One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

It’s mystery number 222! We squirrels feel like there should be some sort of celebration when we hit match numbers, but we don’t know what. So on with the mystery…

Do you know this plant?

Give me a guess in the comments and I’ll be back later to verify answer!

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These late leaf hangers-on are the leaves of the American Beech, Fagus grandifolia. This striking tree doesn’t grow in our close neighborhood, but is in the Northern Virginia area, often in stands (meaning that’s all that’s growing there) that are striking this time of year–silver bark and gold leaves. It’s intolerant of urban pollution, salt and soil compaction, so we’re not surprised it’s gone from suburban neighborhoods.

We did a little look-see online, and read that beeches love rich bottomland soil–the bottom of the hill where all the good soil slides down and collects. They tolerate shade really well, so will grow up with the other trees, then keep going and become the only species there, or with a mix of maples, birch and hemlock. So a beech may have out-lasted the other trees that started growing on that land.

Of course they flower–pretty small ones–and produce beechnuts! We squirrels love them, as do wild turkeys, raccoon, deer, rabbits, fox, pheasant, opossum…I think you get the idea–a lot of animals eat beechnuts!

Plant one if you can! Moist, rich soil that drains well, and not prone to foot traffic or snowplowing with salt.

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Ah, the perils of fall

See a pretty leaf, pick a pretty leaf…

Maybe not if it’s poison ivy! Its color varies from this beautiful orange-red to a duller yellow, depending on how much sun the plants got and how much sugar is left in the leaves.

And of course, these native vines may be hidden among some more appealing plants, like this berry or the late-blooming smartweed we featured as our mystery plant a few Sundays ago. Look before you touch!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a little plant we see coming up in any corner humans leave alone–and it’s still blooming, which is good for the bees.

But what is it?

I’ll check in for your guesses later!

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This is one of those plants you see everywhere, but don’t really bother to find out what it is.Unless you are like Miz Flora. In fact, it grows really well in some areas.

This is a smartweed, thought some humans might tell you it’s a knotweed. They are both members of the Polygonum family. 75 different species of smartweed grow in North America, and they all have those little pink flowers at the ends of the growing stems, like this Polygonum we leaped across.

If the flowers were  growing from the leaf axils–like every spot a leaf emerges from a stem–it would be a knotweed. So keep your eyes peeled the next time you see a smartweed and see if it’s knotweed!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We’ve still got flowers around, and with no hard freeze, the insects are still visiting them.

Do you recognize this flower and / or the insect?

Give us a guessing the comments and I’ll pop back in to check your answers.

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We had a correct guess today–this is a hoverfly (to the best of a squirrel’s knowledge about insects!) They are also known as syrphid flies, named from their family name, Syrphidae. Hoverfly tends to be an easier name to remember because it describes what they do–hover.

And they look so similar to bees! See, the black and yellow body is screaming Danger, get back! But the big eyes were a dead giveaway for Nutmeg  and I to figure out that this had to be a fly.

Hoverflies, in the adult fly form, eat nectar and pollen, feeding on wildflowers like these late-blooming asters. Since we are nearing that gruesome holiday that you humans love–Halloween–lets talk a bit about the larvae, which have a much more interesting feeding habits. Fly larvae are…do you remember? Maggots! Different species of the Syrphidae prey on other insects, very much like ladybugs eat aphids, while others eat decaying plants and animals, very much like vultures. That’s quite a family!

Beware of changing leaves

So folks, it’s that time of the year–or soon will be. We are getting lots of rain from regular weather, as well as Hurricane Florence pushing some up this way, so our trees and hillsides aren’t drying out. But have you noticed it’s dark by 7:30 these days? Fall equinox is this Saturday, at 9:54 pm. (How do you humans figure these things out?) The plants know the daylight hours are waning and will start to pull in their sugars. This makes the leaves pretty, and you humans like to touch them. Except theres one that shouldn’t be touched…

Yep, that’s the very pretty fall variation of poison ivy. The leaves are drying so don’t have as much natural oil as it does in the spring–the stuff that causes itchiness–but it has enough.

Leaves of three, let it be!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Red things are falling on the ground, and they aren’t apples in our woods!

Any guesses for what this is? Leave me–Hickory–a note in the comments and I’ll be back later to check your guesses!

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Maybe you humans would have recognized this ‘drupe’ up on its tree?

If not, we squirrels will take that as your absolute dedication to knowing about us–because we don’t eat these! Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina, is eaten by many songbirds, game birds, deer, rabbits, chipmunks and rats. But we squirrels would rather stick with the good stuff, acorns.

Staghorn sumac has a tartness to it, so maybe those other animals don’t notice. Also, the trees are kind of skinny for a squirrel to be climbing and not very spread in the branching at the top.

Maybe because the big, compound leaves of the sumac seem to take the place of limbs.

Even if we don’t eat their fruits, sumacs are a pretty little tree that make especially thick groves, and turn beautiful red-oranges in the fall. Look for them in another month!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Ol’ Wally beat me to posting a mystery this week…but I’m okay with that because I had already told The Squirrel Nutwork blogging team that I couldn’t be around later today. So here’s the thing: if you didn’t see Ol’ Wally’s column on Thursday, ponder what you think this plant is:

Then go over to the Thirsty Thursday column and check your answer!

I should be back next week with a new mystery!