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

Phalaenopsis orchid in bud, photo by C. Quish

Phalaenopsis orchid in bud, photo by C. Quish

Happy Sap, C. Quish Photo

Happy Sap, C. Quish Photo

January is the month my couple of Phalaenopsis orchids send up a spike with flower buds on them. The buds usually open during the last weeks of the month. I discovered one orchid stem and buds looked a bit shiny. Upon closer inspections, I saw a droplet of an amber-colored thick liquid. The stuff was sticky! It appeared to be maple syrup. I gently washed it off under tepid water. The next day it was back. I checked for insect feeding that might have caused damage and weeping, or insect excrement. None. After watching for several days, more sticky stuff appeared, almost coating the buds. After a bit of internet hunting on University researched sites on orchids, I found nothing indicating this as a problem. An informal search of ‘Sticky Stuff on my Orchid’ returned several answers. It is normal for some varieties. They called it ‘Happy Sap’. If the orchid is happy with its environment, temperature and humidity, it will produce this high sugar sap emitted from the stem surrounding the buds to entice pollinating insects to visit the plant. Once the buds open into the flower containing the pollen, the insects will be present to land on the flower and ensure pollination. The orchid has developed this appetizer to the main meal of the flower, just enough sweet sap to entice the insects to hang around for the real show and nectar.

Another plant that emit sweet, sticky gel is the sundew, botanically named Drosera . These plants attract the insects to the sweet sap, which then get stuck in the sap on the leaf. The plant then eats the insect, absorbing the insects nutrients as it decomposes. These plants are carnivorous. Still another carnivorous plant is the Pitcher Plant which lures insects down its throat where it becomes trapped in a pool of gooey sap, never to make its way back out. I took a cold walk to the UConn Ecology and Evolutionary Biology’s greenhouse to snap a few pictures of plants with happy sap and enticing sweet liquid emitters. EEB greenhouses are open to the public and a great way to beat the winter cold. http://florawww.eeb.uconn.edu/visiting.html

-Carol Quish

Sundew, Carol Quish photo

Sundew, Carol Quish photo

Small Sundew, Carol Quish photo

Small Sundew, Carol Quish photo

Pitcher Plant, photo by C.Quish

Pitcher Plant, photo by C.Quish

Bench waiting for you to visit and enjoy the greenhouses. C.Quish photo

Bench waiting for you to visit and enjoy the greenhouses. C.Quish photo