Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers’

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wild Salads: Eat Your Weedies

TOS_wild_saladIn the early 1960s, Euell Gibbons wrote Stalking the Wild Asparagus and introduced millions of North Americans to the virtues of harvesting wild foods. Since that time, gathering wild edibles has become increasingly popular, and in our region, woods-grown delicacies such as ramps and fiddlehead ferns appear in grocery stores each spring.

Yet you don’t have to lace up your hiking boots to enjoy the wild repast. If you resist the urge to use herbicides, you are likely to find a diverse array of edible wild plants growing in your lawn and vegetable garden. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Coltsfoot: Eye Candy and Cough Syrup

ColtsfootI haven’t checked with an optometrist, but I may have a winter-related vision problem. When five or six months of winter-white finally give way to a mostly brown world each early spring, my eyeballs hurt – they ache for something bright in the landscape. That’s probably why I plant a few additional crocus bulbs in the yard every fall, and why I search out early-blooming native wildflowers like bloodroot and Carolina spring beauty.

But what thrills me most is how clumps of yellow coltsfoot flowers emerge, long before their leaves come out, from muddy roadside ditches, rail embankments and other sites with a history of soil disturbance. Coltsfoot flowers look a bit like small dandelions, but without any leaves in sight. Maybe it’s the contrast between their bright color and the sepia environs, or perhaps it’s their audacity at blooming so early, but these tiny sunbursts do much to dispel my winter fatigue. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Finding Comfort In A Solo Canoe

west canada creek with BruceThe summer of 1988 I attended a Syracuse University computer software workshop at the Minnowbrook Conference Center at Blue Mountain Lake. During an afternoon break from the workshop, two colleagues and I went for a walk starting at a parking lot on Lake Durant, a small state-owned lake near the village of Blue Mountain Lake. A woman with a small canoe on top of her car pulled up to the lake near where we were walking. She parked, opened the door, unfastened the canoe straps, and lifted the canoe off her car, handling it with ease. She placed the canoe in the water and paddled across Lake Durant. She did this all within five minutes.

“I want that.” I shouted, feeling the freedom that comes from observing such independence. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Late Bloomers: Asters At Summer’s End

TOS_AsterLiving 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.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Goodbye Wildflowers – Hello, Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard flowersEver 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.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Seed Dispersal: Sneaky Plants and Gullible Ants

EliasomesI don’t trust flowers.

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.


Monday, April 14, 2014

First Signs of Spring: Skunk Cabbage

skunk_cabbageIt’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.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Burdocks and Cockleburs: Have Hooks, Will Travel

bursHang off, thou cat, thou burr! vile thing, let loose,
Or I will shake thee from me like a serpent!

-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.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Strangle-Vine: Invasive Swallow-Wort

swallow-wort1The invasive plant sometimes called dog-strangling vine doesn’t harm pets, but it lives up to its name as a strangler, choking out native wildflowers as well as Christmas tree plantations and fields of prime alfalfa. In Northern New York, in Jefferson County, a nearly 1,000-acre tract on an island lies blanketed under this perennial Eurasian vine.

Dog-strangling vine grows in almost any soil type, has a prodigious root system, and is particularly good at making and dispersing seeds. It is so toxic that no North American bird, mammal or insect will eat it, and it bounces back from the most powerful herbicides. No wonder biologists and agronomists have been losing sleep over it. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Adirondack Wildflowers: The Asters

Adirondack AsterAs the days become shorter and the nights cooler, there is a change in the population status and activity level of the numerous bugs that reside in the Adirondacks. While many invertebrates begin to die en masse in the final weeks of summer, the numbers of others increase at this time of year. Colonies of yellow jackets, bees and some wasps reach their peak during the harvest season as these nectar consuming creatures concentrate their foraging efforts on the crop of late blooming wildflowers.

At the top of the list of plants that support various species of flies, moths, bees, hornets and butterflies from Labor Day well past the equinox are the asters, a large and diverse collection of wildflowers as much a part of late summer and early autumn as ripening apples, the sound of crickets and developing flocks of birds. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cabin Life: A Good Year for Jam

The JamWell, the fall-like weather continues, reminding me every day that winter is coming.  But there are still signs of summer besides the humidity to remind me that it’s only August.

For instance, we just finished up our second batch of jam.  The first batch was straight blueberry, and we got ten small jelly jars full.  This second batch was blueberry-raspberry, with a few random blackberries thrown in just for the heck of it.  This batch made twelve full jars, and it looks good. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Are Earthworms An Invasive Species?

earthwormsAldo Leopold, the famous conservationist, once wrote: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” This whole idea puts nature writers in an odd position. On the one hand, it’s our job to raise the alarm when we see something amiss, but on the other, we run the risk of spending so much time dwelling on nature’s wounds that we end up giving people the impression that everything has gone to hell, which of course it has not.

So what to make of earthworms? We’ve been told for years that worms are good. Darwin was a great admirer. They make our gardens grow. But as invasive plant and animal awareness grows, we’re now being told they’re invasive animals that have the potential to destroy whole forest ecosystems. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cabin Life: A Banner Year For Small Fruit?

First StrawberriesI love it when a few moments of laziness lead to something good.  I had weed whacked all around the big fire pit and hammock a couple weeks ago, but there was one section of lawn that I just buzzed through quickly, and I did a poor job on about a ten square foot area.  Last night as I was moving some junk wood into the new wood rack, I caught a glimpse of some bright red in the slightly overgrown region:  two wild strawberries.

Only one of the very small strawberries was ripe, so after taking a couple pictures of the first strawberries of the season, I popped the ripe one in my mouth.  That was the first strawberry I’ve had in quite a while, and man was it delicious.  There was enough flavor packed in that little pea-sized berry to make all the rain worthwhile. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Watching Wildlife: Herons Out, Lady’s Slippers In

Heron in a white pine tree.The story of my heron nest may have come to a premature ending for 2013. I think the nest has been abandoned.

I don’t know if it was the days and days of cold, hard rain or some other natural cause, but the nest in the dead tree appears to be empty. When I hiked in the first day the rain let up and the sun started to come out, I spotted a lone heron sitting in a tall white pine along the shore of the pond – but none in the nest. Prior to all this rain, I’d quietly watched the nest from several different vantage points and had been able to see just the head of a heron on the nest. Sometimes I sat and watched for an hour and the bird never moved – ever alert. Then I hiked in the day after Memorial Day and no herons were around at all. From what I’ve read, it is possible that a mated pair will lay a second batch of eggs if something happens to the first batch, so I guess there is still something to hope for – if they haven’t totally given up on this little pond. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cabin Life: The Colors of Spring

Apple BudsThe first clouds we’ve seen in a while are rolling in, and there have even been a couple drops of rain that have fallen from the sky.  So instead of writing this while lying in the hammock, I’m sitting in the old rocking chair on the front porch.  I can see the four-wheeler, the wood pile, and the lawn chairs that I’ve been too lazy to put away.

The grass is turning green except for the area where I almost always park.  That grass is dead and carries the color of dried wheat.  Other than that, the colors are coming out, and the rain we’re about to (hopefully) get will only make them brighter. » Continue Reading.