In a few days it will be September. Plants and animals are changing as fall approaches. What will we see outdoors in the month ahead?
Phenology is the study of the times when natural phenomena recur. Back in 2008-2009 Chuck Tague and I collaborated on a year-long phenology series for western Pennsylvania. His website held much more information than mine but, alas, it disappeared when Apple discontinued web.me.com. My series remains as a collection at the Western PA Phenology tab at the top of this blog.
In mid-June I found a blooming Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) that I nearly missed because the flowers didn’t stand out. The top two had already gone to seed and those in bloom were camouflaged in a greenish yellow way.
The bottom whorl of leaves caught my attention. It’s typically five to nine long leaves (this one had seven) suspended a foot or so above the ground. Only the blooming plants have the smaller top whorl too.
I tried to take a picture of this arrangement but even my best photo is confusing. The small flower whorl blends in with a second plant behind it even though the background is beyond the mossy log.
Having paused to take a photo I knelt down to see the flowers. This perennial is pollinated by insects, probably flies. The color green makes sense for flies as they don’t need fancy red, white, yellow or purple to be attracted to the plant.
Indian cucumber root earned its common name when Native Americans taught the settlers that the edible root smells and tastes like cucumber. People still dig and eat it today, thereby destroying the plant. It’s endangered in Illinois and Florida.
Though not threatened in Pennsylvania, I won’t say the exact location of this flower. Only that I found it in the Laurel Highlands, an area encompassing 3,000 square miles.
Above, a very close look at Great Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), also called Star Chickweed. The flower is only 1/2″ across and it has only five petals but they’re so deeply cleft that they look like ten.
Below, inch-long Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in bloom at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve. I love how they change color as they open.
Toad Trillium or Toadshade (Trillium sessile) is rarely seen from this angle because the plant is only four inches tall. (I got muddy taking this picture.) The dark, closed petals look boring from above but graceful from the side. Perhaps they open like this so the pollen can disperse more easily. It’s dusting the leaf at front left.
Today’s April showers will bring May flowers. It’s hard to believe that May begins tomorrow.
Spring is getting a boost on this warm and sunny weekend but we still don’t have blooming cherry trees, dogwoods or hawthorns. If you look closely, though, you’ll see one native tree has small red flowers.
Shown above are the male flowers on a red maple. The sepals and petals are only half as long as the stamens that stick out to catch the wind or tap the backs of bees. The flowers are a favorite with bees but red maples are so versatile they can be pollinated by both insects and wind.
Individual red maple trees can have all male, all female, or both sexes of flowers. The female flowers have no “fuzz” because they have no stamens (of course).
At last the crocuses are (or rather… were) blooming in Pittsburgh, though not in my yard.
Yesterday was a sunny and breezy day with a high of 50F. I took a long walk in Schenley Park and found nothing blooming except a small selection of snowdrops and crocuses at Phipps Conservatory’s outdoor garden.
Today it has already snowed a little, tonight will be 15F and the cold will continue through Tuesday so these flowers won’t last.
Spring is coming, slowly but surely. Last weekend I took a walk in Schenley Park to see what was up.
On Saturday morning the snow was gone from the sidewalks and woods but Schenley’s gravel trails were sheets of ice. I wore my ice cleats so I was able enjoy the sights without having to focus on my feet. Three signs of spring attracted my attention: maples, midges and mammals.
The red maple branches look thick now because their buds are swelling …
… and the sap is running. I found a big hackberry whose sap was running so fast that it poured out of a limb wound and ran down the trunk in a rippling stream. Warm days and cold nights are maple sugaring time.
Small, brown flying insects caught my eye. Like the “flies” fisherman use to lure trout to the hook they’re impossible to identify and photograph, so I call them midges. Their hatch in February won’t be eaten by warblers.
The mammals were active too, especially Schenley’s growing herd of the deer. Hidden in plain sight I saw four deer browsing on saplings they hadn’t been able to reach under snow cover. I whistled to attract their attention and three perked up their ears.
As usual I’m always surprised when my “Warm Day” February photographs look so brown. The woods aren’t green yet but that’s just as well. By mid-week the lows will be 8-10oF.
Maples, midges and mammals will wait a little longer for spring.
These ruddy ducks that Shawn Collins photographed last weekend look so brown and bland you might wonder why they’re called “ruddy.”
Right now they’re wearing their boring basic (winter) plumage but the bird at left shows a hint that spring is coming. His bill is turning blue.
During the breeding season male ruddy ducks have sky blue bills, ruddy body feathers and very black heads. They swim with their tails cocked and their head and neck feathers raised, the better to show off the bubbling display to the ladies … like this:
Watch for male ruddy ducks to complete this transformation.
You’ll know it’s spring when they have blue bills.
(photo of two ruddy ducks in basic plumage by Shawn Collins. photo of single ruddy duck in breeding plumage from Wikimedia Commons — click on the image to see the original)