Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers’

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.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cabin Life: Winter Without Summer

The last week has been nothing but sunshine and warmth.  The change in seasons was quick, and it Daffodils seems like we went from zero to sixty in the temperature department, but it’s been good for the mind.  The trees are blooming and the daffodils are shining bright yellow in the hot sun.  It’s a good time of year even though my nose won’t stop running and my eyes are always itchy.

The last time I got an allergy test was a few years ago in Jacksonville.  The doctor pricked both of my forearms with different allergens.  On my right forearm were things like dust mites and pet dander.  On my left arm were all the different types of pollen.  After about five minutes, the nurse checked in on me and saw my left arm.  She left and came back with the doctor, who decided that the red, swollen flesh necessitated immediate action.  He cleaned up my arm and handed me a bright red inhaler that he recommended I carry with me at all times. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Outside Story: Pussy Willow’s Time to Shine

pussy_willowLast fall, I went to a nearby wetland with a pair of clippers and cut twigs from one willow shrub after another. It wasn’t hard to tell the willows from the non-willows because willows are the only woody plants in this area whose buds are covered by a single bud scale.

These cute, pointy caps are very different from the overlapping scales that protect most buds through the winter. And the few woody plants with no protective scales are easily recognizable: their naked, embryonic leaves rely on a coating of woolliness to keep them from desiccating or freezing. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Adirondack Ragweed and Hay Fever Season

August is a month known for ripening raspberries and blackberries, the appearance of locally grown sweet corn and other fresh produce at farm stands, the return of back to school ads on TV, and the unwelcome arrival of hay fever season.

For many people, exposure to certain types of pollen triggers a most unpleasant nasal reaction that can linger for days. While the pollen of numerous plants contributes to this often severe irritation of the nose, sinus cavities and upper respiratory tract of many, ordinarily healthy people, ragweed is, by far, the leading culprit responsible for making life miserable for those unfortunate enough to be afflicted with this common medical condition. » Continue Reading.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Emily DeBolt: Meet the Monardas

This time of year you might be noticing some red or lavender flowers along the sides of the roads or in old fields as you are out driving or hiking.  If you slow down and stop to take a look, what you might be seeing is one of our native species of the genus Monarda, commonly known as Beebalm or Oswego Tea by many gardeners. There are a variety of cultivars and hybrids available at most garden centers with enticing names – such as ‘Coral Reef’ or ‘Raspberry Wine’.   Gardeners have been using beebalm in their gardens for years – it is a great choice for attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators and is a beautiful splash of summer color.

The group of plants in the Monarda genus are often just called beebalm as a whole – even though there are many distinct species. And many gardeners don’t realize that we have a number of different native Monardas in our area – in fact Monarda is a North American genus of over a dozen species. » Continue Reading.



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