Saturday, August 16, 2014

A wet summer in the Ozarks

A luna moth- quintessence of the southeast's rich broadleaf forests
I recently visited western Arkansas for a pollinator workshop, and I took the opportunity to do a little camping in the Ozarks. I'd never been before- most of my life up to this point I've been closer to the southern Appalachians or the Front Range. I have been curious about this green spot on the map, and all the Texans I've asked about it described it as an idyllic, lush summer retreat.

The Arkansans could do with a little less lushness this year. It rained every day I was in Arkansas, and since the summer began there has been no six-day stretch without precipitation. "So, what's the big deal?" you might ask. Well, no one has been able to cut hay. If they do cut hay, they run the risk of it mouldering in the field. This is something of an economic hit, and one wonders what it will mean for the cost to keep livestock over the winter. Beef is one of Arkansas' major industries.

Viola pedata, birdsfoot violet
Economics aside, it was exciting to be somewhere so overtly green. We've had a dry summer in Texas (which in itself is not unusual), and this season's drought is stacked on top of a multi-year moisture deficit. Last I checked, Fort Worth was still about 10" behind in terms of annual precipitation in this year alone. For your reference- we only get about 32" total. 10" is a big deal.

The view from 'Sunrise Point'
I quite enjoyed the Ozarks despite the rain. The forests were similar to those of the southeastern mountains. A few key species were absent, most notably the tulip poplars, but the oak-hickory canopy was there. So to the understory of sassafras.

More text and pictures of the Ozarks after the jump.


Woodland sunflower and ironweed
Late summer wildflowers are loving this extra moisture. The forest edges are yellow and purple with woodland sunflower, ironweed, liatris, boneset, and other flowers putting on a second bloom thanks to the ample rain. Yellow and purple are the colors of "late summer in the South".  These are actually my favorite wildflowers because they are so unabashedly showy. There's nothing like a bundle of sunflowers or goldenrod.

I picked Mount Magazine for camping because I was hunting for Speyera diana, the diana fritillary. Globally rare but locally abundant, the diana fritillary's range has collapsed relatively recently. Instead of one population stretching from the southern Appalachians in an unbroken band to the Ozarks,  these two highland centers are now separated. I wanted to see this threatened butterfly while I still could. Admittedly, mid-August is slightly outside primetime for viewing this species. Males would have senesced weeks ago, but the females may still be hanging on in diapause or laying eggs.

A closer look at that luna moth
I did not find any dianas, but I did find a comical male luna moth. He had taken shelter for the day like an ostrich playing hide and seek-- he had tucked his head under a leaf but his entire wingspan and thorax were still fully exposed. This image is a close-up of the individual pictured at the top of this post.   Luna moths are so magical- for me they are better than faeries or other mythological creatures, AND they have the advantage of actually existing! I am always wonderstruck when I come across them.

Luna moths are in the giant silk moth group. Some of this showy, large, and fuzzy number are threatened by a non-native parasitic wasp originally introduced to control gypsy moths. Unfortunately, gypsy moths are only active part of the season and the parasitic wasp has to eat all summer long. These wasps are far more effective at keeping down our populations of silk moths than they ever were at preventing gypsy moth population explosions. And thus, we have lost most of our gorgeous cecropias. This example is one commonly given when explaining why traditional bio-control (releasing non-native parasitic insects for pest control) should only be undertaken with great care, if at all.

More images from my trip:
Sunset from my campground at Brown's Spring

Some shade growing tick clover
Tecoma stans, yellow trumpet flower with sweat bee
Hang glider's launch point, near the lodge at Mount Magazine.

1 comment:

  1. Do they conduct prescribed fires often in the Ozarks?