The Mountain Laurel is starting to bloom at Ivy Creek. The best places to experience these blooms are along the Peninsula Trail and on the Blue Trail, down by the reservoir. This month the Jefferson Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society's self-guided walk is led by Tana Herndon and Tana takes you along the Blue Trail specifically to experience the magic of Mountain Laurel. Tana generously shares her intimate knowledge of the plants of Ivy Creek so you will learn about much more along the way. You can take the walk onsite at Ivy Creek by following the plant list posted at the Kiosk that corresponds with numbered orange flags along the trails. Or download the free Izi Travel app and take the walk with Tana's narrative and the photographs we provide of each plant. Or use this link to take the walk with Tana from your home computer.
Many thanks to Bob Gore for this photograph of a Barred Owl enjoying itself in Martin's Branch.
I took this picture of a branch of Virginia Pine on the Red Trail. You can identify that it is a Virginia Pine by the two, twisted needles in each bundle. Pine trees are gymnosperms and mostly wind pollinated which is extremely evident to anyone who parks their car near a pine tree this time of year. The cluster of yellow-brown cylinders near the ends of the branch are the male cones which are producing the pollen that is easily borne by the wind. You can also see a mature cone from a previous year. If you look closely, you can see the sharp edges at the end of each scale. This is also indicative of Virginia Pines.
For those of you who regularly visit this blog, you will know that last year we shared a few photographs (and a video) of Barred Owls found nesting in one of the boxes at Ivy Creek. Barred Owls are the most sighted (and heard) owl at Ivy Creek. In past years, I could listen to them during the day from my desk in the Education Building and a few times found one hunting along Martin's Branch. We have had several reports of a Barred Owl seen again in one of our nesting boxes and Bob Gore was able to catch this quick glimpse that he has shared with us.
One of the most eye-catching plants in the Education Building Garden right now is the Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia. This tree is in full bloom right now with its tall panicles of red blooms that will attract hummingbirds and bees. The buckeye gets its name from the design of its seeds which are chestnut brown with a white spot and supposed to resemble the eye of a deer. To learn more about the Red Buckeye and other plants around the Education Building, you can take our virtual tour through this link. Or scan the QR code on the message board by the door to the Education Building and take our virtual tour in person.
This Eastern ratsnake visited us while we were recording the Native Plant Society's April walk. While Mary Lee Epps pointed out the Autumn Olive along the school trail, it patiently laid it's head on the fence and seemed to listen along. The Eastern ratsnake is the longest of the snakes found in Virginia and, according to the Virginia Herpetological Society, the only one to reach over 6' in length. You can see in the picture that it's scales are slightly "keeled". This is one way to distinguish it from another black snake found in Virginia, the Black Racer. Black Racers have very smooth scales.
I don't know why this particular ratsnake was not shy of us and, I admit, I was grateful for it's company. In that spirit of harmony, Happy Earth Day tomorrow.
I always love recording the plant walks for the Jefferson Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society. I am always learning something (often many things) that I didn't know and I get to see the trails of Ivy Creek through someone else's eyes. April's walk is now available. It was led by Mary Lee Epps who is a rich source of botanical enthusiasm and interesting facts. She even had a black rat snake mesmerized by her description of Autumn Olive (photos will appear in a future blog post). It was a joy to walk with her and I highly recommend finding your own preferred method for sharing in the experience. Click here to find out how.
The Albemarle Training School, where Mary Carr Greer was principal and teacher, is no longer standing. But its significance to the community has been recognized through a historic marker which you can now find on Rio Road, just around the corner from the Ivy Creek Natural Area/River View Farm. Click here for more information on ATS from our website.
Those of you who walk the entire Red Trail will be familiar with the pear tree that grows at the edge of the upper field, near the junction of the Red and Brown Trails. It is in bloom and beautiful now, as captured by Bob Gore. Bob has walked the Red Trail for years and tells me that this is a particularly abundant year for the blossoms.
I don't know how this tree came to be in that particular spot. We have aerial photographs of River View Farm from 1937 that clearly show an orchard behind the Barn area. And agricultural records tell us that there were orchards here. But this pear tree is a long way from the orchard we know existed. It is, however, near to a spot where there was once a tenant farmer's home (just below the field, along the Brown Trail) so it is possible that the tree is somehow connected to that home. One of the many mysteries to ponder as you walk the trails and a reminder of the many facets to the history of the land at Ivy Creek.
One of the surest signs of spring at Ivy Creek Natural Area is when the Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, start to bloom along the rock wall by the Education Building.