A Walk in the Park

We’re lucky enough to have fabulous hiking trails at Beaverdam Park in Gloucester. Damming in 1990 created this 635-acre freshwater reservoir surrounded by hardwood trees and a multitude of flora and fauna. Well-maintained trails that circle and loop around the lake are multi-purposed. Hikers, nature walkers, joggers, bikers can be seen on any given day as well as riders atop their horses on certain trails.

mister gardener took the lead on this trip and we stuck to the 3-mile hiking nature trail that takes us across bridges, up inclines, down to the waterfront under the cool canopy of native trees.

Foot bridge over marsh

Along the way we saw many blooming natives such as the tick-trefoil or beggar’s lice, a woodland plant that most folks have had contact with at some time in their lives. The Velcro-like pods of the beggar’s lice is split into triangular legumes. When an animal, human or otherwise, brushes against the plant, the hairs on the seed pods grab onto its fur… or the clothing of a child or adult. I’ve learned from experience to make sure the seeds are peeled off socks before they are washed and dried since they survive both cycles and afterwards become almost impossible to remove.

Beggar's Lice with triangular seeds

The obedient plant or false dragonhead (Physostegia virginianais) we found growing along the banks of the lake.  These tight clusters of lavender/pink flowers grow on long spikes and are seen in moist ground along the edge of streams and marshes. The name ‘obedient’ is given because each flower of the plant can be pushed to and fro, up and down and from side to side and it will remain in that position.

Obedient Plant

Common inhabitants of the park are snakes, especially the rat snake, a constrictor of rodents and birds that is widespread in the northern hemisphere. Like the majority of snakes, it tends to be shy and will avoid being confronted. One identifying trait of the rat snake is the unusual kinks in its body when startled or confronted with danger.

Rat Snake: look for the white chin and throat for a positive ID

This is what mister gardener stepped over without seeing.  Sensing danger, it froze in place developing kinks along its body about every 2 inches. mister gardener allowed me to take the lead after the snake sighting.

Zigzag kinks in the body of a startled 5' rat snake

If you like fungus, it’s plentiful along the hiker’s trails at Beaverdam Park.

Paths are kept in good condition, the 3-mile hike is not difficult to traverse, inclines are slight, and there are plenty of benches to rest and enjoy the view across the water.  Many communities have similar parks and paths to enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a rewarding way to appreciate all that nature provides for us.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Wild About Fungi

Am I a shaggy mane?You can’t help stopping to admire mushrooms this year.  A wet and humid season has them growing in a variety of habitats in all shapes, colors and types.  Some grow alone, some in rings, and some in clusters.  Interesting to look at, beautiful to photograph, but because they are very tricky to identify, harvesting a wild mushroom for food should be left to the experts.  I have read that only ten percent of mushrooms are tasty and edible and five to ten percent are toxic to humans. The rest simply taste bad.

Although they were abundant in the spring and summer, when the leaves begin to turn colors in autumn is a great time to take a mushroom pilgrimage in a woods near you. Mushrooms are all spore-producing structures of fungi and nearly all are beneficial as they break down organic matter that is necessary for plant growth.  They can decompose wood, leaves, and dead grass.  Fungi can form beneficial partnerships with trees while some can be pathogenic and others are merely benign.

My knowledge of fungi is scant. Yes, someday I’d like to broaden my fungal horizon and learn how to identify these beautiful mushrooms but I’ll never bet my life on which ones I can eat.  There are no hard and fast rules or tests to distinguish edible from deadly.  The old adage, “There are old mushroom hunters and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters” is one that runs through my head.

Simply notice them or photograph them on your next woodland walk and you will be amazed at the abundance in Virginia.  A good standard reference to stick in your back pocket is Peterson’s A Field Guide to Mushrooms:North America, where you will find mushrooms identified by names like sponge, inkycaps, waxycaps, jelly or smut fungi.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester