Sunday, September 30, 2007


Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is easily confused with poison ivy this time of year as it, too, turns a bright red. Virginia creeper is a native vine and can be destructive as it climbs very high and can block off light to the tree it climbs. Despite its pervasiveness, it is often grown as an ornamental, especially in Britain where bright red fall color is not so common. Poisonous berries.


On July 17 I made an entry noting the beautiful orange flowers of blackberry lily, Belamcanda chinensis. Now the very same plant is in full seed, and the reason for its name "blackberry" becomes obvious. Poisonous.


Posion ivy, Toxicodendron radicans, is showing off once again. My last entry recognized the beautiful red of its brand new spring leaves. The leaves have turned back to red again from summer green. Its fall coloring is an early color in the autumn forest and is quite spectacular inspite of the plants bad reputation.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Now is the time I look for these wild purple flowers. When walking in England in the fall many years ago I first noticed a similar flower coming in to bloom in early autumn. It had been named a Michaelmas daisy because it blooms at the time of the ancient Christian feast day of St. Michael (September 29), the warrior archangel who has come to protect us in the coming months of darkness. I wonder if this fall flower is related?


I have seen several of these magnificent birds lately. They did not notice me as they were intent on wading in the edge of ponds searching for fish, frogs, and other delectables. The great blue heron, Ardea herodias, is one of the largest birds in this area with an incredible wingspan of almost six feet! In flight, their great long bill sticks out ahead giving them the appearance of a modern day pterosaur.


Huge vines of hanging berries appear as the leaves begin to turn, fall and reveal their hiding places. Two species of vines with berries look very similar. One, the fox grape, Vitus labrusca, is the ancestor of the delicious Concord grape. The similar looking Canadian moonseed vine, Menispermum canadense, unfortunately is quite poisonous. Wonder what this attractive vine is?


The monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, are taking the hint and leaving for the south. Suddenly with the change of the season we start to see them flying high in the air instead of just from flower to flower. Ours are on their way to their winter homes in Florida, Texas, and Mexico. They have no problem flying over the ocean if they need to on their way. Monarch butterflies usually only live for about two months around here, basing their life cycle around different varieties of milkweed, genus Asclepias, which their larva devour. Their trip south and vacation there is longer than their average life cycle. Some butterflies will enter a special state called diapause helping them live longer. But the butterflies which return next spring may be several generations removed from the butterflies who left here. Amazing.

Friday, September 21, 2007

09.21.07 BLACK BEAR

It has been over a year since I have had the privilege to see a wild black bear, Ursus americanus, in our neighborhood. That last sighting was pretty magical, a mom and two cubs crossing through my headlights near our house in the middle of the night. Two days ago, coming home at dusk, my truck startled a big bear enjoying a drink from a stream about 2 miles from our home. It jumped up the bank, across the road, and gamboled across a big field to hide in the woods. I first saw a wild bear in the Appalachians in 1995. It was the beginning of a new period of wonder in my life and every time I reencounter one of these fellows I am reminded of just how fortunate it is to be.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


Paper can be made from the fibers of many different plants, but one of the best sources of fiber is the bark of the paper mulberry tree, Broussonetia papyrifera. In China, where paper was invented, paper was made from the bark of this tree by the third Century AD. Paper made from this fiber is still popular in Japan where it is called kozo. Kozo has an excellent surface, is lightweight, and very strong, perfect for printmaking. Unfortunately this tree is only very rarely used for paper making in the United States and solely by hobbyists, and it has become a nuisance tree. It is highly invasive and grows quickly and commonly throughout the South. The leaves of this tree are remarkable because, like the sassafras, they come in several different forms, oval or with one or more additional lobes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

09.19.07 OPEN SESAME!

One of the plant experiments I tried this year is sesame, Sesamum indicum. I used seed collected from a mix sold for sprouting at an organic grocery store. Thomas Jefferson tried to grow it at Monticello hoping to make salad oil. Mine is doing fine and is quite beautiful. I look forward to the day this fall when those green pods have dried and pop open to share some seed with me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

09.18.07 EARLY COLOR

The tupelo, or blackgum tree, Nyssa sylvatica, is the first tree around here to show significant color. Individual leaves occasionally turn red before summer’s end, and here you can see an entire tree turning a brilliant red before fall has officially begun.

Monday, September 17, 2007

09.17.07 VINEY GLORY

This time of year my desire to work in the garden wanes. The summer's heat has drained the last bit of energy from my gardening spirit and I am ready to rest. I enjoy watching everything grow; weeds mature, seeds form, vines climb, and the jungle prevails. But I know frost will come soon and knock the green behemoth to the ground. So I am content to watch it as it engulfs the garden. Beautiful flowers appear every morning in blue, violet, and magenta as their vines cover tomato frames and deer fencing like so much southern kudzu.


The cicadas still fill the air with their loud song, but their time is passing. I occasionally find the enormous insects sitting quite still. They will allow me to pick them up and although alive, move and react very slowly.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The humidity has simply disappeared and the air is clear with a hint of crispness. Mountain trees can be discerned miles away where before we just saw a green smudge in the haze. The lower angle of the sun sets the roadside ablaze with color as it shines through these beautiful "daisy-type" flowers growing everywhere. Although difficult to identify, they are easily enjoyed.

Friday, September 14, 2007

09.14.07 DEWFALL

With cooler weather moving in, we get heavy dew in the mornings. The cool temperature just wrings the moisture from the air and decorates the garden with jewels of crystal clear water. Well-needed in many places in our county where a drought continues. Here in our mountain cove we have been blessed with many thunderstorms in addition to these heavy dewfalls. Our garden is still green and growing.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

09.13.07 WARY MANTID

Sitting on the screen of the back porch yesterday morning this huge praying mantis, probably Mantis religiosa, kept an eye on me as I pulled out my camera to take its portrait. A praying mantis is often mistakenly referred to in text as a "preying" mantis. But this mistake is quite understandable as the mantids are carnivorous and will eat any insect they can capture. They are considered highly beneficial by gardeners who place their egg cases in the garden. Awesome eye sight, quick reflexes, and powerful limbs are all characteristics of a ferocious creature. I am glad that mantids remain small!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


The apples are falling from my tree, and the deer eat them faster than I can collect them. They are a treat for man and beast, juicy, tart, crispy, and delicious. They don't look like grocery store apples, and I am not certain what variety was planted, but they are perfect to me. If you take a moment to examine the fruit before eating or peeling you can see a history of each one's days recorded on its skin. Warm rosy moments and tough warty periods, fine green hours and moldy gray moments. Life, a blessing to hold.

Monday, September 10, 2007

09.11.07 SASSAFRAS

Sassafras albidum has a much softer wood than dogwood and is essentially useless for tool or cabinet making. But this beautiful tree is redeemed by the marvelous fragrance emitted by all its parts. This was one of the first trees I learned to recognize as a child because of its remarkable leaf form. Leaves come in three types: oval, mitten-shaped, and mitten-shaped with two thumbs!

09.10.07 "DAGWOOD"

The berries on the dogwood tree, Cornus florida, have turned a beautiful red and will add color to the forest long into the winter. Wikipedia reports that this tree is called "dogwood" as a corruption of "dagwood" or "daggerwood." Dogwood has a good hard wood which was once used to make daggers as well as all types of wooden tools and handles.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Toadstools, rats, and now spiders! I apologize for the "darker" turn this journal has taken this weekend, but I couldn't resist including the beautiful sight of this amazing natural architecture as I drove to the forest to release the unwelcome visitor previously mentioned.


We have had a visitor to the dog food bowl. This unwelcome fellow, a brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, was caught this morning in the "Have A Hart" trap I set out next to the dog pen. Brown rats can quickly become a serious infestation, especially if there is a supply of free food (like a dog food bowl!) around. The best way to get rid of rats is to make all food inaccessible. Since this was not absolutely possible, I resorted to traps. This fellow is bound for a new home in the forest about ten miles away!


I just could not resist adding another magnificent mushroom to this journal!

Friday, September 7, 2007


A walking stick insect, order phasmatodea--for "phantom"-- stops by the back porch just a day after I spied a much younger family member. Notice how it has hidden two of its six legs by aligning them directly along its body in line with its antennae.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


This delightful little flower is the blossom of jewelweed, Impatiens capensis. Its plants thrive in moist shady areas where it grows about four feet tall. The tender foliage dies back when cool weather arrives but until then the mounds of green are decorated with these pendulous orange decorations. Loved by hummingbirds, the flowers jostle, jiggle, and dance in the breeze.

Monday, September 3, 2007


It is time for Clematis paniculata to bloom. This beautiful vine has escaped from gardens to grow wild in our area. It is covered with an abundance of small white flowers as fall begins. Around here one can easily find the plant growing along the roadside to transplant to the home garden. Or they can be purchased from White Flower Farms for $18!


Its warm, and in the woods its plenty damp, especially after a thunderstorm. By the next morning the hidden funguses of the soil have sent up their amazing "fruiting bodies," the toadstools.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

09.02.07 WINGSTEM

A very tall roadside "weed," wingstem, Verbesina alternifolia, is now blooming profusely adding a rich yellow to the meadows. Here you can see it growing alongside iron weed and joe-pye weed. It gets its name from the "wings" you can see growing along its stem.

My apologies to all my readers who have visited my inactive blog the last two weeks while I have been away from my computer. I kept a number of journal entries during this time and have entered them all today. Thanks for checking in!


This peculiar looking "fruit" is known as an Osage orange or a hedge apple, Maclura pomifera. The tree is a native of the central states and one of the few trees to be found in the dry plains. I spent much time as a child in Missouri climbing among it's thorny branches. It had become a popular plant for farmers to grow in hedgerows, a living fence to keep cattle from roaming. This specimen was photographed at the Montpelier estate where it was probably introduced by the gardener.

08.28.07 IRONWEED

The deep purple flowers of the tall weed known as ironweed (Vernonia genus) have begun to appear. The butterfly visitor is difficult to identify; this could be either a black swallowtail, a female tiger swallowtail, or a pipevine swallowtail.


This horsefly has just landed on my rearview mirror. Living in the country surrounded by cattle and horses means we are in the perfect environment for this huge fly. Eating nectar and pollen, they become a "threat" to humans when the female needs a "blood meal" to prepare for reproduction. In this photo you can see what Wikipedia calls a horsefly's "mandibles like tiny serrated scimitars." These are used to painfully carve out a hole in an animal's flesh so that it may then lick up the resulting blood. How delightful!

08.24.07 SWEET GIFT

The neighbor knocked on the door this morning to leave this huge seedless watermelon. His bumper crop is shared throughout the community providing us all with a juicy treat during the dry baking heat of these final days of summer.


The garden at high summer! Dry and crispy, many crops are finished and the stress of heat and drought challenge those which have survived and have not become fodder for our many forest friends.


I have been growing paste-type tomatoes for a long time. The most popular variety in the seed catalogs is probably "Roma." This year I came across several varieties which grow much longer than the typical pear-shaped tomato. These grow to two or three times as long (and two or three times as large!) and look like the horns on a bull. This photo does not do them justice, because here they are just babies hiding in the foliage before the deer find them.


I look forward to the hot days at the end of summer because they bring peppers from the garden. This year the deer have eaten most of the pepper plants but this lone hero survives. These are probably hot peppers my wife has grown for the kitchen, but my favorites are sweet banana peppers drenched with salt, pepper, and olive oil and grilled over a fire. Fabulous.


My wife's career as a chef inspires me to try new foods all the time. Hummus and falafel are delicious and are made from ground chick peas (also called garbanzo beans). Garbanzo beans, Cicer arietinum, are an ancient food and an excellent source of protein. Mankind has depended on this plant for food for many millenia. It has long been a staple of the diet of many indigenous peoples of the Mediterranean, Middle East, Asia, and India. I picked the garbanzo beans out of a mix of seeds for sprouting I purchased in the organic food store to try in my garden. It is always fascinating to meet a new plant!