Tuesday, May 29, 2007
These unusual flowers have just started blooming on the potato plants. Yes, they do look a bit like tomato blossoms, a bit larger and in two colors, though. Potatoes and tomatoes are in the same plant family, from one we eat the swollen root and from the other we eat the fruit. Remarkable food from a peculiar plant.
The Mennonite's corn across the road is about two weeks ahead of mine. And so are their weeds! Yesterday morning a group of the young people were out chopping the weeds the old-fashioned way, by hand with a hoe. These gardeners still find a way to invest in community while accomplishing what some might find an onerous chore.
Monday, May 28, 2007
I am woken by the sound of one of the foxes wrinkling its bark over in the newly-sprouted corn field across the road. Out the window the night is bright, the moon is almost full. But, inspite of the light, there are dozens of bright “stars.” The fireflies have returned, illuminating the moonlit sky with flashes of their cooling night lights.
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Friday, May 25, 2007
As the sun rose this morning it revealed a beautiful Luna Moth (Acties luna) which had come to rest on our back porch in the night. The luna moth is a particularly remarkable moth for its size, color, and wing tails. My family is always excited to see one. I was surprised in taking the close up photo how little head there is on this moth. It turns out that adult luna moths have no mouth! They live only one week and for the sole purpose of mating and laying eggs. They require no food at all during this time. The image of this moth is now recognizable to most Americans as it was recently coopted as the logo for a new drug by a huge pharamaceutical company.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Wasps knew long before mankind how to manufacture paper from plant fibers. These Paper Wasps (Polistes genus) are building a nest over my head on the front porch. A little too close to our family activities, unfortunately, since these wasps are a benefit to my garden, eating flies and beetle larvae.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Reading this line in an eighteenth-century book of British natural history, "Potatoes have prevailed in this little district, by means of premiums, within these twenty years only; and are much esteemed here now by the poor, who would scarce have ventured to taste them in the last reign.” I am reminded that without the potato this population explosion which has coincided with the Industrial Revolution would never have occurred. The introduction of the American potato to the masses of Europe was an intentional act by the landed and wealthy to alleviate malnutrition and starvation. And from these survivors come the descendants who are filling out this fragile world. In my lifetime from less than 3 billion at my birth to well over six billion as I turn fifty.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia, is coming into bloom on the north sides of the mountains around here. Laurel blossoms are an intricate geometric construction, always fascinating to look at. But be careful, the laurel shrubs grow into large thickets called "laurel hells." If you enter one it is easy to become trapped in the dense winding maze of branches and trunks which seem to go on forever. A botanical "laurel lie" to approach with caution.
Monday, May 21, 2007
This weekend the honeysuckle began to bloom. I notice it first with my nose, that overwhelming fragrance of summer. Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica, is another new arrival to our ecosystem. Introduced by plant nurseries as an ornamental, it has become one of the most invasive plants in our area. It easily smothers many of the "native" growing things in the forest. My neighbor Anne Scarpa McCauley has found a way to use this plant material. She has invented her own method of weaving the vines into beautiful baskets. You can buy her baskets online (and make a small dent in our honeysuckle colonies) at honeysucklebaskets.com.
Saturday, May 19, 2007
Yesterday was a long day of heavy spring rain. It will seep down into the rocky core of the mountains where it will supply our watershed for weeks to come. Watching the rain and wind comb the tops of the forest from the vantage of our front porch, I realized that I was also witnessing the birth of the clouds we wonder at as they sail across the sky in their multitude of shapes.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Working in the garden this spring I am startled by the sound of a cat, looking around I find no feline, just my old friend the Catbird, mewing to get my attention. The Gray Catbird, Dumetella carolinensis, is a "Mimid," a bird that sings many songs which often mimic other birds. This is a wonderful ability, filling the air around the house with beautiful song. Like its namesake the cat it also is capable of a "meow" sound. Also like its namesake, it is quite curious. It enjoys finding me in the garden and keeping an eye on me from a close branch or bush. I like to think this is friendliness, but more likely he or she is just keeping a potential enemy under surveillance.
I almost missed it! The tiny blossoms on the Blueberry bushes hang like little bells of sugar awaiting their insect servants. Once the transfer of genetic material has been completed they create the beautiful crowned berries we love to eat. Can you see that the crowns are just a memory of their blossoming glory?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The air is filled with the heavy perfume of roses and now the peonies join in. My favorite place to visit peonies is in the cemeteries. The peony, like the rose, again, is a very long-lived plant, and seems to last as long as the tombstones in the graveyards.
My one grape vine (table grapes of questionable variety and quality which came with the property) has put out its first shoots. I prune it back hard every winter and let it fruit from new shoots every summer. As I drive around our county I see vineyards everywhere, all sending out young green shoots from vines trained along wires. Ever since Thomas Jefferson and his Italian friend Philip Mazzei tried to start growing grapes and making wine in this area in the late eighteenth century, folks have been convinced that this is the right location for wine. There are now more than two dozen wineries within a short drive and many more vineyards. Jefferson never succeeded in producing a remarkable wine, but the new wineries have had a bit more success.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
The apple tree blossoms have set their fruit. The work of all the many insect pollinators will benefit us all this fall. Perhaps we will receive the blessing of a good crop of apples this year. It seems this apple tree's bounty is to be depended on only once every two to three seasons.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Thursday, May 10, 2007
We most often see this moth buzzing from flower to flower, its wings just a blur of motion. It hovers before each flower to feed and is very often mistaken for a hummingbird. This moth is Hemaris thysbe, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth. Note its green body "fur" and red-colored wings which increase the chance it will be mistaken for a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
The roadsides are filled with blossoming brambles. Their canes are covered with white flowers of similar appearance, since the two most common brambles are the Multiflora Rose and the Wild Blackberry (green flower centers). I get them easily confused unless I have a chance to catch the sweet almost overpowering fragrance of the rose. Rosa multiflora was introduced into the United States from Asia by rose nurseries in the nineteenth century. Its vigorous growth led to the US government encouraging its use as a "living fence" and as wildlife habitat. Now its "tenacious and unstoppable growth habit" has earned it the classification of "noxious weed" in many states. Wild Blackberries are also members of the Rosaceae family which explains the similar appearance. But the blackberries' sweet gift will not be available until July after the bees have pollinated these blossoms and they have grown into the delicious "berries" which will inspire many pies and cobblers in my home.
Monday, May 7, 2007
A new dimension to our outdoor spaces has just returned. The cool, dark understory of summer is back as the leaves come out fully on the last of the decidious trees. A welcome gift as in several days the all-consuming burning heat of sunshine summer will arrive.
Saturday, May 5, 2007
One of the major populations of trees in our forest is the American Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, commonly known as the "Tulip Poplar." One of my favorite trees because of its many beautiful stages throughout the year, now it comes forth with these large magnificent flowers. The flowers will provide plenty of work for Honey Bees which produce a dark, strong honey from the nectar.
Walking down the gravel road I spy this growing in a Cedar tree. Is it a flower? If so it looks like it comes from another world and is an alien to our native aromatic Cedar. This is a new one to me, I confirm on Wikipedia that this is indeed a freerider. Cedar Rust, Gymnsporangium, is a notorious fungus of this area which depends on two different families of plants to survive. On its first host, members of the Juniper family, it produces these peculiar orange sea-anomene-type growths. The fungus's terrifying looking tentacles produce spores which then float on the wind to local members of the Malus family, such as APPLE trees! It is a serious problem for apple orchards, it causes leaf and fruit damage as it prepares a second set of spores which then floats off in search of more Juniper. Now I know the origin of the strange orange spots on the leaves of my apple trees!
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
The summer symphony begins. The sounds outside begin their buzz, a slow summer crescendo toward the mania of the August cicadas. Today, on this grand celebration of spring, the Bumble Bees and Carpenter Bees buzz lazily around the front porch. Our dog, Zippy, believes it is her job to defend the homestead. She leaps and snaps, catching the occasional bee. Her high-pitched bark of frustration as she misses adds the first percussive sounds of the symphony. A melody is added by the Oriole which flies around the yard singing an incessant twelve-note song like a broken record. Its frustration as it calls for a mate seems to add extra energy to each successive song.