Wishing you the beauty, wonder and serenity of nature, through all the seasons.
Wishing you the beauty, wonder and serenity of nature, through all the seasons.
Spring unfolds more slowly in northern Vermont than it does where I live in the mid-Atlantic. So we were able to catch some late spring action in the Stowe area recently. The show started in the gardens at Trapp Family Lodge, where an Eastern Chipmunk foraged among the Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia),
while a Groundhog family watched nearby.
The woods at Trapps and the other natural areas we visited were lush with ferns, with a bounty of other diverse plants peaking through them.
Pink Lady’s Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) shyly raised their heads for our viewing pleasure.
Goldthread (Coptis trifolia) had finished blooming, and was setting fruit.
Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) shown in the sun’s spotlight,
while the delicate blossoms of False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) lit the trails.
A White-tailed Deer was unfazed by our visit to her domain.
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) was in various stages of its bloom cycle in different locations. We often found it close to water.
In the woods, most of the potential pollinators were flies of various species. In the photo below, the fly on the Foamflower is harvesting pollen, a food source for some fly species.
Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis) was just beginning to bloom, often visited by the fly shown here.
A Robber Fly, better know for its diet of other insects than for drinking nectar, visited Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) flowers.
Dwarf Ginseng was popular with another fly visitor who unknowingly gathered pollen on its hairy body for possible dispersal to other flowers.
Near Stevenson Brook in Little River State Park,
Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophylum virginianum) bloomed a deep violet, pictured here with a flower visitor coming in for a landing.
Southern Pygmy Clubtail dragonflies rested on a fern at Sterling Falls Gorge.
Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) brightened a meadow at Trapps, the yellow nectar guides at their throats attracting a variety of visitors, incuding Bumble Bees, Eight-spotted Forester moths, Bee Flies and a Mustard White butterfly.
The Mustard White was a new butterfly for me. Its numbers have diminished in recent years because of habitat loss, and possibly also due to the increase of the invasive Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Mustard White caterpillars rely for food on our native mustards, such as Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla) and Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata). Toothwort is present along the trails near the clearing where we saw the Mustard White, and Garlic Mustard was nowhere to be seen.
Back in the woods, two crane flies mated, doing their part to ensure that the show will continue.
Have you been ready for spring since about January 2? Wondering how you’ll ever get through the remaining weeks of winter? The best way I know is to get outside and enjoy what nature has to offer. When there’s enough snow, cross country skiing or snowshoeing are both good ways to keep warm enough to enjoy exploring the beauty of your surroundings. Or go for a walk in a nearby park, natural area, or your own garden.
While you’re out you’ll almost certainly spot animal tracks.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll spot the critter that made the tracks.
You may see evidence of insects or spiders attempting to survive the winter in one form or another.
Or you may find evidence that some insects have instead become food for birds. In the photo below, the holes in the tree were made by a Pileated Woodpecker, the result of excavating for a meal of carpenter ants or other insects.
With the leaves mostly off the trees, the spotlight is on the beauty of bark
and the mosses,
and mushrooms that decorate tree trunks and branches.
Winter buds are a promise of spring to come, showing subtle color and offering a way to identify trees in winter.
Winter fruits can be as beautiful as the flowers that produced them.
Birds, including some that you may only see in winter, eat some of the fruits.
The low angle of winter light flatters the landscape.
These are just a few of the reasons to love winter as much as the other seasons. Go out and explore while you can!
A Winter Garden Can be a Wildlife Habitat
Wonders of a Winter Walk – The Marsh
The Mist, the Meadow, and a Mystery
On Halloween, the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) outside our kitchen window gave up the ghost, so to speak. The leaves on the north side of the tree had been changing colors for weeks, but the rest of the tree remained stubbornly green. Overnight, the entire tree was awash in reds and oranges.
It’s the change in day length (or really night length) and temperature that signals deciduous trees and shrubs that it’s time to get ready for winter. They have to drop their leaves to protect themselves from damage that would be caused due to the heavy weight of winter ice and snow storms. As nights get longer and temperatures drop, these woody plants gradually slow and eventually stop replenishing chlorophyll, the substance that is responsible for the green pigment in their leaves.
But what accounts for the array of colors that are revealed as the chlorophyll gradually disappears? The yellow, orange, red, purple, bronze and browns?
These colors reflect some of the same nutrients that are present in the plant-based foods we eat. Many of these chemicals were present throughout the growing season, but were masked by or blended with the green of the chlorophyll.
The yellows are carotenoids, mainly xanthophylls, nutrients that help to reduce inflammation, boost the immune system and reduce tumor growth. They are present in yellow summer squash, beets, carrots, corn, peppers, green leafy vegetables, and many others. Xanthophylls help plants to absorb energy from the sun while protecting tissues against the sun’s intense radiation.
Carotenes (another group of carotenoids) are responsible for the orange shades revealed in fall leaves. Beta-carotene is an anti-oxidant, visible in the orange color of foods like winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes. They assist in photosynthesis, and help protect plant tissues from too much exposure to the sun’s rays.
Reds and purples are anthocyanins, nutrients found in foods like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, grapes (and red wine; yay!), purple cabbage, other purple-tinged greens like red leaf lettuce, some kale and swiss chard, as well as many others that show red or purple colors. Anthocyanins are antioxidants, with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer properties. Plants may also benefit from anthocyanin’s antioxident effect, and the dark colored pigments help protect from sun damage. They continue to manufacture these chemicals until the leaves fall.
Brown and tan colors show the presence of tannins. They tend to be bitter or astringent tasting, and as a result discourage browsing by herbivores (plant-eaters) so they may provide some protection to plants. Tannins are found in foods like grapes, wine, tea, and chocolate, though, so you can see that this protection isn’t foolproof.
There is overlap and blending of colors based on the mix of chemicals in the leaves. These bright colors may also signal to birds that there is fruit available for consumption.
These nutrients, along with others that are obtained from the soil, like calcium and potassium, break down and return to the soil as the fallen leaves gradually decompose. During this process, animals may still take advantage of the nutrients. Red-banded Hairstreak caterpillars, for example, feed on fallen leaves, especially those of sumacs, contributing to the process of decomposition, and the cycle of life for the next generation.
A few days later, and the leaves on our Red Maple have almost all fallen. We’ll watch them gradually break down, nourishing the soil, and the plants and animals that rely on them.