Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Getting into Spring: Wildflowers and managing Ticks

I have been fortunate not to have been bitten by any deer ticks so far.  One of the actions I am doing to keep that streak going is to put out homemade tick tubes twice a year.  These are paper tubes with several (5-8) cotton balls heavily treated with permethrin.  The idea is that mice will collect the cotton and use it in their nests.  There the permethrin will kill the ticks on the mice and break the deer tick life cycle early on.  Check out this link for more information.  We also spray our work clothes with a dilute solution of permethrin to deter ticks and especially chiggers.

I usually put out one batch of tubes in Mid-March, targeting a time when mice begin building nests.  I put them near brush piles and other places where mice might nest.  I use an orange flag to hold them in place and mark the location.  If there are still cotton balls left over I look for a different location to put the tube.  I also put out another set in the fall with the idea that mice will use them for their winter habitats.   
This springtime tube distribution also gets me out in the woods when the spring wildflowers are going to town.  This year has been more exciting than last.  It may have been the cold winter, or that my wife and I have been removing large quantities of garlic mustard, but the quantity of native wild flowers appears to be up. 
The flowers of Bloodroot only last a couple of days.
One plant that I missed entirely last year was Blootroot, Sanginaria canadensis.  In fact, I ordered a few of them to put into the garden, thinking I had none.  But an early March walk in the woods revealed that we have many of these plants.  One possible reason I missed seeing them before is that each plant has a very short blooming period, maybe 3-4 days, and I just wasn't in the right place at the right time.  

The three stem leaves on this Cutleaf Toothwort
are easy to see here.

Another early bloomer is the Cutleaf Toothwort, Dentaria laciniata.  The highly dissected leaves are a helpful clue to identifying this plant.  Also this Toothwort has three leaves on its flowering stalk, unlike its close relative D. diphylla, which has only two. These species have been moved over to the genus Cardamine and now it appears that the currently accepted name for the Cutleaf Toothwort is Cardamine concatenata.  

This was the only pink-tinged Dutchman's Breeches that I found.
One of the most common spring wildflowers in our woods is Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria.  Its flowers last longer than those of bloodroot.  Most of them are bright white.  However, a few plants have flowers that are pinkish.  Of the hundreds of plants in our woods I only found one with a pink coloration.  

Mayapples open like little umbrellas on the woodland floor.
These leaves will expand to 8 inches or more.
While they will not be blooming for a month or so, the leaves of Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, are appearing throughout the woodland areas.  Having a healthy layer of native ground covers like these should help in our battle against invasive species like garlic mustard and stiltgrass. 

I am trying a number of native ground covers like these under some pine trees
to replace the Vinca minor.
The Labrador Violet that I planted last season needed to be uncovered from a heavy layer of pine needles.  After a couple of days of exposure the leaves expanded and the first blooms opened up. 

I noticed that these blooms open the widest when the sun is at full strength.
In my last post I noted that there were many Spring Beauties and Spicebush beginning to bloom in the woodland areas.  I was asked whether these species would do well in full sun.  I do know of one or two Spicebushes that are growing in full sun in rather damp soil.  Then just the other day I noticed some Spring Beauties growing in the middle of the lawn in full sun.  So I guess the answer is yes; however, full sun is not their preferred habitat.

Needed to use my hat to get the flowers to be visible.
Last fall I planted several small Yellowroots, Xanthorhiza simplissima.  These plants flower just before the leaves open up.  It is very easy to miss these small maroon colored flowers.  The primary landscape use of Yellowroot is as a medium tall, fine textured ground cover.  

The pubescent flower stem is an identifying feature
of this species of Saxifage

My newest find while distributing the tick tubes was  Early Saxifrage, Micranthes virginensis.  These were growing at the base of a Beech tree mixed in with some white Spring Beauties.  The unique flower growing out of a basal rosette of bluntly lobed leaves stood out as something different from the other flowers in the area. 

The last wildflower that I spotted last week was a Dogtooth Violet, Erythronium americanum, growing near our house.  I had seen some growing near a stream but I was surprised to find this in an upland area.  It may have been planted there by the previous owner.  My wife spotted this as she was pulling out Garlic Mustard.  It is most easily recognized by the mottled foliage.  The flower is only present for a relatively short amount of time.

This Trout Lily started blooming about 2 weeks after the Bloodroot.  
This flower is on the pale side for E. americanum, it could be different species or a variation. (On looking more carefully, this is E. albidium, based on the spreading tip of the style; it's united in E. americanum.)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spring is making an Appearance

With all the snow and low temperatures the Winter of 2013-14 seemed like it would never end.  But looking back at photos from this time last year, native plant growth is only a week or so behind 2013.  I almost did not venture out into the woods for an informal survey, but I'm glad I did.  While only a few native species were in bloom, many have broken ground and are forming flower buds.  Here are some photos of the highlights.

When walking through the woods, it pays to look up once in a while.
Many of the native spring wild flowers most active while the tree canopy is open.  Now they have have enough light to photosynthesize and store up energy.  Once the trees leaf out there is not enough light for these plants to continue to grow so many of them shut down for the summer.  These plants are known as the spring ephemerals.  

The first plants I noticed were the Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica.  These first appear as purplish-gray buds through the leaf litter.  If last year is a guide they should be blooming in about 2 weeks.
As the leaves of these Virginia Bluebells mature they lose the purplish blush.

I was surprised to see the Spring Beauties in bloom.  There are only a few of them now.  Their number should continue to increase into May.  These grow from corms, so technically they are native bulbs.  If I happen to dig up any later this spring I will move them up into the bulb gardens closer to the house.  
These blooms are mostly white, pinkish ones appear later in the season.

The finely divided foliage of Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria, is also making an appearance.  I don't know if this species can be distinguished from Squirrel Corn, D. canadensis, just by the foliage.  I am making the assignment based on only seeing the former species last year.

The new foliage of all 3 eastern Dicentra species is very similar.
Off to the right are some leaves from Spring Beauties.

White Avens, Geum canadense, will bloom until later in the summer, but it is producing fresh foliage now.  It is recognizable by its deeply divided gray-green foliage.

One of the large basal leaves of White Avens  is at the lower right in the photo above.  

I saw a lot of leaves of Toothwort, Cardamine diphylla, and a few with flower buds. I also saw some leaves of cut-leaved Toothwort, C. laciniata.  These have similar coloration, but the leaves are deeply cut into five or more fingers.  These species were formally classified in the genus Dentaria.

You can see a mauve-colored flower stalk just left of center, above.

I purchased a couple of Golden Ragwort, Packera aurea, at a native plant sale last fall.  You can see that they over wintered well and it looks like they have already begun to spread.
Golden Ragwort should produce yellow daisy-like flowers on
long stems through spring and summer.

It's amazing that these little flowers will go on
to produce a couple of hazelnuts

The new growth was not limited to the perennials.  The shrubs are also beginning to bloom.  I got this American Hazelnut, Corylus americana, last fall.  It was bearing several nut clusters which grew to maturity last season.  This spring I only noticed the small red female flowers.  There were no male catkins on the shrub.  I don't know if their absence is due to the cold, or the deer.

I would have missed seeing the buds forming on this Yellowroot, Xanthorhiza simplicissima, if I had not remembered where it was planted.  The tops of the plant had been 'cut' back a bit.  Again, I don't know if this was from frost damage or deer browse.  
The flower buds of Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, are about to burst.  The flowering time of Spicebush is similar to Forsythia, but the color of the Spicebush is much more delicate.  In a week or so this area will be in a yellow haze of Spicebush flowers.  
Close examination of a Spicebush branch shows that the flower buds occur in pairs.
This helps with plant ID.

 All the new activity in the woods was not limited to the plants.  A small red speck racing along a a branch caught my attention.  It measured about 1/4 inch long and is 8 legged, like a spider.  Comparing images on a Google search for 'little red spider' led me to tentatively identify this as a Velvet Mite.  This is a predatory species feeding primarily on Arthropods.

This looks like it could be a Red Velvet Mite.  It moved very quickly for an insect so small.