Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Searching for Snow Trillium

Snow Trillium - Linda Williams

Wake Robin
As we emerge from the winter doldrums, I asked Linda Williams who transferred to our chapter from Osage Trails Chapter last fall to write on her experience in documenting an uncommon snow trillium, aka. white wake robin,
Trillium nivale. Even I can tell the difference from our common wake robin, Trillium sessile, seen on the right.


Snow Trillium - by Linda Williams

The end of March and the welcomed appearance of beloved spring ephemerals brings up some recent memories for me of helping to survey the rare-for-Missouri snow trillium, Trillium nivale.

On March 27, 2021 my good friend Susan Farrington, the MDC Natural History Biologist for the Ozark Region, asked me to accompany her to survey these special trilliums on some private property on the Jacks Fork River in Texas County. What a magnificent north-facing hillside on a bend in the river! The land partially borders the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The owner is conservation-minded and proud of the rarity.

The location for the snow trillium here was in the MO Natural Heritage Program Database but the entry had not been updated since 1954 when several hundred plants were counted. When we arrived at the gravel bar on the opposite side, I used my spotting scope and could tell we were going to find plenty of plants. I was able to start counting them with my scope and photographing them with my 500mm lens while Susan launched her kayak to go to the other side and get a closer look. She didn’t go very far above the water since the hillside was so steep and it would have been a cold swim! We could tell the population included at least as many numbers as almost seven decades ago.

                                                     Hepatica nobilis blooms in early spring - Linda Williams

Trillium nivale is generally thought of as a northern plant species. In MO it’s a glacial relict which means it’s a species adapted to colder climates, and it remained in select areas after the glaciers receded and the ice age ended. The glaciers 10,000 years ago did not extend as far south as the Lower Ozarks but the proximity of them still cooled areas in southern Missouri. Large cool, moist, north-facing bluffs are excellent places to find these types of plants. Snow trillium’s rank* in MO is listed as S3 and globally G4.

Snow trillium on a steep north-facing bluff

On March 24, 2022 I was invited again to help survey a newly discovered area with snow trillium on a north-facing bluff in Shannon County above the Current River on Pioneer Forest land. About a dozen folks from MDC, The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, and L-A-D Foundation took part in combing the steep hillside for plants. We spent several hours counting blooming (425) and non-blooming plants (626) and could have gone a few more hours! During recent years more groups have found more sites in similar habitats racking up similar numbers.


Editors note

 * "Snow trillium’s rank* in MO is listed as S3 and globally G4."

This refers to the Missouri Species and Communities of Conservation Concern Checklist found at this link.

  • S3 is Vulnerable in the state due to a restricted range, relatively few populations or occurrences, recent and widespread declines, or other factors making it vulnerable to extirpation.
  • G4 is Apparently Secure: Uncommon but not rare; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Peeper Season

Find the peeper - click to enlarge - answer below   

Driving by our pond we stopped to hear the first spring peepers.  Barb could hear them faintly but I couldn't.  Later way out in the field we found the source in a water filled tire rut.  As I approached it they were almost deafening as heard here.  As I bent down to find one they all stopped singing.

The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days)
"The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days)." Animal Diversity Web
The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days).
The species is one of the first anurans to begin breeding after winter hibernation. The breeding period lasts from March - June, when 800 - 1000 eggs per female are laid in shallow ponds. The eggs hatch within 6 to 12 days, and tadpoles transform to adults during July (range 45 - 90 days).
Most of these eggs won't survive to produce adult peepers or we would likely be deafened by the songs.  Frog eggs and tadpoles are at the bottom of the aquatic food chain, eaten by any denizen of the shallows that can get its mouth around them.  Our Master Naturalist Linda Bower* captured one of those attempts in this video of a dragonfly nymph attacking a peeper egg just before it could hatch.

Dragonfly nymph attacking peeper egg with tadpole inside - LB

This time of year is when male spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) audition for their ladies.  They have emerged from hibernation and the three year olds are now ready for mating.  (Over 21? See the x-rated details here.)

 "The spring peeper produces glucose, or sugar, and "freezes" itself for the winter. In winter, peepers' bodies freeze--but their cells don't rupture because of the concentrated sugars in them. These sugars act as a kind of natural anti-freeze.
Like many of the chorus frogs, the spring peeper is often heard, but not seen. It gets its name from its call, which consists of a single clear note or peep, occurring once a second. Only the males sing, calling from shrubs and trees standing in or overhanging water.
The faster and louder a male sings, the more likely he is to attract a mate. A male peeper may also give a lower-pitched trilled whistle, usually when another male has moved too close to its calling site. During the daytime, peepers often call during light rains or in cloudy weather."  Maryland DNR

X marks the frog - REK

Peepers are hard see, let alone to photograph, as they are watching for anything moving above them.  At less than 1.5" almost everything is higher.  They have great camouflage, with a faint "X" on the back as their distinguishing mark, the reason for the name P. crucifer (crucifer = “cross-bearer”).  Because of the cacophonous chorus, it is hard to localize an individual frog.

A few years ago I chose a pond with a six foot high dam so I could approach the water from below unseen.  The chorus was in full voice by 4:45pm while the low lying sun was still reaching the pond surface.  I crawled up the side on my belly like my Uncle Sam taught me, discovering in the process that my belly wasn't the same one I had used in 1967.

I reached the top and peered over and saw....nothing!  There was the water, dead leaves and floating sticks with even a few mushrooms, but no frogs.  The cacophony continued unabated, scattered voices from all around the pond edges.  Finally I made out a tiny bump that seemed to vibrate on a log to my left. 

Crawling six feet to the left and then peeking over the edge I was face to face with a singing peeper.  He watched me closely as I ever so slowly brought out my pocket camera.  I waited several minutes with my arms outstretched until he again joined the chorus.  The next 10 minutes I continued to film it, pausing when it became suspicious and stopped singing.  Mission accomplished with this video!

A final confession.  I broke the rule of "Take nothing but pictures leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time."  When I got home I discovered I had taken a number of ticks from the pond dam. You can guess the killing part.

Tadpole emerges left upper, intact egg with tadpole to the right - Linda Bower

Our Linda Bower produced this incredible video of spring peeper tadpoles emerging from their eggs, the end product of a mighty spring peeper choir.  You can find this and more on her Nature in Motion Youtube Channel.


Did you find the Peeper?   Here it is.

Click to enlarge

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Cedar Pollen

Male cedar cones - Drew Albert

"In the Spring, a young man's fancy, lightly turns to thoughts of Love SNEEZING!" (with apologies to Tennyson.)

This is the time of year when male eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) release their clouds of love in the form of pollen which you can see in this video.  In Texas, this is referred to as "cedar fever" which is discussed in this Texas A&M link.  Their onset occurs earlier in Texas due to their warmer climate.  Our Master Naturalist Drew Albert suggests that "After a dry, warm February day yesterday with mid-70s and afternoon humidity dropping below 20% this isn't uncommon after colder weather." The video above was shot on March 12, 2020 which supports the weather theory.

Cedar pollen is distributed by the wind and doesn't seem to care if it lands on a receptive female cone or a human nostril.  When it hits our noses, the reaction is rapid and can produce symptoms over several days.  Not everyone is affected every time.  When I demonstrated in the video the pollen clouds drifting downwind of the WOLF students, I had no reaction in spite of my usual seasonal allergies.

They have been accused of worse.  "Among the many things old-time Ozarkers used to believe brought bad luck was the transplanting of cedar trees. Folklore collector Vance Randolph described several examples of people refusing to move cedar trees because they thought it would bring an early death to them or someone in their family. It was also considered "very bad luck" to bring cedar boughs into the home — except during Christmas, and then, they had to be removed completely before 12 a.m. on January 6 (Epiphany)."  MDC Discover Nature

Our red cedars are native but aggressive growers, early colonizers of bare ground. After the cedar cone on the female tree is pollinated it turns a waxy blue and contains one to three seeds.  The seed cones fall from the trees and are also dispersed by many birds.  Cedars are especially sensitive to fire and the end of burning the glades in the past has turned our historic "balds" into hirsute hilltops.  Some "wind breaks" along fence lines are actually cedars, planted by perching birds, that escaped the blades of a mower.  Abandoned fields and glades now are covered with cedars, creating the expense of clearing them to the landowner.  

Glade restoration - 2000

There is a market for cedar, but a large number of mature trees are needed to make the harvest worthwhile.  When we cut our first glade restoration around 2000, loggers were happy to cut and haul large cedar logs for free.  Our second glade restoration had smaller timber and we had to pay for extra help.  

There was a time around 1908 when the pencil industry developed an appetite for cedar as told in a News-Leader article.

"Ozarkers had other uses for their timber, though. In 1908 the American Pencil Company of New York built a pencil factory in Branson. The pencils were made from cedar logs. Cedar was another locally abundant tree. Thousands of cedar logs were cut into rectangular slats measuring 3" x 3" x 8". The slats were then shipped across the country to factories to be made into pencils. Eventually, the supply of cedar trees was exhausted and the American Pencil Company Factory was moved to California."    ProjectTaney.org

Juniper Hairstreak
So is the spread of cedars good or bad?  As we tell our 5th grade WOLF students, the answer to that question is usually "it depends" and even mosquitoes have a place in the food chain.  In this case, cedar cones (often called berries) are nutritious and feed robins, cedar waxwings, and a wide variety of other birds feasting on their dense carbohydrate and fat load.  Many insects also feed on them including caterpillars of our favorite Juniper Hairstreak.  Meanwhile the branches and evergreen leaves provide shelter for a variety of birds as well as nesting sites for Cooper's Hawks, Blue Jays, Northern Mockingbirds, as well as many other smaller species.

Red cedar spittlebug - REK
Cedars also host other species such as cedar apple rust galls, and cute tiny red cedar spittlebugs.  Perhaps the strangest example is an invasive Callery pear that we have growing out of the trunk of a neighbor's cedar shown in this prior blog.

Another strange thing I have photographed in a cedar tree is this one below, found inside a living but hollowed out cedar on our neighbor's land.  I have tentatively identified it as a new invasive species, Barbaria kipferiae.*

Newly reported "invasive species"
*Special thanks to our editor for her skills with words and as a model.