One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a little plant coming up around the neighborhood.

It’s so plain I’m showing close-ups of the leaves and stem as well.

Give me a guess in the comments and I’ll check back for your answers.

~~~

No guesses today? This is a fairly common native plant that most of you humans probably recognize after it’s all grown up–and got it’s roots–or should we say taproot!–in your garden!

Any guesses now?

It’s Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, sprout in spring, monster by summer, sometimes growing to 8 feet tall. And it will return year after year because it’s almost impossible to get that taproot out after it’s grown for a season.

And don’t forget the possibility of reseeding–lots of berries in the fall, that are actually poisonous. They are eaten by a few birds–catbird, cardinal, mockingbird–but for the rest of us, these berries are a no-no.

 Some humans advocate removing pokeweed from populated areas like our suburban yards. If you look for the smooth-edged leaves and red stems, it’s easy to spot pokeweed and remove the entire root when the plants are small.

Yep, when it’s small.

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No Mystery Today!

Hey, sorry, I know! But here’s a poison ivy and a Virginia creeper for you to ponder the difference between.

Both vines, both native. Remember, leaves of three let it be!

If you need more practice, here’s a link to our poison ivy-Virginia creeper quiz. Get the answers by clicking on the next post at the bottom of that page…back then we put our answers in separate posts–*facepaw*. You can also search those individual posts in the search box to learn more about each plant.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

While you were out hiking yesterday, did you come across anything as common as these?

By chance do you know the specific type? (I know, all those little flowers look alike, but Miz Flora would be pleased if anyone knows!)

Check in for your answers later!

~~~

Two of our readers agreed these are violets. Yay! Though they’re are thirty-some species of violets in the Eastern U. S., Miz Flora was hoping someone might figure out that they are Canada Violets.

 It is near-to-impossible from photos. Canada violet has white petals with a yellow throat, and the backs of the petals are tinged with violet. Only three of the local violets are white or cream-colored, and none of the others have purple backs. You might check your white violets, but Miz Flora recommends you check more than one blossom and perhaps several times as they are blooming.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

What is this blooming shrub?

Yes, a spring bloomer!

I’ll check in for your answers later!

~~~

We had a correct guess today: this is Itea virginica, or Virginia sweetspire, also sometimes known as ‘tassel-white’ which seems very appropriate!

The one in our original photo isn’t blooming just yet, likely because it’s in a shady spot. But you can see these delicate branches are hosting a good number of spires.

Itea will do fine in partial shade, but it really takes off in a sunny location.

The hanging flowers bloom from the top down for a long-lasting spring bloom, and later form tiny seeds in pods that are opened in the winter by songbirds.

Miz Flora asked me to remind out gardening readers that Virginia sweet spire isn’t just a nursery plant. It does grow wild in Virginia and the east, most commonly in damp areas or along water. But it should do fine in your garden as well, because it’s very hardy. The loosely formed mounds are great for squirrels, chipmunks and birds to hide in. Here’s a bit more information that she liked from the Piedmont Master Gardeners, because not every plant is perfect in every location. Virginia sweetspire might like your garden a bit too much!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Do you recognize this tiny flower? (That’s a hint!) You might have seen it in your ‘lawn’ if you’ve allowed it to ‘go wild.’

Give us your guess!

I’ll be back later to check in.

~~~

We had two correct guesses today! This little plant that often turns up in lawns, or as one commenter’s common name suggests, as a ‘wayside’ plant, is in the Veronica family, commonly known as speedwell.

It’s easier to tell in this photo that the flowers are on little stalks, so Miz Flora believes it is Persian Speedwell, Veronica persica. Do note that one of the four blue petals is smaller than the others, which is typical in this species, but also several others.

We had thought it was a native plant, because it’s so widespread, but alas, it is introduced from Eurasia. It blooms from spring until fall, with tiny 1 cm blossoms that can be easily overlooked.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

The poison ivy season is upon us again. Can you tell it apart from other vines? That’s your mystery challenge today!

1

2

3

4

Which is / are poison ivy? What are the others?

Will check in later for your answers!

~~~

These are all vines in our area of northern Virginia. We had a correct guess in the comments on the poison ivy, number 2: ‘Leaves of three, let it be’ is a good reminder of what it looks like.

Number 1 is a plant that perhaps you should fear more than poison ivy–it’s a horrible invasive, mile-a-minute weed.

Number 2, the dangerous poison ivy.

Number 3 is the top vine confused with poison ivy, Virginia Creeper. It commonly has 5 leaflets to a leaf, but that varies tremendously, from 5 to 9!

Number 4 is trumpet creeper vine, native, not poisonous, but is so aggressive that some gardeners choose not to let it grow.

Thanks for visiting!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

If you’re new to following us, I’m Hickory squirrel, and I host a fairly regular Sunday column in which I post a photo of something from nature in our suburban area around Washington, D. C., and you, our human readers, post a guess of what it is. Simple, right?

Here we go!

I’ll be back this evening to check your guesses!

~~~

This fancy-looking fellow is a Hooded Merganser, and yes, he is native to North America. This male’s ‘hood,’ or crest, with its white patch can be raised to show off during mating.

The females are less showy, and you might think it’s so they camouflage on the nest to protect themselves and their young, but these ducks next in tree cavities. Try putting up nest boxes if you live near a pond or stream, just like for a wood duck. They dive to catch fish, crayfish and aquatic insects and may be overlooked because they are a small duck, about the size of crow.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Quiet week here. I think this is an easy guess of most humans, but, hey, I’ll throw it out there anyway!

Be back later for your guesses!

~~~

All–nearly all!–they leaves on the ground here are oaks. The yellow leaves amid the coppery brown ones are  a branch form a White Oak tree. It’s one I–Hickory Squirrel–cut myself to add to my leaf nest. That’s why it’s a bit fresher than the rest of the red oak leaves that fell naturally.

Chilly nights, you know! We all need to add our layers.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

It’s a weekend to celebrate our mystery column: This is the two hundredth mystery post on The Squirrel Nutwork!

And what better way to celebrate than with a mystery acorn!

Sigh, isn’t that a lovely sight?

That’s not too hard, is it? I mean, to guess what type of oak tree it came from?

I’ll check for your guesses in the comments–and if you really want a hint…here is one pictured below.

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This beautiful acorn is from the Black Oak, Quercus velutina. Yes, it’s hard to tell the similar leaves of the black and red oak families apart. One way is the acorns. The Black Oak acorns are shorter and round. The leaves of the Black Oak turn a coppery color in the fall, not red like the Northern Red Oak. And, this is the best leaf difference any time of year, on the back of a Black Oak leaf, tufts of hair fill the angle of space between the main vein and the branching veins (called the axil!). Hope you human readers can see those tufts on the lower, yellowish, dotted leaf.

But either tree is beautiful to us squirrels and the acorns tasty!

And falling like crazy with the winds coming through!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

A bit of fall color for you to ruminate on this week.

What plant is this?

Check in with your guesses later!

~~~

Perhaps this is a hard one to recognize…grows in floodplains, a small tree…

This is the Common Pawpaw, Asimina triloba, a native tree that grows in patches and produces a delicious fruit. We squirrels find them by the nose, on the tree while ripe and eat them right then. When they fall, they start to overripen immediately and lose their sweet flavor.

Miz Flora says humans are wising up to Pawpaw trees and fruit. They’re easy to grow and have few pests, so require little care to get a fruit crop. Check them out if you have a bit of moist land.