Grace

FiddleheadGrace:  seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement, form, or proportion.

Fern:  see Grace.

I love the way they come into the world… all curled up… fetal ferns… fiddleheads.  I love the way they slowly unfurl into large lacey fronds.

For several summers I have been promising myself to learn the ferns of Western New York.  I haven’t done so yet.  Something always pushes itself to the front of the line.  Still, a few of these graceful, gorgeous plants have managed to lodge their names in my gray matter.

Sensitive FernSensitive Fern.  Naturalists like to make jokes about how you mustn’t say mean things around this fern because it is very sensitive.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that joke on a nature walk.  I may even be guilty of having said it myself.  It’s OK.  Sometimes corny things like that help me remember.  What this fern is actually sensitive to is cold:  it will be the first to wither when Fall sends her first hard frost.  The leaves will be reduced to tan ghosts.  Throughout the winter, the hard brown spore cases will stand on stiff stems above the snow.  I probably get more questions about those spore cases than anything else!  I wonder what they think it is?  Next time I get that question, I’m going to turn the question back:  “What do you think it is?”

Cinnamon FernCinnamon Fern.  A circular cluster of verdant fronds seems to stand guard protecting the cinnamon-colored reproductive fronds that sprout from the center like a fountain.  It is said that Ruffed Grouse eat the fiddleheads of this fern and that hummingbirds use the fuzz from the young fronds to line their nests.

Interrupted Fern:  On the larger fronds, sterile green leaflets are interrupted part way up by fertile leaflets.  Some names just make complete sense.

Interrupted Fern

P.S.  While surfing around the ‘net looking for fern information, I happened on this website:  http://www.ct-botanical-society.org/docs/fernchart.html.  I think it will come in handy as I turn my attention to ferns and try to learn a few more names… maybe you’ll use it, too?

I was also curious about which fern species has edible fiddleheads.  I had them once many years ago and they were delicious.  Apparently, it’s the Ostrich Fern.  But two warnings:  Ostrich Fern fiddleheads can look like Bracken Fern fiddleheads – which are carcinogenic.  And, there have been reports of food poisoning symptoms associated with consumption of fiddleheads that aren’t prepared properly.  Read more here:

http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00032588.htm.

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How Brains Work

I’m sure this has happened to you:  You didn’t even know something existed.  Then for some reason, it comes into your consciousness.  After that, you see it everywhere and you wonder why you never noticed it before.

Running Strawberry BushLast fall, I took a walk at Audubon’s Bentley Sanctuary toting my relatively new Canon Rebel XT, all excited to take some interesting fall wildflower pictures.  I ran across something I had never seen before.  It took quite a bit of detective work to discover the name of this plant.  Eventually, I found it by accident when one of my Flickr contacts posted a similar picture with a name… Running Strawberry Bush (Euonymus abovatus).

Running StrawberryOnce I knew what it was, I started seeing it in lots of places:  Busti Park, College Park, Bergman Park…  Pretty much everywhere I walk.  It’s a native shrub/vine that I find on the forest floor.  This spring, I’ve been watching for flowers.  Since the plant is new to me, I’ve never seen it in bloom.  The last couple of weeks, I had been seeing only tight little buds.  Yesterday, while in pursuit of still another Jack-in-the-Pulpit picture, I found some flowers.

It’s a fairly inconspicuous greenish bloom, maybe one-quarter inch in diameter that lays on top of the leaf attached to the main stem by the most delicate stem I’ve about ever seen.

According to the University of Michigan’s website on Native American Ethnobotany, various preparations of this plant have been used by the Iroquois to treat urinary difficulties, “bad blood”, and people who are bewitched.  Ethnobotany.  That’s another one:  I learned about it just a couple of years ago when we had a part-time staff member who was interested in this area of study.  I had never heard that word; now I see it all over the place.

Foamflower PatchI’m sure that with another couple of cups of coffee and a lot more time, I could leap from this brilliant introduction into something truly profound about the way the mind works.  Instead, I’ll randomly switch gears.

While on the homeward stretch of our Bergman Park loop, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sweet, sweet smell.  I looked around trying to find what was so fragrant.  Lolli the Wonder Dog bounded off to show me this huge patch of Foamflowers.  I had never noticed a scent with this flower before, but there are apparently a lot of things I don’t notice right away… So I wandered over and stuck my nose into a couple of the flowers…  Nothing.  Hmm…

Bugle and Sweet WoodruffA few more steps down the trail and the scent is getting stronger.  I’m also noticing a rather loud buzzing of bumblebees.  I’ve seen lots of bumblebees on the Bugle.  Could that be the source of this heavy perfume?… Or maybe the Sweet Woodruff?

No, it’s neither of those.  Then I see it… back behind the purple and white… an enormous blanket of Lily-of-the-Valley.  It wasn’t easy to find the right angle for a picture, and white flowers are unusally difficult to photograph (I’m afraid my blooms are a bit overexposed – I’ll have to go back and try some more!).  I may have stepped on one bumblebee in the process, too, poor thing.

Anyway, I wish you could smell this photo, and hear the bees.  Here’s Lolli the Wonder Dog, too, in case you forgot what she looks like.

Lily of the Valley   Lolli the Wonder Dog

Quite a Day

It was quite a day at Bergman Park yesterday.  Lots of lovely wildflowers of course, as usual.  Lolli kept disappearing and would not return when I called her, disobedient little brat.  I discovered what she was up to on only two of her little forays…

Turkey Eggs by Jeremy MartinThe first one caused my jaw to drop and startled me not just a little!  A mother turkey flew up out of some dense underbrush and off to the safety of a distant tree.  I called for Lolli, but she wouldn’t come.  I could just imagine her picking up the eggs in her mouth, ready to bring them to me to play ball.  “Leave it!  Leave it!”  I called as I tried to find my way in to where the nest must be.  I never found the nest, but Lolli finally came bounding out of the brush – with no egg in her mouth, thank goodness…  (This picture of a turkey nest was taken last spring by my friend Jeremy Martin.  Be sure to click on the picture to go to his Flickr site and check out his other photos!)
Bird's Eye Speedwell   Common Cinquefoil
Later, down in the creek, she disappeared again.  I didn’t think too much about it at first.  I was distracted by a couple of flowers that weren’t blooming the day before – Bird’s Eye Speedwell and Common Cinquefoil.  Scarlet Tanager from Cornell Lab of OrnithologyA bit of red caught my eye:  a Scarlet Tanager!  For the first time ever I saw it first BEFORE I heard it.  Yeah!  Chick-Brrrr.

When I remembered to wonder where Lolli had gotten to, I called for her.  No answer.  Then, some snorting…  like she was trying to blow dust out of her nose.  And no wonder!  She kept burying her head deep inside a hole on the creek bank.  She had found the fox den and was trying to dig or climb inside or something.  At least I’m pretty sure this was the fox den…  Last winter, the footprints led exactly in this direction.  Makes me want to come out early some morning and stake out the joint…  without the dog, I think!

Red fox by Northlight on FlickrHere’s a photo from one of my Flickr contacts, Northlight.  Be sure to click on it to see some of his amazing photography.  I hope someday to post my own Red Fox photo!  Until then, thank you, Michael.

Camp Timbercrest

Girl ScoutsThere is no place on the planet that feels more like home to me than Camp Timbercrest.  The land for the camp was purchased in 1963.  By 1967, it was a fully operational day and residence camp.  I attended day camp in 1965 and 1966, and residence camp several summers starting in 1967.  (That’s me, second from the left.)  Somehow, when high school and college came around, I got disconnected.  I returned as a counselor in the summer of 1982.

StrawberryWhen my daughters were old enough, they began attending.  Both will spend a good part of this coming summer at camp, the eldest as a junior counselor, the youngest as a CIT (counselor in training).

Today, I had the extreme pleasure of leading a Spring Wildflower Walk at my “home”.  Nine adults and three children signed up to walk with me looking for ephemerals at Camp Timbercrest.  Many were former or current Girl Scouts.  It was a gorgeous spring day – just warm enough to be very pleasant, sunny, delightful.

We saw over 30 species of flowering plants.  Most were in bloom; a few we recognized by their leaves or fruits.

Fringed PolygalaFlowers seen on May 18th (I went out the day before to make sure the trail was OK) and 19th, 2007:

Strawberry, Dandelion, Colt’s Foot, Field Mustard, Barren Strawberry, Toothwort, Early Low Blueberry, Starflower, Bristly Black Currant, Foamflower, Hooked Crowfoot, Miterwort, False Hellebore (buds), Violets – purple, Violets – yellow, Violets – white, Trillium – white, Trillium – painted, Trillium – red, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Blue Cohosh, Indian Cucumber Root, Goldthread, Pink Lady Slipper (Buds), Orchid (leaves and buds only – round-leaved maybe?), Spring Beauty, Canada Mayflower, Dwarf Ginseng, Wild Geranium, Fringed Polygala, Golden Ragwort, Wintergreen (leaves, berry), and Partridge Berry (leaves only).

I find it so gratifying to teach adults who have selected the class.  It’s fun to have the kids at the Center:  they have so much enthusiasm and energy.  Often when children ask a question, they don’t have the attention span to wait for an answer!

Starflower

Adults ask, then wait for the answer, then test themselves further down the trail… “Now, is this another Starflower?”  Yes it is!  Good job!

To see photos of most of the flowers we saw, click here:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferschlick/sets/72157600231575731/

Fairy Spies

Jack-In-The-PulpitI don’t know if you knew this or not, but the Fairy Folk have designed some very clever devices for spying on humans.  For example, you may have been taught that this is a wildflower called “Jack-in-the-Pulpit”.  It isn’t really.  It’s actually a tiny microphone concealed under a leaf so that the Fairy Folk can listen to our conversations.

And you know those big flat rocks in the creek that tip ever so slightly when you stand on them?  Those are actually scales… You see, the Fairy Folk are gathering all kinds of information about the humans that pass through their territories, including their weight.

Clever Fairy Spy Device

Spider WebOh!  And spider webs:  The Fairy Folk contract with spiders to use the webs.  After the spider is done using the web to collect food, the Fairies take over and rig the web to send detailed information back to their computers about any human that walks into it.  Oh, do they get upset if a deer walks through the web first and ruins the equipment.

These are the kinds of imaginative games my daughters, Emily and Maddie, and I would play when they were little and we went on “adventures” in the woods.  Now Emily’s a senior in high school.  White Trillium with green variegationWhen we walked the other day, we found some of the white trillium with green in the petals – supposedly caused by an infection.  Emily wondered, “Is it a symbiotic relationships, or does the organism kill the flower?”  What a grown-up question…  I guess my baby isn’t a baby anymore.

Later – down the trail – when we were in the creek, she stood for a while on a teetering flat rock.  “What are you doing?” I asked.  She said, “I must weigh a lot more now than the last time the fairies weighed me.”

Hooray!  My baby will always be my baby.

Patience

Hmm...  What is it?I don’t have much patience.  I always want to know now!  Nature teaches me to slow down and wait for answers.  At the end of April, I was hiking at the Girl Scout Camp and ran across these tight little buds.  This plant was anywhere that it was wet – ditches, along the banks of the lake, in the creek beds.  Flower field guides don’t do you much good unless the flower is in bloom, so I knew I would have to wait.

Today, while walking in a different woods, I stumbled on a huge patch of this same plant… but now it was in bloom.  The vibrant yellow absolutely took my breath away.

Golden Ragwort.  Truth be told, I showed the above photo to a wildflower fanatic friend of mine and he told me what it was, so I’ve known its name for quite some time.  Golden RagwortI looked it up in the Peterson Field Guide and saw the rather unimpressive colored drawing and was mildly interested that the red buds would turn into yellow flowers.  I wasn’t expecting much…  Then, toward the end of a walk that hadn’t turned up anything new… there it was.  Just stunning!  Next year, I will know the plant by the leaves and buds.

Mayapple BlossomI was also impatient about wanting to see Mayapple Blossoms.  I wrote in my last post about searching and searching until I finally found one or two plants whose buds had opened.  Today, of course, nearly all the Mayapples had open flowers!  I shot a ton more Mayapple blossoms today.

A few of the Canada Mayflowers were open, too… but just a few tiny, tiny ones.  And how about this False Solomon’s Seal?  Is this what the flower looks like, or was I impatient?  Did I just get the buds?

Canada Mayflower False Solomon's Seal

Ask

Down the PathSometimes when I go to the woods, I stop at the trailhead, close my eyes, and ask for something in particular.  That may sound like a weird thing to do, but oftentimes it works.  Today I was greedy.  I asked for three things:  (1) to see a Mayapple flower in bloom, (2) to find a Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and (3) to see a new flower – one that I haven’t seen yet this spring.

The forest has interesting ways of talking to you.  It takes a while to learn how to listen, to see the signs, to trust the tug at your attention and follow.

Sometimes an animal will answer your question or lead you to your desire.  A bee may buzz by, drawing your attention this way, or a bird will call you over that way.  It was a Chestnut-sided Warbler that led me to the Mayapple blossom with his “Pleased, pleased, pleased to meet you” song.  Mayapple BlossomI left the main trail and turned to follow a deer trail in hopes of seeing this gorgeous bird.  I scanned the tree tops looking for a flash of movement and color.  When I finally gave up the search and looked back down at the ground, I found myself standing in a huge patch of Mayapples.  Most of them had tight buds, but right in the middle, in perfect sunlight, were two plants with open flowers.  Thank you CS Warbler!  Pleased to meet you, too.  (Next time, don’t be so shy… show yourself!)

To find the first Jack-in-the-Pulpit, I left the trail to get a closer look at a very large patch of Wild Geranium.  Even though I’ve taken lots and lots of pictures of this pink-purple beauty already this spring, I couldn’t resist going over to take a few more.  And there… next to a tree…  the Jack-in-the-Pulpit I had been waiting for.  Thank you Wild Geranium!  When I returned to the path, I realized that the mass of green leaves cuddled close to a stump concealed another Jack that I had walked past two days in a row.

Jack-In-The-Pulpit    Jack-In-The-Pulpit

(Is it true that Jack-in-the-Pulpits are really little microphones set out by fairies to spy on humans?)

Chickweed

My request for a new flower was easily met… just there… on the side of the trail.  I believe this variety is called “Mouse-eared Chickweed”… I really need to bring my wildflower books home from work.

Tomorrow I think I’ll ask for Canada Mayflowers and Solomon Seal in bloom, and a chance to see that Chestnut-sided Warbler!

The forest is full of wonders and she is happy to show them to you.  All you have to do is ask.