Thursday, October 16, 2008

As fall moves in

As we stepped through the very dry chert woodlands we had walked through earlier this summer, our eyes were on the ground looking for asters, goldenrods, or anything else that may be in bloom in mid-October. This week marked my third visit to Grasshopper Hollow in as many months, and I found myself in excellent company, among two great botanists. As usual, I skipped ahead of the herd, hurrying to that point of the trail when it opens up into the densely packed and biodiverse prairie fen. But before I threw myself into the towering khaki big bluestem, thinking that the rest of the crew wanted to wade through the grasses as much as I did, my colleague points out a gem of a wildflower, the bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii). Rather unlike the downy gentian, the petals of this gentian never fully open, providing a serious challenge to pollinators (all of whom must be pretty hell bent on getting into the bright blue flower).

Save the two botanists in the crowd, no one wanted to stomp through the fen, opting instead to hang out on the small wooden overlook (but asking us what it was that we saw "out there"). I ran into a blooming Spiranthes orchid among the grasses and lilies, but lost it when I waded 20 feet further, leaving the two botanists I asked for help looking at me, disappointed. Another gentian (G. quinquefolia) showed up on the edge of the fen, much smaller and elegant than the bottle gentian. I had to hold it in my hand for a picture of the sole open flower that barely offered room for a fly. Asters and goldenrods were plentiful that day, providing small patches of color in the otherwise muted landscape.

So as we move into fall, fieldtrips to glades and fens are left to the diehards, the ones who appreciate the structure of plant communities, understanding through clumps of dried seedheads that a given area is incredibly diverse (or really lousy). While some may see the images of Grasshopper Hollow in fall glory and see a field that's past haying time, I hope others see an undulating, rich fen complex waiting for a spring burn.

Pictures! Aster puniceus with a spider eating a fly on the rays; bottle gentian (G. andrewsii); G. quinquefolia in my hand; and images of the always stunning Grasshopper Hollow. I'll have to go back there after a burn when the landscape is black.


beetles in the bush said...

When you do go back, please take me with you. I want to see it through the eyes of someone who understands it.

And, ahem, that fly is a halictid bee - not to bee two pedantic.

all my best -- ted

John said...

"Skipped," "stomp" an "ran!"

Your wonderful verbs add zest and action to report that the unknowing might think just a stroll through an old field. I wanted to skip along, imagining myself enjoying a delightful romp through Grasshopper Hollow.

Thank you for the imagery. Were I not occupied elsewhere these coming weeks, I'd be scheduling a trip to the witness just a few of the sights you describe so amazingling well.

cedrorum said...

I clicked over from Beetles in the Bush. Nice blog. You've got my attention posting about structural diversity in plant communities, and burning.

Allison Vaughn said...

Yay! Thanks Ted. As you know, I have many big holes in my knowledge. Bees and flies. Man, I don't know them at're stellar, and as usual, a huge thanks for reading. Yes, come back to GH with me after a fire and then we can see the undulating topography totally obscured by the tall grasses!

Texas Travelers said...

I haven't been commenting for a while now. Just a quick read and then on to other tasks. However, this deserves a word or two of praise.

Nice post and great photos. I enjoyed it. I would like to commend you on your grasp of Nature and understanding the complex interplay of the biodiversity around us. You also have a great talent for expressing what you see. Not many people do. I wish I were better at it.

Very thoughtful piece on Nature Centers also.

Terrific photos. Keep up the great work.

Just know that I stop by often, even if I do not comment very often.

Come visit anytime,
Troy and Martha

PS: Alaska Sunday Hope, AK photos are up today.