hardy silk tree UConn Wilbur

Hardy silk tree

July in Connecticut is an exciting time for me because of all the good wildflowers and insects that abound at this time of year. Insects get more interesting in summer and late summer, especially caterpillars that feed on older leaves. Plus, many birds have fledged their first brood by now, so the young birds are scattering around keeping their parents busy. Flowering trees are few, but in July sumacs, tree-of-heaven and the hardy silk tree bloom from mid to late July.

black walnuts July 2017
Black walnut dropped fruit in July


While July is hot and sometimes dry, we have had an abundance of rain so far this year. This is a really good thing because the gypsy moth caterpillars severely defoliated many trees that now need rainfall to help put out new leaves before autumn. We hope next year will have less of these pests, especially since many of the caterpillars were killed by either a fungus or a virus.

bittersweet doing well

Bittersweet decorating a truck

Wildflowers like early goldenrod, swamp milkweed, bouncing bet, monkeyflower and nodding ladies tresses are in bloom now. And the peculiar Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora, has popped up, especially under white pines. It occurs in rich, damp forests where there is abundant leaf litter. While this plant may appear to be a fungus due to its white color due to a lack of chlorophyll, it is not. It survives in a mutually beneficial relationship with a fungus in the soil where it grows. Blue curls are an interesting wild flower that can form colonies in sandy, infertile soils. Bloom time is normally late July through mid- August. Check out damps areas for stands of swamp milkweed- one of the prettier of the milkweeds, to me. All kinds of butterflies and bees may be seen getting nectar from its flowers.


indian pipe

Indian pipe

blue curls Main st power lines August 5, 2012

Blue curls


This year Eastern red cedars have put out a bumper crop of fruit, unlike the dismal amount of blue berries produced last year. This is good news for migrating birds like the yellow-rumped warblers that rely of this food as they fly south. And, of course, the cedar waxwings that derived their name from their fondness for cedar fruit, will enjoy any fruit that remains after the migrators have departed.

cedar waxwing fledgling

cedar waxwing just out of the nest

Monarch caterpillars have been spotted, some in later instars, so that is good news for this favorite butterfly. Swallowtail caterpillars are also in later instars, and will have a second generation of butterflies later this summer. Check out small aspens for the caterpillar of the viceroy butterfly. This bird- dropping mimic will win no beauty contests, perhaps, but it is a good find nevertheless. Sphinx and many other moths are flying now, and bats are enjoying them during their night forays. Some of the geometers, or inchworms, have very pretty moths to make up for the drab larval stage.

chickweed geometer moth Bug Week insect hunt Pamm Cooper photo

Chickweed geometer moth

If anyone had their Joe-pye weed leaves chewed badly, it may have been the work of large populations of dusky groundling caterpillars. They are done feeding now, but keep an eye out next year if you had this problem. And aphid populations swell at this time of year as females give birth to live young by the truckloads. Sunflowers and milkweeds are just two of the plants that can have aphid populations that are very high.

dusky groundling joepye

Dgroundling on Joe-pye

Enjoy yourselves out there in the garden, park, or wilds. Look up and down and all around, for things of interest that abound this time of year. And listen for the katydids as they start singing during the hot, summer nights.

Conehead katydid neoconocephalus ssp.

Conehead katydid


Pamm Cooper



This year the black walnut trees have produced a bumper crop of nuts. They can be seen hanging from the trees, still attached to their branches and on the ground, ready to be gathered. If you notice them on the road side, look up.

Black walnut hanging in tree. Photo Carol Quish

Black walnut hanging in tree. Photo Carol Quish

Black walnut leaves. Photo by Carol Quish

Black walnut leaves. Photo by Carol Quish

black walnut bark

Black walnut bark for identification characteristic. Photo by Carol Quish

They almost look like green apples. Black walnuts have an outer husk surrounding the nut inside. The size of the nut and husk are about 2 inches in diameter and round.

Black walnuts in husks. The green ones have not had their husk rot off as much. Photo by Carol Quish

Black walnuts in husks. The green ones have not had their husk rot off as much. Photo by Carol Quish

The husks need to be removed. Beware the juices in the husk will stain everything they touch, including your hands. I step on them while wearing old gardening boots to get at the shelled nut inside the husk. Use gloves to protect hands from staining. Once husks are removed, soak shelled nuts in a bucket of clean water, stirring occasionally. Drain and repeat. This step is best done outside, too, as the water will turn quite black. Discard any nuts that float, they could be bad or contain insects. Once water is mostly clear, the nuts will need to be cured by allowing them to dry and develop flavor. Spread them on a screen or open container, one layer deep, in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight. An unheated garage is perfect for this. Leave to cure for two weeks before cracking one to see if the nutmeat inside will break crisply. If moisture level is too high inside shell, they will mold once stored.

Black walnuts, hulled of husks, but still in shell. Ready for curing. Photo by Carol Quish

Black walnuts, hulled of husks, but still in shell. Ready for curing. Photo by Carol Quish

Once cured, store unshelled nuts in a a well-ventilated space of 60 degrees F or less. Mesh bags or wire basket will keep them well aerated. Humidity should be around 70%. Nuts can also be shelled and the meats kept in the freezer until needed.

Black walnut (Juglans nigra), produces a toxin called juglone in its roots and leaves. It is toxic to a lot of other plants to keep them from growing around the black walnut tree. Nature has evolved this quality as a defense mechanism to reduce competition for the tree. Most other plants will be able to grow and take up the nutrients and water within reach of the black walnut tree. Tomatoes are especially sensitive to juglone.  Best not to locate your vegetable garden within the root zone of black walnut.

-Carol Quish