Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Plants need sleep, too!

Recently in Finland, and Austria scientists used laser sensors on Silver Birch trees to record branch movements. They found that at night tree branches droop...the trees go to sleep.  
A lot of flowers will also be open during the day, and close at night.

Peony 'Moon Rise' during the day. This is always my first peony to bloom each Spring.

Same peony as above, but at dusk.

Cleavers vs Sweet Woodruff

I'm having a little fun with #4 and a weed call Cleavers (Galium aparine). Also known as Goosegrass, Sticky Weed, Catchweed, Sticky Willow (Sticky Willy), amongst a few others. This weed can grow up to 3' tall. The stem and leaves have very tiny hooks that can make them stick to many things, but are much easier to remove from your clothes than burs.
They resemble the garden ground cover called Sweet Woodruff, which I do have growing in a couple of spots.

She later got a huge kick out of sticking it onto Papa's shirt tail. 'It works, Meema!'

Minuscule flowers of Cleavers. Notice the tiny, hair-like hooks on the leaves.

Squarish stem of Cleavers.

Cleavers on the left, Sweet Woodruff on the right. They are very similar.

Larger flowers of Sweet Woodruff.

Smoother leaves, and tighter growing habit of Sweet Woodruff.

Rockets, and more Rockets!

Rockets, and more Rockets! Some invasive species make you go crazy, while others can charm you with their beauty. Dame's Rocket is currently in bloom. Colors of nearly white, to pinks, to purples can brighten up fields, and woodlands. I would always look forward to seeing this biennial make its' annual May appearance in a field near a forest preserve on 31st St. near Western Springs. I had no idea that they were crowding out a lot of natives. Even well meaning people putting in prairies have put this in the mix for their beauty, only to later discover their 'darker' side, and would have to begin to eradicate them. 
It's easy to understand why we like them. They are beautiful, colorful, tall, and remind us of their doppelgänger in our gardens: Phlox. But, they are not nearly as well behaved. It's easy to confuse Dame's Rocket with Phlox, and even Wild Phlox. Here is a very simple way to figure out what you are looking at: Phlox, has 5 letters...and 5 Petals.
Dame, has 4 letters...and 4 Petals.
Dame's Rocket blooms in May with that other bothersome plant, Garlic Mustard. Phlox, and Wild Phlox will bloom later in the summer.
Another plant with 'Rocket' in its' name also blooming right now is Yellow Rocket. Both Dame's Rocket, and Yellow Rocket are in the Mustard family!

Patch of Dame's Rocket at Churchill Woods Forest Preserve.

Notice the 4 Petals.

A darker purple one getting ready to unfold its' bud to bloom.

Dame's Rocket blossoms.

That's me walking through a field of Dame's Rocket along a trail at Fabian Forest Preserve in Batavia, IL.

Yellow Rocket

Yellow Rocket blossoms.

Evergreens "Candling"

This is the time of year when a lot of evergreens begin to show new growth. I see it everywhere I go. It's easy to spot. The new growth on the plant is a lighter color. The term for this is 'candle' or 'candling'. Do you have an evergreen candling in your yard? I would love to see a picture of it!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Garlic Mustard

When I was a new gardener, (some 30 years ago) I remember looking over at my neighbor's wooded lot and loving all of the pretty white flowers that were blooming in her yard in May. Little did I know that I would be spending the rest of my life pulling that 'pretty white flower'. As it turns out, that flower was the non-native, invasive Garlic Mustard.  
Like a lot of introduced plants, insects, and animals, the intent was never to harm. The people bringing them over had good intentions, or it was an accident. In the case of garlic mustard, it was brought over by early settlers that used it as a flavoring, a disinfectant, and other medicinal uses. It is also a good source of vitamins A and C.
The problem with some introduced plant species is that they seldom have something else in nature that keeps them in check in their adopted home. Where in its' native range, it has close to 70 insects that depend on it, practically nothing feeds on it here. It also produces chemicals in its' roots (allelochemicals) that can inhibit growth of native plants.
Garlic Mustard is a biennial. It's a short lived plant that spends its first year growing leaves, and will be close to the ground. The 2nd year it will send up a stalk that will produce flowers that will very quickly go to seed. It's important to try and pull it either right before, or during bloom. I always crave Italian food after a day of pulling Garlic Mustard. There is a reason it has that name.

1st year leaves

A patch of Garlic Mustard in bloom.

Pretty, white flowers are suspended high above the ground. You can see how quickly seeds are formed in this picture. The seeds are long, and skinny (on the bottom between the 2 flowers).

Thursday, May 12, 2016

American Toad Eggs/Tadpoles Updates

For those of you interested in following the progress of the American Toad eggs:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 2: Notice how in one day, they went from being round, to oblong. I wouldn't be surprised if we see movement by tomorrow.

Day 3: A lot of them have hatched!

Day 3, evening: Some have started swimming around. This is standard sized aquarium gravel. The tadpoles are just shy of 1/4".

Inevitably, when I bring in plastic plants that have the toad eggs on them, fish eggs get brought in, too. I just noticed a couple of dozen baby fish (fry). The are so very tiny, and virtually clear. You can just make out their eyes, and spine. They will also grow quickly.  They look like little 'Y's.

There are 4 in this picture. Can you see them? They are not even 1/2 the size of the tadpoles.

Monday, May 9, 2016

American Toad eggs

It's tadpole season at my house! Yesterday, I saw 2 American Toads mating in my pond. So, this morning I went out to check on the situation, and sure enough there were eggs! Every year I gently scoop as many as I can out of the pond. I have a lot of fish in there that would just view them as Skittles.
Toads can lay between 4000-8000 eggs. Why so many? Most do not survive. They either get eaten by fish...or each other. When tadpoles are tiny, they will eat the algae in the pond. When they get a little larger, they will eat little insects, and even become cannibalistic. Yes, I've witnessed it many times. I have to put rocks in the tank that toadlets can climb up on to for protection because once they start to get limbs, that's something tadpoles can easily grab on to. Once they start climbing, I release them back into my garden. Out of the 1000s of eggs that have hatched in my tank over the years, the highest number of toadlets that were released in a season was 69. And, even their chances of surviving to adulthood is not that great. So, there are no worries that we will soon be taken over by a plague of toads.
The main reason I do this, is so my grandchildren can watch this process up close, and will hopefully grow to love, and appreciate nature. Those who love it, will save it

The male will have a locked grip on a female. This type of mating is called 'amplexus'

Two, long, gelatinous, spiral strings of counter-shaded eggs will be released into the water. Each egg is black on one side, and white on the other. This helps them to not be seen as easily by predators.

Tank set-up

When they hatch, they will first eat the gelatinous string they were in.

 use plastic plants in my pond. Algae clings to it, that the tadpoles will hungrily eat.

Praying Mantis Release

About 3-4 weeks ago, a friend of mine found a Praying Mantis egg case while we were hiking. I brought it home, and put it in a pop-up bug carrier. Much to the dismay of my husband, I kept it on my nightstand so I could keep an eye on it. This morning as I was getting ready for the day, I noticed that they had finally hatched! I really just wanted to keep the spent egg case, and not release the mantises into my backyard. Praying Mantids can grow quite large...3"-5" depending on the species. They are known to eat butterflies, and even hummingbirds! Don't believe it? Google: praying mantis eating hummingbird
Since I spend summers trying to help Monarchs, I would prefer to not have hundreds of mantises running around my yard. One egg case can contain 75-200 mantises! So, after work today, I grabbed my 4 granddaughters, and the mantises, and we headed back to where the egg case was originally found, and we released all of the tiny babies.

Note:  These are Chinese Praying Mantises.  They were introduced to the United States in 1895 as a means of insect control.  They have now eclipsed the native species.  At this point in time, it is useless to think that destroying one egg case could help the situation.  It was a far more valuable lesson to teach children to love nature.

My granddaughter inspecting the egg case, called an ootheca

Egg case. The fluffy stuff in the middle is where they emerged.

Getting ready to release!

They were not that easy to coax out of the carrier. We ended up having to gently scoop them out of it.

Some baby insects don't look anything at all like their adult version. These are perfect miniatures of adults.

After the release, time to go on 'Adventures'!

#4 found a hole. I told her it was something's front door. She wanted to see who was home.

I hope they never tire of walking on rocks by a stream.

Spring Beauty

On Saturday mornings I like to go to my local forest preserve, Churchill Woods, and volunteer with a group of people doing brush clearing. It's given me a great opportunity to meet new friends, and to watch nature awaken and burst forth with new life.
One of the sweetest little flowers has a most perfect name, Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica). Whenever I want to learn more about a flower I always hope my favorite field guide, 'How to Know the Wild Flowers' by Mrs. William Starr Dana will have some brilliant gem to say about it. Published in 1893, here is just a fraction of what she wrote after referencing a poem, 'So Bashful When I Spied Her' by Miss (Emily) Dickenson: 'Yet we are all free to guess--and what flower--at least in the early year, before it has gained that touch of confidence which it acquires later--is so bashful, so pretty, so flushed with rosie shame, so eager to defend its modesty by closing it's blushing petals when carried off by the despoiler--as the Spring Beauty?'
Then, she writes: One is always glad to discover these children of the country within our city limits, where they can be known and loved by those other children who are so unfortunate has to be denied knowledge of them in their usual haunts. If the day chances to be cloudy these flowers close and are only induced to open again by an abundance of sunlight. This habit of closing in the shade is common to many flowers, and should be remembered by those who bring home their treasures from the woods and fields, only to discard the majority as hopelessly wilted. If any such exhausted blossoms are placed in the sunlight, with their stems in freshwater, they will probably regain their vigor. Should this treatment fail, and application of very hot- almost boiling- water should be tried. This heroic measure often meets with success.


30 years ago, my love of Redbud Trees began, as I looked out my window to a neighbor's wooded lot. It was late April, and tints of purple were scattered among the bright greens of early Spring. Even on the rainiest days, the color of the Redbud tree gives me hope. Eastern Redbuds (Cercis canadensis) are also known as Judas Tree, as one legend says that Judas chose this tree for his demise.
George Washington also enjoyed the beauty of this tree, and planted them at his home at Mount Vernon.
Native Americans used the bark to treat conditions such as: fevers, congestion, coughing, and upset stomach.
A species of leafhopper is so adapted for this tree, that it is called a 'Redbud Leafhopper'

Close up of the Redbuds flower blossoms

Redbud Leafhoppers look like mini dinosaurs.