One colony of coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) that I used to visit was washed away in a flood last year and another much larger colony was plowed up by a logging skidder, but I found more growing alongside a dirt road near here. The Tussilago part of the scientific name comes from the Latin tussis, meaning cough, and ago, meaning to cast or to act on. Coltsfoot was originally brought from Europe by early settlers, to be used to treat coughs. I remember being given Pertussin cough syrup as a boy, but I don’t know if it had coltsfoot in it. I hope not, because scientists have found that the plant can cause liver tumors.
If you aren’t sure if you have found coltsfoot or dandelions just look at the stems. Coltsfoot stems are scaly and dandelion stems are smooth. Another clue would be that coltsfoot doesn’t grow leaves until after the flowers fade.
I saw a bug on a beech bud and spent quite a while trying to identify him, with little luck. I was able to get as far as learning that he was a beetle before asking the folks at bugguide.net for help. In no time at all they told me that I had found a diurnal lightning beetle (Ellychnia corrusca), which is a winter firefly that doesn’t light up. What he does do is drink sweet tree sap and is known to be a bit of a pest to maple syrup makers.
This beetle lives in the crevices of maple bark all winter, not leaving the tree until March. I’m not sure why he was on a beech. He crawled down the twig and turned to face me and there we were, eye to eye, each studying the other.
I used to drive for 45 minutes to see the one little colony of downy rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera pubescens) that I knew of. Of course, you never know when a plant will bloom so I made this pilgrimage once or twice a week until I saw the flowers. Then, late last summer, I found a large colony of these beautiful plants not 5 minutes from my house. Proof once again that what we have been trying so hard to find is often right in front of us.
Years ago my grandmother had a large box elder tree (Acer negundo) in her front yard. Box elders are considered a weed tree but they provide excellent shade and that’s what my grandmother was interested in. They are very prolific as you can see by the photo of the flowers, and each tree grows thousands of very viable seeds. The seeds used to fall beside the foundation walls of my grandmother’s house and grow into small trees, so every year she would pay me a quarter to go around the house and pull them all up. One year I pulled up what I thought was a particularly fine specimen and I took it home with me. By the time I got it home the roots had dried out but I dug a hole and planted it anyway. That tree grew faster than anything I had ever seen and, at about 7 or 8 years old, gave me my first hint that plants and I just might get along.
Cheery little bluets (Houstonia caerulea) have suddenly popped up in lawns. These flowers can range from nearly white to dark blue and each year I try to find the ones with the darkest color. Those in the above photo were much darker than those on nearby plants, so I chose them. Bluets are also, in my opinion, one of the hardest flowers there are to photograph. Rarely do I get a good sharp photo of them and on this day, 40 mile per hour wind gusts didn’t help.
I was poking around in a spot where I know that our native wild ginger (Asarum canadense) grows, looking for signs of life, when I found this single new, very downy leaf unfurling. Though it might have been only minutes old and was hardly bigger than a mouse’s ear, an insect had already eaten a hole through it.
Magnolia blossoms showed a tiny bit of browning from frost damage but they were still very beautiful, and fragrant enough to linger in memory long after the flowers were out of sight.
In a colony of tens of thousands of yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) I stumbled onto one that had a bud. Why does this plant have a bud while none of the others do? Does it get more sunlight? Is it something in the soil? These are the kinds of questions that helped fuel my interest in plants at an early age. The answers have been few but I don’t mind. It’s the mystery that puts the magic in life.
Eastern spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) appeared overnight as they always seem to do. At this time of year I check the spot where they grow every couple of days and I’m always surprised to see them, because just a day or two earlier there was no sign of them. As I do with bluets, I always try to find the flower with the deepest color. I’ve read that it is the amount of sunlight that determines color in a spring beauty blossom. The deeper the shade, the more intense the color, so I look for them in more shaded areas. The same doesn’t appear to be true for bluets because I find dark colored ones in full sun.
I wanted to take another try at getting a shot of a female American hazelnut (Corylus Americana) blossom, the smallest flower I know of. I think this one came out better than the one I showed here two or three posts ago. I measure the bud on that last plant with Vernier calipers and found it to be only four thousandths of an inch in diameter (.004”), just about the same size as a single strand of spaghetti. You have to look up and down each stem very carefully to find these tiny things.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) had just unfurled its leafy cloak when I found it. The first open bloodroot flower of the season always tells me that May can’t be far away because bloodroot waits to be sure that it is really spring before it shows itself. Native Americans used the blood red sap of its root for war paint. I’ve always wanted to see it I’ve but I’ve never been able to convince myself that it would be okay to destroy one of these plants just to satisfy my curiosity.
Though last winter was the coldest in 10 years I saw my first purple trillium this week. It has bloomed earlier than the trilliums did both last year and in the spring of 2012, even though that spring was the 4th warmest ever. Whenever you start to think that you have plants all figured out they do something totally unexpected to remind you that you don’t.
There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as if everything is.
Thanks for coming by.