Nature


Winter dawn

I please myself with the graces of the winter scenery, and believe that we are as much touched by it as by the genial influences of summer.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Winter can be a wearisome time for people who really enjoy the sights and sounds of the outdoors. That said, you never know what you may stumble upon on that may be interesting on any given day as you wander around. During this time of year, some things may actually be more interesting. Trees are interesting in a different way as they are bereft of their leafy canopies which normally hide branches, trunks and growth forms. Bird and wasp nests are visible, and so are growth anomalies caused by outside forces such as entwining bittersweet vines. It is a good time to learn tree identification using features such as leaf bud forms, branching patterns and bark on branches or trunks.

Weeping Higan cherry Prunus subhirtella in fog in January on the UConn campus
This trunk had been constricted by bittersweet that has been cut down
Gingko leaf buds are stout and upright, alternating on twigs and branches like askew, miniature ladder rungs

Skies get very interesting color-wise at dawn and dusk, or even during the day. Atmospheric temperatures are colder and less polluted than in the summer, and the angle of the sun’s rays are different now and make for brilliant reds and oranges just before dawn and sunset. When gray skies are to the east, just before sunset there can be an ethereal orange glow that lights up the landscape.

Orange glow minutes before sunset January 2023

On Horsebarn Hill on the Storrs UConn campus, there are vast open pastures and fields that are home to northern harriers, bluebirds, kestrels and stopping grounds for migrating horned larks. Recently my colleague and I saw a large flock of these larks as well as a male kestrel. Kestrels are small robin-sized falcon and they are a species of concern in Connecticut due to the loss of their habit, which is large open farmland. Look for these birds perching on telephone wires along roadsides where they have access to prey on acres of open fields.  

American kestrel on a treetop on Horsebarn Hill UConn
Male horned lark. These birds can appear in winter in open fields and grassy areas where snow has melted and seeds can be found

Barred owls can be active both at night or during the day in the winter. They often rest close to the trunk of trees on lower tree branches where they blend in.  They will go after fish if streams remain open in the winter, but their main diet is rodents, small animals and other birds. Often the larger owl species are mobbed by screaming crows, so if you hear that, head for the ruckus. They might be after a great horned or a barred owl.

Barred owl waking up on a late January morning

Mushrooms have mostly come and gone, but the cinnabar polypore will stand out against the rather monochromatic winter scenery. This shelf fungus can be found on fallen dead tree branches. Against the snow, their brilliant deep orange caps and spores are a standout.

Cinnabar polypore pores on the underside of the cap live up to their description

Earlier this month temperatures were higher than normal before dropping well below freezing for a couple of days. Thin ice formed on algae colored water and then partially cracked, which made an interesting, angular, tessellated pattern. That day temperatures went well above the 40’s and by the next day, these patterns were gone. What a difference a day makes!

Green edged crack patterns on thin ice in January 2023

Besides birds, some fungi, morning and evening skies, and maybe a visit to a greenhouse, there can be other means to escape the winter doldrums. Sometimes the best winter color comes from the sun shining through a window in your own home…

Elephant ear in a sunny window in winter

Pamm Cooper

“The leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm country slowly changes from the summer cotton into its winter wools” 

– Henry Beston

Travelling around the Connecticut landscape in the fall is full of colors, interesting buildings, signs that the growing season is coming to a close and, quite often, little surprises that can make crabapples smile. For instance, driving along country roads, you may see example of a whimsical trend where dead branches and tree trunks are used as “sculptures”.  One is even incorporated into use as a mailbox holder.

Leaves are turning and oaks are just about the only trees with leaves now. While perhaps not as colorful as maples, aspens, birch and other tree leaves, oak leaves offer a last look at autumn leaf color. Gingko trees also hold their bright yellow, fan-shaped leaves into November.

Oak leaves over a woodland pond
Fall color of a gingko on the UConn Campus

A local sand and gravel company is the home to bank swallows, who excavate holes in the exposed sand banks to use as nesting chambers. Every year the bank is dug into by machinery, leaving a fresh canvas for these birds. Holes resemble New Mexican pueblo structures, in a way.

Barn swallow excavations in a sand bank

Fields are mostly harvested by now, with some winter squash and pumpkins left behind until needed. As long as the stems are left intact, they can last a while longer in the cold before they rot or become deer chow.

This summer was one of drought and heat conditions that extended into early September. In late October parts of the state had heavy rainfalls of 3-5 inches, though, so some relief came. Two days after those rains, the Housatonic River was raging, as were the waterfalls at Kent Falls, and the waters shooting through the gorge near Bull’s Bridge. Both of these places are along Route 7 in Kent.

Covered bridge in West Cornwall
Triple waterfalls at Kent Falls
Raging water through the gorge just above Bull’s Bridge

Beavers are active all year, and my sister and I recently found a lot of small river and sweet birch felled by one of theses animals along the Scantic River. Birch and aspen are favorites of beavers because they can easily gnaw off the thin bark on saplings and young trees and eat it.

Beaver has gnawed bark off this small birch tree

A visit to Diana’s Pool in Chaplin was a first for me, and, like General MacArthur,  I will return. The trail along the Natchaug River is not hard to hike, and the pool formed by large boulders that trap the water is quite large. There are two sets of waterfalls along the trail.

View along the Natchaug River- Diana’s Pool- in Chaplin
Diana’s Pool

A large, stacked tooth fungus has interested me enough to revisit the old sugar maple where this large parasitic fungus has made its home in recent years. It takes a full season for it to reach its mature size, pushing its fruiting bodies outside the cavity where the fungal body makes its living. By fall, the teeth of this fungus are ready to release their spores.

Stacked tooth fungus fills a hole in a sugar maple where it originates from

Around East Windsor, Broad Brook and Enfield there are many farms, tobacco barns, old tree nurseries and horse stables. There is a place where old trains seem to be collected and left right on old tracks in a boneyard of sorts near a small grain elevator that still receives deliveries from newer trains. An old, retired engine has a spiffy rounded roof over the cab.

Old train in the boneyard

Weathervane on the roof of Coventry Library is the replica of the library
Barn on the way to the Cornwall Covered bridge

Autumn will gradually fade away into the sunset and winter will arrive with all that cold and snow that defines its season. Until then, I am looking forward to getting the most out of my November ramblings. I am of the same mind as whoever said this (credited to Unknown, so it could be any of us!)

“A September to remember. An October full of splendor. A November to treasure”

 

Pamm Cooper

This spicebush swallowtail caterpillar needs to hurry up and pupate before leaves are all gone

Full moon maples over 111 years old at Harkness Memorial State Park

“I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The end of September is here- today marks the autumnal equinox- so we are past the point of no return as far as summer goes. To be sure, this summer was excessively hot and dry, and I am not going to miss it too much, but I do love the colors of flowers, foliage textures and bird and animal activity that make summer an especially lively time. A favorite place to visit for me is Harkness Memorial State Park- shoreline, marshes, gardens and interesting buildings and plants can be found here.

Salt marsh fleabane – a late summer bloomer in the salt marshes of Harkness memorial State Park

Recent rains have brought on the appearance of wild mushrooms and other fungi. On a recent hike in the deep woods, may sister and I came across several trees that had their trunks covered with icicle-like new fruiting bodies of some sort of toothed fungi. Perhaps they are the bear’s head tooth fungus Hericium americanum or the Hericium coralloides, also known as comb tooth or coral tooth fungus. Time will tell which ones they are when these fruiting bodies reach maturity. We will check on them periodically.

Hericium ssp. toothed fungus mass not yet mature on a living tree
Close-up of Hericium ssp. mushroom showing developing teeth

Boletes, that have pores rather than gills, and puffballs, which have neither structures, are good finds now. I bring a small mirror that I can slide under caps to see if the mushrooms have gills, pores or teeth. This is helpful when trying to identify most capped fungi.

Bolete showing yellow pores under cap and reticulated stalk where it joins the cap.

Tobacco is being harvested now, and the tobacco barns have opened boards on their sides that help the leaves to dry slowly. As the leaves dry and turn yellow, the smell of unlit cigars fills the air surrounding these barns, and it is actually not a pungent but rather a sweet aroma that almost makes me like cigars- long as they are not lit up.

Tobacco barn and water tower

While checking out one of my gardens last week, there was a not so sweet smell that led to the discovery of a stinkhorn fungus among some perennials. While they are distinctive looking and colorful those attributes cannot overcome the fetid aroma of these fungi.

One species of an aptly named stinkhorn fungus

In the same garden was a monarch chrysalis that should have a its butterfly emerge any day now. This is the first chrysalis I have found in any of my gardens although many monarch caterpillars have been  here. They just pupate somewhere else, except for this fellow.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis

On a trip to Milford, there were quite a few yellow-crowned night herons, most of which were juveniles. Normally denizens of the Southern areas of the Atlantic coast, they do stray north as far as Minnesota. Also in the area was a Jetson- era- like apartment complex for purple martins, which by now have flown the coop.

Jetson era- like purple martin houses in Milford

Apples are abundant at farm and fruit stands, as are pumpkins, winter squash and other wonderful things. The peanut pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima ‘Galeux d’Eysine’) is an heirloom pumpkin easily identified by its outward appearance that looks as if peanuts have been glued on its pink-toned rind. These growths are caused by the excess sugar that has built up in its flesh. The peanut pumpkin is believed to be a cross between the Hubbard squash and an unknown variety.

Galeux d’Eysine peanut pumpkin

Dragonflies that migrate will be gone as temperatures start to permanently drop. Day trips like going on the Chester ferry across the Connecticut River and seeing Gillette Castle on the hillside are fun. As foliage starts to change, hiking and country drives can get a little more interesting. Migrating birds give a little action to the landscape, especially where fruits and seeds are abundant. Soon it will be time for slowing down a little bit, but not yet.

Native Virginia creeper berries are a favorite of migrating birds
Dragonfly, perhaps Aeshna species
Gillette castle as seen from the Chester-Hadlyme ferry looks similar to a soupy sand castle

If you visit farms and farm stands, there may be some interesting signs- sometimes painted on an old pick-up truck.

Pamm Cooper

Tobacco barn

“Keep calm because August is here.” – Unknown

This may be remembered as the year of drought and oppressive heat. Trees and shrubs are showing signs of stress in parts of the state that missed isolated rainfall events, and many fern species in shaded woods have turned brown. Animals are having a full-time job looking for water and birds are at my bird baths all day long getting a drink. Even though it has been a dismal year weather-wise, there are still a lot of interesting things to see when we are out and about.

Common buckeye butterfly on a wild Rudbeckia flower

The native trailing wild bean, Strophostyles helvola, may be common but easily overlooked as populations can be sparse in their habitat. Flowers are pink and the lower keel has a dark purple projection that curls upward like the raised trunk of an elephant. Leaflets are in threes, with bluntly lobed leaves.

Groundnut, Apias americana is another native pea family vine that blooms in August. The flowers of this plant are clustered and very fragrant and they are visited by many of the smaller native bees that can climb inside.

Groundnut flower cluster

In a field with mowed paths I recently observed a good number of the non- native wool carder bees on the flowers of birdsfoot trefoil. This plant is also member of the pea family and has yellow, puffy, slipper-like flowers.

Wool carder bee with head inside birdsfoot trefoil flower

This same field had thousands of grasshoppers that took flight as I walked along the path. Most seemed to be what I have nicknamed the ‘plus and minus” grasshopper, for the tiny patterns on the wings. There was also a seed bug on Queen Anne’s lace that had interesting vein patterns on its wing tips.

Wing tip vein patterns on seed bug

A little eft of the red spotted newt put in an appearance in a golf course fairway a couple of days after a heavy rain, as is their habit. They come out of the woods looking for food, seem to lose their way getting back to the safety of leaf litter and often need a rescue from mowers.

Eft returned to the safety of the woods

Katydids are another late summer insect that may be heard rather than seen. Their loud rasping ‘night music’ begins in late July and is joined by crickets by August.  

 Common true katydid

This morning I was out just before sunup and heard odd noises on the siding of the garage. I saw two dark forms moving up the siding and needed a flashlight to discover that they were gray tree frogs. Must have been some insects there they were hunting, I guess.

Gray tree frog climbing up the house

Tobacco is being harvested and hung in barns now. Any barn is something of interest to me, and tobacco barns in use are just one type I like. Any barn with a flag, too, for some reason. I am also a fan of playful or interestingly creative farm signs.

Something bad must have happened

I am hoping we come to the end of this drought in time for water supplies and plants to recover before winter. Just saw a monarch laying an egg on milkweed that hadn’t succumbed to aphid damage or drought, so that is something good. As you travel about outdoors, at any time of year, do not forget to look up. You may miss something…

Pamm Cooper

“Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.”   
–  Gary Snyder

July is just the beginning of what I consider the most interesting part of the year, nature-wise. Birds have fledged a first brood, insects are abounding and plants are showing off their colorful flowers and fruits. Many turtles have laid their eggs, the majority of tadpole species have become frogs and brush foot butterflies are heading into a second breeding phase. AT my property. there are so many tiny toads and wood frogs, I could win a dance contest trying not to step on them.

Day old leaf-footed bug

Canada lilies, Lilium canadense, a native wildflower pollinated by ruby-throated hummingbirds, blooms at the same time as the native wood lilies Lilium philadelphicum. Both species can be found near woodland edges. Swamp candles are wetland plants with whorled panicles of yellow star-like flowers with red centers. Often they form large stands on wetland edges.

Canada Lily
Swamp Candle Flowers

Eastern wood pewees are medium sized flycatchers related to phoebes. They sit and wait for insects to fly, and then catch them in the air. One was recently following me as I mowed, swooping out to catch whatever moths were stirred up by the mower. Barn swallows will follow mowing equipment as well.

Eastern Wood Pewee

One insect that always is fun to find is the tiny partridge scolops planthopper Scolops sulcipes. In all stages, it has a protuberance on its head that looks like a horn. In adults, it is curved upward. Found in grassy areas with goldenrods, not a lot is known about this insect. Wing venation in adults has striking patterning.

Partridge Scolops Nymph

Blueberries are ripening, and there are plenty of them on many power line right-of-ways, along with native huckleberries. Recently, a female calico pennant dragonfly took a break and rested on some blueberries.

There is always something unusual to find- the excitement never ends, as my nephew once said- and this July has been no different. There was a mass of some type of insect eggs, perhaps a tree hopper, that had perfect little exit holes where the insects had hatched.

Egg Mass Perhaps of a Tree Hopper

Cleft-headed loopers are named for their cleft head, and they always remind me of kitty cat ears. Its moth is the famous peppered moth, which has been written about in textbooks throughout the world due to color variations that enable it to camouflage itself by day.

Cleft-headed Looper- Head on Left
Head of the Cleft-headed Looper

Butterflies have not been especially abundant so far, but the diminutive American coppers seem to be everywhere. The caterpillars are seldom seen, but may be found by looking carefully on their host plants- sheep sorrel or curled dock near where the adults are spotted..

American Copper on a Grass Seed Head

The slender long- horned flower beetle, Strangalia famelica can be seen on flowers obtaining pollen and nectar throughout the summer. There are many other species of flower beetles that look similar and also use flowers as a food source.

Strangalia famelica beetle

This year there have been quite a few walking sticks in varied habitats. Usually found on woody plants, two were in grassy areas with lots of forbs but no woody plants. Wonder what they were eating…

Early Instar Walking Stick

There are a lot more things of interest to discover as the summer progresses. Caterpillars tend to be larger and more colorful and interesting as foliage becomes mature. Fruits and seeds will attract lots of birds, sunrises and sunsets provide more color and interest than most television shows and perhaps all of us will be delighted by something new that we find that is not in a store. As Helen Keller noted “To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”

Pamm Cooper

July Sunrise

Conifers are cone-bearing plants in the taxonomic clade Gymnospermae. Cedars, firs, hemlocks, junipers, larches, redwoods, spruces, and yews all belong to this ancient and noble group. Though less diverse than their angiosperm counterparts, gymnosperms are just as important ecologically. They provide homes and food for countless organisms, capture vast amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and happen to make beautiful additions to managed landscapes.

Sequoia sempervirens, the coastal redwood, is an incredibly long-lived conifer (with many specimens exceeding 1,000 years in age) and the tallest species of tree. Photo credit – Nick Goltz, DPM.

Though conifers can serve countless roles in the landscape – from privacy screens, to topiaries, to majestic specimens, they are not without their fair share of pests, diseases and abiotic pitfalls. Here are a few such things to be on the lookout for as you maintain the health of your conifers (or consider planting one).

Like all plants, conifer species have their unique preferences for environmental conditions.  While some cedar and cypress species tolerate wet soils well, many others do not. Some popular ornamentals that hate “wet feet” (soggy soil conditions that lead to root damage) include arborvitae, yews, and many pine species. Winter damage, drought, and genetic issues also frequently impact conifers.

Many “dwarf” varieties originally began as “witches’ brooms” selected and isolated from specimens of their full-sized counterparts with a genetic abnormality. The opposite scenario may also occur, where dwarf varieties spontaneously grow “full-sized” branches. When either occurs unwanted on a managed plant, simply prune away the affected branches and monitor carefully.

Sometimes, dwarf varieties can display genetic “reversions” where non-dwarf branches begin to grow. Photo credit – Nick Goltz, DPM.

Sometimes, witches’ brooms can develop following heavy mite infestations. Besides mites, pines are susceptible to insect damage, including from scales, boring beetles, and bagworms. These pests can cause needle yellowing, defoliation, and sometimes vascular damage, girdling, and death.  Severe insect infestations may lead to increased susceptibility to various diseases and warrant management including insecticide applications.

Adult bagworm females (possibly the evergreen bagworm, Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis) are a common pest of conifers in New England. Photo credit – Nick Goltz, DPM.

Some of the more widespread and damaging diseases of conifers include root-rot diseases caused by oomycetes and fungi including Pythium, Phytophthora, and Fusarium. Others of significance include needle and tip blight diseases caused by fungi from the genera Pestalotiopsis, Mycosphaerella, Phomopsis, and others.

If you have branches browning mysteriously, consider the environmental conditions your plant is experiencing! If too much and too little water isn’t an issue, and you haven’t noticed any insect or mite pests, have your plant examined by a plant pathologist to see if diseases could be affecting your plant. Contact the UConn Home and Garden Education Center at ladybug@uconn.edu to discuss your plant’s health and inquire about submitting a sample to the UConn Plant Diagnostic Laboratory. The UConn PDL is funded, in part, by the state of Connecticut and the USDA through IPM Extension Implementation and National Plant Diagnostic Network grants.

Star Chickweed blooming in May Connecticut College woodland garden

Among the changing months, May stands the sweetest, and in fairest colors dressed.”

James Thomson

For good or bad, nature has its own comprehensive coordination of flora and fauna, and all play the perfect instrument in the classical themes of nature. Mozart in his glory had nothing compared to nature and its symphony of birdsong, and Monet has an inferior palette to that which nature offers. In May, nature is at its beginning and its best is yet to come.

Red oak flowers

Pin cherry is a native small tree that occurs in sandy clearings, along shorelines of ponds and lakes, often with aspen and white birch. It has a straight trunk with shiny reddish-brown to grayish-brown bark with numerous horizontal lenticels. Another tree with interesting bark is the striped maple, Acer pennsylvanicum. This maple is aptly named for its colorful green and cream colored stripes on the trunks of younger trees.

Pin cherry bark
Bark of a young striped maple trunk

In mid- May I took a trip to New London to visit the Edgerton and Stengel woodland wildflower garden at Connecticut College. In May there are creeping phlox, tiarella, swamp azaleas, trilliums, shooting stars, star chickweed, Virginia bluebells and many other woodland plants in bloom. Pitcher plants in the bog were showing signs of flowering.

Pitcher plant ready to bloom

Before sunrise recently, there was a peculiar pink, upright band in the sky, which turned out to be one end of a rainbow. It lasted a good 20 minutes and was an interesting start to the day. Later a line of thunderheads moved in, but no rain was in the mix in our area. In the afternoon in mid-May It looked like a rainstorm was happening just across the Thames River in new London, but it was actually a fog bank rolling in along the eastern shore.

Pre-dawn rainbow

While birding for the Audubon spring census, my sister and I came across two species of rare violets classified in Connecticut as  rare and endangered species. Viola enduca, or hook-spurred violet was one of them. This purple-flowered violets bears a slight resemblance to a bearded iris in that its lower side petals are bearded. The second species was Viola renifolia, the kidney-leaved violet, which has a sweet white flower with deep purple striping.

Rare Viola anduca hook-spurred violet
Kidney-leaved violet

There are always interesting galls to be found, and a favorite of mine is the maple eyespot gall caused by a midge. Spiffy red and yellow spots are caused by a chemical response to the egg-laying of the female midge. Cedar-apple galls on cedar were also starting to open.

Maple eyespot gall

For some unknown reason there has been a strong attraction to bucket loaders for a lot of birds, this year. A mockingbird uses the backhoe on a farm for a fine perch to sing away on and at the golf course, a robin built her nest on ours. Every time the loader is used, the nest is taken off and placed in a safe spot nearby. After parking it for the day, the nest is returned, and the robin has resumed laying eggs. All seems well for the moment

Robin’s nest on back hoe
Mockingbird singing from atop a bucket loader

Turtles should be heading for the hills soon to lay eggs. They are surprisingly fast on land when given a reason to press on, especially in egg-laying season. Otherwise, they can be seen relaxing on logs and rocks in calm waters.

Painted turtle laying eggs
Painted turtles soaking in the rays

Trees and shrubs starting to bloom include Viburnum plicatum, Carolina allspice and Fraser magnolia, while horse chestnuts are ending bloom. Oaks are wreaking havoc as flowers have a load of pollen right now, but flowers should be falling soon.

Horsechestnut flowers

As May draws to a close, I am looking forward to more bee and insect activity, a profusion of new life in the form of baby birds and animals, and more color as wildflowers make their mark in the landscape. Altogether, they will become a natural symphony of coordination of sight and sound in their own special place on the earth. I intend to enjoy what remains of this spring. You never know what you will see or come across…

Pamm Cooper

Spiffy Viola

“A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew / A cloud, and a rainbow’s warning / Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue / An April day in the morning.” – Harriet Prescott Spofford

Woodland fern frond underside loaded with spores

This April has been slow to warm up, but finally we are getting some warm days, and spring flowers and returning or migrating birds are beginning to make themselves known. Many birds, like Carolina wrens and bluebirds, have probably laid eggs already, or they will soon. Chickadees and some woodpeckers are tapping holes in trees to use as nesting chambers for rearing their young. A few early flowers are brightening up the landscape, and soon many others will follow.

A pair of chickadees made a hole in this dead tree trunk for a nest
Black and white warbler

On Horsebarn Hill, UConn’s pastureland, there are many birdhouses that serve as nesting sites for Eastern bluebirds, tree swallows, and sparrows. Early in the morning, birds can be seen sitting on top of the houses they have chosen.

Male and female bluebirds near their nest box on an April morning
The same pair after the male gave the female an insect as a gift

On Horsebarn hill, there are also young horses, cows and sheep that were born this spring. One is a friendly little colt I call Little Blaze- a friendly little chap with stellar markings.

Little blaze

Forsythias are nearing full bloom, and the early blooming Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’ have a profusion of pink flowers, being the first of its species to bloom here in the Northeast. Bees are visiting its flowers, as well as those of Cornus mas, another early blooming landscape shrub.

Forsythia used as a hedge
‘Cornell Pink’

Migrating birds that are passing through in early spring are just now arriving. Palm warblers, sweet little rusty brown warblers with a yellow chest with brown splashes can be found in wet arears like bogs that have a lot of trees and shrubs. They flit around looking for insects, wagging their tails when at rest.

Palm Warbler in boggy woodland area

Spring flowers like Coltsfoot, an introduced species, flowers as early as March, with yellow flowers appearing before their leaves open. Flower stalks have unusual scales. Seed heads are similar to those of dandelions, and silk plumes allow the wind to carry the seeds a distance. Birds use this silk for nesting material.

Coltsfoot

Twinleaf and bloodroot bloom very early. Twinleaf has an unusual leaf that is divided in half lengthwise. Bloodroot has a single leaf that appears after the flower and is wrapped around the flower stalk before opening. Both plants have similar bright-white flowers that stand out in the otherwise dismal landscape.


Bloodroot
Twinleaf

Turtles are enjoying basking on sunny days, and toads are around as egg- laying will begin soon. Spotted salamander eggs and wood frog eggs can be seen in some vernal pools already. The spotted salamander eggs differ from wood frog eggs in that the egg masses are covered with a clear or cloudy gel.

These painted turtles need a bigger log
Spotted salamander eggs

The Connecticut River is at flood stage, blueberries are just showing flower buds, and native willows are in full bloom, providing food for our early native bees. A few cabbage white butterflies can be seen floating by, and spring is about to go into full throttle.

A doughnut cloud…

“April hath put a spirit of youth in everything.”
― William Shakespeare

Crabapples in bloom along a driveway

“In the village, a sage should go about
Like a bee, which, not harming
Flower, colour or scent,
Flies off with the nectar.”
― Anonymous

As March begins and weather starts to warm up, not only plants are awakening from their slumber. Also beginning to stir are many native and non- native bee species including Collettes ssp. Bombus spp.Honey bees, Andrena spp. and Megachile spp. These bees need flowers available for nourishment and food stores for their nesting chambers starting as early as March. Plants that support bees in spring may be native and non-native, wild and cultivated, weeds or ornamentals. The following are just a handful of plants that can be especially helpful in supporting bees from March- May.

Native bee on a dandelion flower

There are several non-native plants that flower in early March and are visited by bees- crocus, Whitlow grass, dandelions, Cornell pink azalea and daffodils. In the early spring, blooms are few and far between, and while daffodils are not usually considered pollinator plants, bees like honeybees will visit daffodil flowers if there is not much else around. The Rhododendron mucronulatum ‘Cornell Pink’ azalea is one of the first azaleas to bloom here in Connecticut. Loaded with pink blooms, many species of pollinators, not just bees, will visit these flowers.

‘Cornell Pink’ Azalea is one of the first cultivated azaleas to bloom in the spring
Daffodils

Korean Spice Viburnum Viburnum carlesii blooms in April and has abundant clusters of extremely fragrant flowers that attract many pollinators. Arrowwood viburnum is also a spring bloomer and is native.

Korean spicebush Viburnum has extremely fragrant flowers

Amelanchier canadensis, shadblow serviceberry, is a small tree or multi- stemmed shrub that flowers in April. Both bees and butterflies will visit the flowers.

Amelanchier

Crabapples, black cherry and flowering plum attract many bee species and other pollinators in late April- May, including Osmia spp. like the red mason bee, Osmia bicornis. Cornus mas, Cornelian cherry, is a small tree or large shrub that blooms in late winter or early spring. Clusters of small yellow flowers appear before the leaves. Andrena bees, native specialist pollinators, visit these flowers.

Cornus mas

Dandelions and dead nettles, while considered weeds in a lawn, attract many spring pollinator species and a few in a lawn should not be the end of the world…

Bumblebee on dead nettle

Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, is a non-native evergreen shrub that can bloom from March- June, depending upon the cultivar. Flowers are white or shades of red and resemble the urnlike tubular flowers of blueberry.

Japanese Andromeda

Bloodroot is a low growing native perennial that can bloom in April. Many bees, especially Megachile spp. and Coletes spp. visit flowers of this open woodland species. There are many other native perennials that have early blooms that support bees. Including Solomon’s seal, Geranium maculatum (cranesbill), and columbine that are all shade tolerant.

Native bloodroot
Solomon’s seal attracts bumblebees and hummingbirds

Cornus florida, the native flowering dogwood tree blooms usually by mid-May. The native dogwood has white flowers and an open, layered form in forest understories, while cultivars may have pink to red flowers and various sizes and growth habits. Red maples are among the earliest maples to flower and bees will visit the flowers readily.

Flowering dogwood ‘Cheyenne Brave’
Red maple flower

There are many more plants that will support bees in the landscape whether natural or cultivated.  Consider planting a few of these, if you have the room and a desire for a little splash of color in the spring garden. I wonder if Ray Bradbury was right, when he wrote in “Dandelion Wine”-  “Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”?

Native columbine and Geranium Maculatum along a country road
Carpenter bee on native redbud

Pamm Cooper

A list of good plants for spring pollinators:

Acer (maples)         Phlox                    Lupine                        Alders              Lilac

Amelanchier           Violets                  Eastern redbud        Spicebush       Cornus spp.

Salix (willow)          Columbine           Cranesbill                  Sassafras         Currant            

Blueberry                Chokecherry        Cornus mas              Hyacinth          Raspberry  

Basswood                Crabapple            Trillium                     Dandelion       Phlox 

Crocus                      Viola spp.             Currant                    Dead nettle     Prunus spp.     

Huckleberry
Beautiful gills

Nature alone is antique, and the oldest art a mushroom.
– Thomas Carlyle

This fall while I was hiking through woods and woodland trails, for some reason a little light seemed to go off in my consciousness that directed my eyes toward the mushrooms that seemed to be growing everywhere. Because of the rains and warm temperatures, mushrooms seemed to have popped up all at once – in lawns, leaf litter on and around trees, on logs and stumps, and on bare soils. I was never terribly interested in fungi before, but that has all changed now. I bought a good mushroom field guide (Peterson’s Field Guide to Mushrooms of North America) and I have been on a tear ever since.

Cauliflower ruffles Sparassis spathulata mushroom

I had no idea that mushrooms can have pores or teeth rather than gills, so that is now the first focus when trying to narrow down the field in identification. Now the first thing I look for is if the cap has gills, pores, teeth or is just a capsule with spores inside, as with puffballs.  I have a little mirror that I can slide under the caps to see the reproductive structures without having to damage the fruiting body in the process. I learned that boletes have pores, Amanitas and fly agarics have gills,  and if a mushroom has gills, for instance, it cannot be a bolete. It narrows the field right away for identification purposes.

Pepper Bolete Has Pores
Distinctive gills of the viscid violet cort

There are several gill types- decurrent, attached, open, in relationship to the stalk and widely spaced or tightly spaced. Some can be waved at the edges of the cap. Pores can be small, large, rounded or angular, and both gills and pores can have distinctive colors, both of the tissue itself and the spores.  

Cantharellus cinnabarinus cinnabar chantertelle has decurrent gills that run down the stalk

Amanita mushroom with typical membranous veil on the stipe

Toothed mushrooms are least common, I think, and they are very interesting as well. Teeth can be flattened, pointed, or somewhere in between. The stacked tooth fungus Climacodon septentrionalis, is a parasitic fungus that can grow quite large in the space of a few months. They form a tight stack like pancakes on trunks of living trees like maples.

Stacked tooth mushroom on a sugar maple
Yellow teeth of the stacked tooth mushroom with brown spores on left

Some mushrooms have strong associations with particular tree species, such as the Leccinum scabrum– birch scaber stalk. Stems of the birch scaber stalk bolete have wooly scales and base can have blue- green stains. Pores are white, then age to gray-brown and the cap is brown. The chunky false tinder conk Phellinus tremulae is associated with aspens and resembles a horse’s hoof.

False tinder conks have killed this aspen

The most spectacular mushroom, which I saw for the first time, was the bear’s head tooth fungus, which looked like a mass of tiny icicles dripping down the side of a living tree.

Hericium americanum bear’s head tooth fungus

Another first find for me were the diminutive Calostoma cinnabarineum puffballs, which have a cap like an acorn atop a thick stalk. The whole fruiting body is covered with a cinnamon-red gel which slowly slides off. Inside the capsule is a mass of dust-like white spores.

Calostoma cinnabarineum puffball is on a gel covered stalk

Lycoperdon perlatum puffball

Coral mushrooms do not have caps, but they have branches or a clublike form. Spores form on the surface of these clubs or branches and fall off. Cup mushroom have concave caps which may be curled or wavy

Orange Ascomycete Cup Fungus

Coral fungi

Stinkhorns are often smelled before they are seen. They usually have a stinky slime on the top that contains the spores. Flies are attracted to this offensive mess and spread the spores when they leave. Ravenel’s and the dog stinkhorn Mutinus caninus have a definite phallic form and stalks with a styrofoam or spongy texture.

Ravenel’s stinkhorn
Stinky squid

There are so many mushrooms yet to encounter, and I can’t wait until warmer weather arrives again next year. In the meantime I will dream of finding fairy inkcap crumble mushrooms and red and white fly agarics.

Pamm Cooper

False turkey tail bracket fungi

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