Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Blue Mushroom, odd wildflowers and mysterious eggs

Finally, we have our PC up and running again! You don't realize how much you use your computer until you can't! We were having trouble with a video card and got nothing but a black screen when we turned on the computer since Sunday. Thank goodness for the Geek Squad! It was so frustrating because I had some photos I was anxious to download from my computer from Sunday's hike at Frozen Head State Park.

One of the photos I was so anxious to see was the blue mushroom I spotted while hiking back down the mountain. It was blue and white! I climbed down over the side of the trail so I could get below the mushroom. I was very surprised to see that it had blue gills! What a beautiful specimen it was! I looked it up in my field guide when I got home and learned it is an Indigo Milky mushroom (Lactarius indigo). What an exciting find that was!

I also saw Pinesap, a strange non-photosynthetic wildflower. It is a saprophyte, meaning it has no chlorophyll (the green pigment found in most plants) and it breaks down dead leaves and other organic matter. It was the first time I had seen this plant at Frozen Head and only the 3rd time I had ever seen it anywhere else. There were a couple of large patches of it along the trail.

Back at home I had been watching the "red-patch" aphids growing and overtaking my Tiger Lily leaves. A few days ago I noticed a cluster of pointed yellow eggs on the lower side of one leaf. I assumed they were ladybug eggs and I checked them each day. Yesterday my assumption was confirmed, there were several tiny black ladybug larvae on top of the egg shells. Most likely they were eating them as some caterpillars do. Today I went out and checked them, the larvae had scattered and were beginning to munch on the aphids. They are a great form of natural pest control, one ladybug can eat up to 300 aphids in its lifetime! Of course, at the rapid rate that aphids reproduce, they will always outnumber the ladybugs.

I am going to lead a wildflower hike at the University of Tennessee Arboretum on Sept. 5 (10:00 a.m.). So I went to survey the site and mark many of the wildflowers on Tuesday. The past couple of years I had about 75 people show up for the fall hikes! It is hard for people in the back to see the plants as I show them and talk about them, so it should help to have them marked. While I was surveying the field, I found some interesting plants and critters. There were 2 fascinating caterpillars munching on some plants. The first one I spotted was a Spiny Oakworm moth caterpillar (left). It had very long antennae near its head. The second was quite fuzzy and was eating a wilted Passionflower. It was a Virginia Tiger Moth caterpillar (right).

The field also had some interesting wildflowers, such as the Lady's Tresses Orchid. It is always a surprise to see these tiny orchids growing in a grassy field! I love the way they spiral around the stem. The genus name for these orchids is Spiranthes (which I would assume means "spiraling flowers"). I also saw Great Lobelia, Virginia Meadow Beauty, Goldenrod, Wingstem, different kinds of Thoroughworts and several other wildflowers.

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