One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Something edible–for wildlife only!–is ripening now.

If you have a guess of what it is, please post in the comments. I’ll check back later!


Maybe another hint?

The fruits of the Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, are ripening now and their flesh being picked at by the birds: Cardinals, titmice, bluebirds, and the juncos–when they arrive.

They won’t last long, even if they aren’t very tasty! We squirrels find that birds are’t that picky.


One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Beautiful mystery, aren’t they? We grabbed these photos before the Hawthorn tree leafed out so the thorns stood out.

Also called the thornapple, hawberry and May-tree, because of course it blooms in May–right now!

The bees are abuzz over it, fighting many other insects for the pleasure. We squirrels will stand clear until fall–then we can’t resist the little ‘pomes,’ the fruit, the hawthorn grows–and then we will be fighting the cardinals and cedar waxwings!

Humans have long noticed this tree, of which some species stay shrubby. The blossoms are thought to bring fortune, and for the Greeks, hope. They carried flowering branches in their wedding precessions. But our wildly variable weather here in Virginia this year makes this Scottish saying true: “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot.” Never shed your clothes before the May flowers (Hawthorn!) have bloomed.

Z is for Zebra Swallowtail

Beautiful, isn’t it? We feature this beautiful member of the swallowtail butterfly group each year because in a week of hard-to-find nature letters, it’s a staple. But it’s also harder to find this butterfly. Its caterpillars eat only one food, the leaves of the Common Paw Paw, Asimina triloba.

This understory tree lives with its roots in wet soil, along streams and rivers.

At least those leaves are huge–10 to 12 inches long and 4-6 inches wide at the middle.

The dark red flowers bloom in the spring and turn into a fruit lumpy with large seeds in the fall. Maybe you can find a tree with caterpillars feeding on it this year.

We’ve had a great time posting this year’s Blogging From A to Z Challenge! Thanks to our many readers for joining us for a look at nature in suburbia. We hope it helps you to enjoy nature around your home!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there,

Staying seasonal with our mystery, what are these red leaves?

Mystery # 170

Or if you want a challenge, what are the green ones?

I’ll check back later for your guesses!


This beautiful fall color brought to you by Red Maple, Acer rubric, and Metasequoia, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Enjoy!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Sorry for the absence of new mysteries! Hope you had a chance to study up on those confusing vines before your summer outings!

This week’s mystery is a blooming tree!

Mystery #153

Do you recognize it? Give us a guess in the comments and I’ll return later with the answer!


We were surprised to discover this exotic-looking tree is a North American native! It’s a catalpa, but we must admit we are only guessing it’s the Northern Catalpa, Catalpa speciosa, because of where we live. It’s in a yard, and you humans tend to plant things out of their range for their flowers.

Catalpa flowers

Nice ones, huh? These flower panicles–fancy name for the flower cluster Miz Flora says–are rather showy and the tree is rather pretty, if given the right amount of room to grow.

Catalpa tree

It also has the coolest hanging seed pods in the fall, which hang on for a long time.

Catalpa seed pods

Did you notice the huge, heart-shaped leaves? They make an excellent rain shelter for wildlife, but more importantly they are the sole food of another butterfly! The caterpillars of the catalpa sphinx moth eat them and may even completely clear out the leaves of a single tree.

Catalpa tree underneath

Clearly, we need more catalpa trees out there!

What’s that smell…in the air?

Hickory and I were crossing a grassy patch and skirted into the shade of a tree–only to veer away again.

“Whew” Hickory’s tail twitched, and not in a good way.

“Something died.” I started looking around. But the odor of rot came from above us… “The flowers in that tree?”


Sure enough, we climbed the trunk–and only the trunk because the limbs sprouted wicked thorns–and got close enough to verify that the blossoms on the tree were causing the stink.

We went back to Miz Flora, who told us the offender was a Hawthorn tree. We squirrels aren’t the only ones who think those tree flowers smell like rot. You humans have done enough research to learn that the flowers are producing a chemical–trimethylamine–which attracts carrion beetles that normally eat dead things. The beetles travel from flower to flower and pollinate the Hawthorns.

Hawthorn flowers

“Too bad,” Hickory chittered. “It’s such a pretty little flower.”

“Heh.” Miz Flora laughed. “Fewer humans will pick it now, which means more of those hawthorn fruits in the fall for us.”

S is for…


Red Maple samara branch

Bet you thought we’d say squirrels. Hickory wanted me to say squirrels. He wants us to feature squirrels as much as possible during the Blogging From A to Z Challenge, but we got over that a few years ago.

We enjoy a good scamper in the Red Maple trees in our neighborhood, which have been a steady red to pink the last month, looking like they are still blooming.

Red Maple full of ripe samaras

It’s the seeds, the samaras. This is a name given to any winged fruit. When the seeds are ripe, the ‘wings’ dry and are quite papery. They loosen and spin to the ground, and if there is a wind, are carried far from the parent tree, giving them a better chance of growing themselves. It’s part of nature’s plan to make the earth green! When we woke up yesterday, all those little winged Red Maple seeds were floating to the ground–the proof being the humans just laid down mulch yesterday.

samaras on fresh mulch

Of course we got busy, too and nipped off some of the bunches.

Red Maple branch tips nipped by squirrels

Don’t ask me why, it’s just a squirrel urge. And sometimes we eat the seeds.

Red Maple branch nipped by squirrel

But we can’t eat all of them and the samaras of course will go everywhere and send up maple seedlings in the most unlikely places.

samaras in sidewalk crack


Q is for Quercus

Q can be a difficult letter to find in nature. Unless you are a squirrel.


Quercus is the genus name for the Oak tree family. We squirrels can’t imagine life without them. Every day of the year.

White Oak tree

White Oak

Black Oak

Black Oak

fallen Chestnut Oak leaves

Chestnut Oak leaves

Willow Oak acorns

Willow Oak acorns

Pin Oak Branches 2

Pin Oak

Eastern Gray Squirrel in Black Oak Tree

Eastern Gray Squirrel in Black Oak

White Oak

White Oak catkins

Oak trees

Oaks in spring.

Haven’t seen enough oaks? Here’s what we had to say about our favorite Quercus on Q day in 2014!