Saturday, May 30, 2009


My yard has become unplesantly mosquitoey... though not terribly so... yet.

An Image Revisited

Remember this picture from Devil's Lake last week?  I have discovered that it is a squawroot or cancerroot, Conopholis americana.  Squawroot is a non-photosynthetic parasitic plant that feeds on the roots of several species of trees, most commonly oak.  (Note the oak leaves surrounding it in the photo -- we can be pretty sure this is its energy source here).  The suckers on the squawroot's roots cause large knobs to form on the oak's roots.  Despite being parasitic, they don't hurt the oaks because they are small and few, compared to the huge trees they steal nutrients from.  Squawroot blooms in May and June and is native to the eastern USA.   

Squawroot gets that particular common name because Indian women used to use it to help alleviate the symptoms of menopause.  When steeped in boiling water (then cooled) it will shrink or pucker the skin.  So the idea is it will shrink the uterus... 

Kreepy Krawlie Kritters of Kankakee River

Kankakee River State Park was filled with exciting invertebrate life.  I wasn't able to photograph all of the cool bugs I saw due to
a) lack of time, mainly because of the 40 students that didn't want to constantly wait while I took pictures;
b) lack of photographic equipment -- or sometimes total absence, as in the instance when a kid found an awesome bright green shield bug and my camera was back in my tent; and
c) the fact that the bugs sometimes don't cooperate, and move or fly away.  So selfish.  
But here's some of the stuff I did get pictures of: 
a caterpillar
a cricket
a lacewing
a mayfly
a mayfly (again, because I thought the bright yellow was cool, so I took pictures of 2 mayflies).
a crayfish (or crawdad, if you're from the south)
some sort of aquatic true bug
mollusks.  The river and creek were filled with mollusks -- including some shells that were about 6 inches across.  And also spirally gastropods.  Many shells.  
a terrestrial snail, about 1 inch big
an inchworm, that was so bright I wouldn't be surprised if he glowed in the dark.  I remember the first time I saw a glow worm, I was amazed that a caterpillar could actually glow like that.  They are unearthly.  Also, we saw the first fireflies that I've seen this year (though notably, about 80 miles south of where I live).  
spittlebug spittle.

Kankakee River

Spent the last few days in Kankakee River State Park.  Saw this cool cup fungus.  

Some flowers blooming there:  
some sort of ragwort(?)
black raspberry
something in the Caryophyllaceae family(?)

Upon arriving home, I found that the garden plants had grown noticeably in 3 days... and we harvested spinach, have many radishes ready, and some lettuce as well.  

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some photos

May apples first bloomed May 19 -- and are still going strong.

Lily of the valley, peak bloom over the weekend. 

Birdsfoot violet.  This native is slightly later blooming than other violets, with a pale purple flower with yellow centers.  The leaves are totally unlike other violet leaves -- rather than being cordate, it is deeply lobed and feathery. 

Strawberry starting to form, 5/25.   

First spiderwort flowers, 5/26.

My mystery tree now that the leaves have fully leafed out.  I still don't know what it is. 

Finally, Virginia waterleaf flowers, 5/22.  I always thought these flowers looked like little fairytale crowns, that maybe a frog would wear.   

Monday, May 25, 2009

Unofficial Start

They say Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer.  Naomi's proof of that?  I spent all day complaining that it was too cold because it only reached around 62 deg.  After two warm, sunny, beautiful days, this seemed cool.

We need rain.  All the lakes have dropped to low levels.  We had a very wet early spring, but now... now that there's plants in the ground... it's been dry as a bone. 

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Phenological event of the day:
Wasps have started building nests by the porch, marking the beginning of a season-long battle for rights to the deck.  I try to tell them, if they would just build their nests on the other sides of the house, I would let them be... but they like the deck.  :-P 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Devil's Lake Trip

There are places that define us.

There are landscapes whose hills and valleys are the fissures in our brains... each one a memory, each one a story.  And the changes and the added parking lots and improved trails don't even matter.  

There are places that are old friends... friends that, no matter how many months or years we are apart, when we see each other again, we fall easily into a comfortable conversation, a familiar pattern... the serenity and the ease of something we know and that knows us as we have always been.  

There are landscapes that are part of our personalities, that shape us just as our families shape us.

This is one of those places to me.
* * *
Hoary puccoon.  I love this plant.  The color is so pure, like a pool of yellow orange, you could just dive into it.  I have never been able to acquire one, but they probably couldn't survive in my yard, anyhow.  The places I've seen them in the wild are outside the shack (in the sand counties) and at IL Beach state park... both places with sandy soil, which is not a characteristic in my yard.

(Also noted at the shack -- the largest clump of bloodroot I have EVER seen, right in the foundation of the old homestead.)

False Solomon's seal blooming.  Smooth Solomon's seal was almost, but not quite, open.

Pussytoes in the wild. 

Shooting star with interesting coloration --
 look at that pink and yellow!


Cool non-photosynthetic plant or possible fungi.

Green bug on geranium.

This is a window at the Leopold Foundation's Platinum LEED building.  Bot phenological, I understand that, but a very cool example of the marriage of nature and architecture.  

Sketches of Jack-in-the-pulpit and Canada mayflower leaves (I think.)
Other cool sightings:
In the bird world... goodness, so many birds.  Chickadees, chipping sparrows and other little guys all over.  But the most notable sightings were a bald eagle, sitting on a sandbar in the WI River, and a pileated woodpecker.  Also enjoyed watching the herons fly in and out of the heron rookery and listening to all the babies warble, and looking down upon the turkey vultures.

In the flower world...  Mayapples opened (at Devil's Lake and here), baneberry, 4 types of violets -- purple, white, yellow, and purple-and-white, blue-eyed grass, cream wild indigo, lupine, trillium, columbine is in peak bloom (here and in WI), and oh-so-many-others.  Dutchman's breeches leaves are turning yellow.

In the tree world... maple seeds were falling like helicopters and oaks were flowering (my car is covered in pollen).

In the non-flowering plant world... SOOO many ferns... cinnamon and sensitive and lady and others I don't know.

So much to write about................

Monday, May 18, 2009

Another day...

These  are the flowers on our maple-leaf vibernum, in full bloom in pale yellow clusters.

Leaves continue to grow -- shown here are bur oak and sumac,

 some of the later leaf-outs.  They are still small, but getting bigger every day!  I love the curled, deeply-veined, red-tinged baby leaves, so full of character at this stage.

Now... Please, help me ID this mystery tree.  OK.  I admit.  I havent' looked very hard.  But I have no idea what it is (shown here close-up and from slightly further away).  I also don't know if these leaves are full-sized or still growing.  Ideas appreciated, thank you.  

Sunday, May 17, 2009


NOAA issued a frost advisory last night.  May 16-17, and we had a frost advisory.  Moved all the plants in (for I hope the last time).  No frost this morning but it could have all melted before I looked outside.  

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A green world

Time marches on... leaves are getting bigger and the whole world looks green.  It would seem summery if it weren't cold!
  • Wild geraniums peak bloom
  • Pussytoes peak bloom
  • Shooting star peak bloom
  • Lilacs peak bloom
  • Baneberry peak bloom
  • Columbines beginning bloom (see sketch)
  • Lily of the valley beginning to bloom
  • Jacob's ladder past its prime
  • Bluebells past their prime
In the garden, hoped to plant tomatoes, peppers, melons, basil, etc. today -- but didn't due to predicted lows in the 30s tonight.  Bummer.  

Friday, May 15, 2009

More Bird Nerdery

OK, seriously, people... I am going to sprout binoculars and a field guide soon.  I have seen my third bird-nerdy bird in as many days.  This morning on the way to school, way up in the trees -- a flash of red that was distinctly non-cardinal.  No pointy head.  Black wings.  Have you guessed yet?

That's right.  A scarlet tanager, I'm fairly certain.  They summer here and winter South or Central America, so a pretty cool sighting for me.

And speaking of flashes of red... the first columbines have opened.  (My camera thought it was dark enough to need a flash.  It is raining this morning, but it's a bright rainy day, and I'm not sure I agreed with the camera... but no time to argue this morning.)  

Also, crab apples are starting to drop their petals, like warm snow falling around the trees. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bird Nerd

I am turning into a regular bird nerd.

Yesterday was the cedar waxwings, today a common yellowthroat.  I noticed a small stripey-headed bird on a branch this morning -- during the relaxing part of my day when the campfire had been started but the students had not yet arrived -- and I went over to investigate.  I never got a good look at stripey-head, but I noticed the yellowthroat in a bush below and started watching him.  (Honestly, not being a true bird nerd, I thought the other was maybe the yellowthroat female.  But now I check the bird book, I find out it's not.  So I may have seen another cool bird but I'll never know.)

Yellowthroats spend the summer here, and the winter way far to the south, so they could be settling in here, or they could be heading further north to find a summer home.  

Also today, two swallowtails spent the whole day dancing around the lawn in the sun.  BTW, these were black swallowtails, whereas the one from yesterday was a tiger swallowtail.  

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today is a Cedar Waxwing Day.  Every so often they come through in large flocks, and then I won't see another one for months.  Technically, they are year-round residents of this area, but it sure seems like they're migrating!  

At any rate, they didn't choose the prettiest day to be here.  As this photo shows, they are all facing the same direction -- which is west, into the extreme winds we are experiencing at the beginning of what they say will be a crazy storm.   (Note the ash leaves are all blowing to the side, and it was quite dark for the middle of the afternoon!  Not good for showing their black masks, etc.  But I promise, those are waxwings in the picture!)  It was so windy that I saw one fly backwards, I don't think on purpose, and several hovering in one spot before finally landing on the tree again.

Anyone know this little blue flower?  I found it at school, and am not entirely uncertain of its identity.  But my guess is Lewis' prairie flax.  I bought seeds of this prairie (but west of here) native at Monticello 2 years ago as part of a seed collection of plants that were discovered on or named by or were otherwise related to the Lewis and Clark expedition.  (The collection also included Clarkia, monkey flower, w. Jacob's ladder, osage orange, blanketflower and others -- plus a booklet about them!)  I thought the flax was quite lovely and planted it in my garden, despite it being not technically native to Illinois, where it now grows in 3 clumps.  Chris also planted some of the seeds at school, and this may be one of them.  Mine aren't close to blooming yet, but this one is in a sunnier spot.  When mine opens, I will be able to confirm the identity (or disconfirm it).  I could also study the leaves of the plant at school... but that sounds like work. 

Speaking of Monticello... Thomas Jefferson took some pretty meticulous and informative phenology notes... so I guess I'm in good company.  (I suppose I am presuming that my phenology notes are informative and/or meticulous.)

Another observation!!!  Butterflyweed emerged today, just peeking up, less than 1/2 inch tall.  (Yea!  I was worried... And now, for next year, I'll know not to worry until after May 15 or so!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


A sketch from last year that accurately reflects the current status of Solomon's seal, both false and "real."

A Free Verse Poem for Today
note:  I certainly don't fancy myself a poet, but every once in a while, the poetic urge strikes.  When it does, as now, I don't squelch it, as many do, or claim to be a bad poet.  Indeed, I don't believe there is such a thing as a bad poet... although I'm sure some professional poets disagree, for the sake of job security, if nothing else.  That said... 

A Free Verse Poem for Today
Almost columbine,
Almost lily of the valley,
Almost warm,
Almost May apple,
Almost Jack in his pulpit.
A single, early dandelion seed floats by, 
A lazy parachute 
With its passenger dangling, 
Swaying gently,
Aiming for the garden. 
Almost relaxing.

In my mom's yard, jewelweed pops up in droves.  This week they were between 1/2 and 3 inches tall.  She let me dig some up and transfer them to my yard, where I have planted them among the day lilies.  I hope they will grow and thrive and spread their popper seeds all over and eventually, proliferate and out-compete the day lilies.  Weedy though they may be, I quite love the small orange touch-me-not flowers, irregular and hidden under thick leaves to those who don't bother to look for them, and their exploding seed pods... who wouldn't love those!

Pussytoes, golden Alexander, bedstraw.

Also sighted today:  swallowtail butterfly, redbud leaf out, mistflowers finally emerging but very tiny.  No sign of butterfly milkweed yet -- I am hoping this isn't because mine all failed, in 3 separate locations at home (and also in school gardens).  With so many samples, this seems unlikely.  
Yesterday:  mayfly, seen by fivecrows