May 21 Soup ‘n Walk Notes by Julianna Pax

Mary Jo and I led our group along with two other volunteers, so we were well covered fore and aft. The guests were about equally split among those familiar with the Arboretum, those who’d visited only a few times, and a few who were there for the first time. We hiked Blockston Branch over to Ridge Walk and back via the South Meadow. We talked about structural things while we looked for interesting plants – how small creeks help protect the Bay by providing opportunities to trap silt and nutrients; why some plants prefer the rich but risky lowlands and others prefer the drier, challenging uplands.

Along the way, we spotted some little pawpaw fruits on the same stem with a tiny withered flower (about 10 feet up, right at the start of Blockston Branch trail near the first bridge). Helpfully, a zebra swallowtail chose that moment to flit past. Lots of poplar tulips scattered on the ground for our inspection. We contrasted the false with true Solomon’s seal. Just about the time we found our first mayapple fruit, we also almost stepped on a resplendent box turtle that was being pestered by a little cloud of mosquitoes. Guests enjoyed using my pocket magnifier to admire the plentiful spaceship flowers on healthy (non-mite-y) heart’s-a-bursting. Lots of birds were enjoying the drier, sunnier weather: bluebird, oven bird, pileated woodpecker, and red-eyed vireo, just to name a few.

The cranefly orchid leaves are almost gone, but there were just enough for us to admire the vibrant purple underleaf. The cat brier shoots are getting old enough that they’re a bit too tough to nibble on (a positive attribute of this annoying plant that was covered in last Sunday’s foraging class), but we talked about their green stem strategy for photosynthesis after the canopy dies back later in the year. Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers are withering, but we did see some brave specimens along the way. Iridescent damsel flies stopped us dead in our tracks a couple of times as their ruby and sapphire wings caught shafts of sun filtering down from the canopy.

Everyone was hungry by the time we blinked into the sunny meadow, so we were encouraged by the prospect of a delicious meal waiting for us. And we were not disappointed – yum!

Thanks, Margan, for your very entertaining educational notes. I feel like we went on your walk also. My thanks also for the lovely weather, which was in the 70s. Our group did the Upland Trail to the Creekside Trail, Tuckahoe, and then returned on Blockston Branch. Our theme was to check out the view at creekside, and what a view it was. The mountain laurel are blooming prolifically this year. Since I started doing the tours in 2003, these are the most blooms that I have seen. If you get a chance, come out and visit. The mountain laurel are along the higher ground of the Tuckahoe and Creekside trails. They bloom most heavily where the sun shines through the tree canopy in the morning. It seems that everywhere the sun shone on these bushes we could find blossoms this year.

Along the meadow there were many milkweed plants this year, and their buds are just about to open. Our visitors seemed to know that this is the host plant for the monarch butterfly. At the start of the Upland Trail, the pawpaw patch will show some of the pawpaw fruits if you look high enough and have good eyesight. Keep checking, as they will grow and ripen around Labor Day if they stay on the trees. Also watch for the zebra swallowtail butterflies, which lay eggs on the leaves that feed the larvae later. All along the Upland Trail we saw a lot of red-striped green-leafed rattlesnake weed with tall yellow blooms and a few spent blooms of pink lady slipper followed by some pussytoes, a few late bluets or quaker ladies in the moss patch, and Solomon’s seal blooms here and there. The false Solomon’s seal is just getting started, and both will have berries later: blue-black berries on the former, red on the latter. The heart’s-a-bursting bushes were also covered with blooms. Last year there were very few.

The rattlesnake fern is showing by the Christmas fern patch, and we are looking forward to the fern walk next month. Many other ferns are making the Blockston Branch seem even more cool and refreshing. Water is flowing since we had quite a bit of rain this spring. Maybe that is why the blooms have been great. A turtle showed by some mayapples, which delighted all in the group. The tulip tree blossoms with their orange and yellow color are found along the trails blown down by the wind. They were also on the tables for part of the decorations carefully cleaned by Michele. The dogwood at the entrance to the woods is covered with green berries. What a treat for us and the birds this fall.

About half the guests went on the two-hour and half on the one-hour walk for a total of 16 guests. They were most enthusiastic, and some who had come for the first time were inspired to come again. Thanks to Mickey, Michele, Norma Jean, Mary Jo, Jennifer, and Margan, the beautifully decorated room and smells of food beckoned to us as we returned. The scallop vegetable soup and roasted beet and carrot salad were delicious, and Norma Jean and Mary Jo made the tasty cookies. Thanks also to the staff and volunteers at the front desk who help with signups and supplies, etc. Everyone does such a great job welcoming the guests and helping in so many ways to make this event fun for all.

Thanks,
Julianna

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