IN MY BACKYARD (CREEPING CHARLIE)

I was out in the backyard observing some of the plants I have planted in the last two years. I noticed an evasive plant with a lot of scalloped leaves and pretty blue flowers. The plant seemed to attract bees and smells of strong mint.  When I pick it up, it comes up easily, as it is not a deeply rooted plant. It seems to always grow in clumps around the yard. Usually, this plant is found in the shady parts of the gardens around the base of other plants. It does pull up easily and with the regular pulling of weed plants around the flowerbed, it can be pulled up, but never goes away.  It comes back year after year. 

I looked up the plant in several plant guides and found it to have many names, and seems to be referred to as Ground Ivy most of the time. I kind of liked the one name, Creeping Charlie as this plant can quickly spread to take over any flower bed. Mowing does not stop it from continued growth. 

I like the plant as it is a wonderful green color with interesting leaves.  When it blooms with blue flowers, it is actually very attractive. I just pull some of it up when it starts becoming evasive. 

On the Scientific side of my research, I found this Ground Ivy ( Glechoma hederacea) has quite a history.  Historically, Ground Ivy was used as an herb, eaten in salads, and used to make medicines and tea. It was also used to flavor beer. The plant is very high in iron. Young leaves and sprouts are eaten like spinach. Tasting a leaf produces a very strong minty flavor. 

Although technically a weed, to me, Creeping Charlie is simply another interesting plant in the backyard.

IN MY BACKYARD (VIOLETS)

I will always wait for the blue violets to grow in my yard.  I do not have regular pruned grass; I just let it grow and mow it. In early spring, the wild violets congregate in my yard in various locations. Sometimes, they appear in one place in the front or backyard and sometimes in surprising places in the yard where I would not expect them. I like them; they would be unwelcome in a yard treated with chemicals. I just consider them to be gifts from nature.  

Science gives them the name, (Viola odorata). They grow in groups of heart-shaped leaves with beautiful blue flowers that just are so delicate. They continue to seed, low to the ground. What seems to be dead flowers really are the flowers reproducing seeds.  I noticed after mowing, they continue to grow.  The seed is spread so easily that they can get transported all over the yard. 

If you do not have a treated lawn with chemicals, an added feature of violets is that they are good for food presentations, and both leaves (heart-shaped), flowers, and stems are edible. I like to include the flowers on desserts or in salads to add that wild touch. This is also a plant you could pot grow, especially if you treat the yard with chemicals or have pets in the yard. 

I hope that your yard gives you a treat with these beautiful wildflowers.

IN MY BACKYARD (GARLIC MUSTARD)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a plant that has two seasons, one as a small plant with heart-shaped leaves, followed by a second year with tiny white flowers and then seeds.  This plant is biennial, meaning it lives for two years. The leaf, when chewed in the spring, tastes like garlic.

I found out quickly from what I read just about everywhere, that the garlic mustard plant is very evasive and not a native plant; it takes over because of its ability to change soil conditions making it difficult for other native plants to grow.  Eventually, the Garlic Mustard plant crowds out native plants. Most insects and wildlife do not eat the plant.  It is so evasive, that the only way to kill it is to pull it up, bag or burn it.  Composting allows the seeds to survive and grow new plants so that just perpetuates the cycle. 

Sadly, the plant is edible and many recipes are out there that use the plant as a healthy salad herb. It also can be cooked and eaten as a side dish. It has a garlic flavor but should be cooked if you eat a lot of it.  The plant in large amounts raw can be dangerous as the plant contains cyanide. 

As history goes the plants were brought from Europe. The colonists used garlic mustard as an edible plant grown in gardens. It began to escape the gardens and run wild. It has not stopped and today is heavily concentrated in the midwestern forest and plains. 

I tried it and it is garlicky, but one should look up the recipes and then pull up the plants you are not using and bag or burn them. They die off in June, but they will come back if not pulled out by the roots.

In my Backyard (Butterweed)

It still amazes me the number of plants that are in someone’s backyard. I had this one particular wildflower grow from a small plant to a foot tall in a few days.  I let it grow to see what it would look like through its stages of growth.  I was rewarded by my patience with a pretty cluster of flowers atop a very strong stem with kite-like leaves. It was very green and healthy-looking.  You might say the plant was, “Wild Strong!”  I encourage plants like this in my backyard.  I set up a mystery of search and learn using my skills of observation and research.  I find the plant in a book or on the internet and learn about its life cycle and how it fits in with other cycles. 

When my wife and I looked it up we found it to be classified as a Butterweed. You find this weed more to the South but seems to be evasive. Vacant farmlands are covered with fields of these yellow-colored flowers until the cycle of the plant is finished.  More than likely the plants get plowed under with the planting season. They always come back.

On the science side of terminology, the plant is named (Packera glabella), a name given by the followers of Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, who developed a classification system to name animals and plants.  So, the weed we know as Butterweed has a scientific name, and is more important than being just a weed. This weed is important to the South for providing food for crayfish; the flower feeds many pollinators that are attracted by its bright yellow flower. 

It is a happy reminder that when you want that perfect lawn, you are missing out on the beautiful weeds like Dandelion and Violet and many others that give beauty and natural life to our backyards. They can be tamed and sometimes used as an added floral to attract beautiful birds and helpful insects.

A Pelican Feast

During our recent trip to New Orleans, we took a day trip to Grand Isle on the Southern tip of Louisiana to observe the birdlife in this region.  A flock of pelicans were feeding close to the pier and the gal pictured above caught my attention.  I watched her dive for food and emerge with “something” that looked difficult to swallow.  After a bit of a thrashing to drain excess water from her pouch, she flew to the pier and landed close to where I was standing.  I watched her extend her neck and swallow repeatedly.  The “meal” slowly slid down her throat coming to rest at the base of her neck.  I wondered if she would indeed be able to digest the large catch.  When I left the area the meal in her throat had not moved further and protruded like a large tumor on the side of her neck. 

Pelicans are fascinating creatures and one of my favorite birds to observe.  From high in the air, I have watched them pinpoint a catch and dive into the water like a precision arrow shot from a bow.  Rarely do they miss an opportunity to capture their prey.  Despite a heavy body, pelicans can soar at 10,000 feet and remain buoyant in water, thanks to the air sacs in their bones.  Despite popular belief, pelicans do not store fish in their pouch.  Instead, they use the pouch to “house” the catch just long enough to drain the water, tip the head and swallow.  This gal worked hard for her food and didn’t seem in any distress when I left the pier.  Pelicans are designed to eat whole fish and that fact alone amazes me.  Still, I marvel how such a feat is possible, that a large fish can move through what appears to be a much smaller pipe.  Nature has designed this bird with just the right capabilities to survive and it is wonderful to observe.

The Plight of the Bumble Bee

My first experience with a bumblebee nest was a surprise.  My son, Jonathan, and I had just finished a project for Cub Scouts that was aimed at obtaining a badge for nature study. He worked hard with me to build a really neat birdhouse.  Excitedly, he climbed a ladder and placed the birdhouse between limbs in the very large Maple Tree in the backyard.

Jonathan was hoping that soon a bird would choose his birdhouse, and he could watch from his window the coming and going of the birds making their nest. He had watched every day, but no birds seem to even come close to the nest. I thought that there might be a problem with the positioning of the opening and the birds would not be able to get in through the hole.

I got the ladder out of the shed.  I placed it upon the tree ready to climb up to see what was wrong with the birdhouse, a bird’s eye view so to speak. To my surprise, I heard a buzzing sound just about halfway up the ladder.  I noticed right away to my surprise two bumblebees buzzing around me.  I have seen the bumblebees at work in the yard as we have a flower and victory garden full of bees, of all types, every day, throughout the summer.  I have never been stung or bothered by them, as long as you let them do their work, they seem to leave us alone.

When I looked up I noticed not a bird in the birdhouse but a buzzing hive of bumblebees!  I yelled to Jonathan to run into the house.  I chose a quick jump to the ground and was on Jonathan’s heals as we both ran for the door.

The bumblebees let us know we did not belong near their nest.  That prompted me to learn about these bees and what to expect from them while they were in the back yard. As I found out unless they nest in the house near people, they pretty much do not bother humans, but I found that they are very important to us as pollinators.

These bees, as with most types of bees, go from flower to flower. In the process, they pick up pollen which is the male sperm of a plant. This allows flowers to become fertilized with the flowers’ egg cells. It is very important to us that the flowers produce fruits, which we all enjoy, and allows for propagation of the plant. I also learned that the bumblebee buzz allows it to vibrate pollen on to its body, which pollinates flowers, as well as helps feed bees at the hive along with nectar gathered during the visit.

Bumblebees live in small hives, in the ground where rodents might have had a den, or in small holes in woodpiles. In our case it was our birdhouse, or should I say a bee house.

Be Careful Where You Step!

No one owns the land or water,

But some require respect.

From trespassers.

Those who wander inside,

Must watch their step.

As eyes are watching from,

Afar. 

It never seems that my wife and I get into any real trouble, but when we are in unfamiliar territory, we can find it. Approaching a large rookery, you can get distracted by all the birds. I mean noisy with so many assorted colors of feathers and fluffs, you just cannot do anything but start snapping the pictures.

However, if you are snapping a picture, you are watching the bird, you do not notice that something is also watching the same bird. In all the excitement, one does not always notice the things around you when you are after that great shot.

I turned around to see my wife trying to get into this bush to get a better shot of the bird.  Out of the corner of my, eye, I see this young gator moving slowly toward the bird in the same bush. He is a youngster, but the teeth are all there, he is heading toward either the bird or my wife.

In the wild, they say if you are going to be attacked make yourself very large in any viable way you can.  So, frantically, I threw up my arms and started toward the gator, hollering and stretching my arms and waving them.

I yelled “Deb, get the heck out of the bush, you got company.  She jumped from the bush and the gator went for the bird, missed it, and disappeared into the water. 

This area was a good example of predatory animals and their prey. 

The rookery is a location where birds gather to breed. There is ample vegetation for nesting and water is nearby for catching and fishing for food. The vegetation is also producing seed. Some birds eat seeds. Many of the birds in this rookery were consumers of fish, or frogs, and small snakes. We also noticed a hawk which is a predator of small birds and rodents. Of course, there is the alligator which preys on just about any animal they catch.

It’s a very active ecosystem.

Meditation

Sometimes we forget that the top predator might not be humankind. When put back into the food chain in the proper conditions, we can become the prey. Our ability to make tools and solve problems has given us the edge to exist in just about any ecosystem. We have medicine to help us keep healthy and have learned to grow our own food. However, we must not error in thinking we are immortal, for the smallest of organisms can quickly humble us.

Oh, when in Florida wilds, watch out for those alligators. Just be careful where you step.

The Beautiful Butterfly

 am reminded that cycles are very much a part of our life.  One that easily comes to mind at this time of year is that of the beautiful butterfly.   I find it a cycle that is very familiar and one that a younger child is taught early in the science instruction in our elementary schools. There is such excitement that comes over a child when the caterpillar spins itself into a chrysalis,  and after a time emerges as a beautiful butterfly.  It is a sight that will never be forgotten in my mind.   The butterfly lives for a time and then lays eggs.  Of course, it all starts over with that egg and begins once again to carry out the cycle of the butterfly.

I think it correct to say we enjoy the miracle of birth or is it rebirth?  I am safe to say most of us remember very little about our birth, mine is written about in a baby book my mother kept. And, eventually, the parent for some reason wants you to know about your birth.  I call that rebirth, finding out about your birth.  It is also triggered when you observe a birth of animals or even plants.  Everything yes, ends in some form of a nonliving state, but we dwell too much on nonliving parts of the cycles.  Birth and rebirth are amazing, even though very scientific, a very emotional time for humans and animals. A trip to the local fair to see the pigs born to a sow can show the children how well animals take care of the newborns.  Children just beam and ask questions about birth, and it usually leads to a discussion of their own birth.  Yes, the children are born again, or in a sense experience rebirth.  It reminds them of how special they are and of course how special mom and dad are at this stage of the cycle of life.

Back to the butterfly, this is not the only animal that begins its cycle with an egg and goes through all stages and then begins again passing on genetic information.  There are many unique and different staged cycles to observe by a walk in the woods or a close look in your own backyard. I suggest you get your kids and buy a couple of insect guides or animal books and go look for animals and study their cycles.  You might just have a rebirthing of your own.

The Sentry

 

The Great Egret (Ardea alba)

We had just pulled into the road to Pinckney Wildlife reserve.  Not a bird in sight, well this fellow, I would call him a Sentry, flew in making its presence known.  This very large white orange beaked fellow flew to a tree and stood there looking right at us.  It seemed stern in manner curious to the fact, we did not belong in his territory. I thought maybe it would fly away after seeing us staring up at him.  As I turned around, to tell Deb to get her camera, she was already gone. 

We spent about thirty minutes watching this great bird.  The Egret was beautiful in the wind, fluffs of soft white feathers fluttered as he faced it.  The bird was tall when it stretched out his long snake-like neck. He truly looked like a guard of his domain. 

Pinckney Island is full of wild marshes and there are various rookeries. The island is full vegetation and wild birds of all kinds. The reptile population was very active. The cycle of predator /prey was evident.

We knew it would be interesting because we were greeted by one of its inhabitants, sitting in a large dead tree.  This event gave us the impression that this was going to be a wonderful day of birds, not to mention alligators, and that is another story.  Maybe this bird was trying to warn us of things to come.

The Sphinx Moth

This is one of the most interesting insects to watch. When I was first introduced to this speedster, I thought it almost acted like a hummingbird. Its wings flutter so fast that it is actually difficult to photograph. My wife caught this one just right. Its wings are outstretched, although if you were watching you would only see the blur of his flapping wings. This is a moth called Nessus (Amphion floridensis).  

He is attracted to thistle. The thistle is a common plant most pollinators like to land upon. This insect rarely lands to get the nectar from the flowers but hovers above them. Wouldn’t you want to land after all that flapping?  We found this wonderful moth in one of the prairies right here in Ohio.