from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
April 21, 2002
Last week I mentioned the almost magical effects of the mingled odors of lavender and pumpkin pie. This week I am just as struck by the minglings of two colors. Surely no combination of colors pleases the spirit more than that of white mingled with green.
That's what I see when I look at the big blackberry bramble along the edge of the field between my spot in the woods and the hunter's camp. Thousands if not millions of blackberry canes heavy with new green leaves and white blossoms surge from the woods' edge into the broomsedge field like a tide of warm, green water with white froth. At dusk things get a little misty and deer move from the forest into the field and stand looking at the bramble before entering and browsing.
Blackberry plants are members of the genus RUBUS, in the Rose Family. Their woody stems are of two types. New shoots arising from the ground without flowers are called primocanes, while 2nd-year stems bearing flowering and fruiting branches are termed floricanes. Floricanes typically die back after fruiting but as they die many underground rhizomes send up new primocanes. In fact, within the last three years of our landowner's "negligence" in keeping the field mowed I have watched the bramble expand from a few plants at the field's edge to about half an acre. These brambles are wonderful for wildflie and I wish the world were inflicted with more of this kind of landowner negligence.
You can see blackberry flowers at lachlan.bluehaze.com.au/summer2000/11july2000/11jul017.jpg
YELLOW HONEYSUCKLE FLOWERS
Last week I mentioned a single pool of honeysuckle aroma I jogged through. This week the landscape's isolated pools of honeysuckle perfume have merged so that all day long wherever I go this sweet odor follows me. As with the blackberries, it's the peak flowering time here for Japanese Honeysuckles, LONICERA JAPONICA. This is an introduced weed-plant that in many places endangers local ecology and damages native trees.
Have you ever noticed that at first a honeysuckle flower is white, but then it yellows? When the flower is young and ready to be pollinated it needs to be as bright as possible to attract insect pollinators. Once pollination has occurred, if it remains white it competes with other blossoms still needing an insect's services. Therefore it yellows, loses part of its brightness, and helps insect pollinators locate those flowers most in need of pollination.
Wednesday morning as I worked at the computer I glanced out my screen door and spotted a coyote working through the dense Sweetgum saplings beyond my kitchen. It was a young adult, full sized, stopping to sniff at this and that. He seemed to be so at ease that his face muscles let his lips sag into what seemed a self-assured grin. I wasn't surprised to see a coyote for often I hear their calls, and after every rain I see their prints (plus an enormous amount of rooting done along roads by the wild pigs).
At first I thought he was a neighbor's dog so I stepped outside to shoo him away, for these loose dogs terrify the deer and other wildlife here. But then I saw him more clearly and I was amazed that he hadn't heard my door as it scraped open, and never even looked in my direction where he could have plainly seen me and the camp. He passed within twenty feet of me and never noticed my camp.
When I saw how oblivious the coyote was to my presence I felt a pang of sympathy. He was letting his guard down and if he keeps that up someone will shoot him. On the other hand, his mental laziness also made me feel as if he were some kind of brother to my own sometimes-lazy and -vulnerable self.
ROUGH GREEN SNAKE
Saturday morning I found a Rough Green Snake, OPHEODRYS AESTIVUS, that had been run over on the gravel road I jog. This is a graceful, mild-tempered little being usually spotted up in bushes. He eats grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars and spiders, and he's so small I don't think he could bite a finger if he tried. Notwithstanding his non-violent personality, a few years ago in Kentucky I saw some suburbanites discover a green snake in a hedge and it was all I could do to keep them from rioting. Any green snake was deemed to be vicious and venomous, else why would it be green?
I made a nice scanning of the dead snake's head and placed it at my nature-study site at www.backyardnature.net/2reptile.htm
WEEDS FLOWERING IN THE GARDEN
Here are the weeds flowering in the organic gardens right now:
Maybe it was Emerson who wrote, "Weeds are but wildflowers whose virtues have not been discovered." Well, I agree with that and that in a sense weeds actually don't exist. However, the word "weed" tells you exactly which plants I am talking about in my garden.
Even accepting a fundamentalist definition of "weed," some of the above list's species are worthy of wildflower designation. Violet Wood-sorrel is pretty enough to be sold sometimes as a potted plant (www.csdl.tamu.edu/FLORA/fa05/fa05002.jpg). Venus' Looking-glass (uvalde.tamu.edu/herbarium/final/trpe_wp.jpg) is in nearly all wildflower books, as is the Cinquefoil (2bnthewild.com/cinquef.jpg). The White-flowered Mazus is actually a bit rare, originally from Asia. I had never seen it before, so finding it in the garden was a wonderful surprise. A fine picture of its delicate white-and-blue blossom is shown at www.biosurvey.ou.edu/okwild/falsepim.html
I have to admit that in my gardens the weeds are nearly as much fun as the planted things, and I don't worry much about cleaning them all out. In the end every plant, whether weed or wildflower, is special and delightful in its own way, worthy of admiration.
THIS WEEK'S MIGRATING BIRDS
Here are the migratory species I identified on Friday, April 19:
WINTER RESIDENTS PREPARING TO LEAVE
30 Cedar Waxwing
5 White-throated Sparrow
SUMMER RESIDENTS JUST ARRIVED
1 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
7 Chimney Swift
1 Ruby-throated Hummingbird
6 Great Crested Flycatcher
13 Acadian Flycatcher
10 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
4 Wood Thrush
25 Red-eyed Vireo
19 White-eyed Vireo
4 Yellow-throated Vireo
9 Northern Parula
10 Hooded Warbler
5 Kentucky Warbler
1 Yellow-throated Warbler
2 Yellow-breasted Chat
3 American Redstart
4 Orchard Oriole
7 Summer Tanager
1 Indigo Bunting
PERMANANT RESIDENTS WHO MIGRATE
3 Turkey Vulture
2 Brown Thrasher
8 Brown-headed Cowbird
Last week I spotted 35 White-throated Sparrows, which are winter residents here, but this week there were only 5. Though Cedar Waxwings also are winter residents, they have been fairly uncommon all winter, but this Friday I saw 30 -- two flocks of about 15. It was the same last year. They seem to pass through here just in time to eat the wonderful white mulberries ripening right now (I scanned some you can see at www.backyardnature.net/frt_mult.htm). Sometimes the mulberry trees are so filled with waxwings that their branches shake as if the trees were waving their arms.
In the above list one of the prettiest species is the Kentucky Warbler, which is as common in forests here as around my family home in western Kentucky. You can see its elegant black and yellow mask and hear its song at www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i6770id.html
Here the "explosive" part of migration is over, though there are still several species to appear, and I will continue my Friday walks for a few more weeks.