One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve


Some beautiful flowers are blooming that you might see as you drive by…

Mystery #119

Any idea what they are?

Check back with you later!


Well, we chased out tails today looking at plants and frankly forgot to come back to post the answer. *flattens ears* Sorry.

This stately bush is a Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia. At least around northern Virginia it’s a shrub. Down in South Carolina, the Mountain Laurel grows to the size of a small tree. But however large it grows, the blossoms are lovely.

Mountain Laurel Flowers

And very full on the mature plants.

Mountain Laurel flowers

This native shrub likes it cool and green and shady, so you’ll most often find it on north-facing sloes or hillsides near creeks and rivers. The leaves are evergreen and the shape of a rhododendron leaf, but the plant is a member of the heather family.

Mountain Laurel leaves

Most parts of the plant are poisonous, so do be careful! Mountain Laurel is fairly wide-spread along the eastern U.S., so is the state flower of both Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Lowbush Blueberry

berriesLowbush Blueberry

These wild blueberry bushes don’t seem as widespread as they used to be. We ran by a big patch a few weeks ago and spied the flowers.

Lowbush Blueberry Flowers

Hickory thinks it’s time for another trip across the golf course to check, but I say we’ve got a few weeks to go until the berries are ripe. Ms. Flora agrees, but we can’t seem to quiet him. Guess you know what I’ll be doing today. *chitters*

We caught a Spring Azure

Do you human readers realize how hard it is to get a photo of one of these tiny butterflies?! They never sit still!

Spring Azure

And in case you didn’t recognize it this is the little blue butterfly–see the bit of the top side of the wing?–that flits around. Just that sitting with its wings up you are seeing the underside which isn’t as blue.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

We ran by this one some time ago. The leaves should be fully out, but we wanted to see if you humans recognize this tree.

Mystery #118

Check back with you later!


We had a couple of stabs at what this leaf might be, and lots of looks. Ms. Flora knew the tree’s family, but not the specific species, which we fortunately found on the tree’s label.

Dunstan Chestnut tag

A chestnut! The native American chestnut trees were killed by a fungal blight waaaay back even before Ol’ Wally’s time, in the 1900s. This was a lot of trees, approximately every fourth tree in the hardwood forests died. Some pockets of trees survived because they weren’t within wind-blowing distance of the spores of the infected trees. It’s from these trees that scientists have tried to grow a disease-resistant Chestnut hybrid species.

The Dustan Chestnut is one of these trees, a species developed by tree breeder Dr. Robert T Dunstan.

It’s rather neat that he got buds from a huge chestnut living in the midst of dying chestnuts, grafted the twigs onto other rootstock and managed to grow a chestnut hybrid that will bear chestnuts! That’s the important part here! We squirrels might get to eat chestnuts in our diet again!

Dunstan Chestnut ree in a tube

The new Dustan Chestnuts aren’t nearly so big as the old American Chestnuts, only 25 feet tall to their 100 feet, but at least it’s a tree these suburban dwellers are willing to plant and grow in tight quarters. And we get chestnuts!

One more flower!

Little white flowers get passed over for the more showy stuff, so Ms. Flora thought we ought to give them some equal time.

Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides, is definitely one you tall human readers would miss.

Rue Anemone

Barely taller than a squirrel–heh–and light and airy on its thin stems, this spring wildflower blends into the forest floor.

“True! I never saw it before!” Hickory’s tail twitches.

Rue Anemone

Well, keep an eye out! Many petals, the little burst of stamens in the center,, this little guy is providing our bees with some spring nectar until the serious summer flowers get blooming.

Thirsty Thursday

Ponds are greening up around the area.

Wooded pond

That sunlight Nutmeg was saying hits the ground when no leaves are on the trees also hits the woodland ponds and makes the algae grow. We hear you humans react to this with cries of ick, but it’s good for the tadpoles, and if not tadpoles, the water bugs.

And then the birds come along, like this spotted sandpiper…

Spotted Sandpiper

and the bugs get eaten. Most people think of these as coastal birds, but they are common along creeks and ponds as long as they can find food. See, it’s good those ponds grow algae.

Showy Orchis

One of our friends has sent the prettiest photos of Showy Orchis, also known as Showy Orchid, Galearis spectabilis.

Showy Orchid

Like the Pink Lady’s Slipper, this is another spring bloomer in the orchid family that is found growing in our deciduous woods. Have you noticed we keep featuring ‘spring’ blooming wildflowers? Ms. Flora is pushing us to get them all on the blog because they really do only bloom while the tree leaves aren’t fully furled out. Waaaay down on the ground these plants can’t get the sunlight they need, so they put all their energy into their flowers right away, while they can. They require rich soil and supposedly can’t compete with too many other plants, though this lot seem to have plenty of company.

So back to our Showy Orchis. That’s quite a white tongue this flower has. Oops, Ms. Flora is chittering at me…it’s a bumblebee landing pad.

Showy Orchis

Now Hickory is snickering, and Ms. Flora is narrowing her dark eyes at us both. Sigh. So really, those big bumblebees to need a lot of space to land, and the flower provides it. Just like with the Pink Lady’s Slipper, the bumblebee has to squeeze into that tight hood to get his nectar and in return passes pollen from flower to flower.

I wouldn’t want to be a bee. They have more jobs heaped on them than we squirrels do!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

This is a relative of rhododendron, as one of our readers guessed. Pinkster Flower, Rhododendron periclymenoides, or Pinkster Azalea as it’s sometimes mis-named, is native to our woodlands and just like its rhododendron relative, it prefers things a bit moist.

Pinkster Flower, Pinkster Azalea

Unlike them, the leaves do drop, which is why Ms. Flora thinks so many humans refer to it as an azalea. We’re seeing these show flowers at the edge of woods, bright spots among the green.

Pinkster Flower, Pinkster Azalea

They don’t have a scent, so you’ll just have to look for them!