It’s Baby Animal Time

It’s baby animal time at Audubon!  And we’ve been finding many.  Last weekend, our first batch of goslings hatched during 60-80 degree weather.  Today, with temperatures back down in the 40s, they must be wondering what they were thinking hatching out this early!  Lucky for them, mom’s wings and warm body will provide protection.

Goose Family - there are six goslings!
Canada Goose Family


That really IS a baby turtle in Sarah's hand...

And what about those Painted Turtles?  How do they manage to stay underground all winter long, then find water once they hatch out of holes that are often rather far from the ponds?  They’ve been making a mad dash for the backyard pond over the last few days.

Baby Painted Turtle

They’re just so perfectly round when they first hatch out, aren’t they?

Two Baby Turtles

Barren Strawberry

Here’s my process:  I go for walks in the woods.  I take pictures of stuff.  I bring the pictures home, pick out the ones that aren’t terrible, identify them if I don’t already know what they are, and post them on Flickr.  Then I decide to write a blog post about one or more of them…

So, I consult my field guides and other plant books and then start surfing the ‘net to see what else is out there.  Sometimes I think my post is going to go in one direction, but it ends up going in a completely different direction…  Like today…

Barren Strawberry - Dewy in the Morning Sun

Barren Strawberry Range MapBarren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) is one of those wildflowers whose name gets erased from my brain during summer-fall-winter.  I find it in the woods and think… darn!  I know that flower.  I know I know that flower… But alas, the name will not come to me.  It happened again this year.  So, I decided to write about it, in the hopes that writing about it would help the name stick in my gray matter better.

I was interested to find that the plant, which I see in many locations here in Western New York, is “listed” in several states:

  • Endangered:  IL, ME
  • Threatened: NH
  • Special Concern: MA, CT
  • Rare: IN

Barren Strawberry CloseupBut what set me off on a wild goose chase that still has my head spinning was a small, seemingly innocuous phrase from the Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers:

Fruit not a berry.

Hmm…  Strange that the guide would make that distinction.  And in italics, too.

No problem.  I have no botany book here, but I can google up some definitions…

Go read them.  Seriously.  Then you tell me:  What is the difference between a berry and a fruit?  Then, just for fun, even though it has nothing to do with Barren Strawberry, try vegetable, too:  It’s as good a way as any to waste a little time…

Finally, look at the cute little critter I found on one of the plants:

Barren Strawberry Visitor

Wild Oats

Wild Oats - Sessile BellwortWild Oats (Uvularia sessilifolia), also known as Sessile Bellwort, is found in rich woods in the eastern US.  It’s easy to walk right past it, since the flowers dangle down below grass-like leaves.

Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants warns against collecting unless it is very abundant. If you find large patches, gather young shoots and remove the leaves. Boil the young shoots for 10 minutes, and serve as you would asparagus. I’ve never tried it, never found a big enough patch to feel confident about collecting and still leaving some for next year.



I can’t find any reference that tells why this plant from the Lily Family is called “oats” at all.  Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs lists this plant saying Native Americans used a root tea for various ailments.  It also lists another different species from the Grasses Family with the common name “Wild Oats” –  Avena fatua, the species from which cultivated oats derive.  That one it makes sense to call wild oats!

Wild Oats Range MapI did a little searching on the Internet to try to determine where the phrase “to sow wild oats” came from.  There were plenty of colorful definitions for the phrase, but the only hint at its origin that I found was this:

To sow wild oats means ‘to behave foolishly’ or ‘indulge in excess while one is young.’ This has been an English idiom since the 16th century, and it refers to the sowing of inferior wild grain instead of superior cultivated grain, alluding to sexual promiscuity. It suggests that such is something that one will grow out of. The phrase likely arose in one language (English or Spanish) and was translated into the other. (Melanie and Mike, Take our Word for It, Source)

I must assume the wild oats the young and foolish sow are the Avena species, not the Uvularia.  As for the other behaviors… well…  hmm…

Nature at 55

White Trout LilyNo, I’m not 55 years old… yet… though that age approaches quickly enough.  I’m talking miles per hour here…  It happens to me often… zooming down the road on my way to work or some other important event… when suddenly, something catches my eye… something unfamiliar… a new color, or shape that has no name inside my brain.  Last year, I found Wild Garlic that way.

 This week, it was a fairly large patch of bright, white flowers that formed stars in the grass along the side of the road.  I screeched to a halt, parked on the side of the road, grabbed the camera, and snapped a couple of pictures.  As soon as I was close enough, I knew what they were:   White Trout Lilies (Erythronium albidum).  I had just said to someone the day before that while I have seen massive colonies of the yellow variety, I had never seen White Trout Lilies.  And here, I drive past them every day…  Ironic.  I was only a little late for work.


White Trout Lilies


What have you stopped along the side of the road for?

Dwarf Ginseng

It’s so little and cute.  And edible.  And medicinal.  And sexy.  If you don’t know it yet, you must introduce yourself.  It’s called Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius).

Dwarf Ginseng 5

Look how little it is.  Those are beech leaves on which it is casting its shadow.  Underground there is round tuber.  Peterson’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants notes that the tuber can be eaten raw as a “trailside nibble” or can be boiled and eaten as a cooked vegetable.  In the Medicinal Plants and Herbs book, several uses are noted, including chewing the root for headaches or shortness of breath.

Dwarf Ginseng Range MapThe sexy part, I’m still learning.  But here’s a passage that excited my passion for big science words:

Panax trifolium has a very uncommon form of polygamy called androdioecious. There are two forms of the flower, one is the staminate and the other is the hermaphroditic. The staminate and hermaphroditic flowers occur on separate plants. (source)

Androdioecious.  Not just plain old ordinary dioecious.  Androdioecious.  It’s just too fascinating…  I must learn more.  So, what do you think?  Is this one staminate or hermaphroditic?

Dwarf Ginseng 4 

So much to learn…

Happy Arbor Day!

Audubon CenterThe last Friday in April is officially National Arbor Day.  In honor of the day, I give you Amelanchier arborea.  “What’s that?” you say.  Well…  Let me tell you!

In the middle of the sidewalk approach to the Nature Center building there is a little landscaped garden box.  In the middle of the garden box is a tree… a small tree… that was in full bloom today.  It has many, common names including Serviceberry (supposedly because the blooms coincide with funeral services in the spring???  another source claims an old name “Sarvis”???) and Shadbush (because it blooms when the shad are running upstream).  Both of my tree guides, however, refer to it as Juneberry, because the flowers will set to berries that ripen in June.

Allegany Serviceberry

The berries will be edible…  if you can get to them before the birds and other critters do!  I’ve eaten them right off the tree.  The flavor is mild and pleasant.  If you can gather enough, you can make pie or jam!

And, I can’t resist posting this photo of my daughter from her trip to Costa Rica.  She is pictured here on the day that every student got to plant a tree in the rain forest.  How cool is that?

Planting Trees

So there you have it!  Happy Arbor Day!  Plant a tree.  Celebrate a tree.  Hug a tree.  Climb a tree.  Eat something that came from a tree.  Appreciate trees!

Trillium – Red and White

Oh the trilliums!  I love them.  They’re blooming a little earlier this year than last.  Of course the temperature was near 80 several days this week.  Way too hot for April, in my opinion…  So far this spring I have found two species – a red one and a white one.

Red TrilliumRed Trilliums (Trillium erectum) are growing on the steep banks of the creek in the woods where I walk the dog.  The photo at left isn’t the sharpest.  Sometimes I take lousy photos and keep them, just to remember when I first saw a particular species.  (Last year, I found them a week later than this year.)  I went back earlier the next day when the sun would still be shining on the east-facing creekbank and took a closeup:

Red Trillium Closeup

I also found many droopy White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) that could really use some rain.  This specimen, mostly in the shade, was doing fine on Earth Day, except for an infection:

Large-flowered Trillium

Sometimes mutant plants with green striped petals are found in the Trillium grandiflorum species.  These plants are diseased — infected with parasitic mycoplasmas that cause the greening.  As time passes, the mycoplasmas will cause deformity in the petals and eventually the death of the plant.  Although sometimes erroneously prized for this aberrant colouring, these trilliums should be removed before the mycoplasmas can spread to affect an entire colony. (Woodland Plants: The Trillium by Darcie McKelvey – source)

Poor little guy.  The article cited above also tells about the precarious life cycle and life span of trillium.  Seeds need very particular conditions in order to grow.  Once they germinate, it takes seven years or longer before a plant can produce a flower.  Mycoplasmas are not the only enemy:  if deer browse away the leaves, the plant cannot store enough energy to survive and return next year.  They are shade-loving and will not tolerate a clear cut…  So many dangers… and still… once in a while… you find huge patches of them.  Ruth posted this photo last year:

Wow!  I’ve never come across a patch quite that large!

I wrote about these trillium species last year, too:

Perhaps today I’ll go in search of a Painted Trillium…

Spring Ephemeral Debate

Trout Lily turns its back on the debate.What got me started was the article I cited in my Trout Lily post, in particular, this passage:

The designation spring ephemeral has at times been applied erroneously to other early-blooming woodland herbs such as bloodroot, Jack-in-the-pulpit, wild ginger, hepatica, woods phlox, and various species of trillium. But these species don’t qualify for the ephemeral guild because they retain leaves and ripen fruit well after the leaf canopy closes. Slender fumewort (Corydalis micrantha) has also been cited as a spring ephemeral, but the plant doesn’t qualify since it normally grows on sandy roadsides and in fields or waste places where its life cycle is not correlated with a woodland canopy sequence. (George Ellison, Spring Ephemerals: Strategies Reconsidered, Notes of the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society, Jan-Mar 2007 edition:   Source)

Bloodroot says, 'Don't discriminate against me just because I take a little longer to make seeds!'



Perhaps I’ll simply put two sections in my next book:  True Ephemerals and Other Spring Flowers. Then I can include some of my other favorites of the deciduous woods!


Like Blue Cohosh, Google this plant and you’ll get lots of hits for “remedies” using preparations made from it…  and there will be controversy, too!  The juice from its roots (rhizomes, if you want to get technical) has been used as a body dye, but the juice can also kill skin tissue.  So… I wouldn’t recommend digging it up and painting yourself with it!  Even Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, after listing a host of potential remedies warns, “Toxic!  Do not ingest.”

BloodrootBloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) flowers come up before or sometimes along with the leaves.  The leaves are rolled into a tube that surrounds the flower stem and will slowly unfurl as the flower grows taller.  It gets its common name from the blood-red juice that can be squeezed from its underground rhizomes.



I’m working on a new book called Race for the Sun.  My intent is to include all the flowers from the guild “Spring Ephemerals” that I find around here… in the order I find them.

I was very sad to learn that I can’t include Bloodroot… if I want to be a purist, that is.

Bloodroot does bloom in early spring before the canopy shades the forest floor… but because the fruit takes until June or so to mature and the leaves may remain until August or September, it does not technically belong in this guild.  So sad… It’s such a pretty little thing…  (I suppose I could change the focus of my book to any old spring flower in the woods that catches my eye…)

Bloodroot 4

Bloodroot 2 Bloodroot Range Map

Learn more:

UPDATE 4/23/08:  You MUST go see Jeremy Martin’s photo of Bloodroot.  It is stunning!  Click here.

I was wrong…

I got a botany lesson today.  Turns out my Sexy Red Maple post contained errors, which I will now attempt to correct.  (Many thanks to my botanist friend Suzi for setting me straight.)

Red Maple Blossom with Labels

I had assumed that the red parts were stigma and the yellow parts anthers.  It turns out there are some very small red parts that ARE stigma.  But the majority of the “red thingies” are actually anthers.  When the pollen is mature, they will burst open to reveal the yellow pollen.

She also confirmed cestoady’s comments on the meaning of “structurally perfect”.  Each flower does contain both male and female parts, but in varying degrees.  A “male” flower will still have an ovary – but it may not function.

There are more fascinating and complex behaviors, too.  It is not advantageous for flowers to self-pollinate as this doesn’t offer variety for the gene pool.  So the male and female parts may develop at different rates.  For example, perhaps the female parts on one tree won’t be ready to accept pollen until the male parts have already dispersed theirs…

As an Audubon student once said to one of our naturalists, “Plants are wicked cool.”