The title of this blog entry pays homage to Cicada Brood X (Magicicada spp.), the amazing bugs with a 17 year lifespan that brought them out of the ground this spring for about 6 weeks. They are out and about in force right now, early June. The buzz is deafening, especially in the forest, and the occasional scream they emit is positively weird. For some reason, other bugs, bees, and butterflies seem to be in short supply so far this year, except for the Ebony Jewelwing damselfly, (Calopteryx maculata), shown on the right below, which, for some reason, seems to be literally everywhere this year. Maybe the cicadas with their dominance and commotion, are scaring other insects away.
What's Blooming Now
Summer blooms seem scarce right now because the forest is abundantly green and dense, the invasives are moving in with gusto, and the glory of spring is behind us. Its as if the forest needs to catch its breath before the summer flower show begins in earnest. Still, there are flowers to be found - its just that right now, you have to look a little harder. One of the joys of being a frequent visitor to the forest is that it becomes easier to see what's new on the scene. And in a sea of green, the blooms, no matter how small, do stand out.
The first bloom that caught my eye along the floodplain was the Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus). The fleabanes are associated with the basic mesic forest natural community that lies just above the floodplain where I came across it. Somewhat common, they are very pretty, beneficial to many small beneficial insects, and useful in reducing soil erosion. Where I found it it was doing just that.
I observed clusters of Whorled Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia) along the trails and footpaths bordering the floodplain and the upper slope oak-heath/beech forest, of which both it is a member. The yellow flowers, although small, really pop out in the sea of green foliage. It's common to moist forest openings and has medicinal value.
While the June blooms may seem unspectacular compared to the spring show, they are more valuable for their pollination value. Both mentioned so far provide special value to native bees.
Next up is even less of a showstopper but still very special to see: Canadian Honewort or Wild Chervil (Cryptotaenia canadensis), which is a host plant to the black swallowtail butterfly. This is a modest bloomer and the plant, which seems pervasive once you recognize it, has significant edible value - it can be eaten in salads and used for cooking and seasoning like parsley. It is commonly associated with both the small stream floodplain and oak-heath/beech forest and I observed it frequently in both areas.
Finally, the last bloom I saw was the most diminutive -- Venus's Pride, Woodland Bluets, (Houstonia purpurea), a low growing species that thrives on streambanks and has tiny white-lilac flowers.
Interesting foliage is also arriving, portending future blooms. Various Goldenrod, Aster, Black Snakeroot (Sanicle canadensis), and American Jumpseed (Persicaria virginiana) are filling in the forest floor along with clusters of Swamp Agrimony (Agrimonia parviflora) and Woodland Lettuce (Lactuna floridus) (the last two pictured below, left to right). Although the two pictured below are interesting to look at and technically edible, their taste is a bit bitter taste for humans.
At this stage of the season, in early June, when the herbacious layer has leafed out but is not yet in bloom, its a little like an investigative exercise figuring out what is what. Here I came across something new and was pleased to discover a form of Ticktrefoil (Desmodium spp.), which will identify itself with characteristic purple or white flowers later this summer.
Vernal Pool Update
Remarkably, despite the heat wave and semi-drought, the vernal pools are still active. When I approach them I hear the plunking of frogs and other critters jumping into the water to avoid me, and close up, I can see lots of tadpoles moving around. There is less water, to be sure, and its pretty murky, but that doesn't seem to inhibit their continued development.
Just a note about the fern carpet along the floodplain floor -- while it disguises lots of invasive species, overall it looks magnificent. Pictured here is a floodplain field largely composed of Broad Beech Fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera) which thrives in moist, undisturbed woodland soils and can spread rapidly like it is doing here.
Early Summer Discoveries in the Oak-Heath/Beech Forest
On this hike I took a detour up the north facing slope and hilltop that is the oak-heath/beech natural community. And glad I did because, in addition to the abundant Honewort, I came across some pretty new and special species. First, I finally observed the long searched for Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in a cluster at the nexus of that natural community and the floodplain. Unfortunately the bloom was long gone, but now I know where to look for it early next spring.
Up on the hilltop, I came across a large area of low groundlayer plants beneath the tree canopy. This is common in an oak-heath/beech forest which tends to have a sparse groundlayer, although here it is made worse by deer browsing.
Berries Galore! Along this stretch I came across Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), Black Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata) and Blue Ridge Blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum), pictured left to right below, and, quite honestly, hard to distinguish! All are members of this natural community with the latter two sporting ripening berries.
Finally, I observed a lone Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) dancing along the edge of the stream and occasionally resting on the sandy bank. It was one of the first I've come across so far this spring and a nice way to end this outing.