trees


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

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
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

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

Painted lady on boneset

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

– William Shakespeare

Sedum var ‘Autumn Joy’ attracts many species of butterflies and bees

The grand finale of the blooming season is here and while many plants are winding down their bloom period, other plants are still in great form or are yet to put on their show of flowers. There are still many species of pollinators, especially native bees and honeybees, that are active and needful of pollen and nectar sources late in the year. And butterflies, especially those that migrate, are in the same biological boat, needing energy providing nectar sources for their long journeys south. Many annual, perennial and woody plants provide all of them with the food sources they need to accomplish their late season undertakings.        

  

Tiger swallowtail visiting aster flowers
Anise hyssop is a favorite of butterflies and bees
Giant swallowtail on Hyssop at James L. Goodwin State Forest
Agastache ‘Kudos Coral’ -a variety of anise hyssop

Among annuals that are late-season bloomers there are too many to name, but some of the best for pollinators and butterflies include Torenia, zinnias, sunflowers, Lantana, petunia, sweet potato vine, salvias, and sweet alyssum Lobularia maritima. Some of these may still bloom after a light frost, so place them carefully in the garden or planter.

Painted lady on a variety of annual salvia
Bumblebees go inside certain flowers, like this annual Torenia
Painted lady on annual Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia

Late- blooming perennials for pollinators and butterflies are numerous, and are best when mixed together for easy access for pollinating insects. For example, planting several tall garden phlox, asters, and goldenrods together makes it easy for bees to travel short distances to preferred flowers. In the wild native asters, goldenrods, boneset, snakeroot and woodland sunflowers and Rudbeckia often occur together.

Spotted Joe-pye weed, boneset and goldenrods in their natural setting
Tiny green Halictidae bee on goldenrod
Wool carder bee on calamint

Among late season blooming non-native perennials, obedient plant, guara, Echinacea, veronica , hyssop varieties , sedums, Coreopsis and others are long bloomers that are preferred by the greatest variety of bee and butterfly species. Some may need to be dead–headed as needed to encourage maximum flower development.

Honey bee visiting obedient plant flower

Native perennials for pollinators like black snakeroot, asters, goldenrods, boneset, white snakeroot, Rudbeckia, mountain mint, closed gentians and turtlehead are among those  visited may many species of bees, wasps and butterflies. Turtlehead and closed bottle gentians need a robust pollinator like a bumblebee that is able to barge its way into the flowers and then exit

.

Pink variety of turtlehead with bumblebee visitors
Native turtlehead

Spotted bee balm, Monarda punctata is a short-lived perennial that has showy pagoda-like colorful bracts that the small, purple spotted tubular flowers rest upon. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators, blooms last for weeks. The plants have an appearance similar to an illustration in a Dr.  Suess book.

Spotted bee balm
Summer azure on spotted bee balm flower-James L. Goodwin State Forest garden

Black snakeroot, cimicifuga ramose, also called bugbane or Actaea, is a tall late-blooming perennial that is very attractive to bees. It has sweet-smelling white flowers on long spikes that attract bees, flies, flower beetles and small butterflies. Blooming in late September into October, it is a good shade- loving perennial for late flying pollinators .

Cimicifuga sp. snakeroot
unknown moth and honey bee on snakeroot

Among shrubs and trees that bloom late in the year Franklinia, witch hazel, rose-of-Sharon, sweet autumn clematis (a wonderful vine loaded with white sweet scented flowers), paniculata varieties of hydrangea and lespedeza bush clover are good pollen and nectar sources for bees and butterflies. Native witch hazel blooms the latest- starting in early October- and is striking when its peculiar yellow flowers bloom when its leaves are also yellow. This plant may bloom well into November, providing food for those bees and other pollinators that are still active very late in the year. Caryopteris– common name bluebeard- is also frequented by various bees and butterflies

Lespedeza thunbergii bush clover
Native fall blooming witch hazel still in flower in November after leaves have fallen
Bluebeard–Caryopteris--and bumblebees
Sweet autumn clematis
Franklinia tree flowering in late September- early October

Getting outside in both the natural and home landscape will provide moments of thoughtful consideration for the small, engaging things that are taking place around us. Whether insects, flowers or simply the changing of leaf color, there are so many things happening we should try not to miss. One of them has been the magnificent orange sun at dawn and dusk, even though the cause of this phenomenon is heart-rending.  

Sunrise September 15 2020 featured an orange sun due to smoke drifting across the nation from wildfires in the western U.S..

Pamm Cooper

August is ripening grain in the fields blowing hot and sunny, the scent of tree-ripened peaches, of hot buttered sweet corn on the cob. Vivid dahlias fling huge tousled blossoms through gardens and joe-pye-weed dusts the meadow purple.

-Jean Hersey

tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Eastern tiger swallowtail on tall garden phlox

August arrived this year with the same intensity of heat and drought that so far has ruled the summer. Added to that, the damage inflicted to trees and other plants by the storm Isaias was another blow to gardeners, nature enthusiasts and homeowners alike. But despite these natural assaults, there has still been a cheerful reminder that nature does still carry on, bringing enjoyable encounters wherever we may go.

butternuts

Butternut trees in Wickham Park in Manchester- East Hartford

red headed bush cricket

The tiny red-headed bush cricket with its ‘boxing glove’ palps

Butterflies of all species have been few and far between, but in the past couple of weeks, more are now out and about. Eastern tiger swallowtails were more abundant than other swallowtails, while hairstreaks and brushfoots have been scarce so far. Red-spotted purples and monarchs are putting in appearances, as well as the diminutive pearl crescents. Tall garden phlox, spotted joe-pye weed, obedient plant, mountain mint coneflowers and butterfly bush are just a few favorites of many butterflies and bees.

pearl cresent and digger wasp on mint

Pearl crescent butterfly and great golden digger wasp shon mountain mint

ironweed and tiger swallowtail - Copy

Eastern tiger swallowtail on New York ironweed

bee on hyssop skullcap August 2020

Bumblebee visiting hyssop skullcap flower

bee on wild senna

Bumblebee and wild senna flowers

Great egrets sometimes stray from the shore and are one of our more elegant shorebirds. This bird is almost the size of a great blue heron and has a distinctive pair of black legs and a yellow bill. They can be seen in shallow water hunting for fish, frogs and small aquatic animals.

great egret on river bank

Great egret hunting on the banks of the Connecticut River near the Glastonbury ferry-August 2020

After summer rains, box turtles may often be seen during the day in open areas as they travel across  roads and driveways or places near woods with low vegetation. Patterns on their shells can be ornate and are usually a dark yellow.

box turtle crossed road day after rain 5-30-16 Pamm Cooper photo

Large box turtle just after crossing road

box turtle

another box turtle after crossing a driveway bordered by woods

Broadleaf tobacco is being harvested now in Glastonbury, where soils along the Connecticut River provide ideal growing conditions for this crop. Unlike shade tobacco, broadleaf leaves are thicker, sweeter and earthy. Because it is grown in the sun, broadleaf tobacco has more oils that produce more flavor than tobacco grown in the shade.

tobacco field and barn Glastonbury

Broadleaf tobacco growing in Glastonbury

In August there are several wildflowers that are lending some color to the landscape in moist areas and along pond and stream edges. An unusual one is the Allegheny monkey flower, mimulus ringens, whose genus  names comes from the Latin word meaning a mimic as the flower is said to resemble a monkey’s face. Sabatia sp. flowers are a stunning pink on long stems that stand out against a backdrop of green cattails. They can be seen on the edge of a pond at the Norcross wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts.

Sabatia large marsh pink possibly s amethystinum

Sabatia in flower along a pond bank at Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary in Wales, Massachusetts

flower fly on monkey flower

Tiny syrphid fly visits a monkey flower

Summer will go on for a while yet, with fruits and vegetables to harvest and enjoy, and with timely rains, I hope. There are still a few flowers that have yet to bloom and clouds and skies that should provide compelling views. Nature will  never cease to provide things of interest for the most casual of viewers and to those who search carefully for its wonders. I do take time to smell the roses as I run by…

spicebush cat August 2019

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are found by those who know to look inside a spicebush or sassafras leaf folded lengthwise

Pamm Cooper

I have to admit I get somewhat excited when I see the first fuzzy powdery mildew spots of the season appear. It’s almost like playing the plant pathology lotto, betting when the environmental conditions (warm, dry days followed by cool, humid nights) are just right for the fungi to cause disease. This year, I saw the first spots on roses in mid-June. I had just received a photo from a client with a strange white growth on her rosemary transplant, and I initially thought it was too early for a powdery mildew diagnosis. But alas, I was wrong.

IMG_0547.jpg

Powdery mildew on rose. Photo by A. Beissinger.

Powdery mildew is a disease caused by several different species and genera of fungi. Though you may see powdery mildew on herbaceous perennials, vegetables, and woody ornamentals, each species of powdery mildew fungi is usually host specific. The powdery mildew on your cucumber plant is not causing powdery mildew on your maple tree. Instead, you hit the powdery mildew jackpot and happen to have more than one species in your yard. In the lab, we identify the fungus to genus based on characteristics of their chasmothecia, or overwintering structures.

19-608_English oak_Powdery mildew B

Black chasmothecia, overwintering structures on English oak. Photo by A. Beissinger

 

19-608_English oak_Powdery mildew_Microscope A

Powdery mildews are identified based on the morphology of chasmothecia. Pictured here is Microsphaera sp. Photo by A. Beissinger.

One of the most common questions we get in the Home & Garden Education Center is about chemical treatments for powdery mildew. Due to the biology of powdery mildew fungi, we don’t usually recommend spraying anything for woody and herbaceous perennials and here is why: powdery mildew only causes aesthetic damage and will not jeopardize the health of your plants. The fungi are obligate parasites, meaning they require a living host plant to grow, obtain nutrients, and thrive. As such these fungi have a biological incentive to keep their host plant alive; if they kill their host plant, they would not survive. It’d be more useful for you to save money and not spray a product  into the environment that will have very little success at controlling the disease.

The answer about chemical controls is a bit different for fruit and vegetable crops such as apple, grape, and cucurbits. While powdery mildew doesn’t necessary kill the host plants, the disease can present challenges for fruit quality, consistency, yield, and taste. Fruit can be deformed, have blemishes, or other markings that render them unmarketable, and produce far less than normal. In these cases, we may recommend a sulfur, neem oil, triforine, or potassium bicarbonate product. Always read the pesticide label before applying any product, and please note that chemical controls are usually only effective when appropriate cultural controls are taken as well.

Apple (Malus spp.)-Powdery Mildew | Pacific Northwest Pest ...

Apple powdery mildew. Photo by J. Pscheidt

So, what are these cultural controls?

  • Start off with resistant cultivars. Selecting plant varieties that have resistance to powdery mildew is one of the most important strategies to help prevent infection. There are many options to choose from, and require you to plan ahead before you begin planting. Garden centers and seed catalogues can be very helpful.
  • Space plants adequately. Dense plantings can increase humidity, which can in turn increase disease development. Remove plants to improve airflow.
  • Avoid overhead watering. Using a soaker hose, drip irrigation, or watering plants only at the base can help decrease humidity in the planting.
  • Thoroughly clean up all infected plant parts at the end of the season. Many herbaceous perennials are left by gardeners to maintain fall habitat for pollinators. However, removing all infected plant parts at the end of the season will decrease the inoculum able to overwinter and infect plants the following year. Do not compost infected plants as at-home compost systems do not reach temperatures high enough to kill the fungus.

One other note about diseases in the garden: powdery mildew mycellium (a mat of fungal growth; the “fuzzy” growth you see) typically grow on the upper leaf surfaces of plants, and unlike other fungi, will not grow when a film of water is present on the leaves. Occasionally mycelium will grow on the lower leaf surface, but that is less common. If you’re seeing powdery white-grey spots only on the lower leaf surface, more than likely you’re seeing downy mildew, which is a far more serious disease. These diseases are often confused for each other because of their name and appearance. Downy mildew is caused by an oomycete rather than a fungus, and spreads when water is present. Early action is required to save your plants.

19-388_Grape_Downy mildew A

Downy mildew on grape. Note the spores are present only on the lower leaf surface. Photo by A. Beissinger.

For more information on powdery and downy mildew, visit our website for fact sheets.

-Abby Beissinger

blue skies and sunshine walk

This past weekend was a gift of blue skies and sunshine too good to return or ignore. I took a walk to reacquaint myself with the land outside of home and office walls. Too often winter restricts outdoor activity for those afraid of ice, mud and other slippery surfaces. Plus I hate chapped lips and cold fingers. The past few days hinted spring is making her travel plans to include the Northeast as a destination. Photos snapped  below are reminders of the walk showing new life and signs from the previous season.

mullien basal leaves feb2020

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Mullien, (Verbascum thapsus), is sporting new growth leaves from last year’s basal rosette of leaves. The plant is a biennial weed, common along roadsides and trail edges. Records show it was introduced in the 1700’s with settlers, probably brought as seed for use as a medicinal herb. In summer it will send up a tall spike of five-petaled, yellow flowers. The leaves are covered in soft hairs giving the grey-green coloring.

Magnolia × soulangeana bud in Feb 2020

Saucer magnolia, (Magnolia x soulangeana), was spotted in a local yard with its buds swelling, another sure sign spring is on its way. The terminal bud contains the blossom. The smaller lateral buds are holding the leaves.  This photo clearly shows the bud scar where a leaf was attached to the branch last year. The raised bumps within the leaf scar are where the xylem and phloem connected to the leaf. Water and food is transported through the xylem phloem.

Stewartia buds feb 2020

Japanese Stewartia, (Stewartiapseudocamellia) buds are also swelling and elongating. This non-native specimen tree was planted locally also. When old enough it will produce white camillia-like flowers in summer.

stream and sun reflection

The bright sun reflected off the water of a small stream at the beginning of the trail. Green water plants were being tugged with the water’s flow.

sedge on waters edge feb 2020

Sedge was perking up, coming out of its dormancy. Sedges are identifiable by their sunken midrib sharp edges. Most of last year’s leaves will die back and rot away, providing nutrient release for this year’s foliage.

moss green

Patches of soft moss are coloring up a vibrant green throughout the forest, especially where the sun hit. Later in the season, after the tree leaf canopy blocks most light from them, the moss will slow down it growth. If a drought occurs, it will go dormant waiting out the time until it rains.

moss on roof feb2020

Here some moss grows on the roof protecting signage, which was mostly in the shade.

princess pine, club moss feb 2020

The patch of club moss is known as princess pine. It is neither a moss nor a pine. It is a plant in the group known as lycopodiums, is an ancient plant, dating from the Paleozoic era about 340 million years ago. It is very slow growing via a main runner which forks in two sending out more runners. Picking the shoots off runners very often decades of growth. It is not illegal to pick, as often thought, but it is highly discouraged by plant folks trying to maintain its presence in the ecosystem. They reproduce like ferns sending up candle-like projections as its fruiting structure containing the primitive plant’s spores.

lichen feb2020

Lichen was ever-present through the forest, indicating good air quality. Lichen will not grow in places with air pollution. Lichen is not harming any trees. It is not parasitic, only using the tree for structure. If you look around you will see it on fence posts and rocks proving it does not need a living plant to survive. Lichen is a combination of an algae and a fungus or or cyanobacteria living symbiotically, taking what it needs from each other and the air.

poison ivy vine feb2020

The aerial roots of this poison ivy vine are taking on a red color signifying its awakening. All parts of the poison ivy plant contain the oil urushiol which causes the allergic rash.

preying mantid egg mass feb2020

One leafless, many branched shrub was a favorite of praying mantids as I found two egg masses (ootheca) on its twigs. Each ootheca can contain several hundred eggs which will hatch in the late spring or summer, just in time to feast on other insect feeding on the shrub.

Gall on Oak

Another find on an oak twig is the spent gall. Oaks are host to many gall making insects A gall is a malformation of tissue caused by an insect injecting a chemical to make the oak tissue into a home and food for her young. Mostly galls are just cosmetic, not causing much harm. Some galls will kill twigs.

oak juvenile holding leaves feb2020

Here a young oak hangs on to its spent leaves produced last year. The leaves have died but do not fall and remain on the tree. The term for this retention of dead plant matter is marcescence. Is is most common on juvenile oak and beech trees.

beech in winter

Above is a young beech with bleached out leaves. It will drop these of last year once new green leaves begin to emerge.

mountain laurel feb2020

The native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), provides a rich green to the understory and trail edges. Late May will bring its flowers, especially in sunny spots.

mountain laurel leaf spot feb2020

Mountain laurel is commonly attacked by a several leaf spot diseases, especially in dense areas where there is little airflow. These diseases are usually not deadly, just unsightly. Most highly infected leaves will drop and new, clean leafs will be produced.

blue trail mark closer

Trees marked with blue paint are part of the CT Forest and Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System. They have 825 miles of maintained trails all across Connecticut and charted in the CT Walk Book and through a free interactive map APP for your phone. https://www.ctwoodlands.org/blue-blazed-hiking-trails

Happy hiking and walking in the woods.

Walk in woods

by Carol Quish, all photos by CQuish, UConn

 

The weather has definitely turned its thoughts to winter here in New England. Snow and ice have blanketed our landscapes several times already and it will be months before most plants are actively growing, putting out flowers to attract pollinators.

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are clustered in their nests or man-made hives for the winter. Unfortunately, during prolonged cold spells, many bees may die off. If the nest has enough stored pollen and honey then the queen may begin to lay small numbers of eggs early in the new year to help the population recover. Once fresh sources of food are available in early spring brood rearing can begin in earnest. Early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and witch hazel and perennials like bloodroot, trillium, and Lenten rose are great plants to have in your yard as early sources of nectar. Additional early-flowering perennials can be found at our fact sheet Perennials. Clockwise from the upper left are witch hazel, Lenten rose, and lilac.

In April, a colony will be able to collect enough pollen and nectar to begin honey production. Commercial hives world-wide produced over 4 billion pounds of honey in 2017. The chances are pretty good that you consumed some honey last year, either as a sweetener in a beverage, in cooking or baking, or on bread or toast. A trip to a grocery store or a farmer’s market provides so many choices, from locally-sourced, single-origin honey to trendy products such as Mānuka honey, a honey that is sourced from the Mānuka tree that is native to Australia and New Zealand, or ‘prebiotic’ honey. All honey has prebiotic and antibacterial properties, even if it isn’t marketed that way. Raw and organic honey are also available. These products are usually not as clear as commercial pasteurized honey.

Also available in many stores is honeycomb. Honeycomb, or comb honey, consists of the hexagonal wax cells that are constructed by bees to contain larvae and the honey to feed them. This form of honey is not generally used in cooking or beverages. It is more of a novelty, a point of interest on a breakfast table, to be spread on bread or toast. During honey production when the honey is spun out of the comb by a centrifuge the wax cells may remain stable enough to be returned to the hive intact. Returning the wax cells to the hive allows the bees to expend less energy creating the structures as manipulate the wax. They need to consume more than 8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.

Humans have gathered honey since ancient times and began fermenting it more than 9,000 years ago in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Mead, also known as honey-wine, is a fermented beverage that at its simplest is made from honey, water, and yeast. Around the world it has more than 4 dozen names based on the local language or the variants that are used in its production. These can include the addition of fruits, herbs, and spices. My son Luke began the process of mead fermentation back in April so that he would have a special gift for the groomsmen at his wedding this past October.

In a simple yet multi-step process, honey is dissolved in just-boiled water and then additional cool filtered water is added to bring the temperature to a level in which yeast can thrive. The yeast that may be used is similar to brewer’s, winemaker’s or baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

 

Some other equipment that is helpful are a hydrometer, to measure the alcohol content, and an airlock for the neck of the container, to allow gas to escape but keep bad bacteria from contaminating the ‘must’, another name for the honey mixture.

Once this is set up the must needs to ferment for at least a month. As this happens you can see the fermentation actively happening as gas bubbles continually rise to the surface.

6-fermentation bubbles

The mead is ‘racked’ to smaller, airlocked containers so that any sediment remains in the initial container. Another month of fermentation and then it is ready to bottle and cork. Butterfly-pea blossom petals, from the flower butterfly-pea, Clitoria ternatea, added during the second fermentation turns the liquid a lovely shade of purple.

Speaking of weddings, bees also made an appearance at the ‘Flower Power’ bridal shower for our future daughter-in-law Jamie in the form of cookies and decorations.

The popularity of bees is evident in their presence of many household goods, from shower curtains and towels to honey pots and pictures. They even made an appearance on Jamie’s birthday cake recently!

It is easy to say that 2019 was the Year of the Bee for our family. Those little pollinators made their presence felt in many of our celebrations and in all of our gardens as they went from blossom to blossom, fertilizing fruits and vegetables that we would enjoy long into the new year.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

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