Friday, March 28, 2014

On Any Given Day In Spring

On Any Given Day In Spring . . .

You may find a treasure

Today the wind is whistling through the trees, the sun is shining, and the temperature is warmer that it has been for quite a few days.  Spring has, indeed, sprung even if we did have snow on Tuesday!  Of course if there are any more predictions of snow, we'll pretend we didn't hear them and hope it goes away.

These pictures show some of the things folks can see this time of year - on up through June in many cases.  A couple pictures are from earlier in the year but their subjects are around now and later, too.

The usual but very important warning: DO NOT EVER EAT WILD MUSHROOMS UNLESS YOU ARE AN EXPERT OR HAVE AN EXPERT WITH YOU WHEN COLLECTING!  NEVER!  Enjoy them where they grow and leave them there to make more mushrooms:>)

This is a marvelous time of year to go walking.  If you ride a bike, use a skateboard,  drive a car, etc., you will miss a lot of what is right at your feet.  Make special time to savor the sights and sounds (no ear buds, okay?), even the smells. See how many tiny little treasures you can find.

FRIEND - NOT FOE!  Dandelions are way up on the top of my favorite springtime wildflowers list.  They fill lawns with a universe of bright yellow flowers; "Welcome spring!" they shout.  The early, tender greens are much prized for salads, especially when paired with hot bacon dressing - yum!  The dandelion wine I tasted years ago was too sweet for me, but people do seem to love it.  the flowers are edible and add a pretty decoration to salad.  Roast the roots, grind them, and you have a caffeine-free "coffee".  What we call a flower is, actually, many flowers growing together from one seed head.

Daisy Fleabane - These lovely wildflowers grow in partial sun to full sun, but they really prefer lots of sun.  Look for them along roadsides and in fields.  In our yard they grow on the margins of the woods and get up to a foot and a half tall.  They belong to the HUGE family of aster relatives.

 Leopard Frog - This frog and it's buddies that were hanging out together are a darker color than I would expect, but they are variable and easy to confuse with the Pickerel Frog (Very little in nature is as easy to identify as it appears.).  Springtime is breeding season, and these frogs are sitting in a small brook located about three feet from a stream.   It runs parallel for, perhaps, 200 yards then joins back up with the stream.   The water in this side-brook is quiet much of the time which is great for breeding and egg laying.  Once that chore is done, the adults go back to the larger body of water and the eggs, then the tadpoles, stay in the quiet place until they hatch, grow, and morph (change) into frogs with legs.  Then they, too, leave to search for larger bodies of water.  Leopard frogs are becoming more rare for all the usual, sad reasons.  Pesticides and loss of habitat. climate changes - all add up to trouble for the frogs.
Wild Ginger Leaves

Wild Ginger Wildflower - These bloom in April around Green Lane, and they are a flower you need to hunt for to find.  The pretty, dark green, heart-shaped (some people call them kidney shape) leaves grow low to the ground and, when happy, will cover an area in the early spring.  Look under the leaves at ground level, in the axils of the leaf stems, and you will find these wonderful, strange flowers.  The plants like very moist, very rich soils and a fair amount of shade.  I go to a colony that lives in a low place beside the Unami Creek.  There are people who use Wild Ginger root as a spice.  It is, however, a very strong diuretic and I caution you against trying this.  The plant is not really "ginger" but a member of the same general family as the Dutchman's Breeches".

Blue Jays are amazing birds, very intelligent and very hungry!  I post this picture to show you how smart they are.  Look closely at the throat of this bird and you'll see the end of a peanut.  The Blue Jays partially swallow one peanut, pick up a second, then fly off to eat both.  Each peanut is picked up and weighed (or the birds evaluate the peanuts in some other manner I can't fathom) to see if it meets quality control standards.  Then the bird then either flies away with an approved peanut choice or rejects it and tries another.  Fun to watch the process.

We have chipmunks living all around the house.  They are clever underground architects and set up separate rooms for sleeping, potty, food storage, and such.  They have multiple entrances/exits to their homes.  If startled they yelp, maybe "chip" is a better way to say it, to warn other chipmunks of danger.  They also become quite tame if someone spends loads of quiet time and patience in their company.  Their antics are fun to watch.  The mother chipmunk gives birth to up to five babies and nurses them for forty days.  Once the kids are weaned, Mom moves away and leaves the house to the teenagers.
Pileated Woodpeckers are crow-sized birds and impressive to see, especially flying through the woods.  As you can see, they will come to suet when food is scarce.  The male (lower right) has a red check patch which the female (upper left) lacks.  Pairs are true to each other until one dies and once paired up, they claim large territories as their own.  When a pair moves in, you probably won't see others in the vicinity because they are very defensive of their "turf".  If one dies, the other may look for another mate.  I have more pictures that are closer up and you'll be seeing them as time goes on:>)  I adore these guys!  They were the model for Woody Woodpecker right down to the laughing call.

Orange Falcate Tip Butterflies are one of the earliest we see.  We have a very small population right at our house, and every late April/early May about twelve individuals can be seen flitting about in the low weeds.  They rarely sit still and I only have two pictures that are worth anything at all; even those aren't too good.  These butterflies look a lot like the ubiquitous cabbage whites that are the bane of gardeners, but these Orange Falcate Tips are flying for only two weeks or so, then they are gone.  They are thought to lay only one egg per plant (but I suppose two butterflies could use the same plant) and the caterpillar will eat buds, flowers, and leaves. Once they've gotten fat and happy, they make a chrysalis.  The pupa hibernates until hatching time the following spring.

Black Morel Mushroom - These, and the yellow ones shown below - will be popping up any day now.  They are supposed to be DELICIOUS!  I, however, will not pick and eat them.  I am not an expert and as sure as I am of this identification, I know better than to trust myself.  If you see either form of these in the woods and want to pick and eat them - check first with an expert.  Otherwise, take a picture, make a sketch, or just look and enjoy.

Yellow Morel - See above

Eastern Painted Turtles are probably the most common turtle, and they live in ponds, lakes, and natural pools.  They love sun bathing and bask on logs, rocks, or bare ground.  You can find them where there is space, sun, and easy access for escape into the water.  Painted turtles enjoy the company of others; these two look like they are having a gossip session.  Although they get up to nine or ten inches long, they are very shy.  You need to creep up on them being careful not to let vibrations or movement give you away or they plop off their logs or rocks and disappear under water.  They breed in springtime and the females travel away from the water to dig their nests, but the nest must be close enough to water to allow for water to seep into the bottom of the hole.  She covers the nest and in about ten weeks the babies hatch and dig themselves free.  Temperature determines the sex of the little ones - hot weather means females!  Conversely, cold weather makes males.  Painted Turtles hibernate in the mud through the winter.

Perfoliate Bellwort, Merry Bells - These lovely, little wildflowers are hard to spot because of their greenish yellow color and the way they hang downward; the yellow/green color of the flower allows them to blend in with other green plants.  Again, you need to be looking for them.  They are denizens of forest edges and bloom before the leaves are out on the trees.

Rue Anemone Wildflowers will very soon be showing off their pretty little flowers.  Note the mitten shape to the leaves.  Although pure white flowers like these, are the most common, some are tinted with pink.  The plants are small and grow to about a foot high at the very tallest.  They love the dappled sunlight of the springtime woods and prefer their soil to be loamy, rich, and somewhat moist.

American Robin - These birds are considered true harbingers of Spring.  Lawns are a place to look for them, especially early in the morning or after a rain when worms come close to the surface.  Robins love to eat worms, thus the saying, "The early bird captures the worm".  Robins are easily recognized by the dark gray/brown color of their backs and wings and the warm orange of their breast.

SKUNK!  Don't hold your nose just yet, people:>)  I love skunks and we have at least one family that lives among the rocks near our house.  We can smell them occasionally.  They do come out in mild weather to eat the birds' seeds and dropped pieces of suet.  If we go outside they don't run and we are careful not to scare them - no spraying allowed here. Skunks are terrific diggers, love to eat anything that comes their way, and are not aggressive - just don't make them feel threatened and you won't get sprayed.  We had a couple dogs that tangled with a skunk; that was not a good outcome for either the dogs or us!  We found out the hard way that tomato juice, enzymes, soap - nothing works, at least not well.  That is one strong stink and it stays on you forever!!!  My grandparents had a pet skunk named Chanel, and she was a sweetheart, but my Grandfather had "deodorized" her.
Wild Azalea Shrub -  I'll try to get a regular picture for you this year.  For now, this shows you what they look like.  The trees (pardon me, shrubs) grow fairly tall and generally are blooming in May.  The leaves are not out in full at that time and the flowers get lots of sunshine.  This is a true native to our region, not introduced.  As you may have guessed, it is related to rhododendrons.

This was a long post - maybe too long.  I'll try to be more succinct in the future:>)  Thank you ever so much for visiting and for your patience.

Happy weekend and have a great week ahead.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Today Is The First Day Of Spring!

Today Is The First Day Of Spring!

To Everything A Season . . .

I'm ready to go to posting once a week and I think Fridays are a good day to share a new page with you.  But, for this week, I am posting on Thursday because it's the FIRST DAY OF SPRING!  We've waited sooooo long for this day to arrive.

Today I'm showing more pictures of flowers but they are the cultivated type, ones we grow on purpose from special seeds or plants we purchase.  They are meant to send you off into your weekend with a smile and a light heart.

This is my Lace-cap Hydrangea all iced up.  I'm putting it here to remind us what we've come through and to help us enjoy what the next few months will bring.  Winter is lovely, but it is the change of seasons that makes each one special.  We can kiss winter's browns, grays, and white good-bye without a qualm and look forward to GREEN!  PINK!  BLUE!  PURPLE!  YELLOW! and more.  We will be surrounded with color.

The old-fashioned hydrangea, Annabelle, is a white, pompom type that thrives at the edge of the woods.  It loves filtered sun, moist earth, and requires almost no care.  When it's happy, it will spread.  This picture was taken last April when the leaves were barely beginning.  We live in the woods which means our hydrangeas, hostas, and lilies are in danger of being eaten by deer and groundhogs; they are like a dessert buffet for these critters and we spent years trying everything possible to save the plants.  Then, by chance, I bought Liquid Fence as one last, desperate effort to grow our beloved flowers and IT WORKED!  I sprayed on a regular basis and nothing got eaten.  We are on our fourth year of happy plants and happy us:>)  Nothing was harmed and the smell of sulfur disappears when the spray dries.

This is a macro (close up) view of cyclamen petals.  Cyclamen plants are kind of fussy and need attention to grow well.  A cool location with good sun and even moisture will help.  They are beautiful plants but I have very little luck with them.  Right now one is growing in the kitchen; it looks good so I hope it decides to stay healthy.

Japanese Iris are small and have no beard.  They prefer to grow in the company of many others and they like moisture.  Left to their own devices they will form large colonies and create a dramatic show of blossoms in the later part of the Spring.  Our neighbor dug up a bunch from his yard and gave them to me.  I planted them, crossed my fingers, and behold - two magnificent groupings of Japanese Iris bloomed the very next year; I didn't expect that!
Exotic hibiscus plants are not hardy here, but they are beloved by many and grown as houseplants.  They come in a wide variety of colors - white, pink, red, orange, yellow (maybe more) - and will love being outside in the summer.  Keeping them going through the winter is a challenge, but you can read up  on them and probably succeed.  The shrub, Rose Of Sharon, is a hibiscus and that is hardy.  They grow happily in hedges or as single plantings, even spreading to new and sometimes not-so-welcome locations like a neighbor's yard.
Oxalis, or Shamrock, is a lovely, little flower.  they are readily available in white, yellow, and purple, easy to care for, and will reward you with flowers all year long if grown inside.

Oxalis - just another color

Lilac trees are one of my favorite spring-flowering bushes.  My mother, like so many mothers, had a bush by her kitchen door, and every time we went in or out the scent would follow us.  I love this standard  purple/pink color.  Growers now show lilac trees in a reddish color, pink, white, and some subtle purples.  Lovely, and they spread:>)

Primrose plants pop up at this time of year and are popular for gift-giving at Easter time.  Our supermarkets are filled with beautiful colors of Primroses.  This one struck me because of the color combination.

About four years ago I noticed a new vine around town,  It was growing on trellises or in planters everywhere I looked and I had no idea what it was.  Finally, on a trip to our local greenhouse, I saw one and discovered the name - Mandevilla.  At that time only pink was available, but now we have red, white, combo red and white, and yellow as well.  These are normally grown as annuals and are not hardy in cold climates.  Give them well-drained soil in a sunny location and you'll have a show of blossoms.  A caution, however - all parts of the plant are toxic and cannot be eaten.

This is a stone planter outside a door.  It's such cheery, spring-like, wonderful way to be welcomed!


We'll meet again next week, on Friday.  Until then, wishing you gentle breezes, warm sunshine, and flowers:>)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Spring Fever - Sending a bouquet your way:>)


There is a "natural" remedy

Hurray!  Here in Green Lane, Pennsylvania, USA, there are big patches of ground showing amid the snow mounds in the woods, and in spite of the cold weather, the angle of the sun and the warmth of it's rays say "SPRING":>)  Soon there will be hints of green and even some wildflowers.

Today you're going to see some of the wildflowers that appear in early Spring in Green Lane.  Once you begin to notice what's going on in your world, you will also see and feel the cycle of the seasons.  It's amazing; everything has a time and place.

Many of these wildflowers are called "ephemeral" (existing for only a brief time) because they come up, bloom, make their food supply for next year, then disappear.  Once the leaves die there is no finding them.  

The Hepatica plants are visible almost all year, however, as are Waterlilies and, of course, the trees.  Ferns, depending on type, may even be green throughout the winter.

I'll try to inform you of the environment each plant or animal prefers - these plants shown below are all found in the woods or on the margins of the hardwood forests that grow in Green Lane.  the forest floor is rich and loamy with a decent amount of moisture and, in springtime, have dappled sunshine throughout the day.

These wonderful wildflowers come up wrapped in a leaf.  They open up in the morning and close at night as if they need to sleep.  Little hover flies, and other early insects come to the flowers for a snack.  These plants have an orange sap that, as kids, we used to write on our skin.  Some people have an allergic reaction to the sap, so I don't recommend trying it on your skin, but it was used by native people as a dye.

You'll find plants singly or in small colonies.  Bloodroot likes the forest soil - light, rich, and fairly moist - and dappled sunshine.  As members of the poppy family, Bloodroot is short-lived and the petals fall after just a few days.

Dogwood trees grow wild in Green Lane.  The springtime woods are filled with beautiful, white blossoms and usually have a flowering time that coincides with the Redbud trees - lovely!  There are cultivars (hybrids created by us humans) people can purchase that have a pink, even almost red flower.  I prefer the traditional white but enjoy the others.

A branch of Dogwood Flowers
The flowers of the Redbud tree are small and bloom right next to the branches.  You can imagine how beautiful the woods appear with white dogwood flowers and these redbud blossoms throughout.  It's interesting to note that the flowers are pollinated only by long-tongued insects like Carpenter Bees; insects with short tongues apparently can't reach far enough inside the flower.  

Hepatica is one of the very first wildflowers to appear.  Although there may be leaves left from last year, new leaves don't come until later - all you usually see are these delicate flowers reaching up to the springtime sun.  Color is variable and the flowers may be almost white and range to almost purple.  This mid-range blue/purple is common.  They are named Hepatica because the leaves are three-lobed and often a deep red/brown, like liver.

The Mayapple flowers grow under a heavy canopy of large, dark green leaves that look like umbrellas.  You can miss them if you don't make an effort to look because they grow in patches.  These are truly lovely blossoms - white, thick, waxy, sprouting from leaf and stem axils.  It is also called the Umbrella Plant because of the large, deeply cut leaves.  

When we get to the warmer side of spring, gentle rains and rich earth bring on the ferns.  This is a new frond (leaf) being born.  Ferns are plants that prefer mostly shade and like moist soil.  They are perfectly created to live on the edges of streams, ditches, and ponds, and they like open woods, too.
The weather is still cold in April but the ice is usually off the lakes and ponds.  The waterlilies begin to grow pretty early in spring, and the lily pads come up showing their true colors.  As plants begin to produce their food, the green chlorophyl stored in the leaves hides the colors.  When autumn arrives and the food (chlorophyl) is gone, the colors re-emerge and the leaves die.  We all know what a waterlily looks like.  They begin blooming in early summer or late spring.

Perfoliate Bellwort, Merry Bells These lovely, little wildflowers are hard to spot because of their greenish yellow color and the way they hang downward; the yellow/green color of the flower allows them to blend in with other green plants.  Again, you need to be looking for it.  They are denizens of forest edges and bloom before the leaves are out on the trees.

Pussytoes:>)  I love this name!  The fuzzy, white flowers look like little kitten toes.  These wildflowers like full sun, good moisture, and seem to thrive in lawns.  There are two types.

Spicebush, a shrub or small tree that flowers in early spring.  They are also called wild forsythia because of the yellow color and blooming time.  Later on in the year, when the leaves appear, Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly larvae will make a feast of this shrub.  The seeds are eaten by wildlife.  In the springtime, however, we can enjoy the flowers as do a few intrepid insects.  If you find a Spicebush when the leaves are out, take a leaf and crush it; the scent is marvelous.

Trout Lilies are known for their mottled foliage and lovely, yellow flowers.  These plants grow in colonies and, to thrive, they must be left alone to bloom and multiply.  They need a few years on them before flowering.  Some colonies are over a hundred years old, but human incursion is a problem.  We eat up the open woods in our avid, never-ending search for land to build upon.  This picture is from a colony many, many years old.  It grows in a patch of woods between a house and a field, and I just keep my fingers crossed and hope no one eyes the space for a house.

Virginia Bluebells are lovers of stream sides and very moist locations.  They will bloom in huge patches of this gorgeous blue.  The flowers begin as pink buds, open to a stunning, medium blue, then fade to almost white as they age.  The plants bend gracefully under the weight of the flowers, and when a bee lands on them, the stems can lean almost to the ground.

Virginia Bluebells are, in my humble opinion, breath-taking in their gentle beauty.
Rue Anemone wildflowers are, again, lovers of dappled sunshine and rich woods.  They are tiny plants, delicate and somewhat variable in color.  Ours go from pure white to softly pink. Although small and spaced apart, they grow in good numbers and make a pretty show.  Note the shape of the leaves - kind of like medium green mittens - because the next plant is very similar but the leaves will help you know what you are looking at.

Wood Anemone plants are much harder to find than Rue Anemone; I only know of two places where they grow and am very circumspect about who I tell.  Although the flowers are different, it isn't easy to tell which anemone you've found. Look at the leaves.  These are a darker green with a red tinge, deeply cut.  These plants are found in rich, moist woods growing in partial shade.

I hope this ushers you into your weekend with a smile.  Spring is trying to arrive, and we will soon have a great time in the woods!  Boy have I got pictures:>)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Our Mushroom Planet

~ Mushrooms & Fungi ~

Gems Of The Forest

When I first went out to capture my world with a camera, my focus was mushrooms.  Although that is in the distant past and I love all things I find, the fungi still fascinate me and call out for recognition.  

There are, literally, hundreds of pictures waiting in my "Ready To Post" folder, but few of them have an ID yet.  In spite of owning two fantastic field guides, and in spite of using four trusted and magnificent on line sites, most of my mushrooms and fungi remain a mystery.  There aren't a lot of common names floating around, and to pin a mushroom down, without question, to a firm identification, is almost impossible for me.  Some I know, some I will eventually discover.

I figure I'll post some here and hope you like them - a few will have some sort of name.

One very important caveat - remember this!


Fungi do not require chlorophyll to thrive.  They use the food-producing ability of other organic materials (like plants) and feed of that.  Many draw nourishment from tree roots or decaying branches, for example.  Fungi are scientifically closer to animals than plants - how strange - but they are not like any other kind of organism.  You can read more at these sites if you are interested:

All these pictures are from my immediate locale - Green Lane, Pennsylvania, USA, and they will give you an inkling of the awesome diversity of color, shape, and size. I'll post more from time to time as these don't even scratch the surface.

When you go walking, keep your eyes peeled for beautiful fungi.

I think this is a golden chanterelle - don't bet on it, however:>)

Indigo Lactarius

No ID - perhaps Leptonia

 This mushroom is hosting a crane fly.  They look a lot like mosquitoes but do not bite - have no fear:>)  Pennsylvania has over 300 species of crane flies, if I remember correctly, and they vary in size from big to really tiny.
 This one is tiny, and apparently feeds on mushrooms - amazing what one can see in the woods!

No firm ID for the mushroom.

Bolete-type  Boletes have a spongy underside, not gills


I have no idea-type

Hmmm - Bolete, I think

Wagon Wheel Mushrooms - a likely Pinwheel Marasmius

Best guess - Mycena

A very small Bolete-type

I call it the Eraser Mushroom - Got a better idea?

Possibly an Amanita

No ID yet

No ID yet

Hygrocybe is my best attempt
In order to get a good ID on a mushroom, you often need a spore print and a microscope.  Do not depend on your eyes.  Remember that some mushrooms are delicious and some can make you very ill, even cause death.  Collecting mushrooms is a job for true experts.

Thank you for coming by!