August brings subtle signs of the approaching fall, along with noteworthy gems that brighten up the forest. Signs of fall include spider webs, slightly tired looking ferns, drooping earlier bloomers like Naked Flowered Tick Trefoil (Desmodium nudiflorium), and slowly fading greenery. WIldlife is just a bit more visible (or I'm better at noticing). The frogs are louder and the Great Blue Herons are more evident in the wetlands. Fall is approaching, like it or not.
But there is a vibrant side to late summer. The first flora to pop out is the bright orange blossom of the Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), a native annual known for its bright orange trumpet-shaped flowers that shoot seed capsules in all directions at a mere touch, leading to its other common name "touch-me-not." It's bright pea-shaped flowers and open leaf structure are welcome and fight off the stiltgrass. As far as I'm concerned, Jewelweed can freely shoot its seeds far and wide in this stream valley. It also has many medicinal uses, as the Native Americans knew, including as a remedy for poison ivy, and anti-inflammatory, anti-histamine, and anti-fungal treatments. Try it as an infusion or decoction of leaves and stems or apply the juice from broken stems and leaves directly.
I'm having a hard time concealing my excitement at seeing the blooms of the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor) in the floodplain. This native is considered rare in some northern states but not in Virginia. Nevertheless, Cranefly Orchid flowers are rarely seen and so very easy to miss. I knew where to look for them, because last winter I noted a large clump of the distinctive evergreen leaves curled around an old poplar on the moist forest floor. The evergreen leaves disappear in spring, but - lo and behold, the unusual, barely noticeable flowers appear now in the same spot, in early August. They bear the shape of crane flies and are specially shaped to accommodate the nocturnal moths that pollinate them.
The exquisite pale blue flowers of the Wild Lettuce (Lactuca floridana) can also be found along the floodplain this time of year if one pays attention. They are so small and tall they are often overlooked. That is, if the deer have not eaten them. The height of this edible native makes it perfect for deer browsing. But I was fortunate to spy one that had not been beheaded.
Earlier I mentioned the emerging signs of fall. If you frequent the trails in the early morning these days you may encouter more spider webs. That's because the nights are getting longer, giving spiders more time to hone their craft before daylight. Here is a web I came across in an early morning along the trail. Mr. Spider was still hard at work. .
This is turning out to be a banner year for Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata), another native annual. I am seeing it everywhere. No complaints here. Its tiny blue-white flowers are sweet to see and it, too has deep, traditional, medicinal value. The Cherokees used it as an analgesic, to treat bites and stings, and to stop smoking tobacco, among other uses. Note that I am not advocating its use for that.
Swamp Agrimony (Agrimonia parviflora) has been forming its distinctive clumps of pinnate compound leaflets all along the trails for some time now. Finally it is in bloom, as evidenced by the arching yellow flower spires. And yes, Agrimony also has medicinal value. The Cherokees had many uses for it, including "an infusion of root given to satisfy children's hunger"...hmmm. Not advocating that either. (See http://naeb.brit.org/).
The Common Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) is in even greater abundance than last month and this time covered with pollinators in sunny locations along the floodplain. The Cherokees had more medicinal uses for Selfheal than can be summarized here, and they also ate the leaves as greens and as an infused drink. Quite a popular native plant in its time and place.
In the category of "what's new?" is a sighting of a clump of Dotted Knotweed (Persicaria punctata), not to be confused with Virginia Knotweed (Persicaria virginiana) which exists in droves on the floodplain and which has a distinctly different leaf shape. Dotted Knotweed is common to many areas but not so common in this stream valley, at least not yet.
Quite hard to see, but most definitely present now, are the tiny green flowers of the False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica). The diminutive flowers lie beneath the leaves. False Nettle is a modest native, but packs a pollinating punch by serving as larval host to the Eastern Comma, Question Mark, and Red Admiral Butterflies (no, I have not yet seen any of those nearby, but hope remains strong). False Nettle does not have stinging hairs like its cousins and it has some traditional medicinal uses.
So, turning now to more serious topics. Several important developments recently occurred along the stream valley. First, the wetland meadow that is targeted for habitat restoration, pending permits, was just razed by Dominion Energy. Thank you! This means we do not have to battle mountains of invasives just yet, and it opens up an incredible opportunity for us to rehabilitate this meadow in the fall,. Fingers crossed that it all comes together. Below is the now ((left) and before (right). Let's not think about the wildlife that was living there pre-bulldozer.
Second, the recent recurring fierce evening thunderstorms have created even more significant damage along the steam valley and streambank. See fallen tree and scour bank damage below. Ouch.. Hoping that assistance for streambank stabilization is on the way soon!