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October 2008 Sumacs  

The mention of the word “sumac” to the average person brings forth the comment “isn't that poisonous?' Too bad it's gotten such a bad rap, as sumac (Rhus genus) is an interesting and varied genus. Six species are known in the east and we have at least two on the Greenway, with a possible third.

The most common is the Common or Smooth Sumac. It has a lovely graceful silhouette this time of year when the long thick branches rise like slender fingers into the sky. Each branch of the female tree will be topped by a pointed dark purple cluster of small berries. Birds may eat a few when other food becomes scarce, but the greatest use of the cluster is to house a wide variety of insects over the winter.

Because sumac trees have such large compound leaves, up to 31 leaflets on one leaf, you will see very large leaf scars where the leaf was attached on the branch in their alternate arrangement around the twig. The leaf scar looks like a horseshoe, almost fully surrounding the bud that will be next years leaflet. The Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) has very smooth branches without any hairs, but a whitened blush may be viable. In summer a milky sap will exude when the stem is cut.

Another Sumac found here is the Dwarf or Shining Sumac (Rhus copallina). This Sumac likes more wooded shady areas, and grows to only 10' as opposed the Smooth Sumac's 15'. In winter look for the relatively thick smooth stalks and leaf scars that are a bit more opened than the previous species, but still about half-way around the bud. As the summer leaflets are fewer, 9-21 on the Dwarf Sumac, and each leaflet is smaller the leaf scars will not be as large as the Smooth. At this time of year you can often find the fallen leaves or leaflets under these small trees, and get an idea of their shape. If you find a stalk, look for the tiny leaf-like wings that run along the stem between the smooth leaflets. The Dwarf Sumac is the only sumac with these appendages.

In summer it is a good way to tell the Poison Sumac (Rhus vernix) from the Dwarf Sumac, as the Poison Sumac does not have these wings, but it does have similar untoothed compound leaves. The Poison Sumac could be found in Suli Marsh as that 's the type of environment it prefers, but it has not been identified here. The seeds of the Poison Sumac would be obviously different if seen, as they are drooping clusters of white berries that grow from the leaf axils (where the leaf joins the stem) anywhere up and down the branches. Not the terminal clusters of red fruit in the Common and Dwarf varieties. The Poison Sumac is purported to be a lot more toxic to human skin than poison ivy. Please don't handle it if you should discover it, but let us know so we can confirm it's presence and add it to our list.

Another Sumac is the Staghorn (Rhus typhina) found mostly in the northern and more central states. Its twigs, branches and fruit are very fuzzy or hairy. Even the leaflets may be downy on the underside. Fruit and leaf scars are similar to the Common Sumac but the plant may reach 30' high.

The Fragrant Sumac is a small (to 6 feet) woody plant with only three irregularly toothed leaflets. Its domain is more west and north. If cut or bruised it has a pleasant odor, as its name implies.

And lastly is the little known Michaux Sumac which grows in the lower piedmont and coastal plain of North Carolina. It appears to like sandy soil.

Next time you hear the word”sumac” perhaps it will conjour up some different images and a better understanding of some our common plants that aren't so common.

Please note that for our Discovery Walk, scheduled for November 14 th , we will have Jack Johnston, a very popular nature walk leader, who will enlarge on the River Environment. No Discovery Walks are planned for December through February.

 

10/22/08 Fall Abundance

Last Friday's Discovery Walk began with a display of various seeds that are abundant now. We observed the many differences among them.

Of course the nut trees are obvious as their seeds fall onto our walks and parking lots. Among them the Black Walnut, the hickories and acorns, the Ohio Buckeye, American Beech, and the Asian Chestnut all keep the squirrels busy.

Other plants that produce pods, like the Black Locust, Honey Locust, Mimosa, Kudzu, and the Wild Bean are of the pea or legume family and may not be so obvious unless one looks up, as the pods often hold on into the early winter.

We discussed the way that seeds develop inside the flower's ovary and noted that the “fruit” part the mature ovary may be fleshy like the apple, peach, cherry, blueberry, and strangely, the tomato. Not all fleshy fruits are edible by humans, witness the poison ivy and the pokeweed, though many animals can eat them with abandon.

Picturing an ear of corn, we learned that the kernels were the seed and each little strand of silk was connected to a kernel. Wind blown pollen sticks to the top of the corn silk and travels down to each ovary to produce the kernel of corn. It's fantastic that so many kernels actually get pollinated and of course some do not. Now you know why there is so much silk on an ear of corn!

Science has terms for the various fruits: drupe, berry, pome are all fleshy; legume, follicle and capsule denote the splitting types of dry fruits; and those not splitting are the achene, sumara and the nut. Here we may become confused as the husk may split, but the actual fruit does not. All of the above come from simple fruits. In compound fruits there may be many pistils in each flower and thus an aggregate of fruits form like in the blackberry, raspberry and mullbery.

On our walk on the Old Airport Trail we noted the round red “hips” of the wild rose and observed the differences in rose leaves and blackberry leaves.

We looked for the paired thorns on the black locust where the leaf joins the stem, and the green bean look-alikes of the Wild Bean.

There were fritillaries and monarchs at the butterfly garden feeding on the butterfly bushes, and still a few Golden Asters blooming. Their tan, fuzzy seed heads were produced in great profusion this year. We sampled some wild mint and took some home to steep for our tea. A beautiful day on the Greenway.

 

10/08/08 Taking Stock

Every once in a while it's good to take stock and count the steps one is taking to reach our goals. We came up with the following during our evaluation.

The Little Tennessee River Greenway offers opportunities for historical and cultural enlightenment. This past year we hosted the Cherokee Festival at Big Bear Park, an event at which thousands of participants enjoyed the chance to view the current Cherokee way of life through their celebration, poems, songs, games, dance, and food. We also have a diorama depicting the early Cherokee lives.

Through three years of Discovery Walks we have educated many citizens in wildflower, shrub and tree identification, helped them identify invasive plants, see the great variety of birds that live in our area, look at the lovely butterflies up close, observe and taste wild edible foods, and identify our ferns and mosses.

The Happening articles in the Franklin Press try to bring those Walks home to those who are not able to attend. These articles also bring situations to your attention to help in your understanding of why we have to set certain rules and policies for Greenway use.

The playgrounds at Big Bear and Tassee Parks help to get children out into the fresh air and exercising to help build strong bodies and social skills. The adult exercise stations on Old Airport Trail, and of course the trail itself, provide an open-air gym for those who follow good health practices.

We allow many sections of the Trail to appear “wild and uncared for” but in reality we are providing diverse plant and animal communities to secure their survival.

We resist paving of large areas in order to reduce runoff and to increase ground absorption of rainwater.

Someday we may be able to put permeable surfacing down, as we know gravel surfaces are hard for handicapped folks.

We have provided handicapped accessible trails and play equipment.

We look forward to working with development along the Greenway that enhances the community network of walking/biking paths with responsible commercial enterprises.

We are happy to cooperate with local service groups and have been the recipient of their good works since the beginning of the Greenway: building bridges, laying concrete, doing big clean-up jobs, giving helping hands with events, planting flowers, trees and shrubs and helping to undo the effects of vandalism

Having been recently designated a National Recreational Trail gives the town and county national exposure and could increase tourism. As a North Carolina Birding Trail, we'll soon be listed in the upcoming “Mountains” issue of the N.C. Wildlife Commission's coverage of the state birding trails, where to go, what else to see, where to stay and other things to do. This information will also help our community services, gift stores, hotels, and restaurants in the future.

Our Frog Quarters provides a Nature Reference Library, and internet service to visitors, hikers and locals. It also serves as an outlet for local craftmen and women to display and sell their wares, besides being the office for the Friends of the Greenway, Inc.

Along with the recent survey of Greenway use showing 20,000 uses a month, it's fair to say the Little Tennessee River Greenway is having an impact on the Town of Franklin and Macon County. We feel we have reached some of our goals.

Our newly revised web site www.LittleTennessee.org will show you even more about the Greenway and the Frogs Organization, and if you have any suggestions send them along to our email frogquarters@verizon.net