Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday at the Arboretum

 For a walk today on this beautiful Sunday we took a picnic and walked the woods and meadows of US National Arboretum. We parked in the lot by the collection of State's trees and headed down an abandon roadway into a meadow at the edge of a wood and soon up the hill into the forest.

 Spotted off in the woods an orange lichen growing like a big flower on the forest floor and the soft green mosses were smooth and velvety. Sassafras one of our favorites to identify as kids, due to the odd shape leaves and the bright red orange color that comes early in late summer known also for digging the roots to make a tea. Then near that was a dogwood turning red too.

Snake root flowers white at the edge of the forest floor 

 Red viburnum berries were spectacularly red and the leaves had great visual texture.
White wood asters were plentiful and blooming
 The pretty dark green leaves of spotted wintergreen or dragon's tongue were going to seed in a bed of fern like moss. 
We make our way to the visitors center to sit down and enjoy our picnic sandwiches and cold ice water and a break at the necessary room. From there we headed out to the formal knot garden and sniffed a few leaves of scented sages and geraniums. Admired the orange rose hips and then on to the view of the big meadow with the Capitol columns 

Children have lots of room to run and play here safely as you can see these three toddlers were making the most of the open space. parents were nearby under a big shade tree on a blanket relaxing with their picnic baskets. 

The sun was warm but not too hot and the air was too. It was a lovely two hour visit and I look forward to seeing the leaves on all those great trees turn in the coming weekends of autumn.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Native plants in the neighborhood where I grew up

When I visit Manassas I get an thrill out of going on long walks for my heart health and I have had an keen eye on the wild 17 acre lot across the street from where I grew up. I can remember when everything around the house was farm field, we used to play and explore looking for baby rabbits, toads, quails whippoorwills and meadowlarks. Now I often stroll behind that shopping center to admire the nature gone back to native wilderness. Who ever developed this shopping center expected to do a secondary retail space behind it on this big lot but never found a buyer. It was first just grasses left by the original owner who used it as pasture for his cattle. Then over time the native trees and plants along with some aliens took root. Now it is filled with native red cedar and pine trees between meadows and marshy areas of native grasses, sedges and flowering plants. This visit it was in late season bloom and I stopped on my way home to get some images and see if I could find some common milkweed pods to collect to plant in our gardens for those monarch butterflies who need milkweed to survive. This lot would make an excellent nature preserve for an area that is slowly becoming a continuous paved parking lot and desert for our native flora and fauna. 
 The far edge of this wild area is an electrical company facility NOVEC, that has lots of high wires for birds to use as perch and attracts thousands of starlings in fall who put on amazing displays of acrobatic flying each evening about the time the sun is setting.

Here I found an interesting grass going to seed at the edge of the roadway behind the shopping center where puddles of rain water collected earlier in the season and made ponds that had polliwogs eventually turned into little frogs living around them. 

Now the wet areas are dried up they are home to the water grasses golden brown remains and another grass that has a great prickly red seeds. 
Keith and I attended a talk recently on native grasses so on this walk I was looking to see how different they are one from the other. Grasses are a whole new world of plant life to observe and appreciate when you can find them undisturbed. This time of year is especially good since their distinct seeds are on display.  

Beyond the pavement's edge were areas of fuzzy fox tail type red topped grasses of a different type more bottle brush like and these pretty mounds of yellow flowers.

 A close up of the butterfly on a yellow flower and red grass beyond; too deep in for me to venture closer without long pants and protection from ticks.

There were white late blooming thoroughwort and various tall grasses mixed with milkweed and goldenrod. Some poison ivy at the edges too naturally a native but one I have to stay well clear of when I visit the wild. Ever present invasive common teasel. Finally some pictures of the goldenrod and the pretty yellow tickseed sunflowers which drew my attention initially.

Skipper butterfly, wasp and a bug all on the goldenrod sipping the late season nectar. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Walking in National Arboretum's fern valley

Last week we took a afternoon walk in the U.S. National Arboretum's native woodland trails called Fern Valley. It's like a trip to the wilderness with some very nice benches and bridges and huge old trees. The floor of the valley that has a stream running through it has all kinds of plants and wild flowers. I wasn't expecting to see so many this time of year so it was a nice surprise to discover that flowers bloom in the woods even with a full canopy of leaves over head. I took the camera to capture some of the scenes and focused on flowers and small plants and the creepy orange black bug that lives on milkweed seed juice!

 Bright red cardinal flower were hiding way off in the understory but my zoom helped me capture them for the first among many colorful surprises.

 One I hadn't ever seen or heard of but fortunately we saw a sign describing this unique plant name. Doll's eye plant or white baneberry, Actaea pachypoda is the latin name and it seems it has a white flower and is related to buttercups and is recommended by growers for gardens but endangered in the wild.

 The tall green headed coneflowers were reaching out from the edge of the woods towards the sunny sky.

Jack-in-the-pulpit seed clusters bright red color was easy to find. 

 Orange flowering jewelweed was abundant along the damp creek edge and humming birds were visiting but too quick and shy for my camera to capture.

 On the common milkweed seed pods at the edge of the parking area we found a cluster of milkweed bugs who live on the seeds by burrowing a hole into the pod and sucking the juice out of the seeds. The bright orange color is a warning to predators that they are poison to the creatures who might try to eat them because they carry the milkweed's toxic chemicals in their systems. They evolved together the bug and the plant.
 I don't know this plant's name but it's bright green flowers or buds for flowers and the leaves catching a blue reflection from the sky above were very pretty along the woodland path's edge. Nettle called clear-weed perhaps? Not sure if that is what this one was but it fits most of the description in my wildflower field guide. I got a second opinion and we both think it's Clearweed described on Wiki if you want to know more.

 Beautiful obedient plant flowers are sturdy and seen in lots of gardens blooming and feeding bees this time of year. It was in a sunny spot at the edge of the trail.

Finally the tall sunflowers were over seven feet I had to look up at them when standing next to them a few flowers were blooming at the bottom near the ground so that gave ma a chance to get the first image very golden in color. US National Arboretum is a great place to visit Friday's through Monday 8:00-5:00 but closed due to sequestration budget cuts by the Congress it's no longer open Tuesday Wednesday nor Thursday.