Gardening Help from Audubon Native Plants Database

In my reading I came across this link to Audubon’s Native Plant Database. Where, for the mere mention of your zip-code and an email address, you can find the native plants for your area that will help to bring birds to your yard.

Goldfinch on a Purple Coneflower
Goldfinch on a Purple Coneflower

Cool thing is, the image on that page was of a male goldfinch standing atop a purple coneflower, Echinacea.

We’re treated to this site every summer and fall season. As the purple flowers mature and the cones grow taller the finches visit more often. They dine on the seeds whenever they’re deemed ready. I really do get enjoyment seeing the brilliantly colored birds carefully standing on the spiky seed heads to get at their lunch.

We have a perfect view from the kitchen window to spy on them being so busy. If the window is open, you can hearing them chattering to one another!

Read more

Coltsfoot Flowers Next to the Creek

When it’s raining or even on a cloudy day you’ll miss out seeing the sunny yellow blossoms of Coltsfoot. It blooms in Eastern North America in early Spring each April.

Coltsfoot is one of my favorite Spring Ephemeral flowers because it’s such a bright happy color when it’s in bloom and everything else is still old winter drab.

It’s also fun to show people that it’s not a dandelion! Driving past the coltsfoot that bloom next to a country road most people probably do think it to be dandelions in flower. Neither would be noticed on the cloudy days because their flowers will be closed up tight.

Flowering Coltsfoot Near the Spillway
Flowering Coltsfoot Near the Spillway

During the first week of April coltsfoot was blooming in all its glory along the creek near the spillway on the Mill Race Trail at Little Buffalo State Park in Newport, PA. I had never seen such a display as I was treated to that day.

Read more

Early Bloomers At Millerstown Park

Took the puppy on her first trip to a local park. It was precious seeing her sniffing and tasting her first dandelions and violets!

Alas, no extra hand to carry a camera for snapping some flower photos. She’s too little yet and needs my full attention. The pictures would have been a complete blur.

I tried to remember the dozen flowering plants we saw. Here they are in the approximate order we found them as we walked from the parking lot and followed the Juniata River flowing south.

  • dandelion
  • violets, dark purple
  • purple dead nettle
  • Pennsylvania bittercress
  • spring beauty
  • lesser celandine
  • garlic mustard
  • bluebells, mertensia
  • chickweed
  • ground ivy
  • trout lily, a single plant
  • speedwell

The folks who manage the natural areas here could use a lesson or two in the value of preserving native plants. Much too much garlic mustard and lesser celandine was present in the places adjacent to the river where bluebells should be swaying in the breeze.

Over the past few years too many trees have been cut down disrupting the habitats of the native plants, not to mention the little critters who may have called this small stretch of nature home. Disappointing.

After our walk we took a little drive down River Road to see the Spring blooming trees. Beautiful flowering almond and cherry trees scattered among a large number of forsythia shrubs brought color to many spaces and accented the daffodils and narcissus that were blooming profusely.

Another of my favorite bloomers at this time was in all its glory, the redbud tree. It’s so beautiful to see its purple at the edge of the woodlands. Trees are still bare of leaves at this point.

This weekend would be a great time to investigate what’s blooming around your neighborhood. The colors of Spring are everywhere!

Millerstown Park is less than a mile south of the town square and the Route 322 exit for Millerstown, Pennsylvania.

Early April Bloomers at Little Buffalo State Park

Spring has come to South-central PA at last. Flowers will be picking up speed in opening their blooms this week with the forecasted warm weather.

In early April the spicebush is one of our first native plants to bloom.

Spicebushes full of bright lemony-yellow blooms getting ready to burst open. The first few flowers had already blossomed in the sunshine.

Many Spicebush Blooms Ready to Open
Many Spicebush Blooms Ready to Open

Only a handful of different plants were seen to be blooming or nearly so at Little Buffalo State Park on April 5, 2017, including:

Low-growing chickweed and spring beauty both have white flowers with five petals, but they look quite different from one another.

Chickweed and Spring Beauty Bloom Side-by-Side
Chickweed (left) and Spring Beauty (right) Bloom Side-by-Side

Chickweed is smaller with its elongated and deeply cleft petals, which make it appear to have 10 petals.

Spring beauty flower petals are much larger and their pink anthers at the stamen tips really stick out.

Blooming Storksbills at a Civil War Cemetery

Curiosity got the best of me during my first outing this Spring to our nearby Little Buffalo Pennsylvania State Park. I had gone there on a partly cloudy day that promised to have warmer temperatures than what we’ve been used to in search of bloodroot. It’s one of the first woodland flowers to bloom, but alas only a couple of these plants were seen flowering.

Rudolph Cemetery Newport Pennsylvania
Rudolph Cemetery Newport Pennsylvania

On many previous trips to the state park I had seen what looked to be a very old cemetery, so this time I pulled over to investigate it on foot. Passing by in a vehicle you could see the old headstones are very different than what is used these days. They had more character and style, right down to the style of lettering that was etched into the stone.

Monument to Civil War and WWII Fallen at Rudolph Cemetery
Monument to Civil War and WWII Fallen at Rudolph Cemetery

A monument to the old cemetery had an American flag and a GAR sign struck in the ground. The monument reads, “Rudolph Cemetery Dedicated to The Men Who Served” and goes on to list five local men who died during the American Civil War and one who died during World War II – and are buried at this cemetery – some with wives or other family members.

I walked around each grave to read the names and imagine what their lives were like so many years ago. Of course I was looking for the oldest grave there. It turns out that a couple were born in 1780-90 and perished around the time of the Civil War.

Storksbill Blooming at Baby Nellie's Graveside
Storksbill Blooming at Baby Nellie’s Graveside

In taking this somber walk around I was delighted to find a new blooming plant – new to me of course. I’d never seen the pink flowers of this low-growing plant before. Only one or two flowers were blooming on each of several plants growing in the soil on this hillside cemetery.

Read more

Spring Posies Appear At Last

The great Spring awakening is happening, finally. Seems that the last of Winter is now a memory and hopes for sunnier and warmer days have a glimmer of being fulfilled.

Little weeds are some of the first plants to flower in early Spring, like this Pennsylvania Bittercress. It’s been blooming for a while now!

PA Bittercress in the Garden
It’s past time to weed the PA Bittercress from the vegetable garden.

Spring starts on March 1st for the meteorologists of the world, so we’d call that Meteorological Spring. If you’re not a weather person Spring probably starts on March 20th for you.

For me, Spring starts when we see flocks of robins returning from the south to hop around the yards looking for worms. I always chase them out of the garden when I see them there! Other birds return North at the start of spring, like the Mute and Tundra Swans that you can hear at a distance, flying so high. Canada Geese can be louder with all their honking, and I always feel a rush of Wow! Spring is really here! when I see and hear them flying north.

Another way I feel Spring is here at last is when I see the first crocus blooming. Sure, daffodils have bloomed a couple of times in the past month, mostly in town at slightly warmer locales than on our mountain ridge. But, the crocus in our location just bloomed two days ago.

Crocus Blooming in the Garden
Crocus Blooming in the Garden

Those pesky squirrels may have dug up a few bulbs for a snack or the bulbs just petered out trying to live in our rocky-clay soil. Just a couple of crocus blooms this year and I missed the first one as its was hiding behind a garden stake. If I’d just fertilize them, they might last longer!

Other posies popping out include the red maple tree flowers, purple dead nettle, Pennsylvania Bittercress, hellebores, coltsfoot, and of course forsythia bushes.

Cut-leaved Toothwort is just now appearing from under the brown oak leaves on the forest floor. Its blossoms in the bud stage will open into pretty four-petal blooms.

Early Skunk Cabbage Doesn’t Disappoint

Saw a fly buzz around the other day, so I went looking for a patch of stinkin’ Skunk Cabbage. Actually, it was February 28th, after some record-breaking warm weather for a couple of days here in Central Pennsylvania, on Feb 23 and 24. (Photos taken Feb 28, 2017).

It was probably the earliest in a year that I’ve seen their mottled spathes sticking out among the weeds.

Skunk cabbage spathes emerge from the ground among last year’s weed stems, berry canes and brown oak leaves.

Skunk Cabbage Spathes Hiding
Skunk cabbage hiding among the leaves and weeds near a stream.

They’re easy to miss in the woods as they hide under the brown oak leaves. You may have to get right up on them to discover them, so watch where you place your feet!

Cryptic Skunk Cabbage in the Woods
Cryptic Skunk Cabbage in the Woods

Move aside a few leaves and you’ll see the spathes have fully developed flowers on the spherical spadix inside.

Skunk Cabbage Revealed Under Leaf Litter
Moving a few leaves to the side reveals Skunk Cabbage plants
In this pair of skunk cabbages the leaves are just pointing up out of the ground.

Skunk cabbages likes to grow near water so much you can find it them in the middle of a creek. It’s a mountain stream where I spotted several of those yellow-green and maroon protective flower hoods growing right in the flow of water. Plenty others were in the flat areas adjacent to the stream.

At least six other skunk cabbages are hiding adjacent to this stream. Can you find them all? (Click on any image to see a larger view.)

Streamside Skunk Cabbage
Half a dozen or more skunk cabbage plants are in this stream or next to it.

Here, the mountain stream winds into a culvert that passes under the country road.

Mountain Stream Winds Down to the Country Road
A mountain stream winds into a culvert that passes under the country road.

The mottled spathes protect the flowers from rain and snow and extremely low temperatures while keeping them hidden from casual passersby.

Flowers grow in colonial fashion upon a sphere inside the spathe, which is called a spadix. The spadix and flowers are pastel, creamy white to yellow.

Skunk Cabbage Flowers on Spherical Spadix
Close up view of several flowers inside the protective hood of a skunk cabbage plant.

Flies are known to pollinate Skunk Cabbage, and I did see a single fly on this day. Refer to Peterson’s field guide, Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America, for more details on this interesting earliest of Spring flowers. Or should I say, Winter Flowers?!

If you’re out and about scouting out your own patch of Skunk Cabbage, take caution. It’s known that black bears like to eat the stuff. They won’t appear for a little while since it’s so cold, but once the leaves appear keep your eyes and ears tuned. If you’re lucky enough to see a bear, make some noise to let them know you’re there. Whatever you do, don’t run!

Check out my other posts about Skunk Cabbage for some great pics!