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Wandering at Dunbar Cave

 

Dunbar Cave seen from across Swan LakeFall is a wonderful time to roam around Dunbar Cave State Natural Area (always staying on the trails, of course!) You will notice the progression of plants you saw earlier in the year, moving from flower to seed. In an earlier article, you saw the Swamp Milkweed (pink ballerina flowers) growing along the lake. Now we see the pods formed by those flowers – green, pointed, holding hundreds of future plants. They are not yet to the point of splitting open and showing the parachute seeds typical of milkweeds.

Swamp Milkweed Pods

Swamp Milkweed Pods

A triggered Jewelweed seed pod and seeds

A triggered Jewelweed seed pod and seeds

You also saw the jewelweed, with its orange dangling flowers. The flowers are still present, but now we are seeing the fat seedpods as well. Another name for jewelweed is Touch-me-Not. If you lightly touch a seedpod, it will pop and the seeds will be shot out several inches or even feet away. This keeps the seeds from falling directly under the parent plant and competing for food and sunlight when they grow into plants themselves. Note in the photo how the split pod has a little curlicue, and the seed to the left. If you can catch a seed, remember if you peel the outer covering off it is a pretty pale blue inside.

A Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

A Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

As you walk around the lake, instead of focusing on the algae on the water (which is natural and good, but doesn’t look so great), look instead at the beautiful things you can see. A Viceroy butterfly on a plant. The chrysalis of the monarch, a small green capsule with gold lines and dots on it, hanging from a branch. The caterpillar is curled up in there, changing into that orange and brown butterfly. You might see several Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, feeding on something on a piece of wood in the water. The weird and wonderful seeds of the Virgin’s Bower vine (also called Old Man’s Beard – can you see why?) are found on a vine twining on vegetation growing at the lake’s edge. We certainly are glad we didn’t cut that vegetation to “make it look better”. We think it looks pretty good the way it is. Most people walk right by and never see something like this. Look at the pretty pink seeds of the smartweed against the green of the plants around it. You can find something like this everywhere you look.

Tiger Swallowtails on Swan Lake

Tiger Swallowtails on Swan Lake

An orange and yellow fungus

An orange and yellow Sulfur Fungus

Fall is also a great time to see different types and colors of fungi. Look on dead trees for a bright orange and yellow, sometimes very large, wavy fungus. This is the Sulfur Fungus, also called the “Chicken of the Woods” – at least, I think that is what it is. Mushrooms and other fungi can be hard to identify, and I am not an expert on these.

And of course, the leaves are turning and soon we will have wonderful colors. They look even better on a misty rainy day than they do in the sunlight. These photos were taken last year.

Glorious fall colors on Sweetgum Beech Trees

Glorious fall colors on Sweetgum Beech Trees

Come out and enjoy nature.

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