Archive for the 'Woodland' Category

Timing & Location Are Important.

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

This morning we visited Hanging Bog, known for its Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) community. It is not a true bog but a year round seep coming from a tall hillside. There are limestone layers or terraces which direct water out of the ravine to several tiny brooks. The little brooks wind down into a flat where later the Marsh Marigolds will wet their feet about the time the Skunk Cabbage leaves look like giant leaf lettuce clumps. Other spring ephemerals will bloom on its banks and into the surrounding woodland.

Most of the few Skunk Cabbage spathes we found were just peeking out of the little brook. Since this has been a mild winter with little snow, the  spathes and immature spiraled leaves were frost bitten and not very pretty. Many had been nibbled on by deer and possibly wild turkeys. Years ago we saw some wild turkeys munching on Skunk Cabbage.

Linda found this one in reasonable condition. When she found it there was a little patch of ice at the base of the opening into the chamber for the spadix or blossoming part. The spadix behind the ice patch is just visible in the top image and the mottled interior is visible in the lower one. The tiny white spot at the top of the opening (top image) was a little bit of ice inside the spathe that melted before Bob came to share the plant. The ice patch had also melted and showed the damage to the surface of the spathe and to previous damage on  the leaf (bottom image). It looked more frost bitten than when the top image was made.

We have photographed Skunk Cabbage protruding through snow in January. They are one of the plants that are thermogenic – producing excess heat that can melt snow. Today this was the only one to have a maroon spathe visible. It was protected by a dark chunk of fallen tree branch in the water at its back and was in a place where the sun peeked through the trees for several hours each day.


Larkspurs in November

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Last Saturday at the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge along the Mississippi River we were surprised to find several larkspur (Delphinium sp.) plants among a dense stand of dried goldenrods. They were in the open woodland near the new visitors’ center on the bluff looking down into the flood plain.

Native larkspurs are mostly known to bloom in May, June and July. We are not certain of the species because the plants were 3 to 3 1/2 feet (a meter and a bit) tall. The Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) that we see in the spring are about 1/3 that tall.

To find several healthy green plants with gorgeous blooms on November 12 is very unusual. Climate changes that have led to such a warm autumn are confusing other plants. We found some Common Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) still blooming in our yard yesterday. Its normal bloom time is April into July.

Yesterday the Astronomy Picture of the Day site hosted by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had a picture showing the Temperature Departure From Average for much of the Northern Hemisphere for November 14, 2016. Here in Iowa the temperature looked like it was 10 to 18 degrees F. above normal. Over the North Pole it was 36 degrees F. above normal for this time of year. Some areas of the map were cooler than normal but great swaths were much warmer than they typically are.

As much as we enjoy beautiful flowers, their blooms at the wrong time of year will mean they bloom in vain. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds headed south in September. The long-tongued bees and butterflies that also pollinate larkspurs may no be longer around so they may not set seeds.

Spring Woods

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

Midwestern woods in mid April sometimes sparkle as the sunlight reaches the leaf litter. At first it seems like the light is glinting off shiny oak leaves. Then the False Rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum) comes into focus. Linda calls them May Flowers. The woods near her childhood home in north-central Wisconsin came into flower about May 1st.

We were in the back section of a large county conservation park yesterday and there were thousands and thousands of False Rue Anemones in bloom along the steep ravines and ridge tops. From a distance the white specks among the leaf litter are rather plain. When examined more closely they are cheerful round-petaled gatherers of sun with spikey stamens to attract insects.

There were occasional Hepatica, Spring Beauties and one lonely yellow Buttercup in this part of the woods. False Rue Anemone is in the buttercup family. More frequently the Dutchman’s Britches added their lacey leaves and longer stems of blossoms. The Dutchman’s Britches were often close to logs and in thickets near trees. Some late blooming Blood Root was in the shadier areas under nearby pines. There were Wild Ginger leaves with tiny buds just waiting for more warmth.

Bob found this attractive Dutchman’s Britches in the tangle of fallen branches. The light was patchy to his portable cloud (white umbrella) was useful. The individual blossoms were grouped in a cluster at the top of the stem instead of more widely spaced along it as is typical.

Linda was intrigued by the patch of dense leaves looking like heavy brocaded lace with just one simple spray of blossoms extending from it.

The Dutchman’s Britches varied in color. Some flowers had more yellow and others were a soft pastel pink. Some white flowers turn pink as they fade but these seemed fresh.

It was a lovely several hours in the woods. A Pileated Woodpecker announced our presence when we arrived and we heard several Red-bellied Woodpeckers letting the world know about who owned this or that territory. A thumb-nail size Spring Azure butterfly fluttered past as we entered the woods after the hike up the hill. Along the ravine an Eastern Comma posed for a second against a log – just long enough to identify its scalloped wings. Two white butterflies bid us good-bye as we left.

Jamestown (Atamasco) Lily

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Jamestown (Atamasco) Lily

One of the flowers that grows on Jamestown Island, Virginia was there when the first European settlers came in 1607. The Atamasco Lily (Zephyranthes atamasco) was so lovely that it was introduced into England around 1630.  It was painted and described by Mark Catesby along with what he called the American Partridge in The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1731 — 1743). The illustration of the lily and Northern Bobwhite may be seen here.

Atamasco Lilies have many common names. Jamestown, Virgiania provides one of them because of its continuing presence on the settlement area. Others include: Rain Lily, Fairy Lily, Zephyr Lily, and Cullowhee (a Cherokee word). Atamasco is derived from a Powhatan word referencing the pink caste (stained with red) that appears as the blooms age. Catesby noted that the buds were stained with a rose color (as seen below).

Like many lilies, all parts of the Jamestown Lily are poisonous. They grow in wet woodlands especially along the edges. The patches we found on a recent visit to Jamestown Island were around the wetter open grassy areas in the woods. Southeastern Virginia is at the northern part of its range though it is occasionally found up into Maryland. Some years ago we found a few in South Carolina, where we were told it was called Rain Lily.

The 6-petalled blossoms (tepals) came in a variety of shapes, probably depending on their age. Some had wide tepals and others were narrow. Some flared; others curled. There were singles, small groups and large patches. This meant that we could make a variety of images of the same species without really repeating ourselves. Having a variety of compositions and blossom’ ages also is useful in describing and illustrating the species.

Jamestown (Atamasco) Lily

Spring Arrives – We Hope

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Yesterday was our first group field trip of the season. Last year Spring had arrived a month and a half earlier but this year it is lagging here in the Midwest. Dave Gossman invited the Iowa Woodland Owners Association and the Iowa Native Plant Society to explore his property and learn how he manages his farm for trees, native plants and the wildlife that lives there along with raising no-till corn and soybeans in conjunction with his other enterprises.

There were a few blooms – hepatica (below), bloodroot, wood anemone, Dutchman’s britches. We also found lots of trout lily leaves and blue cohosh stems in the woods. A few shrubs and small trees had buds. The only obvious fungi were many Devil’s Urns. But mostly we enjoyed the bare bones of the canyon and upland landscapes.

Among the largest and smallest objects of the day was a giant old oak tree and the contents of an owl pellet.

From its shape and size this oak must have once been part of a savannah on the upland at the time of European settlement of eastern Iowa. It stands near the edge of one of the highest bluffs above Buck Creek. There are other oaks with wide spreading arms that let viewers know a bit about the past.

As we were photographing the owl pellet, a Barred Owl was heard calling back in the canyon. In the pellet were several tiny jaw bones, a backbone, some leg bones and even a tiny rodent skull.

Any day exploring the woods, creeks and grasslands has the promise of many opportunities to see and hear and smell the beauty of the earth – even if it not quite Spring.

Verraux’s Eagle Owls

Friday, December 21st, 2012

One of the world’s largest owls, the Verraux’s Eagle Owl (Bubo lacteus) is uncommon, though wide-spread, through many parts of Sub-Saharran Africa. It, like many species, has several names: Giant Eagle Owl, Milky Eagle Owl. The name Milky (lacteus) refers to the creamy spots on the shoulders and small whitish markings. Besides its size and power, its most interesting physical characteristic is its hot pink eyelids. It is at the top of the bird food chain and has no real enemies.

On a night drive in northern Botswana, we were following the beam of light with which our tracker was stroking the trees and ground in hopes of finding nocturnal creatures. Suddenly high in a tree back from the track were a pair of eyes with the most amazing pink eyelids on a huge owl with giant feet. The owl continued to survey the ground around its perch. Photographing at night by spotlight is a challenge. Concerns about digital noise were put aside as the ISO was pumped up.

After admiring the owl for a few minutes, we continued on our way back to camp. Our guide said that the Giant Eagle Owl usually lives with its mate and one may be in a nearby tree. The tracker continued his search and, sure enough, another owl was just a short way from the first. Again we made a few images and then left them to their hunting.

The first owl (top photo) appeared to be larger than the second so is probably the female. Females may weigh between 5.5 to 6.9 lbs (2.5 to 3.1 kgs) and males from 3.5 to 4.4 lbs (1.6 t0 2 kg). The owls are 24-26 inches long (60 to 66 cm) and have a 55 inch (140 cm) wingspan. Both of these birds had their ear tufts flattened, though it is possible to see where they are above their eyes.

They prey upon birds of all sizes (including other large owls, Secretary Birds and large herons), small to medium mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. When they kill something they cannot carry, such as a warthog piglet, they will return to continue to feed on the carcass.

Verraux’s Eagle Owls nest during the southern hemisphere winter and often use the nests of other large birds. The female stays on the two eggs and is fed by the male for the five week incubation period and three week brooding period. The youngsters fledge at about two months of age but stay quiet and hidden for another three months while tended by their parents. They start independent hunting at about five months and may stay with their parents for several years. Family groups are sometimes found in daytime roosts.

The only thing better would have been to see and photograph a pair of Eagle Owls during the day.


Thursday, October 4th, 2012

Woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is known by other names. Virginia Creeper, Thicket Creeper and Five-leaf Ivy, to name a few. It has a similar, less-common relative (Parthenocissus vitacea), also having the same common names. They are found in much of the U.S. and southern Canada. We found this one yesterday at a nearby nature center on a lovely day before the cold spell was forecast.

From a distance the vines and leaves of these two species are similar without close inspection. One difference is in their fruit. Below is the fruit of P. quinquefolia. The pale green flowers produce a cluster of shiny blue black berries. P. vitacea also has blue-black berries but they are often in more open clusters and have reddish stems. This cluster of P. quinquefolia is quite compact – perhaps because of the very unusual growing season here in Iowa this year.

One of the attractions of this native vine is its beautiful color on an autumn day like yesterday. The example above is mottled orange and yellow with a little red. It also can be crimson, red or purple in various combinations and degrees of brightness.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) also is very pretty in the autumn and its scientific name indicates its toxic nature. These leaves were in the same woodland and were on a vine that was protecting a lovely brown and white shelf fungus. Did not move the leaves to photograph the fungus. The  three leaflets and large teeth along the edges are indicators to remember “shiny leaves of three, leave it be.”

Woodland Lettuce

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Last Saturday when we were at Hunts Woods in Des Moines County we found some photogenic Woodland Lettuce or Florida Blue Lettuce (Lactuca floridana). The plants themselves are rather scraggly but the blossoms and leaves individually are rather pretty. Most native woodland plants bloom in the spring. This is one of few that bloom in late summer so are a treat to find.

There are several blue lettuce species, mostly found in the eastern part of the country and on the west coast. There are also several yellow species, including non-natives. Lactuca are part of the daisy family (Asteraceae). The word lactuca refers to the milky sap that exudes from a cut or broken stem, similar to milkweeds (Asclepias).

It is thought that garden lettuces were developed from one of the European wild lettuces. Tender leaves and shoots have been on the human menu for at least several thousand years. Some species have sedative properties and were part of folk medicine for Europeans and Native Americans.

We enjoy photographing them because they look like tiny fireworks as their rays and stamens display in miniature starbursts. We like diagonals in images, particularly close-ups. The stems and/or leaves are a nice counter-balance to the flower’s shape. Diagonals can lead the eye into or out of an image. Our aim is to have them lead to the main subject.