Skunk Cabbage

Exciting to finally see the Skunk Cabbage blooming for the first time this last week of February. Because it is a winter blooming flower I forget to go looking for it, especially with the snow cover. I have read that the heat produced by the rapid growth of the flower will actually melt snow. The snow finally melted here in Grayson a couple of weeks ago and I was determined to find the flower this year. Knowing exactly where it grows on our property helped make it more easy to come up with but it was still difficult to spot. It was tucked into a recessed pocket of soil, in a low lying ravine with water seeping all around. Even though it is a reddish color it blended in very well with its' surroundings. I kept a check on it and eventually it emerged from the ground to about 4 inches and opened up somewhat to reveal the spadix, covered with tiny prickly flowers. I accidentally step on it. Luckily it is a thick and sturdy flower, and it released it's pungent stinky onion type odor. Likely the most unusual flower I've seen.
-Jane Floyd

The Summer "horn of plenty"

In walking around our farm in this late Summer period I am struck by the exuberant production of Nature including flowers, fruits, seeds, green vegetation, etc. I especially notice the fruits of the hackberry (likely Celtis occidentalis), which grows along one of our fence lines. This is not a species I see often although it is touted as a bird-friendly plant because of its fruits. We have tried planting it and its more southern relative the sugarberry, without a great deal of success. I think it requires a richer soil and more moisture than our sites generally provide.

Another beautiful and bird-friendly plant is the relatively rare cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) which is highly specialized for pollination by hummingbirds. It has a very interesting ecology since it is a poor competitor with grasses and thus is found most often along streams, disturbed by occasional floods, or in wet areas of pastures where competition is reduced by grazing. It appears to be poisonous, as is ironweed, and is thus not eaten by horses. Ironweed is also one of our favorites due to its wonderful flowers and attraction to butterflies, and later to seed eating sparrows, such as the white crowned which spends Winters here on the farm.

Of course we should not ignore the growth of grasses and their abundant seeds which provide food for many animals. Indeed some herbaceous plants that farmers may consider weedy and less than desirable can be highly beneficial for wildlife. For example consider the foxtail (various Setaria species), grasses that flourish in Summer if the competition from cold-season grasses such as fescue is removed by cutting in mid-June. If you allow this to grow (we have a patch next to our garden) it will attract resident indigo buntings and even migrating bobolinks to harvest its seeds.

In contrast to this late Summer explosion of plant growth, most birds are past their breeding periods and are relatively quiet, many have begun migration, or are filling their bellies with the "horn of plenty" available all around them from the natural foods that have sustained them for eons. Given the luxury of such natural foods, it is very hard to justify artificial feeding of birds in the Summer. Let's try to balance our desire to enjoy birds in a backyard setting at feeders, with the best interests of the birds themselves. There is an alternative that can serve both the best interests of birds and their human watchers, namely the planting of appropriate native and exotic plants around our houses that provide foods in a manner consistent with natural patterns of behavior.

Bill Dunson
Galax, Va & Englewood, FL

Another Beautiful Mystery Flower

Do you know what this flower is?
If you have a guess, let us know!

While hiking north of Elk Garden (between Whitetop & Mt Rogers) along the Appalachian Trail performing a bird survey, a group of us noticed quite a few flower stalks in the forest at about 5000 feet elevation, perhaps 7-10 inches high with a tuft of white flowers at the end. But there were no leaves evident.
I am not familiar with this strange plant and cannot find it in any of my books. It reminds me in some ways of a mountain lily (Clintonia) without leaves, and vaguely resembles book photos of a false asphodel, which I have never seen.
Any help will be appreciated.
Bill Dunson
Galax, VA

Whitetop Wildflower Walk

Despite rainy weather, 13 intrepid wildflower enthusiasts joined Master Naturalist, Judith Foster, and hike leader Carol Broderson for the Blue Ridge Discovery Center's outing to Whitetop Mountain. The hikers met at Elk Garden, where the fault line divides the two 750+ million-year-old volcanic rock types that make up Mt. Rogers and Whitetop, Virginia's two tallest mountains. Whitetop has Virginia's highest road and one of the few mountaintop balds. In Native American stories, the bald was the devil's footprints or the Great Spirit's revenge on the Green Hornet that kidnapped children. Scientists hypothesize that a Pleistocene glacier scoured the top and that mastodons and woolly mammoths were the first of many grazers that kept it clear.

The usually northern red spruce/yellow birch forest flanks the meadow and gradually gives way to mixed hardwoods down the trail. Whitetop does not have the Fraser fir that normally accompanies the red spruce and that covers Mt. Rogers. WHY? The conifers on the top of the mountain were not logged, due to their smaller size, but some of the hardwoods were.

The high meadow had thorn less blackberries, colonies of bluets, and the first of many wood anemones we saw. The rare three-leaf cinquefoil was near the usual kind with five leaves, and we also noted the rare umbrella leaf. We saw this plant we could not identify:

Many late spring flowers were still blooming in the woods: red trillium, clintonia, rosy twisted stalk, saxifrage, sweet Cecily, Indian cucumber root, wild geranium and columbine.

We also saw Solomon's seal and false Solomon's seal blooming, and both blue and black cohosh that Jenny, a midwife in our group, sometimes uses in her practice. We discussed the medicinal properties of many plants, like the bountiful mayapple. Canada mayflower, Jack in the pulpit and foamflower were also abundant. We saw the rare fringed phacelia (Photo taken May 1).

We also saw another waterleaf family member, purple blooming Virginia waterleaf. Non-flowering lycopodia lined the path, club moss, ground pine and running cedar, miniature representatives of ancient tree-size plants. We have a fossil of one in the New River Valley.
We discussed the viburnum family and the plentiful witch hobble and noted the difference between mountain maple and striped maple.
After the first walk, a group traveled to the other side of the mountain to see the pink ladyslippers.

We stopped at a meadow, wondered what kind of tall iris we saw, and decided once and for all the difference in various fleabanes, thanks to Jane for counting numerous petals. She also took us to her special spot for another orchid, the large whorled pogonia. Though we found many, none were blooming. Something for later! Thanks to the Hoffmans for interpreting bird song. We heard wood thrush, both the black-throated blue and the black-throated green warblers, junco, field sparrows, and a towhee. We saw a raven frolicking on high.
-Carol Broderson
PARTICIPANTS: Chloe Dalton, Sara Fennell, Jane Floyd, Jenny and Sara Fox, Carol Glodowski, David and Sherry Hoffman, Fran Levin, Harriet Locke, Cecelia Mathis, Inga Lisa Peterson, Taryn Rubin
PHOTOS AND PHOTO EDITING: Cecelia Mathis, and Jane Floyd and Sara Fox, photos

Make sure you "Mark" your posts

When you post, be sure to put a few search words in the "labels for this post" section at the bottom of the post creation page. For example, in the prior mushroom post, I typed in "mushrooms"...so now you can enter mushrooms in the search box on the blog home page and quickly find all pictures of mushrooms.

For this page I'm typing in wildflower, jack in the pulpit, jack, and April among others.
Be sure to at least include a general search tagline like "trees", "streams", "geology" etc.

Best to all.