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!

May-apples…Hawthorn

What do you know–some common names are correct! The Hawthorn is living up to one of its–May-apple–with the ‘pome’ fruits beginning to ripen now, in May.

We took a look at this small tree’s other names, and we squirrels feel they are just as descriptive of some hawthorn characteristics:

Whitethorn = the blossoms are white, the branches are covered in thorns, as seen in this post.

Thornapple = again, the thorns and the ‘apple’ fruits.

Hawberry = those do look like berries, though scientifically they aren’t. Haw is an old English name for hedge, which these trees would make a mighty fine one of, in our humble opinion, but we understand that this is what people call the fruits over there.

Thirsty Thursday

Folks,

This week’s water column isn’t about water per se, but about what water does.

We’ve had a lot of rain in northern Virginia the last few days. A LOT, what Miz Flora calls ‘That blasted weather’. She’s particularly miffed because the rain has brought down flowers–from trees. Notice those white patches along the roadsides?

If your nose hasn’t been tuned upward, there’s been a fragrance in the air–the sweet Black Locust blossoms.

Yes, we know that phrase is usually refers to magnolias, but trust me, black locust, Robinia pseudoacacia, is sweet, or so we consider it, and it’s a favorite of the honeybees.

That’s what makes us squirrels particularly sad–huge numbers of bees collect from black locust during the week they’re blooming. These pea-shaped flowers hang in bunches, called racemes Miz Flora says, and they make for easy nectar-gathering.

Unfortunately, they’re also heavy, so after Monday’s storm, most of the flowers and many branches ended up on the ground, even though this strong wood has traditionally been used for fence posts.

Sigh. If you’re a friend of bees, you might want to slip them some extra food during our predicted week of rain. Good timing if you managed to get your planting done last week though! I see plenty of oaks sprouting from acorns we buried last fall.

Catkins Coming Down!

If you’re dodging these masses of catkins rolling across your suburban streets, you know how we squirrels feel trying to to navigate the woods. We’re up to our bellies in oak catkins! Last week the male ‘flowers’ of the oak trees shed their pollen, coating our tree branches yellow, and this week the spent tassels have come down.

It’s all part of nature, folks. These fine plant materials contain no seeds and make great additions to your compost. Personally, we squirrels are hoping for a good acorn crop form their pollination!

Z is for Witch HaZel

It’s sad to admit that the end of the alphabet doesn’t get much attention from naturalists’ contriving nature names. So this year instead of resorting to a perennial favorite, the Zebra Swallowtail, which we have called on five of the last six years, we are again branching into the name to highlight a great shrub, the witch haZel to stand in for ‘Z.’

The witch hazel’s claim to fame is it flowers in the fall or winter, producing skin petalled flowers that remind some of you humans of spider legs. Get it? Spiders, Halloween, witches?

We don’t actually, but this is a pretty neat tree that grows a nut from those flowers that wildlife find pretty tasty.

Witch hazels appear in suburban gardens as shrubs,

but in the wild the native species, Hamamelis virginiana, is an understory tree.

Give a witch hazel a spot in your yard–lots of late and early foraging bees will appreciate that you have extended the blooming season!

And this ends our 7th year participating in the Blogging From A to Z Challenge. We love sharing nature in our suburban neighborhood and hope or readers have enjoyed this month of nature blogging, too. We will take a few days off, then resume with our blogging in a more casual manner, as befitting a group of squirrels!