Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When a light bulb goes off...

Who's been eating our beautyberry?
Last weekend, I was one of 20+ members of our Highland Lakes chapter of the Texas Master Naturalists who gathered for the 13th Annual Meeting and Advanced Training at Camp Allen near Navasota, Texas. The best part of the three days was attending advanced training sessions. I just love to learn! 

Even better is when a light bulb goes off when you're sitting in class, listening and observing. Like Oh, so THAT'S what I saw! or Hey, I've observed that kind of behavior!

My first class was "Bumblebees of Texas: Species Diversity, Sampling and Identification" with Michael Warriner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. While discussing leafcutting bees, Michael talked about how they cut out circular pieces of leaves to construct walls and partitions of their nests.

* * * LIGHT BULB MOMENT! * * *

Oh, so THAT'S what had chomped on our American beautyberry during the summer! James had noticed holes in the leaves, but we couldn't figure out what had chewed on them. Leafcutting bees! I couldn't contain my excitement and had to raise my hand and comment to Michael in class. 

Later in the class, Michael mentioned how eastern carpenter bees "may steal nectar from the stems of flowers." 

 * * * LIGHT BULB MOMENT! * * *

Wow, we've observed that in our Wildscape! I don't know how many times I've watched bees go to the stems of salvia blooms, not the actual blooms. You can see photos of this behavior here. I don't think I've actually photographed one stealing nectar, though I've seen plenty do it. Cool cool cool!

From there, Michael delved into the life cycle and biology of Texas native bumblebees. Males, who are much smaller than females, are territorial and will hover around flowers, waiting for a female to show up. 

 * * * LIGHT BULB MOMENT! * * *

So THAT'S what those bees are doing around the salvias! All summer, I saw bees hanging around the salvias, buzzing here and there, maybe chasing off other bees. They were funny to watch, but I didn't understand what they were doing or what kind of bee they might be. Those were male bumblebees! Oh, my goodness

During the conference, I also took Michael's "Native Been Management Practices" class, "What's New with Texas Wildscapes" with Mark Klym/TPWD, and "The Digital Naturalist" with Jaime Gonzalez with the Katy Prairie Conservancy.

I especially enjoyed "Bryophytes, the Forest Beneath Your Feet," presented by Dale Kruse, curator of the Tracy Herbarium at Texas A&M University. I know NOTHING about mosses, liverworts and hornwort so his session was a real eye-opener. We have a large patch of moss in our back yard so now I understand a bit more about it. 

This is our crop of moss, perhaps some species of Bryum, but I'm not certain.
What I DO know is that the long "stems" arising from our moss are the reproductive parts of the moss. They're called "sporophytes." The "capsule" (elongated point) of a sporophyte contains spores, which are released and start new mosses. 

Later in his lecture, Dale showed an image of a "splash cup," another reproductive part of some bryophytes.

* * * LIGHT BULB MOMENT! * * *

So THAT'S what I'd found inside a pot with a plant that we brought home from a nursery last April! I'd kept the strange "bird-nest" looking things for a while, but I finally tossed them outside. Back at home, I looked through my files and found the photos I'd taken. Then I looked online and found a similar photo of what I'd found in the pot. Ah, ha, mine "nests" weren't actually a bryophyte...

They were FUNGI...perhaps the bird's nest fungus (Cyathus striatus). So thanks to Dale, I solved THAT mystery! Just wish I had photos of MINE!

At the conference, I also attended "Plant ID--The Top 10 Texas Families" with Master Naturalist Diane Humes. During the hour-long session, Diane discussed common characteristics of our largest families of native plants: sunflowers, mints, mustard, spurges, legumes, snapdragons, mallows, lilies, grasses and sedges. She quoted the oft-used ditty, "Sedges have edges, rushes are ground, and grasses are hollow from the node to the ground."

 * * * LIGHT BULB MOMENT! * * *

 AH HA! That "grass" in our Wildscape that James and I couldn't find an ID for was a SEDGE! Duh! I'd even scanned it (below) but finally gave up. I found another sedge and photographed the seed head and also the angular stem. 
My mystery grass is actually a sedge.

 All in all, the three-day conference was GREAT! I learned so much and met so many nice folks. And I'm pretty darn sure everyone else in our Highland Lakes chapter (and other chapters from across the state) who went had just as wonderful a time...Just ask'em!

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