Soup ‘n Walk Report—Spring Ephemerals, April 16

The excellent tour guides for this Soup ’n Walk were Gail Raty and Margan Glover. The tour guide class is reaping rewards. We had a full group. Our maximum is now 30, and we managed. The day was cool, but sunny and breezy in the 50s. It’s so great that we have more to help, as my foot had a fractured metatarsal and I could not lead a tour for the first time since 2004!!!

From Gail:

The second group to head out in the glorious weather we had for the Soup ’n Walk comprised looking for a shorter, slower walk. As luck would have it, most of the group are new to the arboretum this spring. We had the opportunity to do what you would not normally want to do – point out what isn’t there but what to look for in the days and weeks ahead. A teaser.

We took the first bridge to Blockston Branch and encountered blossoming dogwood, emerging Turk’s cap lilies, vibrant greenery of skunk cabbage, bright yellow of the golden ragwort, bluebells, eye-level paw paw blossoms, bellwort, carpets of spring beauties, mayapples, Jack-in-the-pulpits, netted chain fern, Quaker ladies, and a few things I cannot remember. We returned with a little detour up Birch Allee to see the emerging pink lady’s slippers that promise some woodland beauty very soon. Finally, we stopped to admire the devil’s walking sticks and discussed the display that will be in bloom.

The number of mayapples promising blooms and the abundance of Jack-in-the-pulpits seems to indicate last year was a good year.

From Margan:

It was a great day and a great group. Spring is moving so fast!

The first walking group set out along the South Meadow, where we paused to marvel at the green shoots already emerging from the ashes of the meadow burn of just a few days ago. Paw paws, violets, spring beauties, sassafras, and blueberry blossoms competed for our attention. The mayapples, bellwort, and Jack-in-the-pulpit have just emerged in the last several days and are already big enough to start putting on a show. Solomon’s seal is just beginning, while bloodroot, one of the earliest bloomers, has already gone by.

We did find a nice fat sanguinaria seedpod, which gave us the opportunity to talk about myrmecochory. Bloodroot seeds include a little nutrient-dense packet called an elaiosome. Ants take the seeds back to their underground tunnels, dine on the eliaosomes, and trash the seed in their tunnels, effectively sowing new bloodroot plants. When we find patches of bloodroot growing together, it is likely because of this mutually beneficial arrangement between bloodroot and their neighboring ants.

Flowers aren’t the only spring ephemerals. There are a couple swampy areas in the woods known as ephemeral ponds or vernal pools, and they provide a precious micro-habitat of huge importance to amphibians such as frogs and salamanders. The day was a bit too cool to entice the wood frogs to sing, but we did see a splash or two.

We finished up with a trifecta of bluebells (going by), golden ragwort (still going strong), and dogwood (just unfurling in the past few days). Guests enjoyed a glorious outing and were eager to savor the meal that awaited. They also saw many butterflies.

Gail and Margan led the tours. Finally, all arrived at the Visitor’s Center for lunch. This was my chance. There was very fragrant ginger sweet potato soup, colorful Eastern Shore coleslaw, wheat flaxseed bread, and gluten-free almond cupcakes. Some of the guests were from more than 50 miles away, and some were from Baltimore and Pasadena.

We looked at the display of branches from my yard. There were paw paw, hearts a-bursting, spicebush, black gum, fothergilla, and service berry with berries since they were finished blooming. I added a blooming rosemary for color and shared a unique use as a platform for baking slices of eggplant to make an easy eggplant parmigiana. All branches were given away at the end to be taken home. The menus were on the table with recipes of all the tasty foods that we were eating. My hope is that participants will take them home and make more healthy meals. There was a handout included showing the vegetables that had carotenes that are so good for your eyes. Some were on today’s menu. Many were signing up for the fall Soup ’n Walks, since May’s walk is already full.

The staff  were very helpful, and I thank you. Volunteers were Pat B., Margan G., Gail R., Marilyn R., Joyce W., Pat F., Vivian S., and Denise D. Thanks to all. We could not do it without you.

Julianna Pax
Docent/Maryland Master Naturalist

Smoothie ‘n Walk Report

November 21, 2021

It was a fantastic day for our third and last Smoothie & Walk! The day was sunny, with temps in the 40s and no wind or rain. The day before wasn’t so nice, so we lucked out again. We had 15 guests attending. Some who could not make it were replaced with others, including one walk-in.

Our theme was “Searching for Nuts and Berries.” After a brief introduction on the patio, we walked to the persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) and marveled at the many fruits that were still on the tree. The fruit, when ripe, is delicious. It may be best after a slight frost and when it drops from the tree but before it gets too ripe. Native Americans may have used the dried fruit for preserving venison. The persimmon and the paw paw (Asimina triloba) are our only native fruit trees, although we have many berries. The paw paw ripens in September and the persimmon in November. They both have pinnate leaves that go from green to bright yellow before dropping.

The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) was our next stop. This is the most edible of the hickories and is treasured as an ingredient in baking and eating. It is a mast year for nuts and acorns, with lots visible on the ground. This is a cycle, and there may be very few in the coming years, leading to a change in the wildlife population from feast to famine. Hickory and ash have pinnate leaves. The hickory leaves are alternately attached to the stem, and ash are oppositely attached. The white ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (Fraxinus virginica) are a brilliant yellow and get seeds, not nuts, and the hickory leaves are a more orange color. Bitternut, mockernut, and sand hickories are found here at Adkins.

Juglans nigra walnuts

Next was the black walnut (Juglans nigra), which is also native and has a larger nut with more tannins. It can be used as black dye, and Native Americans have used it to paint their faces. Walnuts are very nutritious, with healthy omega-3 fats and protein. They can be used in soups, breads, and other foods. Black walnut has a pinnate leaf much like the hickory but with many more leaflets. This walnut is noted for not letting things grow underneath.

Oaks are abundant on the Eastern Shore and in the Midwest. They can be divided into red or white. The leaves of white oaks have rounded lobes, and the red or black oaks have stipules on the lobes of the leaves. Another difference is in the acorns. White oak acorns have less tannic acid and mature in one year. Red oak acorns have more tannic acid and spend two years on the tree before maturing and dropping. Therefore, acorns from white oaks sprout easily and are preferred by wildlife for their sweeter flavor. The red oak acorns are better for storing because they don’t tend to sprout and spoil as easily. Squirrels might bite the tips to keep acorns from sprouting in storage. Acorns can be used as flour but need a leaching process for the tannic acid. This involves soaking in many changes of water, then roasting and peeling and grinding into flour. They are very nutritious and can be used as a source of protein and other nutrients, as early inhabitants did before grocery stores!

Oak trees can be identified by the leaves and the acorns. However, they do hybridize. One very distinctive white oak leaf looks like a Maltese cross. This is the post oak (Quercus stellata). One of the southern red oak leaves looks like a turkey’s foot or Christmas tree (Quercus falcata). We had pictures of leaves and acorns of many of the oaks in our woods, and there is a map showing the locations of some of these oaks if you want to explore, especially this time of year. Another difference is that the white oaks have a flaky gray bark, while the red or black oaks are dark and deeply grooved.

Left: Quercus falcata leaves. Right: Quercus stellata leaves.

We also looked at sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum). We know their bark is the origin of our root beer flavor, now made chemically. Sassafras tea might have some carcinogens and is not recommended. Leaves are used to make file powder, a thickener used to make gumbo and a seasoning in some cultures. There are also sumac berries and many other berries found in the summertime that can be dried and stored for later.

Lunch in the Pavilion!

Soup ’n Walks are set to resume in March, and we look forward to their return. Our helpers were Michelle D. at the desk and Marilyn R., Janis T., Gail R., Joyce W., and Betty M.

Thanks to all. We had a wonderful time and talked of more fun in the future.

by Julianna Pax
Maryland Master Naturalist and Soup ‘n Walk program leader

Smoothie ‘n Walk—10/16/21

This morning was sunny and warm, around 80˚ F, when we started our walk at 11 am. Later in the afternoon it was windy, rainy, and cold, so we were very lucky on our timing. There were 15 guests, which was our limit. Gail R. gave a brief introduction, and we were on our way.

Dogwood (Cornus florida) berries

Our theme was searching for color. All were happy to help with this. The first stop was a persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) loaded with yellow fruit and yellow leaves. Next someone spotted some yellow and purple leaves, which were identified as sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). These can also have some orange color, but not this year. Nights have not been cool enough. Color appears after the leaf scar develops—water can’t get in, and the sap can’t get out. The scar starts the disappearance of chlorophyll or green color and later leaf drop. This green color had been masking the yellow color. When the sugar is blocked and it can combine with another compound and form anthocyanin, the purple color appears. These colors first appear along the edge of the forest, where there is the most sun.

Later, we noticed some milkweed pod seeds (Asclepias syriaca) and their silky parachutes ready to disperse the seeds. Insects were also busy on the pods. Farther along, we noted some devil’s walking sticks (Aralia spinosa) because of their lovely tops with red pedicels left from the flowers and a few blue-black berries still attached. Most berries had been eaten. We also passed more persimmon trees, with green leaves turning yellow.

Standing guard at the entrance to the woods was a dogwood (Cornus florida) tree full of red berries and flower buds for next year. The leaves were a lovely purple. The birds will eat these berries soon after the first frost, when they are very tasty. Crossing the first bridge, we marveled at the green ferns that were still showing. The ferns will disappear with the first frost. Next were some paw paw (Asimina triloba) trees with some very large yellow leaves tinged with brown. More bright yellow leaves spotted on the trail were shaped like a cat’s face and came from the many tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) in our woods.

Later, we saw some green leaves of the cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor). These green leaves have a deep purple underside. Anthocyanin is thought to help plants by shielding them from the ozone in the atmosphere and absorbing free radicals produced during metabolism. More red leaves and dark berries were spotted on the winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) as we left the woods. Someone noticed the purple pokeweed stems (Phytolacca americana). This inkweed is aggressive but not invasive. It is native.

Cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) leaves

Someone pointed out some bushes with unusual seeds that were purple on top and red berries in the pods. They are hearts a- bursting, or strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus), with leaves that turn red in fall. This is our native viburnum, and is not invasive like the burning bush. Another guest spotted some red berries on false Solomon’s seal (Smilacena racemosa) that had not been found by the birds yet. We also spotted some striped wintergreen and downy rattlesnake plantain orchid leaves, which are mostly green and were almost hidden by the fallen brown tree leaves.

Hearts a-bursting (Euonymus americanus)

Finally, we got to the Pavilion and our peach smoothie lunch with colorful veggies, fruit, brown bread, and cheese. Also some dark chocolate, which disappeared? The colors were to remind us of the color we had seen on our walk. Later we talked about eating veggies for their flavor and our health. We discussed ways to prepare them that are healthy and tasty and will help us get the nutrients we need. There were many questions, and we had a good discussion.

Our helpers were Marilyn R., Denise D., Gail R., and Joyce W., with Michelle and Lisa helping and at the front desk. Thank you all. We have one more program in November, and many said they had already signed up. Great!!

by Julianna Pax
Arboretum docent/Maryland Master Naturalist

Inaugural Smoothie ‘n Walk—9/12/21

This was our first ever Smoothie ’n Walk. We needed to change to an outdoor Pavilion setting, so I thought of a menu that would work on the picnic tables. The food was prepared at the Visitor’s Center by volunteers Joyce W., Joyce A., Gail R., Denise D.. and Julianna P. We used the new kitchen and the adjoining room. We had blueberry peach smoothies, fresh vegetables and fruit in season, and assorted low-fat cheeses, fresh wheat flax bread, and cherry jam with dips and spreads on trays. Melissa and Ginna were part of the staff assisting.

The view from the meadow overlook platform

The day was a sunny, fall-like day in the 80s. which made the meadow colors sparkle. Guests were greeted at the patio with a brief intro to Adkins. Since it was noon on a Sunday, we walked to the Pavilion for lunch first. Afterward, the 15 guests received a handout on smoothies with today’s recipe for the blueberry peach green tea smoothie and other information on smoothies. We discussed the nutrition of whole fruits and vegetables and what constitutes a healthy smoothie. There was a question about adding protein supplements, so it was suggested that if your diet has 20% of calories as protein, you do not need more.

The walk began at the Pavilion and headed into the meadow to the overlook platform. On the way, we saw many samples of grasses. Indian grass (Sorgastrum nutans) is the tallest and has a yellow bloom, while the seed head of purple top or red top Tridens flavens gives this grass its name. We also saw lots of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), a tall, solid grass with a turkey foot seed head. More types of grasses can be found in the parking lot. We climbed the overlook platform and looked over the meadow. We saw large sweeps of Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) among the grasses. The meadow has many levels. Most of it is underground—at least 70% is below. The upper level is mostly grasses, and the middle level tends to have plants such as milkweed, pearly everlasting, flowering spurge, and other native flowers. We try to burn the meadow every three years to keep it from becoming overgrown.

Tiger swallowtail on Canadian thistle

Continuing, we turned left at the bluebird house. It has a predator guard to discourage snakes, and it is one of many around the meadow. Volunteers help us fledge many young birds by caring for the houses. This trail gave us a look at the edges of the meadow. We saw the invasive but beautiful blue blooms of Canadian thistle (Circium arvens) hosting tiger swallowtail butterflies, which like the nectar. Next, we saw some American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) with berries, invasive oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and someone pointed out a monarch caterpillar on a milkweed leaf (Aesclepias syriaca). The monarch butterfly lays it eggs on milkweed leaves. When the caterpillar hatches, it eats the leaf and takes in an alkaloid that makes it repulsive to birds. Some black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) with black fungus caught our eye by the goat pen. They help us with the invasives, so we turned right to take in the goat pen and enjoyed their entertainment.


Reversing our trail, we passed many winged sumac (Rhus coppalina) bushes with red berries that are high in Vitamin C and make a pink lemonade. The leaves are also turning red. We then made another left turn and someone noticed another tree with red leaves. It was a tupelo or black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). We also saw a groundsel bush (Baccharis halimifolia) with seeds but no blooms, green-headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), and sundrops or evening primrose (Oenothera biennis). Past the Visitor’s Center, we traveled the persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) path. Some were loaded with fruit this year, bending the branches. There was a nice patch of devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa) in bloom that will have black berries on red pedicels for the birds and lots of thorns for those not careful.

Finally, we saw more purple top grass, some pearly everlasting, and berries on sassafras (Sassafras albidum) as we returned to the Pavilion. What a delightful walk and wonderful, appreciative guests. They want another S&W, and there are only two more left—in October and November.

by Julianna Pax
Maryland Master Naturalist


Ah, spring! Singing birds, peeping frogs, mud. What exactly is “mud”? Not too runny, but not too solid, either. As with pornography, we know it when we see it. Children are drawn to it and know instinctively how to differentiate among mud for pies, mud for structures, and mud for stomping. Although mud may or may not have been necessary for the origin of life (there are opinions on both sides), it has been intrinsically connected to and has supported life ever since. In deep ocean structures, there is a feedback loop between the mud and the microorganisms that dwell there: when the organisms die, their skeletons drift to the bottom to enhance the mud, which then provides scaffolding and recycled nutrients for future generations of microorganisms. Because the Chesapeake Bay is so shallow (~20’ deep on average), this kind of nutrient cycling from top to bottom to top is fast and efficient. The downside to mixing by tide and wind is that pollutants also easily disperse to all layers of water and mud.

Photo by Kellen McCluskey

Mud supports life of all sizes, from the innumerable bacteria inhabiting the hot springs and mud pots of Yellowstone to hippopotamuses who need mud to keep cool. Middle-size creatures like wasps, swallows, and beaver use mud for home construction and maintenance. Frogs overwinter in mud left behind at the vernal pools where they hatched. Our beloved blue crabs will hunker down in mud for protection when they are peeling. We can infer the universal importance of mud just by noting the number of animals with “mud” as part of their common name: mud turtle, mud skipper, mud crab, mud puppy, mud hen, mud bug.  

Because intertidal mudflats are, to use a technical term, squishy, they are a key habitat for shorebirds. Birds can nest and forage without threat of becoming prey to larger, heavier animals. And what might they find as they poke through the mud? Flatworms, round worms, snails, tiny shrimp, tiny crabs, bivalves, brittlestars, anemones, beetles, and whelks. These feed on phytoplankton, zooplankton, and each other. Obligate carnivores, whelks are among the top predators of mudflats, drilling through shells with their dagger-shaped toothlets to reach the soft tissue inside.

In conclusion, the next time you find yourself slogging through mud, consider skipping instead. As Buddhists say, “No mud, no lotus.”

(Apologies to mud botanists for overlooking plant life that is also intrinsic to mud ecology.)

by Sue Hauser
Maryland Master Naturalist