Follow the Golden Groundsel Road!

If you are looking for an easy wildflower to grow for wildlife, Golden Groundsel, Packera aurea, seems to fit the bill. We squirrels recently came upon a hardy patch on a new trail.

Once Miz Flora looked it up, we learned that Golden Groundsel, Packera aurea, also known as Golden Ragwort, will grow in sun, shade and part shade, and blooms from March to August.

The yellow ray flowers are just like those zinnias and sunflowers you humans like to plants–and guess what?

Bees like them, too!

Remember we’ve talked about the efficiency of visiting one flower that is made up of many flowers? Golden Groundsel is in the aster family and forms those compound flowers that native bees like. As a bonus, you’ll be happy to know Hickory got dive-bombed by a goldfinch when he pulled down a seed head to taste the seeds. The bird wanted first dibs at those!

And we were just visitors in their woods, after all…

Z is for Zizia!

Finally, finally, we have another local nature item that starts with Z!

We squirrels were off on a romp and found Zizia aurea, commonly called Golden Alexander and sometimes Golden Zizia, growing along one of the reconstructed streams in our suburban area. These streams were so badly eroding that huge boulders were brought in to re-sculpt the edges and form drops to slow storm water. Many plantings were put in, all of them native.

Zizia Aurea is found throughout North America, from Canada across the United States. The flat-topped umbels of flowers are typical of the flowers of the carrot family, which Zizia is a member. They like to grow in moist woods from full sun to part shade, so this is the perfect location for it.

The plantings have grown into a nice stand, haven’t they? Nectar-feeders are going to be very happy to find them all grouped together for easy sipping over the summer, and the black Swallowtail butterfly’s caterpillars will have delicious feast on the leaves.

As a fun side note you humans will appreciate, the plants in this genus are named to honor Johann Baptist Ziz, a German Botanist who lived from 1779 to 1829.

This brings us to the end of April and the end of our Blogging From A to Z April Challenge! We’ll try to have a few thoughts on our month over the weekend, or on the day the A to Z people ask us to. It’s been a fun spring for us and hopefully we made #StayHome more fun for you humans! That’s not over though, so we shall try to keep up our posts here.

V is for Virginia Bluebells

Blooming…back in March!

We had a really early spring, but this is a spring wildflower that would have bloomed in early April on a regular year. We still wanted to use it for V day, because V is hard in nature.

Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, emerge and flower along floodplains and damp woods, making it another spring ephemeral.

Enjoy those bluebells from a distant distance, IF you go out!

T is for Trout Lily

Ah, the Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum, is a spring woodland favorite. The flowers don’t appear as often as the leaves, becasue like the Lady’s Slipper, the plant only blooms when two leaves have enough energy to grow.

Trout Lilies do not grow in the water, as you might assume. The leaves are speckled like a brook trout, and grow on the rich soils of the floodplains of streams and rivers. In the right conditions–and likely with no competition–Trout Lilies will spread across the forest floor.

We spotted these flowers on an early morning romp, so aren’t sure if they are closed because it’s early in the day and they are saving their blooming energy for when the bees are out, or if it’s early in the season and they haven’t opened yet.

Sorry we can’t give you the full effect of how they petals turn back when the flowers are fully open, but have a look here on the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center website.

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

I am 3 for 3 in being late with your mysteries this month! It’s a good one!

Give me a guess in the comments if you know what this native plant is!

~~~

This lovely flower-to-be is the Pink Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium acaule.

The odd flower shape and leaves with long parallel veins are pretty typical of orchids. They usually bloom in May to June, so this one seems to be getting a jump on its season. Or is it that we didn’t have that harsh of a winter here in suburban Washington, D.C.?

If you think this is a cool plant, you are not alone. However, Lady’s Slippers won’t grow just anywhere. The plant is in a symbiotic relationship with a fungus, meaning the fungus helps the Lady’s Slipper and the Lady’s Slipper helps the fungus. If your soil doesn’t contain the fungus…no Lady’s Slipper!

The US Forest Service explains this reliance very well in their Plant of the Week post. What it really comes down to is, if you like these plants, go admire them in the wild. It’s special that they can grow where they do.

This is the first time we squirrels have spotted the flower emerging from between its two leaves.

It’s like they are protecting it for as long as possible…and it’s also possible this flower won’t be blooming for another week or so, the first of May. We have no idea how long the blooming stage takes. We may need to check in again!

M is for Milkweed

Milkweeds are a very valuable plant in nature. When blooming in the summer, milkweed nectar supports many bees, wasps and other insects, including the famous Monarch butterfly. (Another M word!)

Monarch caterpillars can feed on the monarch leaves and are not affected by the famous milky sap that is toxic to humans and some animals. A few of the insects that feed on milkweeds are:

the milkweed leaf beetle

honeybee

Large Milkweed Bug

Silvery Checkerspot

And aphids, which attract even more insects to the milkweed!

Members of the milkweed family, the Asclepias genus, number 200 hundred and are spread across North and South America and Africa. You should be able to find a native species in your local to support this plant and host bees, wasps, monarchs and other insects.

We squirrels think that if you get your own stand of milkweeds going, you won’t have any problem staying home and watching the show they provide in your garden!

K is for Kidneyleaf Buttercup

Welcome to another week of Blogging A to Z April Challenge with The Squirrel Nutwork!

We’re 13 days into April but two letters short of the middle of the alphabet.

We’re having fun, mostly posting nature we squirrels see these spring days in our neighborhood in suburban Washington D. C. We recently realized that our old WordPress theme is no longer showing our byline…guess we’ll need to enter the world of technology for a bit. :/

On to K, the Kidneyleaf Buttercup!

In some circles, the kidneyleaf buttercup is called is called the Small-flowered Crowfoot, Ranunculus abortivus. You can cross-check this by looking at the scientific name, the main reason Miz Flora likes them and insists we squirrels use them on the blog.

So why would the plant have both these common names?

The answer is easy… the leaf…

looks like a kidney bean. The flower is decidedly small.

And the leaves nearest the flowers look like crowfeet?

The flowers are unlike any of the other buttercups, but this plant is in the Ranunculus family.  It is native and spreads easily over the garden, should you be staying home (Are you?) and keeping a closer eye on your own garden. The basal leaves really build up in the lawns and look like this before the flower stems grow. (Green ones, not purple ones!)

Yet, we cannot find much information on small-flowered crowfoot.

This page from the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis had the most information if you wish to read more. However, note that the link to a page describing this plant as poisonous to bees seems to be linked to another Ranunculus species and the poisoning wasn’t proven, though the follow-though seems to be good.

As we are hearing repeatedly these days in your human news, please in this and all advice, check multiple sources before you try something!

One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

Here’s a spring mystery plant for you on this happy day!

Know what it is? Post your guesses the comments! I–Hickory Squirrel!–will check back later to confirm.

Have a relaxing day, human people!

~~~

Eek, we squirrels are definitely not back to the old blogging form! Sorry for the late return.

This lovely is Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata, a native wildflower of the Eastern United States.

In rich soils, often along the floodplains of rivers and streams, it grows to 18 inches tall. The nectar deep within the five-petaled flowers attracts butterflies, including swallowtails and the gray hairstreak, with long tongues. In the process, they pollinate the flowers, which cannot self-pollinate.

I is for Indian Cucumber

If you can find a rich woodlands that’s a bit damp, you may be able to find Indian Cucumber Root, Medeola virginiana. 

It can grow to two and a half feet tall, but the plant is so delicate that it’s often overlooked. And the flower is definitely hard to see! Can you spot it?

This one still has the reddish flower stigmas and is easier to see.

The name comes forth root, a rhizome (think iris!) that smells and tastes like cucumber. Please note that we squirrel are not suggesting you go out and give this a try! For many reasons: 1) Don’t listen to squirrels to get your human food advice. 2) This is actually a scarce plant and that will make it scarcer. 3) (Most importantly!) Aren’t you humans supposed to be staying home!

 

G is for Grass

That is, Blue-eyed Grass!

This little flat-leaved plant looks like a miniature iris, and Miz Flora says it’s distantly related, but in its own family because of leaf length and their branching. So Blue-Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium sp. (Likely Sisyrinchium angustifolium here in Virginia, known as Stout Blue-eyed Grass.) is barely recognizable in the typical lawn.

But if you humans let your lawn go native, some of you might get a pleasant surprise:

Pretty six-petaled blue flowers with yellow centers, either one or many to a ‘grass’ blade. (Which helps you tell the species apart.) Each develops into a seed that readily spreads the plant.

Maybe this is the time to rethink how much you tend for grass? Is there anything else out-competing the grass blades that might be better suited to this spot? A closer look at the diversity of green in the lawn will tell you.

With social distancing and the need to stay home, perhaps a new natural world is waiting for you in your backyard?