One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We squirrels are having too lazy a day inside our warm dreys, but a few plants are still greening our landscape, collecting the sun’s rays when they can.

Recognize this one? If you do, give us a guess in our comments. We’l be back later to check your answers!

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These little cuties greening up our winter landscape are polypody ferns, Polypodium sp.

Like most ferns, these grow in the shade and partial shade, but polypody ferns sprout in cracks between rocks, or on old stumps or logs. They prefer a rich soil and steady moisture found along streams and rivers.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Have you ever seen such a stickery sticker stem?

We squirrel do NOT climb this one! What is it?

Give us your guesses in the comments, and we’ll check back later to confirm!

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Heh! A tougher than normal mystery. Perhaps we should take a step back…

 

Do you recognize this plant? Teasels–numerous members of the Dipsacus family–have prickly stems and leaves in common. We aren’t sure exactly which one this is, but apparently they are all introduced to North America. These prickly seed heads were introduced and grown for use in the textile industry where they were used to raise the nap on fabric. Because the teasel break and need to be replaced often, industries eventually replaced them with metal cards. In the meantime, the teasel plants spread.

And spread. They tend to form tight groups and push out other plants, so have been labelled invasive.

The flowers bloom with multiple blossoms to attract bees and, afterward, the full seed heads lure in goldfinches. So teasel isn’t that a bad of plant to keep around!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We’re all curling up against the cold…

but what is this?

I’ll check back for your guesses in the comments!

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It doesn’t actually take low temperatures for Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota, to curl up. As soon as the seeds are developed, the plant dries up.

The lacy umbels of flowers pull into the center and form what some humans call ‘bird’s nest’.

It’s very easy to see why! Look carefully and you can see the eggs–the tiny brown seeds of the Queen Anne’s Lace.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Can you tell what this is? And why would looking at it be important?

I’ll check in for your guesses in the comments later!

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Well, we had a couple of people worried that this was a diseased leaf! No, not at all. A number of leaves, including this oak species, have tufts of hair in the axils of the veins on the lower side of the leaves. In fact, it is one of the ways to identify this leaf.

The second on this tree’s leaves, is the space between the lobes. The oak leaves in this family, the red oak group, are tricky to tell apart. Of course we squirrels, who pick up the acorns each year, find them easy to identify by the shape and size of the acorns and their caps, a third identification method. But acorns aren’t always on the trees.

So, a look at the leaves: These oak leaves have what’s called ‘variable sinuses’, meaning the space between the indentations is not regular. That, plus the tufts of hair on the back, means these leaves come from a Black Oak, Quercus veluntina.

It’s a stately tree, which we need more of on our rapidly changing planet. Maybe this season, you humans can gather acorns and bury them, and then forget to dig them up?

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

What tree–that’s a hint!–did these leaves come from? (the green ones)

Post your guesses in the comments and we’ll check back later for correct answers!

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Possibly this tree is more recognizable int he spring when this is on the ground below it.

Or this.

In they spring, you’d look up and see…

Or now in the fall:

These are the leaves of the mulberry tree. A few species of the Moraceae family are native to North America and others growing here originated in Europe and China–where they are famously fed to silk worms. We haven’t tried to identify which are which.

Mulberry trees produce their fruits in spring and early summer and are prolific. Plentiful berries being eaten by birds–like bluebirds, orioles, tanagers and warblers–lead to the mulberry tree spreading easily. It’s also a fast and aggressive grower. A shoot will be a two-story tree in a few years, and the roots can pop up sidewalks, so be wary if you see a newly-growing woody-stemmed plant with leaves that you don’t quite recognize as the same as other trees in your vicinity. If you have a woodsy area away from sidewalks and foundations to host a mulberry tree, wildlife will thank you, and there may be enough berries left for you to eat as well.

Remember, verify your identification of anything you humans plan to eat with a source other than we squirrels are giving you!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Have you seen these before? Can you eat it? (Always an important squirrel question!)

We squirrels have, but it’s been a few years. Give us you guess in the comments and we’ll be back later to check your answer!

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This rather strange-looking fruit comes from a tree native to North America, believe it or not! If you humans have seen it before, you know it on sight. We had a correct guess today–this is the Osage Orange, Maclura pomifera, the last remaining tree in the Maclura genus which has many fossil relatives.

 

Today, its closest relatives are mulberry and figs. Osage Osage originally grew naturally in eastern Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, in a region where the Osage Indians lived. They called the tree bowwood or bodark, and used the wood to make bows. Early French settlers called the tree bois d’arc.

The tree is rather nondescript. It has simple leaves and thorns. It grows to a medium size and spreads nicely, so with those thorns was planted widely by settlers in hedgerows to keep in livestock. Alternatively, the wood was used for rot-resistant fence posts. Some animals would eat these fruits that fall in the autumn, while other wild animals, like we squirrels, would rather snack on something else (read that as Acorns!).

That brought Osage Orange the common names Hedge Apple and Horse Apple.

Read more about the Osage Orange Tree and its cultural history on Mother Earth News and Iowa State University’s Horticultural and Home Pest News.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Seeing any white flashes in the distance?

Could it be a common flicker? A white-tailed deer? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

We’ll be back later to check your answers!

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We had correct answer–this is the fluff and seeds of the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca.

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These seeds will be dispersed through the forests and fields on the wind, bringing new milkweed to more areas.

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Those flowers that were pollinated and the milkweed leaves are a popular with dozens of insects, and even more insects that feed on them.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Master Gardener program website shows many of the milkweed community insects in a variety of life stages, that is juvenile to adults.

Humans report that insects are declining, but keep faith in nature! Natural systems ebb and flow, so if you have the place and interest in growing a milkweed community–pesticide free!–you can increase that flow.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Recognize these?

Give us a guess in the comments, and we’ll be back to confirm!

~~~

These leaves are similar to maple leaves, but clearly maples don’t have berries. This is often called wild grape, a vine that tends to grow up trees, or grow up with trees, and flourishing their canopies. This vine is on a pine tree.

While we squirrels may appreciate the handy way the vine brings the grape fruits up to us, a vine growing a tree isn’t always good for the tree. It can overshadow the tree’s leaves and the extra weight is hard for a tree to support. Because of this, grape vines are often considered invasive, even though this is a native plant.

Now for a confession: We squirrels thought this was a native wild grape. But after consulting with Ms. Flora, we have learned it isn’t. Those pretty blue berries are the give away. They aren’t unripe grape fruits; that is what the fruits look like on a grape look-alike. (And we were caught by it, too!) This is a species native to China, Japan and other Asian countries known as Porcelain Berry, Amur Peppervine or sometimes just creeper. Ampelopsis glandulosa actually is invasive and we recommend that you do not eat them!

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Do you recognize this plant in full fall bloom?

Hint: It’s now four feet tall after its summer’s growth.

Give us a guess in the comments!

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We had a correct guess today–this is Jewelweed, Impatiens capensis.

It is the wild relative of the garden annual plant Impatients that you humans buy for your shady yards. But guess what? The wild jewelweed seeds prolifically enough that it should come back every year–if your ground is moist and the light is set-shady.

The beautiful orange flowers are visited by many insects, and while nUtmeg and I were out, a pair of hummingbirds!

As our commenter mentioned, jewelweed has many uses. The Native Americans knew that crushing the leaves and stems and applying the juice would relive the itch of poison ivy and nettles, which happens to be found in moist areas as well, so should be handy. The sap also can be used as an anti-fungal.

Please note that we are squirrels and this folklore is not intended to be medical advice!

Check out more about Jewelweed on the US Forest Service page.

 

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

This guy has a perfect target on his ‘bee-hind’. But do you know what this insect is? Or the flower, if you prefer!

Give us a guess in the comments!

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This was a tricky one for us to identify.

Black and white wasps aren’t too common, but we had to have some help from a friend’s photo–thanks, Martha–to verify we were seeing all we needed to see.

Yes, this wasp has a very skinny middle. and all of the white markings add up to it being a Fraternal Potter Wasp. This is a type of mason wasp that, as you probably guessed, used mud to make its nesting sites. In this case, a little ‘pot’. We squirrels haven’t seen one of these, so if you have, we’d be ever so grateful to see a photo to share!

Another tricky part of the identification is that potter wasps can be black or brown and have white, yellow or orange markings.

Potter wasps are apparently predators, and collect beetle larvae, caterpillars or spiders that they paralyze and seal in the mud brood chamber with their eggs so the young wasps may feed on them. SO can someone explain to us why these wasps were fervently feeding on these flowers?

This late summer plant is well-named: It’s late-flowering boneset

Eupatorium serotinum, a giant of a plant at 7 feet high and 7 feet wide!

It is massive and covered with dozens of different types of insects, wasps, bees and butterflies. We’ll show you more soon!