison dotting the landscape in the distance. Contrasting with the openness of the prairie, the escarpment itself is densely studded with trees – American elm (Ulmus americana) along the top edge, and bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) in the escarpment itself. Unlike the large, sometimes towering examples of their kind found further to the east, the trees here are dwarfed and spreading, almost gnarled. Below the escarpment, woodland quickly gives way to pure stands of smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and choke cherry (Prunus sp.), which just as quickly yield to the surrounding sea of prairie. Along Pipestone Creek below the escarpment, lower layers of exposed quartzite provide nooks and crannys where enough moisture collects to support the growth of green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) trees, until glacial till once again covers the quartzite, and riparian woodland yields to grasses and forbes. It’s not hard to imagine why this became a special place to the Native Americans, even before they discovered the pipestone that was to become so important to their culture.

The pipestone quarries are located a short distance to the west of the escarpment – where the hard quartzite layer is thin enough to break through – and, thus, have had little impact on altering the physical appearance of the escarpment itself. Winnewissa Falls (meaning “Jealous Maiden” in the Dakota language), lies at the center of the escarpment, providing a stunning centerpiece. Despite its beauty, it is but a shadow of what it was before early settlers in the area blasted away the top 18 feet of the ledge to create a reservoir for drinking water. A century of weathering and recolonization by lichens and mosses have softened the scars on the rocks, leaving little to indicate that such a dramatic alteration took place. However, standing in front of the falls, finding that “zone” where the temperature suddenly drops and cool wet mist blows on the face, and thinking about the significance of this place to the Native American tribes who held it so sacred, I was left feeling bewildered at how such drastic measures could have been contemplated for so beautiful a place.

In addition to the falls, nature has created some striking sculptures in the rock. “Old Stone Face” can hardly be mistaken for anything else – despite its human likeness, it was created entirely by natural forces. “The Oracle” is another naturally-formed human likeness found (though not as easily as Old Stone Face) in the outlines of the rocks. Tribal Shamans (Medicine Men) believed it served as a guardian of the valley and that voices issued from it’s cold stone lips. I stared for awhile and strained to listen, trying to imagine what words it might have spoken. At first, it seemed as if all was silent. Then I noticed the sound of the wind rolling over the prairie and twirling through the gnarled oaks. I heard the falls in the distance. I heard birds in the midst of frantic early-spring songs. I thought perhaps these might be the voices that guided the Shamans – spoken so loudly, yet so easily unheard.

The first U.S. government expedition to the quarry occurred in 1838 with Joseph Nicollet, a French scientist who was sent to map the upper Mississippi country. He and the members of his expedition carved their names in the rocks atop the escarpment, as did many of the early pioneers that first settled in the area. In studying the surface of these rocks, I couldn’t help but notice the incredible diversity of lichens to be found. Around 75 species are known from the area, and as shown in the photos I share below they come in a fantastic array of forms and colors. Lichens are primary colonizers of rock surfaces, able to do so as a result of their nutritional autonomy. Lichens are merely fungi that have evolved a specialised mode of nutrition: symbiosis with photosynthetic microalgae or cyanobacteria. Often, the algal component is capable of fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere, while the fungal organism attacks the rock with organic acids to release minerals. This is the basis of soil formation. Over time, enough soil accumulates in small depressions to allow mosses to colonize the rock surface. As successive generations of moss grow and die, more and more organic material accumulates on the rock surface, eventually supporting the growth of vascular plants (which extract nitrogen from the soil, rather than from atmospheric sources). These cycles of growth and death act in concert with the forces of erosion to ultimately convert barren rock to tallgrass prairie, hardwood forest, or other climax habitat. Mind you, this is an extraordinarily slow process – it can take a full century for a lichen to grow one inch! As I looked at the abundance and diversity of lichens on the rock surfaces, I tried to visualize the breadth of time encompassed by what was before me and quickly became lost in eternity.

While the trail that loops through the area is less than a mile in length, it took me an hour and a half to complete it. What started out as a few hours to kill ended as a hurried rush through the museum and interpretive center, trying to cram a few last morsels of knowledge into my head in those final moments before I would have to submit to the drive back to Sioux Falls. As I left the area, I noticed these oddly out-of-place boulders known as “The Three Maidens.”
Native Americans believe that these boulders shelter the spirits of maidens who demand offerings before permitting them to quarry the pipestone. Science tells us that the boulders are composed of granite and were likely carried here by glaciers during the past 1 million to 10,000 years ago. Originally a single boulder some 50 feet in diameter, repeated freezing and thawing over the millenia since it was dropped here have split the boulder into the several pieces seen here. Perhaps only The Oracle knows which is true.

For a more detailed, yet highly readable account of the geology of this area, please consult Minnesota Geology, Field Trip, Summer 2000 and Other MN DNR Workshops, by Arlyn DeBruyckere.

Posted in Anacardiaceae, Fagaceae, Fungi, Oleaceae, Rosaceae, Ulmaceae | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Muir Woods National Monument

This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. – John Muir

Coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is the tallest type of tree in the world, with maximum recorded heights approaching 380 feet. This majestic conifer grows only along the Pacific Coast in a narrow strip from Monterey to Oregon. Most of the estimated 2 million acres of original redwood forest are now gone — victims of the saw! One of the small groves that managed to escape this fate due to its relative inaccessibility grows along Redwood Creek and adjacent slopes in what is now Muir Woods National Monument. At heights approaching 260 feet, the redwoods growing here are not the tallest to be found; however, their proximity to San Francisco (just 15 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge) makes them the most heavily viewed examples of this ancient tree. Lynne and I visited Muir Woods a few times in the 90’s after moving to Sacramento — today (3/20) was our first visit since then, and the first ever for Mollie and Madison. In addition to getting to see these marvelous trees once again, we were also treated to a spectacular display of spring wildflowers.

We began our hike on the main paved trail. This is where most visitors confine themselves during a visit to this place, so the picture here documents a rare sight — no people! I apologize for its lack of focus, a consequence of the limitations of my little point-and-shoot camera in the limited amount of light that makes it through these towering trees during late afternoon.

Standing beneath one of these trees and looking up is a lesson in insignificance — the feeling one gets looking straight up the trunk of one of these giants cannot be adequately captured on film (er… microchip).

We quickly tired of the crowds and decided to hike up the Ocean View Trail, which climbs quite steeply up the east side of the valley. This marvelous trail was nearly devoid of people, and we found ourselves winding through thick, dark, cool forest with numerous side ravines. The lower elevations of the trail were dominated by redwood trees and a spectacular array of spring wildflowers. Among the most common was California toothwort (Cardamine  californica [=Dentaria californica]), a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). I noticed that the leaves at the base of the plant were broad and oval, while those arising from the flower stalk were slender and lanceolate, often divided into 3 leaflets.

Wake robins (genus Trillium), belonging to the lily family (Liliaceae, sometimes separated into the lily-of-the-valley family, Convallariaceae), are among my favorite wildflowers. We soon noticed Western wake robin (Trillium ovatum) growing commonly in shaded areas along the trail. We were also seeing some purple-flowered wake robins — at first I thought they were a different species, but it soon became apparent that these were older Western wake robin flowers, which change color from white to purple as they age.

A little further up the trail we began encountering small patches of Mountain iris (Iris douglasiana, family Iridaceae). Flower color for this native species ranges from cream-white to lavender, but all of the flowers we saw were of the white variety.

We saw this fat Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum racemosum ssp. amplexicaule [=Smilacina racemosa var. amplexicaulis]) growing in one of the cool, moist, side ravines. This is another member of the Liliaceae (sometimes separated into the Convallariaceae). The large, oval leaves clasping around the distinct, unbranched stem were almost as attractive as the flowers, which apparently give rise to bright scarlet berries in the summer.

In the middle elevations the redwood forest transitioned to drier oak woodland containing a mixture of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii), bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), and tan oak (Lithocarpus densiflorus). Some of the Douglas-firs were enormous.

Indian warrior (Pedicularis densiflora) is a member of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae, sometimes separated into the Orobanchaceae). This plant, with its striking bright red flowers and finely divided, fern-like leaves, is a facultative parasite on the roots of other plants. Apparently, the genus name refers to an old superstition that sheep could become infested with lice if they ate this plant.

The juncture of the Ocean View Trail with the Lost Trail was closed, so we backtracked down the 1+ miles back to the main paved trail. By now it was fairly late in the afternoon, and the crowds had thinned considerably. Having gotten lots of good views of the giant trees, we began turning our attention downwards to the smaller understory flora. Ferns, of course, are a dominant component of this understory, especially along Redwood Creek. This large specimen may represent Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum) (family Dryopteridaceae), which can apparently be distinguished by small hilt-like projections from the base of the pinnae (leaflets), but I couldn’t get close enough to see for sure.

Abundant on the ground in the valley was redwood sorrell (Oxalis oregana), a member of the family Oxalidaceae. In places this plant covered the ground in thick carpets.

Among the more interesting plants we saw in the valley was California fetid adder’s tongue (Scoliopus bigelovii), yet another member of the Liliaceae or Convallariaceae. I wasn’t sure what this plant was at first, despite its highly distinctive, glossy, mottled foliage. We were too late to see the blooms, which apparently have a fetid odor to attract flies for pollination, but did find the maturing pods on their slender, drooping stems.

Close to the creek’s edge we saw this colony of horsetails (Equisetum sp.), primitive plants in the family Equisetaceae. Members of this group belong to one of the most ancient lineages of vascular plants, dating back to the Devonian period (416-359 million years ago). Their Paleozoic ancestors (Calamitaceae and Archaeocalamitaceae) were giants, reaching heights of 50 ft or more, and were major components of the Carboniferous swamplands. Along with lycopod trees (Lepidodendrales), they were important contributors to coal formation and, like the lycopods, became extinct by the mid-Permian (~270 million years ago). The genus Equisetum represents the only surviving descendants of this lineage. Unlike their extinct progenitors, these small, herbaceous plants rarely exceed 4 ft in height; however, they share many of the same characters such as articulate stems with microphylls arranged in whorls. Recent phylogenetic studies, using both molecular and morphological characters, suggest that horsetails, together with ferns, form a clade representing one of the three major lineages of vascular plants (Pryer et al. 2001).

Nearby we saw a patch of Giant wake robin (Trillium chloropetalum) in flower. These were taller than the California wake robins we saw on the slopes of the Ocean View Trail but similarly characterized by a whorl of 3 leaves and flowers composed of 3 erect petals. Mature flowers darken to a deep red purple, so it seems these plants had just begun flowering. Muir Woods appears to be a good place for observing a diversity of Convallariaceae!

Also along Redwood Creek we found this bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) in full bloom. As its specific epithet suggests, this maple has the largest leaves of any member of the genus — in this example the newly-expanded leaves were distinctly purplish. The picture below shows the greenish-yellow flowers (petals inconspicuous) produced on long, pendulous racemes.

Interpretive signs along the paved main trail pointed out a redwood “family group,” formed by sprouts growing from the base of a larger tree. Eventually, the central “mother” tree died and decayed away, leaving a ring of offspring that mature into an enormous, characteristic circle of trees. This apparently also happens with other types of trees, though on a smaller scale, as demonstrated in this picture of an oak (Quercus sp.) family group.

As the day drew to a close we found ourselves back in the parking lot, where this California icon, a clump of Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), was spreading its wide, majestic crown from multiple, twisted trunks and gnarled branches.

Much too soon, it was time to leave this beautiful valley, but before heading back to Sacramento we stopped to take one last look down towards the valley and out to the Pacific Ocean from the Panoramic Highway.

Posted in Aceraceae, Brassicaceae, Convallariaceae, Cupressaceae, Dryopteridaceae, Equisetaceae, Ericaceae, Fagaceae, Iridaceae, Liliaceae, Orobanchaceae, Oxalidaceae, Pinaceae, Scrophulariaceae | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments