Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Most Unusual Trillium

   On Saturday afternoon I headed out to Green Hill Park to revisit the magic spot Jeff and I found two weeks ago. I wanted to see if the False Solomon's Seal was blooming yet, and to look for new stuff we might have missed the first time. Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat when I found this! All of the other Trilliums in this patch of forest had long since finished blooming, in fact, not much was in bloom at all so if you were looking for wildflowers like I was, this gem was easy to spot. Researching it on the internet turned up little more than it's likely a mutation of a Trillium grandiflorum, which is the predominant Trillium in these woods. Unfortunately they are also considered a "Holy Grail" among some unscrupulous wildflower enthusiasts and therefore are a favorite of poachers. Well, I ain't tellin' anybody where I found it, jes' in case!

I'm curious just how common or rare these might be, have you ever seen one?

I found it in a "wash" area, a slight gully where water washes down in heavy rain

The coloring was white tinged with green and pink, beautiful!

Here's the area where I found it, I love this place! Notice all the cool plants? 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Best Bugs O' The Week

   This week we have finally started seeing some real quality insect activity. I expect (and hope) any day now I should find the first Monarch eggs on my milkweed plants. Last year I noticed them in the final week of April and since we're about two weeks ahead of schedule it should be soon. Until then, however, here are the highlights of the week...

Diana Fritillary caterpillar, oh how I'd love to see the butterfly! They are very unusual in that they don't lay their eggs on the leaves, but typically on a twig next to the plant. The larva then hatch in the fall and overwinter underground, then emerge to feed on the violet leaves come springtime.

Well, not a picture of an insect, but of insect activity!

Finally we have nesting Mason Bees! They didn't use this bee house last year, and this year we only have three holes filled, but hopefully as our habitat improves, so will the bee population.

Can you see it? It's pretty tiny...

I had to crop this image pretty heavily just to show the detail on this fella, those are grains of pollen around him. A dime would crush him. The praying mantis egg cases are finally starting to hatch, I hope some of them stick around this summer!

Not a bug, of course, but definitely beneficiaries of the increase in insect activity. I can hear the peeps of the baby Bluebirds from our deck every time a parent lands on the nestbox with a snack.

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle, munching on Orange Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa). I'm always confused what to do when I see one of these, should I flick it off to save the milkweed for monarchs or leave it be, he has a right to eat the milkweed too.

Unidentified Cranefly sitting on a sunflower leaf. Gotta be the weakest flying thing in the insect world. This image was also enlarged a bit to show detail, until now I had no idea Craneflies look this interesting, kinda like a dragon, maybe.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

You Never Forget Your First

White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) aka Large Flowered Trillium

   Married for 16 years and celebrating in our own special way, Jeff and I spent the afternoon of our anniversary at Green Hill park hoping to see something special on this special day.
  Although we did see about a hundred Zebra Swallowtail butterflies congregating around the Paw Paw groves (their host plants), we were having a hard time finding anything interesting in a place that was full of wildflowers last fall. We were getting tired and were just about to leave when Jeff pointed up the hill and said in his typical silly but serious way, "All the good stuff is probably up there...those woods are probably full of Trilliums" (a plant we have never seen, but desperately wanted to). Still restrained by crutches and therefore unable to climb steep trails, I agreed, naturally where I couldn't go is likely where all the good stuff is!
   So, Jeff wheeled the car over as close as we could get to the bottom of the hill and just for kicks, I got out the binoculars to see if I could see any flowers through the woods.
   "Uh, stop the car!" I saw something, a lot of something, and it looked like wild geranium from a distance (turned out to be tons of white violets). I panned the binoculars up and lo and behold I saw what looked like a Trillium! Really! We parked, got out, stepped into the woods, and were greeted with a patch about the size of an acre of what must have been hundreds of Trilliums! And other cool plants too! Happy Anniversary to us!
   All the times we'd been to this park before, even this spot on this trail, we'd never been here at the right time, we had no idea these plants were here, hence the ephemeral-ness of spring ephemerals. Thank you little violets for getting my attention and making me look, besides them and the Trilliums we also found False Solomon's Seal, Mayapple, Twinleaf, Bellwort, Dwarf Larkspur, Sweet Cicely, Bugbane/Black Cohosh, Hepatica, Blue Cohosh, and numerous Sedges. There could have been more, but the plants were so thick carpeting the forest floor and the slope was so steep that it was hard to see everything. It was a magical sight.
   Needless to say, I'll never forget my first Trillium.

Here's a sampling of some of the plants we saw...

Another White Trillium

The petals turn pink as they age, in fact most of the ones we saw were actually pink.

Canadian White Violet (Viola canadensis) aka Tall White Violet

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) kinda late in its blooming cycle with only one flower left

False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) not yet in bloom

Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) in one of the sunnier spots, flowers can be white, lavender, or purple

A large patch of Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) also enjoyed the sunnier spot but unfortunately was not blooming that day

A hodge-podge of loveliness

Sunday, April 8, 2012

More Woodland Wildflowers in Bloom

   Our wildflower hunting adventures continued this weekend with some more fun finds. Ample rains this winter have contributed to a healthy flush of plants, we're noticing everything looking particularly lush. Here are some more examples of plants you're likely to see here in the Roanoke Valley, specifically these were found on Mill Mountain. I really got lucky, we were able to park the car on the side of the road and despite still being on crutches I was able to hobble along on the trail and roadside just enough to get to see these plants. Many thanks to Jeff for scouting out the spot ahead of time!

We'll start with my favorite from the day...

At first, I thought surely this must be a non-native, it looks too healthy! But, my books suggest otherwise, it's native Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii) and grows 1-3 feet tall with umbels 2-4 inches across on moist, wooded slopes.

We found quite a large mass of these plants and the white flowers made quite a statement in the dark woods. I have a weakness for big, bushy perennials.

At the opposite end of the size scale we have another Bellwort, this time Perfoliate Bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata), easily identified by how the stem perforates the leaves. Yes, that's English Ivy in the background, planted in the early 1900's to stabilize the slope when this road was built. Another example of good intentions gone bad. Despite so much English Ivy covering the forest floor, many native plants still manage to flourish here.

Continuing the tiny theme, here are two more extremely small natives we found, Bird's Foot Violet (Viola pedata) Early Blue Violet (Viola palmata) and Pennywort (Obolaria virginica). Most everyone has seen these violets before, but Pennywort is easy to miss, growing only 3-6 inches tall and being almost the same color as the ground.

Here's another shot, close up. If not for looking at the violet, I wouldn't have spotted them.

Here's another plant, like the Sweet Cicely, growing in abundance in this same area. I really struggled with this one, trying to decide whether is was a Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium) or Golden Alexander (Zizia). Every plant looked slightly different, making ID frustrating, but I'm going to go ahead and call it Golden Alexander (Zizia aurea). 

*As always, I confess I'm no expert, feel free to suggest if I've made an error in identifications. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wee White Wildflowers of the Woods this Week

   The forest floor is erupting with a bonanza of spring bloomers right now. Here is a sampling of some of the plants we have found in our woods and in our favorite local parks. These are some of the more diminutive flowers that you're not likely to notice unless you were truly wildflower hunting. They really are a lot smaller than they look in these pictures, which have been cropped and enlarged to show detail. All of these plants were found on dry, rocky, wooded slopes and most will go dormant and disappear by summertime.

Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

Mountain Bellwort (Uvularia puberula)

Mountain Bellwort (Uvularia puberula) close-up

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera)

Plantain Leaved Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) with female flowers

Plantain Leaved Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) with male flowers

*By the way, if you think I may have misidentified any of these, feel free to suggest a correction, I'm not a botanist and I'm at the mercy of my ID books and the internet!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

More Nest Building: Bluebirds and Chickadees

With Spring apparently here to stay, these Bluebirds have taken up residence in our "upper" box. We have two boxes, this "upper" one sits more out in the open, at the top of a slope along the edge of the golf course fairway. 

Momma has been hard at work building her nest with the ample supply of pine needles from the White Pines lining the fairway.

It only took her about two days, as I'm writing this the pair appear to be finished building and have been occupying themselves with "activities" ;)        (meaning momma might be laying eggs soon)

In the 9 years since we moved here and put out bluebird boxes, this is only the 2nd time a pair of Bluebirds has successfully won possession of this box for the Spring nesting season. Usually the more aggressive Tree Swallows run them off and use the box in the Spring, then the Bluebirds move in after the Swallows have fledged and raise a brood in mid-summer. This is one mean papa Bluebird! After watching them be so easily dominated in years past, it's quite surprising to see such an aggressive Bluebird.

Our other nest box, the "lower" box, visible here in the background, is placed just on the edge of a grouping of trees. This box is typically used by either Bluebirds or Chickadees for the Spring nesting season, and House Wrens for the summer season. I was hopping down the driveway on my crutches the other day to check if this box had any signs of activity when I saw a little movement ahead...

Silly little birdy! This Chickadee was pulling off fibers of the piece of twine I use to secure the door to our leaf mulch bin.

I'm glad I had the camera with me, he was so cute wrestling fibers off this twine, and he's likely going to use them to line a nest with. I didn't linger because I didn't want to seem like a predator and make them uncomfortable. Later on in the day, I went back to peek in the box, and sure enough, it was filled 2/3 with moss, a sure sign of Chickadee use.

Have you ever seen a Chickadee with a Wilford Brimley mustache?