On my way out of the woods, after lying on my belly attempting some shots of little Jack-in-the-Pulpits – 6 or 8 inches tall, I found the biggest Jack-in-the-Pulpit I’ve ever seen.

Large Jack-in-the-Pulpit

According to one account, Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), also known as Indian Turnip, can grow to 25 inches (65 cm) in height. This fine specimen was definitely at least that tall!

Jack-in-the-Pulpit photographed using my elbow tripod while lying on my belly.No part of this plant can be eaten raw for the calcium oxalate will cause a burning sensation in your mouth.  With proper preparation, though, parts of it can be edible and there is a long list of medical uses.

My daughter is fond of pretending that the spadex is really a microphone, placed in this ingenious hiding place by fairies who are attempting to eavesdrop on human conversations.

Learn More:


Surprised by What I Know

At her beautiful blog, Toni wrote, “We were surprised at how many birds we can now identify.”  It reminded me of how surprised I was the other day when I took the dog for a walk at one of our usual spots.

    Intensely Blue Sky Day

  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Chickadee
  • Tufted Titmouse
  • Chestnut-sided Warbler
  • Wood Thrush
  • Wood-Pewee
  • Catbird
  • Scarlet Tanager
  • Great-crested Flycatcher
  • American Crow
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Red-eyed Vireo

Only one of those birds let me have a glimpse, yet I knew they were all there by the songs.  It was one of those crystal clear, intensely blue sky kind of days and it seemed that all the birds were showing off.

I don’t know what the learning process is for a song to finally sink in and stay in my gray matter…  But here I was, walking along and I realized… “Gosh, I guess I’ve been learning stuff!”

Lest I get to feeling too proud of myself, two or three more songs that I can’t identify…  Hmm…  How can I find out who THEY are?…

Allegany Bound

Canada MayflowerThe Allegany Nature Pilgrimage has been a springtime tradition in these parts for decades.  Sponsored and organized by members from three Audubon Societies (Jamestown, Buffalo, and Presque Isle) and a fourth nature organization with Audubon in the title (Burroughs Audubon Nature Club), this event is always held on the weekend that follows Memorial Day at Allegany State Park.

A few of us thought it would be fun to gather some of the nature Bloggers together for a face-to-face meeting…  So, if you are reading this and are planning to be at ANP, add this to your schedule:  5:00pm at the Big Tent (Chicken BBQ).  We’ll get as many bloggers together as we can for a group photo and dinner-time chat.

Check out the second link below, and you will see the names of some of your favorite nature bloggers.

Learn more:

Please Pass the Mustard

Field Mustard

“What do you call the stuff you put on your hotdog that is THAT color?” I ask the kids while walking about at Audubon, pointing at a stand of bright yellow flowers atop a straggly collection of stems with all kinds of leaves.

Field Mustard Range Map“Mustard!”

“That’s right… and guess what the name of that plant is?”



“They make mustard out of that?”

Well, probably not this mustard plant…  There are lots of different kinds of mustard plants, over 3,000 worldwide.  This one is called Field Mustard (Brassica rapa) and it is very common – found throughout North America, though originally from Europe.  According to one source, all mustards are edible, though some taste better than others.  Want to try some?  The article states:

For the purposes of the Mustard family, all you need to remember is “4 petals with 6 stamens–4 tall and 2 short”.

And the site has this incredible diagram:

Brassicaceae Diagram

I’m always intrigued by the seeds.  Mustards have dehiscent (notice how I use that word so easily… as if I’ve known it all my life… when actually, I just learned it yesterday…) seedpods called siliquesDame's Rocket by Dave Bonta(Pronounce it as if “sleek” had two syllables:  suh-leek.)  A silique has two outside parts that will fall away when the seed is mature to reveal a clear membrane in which the seeds are held.  The picture at left by Dave Bonta shows the skeleton of the Dame’s Rocket siliques.  (Yes, Dame’s Rocket is a mustard, too!)

To make the mustard we use as a condiment, the seeds are ground and mixed with other ingredients, such as water and/or vinegar.  Black Mustard (B. nigra) seeds are most commonly used, but not exclusively.  Learn more by watching this five minute documentary on the making of mustard:


Dame's Rocket BudsMustards have been cultivated and bred for thousands of years.  On Monday, I planted three members of the mustard family that were all bred from B. oleracea:  cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, and broccoli.  Three others that might be in your garden from this same heritage are kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower.  Radishes and turnips are also in the mustard family!  And toothwort, and horseradish, and garlic mustard, and…

We owe a lot to mustards.  That’s probably why there is a Mustard Museum (http://www.mustardweb.com/index.htm) and a National Mustard Day (the first Saturday in August).

Dame's Rocket

 Learn more:

Wild Geraniums

Wild GeraniumGosh, there’s a lot of them!  Some of them are so pale they are almost white.  Others are a deep, lovely purple.  And I can’t seem to resist photographing them!

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum), also known as Spotted GeraniumWild Geranium Range Map is plentiful in most of the woods where I hike.  It seems especially fond of wet places, but I see it growing where the ground dries out, too.

Like many woodland flowers, Wild Geranium can reproduce either by seeds or by spreading underground rhizomes.  It is not uncommon to see large colonies.

I’m afraid I got a bit zealous photographing these the other day, too, as I did with the Mayapples

1Wild Geranium Closeup 1

2Wild Geranium Closeup 2      3Wild Geranium

You can vote for your favorite, again, if you like!

Cool fact:

Seeds are produced in a dehiscent fruit and are scattered by explosive dispersal an average of 10 feet (3 m) and a maximum of 30 feet (9 m). (source)

Gotta love explosive dispersal.  Plus, I learned a new botanical word:  dehiscent.  It means the fruit or seedpod automatically opens at maturity to expel the seeds.  Hmmm, I wonder if Wild Geranium seed pods will respond to my touch the way Jewelweed (a.k.a. Touch-me-not) does?



Mayapple LeafEver since I was little and found huge patches of these flowers at Girl Scout Camp, I have been captivated by them.  I imagined myself the size of a fairy living underneath them, where they would form a huge palm tree forest above my head.  I don’t think I ever noticed the flowers in May or the fruit in August when I was a kid.  I walked above them and never saw what was happening beneath the giant umbrella-leaves.

Mayapple Range MapOver the last few years, I’ve become very fond of the flower that is produced by a mature plant.  Mature plants will sprout two of these enormous leaves and the flower will dangle from a separate stem between them.  A fruit may set and ripen by August or so.

Mayapple Blossom in May  Mayapple Fruit in August

On Saturday, I picked up a copy of Nature Photographer Magazine.  It contained an article by Brien Szabo called “My Summer Project” which can also be seen at his website here.  The article inspired me to take advantage of Saturday’s “magic hour” of light and take way too many pictures of Mayapple Blossoms.  I’ve numbered them, so you can vote for your favorite:

Mayapple Flower Closeup 7

Mayapple Abstract 2

Mayapple Flower Closeup 5

Mayapple Abstract 1

Mayapple Flower Closeup 2

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is also known as American Mandrake.  The ripe fruit is edible and can be eaten raw or made into jelly BUT THE GREEN FRUIT, LEAVES, ROOTS AND SEEDS ARE TOXIC, so be careful!

Pond Critters – Answers Revealed…

Bullhead1 – Probably a Bullhead, not a Catfish.  It’s tail is not deeply forked, or even slightly forked, rather somewhat squared off.  Learn more at the NYS DEC by clicking here.


Water Strider2 – Water Strider.  (I haven’t learned the scientific names or even figured out if we have more than one species, yet…  So far, I’ve been content to call it a Water Strider.  A lot of my students call them “Water spiders”… Then I’ll catch a real water spider to show them the difference.


Damselfly Larva3 – Damselfly Larva.  Several of you said Mayfly larva.  Mayflies also have three “tails,” but they have gills on the outsides of their abdomens that appear to be fluttering in the breeze.  This is a baby Damselfly.  Again, I have no idea what species.


Giant Waterbug Male with Eggs4 – Giant Waterbug.  As TheMarvelous said, waterbug females lay their eggs on the backs of the males.  I don’t know if other invertebrates do such a thing…  While surfing around looking for other photos, etc, I learned that some folks call these “Toe Biters.”  That made me laugh.  Learn more by clicking here.


Dragonfly Larva5 – Dragonfly Larva.  Again, I don’t know the species.  TheMarvelous suggests one of the skimmers.  Could be!  We see adult skimmers all summer.  Good guessing, y’all!


 Oh, my gosh… There’s a macroinvertebrate key online, too!  Check it out:

Pond Critters

At this time of year, we do a lot of dipping.  Not skinny dipping.  Not ice cream dipping.  Pond dipping!  We like to show the kids what kinds of critters live in the ponds.  In the spirit of Tom’s Collective Naturalist posts (1, 2, 3), I won’t tell you what these are…  Instead… You tell me!!  (Common names are close enough! And for some – a generic name is close enough…)

There are only five, this time…






Good luck!  Look for the answers after 8pm EST on May 25th.

Wobbly Goose is Back

Wobbly Goose

I guess you could say that Wobbly is our pet goose.  She (he?) showed up a couple of years ago as a gosling that could not stand or walk very well.  Her original name was less charitable:  Turtle Bait.  But Sarah took over care of the poor crippled gosling and taught it to stand upright, instead of lying on her back with feet in the air.  She stays with us each winter, eating bird seed – sometimes right out of a cup.  She’s very bow-legged and even steps on her own feet when walking, sometimes…  So I came up with the name “Wobbly Goose”.

Goose Family

When the breeding geese come back to town, they chase Wobbly away from the backyard.  Sometimes we know where she goes, other times, it’s a mystery.  A few days ago, she showed up again, and for the most part the breeding geese seem to be leaving her alone.

Why this goose is still alive, I really don’t know.  But she is a joy to have.  The kids can get very close to her and she doesn’t seem to mind, though she does have her limits.  She will hiss if you get TOO, TOO close.

Other posts that mention Wobbly Goose:


Wildflower Identification – ONLINE!

Update 5/10/09:  I guess it’s working again.  Yay!

Update 7/14/08Before you get too excited, several readers have tried the link below and it hasn’t been working.  Sorry about that folks!  It was working when I posted this!

My friend Barbara told me about an on-line Wildflower Identification website for the Northeast.  (The site has links to keys for other parts of the country, too.)  I tried it out on a flower that I already knew, just to test how it worked.  All you do is check boxes and click the Identify button.  My screen looked like this (except there were boxes with checkmarks, rather than an ‘x’ in front of my choices:

Check the characteristics that you see (you can always hit “Back” and change these later).

Petal-like Parts
   3 petals
   4 petals
x 5 petals
   6 petals
   in a head (7 or more petals): cluster of stalkless (or nearly stalkless) flowers
   tubular petals
   irregular petals: lipped, lopsided, not symmetrical

Flower Arrangement
   single flower on stem
x several flowers on stem
   cluster or spike of flowers (a spike is a long cluster, with the flowers along the stem)
   in an umbel (flowers in an umbrella-like cluster, with stalks radiating from one point)

Flower Width
   1/8 of an inch or less flower width
x 1/8 to 3/8 inches flower width
   3/8 to 5/8 inches flower width
   5/8 to 1 inch flower width
   1 to 2 inches flower width
   2 inches or more flower width

Flower Color
   whitish flower color
   pink to red flower color
   yellow to orange flower color
   brownish or greenish flower color
x blue to purple flower color

When in Bloom
   blooms in April or earlier
   blooms in May
   blooms in June
   blooms in July
   blooms in August
   blooms in September or later

Plant Height
   plant height one foot or less
x plant height one foot to two feet
   plant height two feet or more

Leaf Petiole
x leaf petiole present (has a leafstalk)
   leaf petiole absent (has no leafstalk)

Leaf Arrangement
x alternate leaf arrangement on the stem
   opposite one another leaf arrangement on the stem
   arrangement of leaves on stem is whorled (three or more from a point)

Leaf Edges
x smooth leaf edges
   leaf edge has at least 4 teeth per inch
   irregular leaf edge
   deeply cut leaf edge

Leaf Veins Appear
   parallel leaf veins
x branched leaf veins

Simple Leaves (one per stem)
   simple leaves about as long as wide
x simple leaves about 1 1/2 to 5 times as long as wide
   simple leaves over 5 times as long as wide

Compound Leaves (many per stem)
   compound leaves are trifoliate – three leaflets radiating from a point
   compound leaves are pinnate – leaflets arranged along a midrib
   compound leaves are palmate – leaflets or lobes fan from one point

   stem creeps or twines
x stem is hairy or spiny
   stem is square

When I clicked the “Identify” button, I was given two possible flowers…  Before you click on “The rest of this entry…” (or scroll any further) to reveal the answers, do you have a guess?

Continue reading