The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Creature Features (4)

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A live video stream was featured at the top of this article while “Rotty Top” was blooming, July 29-31, 2021.
Another article includes details about that particular plant and the event.

The corpse plant at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has not bloomed in 20 years

The titan arum (Amorphophalus titanum), native to Sumatra, is remarkable for several reasons.

It is more often referred to by colloquial names, such as corpse flower, rotting corpse plant or carrion plant, because of the strong distinct odor it releases to attract pollinators when it flowers.

No other species of flowering plant has an unbranched inflorescence, or flower-bearing reproductive part, as large as titan arum. Unbranched means that all flowers grow from a single stem; a gigantic one in this case. A record height above corm (underground storage tuber) of 10.5 ft was measured at Bonn Botanical Gardens in June 21, 2013. 

When an inflorescence has many small flowers on a fleshy stem and is initially enclosed by a leaf-like sheath, botanists call it a spadix and its sheath a spathe. Even after the spathe has opened, the flowers are hard to see because they are so small and near the bottom of the stem. In the absence of a balcony above, viewers would have to be on a ladder to peek down into the narrow part of the spathe. It’s not the flowers that are spectacular — it’s the overwhelming size, overall shape and sheer beauty of the plant!

Carrion beetles and flesh flies are titan arum’s pollinators. It has evolved unparalleled capacity to attract them. While flowering, it heats up the tip of the spadix to the range of mammalian body temperatures, which not only helps volatilize the odors to entice insects from far away, but may be sensed by some of them to further indicate proximity of food. The plant has opened the spathe like a wide cocktail glass to show its inside surface. The deep red color and texture could buttress the illusion of a big chunk of carrion.

Why is it even rarer to see titan arum fruit in a botanical garden?

Outside the equatorial region, botanical gardens cannot cultivate many corpse plants due to their size. The typical interval between blooms is five to twelve years.

The actual flowers last one day only. Female flowers bloom first. One or two days later the male flowers bloom. This normally prevents self-pollination. As these plants bloom so rarely, chances are slim to have viable pollen on hand for artificial pollination.

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A window on ursine motherhood in Cades Cove

As I was descending a wooded hillside in the heart of Cades Cove on a June afternoon, a motionless black bulk caught my eye off to my left.

I turned my attention there, regarded the scene for a few moments, and realized the sprawling blur was a large sleeping bear. A few moments more of inspection revealed three cubs snoozing in the branches overhead.

I decided to hunker down and watch the scene for a while, and my patience paid off. After several minutes of occasional scratching and yawning, the cubs began to stir. One by one, they descended the tree and began to poke, prod and pace around their reclining mother. A thought popped in my head – would they nurse? Would I be so lucky? I was. I got an intimate look at a mother bear letting her guard down and nourishing her three restless offspring. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

Black bear mothers invest a lot in the care of their cubs. Nursing begins in the winter den, where the mother’s metabolism is already taxed by winter fasting, and tends to continue until the cubs’ first autumn. A lactating mother black bear may lose up to 40 percent of her body weight over the winter as she nurses her newborn cubs. Black bear milk is exceptionally high in fat, around 22 percent by weight. Compare this to human and cow milk at around a modest 4 percent. The rapid growth and restless energy of a healthy black bear cub is fueled by one of the most calorically-rich milks among North American mammals.

This video was shot with a long lens from a long distance. Remember, for the safety of visitors and of wildlife, black bears should not be approached within 50 yards in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Visitors should also change direction or move away if their presence causes a bear to change its behavior.

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ABR 2Chickadee the bear cub soon after she arrived at Appalachian Bear Rescue in spring 2020.  Photo courtesy of Appalachian Bear Rescue

Townsend bear rehab center takes in injured and orphaned black bears for eventual return to the wild.

This story was originally published by Appalachian Voices.

Being a decent neighbor isn’t something that should stop with the humans next door — it also includes backyard animal visitors. Birds, squirrels, deer … and bears!

Appalachian Bear Rescue, a black bear care facility located in Townsend, Tennessee, is dedicated to rehabilitating young bears up to age 2 that need extra care and preparation to reacclimate to their natural environment as healthy, independent members of the wildlife community.

The rescue will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year, and has rehabilitated more than 300 bears from eight different states, including as far as Arkansas.

“While we are based in Tennessee, we would be willing to, and have worked with, wildlife agencies from any state,” says Victoria Reibel, one of the black bear curators at Appalachian Bear Rescue. “We are a bit unique in that aspect.”

The facility aims to re-create a nurturing environment for the bears by offering a nursery, two recovery centers and four half-acre natural outdoor enclosures to explore. The specific area where the bears begin depends upon their age and condition. Newborns start off in the cub nursery and are bottle-fed around the clock, while older bears may be able to go directly out into the spacious outdoor enclosures. These are crafted to closely resemble a forest, with the addition of enrichments such as platforms and hammocks for added interaction. These wild-simulated enclosures are the last step before the bear can be confidently released back into the wild, always near the same area of original rescue.

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barred owlhrA barred owl peers from its winter hideaway.   Rob Hunter/Hellbender Press

February kicks off the season of love for region's barred owls

The frosty woods may be relatively quiet today, but soon the hilltops and hollers will echo with deep, resonant voices.

Barred owls (Strix varia) are our second-largest resident owl here in the Southeast, second only to the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus).  With their fluffier plumage, doe-eyed countenance and round profiles lacking ear tufts, barred owls don’t have quite the fierce appearance of their more formidable neighbors. They’re also generally easier to observe. Often active in the daytime and fond of low perches, barred owls occasionally make themselves visible to lucky woodland wanderers. More often, though, they are heard rather than seen. Their breeding season may extend into summer, but courtship generally fires up in February and peaks in March. This is my favorite time to seek them out on the woodland slopes, usually near water, that they call home.

Barred owls are not easy to find per se, but they definitely make themselves more conspicuous when looking for love. Their best-known call is an eight-beat hoot often verbalized as “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for y’all?” with the final “y’all” drawn out in a dramatically descending, tremulous wail. They sometimes give the wail alone or as crescendo following a series of ascending hoots.

To hear any of these sounds echoing through a twilight woods can fill one with awe, but they give another vocal performance that is generally only heard when an amorous pair of owls meets up. This call, for lack of a better term, is often referred to simply as the “monkey call.”

A caterwauling cacophony of simian sounds explodes from a dense grove of hemlocks. Have chimpanzees escaped from the local zoo? Nope, just a couple of night birds seeking romance. People who hear these calls without knowing the caller are often understandably perturbed. More than once I’ve been awakened suddenly in my tent when such a liaison takes place in a tree over my campsite, and I can say it’s a bit unsettling, even knowing the avian source.

So when you’re walking in the woods over the next few weeks, keep an eye and an ear out for these lovebirds as they’re at their most vocal. And if you hear what sounds like a troop of monkeys hailing the setting sun, just remember that, more likely than not, you’re just hearing the music of owls in love.

Audubon has a 2-minute podcast for you to
'Hear the Many Different Hoots of the Barred Owl'

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