Monday, March 21, 2016

Beginning Spring clean up

Today, the weather was sunny, yet still a little on the cool side. Which, is perfect for working in the yard. It's time to start prepping my garden for planting. In the Fall, I usually make a large brush pile that I place on top of my garden. I put it there for extra shelter for the birds during the Winter. But, now it's about time to cut it up, and stack it for next Winter's kindling, and firewood. I have always enjoyed manual labor, but having a small electric chainsaw sure does help. For the life of me, I can never start anything that requires a gas/oil mix. I worked for a few hours, until a male sparrow flew in front of me, dived down into the remaining pile, and chattered at me. I guess his room is paid up for another day or two. So, I picked up my tools and quit for the day.
Once, everything was in order, I did a walk around the yard to see what surprises I could find. Here is what I found today.

Brush pile that needs to be cut and stacked.

Rhubarb! I can't wait to make Strawberry Rhubarb pie!

A Johnny Jump Up is coming back.

Chionodoxa, Glory of the Snow

Striped Squill, Puschkinia scilloides libanotic. These have naturalized throughout my yard. It's a great first flower for those early bird pollinators.

Opened blossoms of Striped Squill.

Old stump that I had picked off a curb years ago, has finally succumbed to nature.

This lilac bud looked like a little tree frog to me. Tell me you can't see it smile emoticon

Day lilies coming up.

Lungwort starting to grow.

I love Scilla (Siberian Squill). Once it takes hold, it will quickly spread out from the garden and into your lawn. Some old gardens by us look like a blue river pops up in their yards each Spring. The flowers are usually done about the same time that the yard needs mowing for the first time each year.

Scilla's flowers point downwards

I picked this one, and turned it over so you could see it.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Sycamore Tree

One of the most impressive trees in any neighborhood is the American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). It grows an average of 100 feet tall, and has smooth, whitish, peeling bark. I generally only use common names, but there is a good reason that I have included it's Latin name. It's because a Sycamore may not be a Sycamore. The word 'Sycamore' can be used for the type of fig tree, like the one Zaccheus climbed in Jericho. In Christian symbolism, the Sycamore represents having a clearer view of Jesus. 
There is also a Sycamore Maple that shares some similar characteristics, such as height, shape, and bark, but yet, is a totally different tree.
Sycamore trees have also been referred to as Ghost trees (because of their bark), American Plane Tree, and Buttonwood.
In 1792, at 68 Wall Street in New York City, the terms that were developed for the New York Stock Exchange were signed under a Sycamore tree, and it was called 'The Buttonwood Agreement'
One of my favorite depictions of a Sycamore is of a Plane Tree in the London garden at the home of Lucy and Dr. Manette in 'The Tale of Two Cities'

American Sycamore a block away from my house. Notice how on the top branches, it looks like there are Christmas ornaments hanging from them. Those are seed pods.

Gray to whitish, peeling and flaking bark.

Seed pods picked up off the ground from under the tree.

This image is from 'Journey Around the Globe'. I couldn't find the picture I had taken of this tree. This tree is in Jericho. The plaque says it is over 2000 years old, and the one Zaccheus climbed. Is it? I don't know. Could it be an offspring of that tree? Maybe.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Nothing like a walk in the woods for an attitude adjustment :)

I have 4 beautiful granddaughters. On FB, I only refer to them as #1,2,3&4. Yesterday, it was #2's 8th birthday. She especially loves that extra attention, much to the annoyance of her older sister. Being the oldest of 5 myself, I totally get it. I decided that the evenings events would go smoother if I removed #1 from that waiting time before dinner. So, I took her over to Churchill Woods Forest Preserve. As soon as she found that rabbit skull, her whole demeanor changed to one of excitement!
It's still very early Spring, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot to see!

We had barely stepped into the woods when her young eye spotted this rabbit skull.

Mosses are starting to green up and sprout sporangia that contain the spores that grow new moss.

More sporangia, but these are a beautiful red.


Mushrooms growing on a tree.

Fungus and lichens

Possibly the beginning of Lion's Mane mushroom

The smooth, white bark of the Sycamore tree trunk

Close up of the Sycamore

Love how these mushrooms are fringed

We spotted 5 deer in this yard that backs up to the Forest Preserve

Evidence of the resident beaver

Signs of Spring

Spring like weather teases us right now. We enjoy the warmer temps, but a quick glance around and we still see the barren landscape of winter. This is when it helps to put on our 'small eyes'. If you look close enough, you will begin to see the awakening.  
Today, I was pleased to discover that a pussy willow that I hadn't gotten around to planting last Fall has survived the Winter in its' pot. Their cracked buds remind me of old maid popcorn kernels. I also found that the Forsythia buds are getting close to opening as well. 
Even insects are starting to make themselves known. A small cloud of gnats had hatched and were flying close to the moist ground.
Later in the day, my husband and I went over to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, and took a little walk around the Children's Garden. Absolutely delightful! The sweet aroma of Witch Hazel wafted through the air. There is a wonderful boardwalk that takes you high up into the trees. It's surrounded by stately green pines that were so inviting after the dull gray brown of Winter. Even the parking lot was lined with Junipers heavily laden with dusty blue berries. 
However, one of the things that I do like about this time without leaves, is that you can pay more attention to the structure of a tree, and some really interesting types of bark.

Pussy Willow bud

Forsythia buds

Pachysandra buds

Witch Hazel blossoms

Golden Ghost Japanese Red Pine

Children's Garden

Basket filled with nature to be arranged in picture frames.

Chinese Juniper

Peking Lilac 'China Snow' has beautiful peeling bark.

Smooth gray bark of a Beech tree with its' weeping branches.

Scary bug to cute bug

My #4 granddaughter came to me all upset and concerned about a 'scary' bug she saw in the living room bay window. I reminded her that we are not allowed to be afraid of bugs at Meema's house. I had her show me the bug, and discovered it was an expired Stinkbug. I put in on white paper, and got out the photographer loupe I bought a couple of months ago, and had her look at it that way. Soon enough, exclamations of 'it's so cute!', passed from her lips. I gave her a pencil and had her draw what she saw. Not too bad for a 3 year old.


Using the photo loupe to look at the Stinkbug

Drawing of a Stinkbug

Woodpecker nest

One of the best things my gkids can ask me is, 'Can we go for a walk on the path?' Yesterday the 3 year old asked me that. With the weather being unseasonably warm (not complaining) we headed up the steps from my backyard up to the path. We hadn't even left the boundary of my backyard when we came upon a new find! Oh, how many times have I debated on cutting down that 6' tall tree stump! An eyesore for sure, but I left it...just in case. As a gardener, and a naturalist, I struggle with wanting to keep my garden visually appealing, and appealing to wildlife. After many years of looking at that dead tree, I'm rewarded. It looks as if it has finally become suitable for a Downy Woodpecker nest! I will keep my eye on it and give you updates as we approach breeding season. Even a dead tree can be very important.

Male Downy Woodpecker

Freshly excavated cavity nest

Inside the nest

Investigating Moss

Yesterday my granddaughter and I found some moss growing in the yard. She was quite intrigued by it, so I pulled up a bit, and brought it in the house for further study. She looked at in under different powers of magnification. She liked how soft it was, and how it looked like a mini forest. She also observed how the roots (called rhizoids) are not long, and do not go deep into the ground. Moss grow in mounds, or mats. I also had her take note of where it was growing: a damp, shady place. Mosses don't produce flowers, but during growing season, it will send up tiny stalks with a capsule on top that contain spores which will be released, and spread by the wind, or water to create new patches of moss.

Investigating a mat of moss.

Under the bigger microscope.

Rhizoids are moss roots. They are as thin as a strand of hair.

We found 2 different kinds of moss in the yard.

Moss between paving stones.

Some moss grows in mounds, while others are more mat-like.
This moss has sent up the slender stalks with the capsules, called sporangia, on top which contain the spores.