Field Notes: What’s In The Woods Today? September 2, 2019

By Project Learning Tree Coordinator Page Hutchinson

Look A Little Closer…

Although I work for the Virginia Department of Forestry, my job doesn’t actually allow me much time in the forest. Being a tree hugger from way back, I take as many opportunities as I can to get in the forest. On the recent Labor Day holiday, my friend Karen and I went for a hike on the Graves Mill Trail in Madison County. This easy trail follows along the Rapidan River and allows you to enjoy both the water and the forest. I use the term “hike” loosely. Karen and I call these our pokes as in we poke along examining this and that and enjoying all that we see. Very rarely is there an actual destination. Our day is driven by when we need to turn around and get back before dark. I don’t know that we’ve ever even tracked actual distance.

On this particular poke, we arrived both of us feeling stressed and somewhat harried from life and work events over the past few weeks. We quickly found a boulder on the water’s edge just to soak in the soothing sound of the moving water. Once restored, we headed on down the trail to see what we could see. Most noticeable were the splash of wildflowers, the profusion of ferns and the dance of many butterflies. Butterflies are hard to identify unless you can get a really good picture of them. That’s certainly easier said than done!

Beyond the most noticeable, we like to focus on the lesser-noticed beauty the forest has to offer: small fungi poking through the leaf litter, lacy patterns on leaves created by insects, unique shapes of tree trunks, designs and colors on rocks, and even the fabulous design of decomposing bark. Our most amazing discovery that day was some sort of insect case made out of folded fern leaflets. We found several and dissected one, but didn’t find anyone home.

We even enjoyed a refreshing dip in the river. A great poke, and a great day all the way around.

Field Notes: What’s In The Woods Today? August 14, 2019

By Area Forester Lisa Deaton

Dung Beetles

A local farmer asked me to examine a 40-year-old stand of loblolly pines to see if they were large enough to harvest. A corn field was located in the center of the property and we noticed some very fresh deer scat along the field edge. On the way back to the truck we saw something moving on the ground. It was a dung beetle, who had also noticed the fresh deer scat. I tend to forget that we have dung beetles in Virginia, but indeed they are found worldwide:  https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/insects/dung-beetle/

Notice that the beetle uses its hind legs to roll the dung ball:

National Geographic also has a video of an epic battle over a dung ball:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/01/beetles-fight-over-dung-ball/

Field Notes: A Rare Tree Adventure

By Emerald Ash Borer Coordinator Meredith Bean

It was August 27, very late in the season to be treating ash for protection against the emerald ash borer (EAB), and we were about to do just that. With the state’s most active “Big Tree hunter” as our guide through the swamps of Cypress Bridge Natural Area Preserve, we hopped into canoes to find the largest Carolina ash trees on record in Virginia. Along the way, we drifted through lily pad patches and marveled at the resilience of swamp trees as they survive in feet of water year-round.

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Lara Johnson (urban and community forestry program manager) and Byron Carmean (champion tree hunter) canoeing among the water tupelos and cypresses.

With a little searching, we finally found the two champion Carolina ash (Fraxinus caroliniana) trees and immediately started measuring and treating. They must have been thirsty because they took the insecticide right up! Each tree may not be larger than 20 inches in diameter nor look nearly as remarkable as their neighbors, but they are just as critically endangered as the giant cypresses surrounding them.

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Meredith Bean (emerald ash borer coordinator) and Meghan Mulroy (community forester) treating the #1 state champion Carolina ash with emamectin benzoate via microinjection.
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Lara Johnson and Byron Carmean with the champion Carolina ash post-treatment.

While emerald ash borer has not yet been confirmed in Southampton county, proactively treating specimen ash trees is the best method to ensure their survival for the inevitable day they are attacked. To find out more about this destructive pest and VDOF’s EAB program, please see our StoryMaps.

Many thanks to the Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural Heritage Program for preserving this ecosystem and allowing us to treat the Carolina ash, and to Byron Carmean for the awe-inspiring tour!

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Byron Carmean standing in the hollow trunk of a healthy cypress.
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Knees of a giant cypress that are taller than Lara Johnson on dry land!

More Information

Big Tree Registry

DCR Natural Heritage – Cypress Bridge

VDOF Emerald Ash Borer StoryMaps

Carolina Ash Characteristics