Coltsfoot Blooms and Dandelion Salad

Coltsfolt was in full bloom in the sun yesterday, yet hardly noticeable the previous few cloudy days. The first I saw it blooming this year was on 15 April.

Spring continues to bring out the posies. In the flower beds the crocus blooms are dying back and the anemones and hyacinths are taking their turns blooming. Tulips are still making leaves and starting to push up their flowers. Forsythia buds grew out last week to first blossom on 14 April.

Red-spotted newts were seen floating around in the pond, too!

Another plant showing the elevation effect on bloom time is a Star Magnolia on our ridge. It had half-opened three or four blossoms on 15 April, while another one down in the valley was in full bloom on the same day.

Now that we’re almost a third of the way into Spring, the dandelions are out. This past weekend the first dandelion flower was picked. Once the dandelions show their happy faces, it’s notable for kicking off the lawn care season. Some people can’t stand to see the bright yellow flowers “messing up” their yards. We don’t mind them and prefer to leave things in more of a natural state.

Grass is starting to get long enough to cut in some areas and the downed wood from winter and windy spring weather has to be picked up. Gardening activities can resume when the weather allows, but the early spring salads have already been enjoyed. Including dandelion!

Ham and dandelion dinners are common around these parts in the week or two just before Easter. The idea is to pick the leaves before the blossoms emerge because then they are too bitter to enjoy. A fellow who was involved with making ham-n-dandelion dinner for 300 people admitted that his group buys the dandelion commercially. I’m sure there are a lot of country people and Amish that pick their own dandelion leaves.

Dandelion salad is a leafy salad with a hot dressing. Hot bacon dressing gives a nice flavor and wilts the greens just enough to soften them a little…a real Spring time treat.

Snowdrops and Bittercress Flowers Bloom First

The warm winds that have blown our way for the last few days have been awakening. Geese flocked by overhead, bird activity in general is picking up, and chipmunks have been seen. I’m not sure if the juncos have flown away yet, but the red-winged blackbirds are back. Record high temperatures were tied in several local areas yesterday. It was in the mid-70s, well above normal. Now, it’s one day away from the calendar start of Spring and flowers have started blooming.

Although wildeherb concentrates on the wild herbs or plants that you might find blooming on a hike in the woods or other natural area, sometimes garden variety plants are included. It’s only natural to relate what we find out in nature to what’s going on in the flower beds or vegetable garden.

Our first-blooming plant was a bulb, the snowdrop. The first snowdrop was spotted blooming on March 12th and it has bloomed for a week now. These are hearty little flowers that you can sometimes see blooming in the snow. Once their blossoms are seen, the thawing of Spring can be felt.

Snowdrop blooming among the heritage flower rosettes.
Snowdrop blooming among the heritage flower rosettes. Photo taken 19Mar2011.

The snowdrop bulbs were planted in a bed where the heritage flower grows. You can see the crumpled-looking, velvety leaves of the first year rosettes that have overwintered. They will sprout long stalks with beautiful magneta flowers in May-June.

Snowdrop flower dangles.
Snowdrop flowers dangle. Photo taken 19Mar2011.

The snowdrop flower opens up its three petals on sunny days. On cloudy days the petals remain dangling. The linear leaves are broad compared to the shorter, variegated ones of the crocus bulbs that are just starting to develop blossoms underneath the snow drop flower above.

Pennsylvania bittercress was first spotted blooming yesterday, 18Mar2011. Its miniscule flowers are quite low to the ground.

PA Bittercress blooming between the flagstones along a walkway.
PA Bittercress blooming between the flagstones along a walkway. Photo taken 19Mar2011.

In our little micro-climate the first blooming garden plant is the snowdrop and the first natural plant to bloom is the Pennsylvania bittercress. With respect to first-blooming times, the plant pictured here most likely had an advantage living among the warm flagstones and sand. No bittercress plants were found blooming in the yard away from the heat of the rocks next to the house.

Photo taken 19Mar2011.

 

Swans and Geese Fly As Tulips Peek Out

The weeping willows are showing a bit brighter yellow in their stems and the birds are moving. Snow is melting and spring is surely on its way!

The other day I heard a mixed flock of geese flying low. It was early in the morning and too cloudy to see them, but I heard the calls of Tundra Swan and of geese, perhaps the Snow Goose. I had stepped out to take a picture of the tulips that have been silently pushing out of the ground.

Tulips emerging from the ground.
Tulip tips poking out of the ground. Photo taken 27Feb2011.

Granted, the tulips are right next to the house so they’re getting a fast start, but it still brought out a couple smiles to see something green for a change.

Oh yeah, if you want to brush up on your bird calls, visit the Patuxent Bird ID Infocenter.

Catnip Delights Feline on a Sunny Day

On a warm and sunny day I caught this little kitty enjoying a roll on the flagstone. She had been nibbling the catnip that you can see in the foreground.

Catnip entertains kitty.
Catnip keeps this feline entertained on a sunny day. Photo taken 12Nov2010.

The perennial roots will keep catnip here for a long time. New sprouts will pop up in the adjacent areas as old sticks die back. Next Spring new growth will arise near the old growth. Some of the stems can be quite woody, especially near the base.

We like having catnip planted near the house. I don’t know if it acts to deter insects, but it does keep the felines close by. We really appreciate knowing that we won’t be bothered by mice or other rodents with our cat hunters nearby.

Sweet Everlasting Blooms For Weeks

Flowers of pearly everlasting Anaphalis margar...
Image via Wikipedia

Walking around a corn field that will be harvested in a couple weeks surely tells us it’s autumn. The corn is drying up, but still quite a lot of green leaves on the upper half of the tall stalks. The leaves crunch under our feet and the birds are really active. Starlings are starting to flock together. Earlier this week we probably saw the hummingbirds for the last time this year as they visited the butterfly bush near the house.

There aren’t very many flowers drawing our attention these days as the trees are really showing their fall colors now. The maple trees are in full color up on the ridge, but down in the city the color change hasn’t begun in earnest.

We did see a lone flowering plant with white flower heads in clusters. The flowers were a bit odd in that they looked kind of like a cotton swab. There are no petals to speak of so the flower parts are said to be indistinguishable.

The whole plant seems to have a covering of cottony growth, but that is accentuated in the globular flower heads. The long linear leaves have white wooly undersides. The leaves are alternate and entire and do not clasp the stem.

Sweet Everlasting, also called Catfoot or Rabbit Tobacco, is botanically known as Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium, a member of the Aster family, Asterideae. The group of related Gnaphaliums may be called Cudweeds. By the way the derivation of the genus name, Gnaphalium, comes from a Greek term meaning ‘tuft of wool.’

Branched groups of flower heads are at the top of a single cottony main stem that appears to be covered with white wool or cotton. Flowers are white with tinges of yellow mostly appearing when the flowers go to seed.

Branching flower heads of Sweet Everlasting.
Branching flower heads of Sweet Everlasting. Photo taken 6 September 2010.

Sweet everlasting has a long bloom period, perhaps a few weeks during July through October. It’s fragrant, too. Smelling sweet and kind of like maple syrup.  The miniscule flowers are surrounded by white scaly bracts.

White cottony flower heads of Sweet Everlasting.
White cottony flower heads of Sweet Everlasting. Photo taken 6 September 2010.

From above the alternate and linear nature of the leaves is obvious.

Looking down on the 2 ft. tall Sweet Everlasting.
Looking down on the 2 ft. tall Sweet Everlasting. Photo taken 6 September 2010.
Sweet everlasting flowers gone to seed.
Sweet everlasting flowers gone to seed. Photo taken 10 October 2010.

A month later most of the Sweet Everlasting flowers have gone to seed. The central and upper leaf clusters of flower heads still have their seeds intact. The other flower heads have opened up to release their seeds. The opened flower bracts look like dried flowers. This characteristic is shared with a related flower called Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea, which is very showy and often used in dried flower arrangements.

Caterpillars Eat Blueberry Leaves: Hairy, Yellow-Orange Stripes on Black

Checking the fruit trees out back one day at the beginning of August, I saw two groups of yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars. There were a dozen or more caterpillars all huddled at the ends of two empty branches of a blueberry bush. They must have eaten the blueberry leaves with abandon as all the leaves were gone on the stems that the squishy critters were found. None of the other four blueberry plants had any of these caterpillars.

Funny thing is I found them by spotting their poop. Those little grenades tend to collect under caterpillar feeding areas and give away the hungry camoflaged mouths.

Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.
Caterpillar scat collecting on bark used as mulch for blueberry bushes. Photos taken 3 August 2010.

Once you see the scat you can more easily spot the critters who deposited it. Caterpillars that have found the right food source will stay put and continue to feed, so their scat is usually directly below where they’ve been feeding. It’s a little surprising that I didn’t see the critters first, because they were all huddled together at the end of the branches.

Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.
Group of hairy yellow-orange and black-striped caterpillars at the end of a blueberry branch.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they striped of leaves.

Large grouping of caterpillars huddled on one stem near other stems that they stripped of leaves.
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?
Prolegs and pedipalps, long hairs and yellow stripes. Anyone know who I am?

The blueberry shrubs and other fruit trees were checked often in the following weeks, but we haven’t seen this type of caterpillar again. I wonder what type of butterfly they would have morphed into. It’s really too bad they chose to eat from that blueberry bush!

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Echinacea the Purple Coneflower Perennial

Echinacea, otherwise known as Purple Coneflower, is native to the prairies of North America. We haven’t seen it in the wild up here in Pennsylvania, but we know it as a garden flower.

Purple Coneflower, a perennial garden favorite.
Purple Coneflower, a perennial garden favorite. Photo taken 7 July 2010.

Purple coneflower is a perennial that can be invasive in the garden or flower beds as the plentiful seeds of this composite family member will sprout the following year into many small plants. To keep flower beds tidy most of the volunteers will need to be pulled up. Successive years brings more growth as the plants get larger and larger. Older plants have more blossoms and they’re taller with flowering stalks up to five feet tall.

Purple coneflowers consist of light pink to deeper pink to lavender ray flowers and dark orange disc flowers. Some flower heads have petals that are distinctly swept back, while others mature to that position after having started out with a more horizontal look.

The cone of disc flowers starts out as a flat disc and as the outer disc flowers mature they grow in size which has the effect of pushing up the center of the disc, making the obligatory cone shape. When all the disc flowers have bloomed, the central disc truly is a cone-shaped coneflower. We let the cones overwinter as they serve as a food source for goldfinches, cardinals and tufted titmice.

Two species of Echinacea are common. Echinacea purpurea, known as Purple Coneflower, and Echinacea pallida, the Pale Purple Coneflower. The two echinaceas are very similar, but they can be differentiated by their lower leaves. E. purpurea has toothed, long-stalked leaves, whereas E. pallida has parallel-veined leaves that are toothless.

Toothed leaves of Echinacea purpurea.
Toothed leaves of Echinacea purpurea. Photo taken 7 July 2010.
Young composite flower head of Echinacea purpurea.
Young composite flower head of Echinacea purpurea. Photo taken 8 June 2010.

Bracts, stems and leaves are all rough to the touch because of the presence of small stiff hairs.

Swept back petals of Purple Coneflower with its orange disc flowers.
Swept back petals of Purple Coneflower with its orange disc flowers. Photo taken 30 June 2010.

Supposedly the Pale Purple Coneflower has lighter petals that are more pink than the darker Purple Coneflower’s reddish-purple petals. I wouldn’t use the petal color as a way to identify the species though. Judging by the progeny of one Purple Coneflower plant over several years, there is a lot of variation in the color of petals.

Pink petals of a young Echinacea purpurea flower.
Pink petals of a young Echinacea purpurea flower. Photo taken 30 June 2010.

Different color varieties of the Purple Coneflower are available for your garden at local and online retailers. You shouldn’t have to look hard to find a mix of pink, purple, white and yellow blooms! A true favorite – and the birds and bees love it too.

Japanese Beetles Get the Soap

Group of Japanese beetles eating Rubus leaves
Image via Wikipedia

As of yesterday there are 10 fewer Japanese Beetles in this world. I really don’t like killing living things, but these little buggers just had to go. How dare they munch on the cherry leaves, flowers of Echinacea and basil leaves that we want for our own?

How did they meet their end? Soapy water did the trick!

No spraying of pesticides needed.

Just take a small bucket, add a drop of liquid soap and a little water. Tap the buggers into the drink and they won’t be contributing to the next generation of beetle pests.

A plastic milk or water jug makes a great soapy water bug catcher. Cut away the top and front half of the jug leaving the handle intact and about half of the jug that will contain the soapy water.

Every day for the next couple weeks we’ll walk around the gardens removing these beetle pests. We don’t worry that we’ll decimate the beetle population or make them go extinct, because we see plenty of the beetles on tree leaves in the adjacent forest. However, we may have fewer beetles laying their eggs in the lawn that would make up next year’s grubs.

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