Sunday, December 28, 2014

2014 in Pictures

It’s time to say farewell to another calendar year and it’s a good time to reflect on what nature has given us.

I enjoy appreciating the beautiful flora and fauna that surround us. Each day is an opportunity to spy something beautiful.

Like this fluffy feather I found in January, resting lightly on an old leaf. Taking more pictures over the last few years has given me a keener awareness of objects and natural objects are especially compelling.

Erythronium umbilicatum

Of course appreciating the early February flowers of trout lily (Erythronium umbilicatum) is always high on my list.

These small hardy flowers come from teardrop-shaped bulbs. They grow in rich woodlands and can sometimes provide a carpet of speckled leaves. I have brought a few into my woodland. It's fun to look for the early leaves as they unfurl above the old leaves and pine needles.

While taking pictures for a spring maple post, I heard a loud pounding and looked up to find a beautiful pileated woodpecker in the trees above.

I love these happenstance moments. It’s not my best picture (he moved fast), but it is a happy memory.

March found me in the Okefenkokee Swamp, enthralled with the unique environments found there. I was participating in the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage hosted by the Georgia Botanical Society.  

Okefenokee Swamp

Mining bee

This was a year of great bee interest for me and this little lady was the first one of the year. I spotted this bee going in and out of the ground and realized I had found a ground-nesting solitary bee, the first I had ever seen in my yard.

The folks on BugGuide kindly identified it as a type of mining bee (Andrena). I did some checking on my own first and had already decided I thought it might be that so I was really happy to have my id confirmed.

Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium)  with new camera

In May I decided to stretch myself by getting a new camera that would allow me to explore the option of manual focus while still have auto focus functionality too. After some family-assisted research, I bought a Nikon D3300.

Slender bluet damselfly

In the absence of most butterflies this year, other bugs got more attention. It seemed to be a bonus year for dragonflies and damselflies and I identified quite a few different species.

I was excited to find a spicebush caterpillar for the first time ever on my spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and I found a tortoise beetle on a morning glory vine.

Spicebush swallowtail

Golden tortoise beetle

Discovering new plants in the yard where I have lived for 11 years is always a surprise. Where did this milkvine come from? Ok, if you know me then you probably know that I rescue a lot of plants and bring in strange dirt as a result. A seed could have come along.

Milkvine (Matelea gonocarpos
Sometimes new plants are from friends. This Heuchera villosa was a gift from a friend; it bloomed in August this year for the first time. I thought it was very pretty on the porch, keeping company with the fern in the kitty cat planter.

Heuchera villosa
As you all know, this was an uncertain year for the monarch butterfly. I always felt that monarchs that came through Georgia on the way south only wanted nectar. This year I found out I was wrong.

Monarch nectaring on Mexican milkweed Oct 11th
I don’t often take a trip up to the North Georgia mountains to see the fall color, but this year I did. Several of us went to visit friends for lunch and the day was beautiful all around. 

Viburnum acerifolium with fruit
Oak leaves in North Georgia

As the end of the year approached, I was anxious to get another Georgia State Park visit under my belt. Too much time goes by without getting out to explore these marvelous places. I took one of my remaining vacation days and went down to Providence Canyon State Park with my daughter. The lead picture of this post (with our boots) is actually from that trip. I'll have to do a full post of that trip, but here's a preview of the amazing scenery there.

Providence Canyon State Park 

Best wishes to all for a Happy New Year.

Let's use more native plants in our projects in the year ahead and get out there and enjoy the nature we have.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

American Holly

American holly (Ilex opaca) is a beautiful tree that I have had a hard time locating. I have longed to find a good fruiting specimen for years. I have occasionally found plants in the wild but they are either too young, fruiting only sparsely or not fruiting at all. This past month I finally found one and it is so beautiful.

Berries just turning color
Fully ripe

Hollies are dioecious which means that plants usually have either male or female flowers but not both. Therefore, only trees with female flowers will bear fruit. I had to find not only a tree that was mature enough to flower but also one that was female and had a male nearby for pollination.

Even that didn’t seem too hard except that, in landscaped areas, the straight species American holly seems to be rarely planted. The way more popular (and probably available) choice is to plant one of the American holly-dahoon holly hybrids (Ilex opaca hybridized with Ilex cassine = Ilex x attenuata). These hybrids have fewer prickles on the leaves and fruit very heavily. You may have seen them sold as ‘Savannah,’ ‘Fosteri’ and ‘East Palatka.’

Ilex x attenuata hybrid

These cultivars can have the pyramidal shape of the American holly, but the leaves are distinctly different. American holly has small spines that evenly cover the leaf margins. The cultivars typically have a spine at the tip and a few others, none of which are very big. You can see where this would be more pleasing to the consumer.

Residential example

Very old Ilex opaca in cemetery

Now that I have found what I have been searching for, you know what happened, right? Within just a month, I found a lot more! This past week I went to Providence Canyon State Park and found Ilex opaca all along the 3 mile loop trail. It was beautiful and there were many individuals with fruit. I also found this beautiful example of bark.

Although most of us appreciate it for foliage and fruit, American holly is appreciated as well for some woodwork. It is a slow growing species with a close-grain wood that is the whitest of any native tree. It has been used for inlay and decorative work, including parts for musical instruments.

If American holly is native to your area, I hope that you will consider planting this unique native tree. Tolerant of many different soils and amounts of light, Ilex opaca is a versatile plant for the landscape.

You’ll also be getting a great plant for wildlife – I've read that as many as 18 different species of birds eat the fruit and of course it is a great plant for shelter. What a winner!

Sunday, December 14, 2014


Silhouette stands alone
Leaves have left
To create a blanket below.

Sunlight still shines
Upon your bare twigs
Only to fall through to the ground.

Roots are strong
Gathering strength for
Spring’s reawakening.

Until spring’s time has come
Silhouette stands alone
Beautiful bones revealed.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Untangling The Mystery of Hawthorns

I encounter hawthorns (Crataegus spp.) on a regular basis while exploring wild landscapes in Georgia. Often I am in the company of other folks and we examine the tree together in order to determine what we have found. Usually the pronouncement of identity is simply “It’s a hawthorn, I don’t know which one.” Satisfied that we have done all we could, we proceed on our way.

Crataegus uniflora, native to my yard and the first to pique my interest

According to the USDA database, there are just over 50 species of hawthorn found in Georgia, all of them with white flowers in the spring and thorny twigs year round. While some of them - like the parsley hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii) - have rather unique leaves, most of them look pretty similar to the average person. The southeastern region has been sorely been in need of some assistance in understanding this large and confusing group of thorny plants.

Finally there is a resource to the rescue. North Carolina native Ron Lance has studied southeastern hawthorns for over 20 years. He published a booklet in 1997 and an article on Georgia hawthorns in the Georgia Botanical Society’s 2006 Tipularia publication, but those treatments were far too shallow for this genus and his intent to publish a book was understood by those who know him. His long awaited comprehensive book is now available: Haws: A Guide to Hawthorns of the Southeastern United States.

With my bookshelves now overflowing, I decided to try this book in the eBook format to explore the concept of using identification resources in that format. This review is as much about that experience as it is the book itself. I expect to enjoy the ability to use the find function on the computer (I’m using the Kindle Reader app for the PC which I will refer to as "eReader.").

The book starts out with a series of helpful chapters on distribution, anatomy, taxonomy and natural history of hawthorns. While most of these are informative and easy to read, I will say that you’ll want to break for a fresh cup of coffee before you dive into the chapter on taxonomy.

The information is wonderfully thorough and after each chapter you feel like you got to spend a fascinating couple of hours with someone that really knows the subject. The author has a comfortable style for communicating the details.

The author provides the following guidance for using this book:

“For those starting totally “green” it is recommended that Section 1 , the keys to series, be a starting point. From there, one can hopefully find the associated species described and illustrated in Section 3 .  For those slightly familiar with the hawthorns and series, going directly to Section 3 may be sufficient.  For the technical-minded hawthorn student who is accustomed to dichotomous keys, Section 2 may be the best option, leading directly to a species identification.”

I’m more familiar with using dichotomous keys than grouping species into a series so I focused on Section 2. And here is where I encounter my first eReader disappointment. The key is not cleanly displayed on the reader and is a bit hard to follow. This is a factor of the reader; I know this is not a problem in the printed version. Also, the eReader software offers no ability to print; that would have been a plus. There is a search function.

Moving on to the species details in Section 3, the treatment of each species varies from brief to comprehensive depending on the author’s personal experience. The vast majority of species have extensive descriptions, distribution maps, and numerous photos of foliage, flowers, fruit as well as bark, thorns and habit. There are also occasional drawings which render the botanical details very precisely.

In some cases there are details that include specific locations (such as parks) of individual plants. It looks like I can check out Little Mulberry Park in nearby Gwinnett County to find examples of several different species of hawthorn. This is truly a book that has been compiled after years of work and careful note keeping.

In addition to the early chapters on anatomy, taxonomy, history, etc., this book is rich in resources such as tables, a glossary and references. From the casual to the studious user, everyone should find a level of usage to his (or her) satisfaction.

Note: Another downside to the eReader version is the inability to upsize the tables. You can adjust the “words per line” setting, but that can cause the table to break across pages and sometimes lose the headings. And it only enlarges tables so much and no more (plain text enlargement works great).

So my final analysis is that the resource is excellent but the eReader is not up to the challenge. I will be returning the eReader version and ordering the print copy after all.