Wambaw Tract field trip
On what I'd like to call the "What do we do on Tuesdays now we've graduated?" field trip, we had a very welcome introduction to the expertise of Sharleen Johnson!
Other experts joined in too, so thanks to Debbie Seabrook, Kristina Wheeler, Bill Twomey and others we had an amazingly informative time!
Oh, and lunch at a local diner!
Here's Sharleen's comprehensive record of our morning:
On December 13th I very much enjoyed tagging along with a gathering of Coastal Master Naturalists – both fresh graduates and veterans of prior classes – on an outing to the Wambaw Tract, a 100-acre property hosting a diverse mix of longleaf pine uplands as well as pocosin and bog wetlands. This property is located near McClellanville, along Old Georgetown Road, and adjacent to the St. James Santee Parish Brick Church (built in 1768). The Wambaw Tract was protected with the help of Charleston County Greenbelt funds, is owned by the St. James Santee Parish Preservation Committee, and is managed by The Nature Conservancy.
During our 3+ hour ramble, I enjoyed hearing about everyone’s favorite Master Naturalist training experience, shared some plant IDs and related information, learned a good bit from a bunch of other participants along the way, and participated in fun conversations with pre-existing and new naturalist friends.
Due to the season, we didn't see many plants in bloom, but we DID see ONE Walter's Aster flower, which tends (along with Frost Asters and Climbing Asters) to be one of the later-blooming asters in the Coastal Plain.
Seeds and seed capsules were present in great abundance and diversity, including the beautifully back-lit seedheads of bluestem grasses (Andropogon sp.). The grass in this photo is either Bushy Bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) or Maritime Bluestem (considered by different botanists to be either a variety of Bushy Bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus var. pumilus, or its own species, Andropogon tenuispatheus).
I often opine that native grasses and sedges are underutilized in butterfly gardens. The caterpillars of Delaware Skippers feed on Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) as well as on grasses in the Andropogon genus; Swarthy Skippers and eight other skipper species use Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) as a larval host plant; shade-loving River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) host the caterpillars of Pepper and Salt Skippers and others; and sedges (Carex sp.) support numerous species of butterflies including Georgia Satyrs, Appalachian Browns, and skippers. Grasses and sedges are lovely, too, especially when in bloom or with seedheads (which provide pleasing architectural structure as well as bird food). My favorite sedges for use in gardens include Leavenworth Sedge (Carex leavenworthii), Seersucker Sedge (Carex plantaginea), and Rosy Sedge (Carex rosea). In addition, Texas Sedge (Carex texensis) makes an excellent lawn substitute for shady areas. Some of these grass and sedge species can be hard to find, but I carry all of these and many more in my James Island-based backyard nursery: Native Plants to the People (https://www.facebook.com/NativePlantsTTP/).
Another garden-worthy plant that we observed in its natural habitat in the Wambaw Tract is Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica; https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/itea-virginica/). As its name suggests, Virginia Sweetspire produces sweet-smelling spires of white flowers in spring, and then follows those up with gorgeous deep red foliage in fall. This shrub spreads by rhizomes, so one or a few plants can become an attractive thicket over time, and it works well as a rain garden plant since it can handle occasional flooding and is also drought-tolerant after becoming established. In the photo below you can see some late-season foliage as well as a few former flower spires that have transformed into chains of seed capsules.
We also observed a number of native vines climbing into the tree canopy including our state flower Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Muscadines (Vitis rotundifolia), Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), and Alabama Supplejack (Berchemia scandens). A young Supplejack vine is featured in the photo below.
Alabama Supplejack is a robust deciduous woody vine in the buckthorn family. Mature vines can have trunk diameters greater than 6 inches! Its leaves have distinct parallel veins and vibrant red petioles. Mature Supplejack vines have smooth bark, which makes them easy to distinguish from rough-barked grape vines even when both are leafless. Check out this webpage (https://dismalswampwelcomecenter.com/supplejack-vine/) from North Carolina’s Dismal Swamp to see photos of the berries and smooth bark and to read about diverse ways that early European settlers (and likely Native Americans as well) made use of this plant.
Sharing the frame with Alabama Supplejack is one of our native bamboos, in the genus Arundinaria, collectively known as canes. There are three species in this genus -- Arundinaria tecta (Switch Cane), Arundinaria gigantia (Giant Cane or River Cane), and Arundinaria appalachiana (Hill Cane) -- and the first two occur in the South Carolina Coastal Plain. Canes serve as larval host plants to quite a few butterfly species including Southern Pearly Eye, Creole Pearly Eye, Southern Swamp Skipper, and several other skippers.
Paraphrased slightly from this Natural Resources Conservation Service document (https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/plantmaterials/flpmctn13727.pdf):
“Prior to European colonization, both giant cane and switch cane occurred in dense, massive stands in the southeastern U.S. called canebrakes, located mainly in the floodplains of rivers and streams. Both species hold great significance to Native American tribes in the area of their occurrence who use the canes for a myriad of applications, including crafting weapons and tools, building structures, weaving mats and baskets, as well as a source of food. Due to conversion of these lands to agriculture, overgrazing by livestock, and changes in fire regimes, only a tiny fraction of canebrake acreage still exists in the Southeast and most populations are small and isolated. Because of its ecological and ethnobotanical importance, there has been a great interest in reestablishing cane in the southeastern United States.”
I can write and talk nearly endlessly about native plants and their beauty and ecological importance, but it’s probably about time to wrap up this post, so I’ll end by featuring a few of the bog plants that we observed growing in a wet spot right on the dirt road.
Common Bogbutton (Lauchnocaulon anceps) has quite a few other fun common names including Bog Bachelor’s-buttons, Hairy Pipewort, and Hat-pins. This photo is focused on the basal rosettes rather than the buttons, but you can see a couple of in-focus buttons on the left-hand side of the image. If you look closely, you might also be able to spot a tiny Pink Sundew (Drosera capillaris), tucked under one of the Bogbutton leaves.
Other bog plants that we spotted included nonvascular Sphagnum Moss and vascular Bog Clubmoss, shown together in the photo below. For more interesting tidbits about these plants, check out these articles: Sphagnum (https://bogology.org/2013/09/27/sphagnum-moss-bog-plant-extraordinaire/) and Bog Clubmosses (https://vnps.org/princewilliamwildflowersociety/botanizing-with-marion/clubmosses-an-ancient-and-interesting-group-of-fern-allies/).
One last plant! Yaupon Blacksenna (Seymeria cassiodes) is an annual wildflower that is a root parasite on multiple species of pine trees but that produces most of its own food through photosynthesis. At the Wambaw Tract we saw the remains of this year’s plants, loaded with seed capsules holding the seeds for next year’s plants....
...but in October of this year I was excited to see their delicate foliage and lovely yellow blooms.
Sharleen Johnson is the owner and sole employee of Native Plants to the People, LLC (https://www.facebook.com/NativePlantsTTP/), a James Island-based nursery and consulting business. Native plant sales are seasonal (March-May and September-December) and announcements of plant availability and sales events are shared to the nursery’s email list, to which you can subscribe by sending an email to NativePlantsTTP@gmail.com. On-site consulting services (identification of native and non-native plants, recommendations for site-appropriate native plant species to add habitat value and natural beauty, and native garden design) are available year-round.
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