American Pokeweed Berries

Aren’t these the prettiest? The American Pokeweed berries are ripening to their deep purple.

 

We squirrels were delighted to see it–but just for fun! American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, berries are poisonous. We don’t dare even get their juice on our paws, and neither should you humans.

 

Those crazy birds will eat them, and then every spot they spend some time sitting in afterwards will be purple. Come next spring, you’ll see more pokeweed sprouting. If you don’t want them, pull them quickly, because their taproot get quite large and the plant grows 6-10 feet tall! We have two species native to North America, and there are others around the world.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week – English Ivy

For our second invasive plant that humans grow on purpose, we’ve chosen English Ivy, Hedera helix. As you may guess from the name, English or common ivy is originally from Europe. Many plants and animals were introduced to the New World because colonists either used them for a medicinal or food purposes, or couldn’t imagine living without them.

English Ivy did have medicinal value, all the way back to the times of Hippocrates and the ancient Greeks. We squirrels are not recommending these treatments. We are simply stating that early peoples found uses for the plant and wanted to continue those uses, such as preventing intoxication, reducing swelling, and as an anesthetic.

Also, from a gardeners’ perspective, English Ivy will grow in shade, requires little care and will spreads by root runners and by seed. Again, now we know these habits are detrimental to the health of our native plants.

Interestingly, English Ivy only flowers when it has upright shoots, such as traveling up a tree or building. It does damage both when doing this, by sending its roots under bark and into masonry, allowing water and fungus to grow.

Thus, we recommend that you remove the ivy from your trees and buildings first. Cut the vines without cutting the tree bark to prevent harm to trees. The humans we squirrels have been observing in our neighborhood used a tool, like a screwdriver, to lever up the vines to cut them. They then remove the vine from the base of the tree to ensure they got all of them and often cut back a circle of vegetation.

The plant will die on the tree and soon will be brittle enough to break off.

Hickory and I are doing our part by running up and down the trunks to loosen it so it falls faster. Pass the word to your squirrel friends in your neighborhoods!

When removing the vines from the ground, it’s best to wait until after a recent rain so the soil is wet and giving. Then you humans have the best chance of having the roots come up with the vine. Any piece of root left in the ground will sprout anew. Sorry, but you might be removing for several years to come, but it should become less and less.

Be sure to replace the ivy with native plants–plenty of them thrive in the shade. But that’s a story for another post!

National Invasive Species Awareness Week – Periwinkle

We prefer talking about native plants on this blog, but we squirrels are well aware that many plants out there are not native. These plants and animals are called ‘invasives,’ and they don’t operate in their own special world. They affect other, native plants and animals in our habitat in many ways, like competing for space, or homes, or eating all the food up, or killing our native animals.

This year, National Invasive Species Awareness Week, is from May 16-23. We squirrels just noticed this, because we saw it on another nature blog from our area. They are probably prepared and going to feature many more plants and animals, so you might want to leap on over to Capital Naturalist’s blogspot. This is their 2018 post from when they first posted for invasive week. We can’t seem to find a ‘home page’ on Blogspot, but that’s us squirrels for you!

Here on The Squirrel Nutwork, we do have a few invasive photos on hand, and we’ll post a few plants that you humans might plant on purpose. They may not have been considered invasive years ago, but now they are.

Let’s start with Periwinkle, Vinca major and Vinca minor. 

This vining plant, also known as creeping myrtle, is named for it’s blue flower–which unfortunately, we don’t have a photo of! But our tech-savvy human readers can search for it. Or likely you already know what it looks like!

Periwinkle is often sold as a plant that fills in over mulch or provides a nice ground cover. Wherever a tip of the plant touches the ground, it can root. The root will then send up a new shoot, and thus the plant spreads.

Really spreads. It doesn’t observe social distance, er, boundaries with other plants. Periwinkle will go right through them.

Yes, the flower is pretty, but nothing in North America pollinates it. Nothing eats periwinkle. Not even deer. We hate to admit it, because that alone will probably encourage some of you humans to go buy some. But by planting periwinkle, you are making your yard a desert for bees and other insects that need habitat.

This makes us sad. Didn’t we tell you that we preferred to talk about native plants?

We squirrels and other animals need your help to keep invasive plants from pushing us out. Keep watch for invasives and help out the plants and animals in your neighborhood by removing them. Or not planting them in the first place!

Thank you!

Z is for Zizia!

Finally, finally, we have another local nature item that starts with Z!

We squirrels were off on a romp and found Zizia aurea, commonly called Golden Alexander and sometimes Golden Zizia, growing along one of the reconstructed streams in our suburban area. These streams were so badly eroding that huge boulders were brought in to re-sculpt the edges and form drops to slow storm water. Many plantings were put in, all of them native.

Zizia Aurea is found throughout North America, from Canada across the United States. The flat-topped umbels of flowers are typical of the flowers of the carrot family, which Zizia is a member. They like to grow in moist woods from full sun to part shade, so this is the perfect location for it.

The plantings have grown into a nice stand, haven’t they? Nectar-feeders are going to be very happy to find them all grouped together for easy sipping over the summer, and the black Swallowtail butterfly’s caterpillars will have delicious feast on the leaves.

As a fun side note you humans will appreciate, the plants in this genus are named to honor Johann Baptist Ziz, a German Botanist who lived from 1779 to 1829.

This brings us to the end of April and the end of our Blogging From A to Z April Challenge! We’ll try to have a few thoughts on our month over the weekend, or on the day the A to Z people ask us to. It’s been a fun spring for us and hopefully we made #StayHome more fun for you humans! That’s not over though, so we shall try to keep up our posts here.

T is for Trout Lily

Ah, the Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum, is a spring woodland favorite. The flowers don’t appear as often as the leaves, becasue like the Lady’s Slipper, the plant only blooms when two leaves have enough energy to grow.

Trout Lilies do not grow in the water, as you might assume. The leaves are speckled like a brook trout, and grow on the rich soils of the floodplains of streams and rivers. In the right conditions–and likely with no competition–Trout Lilies will spread across the forest floor.

We spotted these flowers on an early morning romp, so aren’t sure if they are closed because it’s early in the day and they are saving their blooming energy for when the bees are out, or if it’s early in the season and they haven’t opened yet.

Sorry we can’t give you the full effect of how they petals turn back when the flowers are fully open, but have a look here on the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center website.

M is for Milkweed

Milkweeds are a very valuable plant in nature. When blooming in the summer, milkweed nectar supports many bees, wasps and other insects, including the famous Monarch butterfly. (Another M word!)

Monarch caterpillars can feed on the monarch leaves and are not affected by the famous milky sap that is toxic to humans and some animals. A few of the insects that feed on milkweeds are:

the milkweed leaf beetle

honeybee

Large Milkweed Bug

Silvery Checkerspot

And aphids, which attract even more insects to the milkweed!

Members of the milkweed family, the Asclepias genus, number 200 hundred and are spread across North and South America and Africa. You should be able to find a native species in your local to support this plant and host bees, wasps, monarchs and other insects.

We squirrels think that if you get your own stand of milkweeds going, you won’t have any problem staying home and watching the show they provide in your garden!

K is for Kidneyleaf Buttercup

Welcome to another week of Blogging A to Z April Challenge with The Squirrel Nutwork!

We’re 13 days into April but two letters short of the middle of the alphabet.

We’re having fun, mostly posting nature we squirrels see these spring days in our neighborhood in suburban Washington D. C. We recently realized that our old WordPress theme is no longer showing our byline…guess we’ll need to enter the world of technology for a bit. :/

On to K, the Kidneyleaf Buttercup!

In some circles, the kidneyleaf buttercup is called is called the Small-flowered Crowfoot, Ranunculus abortivus. You can cross-check this by looking at the scientific name, the main reason Miz Flora likes them and insists we squirrels use them on the blog.

So why would the plant have both these common names?

The answer is easy… the leaf…

looks like a kidney bean. The flower is decidedly small.

And the leaves nearest the flowers look like crowfeet?

The flowers are unlike any of the other buttercups, but this plant is in the Ranunculus family.  It is native and spreads easily over the garden, should you be staying home (Are you?) and keeping a closer eye on your own garden. The basal leaves really build up in the lawns and look like this before the flower stems grow. (Green ones, not purple ones!)

Yet, we cannot find much information on small-flowered crowfoot.

This page from the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis had the most information if you wish to read more. However, note that the link to a page describing this plant as poisonous to bees seems to be linked to another Ranunculus species and the poisoning wasn’t proven, though the follow-though seems to be good.

As we are hearing repeatedly these days in your human news, please in this and all advice, check multiple sources before you try something!

I is for Indian Cucumber

If you can find a rich woodlands that’s a bit damp, you may be able to find Indian Cucumber Root, Medeola virginiana. 

It can grow to two and a half feet tall, but the plant is so delicate that it’s often overlooked. And the flower is definitely hard to see! Can you spot it?

This one still has the reddish flower stigmas and is easier to see.

The name comes forth root, a rhizome (think iris!) that smells and tastes like cucumber. Please note that we squirrel are not suggesting you go out and give this a try! For many reasons: 1) Don’t listen to squirrels to get your human food advice. 2) This is actually a scarce plant and that will make it scarcer. 3) (Most importantly!) Aren’t you humans supposed to be staying home!

 

D is for Dandelion

Oops, only April 4 and we nearly forgot to post today! We squirrels are so out of practice after winter hiatus!

So, we offer the lowly dandelion.

Maybe not so lowly. The dandelion, with its long taproot, is one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring. It is blooming exactly when bees need pollen to feed their young to build up their colony after the winter.

Or maybe, the bees get going with rearing young in the spring exactly when the dandelions bloom and provide pollen for them.

Yes, that sounds more like how nature works.

And maybe it’ll keep working that way if we let more dandelions bloom in the spring.

C is for Cut-leaved Toothwort

Yes, we have a flower thing going on. That’s what happens when you spend so much time in the woods avoiding people.

This fine-leaved spring ephemeral can be easily overlooked if the flowers aren’t open.

Its name is both from those leaves and the knobby roots, which appear to have tooth-like projections on them: Cut-leaved Toothwort, Dentaria laciniata. The flowers, which stand up better in full sunlight, attract many kinds of native bees and spring butterflies.

One sad note Miz Flora came across while researching toothworts is that the roots were a minor food source of Passenger Pigeons, which became extinct from overhunting in the early 20th Century.

And remember: This is the year to enjoy our wildflowers from an extreme distance. Stay home! (We squirrels are watching you!)