by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator
I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. I hope you enjoy!
I am an unabashed August hater. Hot, humid days full of spiderwebs in my face is my general description of the month. Despite this negative view of August, I caught myself noticing many of the splendid things that better exemplify this month. It got me thinking that a monthly article helping my readers anticipate what aspects of the natural world to key in on each month would make a nice addition to the Nine Minute Naturalist. Despite being halfway through August, this edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will highlight aspects of our environment that will help you to appreciate August.
My favorite feature of August is the abundance of mushrooms that dot the Wintergreen landscape. While hot and humid is not my ideal weather, many mushrooms are waiting for just such conditions to send their fruiting bodies above ground. Chanterelles are constant throughout our forest. Walking the Cedar Cliffs Main or the Old Appalachian Trails will highlight their abundance. Chicken of the woods is a favorite of mine due to their edibility and vibrant yellow and orange coloring. Add in a few inedible species such as red russula and destroying angel and the coloring of our forest floor changes greatly.
Another feature I have come to anticipate come the dog days of August is the wildflower explosion. The flowers of late summer at Wintergreen may be our most underrated virtue. While goldenrods and asters dominate the later days of August, they are joined by beauties such as cardinal flower, blue lobelia, and Joe Pye weed. When you combine them with the holdovers from July such as the coneflowers, woodland sunflowers and the monarda varieties, August may rival the spring ephemeral bloom in April and May. A great showcase of our August flowers is along the ski slope portion of Loggers Alley trail.
Another aspect of August to appreciate is the shortening daylength. The way you notice this change best is to sleep with your bedroom windows open. Birds start chirping and light floods the room a bit closer to 6am at this point in August. For you summer lovers, this subtle change signals bad omens of cooler weather. For me, this shift is the key sign that fall is imminent. Daylength is the key component the environment uses to cause a change in behavior. It causes trees to shut down chlorophyll production, birds to migrate, and fish to start fattening up for winter.
While August does feature lots of heat and spiderwebs to the face, seeing the positive features of this summer month is not hard to do. Hit the trails early to avoid the heat and you will be treated with a plethora of colorful mushrooms and wildflowers that are easy to appreciate. Do not forget to carry a spiderweb stick!