Oak wilt is an important disease to be on the lookout for in New England. This is especially true for Connecticut because it has been confirmed in three locations in our neighbor to the west and south, New York.  The disease is important because it kills trees in the most susceptible red oak group (northern red, black and pin oaks in our area) within weeks or months of infection.  White oaks are more moderately susceptible and are generally not killed for a few to several years.  Early detection of this disease in any new location is critical to attempting to eradicate the problem before it becomes widespread.  The causal fungus is Ceratocystis fagacearum.

Oak wilt was first confirmed in the U.S. in Wisconsin in 1944. Since that time it has become widespread in the upper Midwest and Texas.  In the northeast, it has been confirmed in NY and western PA.  Just this year, 2016, two new locations were confirmed in NY by the Cornell University Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic:  Central Islip on Long Island and Canandaigua in the Finger Lakes region.  The origin of this pathogen is not known.

So what does oak wilt look like? In the most susceptible red oaks, symptoms include wilt, browning of the tips and edges of the leaves beginning in the upper part of the tree, twig and branch dieback, and browning of the outer sapwood.  The fungus kills the tree by growing in the xylem vessels where water and nutrients are translocated from the roots to the crown. The fungal invasion results in the production of gummy blockages that prevent translocation.

oakwilt-leaf-michstate Photo credit: Michigan State University

The disease is spread from one tree to another in two ways, via root grafts and sap beetles. A root graft is a ‘fusing’ of roots of neighboring trees that allows for movement between them of water, nutrients, and, unfortunately, the fungus.  So trees growing in close proximity in forests, landscapes or along streets can share this disease readily.  Sap beetles are attracted to fungal mats that form under the bark of dead and dying trees. Bark cracks form as the fungal mats enlarge. Spores of the fungus and an odor attractive to the beetles are both produced on the mats.  Beetles come to feed there and sticky spores adhere to their bodies.  The beetles are strongly attracted to fresh wounds on trees (ie pruning or other wounds) and when they move to those sites after picking up spores, the disease is spread to a new tree.  The spore can only invade a tree via a wound.  Long distance spread can occur when infected logs are moved to new areas.

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Oak wilt fungal mat under bark. Michigan State photo.

 

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Sap beetles are often black with orange markings.  University of Wisconsin photo.

 

If you’re not sure how to tell red oaks from white oaks, here’s the most visible difference: Oaks in the red oak group have leaves with pointed lobe tips and those in the white oak group have rounded tips as shown below.

 

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Photo credit: University of Minnesota Extension

 

Browning and wilt can also be caused by drought stress.  If it’s oak wilt, remember that the browning will begin in the top of the canopy.  Red oaks will die within months; not usually the case with drought stress or even other pest and disease problems.

What should be done if you suspect oak wilt on trees in CT? Contact your state’s diagnostic lab as soon as possible for information on sample collection and submission.  You may send images via email for a quick look and to see if other causes of the symptoms can be ruled out.  The UConn Plant Diagnostic Lab can be reached at 860-486-6740 or by sending an email to joan.allen@uconn.edu.  The diagnostic lab website is www.plant.lab.uconn.edu. Your vigilance will help protect oak trees in CT and throughout New England!

J. Allen

This really has been a long, delightful fall. Twice already we got some snow, a reminder that inevitably winter will settle it. While there isn’t much we can do to shorten the winterseason, fortunately we can brighten it up a bit. Several species of bulbs hailing from southern Africa may be just the touch of color and sometimes fragrance needed to get you past the winter doldrums.

Most popular is the amaryllis. These large bulbs produce glorious, huge, trumpet-shaped flowers on tall, sturdy stems. Due to intensive hybridization, colors range from pure white and pale pink to salmon, scarlet, deep pink and orange. Many interesting bicolors and picotees can be purchased along with doubles and miniatures.

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Red amaryllis by dmp.

Plant amaryllis bulbs in a pot about two inches wider than the bulb. Since these plants are top-heavy when in bloom, a sturdy clay or ceramic container is advisable. Position the bulb so the top one-quarter of it is exposed above the potting soil. Some folks like to use regular potting soil as opposed to a soilless media for planting these bulbs because of the extra weight. I find either works well as long as the container is sturdy. Mix in one tablespoon of 10-10-10 or a similar granular fertilizer per gallon of potting soil before planting.

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Amaryllis flower bud emerging from bulb by dmp.

Pack soil firmly but gently around the bulb and give it a good watering. After the initial watering, keep the soil on the dry side until you see signs of growth and then regular watering can commence. Place in a bright, warm location and the flower bud should appear in 6 to 8 weeks. After flowering, water and fertilize regularly until the leaves begin to yellow, usually late summer. Of if left outside for the summer, dig up before a hard frost and in either case, let the bulbs undergo dormancy in a dry, warm place (60 degrees F) for 2 to 3 months, then repot for late winter’s blooms.

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Amaryllis with paperwhites and hyacinths by dmp.

Freesias and ixias are fragrant, winter flowering bulbs that thrive in cool (50-55 degrees F) temperatures. They both produce flowers in a wide array of colors and also slender, grass-like leaves. Six bulbs are generally planted in a 5-inch pot and the bulbs are completely covered with potting media. Freesias can be placed in a cool, bright location directly after potting while ixias need to be left in a cooler (45 degrees F), dark area for about eight weeks to establish roots before moving into brighter light to initiate growth. Older houses typically offer these environments more frequently than newer, more energy efficient homes but perhaps the garage or shed can be used if the temperature is monitored.

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Freesias by dmp

Fill several pots at 2 to 3 week intervals for a prolonged period of enjoyment. Both will need some support so set 3 or 4 thin stakes in the pot and loop the stakes with green string or yarn at staggered intervals. Keep the potting media moist and fertilize with a water soluble product when plants begin active growth. After the foliage begins to fade, after bloom, let the pots dry out, remove the corms and store in a dark, slightly humid spot until next fall. Or, if this sounds like too much work, purchase more bulbs next year.

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Freesias grown at Tri-County Greenhouse by dmp.

Veltheimia bracteata is a South African bulb, sometimes called the Cape hyacinth, and it prefers warmer (60-70 degrees F) temperatures. From a basal rosette of soft green, strap-like leaves arises a two-foot flower spike – soft pink blossoms tinged with yellow are similar in form to the red hot poker plant. Water newly potted bulbs sparingly until new growth is evident. This plant performs best when crowded so don’t repot unless absolutely necessary. Like the other South African natives, it too needs a dry, dormant period when yellowing leaves signal the cessation of growth.

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Veltheimia bracteata by C. Morse, EEB Greenhouse.Used with permission.

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Veltheimia bracteata by Matt Mattus. http://www.growingwithplants.com. Used with permission.

Except for amaryllis, I will say that these other bulbs are not as readily available at local garden centers as they used to be when local venders liked to appeal more to budding horticulturists. Typically the bulbs are not a problem to mail order and they can be potted up any time in the next few weeks.

For years, I nursed along my freesias (after getting severely addicted to their fragrance when they were grown each winter at Old Sturbridge Village where I was previously employed). Each year at OSV, forced freesias were delivered to the visitor’s center and various departments and very much appreciated for their winter fragrance, color and interest. More recently, I discovered that Tri-County Greenhouse on Route 44 in Storrs-Mansfield sells their own locally grown freesias and now I spend time visiting them in February and purchasing heavenly scented pastel freesia blooms instead of trying to find that perfect 55 degrees F spot in my basement.

There are a number of other South African bulbs that can be grown inside homes during the winter months. It is likely you can find some in bloom this winter at the UConn EEB Greenhouse. Do visit, especially on those chilling January and February days when a stroll through the tropics seems so desirable but a bit out of reach financially. Enjoy one of the most diverse plant collections in northeastern United States. Admission is free (see website for exceptions). Go to http://florawww.eeb.uconn.edu/ for directions and hours.

Dawn

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Bulbs in package, CQuish photo

If, like me, you are a gardener of good intentions, you probably have a few bags of spring flowering bulbs you never got around to planting. Well it is not too late! They can be planted as long as the ground is not frozen. It may not be as comfortable or enjoyable digging the holes in December as it would have been in early October, but better late than never. Bulbs not planted will not bloom.

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Tulip bulbs, plant roots down, point up. CQuish photo

Daffodils, tulips, crocus, hyacinth and scilla are commonly sold at garden centers, big box stores and through catalogs. Other species are available and all will need to be planted, and then experience a cold period of six to ten weeks to signal the bulb to bloom when the soil warms again in the spring. If the bulbs are not planted until next March or April, they will not bloom that year as they did not receive their needed chilling period. So get them in the ground now before we have to shovel snow.

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Crocus bulbs showing a little growth from the top, and roots from the knobby bottom. CQuish photo.

Larger bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinth should be planted four to six inches deep, or two to three times their height.  Smaller bulbs of crocus and scilla go two to three inches deep into the soil. Add a teaspoon of bone meal into the planting hole mixing it into the soil in the bottom of the hole. Then place the bulb in the hole, pointed side up and flat side down. The roots will grow out of the flatter side and grow down; the leaves and stem will grow from the pointed end and reach up. If you can’t tell which end should be up, lay it on its side and each will find their way where they should be.

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Scilla bulbs, notice the roots on the flat bottom. CQuish photo

Bulbs can be planted in pots in potting medium for forcing indoors, too. They will still need the about ten weeks of chilling period at 40 to 45 degrees F. They can be kept out doors in an unheated shed or porch, or placed in a refrigerator which does contain any fruit. Fruit gives off ethylene gas as it ripens which will retard or kill the growing flower inside the bulb. After the allotted time, bring out the pot and all to be placed in a bright window for the warmth of the house and light to signal the bulbs to grow. This provides a nice bit of spring in late winter inside the house. After they bloom, and later in the spring, these bulbs can be replanted outside.

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Potted daffodils, photo WS.edu

Annual care for bulbs planted outside is to leave the foliage on the plant. The leaves are the food factory for the bulb. Leaves are where photosynthesis happens, taking energy from the sun to convert it into carbohydrates to be stored in the bulb. If the leaves are green, let them be. Only remove them after they have yellowed and turned brown. Do not braid or wrap the leaves together either. The leaf is like a solar plate and must access the sunrays, which it cannot do if wrapped up. Flower stems should be trimmed off so energy is not wasted making a seed. Bulb beds can be fertilized after all foliage has turned brown. Fertilizing before flowering can cause disease to attack the bulb.

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Daffodil, CQuish photo

-Carol Quish

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Some red maples still had leaves late in the fall in 2016

 

“ November comes
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.”

– Clyde Watson

This fall was spectacular in its color displays both in the leaves and in the skies.And we are not done yet. A relatively indifferent  landscape can turn charming or spectacular when autumn colors abound as they have this year. Since a pictures is said  to be worth a thousand words, I will save you much reading…

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Canada geese on a pond splashed with early morning fall colors Pamm Cooper photo

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American Lady butterflies migrate south for the winter, along with sulphurs, monarchs, cabbage whites and red admirals

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Delicata squash- one of the smaller winter squash varieties

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Old house in the background with Oriental bittersweet on the left and an old Japanese maple on the right . Location is heading south from the Goodspeed Opera House on Rte 154

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Mushrooms on a dying sweet birch in early November 2016.

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Mourning Cloaks overwinter as butterflies and may be seen flying about near or in the woods on warm winter days

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It is obvious where the barberry is in these woods. Photo taken near the Gillette Castle State Park

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Honey bees are visiting mums and witch hazel this week, as well as any Montauk daisies that are still blooming

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November 6 2016 dawn over Glastonbury, Ct.

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Here is a good example of thinking ahead when planting. A sugar maple on the left and a Japanese maple on the right were probably planted over 30 years ago and are the perfect companions for great autumn color.

Take some little trips this season in our little state. There is still some good color out there, but it may not last much longer. And you may not have to go very far to get some great visual  compositions. Perhaps just as far as your own back yard.

Pamm Cooper                                          All photos by Pamm Cooper

 

 

Many of the calls and inquiries that we received at the Home & Garden Education Center this summer season revolved around the effects of the high temperatures and the lack of rain on vegetable gardens in the state. So many plants had stunted growth and little to no fruit production, especially tomatoes. Extremes in temperature and hydration will cause tomatoes to drop flowers before they are able to set fruit as the plant knows that it won’t be able to support the developing fruit.

In my garden not only the tomatoes were slow to produce. Squash, zucchini, and eggplant dialed back their production by mid-July and I actually pulled out and replanted all of the pole beans that had just withered in the conditions. Strangely, the carrots very well as did the arugula but not so much for the beets. I did not rely on nature for water but supplemented from the quickly emptying rain barrel.

Once the temperatures moderated a bit in late August everything started to recover. I always plant several varieties of tomatoes, as do many gardeners, and this year, on the recommendation of my brother, I chose a variety called Fourth of July. Fourth of July, as its name suggests, is supposed to produce fruit by the 4th of July. It didn’t quite hit that mark although it was one of the first to achieve mature, slightly larger than a golf ball-sized tomatoes. This plant continued from that point prolifically giving lots of these great for salad tomatoes. I loved cutting them into 6ths and tossing them with cubed fresh mozzarella, large croutons, olive oil and some fresh basil. Letting this salad sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes allows the croutons to absorb some liquid and all of the flavors to come together.

tomato-varieties

Yellow plum tomatoes also did pretty well but most of the other varieties were sporadic at best. Fortunately with 13 plants there were enough ripening at the same time that I could still combine them with squash and eggplant and can several batches of ratatouille.

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As the nighttime temperatures started to drop into the 50s I would cover each plant at night, remove the covers in the morning trying to extend the time that the fruit could remain on the plants. I actually kept this up into October and the squash, tomatoes, and eggplant survived some dips into the upper 30s. However, by October 25 my patience had dwindled and I decided it was time to call it a day for those plants.

covered-tomatoes

The only issue with this decision was the fact that due to the late development of the fruit so many plants still had an abundance of unripened tomatoes. In fact, the variety called Black Krim had copious numbers of large beautiful fruit of which not a single one had ripened! I filled two large colanders from this plant alone. I probably had 20 pounds of green tomatoes. What to do? I’ve heard of fried green tomatoes and have even made a green tomato chutney in the past but I knew that there must be more than that. I roasted a batch with olive oil and salt and also cooked up a batch of salsa verde, combining the finely chopped green tomatoes with jalapenos and lime juice. I then canned them in a boiling water bath. I used the smaller green tomatoes for these recipes.

The large Black Krim tomatoes presented an opportunity to ripen tomatoes off of the vine. I know that it is possible to even allow tomatoes to ripen in the cellar although I had never done it. First step then: Google it. As I searched for ways to ripen green tomatoes two methods seemed to keep appearing. First, the wrapping of each tomato individually in newspaper and placing them in a non-humid, slightly cool area (but not refrigerated). The second method was very similar except that the tomatoes are not wrapped in paper but left to just sit on paper toweling. Well, why not try both methods and see how it goes? It is important that there are no soft or rotten areas on the fruit.

One week later:

Two weeks later:

Similar sized fruit from each box:

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The tomatoes that were in the open flat seemed to ripen a bit faster but when equal sized fruit from each box is placed side by side the difference is negligible. There haven’t been any signs of rotting or softening. Some of the articles that I used for research stated that ‘you can eat fresh tomatoes in January’ by following these methods. I don’t think will probably happen based on the speed with which they have already ripened but to still be enjoying the taste of fresh tomatoes well into November is fine with me.

Susan Pelton

 

I have a fondness for teasel (Dipsacus species) because it was common in the area where I grew up in southwestern Michigan.  Of course, I didn’t know then that it was invasive, or even what an invasive species was.  Now, on road trips between Connecticut and Michigan, I watch for the distinctive flower heads as we drive along.  I’ve never spotted teasel in Connecticut (or elsewhere in the northeast) but according to references I’ve checked, it does occur throughout the area.  There are two species that occur in the United States, D. fullonum (common teasel) and D. laciniatus (cut-leaved teasel).  Common teasel is, not surprisingly, the most common but cut-leaved teasel is described as more aggressive in its establishment and spread where it occurs. teasel-jallen J. Allen photo

If you’re not familiar with teasel, it is distinctive due to its coarsely spined flower heads, pictured above. The plants are herbaceous biennials.  During the first year of growth, a leaf rosette is formed.  In the second year, a tall (3-8 feet), prickly stem forms.  It branches at the top and forms egg-shaped flower heads.  Tiny flowers emerge first in a band around the center of the flower head and develop both up and down from there.  The prickly dried flower heads can be used as a comb and were widely used in the plants native range for combing, cleaning and raising the nap of fabrics, especially woolens (sample device pictured below from the Trowbridge Museum website). teasel-handfabricnap-trowbridge-museumThe root system has a substantial yellow tap root with fibrous secondary roots.  Seeds are attractive to birds and wildlife.  Where teasel is native (Europe, Eurasia and northern Africa), it is recommended for gardens both as an ornamental and as an attractant for birds (ie the European goldfinch) and wildlife.  The dried flower heads are sometimes used in the floriculture trade.

A fascinating attribute of teasel is that the plants are considered partially carnivorous. Carnivorous plants are those that are able to trap insects or other tiny animals and digest them or extract nutrients from them to use as a source of sustenance.  In the case of teasel, the leaves on the stem formed in the second season are fused where two opposite leaves meet on the stem. This forms a small ‘cup’ where rain water collects and tiny insects are caught there.  In a study done in the UK by Peter Shaw and Kyle Shackleton and published in 2011, it was shown that common teasel plants with dead fly larvae placed in the water in the ‘cup’ had a 30% greater seed set and seed biomass than plants with no larvae.  While the larvae did improve seed production, they did not see an increase in overall plant growth/biomass.

To distinguish between common and cut-leaved teasel, both the leaves and flower heads can be used. See the images below for comparison.

teasel-common-leaves-bugwoodteasel-common-flower-bugwood Common teasel leaves and flower heads.

teasel-cutleaved-bugwoodteasel-cutleaved-flower-bugwood Cut-leaved teasel leaves and flower heads.

All above photos from: ©Richard Old, XID Services Inc., Bugwood.org

The first report of common teasel in the U.S. was dates back to the 1700s but no additional reports are known until the 1800s when it was described in Oregon, Michigan, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. Since that time, it has spread and been confirmed throughout the contiguous states except in the northern great plains and the southeast.  Cut-leaved teasel was reported from Michigan and New York prior to 1900.  Both species are considered invasive in the U.S. but without a legal status.  While described as being ‘invasive’, states don’t necessarily have a legal status limiting the distribution of these plants. Connecticut does not.

Besides using the dried flower heads, root extract has historically been used to treat a variety of ailments including stomach upset, pain, inflammation, nervous system maladies, and most notably, and more recently, in the treatment of Lyme disease. It is reputed to draw the bacterial pathogen causing Lyme disease out of tissues where it is protected from antibiotics into the blood stream where it is susceptible to them and to the body’s immune system. This is NOT a recommendation to use teasel in the treatment of Lyme disease in the absence of treatment by a medical professional.

J. Allen

Maybe it is because of the abundant acorns and viburnum berries or the loss of foliage cover as the leaves senesce or the sound of hunters’ footsteps but, for whatever reason, there have been an increase number of wild turkeys traipsing through the yard. They have been traveling in groups of 2 or 3 brown feathered hens accompanied by this year’s offspring. The yard is bordered on 2 sides by woods so the turkeys come out, check out the gardens, bird feeder and brushy areas and then return to the forest.

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Wild turkeys under bird feeder. Photo by Dawn Pettinelli

While it might be common to see the eastern wild turkey these days, it certainly was not so 200 years ago in Connecticut. Once wild turkeys ranged from Canada down to Florida and across to South Dakota down to Arizona and into Mexico. There are only two wild turkey species Meleagris gallopavo and M. ocellata with the latter found only in parts of Central America. There are 6 distinct subspecies of M. gallopova with the eastern wild turkey (M. g. silvestris) being one. Eastern wild turkeys were plentiful when the first settlers arrived. Probably a combination of overhunting and land clearing made them a rare sight by the early 1800s.

Restoration efforts began in the 1950s and 60s with artificial propagation techniques which were largely unsuccessful. Much better results were met with live capture and relocation. 356 eastern wild turkeys were released on 18 sites in Connecticut from 1975 to 1992 according to CT DEEP. Now they can be found in all Connecticut towns. Recent land use practices have also enhanced turkey habitat favoring their population growth.

Wild turkeys are quite the sight. Adult females reach about 3 feet in height with majestic males topping them at 4 feet. The males have a most striking red and/or blue head with a white crown and red throat wattle called a dewlap and wart-like growths called caruncles. These color up more during mating season. Males also have a ‘beard’ which is a line of feathers in the middle of their chests which maybe become erect during breeding times and spurs on their legs. Females tend to be brownish in color with lighter chests. Females also usually have a more feathered, bluish-gray head. The differences between the sexes are most striking when a pair is seen together.

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Male turkeys strutting their stuff. Photo by Deborah Tyser

Unlike many bird species, eastern wild turkeys are not monogamous. In fact both the male and female may breed with several individuals. Male turkeys do not defend territory but rather develop a hierarchy or ‘pecking order’ and may fight among each other to determine their status. It’s quite the show to watch the males strutting and showing off their feathers during mating season which usually peaks around late April through early May.

Once mating occurs, the female is on her own. Males take no part in nesting, brooding or raising the young. Female turkeys will make a shallow depression in a sheltered area and begin to lay from 8 to 14 eggs. After the last egg is laid, a 28 day incubation begins. Hatching success is typically pretty high; somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the eggs hatch. Unfortunately, between 53 and 76 percent of the poults (young chicks) die within the first two weeks. The list of predators is long and includes snakes, raccoons, coyotes, fishers, bobcats, owls and hawks. Weather, food sources and human activities also impact wild turkey populations. As the young mature, the males are known as ‘jakes’ and the females as ‘jennies’.

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Mother turkey with young. Photo by Dawn Pettinelli

Like ducklings, eastern wild turkeys are ‘precocial’ meaning they are born covered in a downy plumage, with open eyes and the ability to respond and follow mom within 24 hours of birth. It is essential that they imprint on the hen within those 24 hours for normal social and survival skills.

Eastern wild turkeys are not picky eaters. They feed on a variety of nuts and berries, green vegetation, seeds, roots and tubers, agricultural crops, fruits, buds and small invertebrates. The young consume a large proportion of insects compared to the adults. Occasionally I find a few turkeys gobbling up strawberries but mostly they leave the garden alone.

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Turkey feeding on raspberries by Deborah Tyser

Ideal habitat for wild turkeys in a mix of hardwood/evergreen forests with grassy openings. Birds do not typically fly much except when alarmed but will roost in trees at night.

Most likely turkey was on the menu that first Thanksgiving in 1621. Colonists and Native Americans celebrating a bountiful harvest partook of several fowl species as well as venison, fish and vegetables from their gardens according to past records.

As far as the claim that Benjamin Franklin wanted the eastern wild turkey to be the National Emblem, there is a bit of truth to that. In 1784, he expressed unhappiness at a veteran organization’s choice of the bald eagle as their symbol and wrote that…”the turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” He did not especially endorse the turkey but his writing seemed to indicate that the symbol should be more uniquely American.

Where the name ‘turkey’ came from is not clear. During the Middle Ages, many exotic items were referred to as turkey including pea-fowl from the Orient. That term persisted through Europe when referring to several species of poultry. It could also have arrived from the ‘turk, turk’ call of the bird or even a Jewish translation.

Wherever the name came from, eastern wild turkeys are welcome visitors to many Connecticut backyards. Enjoy their stature and antics and if possible try to plant native trees and shrubs to provide them with food and shelter.

Dawn P.