Posts Tagged ‘wildflowers’

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.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Adirondack Foods: Violet Jelly

Violet JellyLast Saturday we decided to make a stop at our friend and local young farmer Jack Leggett’s place to pick up some fresh eggs. Got myself a dozen beautiful brown speckled free range chicken eggs, and stayed for a bit to chat with Jack and his friends about our upcoming project, a half dozen piglets arriving in June.

As the guys stood there and debated the relative merits and disadvantages of various styles of sties (pigsties, that is), I was looking around, soaking up the bucolic environment. In other words, staring at my feet. Mid-stare, something caught my eye. Violets. There were violets everywhere! Parts of his sweeping front yard lawn were a carpet of the little purple flowers. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Adirondack Family Time: Wild Center Community Day

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 13th, and The Wild Center in Tupper Lake is giving everyone the chance to celebrate the women in their lives whether great-grandmother, grandmother or mother. This event is not just geared toward children, but to embrace the child within. Join in the festivities and enjoy a free opportunity to explore Mother Nature inside and outside the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks (The Wild Center).

According to Director of Programs Jennifer Kretser, the annual spring event is an opportunity to showcase The Wild Center’s exhibits as a place for all ages to explore. » Continue Reading.


Friday, April 6, 2012

Emily DeBolt: April is Invasive Pests Month

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has announced that it is dedicating the month of April to sharing information about the threat that invasive plant pests, diseases and harmful weeds pose to America’s fruits, vegetables, trees, and other plants—and how the public can help prevent their spread. What are some actions that we can all take to help protect our Adirondack forests and waterways?

Be Plant Wise. Buy native plants and avoid using invasive plant species at all costs. Many invasive plants still commonly sold in New York have been banned in surrounding states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and others for years. Nurseries may not be selling purple loosestrife or japanese knotweed anymore, but Burning Bush, Japanese Barberry, Norway Maple, and Yellow Iris are all still commonly sold – and are very invasive. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Great Adirondack Backcountry Invasion

A war is raging in our wilderness areas, and the Adirondack Park is slowly becoming ground zero. Invaders from faraway lands are gaining a foothold in the Park’s interior, where the native inhabitants are woefully unprepared for the coming onslaught. Unfortunately, backcountry enthusiasts are the unwitting foot soldiers for these invaders.

Exotic invasive plants are sprouting up far away from their usual haunts on lawns and along roadsides. Exotic invasive species are non-native species, typically introduced to an area by humans, either purposely or accidently. These species exhibit traits allowing for fast growth, rapid reproduction, swift dispersal and tolerance of many different habitats. These traits facilitate colonization and eventual subjugation of much of the native vegetation. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Adirondack Insects: The Spittlebug

After several days without a significant rain, an observant gardener pulling up clumps of weeds, or a perceptive hiker traveling through a pine forest or a meadow near a stand of conifers may notice a glob of saliva-like fluid attached to a wildflower stalk or the stem of a piece of grass.

Occasionally referred to by some people as snake spit, or frog spit, this common frothy deposit of whitish, watery liquid is neither associated with a snake or frog, nor is it produced by the salivary glands of any creature. The spit-like fluid seen on various plants during the early days of summer in the Adirondacks is a form of protective enclosure that surrounds a small insect known as the spittlebug. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Adirondack Botany: A Bevy of Beechdrops

If you find yourself walking through the woods in late summer/early autumn, and you come across what looks like a slender, branched twig stuck in the ground, take a closer look. It could be a stick, or it just might be a really nifty plant: beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana).

Now, I know what you are thinking. That can’t possibly be a plant, or, if it is, it is dead. The lack of “verdure” (or, as described in Gray’s New Lessons and Manual of Botany (1868), “herbs destitute of green foliage”) is an immediate indication that you are looking at a very special plant, a plant that is wholly dependent on others for food.

Neltje Blanchan wrote in her 1917 book Wild Flowers Worth Knowing likened beechdrops to thieves:

Nearly related to the broom-rape is this less attractive pirate, a taller, brownish-purple plant, with a disagreeable odor, whose erect, branching stem without leaves is still furnished with brownish scales, the remains of what were once green leaves in virtuous ancestors, no doubt. But perhaps even these relics of honesty may one day disappear. Nature brands every sinner somehow; and the loss of green from a plant’s leaves may be taken as a certain indication that theft of another’s food stamps it with this outward and visible sign of guilt.

It’s beautiful writing, rather poetic, but sadly casts human traits onto nonhuman lives, in this case a poor hapless plant whose only fault is that it cannot make its own food.

Perhaps we should take another look at beechdrops. Neither thieves nor helpless, maybe we should consider them as opportunistic, perhaps even an advanced lifeform. Why waste energy making your own food when you can eat the food produced by others? HM…it sounds thoroughly American to me!

Over the eons it this plant has cast aside the need to have leaves (note the previously mentioned scales). Leaves exist to provide additional photosynthesizing surfaces. If one does not photosynthesize, one has no need for leaves.

Still, a plant has got to eat, and if it isn’t making its own food by mixing up sunlight with water and CO2, then it must find another food source. Beechdrops have a special structure on their roots called a haustorium. This structure grows out of the stem, root or hyphae of some parasitic plants, and on beechdrops it grows from the roots. The haustorium engulfs the root of the target plant (beechdrops are obligate parasites of beech trees) and taps the root for its life-giving sap.

Neltje mentioned beechdrops’ disagreeable odor. The plant is highly astringent, filled with compounds that make it beneficial medicinally, but not necessarily something one would want to add to a nosegay. Native Americans and settlers alike knew the benefits of beechdrops, which could help cure diarrhea and dysentery, heal wounds (antiseptic), work as a sedative, and even sooth aching eyes. At one point in time beechdrops were used as a folk medicine for cancer, although modern testing found it had no such virtue.

I came across a couple rather robust stands of beechdrops recently. What struck me as odd was that there wasn’t a beech tree to be seen! Because these plants are entirely dependent on beeches for survival, they shouldn’t have grown where I saw them. Admittedly, I was in a hurry, so I only did a quick scan of the forest; it is possible I overlooked the host plants. After all, it was a pocket of hardwoods, mostly sugar maples. Beech trees traditionally grow with birches and maples, so they should have been there. I’ll have to return and conduct a more thorough inventory.

If you find some beechdrops, you will want to have a seat and really look at them. They are quite beautiful, with small, striped, tubular flowers. Purple, red and brown are the colors they sport, and they wear them well.

You might think, as you gaze upon the plant, that the flowers on the lower end of the stem are just buds, waiting to open. In fact, they are fully fledged flowers in their own right, but they are cleistogamous. This means that they never open – there is no need for them to open because they are self-fertilized. The flowers closer to the top of the plant, the ones that form those delicate tubes, are chasmogamous and therefore require fertilization.

Why a plant would have both kinds of flowers? Some careful thought soon brings enlightenment. This is a plant that grows close to the ground (no more than a foot and a half tall, often less) in the woods. There is little wind near the ground (so much for wind-pollination), and there isn’t a whole lot of insect activity at this time of year in the woods. If a plant isn’t smelly and able to attract flies, it may not get a whole lot of action. So, some plants, like beechdrops, hedge their bets by producing a few flowers that require pollination, but also producing flowers that are completely self-contained, just in case. Based on the literature I’ve read, they’ve made the wise bet – it seems that the flowers that actually do get pollinated by visiting insects don’t produce fertile seeds, only the cleistogamous flowers are able to reproduce.

So, let’s not shun the parasitic plants. They have an otherworldly beauty about them and have merely tapped into a surplus foodsource not of their own making. It’s an entirely modern way of living, and since we as humans have embraced this lifestyle, I think it’s only right that we give a friendly nod to those plants that have done so as well, for they are, perhaps, kindred spirits.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Adirondack Herbs: Heal-All

Yesterday evening the dog decided to take our walk around behind the rescue squad building. A variety of wildlife no doubt travels this corridor, so it was not surprising that his nose led us in this general direction. My nose is not as sensitive as the dog’s, but my eyes are drawn to things that he probably thinks are dull – like a white flower blooming at the corner of the building.

White flowers that are not asters are not common at this time of year. In fact, the only white flowers that come to mind are the aforementioned asters and nodding ladies tresses. The plant that caught my eye was neither of these; it was heal-all (Prunella vulgaris).

You all know heal-all (alternatively known as self-heal, heart-of-the-earth, carpenter weed, blue curls, sicklewort, and woundwort): it is the short, stocky plant that grows in your yard, sporting purple blossoms throughout the warm seasons. The key point here is that it normally has purple blossoms. The plant I encountered last night was white. There are rogues in every population.

Most people probably consider heal-all a weed. It disrupts the perfect lawn. Ah – how we have changed. Not all that long ago this was a plant sought by people from all walks of life, for it is edible and medicinal, making it highly desirable.

The modern lawn is often a barren wasteland, botanically speaking. Chemically controlled to prevent all but a very few plant species from growing, not to mention to keep out all sorts of insects, it may look like a lovely plush green carpet, but it’s lacking in character and life. Once upon a time, the lawn was a veritable salad bowl, chocked full of all sorts of edible plants, not the least of which is/was heal-all. Highly nutritious, if bitter, it used to find its way into salads, soups and stews. It could even be boiled and used as a pot herb. Considering the amount of heal-all in my lawn, I could open a U-Pick stand if it was still popular!

As important as this plant was to supplement the human diet, it was as a medicinal herb that it found its niche. At one point in time, it was considered to be a panacea. Have a sty in your eye? Use a rinse made from Prunella. Have a fever? Prunella will save the day. Stomach ailment? Diarrhea? Internal bleeding? Wounds that won’t heal? Prunella to the rescue!

As it turns out, this humble herb, which is mostly Eurasian in origin (although recent studies have turned up a native variety, Prunella vulgaris elongata), contains many compounds that are truly beneficial in the field of medicine, not the least of which is a strong anti-bacterial property. This quality alone would explain why the plant was so often sought to help heal wounds in the days before germs were common knowledge.

Modern medicine is now studying the effects of heal-all as a treatment for herpes, AIDS, cancer and diabetes.

If food and medicine aren’t enough to convince you to keep heal-all in your yard, then consider this: it is an important nectar source for a large variety of native pollinators (bees and butterflies), not to mention that its leaves are a food source for the larval form of the gray marvel moth.

While I’ve taken the time to look at heal-all in the past, it wasn’t until this white form grabbed my attention last night that I decided to take another look. There’s a moral here: it’s often pays to look twice at those things which we take for granted. There might be a hidden quality that we’ve missed in our assumption of the common.



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