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.
Today I attended a lecture by Dr. Christopher Mowry who teaches at Berry College and founded the Atlanta Coyote project. The presentation opened with an image of a coyote (Canis latrans) standing inside Piedmont Park, which was taken in 2016. Coyotes belong to the Genus Canis, which is also home to the gray wolf (Canis lupus), red wolf (Canis rufus), and domestic dog (Canis lupusfamiliaris). While the gray wolf and coyote are agreed to be clearly separate species by experts, the red wolf has a lot of coyote genes. Both the red wolf and coyote are endemic to North America, meaning they are native and only found in that region. Sadly, the red wolf is now only found in the wild inside Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.
Historically coyotes were a great plains species. They moved westward for two reasons in particular. The gray wolf is a natural predator of the gray wolf as is the red wolf. Due to the elimination of these predators the coyote was able to expand into new territory. But historically there was a region in which the gray wolf and coyote did live together, known as an admixture zone, where possible hybridization occurred. Urbanization also created an ideal habitat for the coyote, as it creates more edge habitat which increases their food supply of small mammals. For these regions, the coyote can now be found in every state, except for Hawaii.
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.