Thanks again to the Sewanee Summer Seminar participants who joined us for a stroll around “the Res” at St. Andrew’s School this Wednesday. The day was sunny, the reservoir was splashing full with noisy young swimmers, and the blackberries and blueberries were putting forth their first, slightly sour treats. What could be more pleasant than a waterside botanizing trip on a summer afternoon?
We made our way around the trail at a casual pace, stopping at any interesting plants to admire their foliage and flowers and talk about their life histories. We saw blooming woodland coreopsis (Coreopsis major), pipsissewa (Chimaphila maculata), and the beautiful sandstone outcrop specialist, the Appalachian stitchwort (Minuartia glabra).
Crossing the dam, we noticed plenty of ripe blackberries (Rubus argutus), yet those of us who bee-lined to the fruits were cautioned by another wise group member: “Snakes love blackberries too!” Perhaps they hang around under the shade of the bushes in wait for other small animals who are attracted to the berries. We saw no snakes, but did enjoy a handful or two of wild produce.
Downslope from the dam we stopped to appreciate a population of ground cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum), also known as southern running pine. This plant is a member of the ancient genus Lycopodium, whose ancestors were some of the first plants to become arboreal (tree-like) in the Devonian period (around 400 million years ago). In fact, the age-old carbon from lycopod trees in prehistoric swamps is a huge source of fuel for humans today- we mine coal from rock of the Carboniferous era, which got its name from the great amount of carbon fixed and stored by those early trees. Now this genus is restricted to smallish ground-covering plants like the running pine, which have no use as fuel, but as Nathan pointed out, make a lovely and festive Christmas wreath.
We had almost completed the full lap around the lake when we came across the prettiest plant yet- the fame flower (Phemeranthus teretifolius), a hot fuchsia bloom sprouting on and around another sandstone outcrop. This perennial herb sports succulent leaves, perfectly designed for storing water in the dry, sandy habitats it thrives in. The blooms, which gave it the additional common name “Appalachian rock-pink,” will grace the sandy outcrop from early summer into autumn.
I think it’s safe to say that everyone left the Res that day with a little more plant knowledge and a couple of new friends. Make sure to look out for future Herbarium escapades in the Plant Press calendar!