Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is a desert plant that is found in the Sonoran Desert and Chihuahuan Deserts of North America. Although there are other ocotillo species that are found further south. The plant is made up of long thin individual stacks and when it is in bloom those stacks are tipped with a cone of bright red flowers. In fact, they are named for these flowers as ocotillo is Spanish for little torch. This flowering actually is timed to happen when the hummingbirds are migrating through the desert.
The following has been modified from my field notes from when I took tropical ecology and did a field session in Belize.
In the rainforest ecosystem, the number of symbiotic relationships between organisms is astounding. For example, the relationship between leafcutter ants and the fungus is highly observable in Belize. There is such a great number of these ants that paths are created by them. Leafcutter ant is a generic term for one of 47 species, in the orders Atta and Acromyrmex. They take leaves from plants and chew them up, this plant material is then fed to a fungus, which they eat. In a sense they are farmers. Since the fungus receives a habitat and the ant receive food, this symbiotic relationship is mutualism. There is a dark side to this relationship though. If a plant is highly desirable by ants they will highly predate on said plant. Because of this, they are seen as pests by farmers, whose crops they can destroy.
We saw a wide variety of epiphytes growing on a wide range of trees. Epiphytes are plants that live on the bark and the branches of other trees. This feature allows the plant to gain access to light with a limited energy investment. Most plant growth is limited by sunlight, water availability, and temperature. They are not parasitic but their weight can damage trees. This is an example of commensal as the trees are not harmed but the epiphyte benefits from the relationship. At the Mayan ruins, we saw one plant that has adapted to solve this issue by shedding its bark, so the epiphytes fall off with the bark. This worked fairly well for the tree but in one area a plant had managed to survive on the tree. The most commonly recognized epiphytes are pitcher plants, “air plants”, and mistletoe (Santalales).
Stone Mountain is one of metro Atlanta’s most popular hiking spots. It also happens to be one of the 7 natural wonders of Georgia joining the ranks of; Amicalola Falls, Warm Springs, Okefenokee Swamp, Providence Canyon, Radium Springs and Tallulah Gorge. Stone Mountain was formed from an upwelling of magma, about the same time that the Blue Ridge Mountains were formed. Stone Mountain is a giant igneous monolith (meaning it is one continuous rock) that has a circumference of 5 miles at the base above ground but extends further underground. While it is very large it is not the largest piece of granite in the world, and some of the mountain is not composed entirely of granite as composition ranges from quartz monzonite to granite and granodiorite (according to the Georgia Geological Survey Bullet). It is unclear what the largest piece of granite in the world is; I’ve heard the same claim from the Polar Caves in New Hampshire and from a rock in Yellowstone.
There are many interesting species to observe at Stone Mountain as well. During the rainy season in the pools clam shrimp (Laevicaudata) and fairy shrimp (Anostraca) can be observed. Both of these are orders of small bivalves and crustaceans. The fairy shrimp is most commonly known as the sea monkey or brine shrimp. Clam shrimps are very similar but they have a protective shell around the shrimp. They are both able to enter a state called diapause, in this state the eggs basically dry out and remain that way until it rains again. The eggs can even survive being out in space! Centuries later the eggs are still able to hatch. The species are not mobile unless they are aided by wind, bird’s feet, or currents. Fairy shrimp can well found on every single continent, including Antarctica.
This past Sunday I had the joy of joining a group at a local park in Dunwoody, Georgia for an information session on how to identify woody plants in the winter time. Leaves typically are the easiest way to determine what plant you are observing but in the winter you have to rely on other clues. Clues you can use include leaf arrangement, overall plant shape, the bark if the plant has leaves or not, and items that are surrounding the plant on the ground. Some species of plants are inclined to hold onto their leaves while others will not. It is theorized that plants act like this to discourage deer grazing.
Before we dive into the different plants it is important to get some definitions straight. As with most of science, the general public tends to use terms that have very specific meanings and this can lead to confusions. It is also important to make sure that you are using live twigs to identify plants. Dead twigs will snap and can contain missing parts that will lead to misidentification.
A twig: the plant’s past year growth, general different in appearance on the plant
opposite leaf arrangement: the plant has twigs that are directly across from each other
there are fewer of these than alternate, so it’s a great clue when IDing plants
all Ashs, Maples, and Buckeyes have opposite leaf arrangement
alternate leaf arrangement: the plant has twigs that are staggered
lenticels: tiny dots or slops in the barks, helps the plant to bring more oxygen
leaf scar: the pattern that is made when the leaf falls off
helpful to have a macro lense to observe this
It is also important to note that plants have both flower and leaf buds. They are different and will look different from each other including the twigs which they are on. If the bark is shiny it generally means that it has a lack of hairs. Now time to divide into the different plants we observed, and how to determine that they are that plant.