Never ending discovery

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar (pre-pupal coloration)
©Scott Jackson-Ricketts

After the Radford BRDC Board Meeting, Devin and I regrouped at my place in Grayson County. After some review of the day’s events, we took a short but productive walk between my house and shop, mostly along the driveway. A few days prior, while being the busy guy in my shop, I found a caterpillar climbing up one of my recently painted shelving boards, which turned out to be a late instar spice bush larva. The information we sought while trying to understand the unique color of this caterpillar confirmed that just before it pupates, its color changes from green to orange, yellow or some combination therein. I would call what these pictures convey, peach.

Going on that inspiration, we headed straight to the spice bush known to me near my shop. Devin and I spent some time trying to find either another caterpillar or a pupated form, which Devin might have discovered five feet from the bush on the downside of a leaning black cherry tree. His photos reveal that what he found is indeed a swallow-tail, but not definitively spice bush. Another contender could be eastern tiger swallow-tail.

After that relative success, and while heading back to the house, we took our time observing activity among the wingstems and other late summer wildflower blooms, just paying that kind of attention we both share. Near the fork in our driveway that becomes the circle serving two homes, we found an unfamiliar wood shrub with both catkins and fruit present on the branches. Neither of us had ever seen this small tree before, and immediately grabbed a fruit sample, both acquiring simultaneously the precious sharp stabs from the needle like covering, reminding us of cacti.

Back at the house Devin immediately went for the field guides and soon reported that the woody shrub was a beaked hazelnut. While I cooked up some mush, he spent some time looking through my dissecting microscope, which showed us that the needles were almost glass like in appearance, with the light showing through. Very delicate and sharp, as we already knew, but brought up close, incredibly beautiful.

Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta) fruit detail.©Devin Floyd

Given that our little walk was well under an hour’s time spent, and that I take this walk almost every day, what we discovered in detail was new to me, and serves to remind us all that the quest for discovery is never over.

-Scott Jackson-Ricketts

Photographs © Devin Floyd and Scott Jackson-Ricketts