Plants


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.

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

It’s been a tumultuous week. We had unexpected home expenses, a heatwave we weren’t quite prepared for, and both a birth and a death in the family.  Life can be tough sometimes, but I find that having a perspective of gratitude (even when I feel I’m forcing myself to have one) can really help me navigate difficult situations. Being grateful for the positive things in life can help to smooth over the potholes along the way. While I normally like to write more “functional” blog posts, this week I’ll discuss some plants for which I am grateful.

I moved to Connecticut from Florida in 2021. While my partner and I generally love our new state, it has taken some adjusting. We were nervous to be in our 130+ year-old rental for our first New England winter, so we began house hunting in the early fall. We were lucky enough to find a home in September, and while it had/has a few minor areas in need of some improvement, it has good bones, a great kitchen, and is in a quiet neighborhood.

Being a self-described plant nerd, I immediately began to think of how most of the plants outside needed caring-for, and how many would need to be replaced. There were some dead trees in the back yard that needed (and still need) to be taken down, a sad rose bush that had blackspot on the leaves and dead canes throughout, two diseased boxwood bushes, a carpet of sick pachysandra, and more than a dozen clumps of ugly Hostas surrounding the house, all riddled with holes from the many slugs that make our wet yard their home.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some beautiful, healthy plants too, but I went into the winter believing that I would need to do some major landscaping in the spring. Over the winter I gave a lot of attention to my houseplants – many of them remind me of Florida (read some descriptions below if you’re curious).

I did some yard work when the weather wasn’t too bad. I pruned out the smaller dead trees and some of the inconvenient ones, and I trimmed-up the sad rose bush (likely for the first time in its life). I also cleared away the dead bits of Hosta leaves, thinking I would dig-up and remove their rhizomes when the ground thawed and I had something else to put in their place.

I’m happy to say that I never found the time.

The Hostas grew back this spring and are now the best-looking plants surrounding our home. I went out to mow the lawn and do some weeding last weekend and was struck by how full, vibrant, and fresh they looked against our house. The previous homeowners even planted a few different cultivars – I can only guess which they are, but most seem healthy. I tested the only clump not growing properly for Hosta Virus X (thankfully it tested negative).

I’m grateful for my healthy plants and I’m grateful to have the knowledge to deal with my unhealthy plants too. Even a small thing like caring for plants can be fulfilling and grounding in its own way, much like caring for a pet or loved one (just with lower expectations). When you are having a tough week, I encourage you to be grateful for the people, places and things that are important to you. Even the plants that help brighten your day.

Nick Goltz, DPM

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

As we head into March, we begin to prepare for spring gardening once again! This includes tasks like wrapping up any necessary winter pruning and ordering seeds to plant for the upcoming year. With internet shopping of seed catalogues being more accessible than ever, many people will find that they can purchase the exact crop and cultivar they want with the push of a button. Varieties can even be filtered by yield or disease resistance.

Other people however, may wish to use heirloom seeds from their own or a neighbor’s garden, or organic seeds that aren’t pre-screened or treated for seedborne diseases. Although gardeners may have grown to anticipate some losses with these seeds due to seedborne diseases, a solution exists for many in the form of a hot water seed treatment (HWST).

What is a hot water seed treatment (HWST)?

It is exactly what you might expect: hot water is used to kill pathogens present on the surfaces of seeds before they are planted. For some types of plant diseases, this is an effective means to reduce disease incidence and give young plants the opportunity they need to become established and grow well. Seeds are “prepped” for treatment by first being submerged in a lukewarm water bath of 100 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes. The seeds can then be moved to a bath set at the “treatment temperature”, which varies by crop type. After treatment, the seeds are gently, but thoroughly dried-off so they do not germinate prematurely.

What types of seeds can undergo HWST?

Many types of seeds can undergo HWST for disease mitigation, but generally it is performed on small and hardy seeds. Large, fleshy seeds such as beans or pumpkin seeds may benefit from HWST in terms of disease reduction, but are more sensitive to damage from the hot temperatures and may have accordingly lower germination rates. Therefore, we only recommend HWST with seeds whose germination rates have been shown to be minimally impacted by the high temperatures. Additionally, seeds that have already been treated with HWST or fungicides, or those that have seed coatings (often these are a different color than uncoated seeds), should not be treated.

What diseases will HWST target?

There is ongoing research into what diseases can be successfully mitigated with HWST. Treatment efficacy varies by crop, but generally the diseases are those that will show up shortly after germination, while the plants are still seedlings. The UConn Plant Diagnostic lab and other university extension services that offer HWST will list the types of plants recommended for treatment and the diseases that can be controlled. Visit https://plant.lab.uconn.edu/hwst/ to find out more.

Nick Goltz, DPM

Woodland Stream in January

“January brings the snow, makes our feet and fingers glow.”

 – Sara Coleridge

Living here in Connecticut offers a lot of variety in interesting places to go outdoors in the winter. From the shoreline to the hills and farmlands, to the forests and major rivers, there are always things to pique one’s interest. The main thing as I see it is to dress for the elements and then to enjoy the crisp, invigorating winter air and anything you happen to venture upon.

Underside of a polypore fungi showing partially broken down pore structure

Crepidula fornicata, the American slipper limpet- like snail, is native to the Atlantic coast of the U.S. Females can lay anywhere from 10- 20,000 eggs four times a year. After winter storms, thousands of these creatures can be washed up on beaches, sometimes in piles that are over two feet deep. Winter visiting shore birds like ruddy turnstones and sanderlings can be found feeding on these creatures where shells have washed up recently. Any mollusks or crustaceans washed on shore are discovered by flipping rocks, seaweed or other shells out of the way. They can easily pull out the snail- like animals from the slipper shells. Both the ruddy turnstone and sanderlings will dodge among small waves as they search for prey. Sanderlings are often in large groups that seem like synchronized surf runner formations, and I give them a 10…. Both species breed as far north as the tundra.

Ruddy turnstones
Sanderlings on piles of American slipper shells

Knobbed whelks (Busycon carica) are edible marine snails that are carnivorous scavengers and predators of shellfish. Their native range is from Massachusetts to Florida. Large casings are released in strings by the female whelks and are then anchored to the sediment. The tiny whelks hatch nine months later. If you find a sting of these egg cases washed up on the beach, shake them and see if any tiny whelks are inside. There is a hole in the egg case top where the little whelks would have exited through, hopefully before the whole string was deposited on the shore.

Stringed whelk egg cases are full of tiny whelks
Knobbed whelk with barnacles

While walking through the woods after a recent snowfall, I came across a hermit thrush, a native thrush that has a rusty red tail, brownish olive body and a white chest speckled with dark brown. Normally, they migrate south for the winter, but I can usually find one every year near woodland steams and boggy areas that do not freeze over.

Very hardy hermit thrush

In mixed deciduous woods, especially where oaks are found, there is often evidence of deer in the neighborhood. Deer will scrape off snow with their hooves to find acorns to eat. Later, the deer may bed down nearby. Look for small areas where the snow has melted- that is where the body heat of the sleeping or resting deer has melted the snow.

Melted snow where three deer had rested or slept

On a yellow birch tree deep in some woods, there was a new burl being formed by abnormal cell enlargement from an unknown cause. This rounded, woody swelling has an interesting surface pattern and grain, and may have been caused by a wound or pathogen as there is a gummy excretion surrounding the base of the burl. In the same area of the woods there was a tree with a fist-sized rock growing into two forked trunks.

Burl
Rock with tree trunks growing around it

In a small brook nearby there was a waterfall that had partially iced over. The patterns in the ice struck me as similar to lines in a topographic map, tiny lightning bolts. Natural designs are often temporal, so I take pictures of things like this as tomorrow, or even in a few hours, it could be gone.

Interesting patterns on small waterfall ice

Every winter day will have its own surprises.  For instance, I wonder if a young white-tailed deer made this tiny snow deer along a woodland trail…

Tiny snow deer

Pamm Cooper

Fox in the backyard seen through a screened window

“January is the quietest month in the garden. But just because it looks quiet, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.” – Rosalie Muller Wright

November sunrise on Horsebarn Hill UConn

November comes and November goes with the last red berries
and the first white snows.
With night coming early, and dawn coming late, and ice in the bucket
and frost by the gate.

-Elizabeth Coatsworth

While driving along country roads, walking in the woods, or simply getting up early in the morning and stepping outside, any day can offer an opportunity to come across interesting or unusual sights. Fall is the time of bird migrations, splashes of leaf color and beautiful sunrises and sunsets. November seems like a last hurrah with some lingering warm days before the cold settles in for the winter. On a recent morning bare treetops in the pre-sunrise light looked like they were full of leaves, but it was actually thousands of blackbirds. One bird must have started something because the whole lot of them began at once to make a terrific noise, and then they took off in unison. I remeber the day when it could take several minutes for these flocks of blackbirds to pass over the morning sky.

Blackbirds taking flight just before sunrise

This November has been unusually warm, but leaves have finally fallen or changed color as in the case of our dawdling oaks and dawn redwoods. Fallen leaves can cover the ground for a while to restyle a scene with winsome texture and color. Things hidden by foliage in the summer are now revealed- wasp and bird’s nests, fruits and other things.

Dawn redwood fall color before needle drop

Sometimes something that was dull can suddenly get interesting when light and visibility change in what seems like an instant. This happened when a dingy looking shelf fungus growing on a sugar maple had the sun strike it just as I was driving by. Getting my attention, I got out and took a closer look. It turned out to be a stacked tooth fungus, a mushroom new to my experience. They form a tight stack like pancakes and instead of pores or gills, they have fine teeth from which spores are released.

Climacodon septentrionalis stacked toorh fungus
Underside showing the teeth, or spines, of the stacked tooth fungus

On the same ride where I saw the amazing tooth fungus, there was an old Lincoln Zephyr on display in someone’s front yard. Down the same street was an old farmhouse with an impressive front porch and a remarkable sugar maple whose leaves covered the ground around it. In the same area was a grain storage building with old trains and their cars cluttering the tracks, perhaps some still used for transport, and some obviously no longer in service.

Lincoln Zephyr
Old Lincoln Zephyr

Old Farmhouse
Trains at a grain storage facility
November is also the time of final hay cutting and baling operations

There is a home in Glastonbury or Portland that has the most bee hives I ever saw in one place in Connecticut. According to the owner, the hives near the house were requeened this summer and will form a new colony. When queens no longer produce enough eggs, a new queen is introduced and the old is, sadly, released from her earthly duties. Some of these hives are used at a local orchard in the spring, while a majority are placed along the Connecticut River where food is very abundant.

On hike through a nature preserve woods early this month there was the remains of an old car which was probably from the 1930’s and dragged here when the area was a field. This car was almost 20 feet long and had a folding luggage rack on the trunk. Headlamps must have been the size of dinner plates.

On the trunk of a dead aspen along the side of a country road, it was clear what had killed this tree. On the trunk were false tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi . No other fungi with this characteristic fruiting body are found on aspen. The woody conks are hoof-like, brown to black, and have a cracked upper surface. Pores are tan or white. The spores of P. tremulae are blown through the air and can enter fresh wounds on aspens, where the fungus attacks the heartwood and causes white trunk rot.

False tinder conks Phellinus  termulae shelf fungi

Still out and about are praying mantids and some dragonflies and bees. This female mantid was on a sidewalk near a flower garden. Her eggs have been laid, so she will perish shortly.

t is the time of warmer jackets, bleaker vistas, perhaps, and chilly days. I am not by nature a puddleglum, so all this is not a deterrent to enjoying the shorter days and the coming cold. There will still be spectacular sunsets and sunrises, snowy landscape coverings and bluer skies that will cheer my heart on occasion. Now is a also good time to read all those books that there was little time for when the outdoors beckoned strongly for all the attention. Maybe I’ll put on a colorful scarf or something…

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on.

-Emily Dickinson

Maybe I’ll just light a sparkler.

Pamm Cooper

Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September
American Lady on Viola Flower

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” – John Steinbeck

June is always a month when there is an explosion of the new and a little fading away of certain things. Spring wildflowers have had their day and now the flowers and fruits of summer are arriving to take their place. Viburnums that just a little while ago were lending the air a sweet fragrance are now full of developing fruit. Crabapples and wild cherry are full of green fruits while flowers like yarrow, June blooming magnolias, winterberry, milkweeds and whorled loosestrife are just in bloom. Trees are full of leaves and the sky is a clearer blue so when foliage and skies meet, it is a striking contrast.


June blooming magnolia flowers appear after the leaves are fully out
Native tulip tree

American cow wheat, Melampyrum lineare, is a native annual wildflower that has interesting tubular white and yellow flowers. This small plant appears along dry woodland edges and is partially parasitic, stealing nutrients from the roots of certain tress, especially native birch.

Cow wheat flowers

Yarrow, an introduced wildflower, is attractive to many pollinators and butterflies. After years of not seeing a variegated fritillary, last week I finally came across one in a power line right-of-way that was exclusively feeding on yarrow flowers that were abundant there.

Variegated fritillary on yarrow flower

Whorled loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, also native here in Connecticut, has leaves that are whorled around the stem, and star-like yellow flowers that dangle in between. The leaves are covered with small dark pits on the upper sides.

Whorled loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife flower

On the home front, lantana, salvia, petunias and violas are among the annuals that draw a lot of butterfly and bee activity plus hummingbirds visit lantana and annual salvias as well. A golden northern bumblebee, Bombus fervidus, visits certain flowers including the flowers of a new variety of Buddleia called ‘Miss Violet’.

Spiffy golden northern bumblebee

On a hike I came across a colorful geometrid moth called the hollow-spotted plagodis. Caterpillars of this moth are large loopers and can be found feeding on several trees but preferring Betula species like sweet birch.

Hollow- spotted Plagodis moth

On the same hike there was the sound of a newly fledged bird calling for some food from its parents. I tracked it down among a large stand of invasive mugwort to see what kind of bird it was. Closest guess- pine warbler. I left it alone so mom or dad could give it its next morsel.

Fledgling warbler-likely a pine warbler

On a walk along a land grant property in Manchester, there was an old  Carpathian or English walnut Juglans regia featuring a stout trunk with striking deep, vertically fissured bark. The bark was light colored and the dark fissures made it appear outlined.

English walnut

Dog vomit slime mold can be found on wood chips or mulched areas, usually after heavy rains. Usually it seems to appear overnight as the fruiting stage begins and can be a yellow or orange color.

Aptly named dog vomit slime mold on top of wood chips

Gray tree frogs can be heard trilling day and night. They are frequently found here at home resting on patio furniture, trees, shrubs, water faucets, inside watering cans and many other places they have found suitable for hiding during the day. They often rest on leaf upper sides on trees or shrubs. The one below was on a grape leaf.

Other things of interest are galls of all types on tree leaves and twigs, including the oak apple gall made by a small wasp. The larva feeds inside the gall and emerges as an adult from there.

Oak apple gall
Very tiny oak apple gall wasp just emerged from its gall

There are so many interesting things going on for those of us blessed enough to wait or look for them. The excitement never ends. I agree with the sentiment of Henry David Thoreau, who loved observing and becoming part of his surroundings in nature- “This is June, the month of grass and leaves . . . already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me.”

Pamm Cooper

Juvenal’s duskywing on native Geranium maculatum

“The butterfly is a flying flower,
The flower a tethered butterfly.”
― Ponce Denis Écouchard Le Brun

May is a harbinger of things to come and the herald of things that are already here. Each May I look forward to the appearance of certain ephemeral wildflowers and butterflies that are worth the effort often necessary to search for them. For instance, small butterflies often have a limited flight range, and to find them, you need to know when they start to fly, what flowers they visit, and what the host plants are for their caterpillars. Some wildflowers can be hidden by taller plants surrounding them and a surprise when come across.

Eastern pine elfin on a blade of grass

The Eastern pine elfin, Callophrys niphon, is a tiny hairstreak butterfly  that has only one brood and a flight time that may go from mid-April- June, but is more likely to be found in  flying about in mid-May. Small enough to fit on your fingernail, this elfin is often seen nectaring on blueberry, huckleberry and wild strawberry near its caterpillar’s host plant, white pine.

Eastern pine elfin

Henry’s elfin, Callophrys henrici, is another small hairstreak with an early spring flight time. Mid May is a good time to look for males perching on host plants like redbud, huckleberry, blueberry and viburnums during the day. Nectar sources include willows, hawthorn and pussytoes. Where both species are found, you may come across both the eastern pine and Henry’s elfins in the same stand of wild blueberries or huckleberries.

Henry’s elfin

Horace’s duskywing, Erynnis horatiu,s is another small butterfly found in dry fields near oaks, which is the host plant of its caterpillar. Often confused with Juvenal’s duskywing which flies at the same time, Horace’s  has several larger glassy spots on the forewings. They have a rapid, darting flight and feed and perch with wings outstretched.

Horace’s duskywing

One flowered cancer root is an interesting parasitic wildflower that has no chlorophyll and depends upon a host plant for nutrients. An annual, once the seed germinates, a host plant must be found within a day. Hosts include the genus Sedum and members of the families Saxifragaceae and Asteraceae. The plant consists of a 3-10 inch stem with a single purple to white flower which is covered in hairs and looks like sugar crystals have been sprinkled on it. Look for this plant in May in wet fields or meadows among tall grasses with host plants nearby.

One-flowered cancer root

Garlic mustard, while an invasive plant and worthy of being pulled up, is still useful to bees as a pollen and nectar source. While of use to native pollinators, I still yank out any garlic mustard I can and hope native plants like Geranium maculatum will take its place.

Tiny bee on garlic mustard flower

Columbine and Geranium maculatum bloom for a long period of time and are visited by many pollinators, with columbine a favorite of hummingbirds as well. These plants are often found together along country roadsides and ditches, as well as power line right-of-ways. If at the edge of woods, nodding trillium may also be found nearby. This trillium has very large leaves which hide the drooping flower beneath them.

Columbine and Geranium maculatum

Fringed polygala, a diminutive wildflower that is no taller than 6 inches and has tiny pink airplane- like flowers is a personal favorite. Two of the flower petals unite to form a tube, with the third keeled with a pink fringe. They can be found along dappled wood lines in May or under pines.

Fringed polygala

Shrubs and small trees also can have striking flowers, and one is the nannyberry, Viburnum lentago. Tiny white flowers occuring downward curved panicles that can be 5 inches across. Flowers attract many native pollinators and later on the fruits are eaten by many bird species.

Blackhaw or nannyberry viburnum

The native pinxter is another shrub or small tree that makes itself known through its display of showy pink flower clusters that appear before its leaves and linger well after its leaves are fully out. Hummingbirds visit the flowers of this wetland plant.

Pinxterflower near a woodland swamp

This spring has had a good display of both native and ornamental flowering trees, shrubs, bulbs and early perennials. Butterflies are already more abundant than last year, and hopefully that will continue throughout the year. Spring is the forerunner of better things to come, but for right now, spring has enough for those of us who are wildflower and butterfly enthusiasts.

Pamm Cooper

Swallowtails like this spicebush swallowtail are in flight in May

Next Page »