Maple Flowers Make the Hills Red

Our trees have been bare of leaves for months, but Spring is slowing bringing them awake. Tiny green and yellow buds are swelling as the juices from deep in the roots rush up to the branches.

Maple syrup time is at an end when the leaf buds break open. This week, the third week in April for 2014, has ushered in the end of collecting this sweet nectar.

We can see the maple trees awakening from far away and close up. From a distance the hills have a cast of red to them. Up close the blossoms show their brilliant colors of red and yellow.

Mountain ridges are turning red with the opening of maple flowers.

Mountain ridges are turning red with the opening of maple flowers.


Looking up through the trees one can see the open flowers.

Looking up through the trees one can see the open flowers.


Stems of the maple tree look red.

Stems of the maple tree look red.

Flowers of maple trees open up before the leaves appear.

Closeup we can see that the flowers of maple trees open up before the leaves appear.

Got pollen? Some of your sneezes and running noses may be due to these early awakening maple trees. Maple trees are some of the first trees to flower and when they do it en masse the pollen numbers in the air skyrocket.

Pretty Maple Flowers in Bloom

Pretty Maple Flowers in Bloom

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Coltsfolt Blossoms Smile in the Sunshine

Look in the sunshine for the golden dandelion-like flowers of Coltsfoot. They’ll be smiling back at you if they’re in the sun.

Coltsfoot will bloom for another week or so in South Central Pennsylvania. You can see it along country roads or in places where there hasn’t been too much disturbance – you know – off the beaten path.

First Blooms of Coltsfoot

First Blooms of Coltsfoot

The first day we saw coltsfoot blooming this year was on April 9th. Warmer and sunnier days brought out more blossoms, but as Spring would have it Continue reading

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Gifford Pinchot Promises Posies

The first weekend in April 2014 wasn’t the right time to see spring flowers at Gifford Pinchot State Park near York, Pennsylvania.

By this date on the calendar in some years the early Spring ephemerals will be up and shining their little faces at us, but not so this year. It was a way cold winter and Spring is off to a slow start.

The terrain is rugged in some places as these large boulders dot the hilly woodland landscape.

Rocky terrain near lake

Rocky terrain near lake

It’s a beautiful scene to take a woodland trail walk around the lake regardless of the flower blooming situation.

This upcoming weekend should be a wonderful time to see the Spring woodland flowers like hepatica, blue bells, trillium or marsh marigolds at Gifford Pinchot State Park. Try the Alpine, Midland and Fern Trails and don’t forget your camera!

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Korean Dogwood in the Wrong Place Twice

On a trail walk I came upon a landscape plant that was purposefully planted in the forest. Who planted this Korean Dogwood, Cornus kousa, in our nearby State Park? What were they thinking?!

Obviously, no one was thinking about the appropriateness of planting an exotic tree on a nature trail here in south-central Pennsylvania. We’re supposed to be protecting our natural heritage in places like State Parks, aren’t we? Why not show off our native plants instead of a foreign one?

Walking the Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park yesterday we were a week or so early for seeing the woodland spring flowers that come up in abundance there. Continue reading

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April First Starts the Spring Ephemeral Hunt

Every year around this time we like to go for woods walks looking for the earliest Spring flowers. The Spring Ephemeral flowers are a bunch of beautiful early Spring flowers that one can see in the Eastern forests of the United States. Early in the Spring season means before the trees leaf out and not on a certain calendar date.

This year seems behind last year by about a week judging by a set of early crocuses that were planted a few years ago. In 2013 they were in full bloom on 27 March and in 2014 the first individuals of the set were blooming yesterday.

thin-petaled early crocuses

thin-petaled early crocuses

Here in South-Central Pennsylvania the Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park is a convenient place to find early spring wild flowers. It’s practically adjacent to the parking lot and a short 1/2 mile trail. Continue reading

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Slow Start to Spring After a Wild Winter

Here in the Northeastern United States we are coming out of a brutal winter. Spring can’t come fast enough for most of us who are tired of shoveling snow and wearing so many clothes.

We’re promised another snowfall in a day’s time so it looks like we’ll ease into Spring instead of jumping right into warmer weather. It’s almost April so any snow that falls should be light in quantity. The farmer’s wife planted onions and garlic this week so the next snow we get can be called an onion snow.

The sights of robins in the front yard and swans flying due north are welcome sights indeed! Last week saw a number of Spring sightings. Skunks can be seen on the road or smelled from afar as they start moving around looking for mates. Seagulls have lighted upon the Susquehanna River and Juniata River. They seem to avoid the choppy wide-open areas and instead fly upstream and float back down to calmer pool areas. Canada geese made their way north in some really huge V-formations. Sometimes they fly so high that you can hear them long before you can see them as they migrate back home.

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Velvetleaf Seeds Ripen in Fall

Come September the Velvet Leaf greenery is withered to strands, but the seed pods remain. The seed pods are still erect, but they’ve turned from the summertime green to a dark brown color.

The small barbs or spines on the outside of the seedpods helps to disperse the seed by the way of animal traffic and perhaps windy weather. (Photos taken 17Oct2013. Click on images for larger view.)

velvet leaf weed

Velvet Leaf found growing next to ragweed at the edge of cornfield.

spiny seed pods

Spiny and jagged edges give a sticky feel to the seed pods.

seeds inside pods

The lightweight seed pods contain small seeds.

Seeds are nutritive food for even the smallest of creatures. Each seed pod that was investigated had at least one inhabitant, like this small beetle that fell out when the pod was tapped on my hand.

beetle in seedpod

Was this small beetle inside a seedpod for food or shelter?

The seed pods open up at one end to release their seeds. They also break into individual pockets that are likely carried on the wind or animal coats for seed dispersal.

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Velvetleaf Makes a Garden Appearance

Another case of mistaken identity teaches us about Velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti, a foreign invader from Asia and a member of the Mallow Family.

Early on in this gardening season there were several of what looked to be sunflowers growing where none were planted. Having seen volunteer sunflowers before around this garden we decided to just let them keep growing. It made sense for there’s a bird feeder nearby that is usually filled with sunflower seed and visited by many feathered friends.

As the growing season continued it became evident that even though the “sunflowers” grew quickly and had huge heart-shaped leaves, something wasn’t right about them. The plants were soft to the touch! Now, real sunflowers don’t feel soft at all; they’re more stiff or rough to the touch.

One of these plants was allowed to grow on where it started even though it was in the vegetable garden. We were careful to keep our eyes on it as it developed so we could get rid of it before the seeds were allowed to be dispersed.

Velvetleaf is a fast grower and in good soil will attain a height of ten feet or more. The heart-shaped leaves are large and on a tall plant get can a foot across. The sheer size of the plant made us think it would be a sunflower. So wrong.

Ten-foot tall velvet leaf.

Ten-foot tall velvet leaf in the garden next to Italian tomato plants.

Simple five-petal flowers are yellow-orange and they appear in the leaf axils of velvet leaf. They are about an inch in diameter. Sunflower blossoms are huge in comparison and composite at that.

Simple flowers are borne in the leaf axils of velvet leaf.

Simple flowers are borne in the leaf axils of velvet leaf.

Five yellow-orange petals in Velvet Leaf flowers.

Five yellow-orange petals in Velvet Leaf flowers.

Seed heads of velvet leaf are round and spiky-looking, not at all like the disc of seeds in a sunflower. When mature the seed heads turn dark brown to black before they release their seeds.

Spiky seed head of Velvet Leaf

Spiky seed head of Velvet Leaf

At one time it was thought that Velvetleaf could be used as a source of fiber to make ropes, but that idea didn’t catch on. Even though the seeds are edible and provide oil when pressed, velvetleaf is mostly regarded as a weed in crop fields.

When we see it appear on our land again – after all it’s an annual and the seeds had to come from somewhere – it will be pulled like a weed and tossed onto the compost heap. An identifying feature is that this weed has differently shaped cotyledons – one round and one heart-shaped cotyledon – so it can be recognized very early in the growing season.

There is one useful thing to keep in mind about Velvetleaf once you know what it looks like. The whole plant is soft and velvety to the touch, so those big soft leaves can be used as survival toilet paper. ;) Good to know!

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