Should you care about tiny drab butterflies that look like moths? I’m not sure. But plants all over the world seem to care a great deal about them, coaxing skippers of a wide range of shapes and patterns to do the important work of delivering their pollen.
Posts Tagged ‘Botany’
You’ve discovered a tiny evergreen forest of what look like diminutive hemlock or cedar trees barely taller than a chipmunk. They’re spread across the cool shade cast by a canopy of hardwood or coniferous trees. This Lilliputian forest is actually a clump of clubmosses.
Clubmosses are among the oldest plants on Earth, having evolved over 390 million years ago. Long ago, clubmosses weren’t so diminutive. They were tree-like and towered over tropical forests, reaching 100 feet tall. Those ancient giants are long extinct but they continue to affect our environment; their remnants persist as fossil fuels.
Ironically, clubmosses are not mosses, although eighteenth century botanists thought they were. In the nineteenth century, botanists surmised that the clubmosses were closely related to ferns because they reproduce by spores and placed them in a category of plants called fern allies. That also was incorrect. Advanced technology and DNA sequencing have revealed that clubmosses evolved separately from ferns and are not closely related. However, clubmosses are still called fern allies or fern relatives in field guides. » Continue Reading.
I’ve been seeing lots of ferns lately, and maybe you have, too. Most are tricky to identify. Still, there are three big common ones that are easy to know: the bracken, the interrupted, and the cinnamon. Listen here and meet them along the trail in this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze.
Living this far north, we’re attuned to signs of a waning summer: shorter days, cooler nights, red maples in low-lying areas turning their trademark color. But when the asters bloom, I know the curtain is coming down on summer.
The asters are some of the latest blooming flower species in our region. Not every species waits until virtually the last minute, but many do.
You might think that they’re cutting it close. In an area of the world where a killing frost can come seemingly out of nowhere, a late bloomer might be taking a chance. But evolutionarily, it’s not a bad tactic, said Arthur Haines, a research botanist for the New England Wild Flower Society. By putting off blooming until late in the season, these plants have a virtual monopoly on the attentions of bees and other insect pollinators. » Continue Reading.
I don’t know about you, but I really look forward to those sticky evenings around a campfire. Not the sweltering, sweaty kind of sticky nights, mind you. I’m thinking of those outdoor-fire evenings spent with family and friends, dodging mosquitoes and smoke, and trying to find the perfect marshmallow stick. I realize campers roast other things on sticks, such as hot dogs and fish (helpful hint: don’t eat the fish sticks). For our purposes, though, we’ll stick—so to speak—to marshmallow.
A caller recently asked what kind of tree yields the best marshmallow sticks. It seemed like a silly question since the scientific method for finding the right stick historically involved two criteria: It must be 1) close at hand, and 2) long enough to avoid burning oneself. However, it occurred to me if it’s a fresh-cut green branch, the species of tree is important. » Continue Reading.
When the results for Proposition 5 came in last November, I decided I must visit Lot 8 in the Jay Mountain Wilderness. Since the voters of New York State made this area yet another sacrificial lamb at the altar of greed and profitability, I knew it would only be a matter of time before the chainsaws, bulldozers and explosives moved in and converted a living and breathing forest into something akin to a war zone.
It soon became evident this juggernaut of “progress” was unstoppable, as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) relinquished their roles of protecting the environment and the Adirondack Park. Instead, these governmental organizations engaged in the complete evisceration of nearly every environmental protection law on the books in an attempt to ensure NYCO Minerals, Inc. destroyed Lot 8 as soon as possible.
This left me little choice but to put hastily together a 6-day bushwhacking trip through the Jay Mountain Wilderness, with an entire day allocated to exploring the condemned Lot 8 in all its natural glory before its destruction. I felt it would ease my conscience somewhat for not doing enough to prevent its impending demise in the first place. Unfortunately, despite getting up-close and personal with Lot 8, I only ended-up feeling worse. In between the joy and wonder of experiencing this property for myself firsthand, was a sense of deep sorrow, bordering on moroseness, as the fate of everything I saw, smelled and heard was never far from my mind.
» Continue Reading.
Around a beaver pond, we sometimes catch a whiff of beaver odor. People have described it to me as smoky, woody, or like tobacco. It may waft over from the lodge, or it might emanate from scent mounds – little piles of mud by the water’s edge. Beavers make scent mounds by dredging up mud from the bottom of a pond, then carrying it up on land in their front paws while walking upright. The beaver drops the mud, then squats over the mound and applies castoreum from glands near the base of the tail.
The smell means: keep away! In some neighborhoods, this territorial advertisement works remarkably well. I’ve been involved in studies where human-made scent mounds effectively deterred free-ranging beavers from settling in unoccupied beaver habitat. » Continue Reading.
Ever since humans invented agriculture and started moving from continent to continent, they have taken plants with them. In most cases imported, non-native plants do not spread much beyond the bounds of horticulture. But the exceptions are increasingly worrisome to biologists. Removed from the pests and diseases that kept them in check in their natural habitats, some plants multiply explosively. They can smother native ecosystems in a matter of a few years.
Some of these invasive plants, such as bush honeysuckle, Japanese knotweed, phragmites reed, and purple loosestrife, are all too familiar in our region. As if that’s not enough, we must now add a new menace to the list. The latest member of this rogues’ gallery is garlic mustard, a pungent herb in the cabbage family. » Continue Reading.
There are grounds for my suspicion; flowering plants are proven masters of deception. For instance, the sundew uses sparkling droplets of sticky “faux dew” to ensnare and digest curious flies; bee orchids dupe male wasps into wasting their copulatory efforts on floral structures that look and smell like a female wasp. And what about humans? As I labor on behalf of flowers, fertilizing, tilling, watering and sweating, I sometimes wonder if I’m being led down the proverbial garden path. Exactly who’s cultivating whom? » Continue Reading.
Spring is an exciting time of year. The forest seems to abound with new life, radiating with new sights, sounds, and smells. I recently went for a walk to photograph the early spring wildflowers in bloom around Heart Lake and Mount Jo. Heavy winds made photographing the flowers difficult. The fiddleheads on the other hand were more stable and offered the opportunity to capture the brilliant detail found in the young leaves just starting to emerge from the coil of the fiddlehead. » Continue Reading.
Listen here and join me in contemplating what pollen is, what it does, and why the world would be a barren place without it in this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze. » Continue Reading.
There’s no arguing spring with the dandelions. When they bloom, I know that winter’s finally outta here. By May, my fields and yard are dusted with that mellow dandelion yellow. I don’t mind. I keep honeybees, and dandelions are one of the more reliable sources of early spring nectar and pollen.
Dandelion is a poetic name. Derived from the French phrase, dent de leon, it refers to the deep serrations of the leaves, which, at least to the French, resemble the teeth (dent) of a lion (leon). The flower heads are packed with innumerable tiny florets. The heads open during the day and close at night. » Continue Reading.
Is it possible to survive time spent in a room so hot that it could fry a steak and eggs? Listen to my tale of a famous series of experiments conducted in England in 1775.
Two of the great botanists of the time, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, braved the inferno with only minor discomfort and lived to tell the tale. The action heats up in this week’s edition of All Things Natural with Ed Kanze. » Continue Reading.
It’s spring. Red-winged blackbirds are calling, chipmunks are foraging and flocks of robins abound. Bending down to smell the first subtle scents of crocuses and daffodils, we give thanks that winter is over. Sometimes, we also take a whiff of skunk cabbage flowers, just for the olfactory shock value.
Skunk cabbage grows throughout the Northeast and Midwest, ranging from North Carolina well up into the northernmost reaches of Quebec. The flower emerges through the snow and ice of March in the understory of wooded swamps, along riverbanks, lakeshores, and in other habitats with rich wet soils. First growth is an exotic, crimson-hued, three to six inch tall cowl –called a spathe – that surrounds and protects a spherical cluster of flowers. Each flower measures ¾-inch across and consists of 50 to 100 tightly packed florets. » Continue Reading.
Pruning is a skill that can be readily learned, and, if you practice it enough, you’ll enter into the art of it. It requires the application of a few basic principals using the right equipment. » Continue Reading.
Even while we remain snowbound, the days are growing longer and the sun is getting higher; robins are singing, and there’s a good chance spring will come sometime in 2014. For those who still believe in spring, late March is the time to start planting vegetable and flower seeds indoors.
Raising your own plants gives you the option to pick unusual varieties not available commercially in the spring, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying transplants. For kids it can be a fun activity, and for the rest of us it’s at least in part about seeds of change; a sign we believe growth and change are possible despite a bleak forecast. » Continue Reading.
The sign in the window, which read, “Clearance! Hats and Gloves 50% off,” puzzled me. Snowflakes swirled on gusty winds. The bitter cold stung my fingertips—I wondered if I should buy warmer gloves while I had the chance. Clearance? Temperatures hadn’t climbed above freezing for days; the warmth of spring was a distant dream.
Blow out your boots, or lose your wool hat in winter, and when you go looking for a replacement you are likely to find sandals and sun hats on display. I used to rail against such a setup, assigning it to an insatiable human propensity for speed, afraid that at some point we might just lap ourselves. But when I began to study trees, and learned how their growth patterns transcend traditional seasonal boundaries, I softened my stance. » Continue Reading.
Geological forces over millions of years coupled with the action of glaciers and weather have created massive piles of boulders at the base of towering rock walls and steep slopes in numerous locations throughout the Adirondacks.
Some of the more prominent accumulation of talus, sometimes called scree by climbers, occurs around Chapel Pond, throughout the Wilmington Notch, in the Cascades, around portions of Bald Mountain near Old Forge, and in many places near the shores of Lake Champlain. Talus is also present along the edges of some sections of rivers and larger streams that cut through substantial deposits of bedrock. » Continue Reading.
-William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The aroma of wood smoke lingers as you take your evening stroll. The sun has slipped behind the hills as the moon takes its watch at the other end of the valley. It’s the moment of twilight when solid figures are no longer discernible from shadows, and so you fail to notice the tiny hitchhiker lurking beside the path.
Upon your return, you reach down to untie your shoes and feel a painful pinch. After a blood-curdling “YOWCH!” you reach the light switch. Once your eyes adjust, you see the culprit – a spine-covered bur.
It’s no easy task getting to the roots of a burdock plant (anyone who’s ever tried to pull one out of the soil will know this pun is intended). Both burdocks (in the genus Arctium), and their look-alike cousins the cockleburs (in the genus Xanthium), belong to the aster family, a huge group that includes sunflowers and goldenrods. They are also both characterized by a tendency to prick fingers and ride through the laundry cycle on socks. » Continue Reading.
Many invasive species stories follow a similar narrative. When the non-native species first shows up, people either don’t notice it, or they don’t take the threat seriously. Suddenly, the invader explodes across the landscape, and conservationists spring into action. but so often, it’s too late.
That’s why invasive species success stories are so few and far between.
The Adirondacks is different. Here, over a huge landscape, the Conservancy and partners have excelled at a coordinated approach that’s making a difference: early detection and rapid response. » Continue Reading.