Nice brown parasites and evil little yellow flowers

We showed up at the Rock Creek Park Maintenance Yard pretty late this morning; it was chilly and cloudy and pretty slow, birdwise. I ended up wandering off to look for Beech Drops, a nonphotosynthetic parasite of Beech trees that I’d first seen when doing research for the Eastern Forest Ecosystems class I took with the Audubon Naturalist Society last fall, but they weren’t where I remember seeing them (not to worry, though; this afternoon I read that they’re an annual that shouldn’t be expected until late summer.) However, instead I found some Bear Corn, which are like Beech Drops but instead parasitic on Oak trees.

Bear Corn - Conophilus americana
Bear Corn – Conophilus americana

Here’s a nice article on it by David Haskell, author of the marvelous The Forest Unseen. He tells us that this plant comprises a remarkably large component of the diet of bears in the Smokies and Shenandoah mountains. So now we know that if we start getting bears in Rock Creek Park, they’ll have something to eat other than birdwatchers.

Unfortunately I also noticed that lesser celandine is rampant in that section of Rock Creek Park.   I swear it wasn’t there last year; well ok, maybe I just didn’t notice it because I didn’t know about it until very recently.  It’s a plant that has pretty little yellow flowers in the spring and is the star of its own little horror movie; people who know about these things have known for a while that it’s a terrible problem. At first I was just seeing little patches of it here and there… then I noticed it covering both edges of the Valley Trail….

Lesser celandine - Ranunculus ficaria.  Cue
Lesser celandine – Ranunculus ficaria.  Cue “Jaws” theme here….

And then I walked to the edge of the hill, looked down the hillside, and saw this terrifying science-fictiony scene.

So there’s an unpredicted plot twist: You may have expected the parasites to  be the bad guys and the cute little yellow flowers to be the good guys, but not today.

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