April 4, 2004
This week the forest lost its diffused, ethereal feeling. Now dark green leaves are so large that heavy, placid shadows pool here and there looking summery, and I welcome the change.
If you walk around enough you're bound to spot sprinklings of red, slenderly cylindrical, 1.5-inch long (4 cm) flowers ornamenting this or that tree at the woods' edge, or maybe glorifying a fencepost. Most people call the vine bearing these pretty flowers Red Honeysuckle, though books usually apply other names, such as Coral Honeysuckle, or Trumpet Honeysuckle. It's LONICERA SEMPERVIRENS, and you can see it at www.mauney.com/bungalow/blooming/2003/apr30/lonicera-sempervirens.jpg
When I was a kid in Kentucky the women in my family got excited when they spotted Red Honeysuckle along the road. The idea was to dig it up and then someday the porch would be decked out with beautiful scarlet blossoms. Of course few of the transplanted vines survived and nowadays red-flowered honeysuckles aren't nearly as common as they used to be.
Red Honeysuckle is a native species, not a foreign ornamental that has escaped. Still, horticulturalists have been so impressed with it that they've fiddled with its genes, hybridizing it with other species, creating much larger blossoms, and flowers of different hues.
In my opinion, however, nothing can improve on this plant. It's just right, exactly as it is.
It's interesting that in the woods here silverbells are common in moist, rich soil, while at my previous location I never found a single one. I'm guessing it's because the loess was much thicker over there, and that kept the soil pH high. Silverbells as well as azaleas grow best in acidic soils. Wild Azaleas were absent on the thicker loess, too. Loess contains a fair amount of carbonate, so when Ice-Age winds deposited the loess it was almost like liming the landscape.
I was glad to see it. I plan to talk with the landowner about not bush-hogging it, and maybe I'll tie a red ribbon around it, and chop away the Loblollies crowding it now. I'll bet in the old days people welcomed this tree on their land just because its large, red blossoms were so pretty. Unfortunately its pale, yellow-green apples are only about an inch across and so hard and tart that you'd have to be starving to eat them. Still, this is a real apple, a close relative of the domesticated apple. They're in the same genus, so they're practically brothers.
Southern Crabapples mostly are found in the Deep South but disjunct populations of them are scattered over a larger area. Sometimes such distributions indicate that earlier the species was found over a wider area, but now it is withdrawing, leaving population islands in especially congenial places. Today this species is absent in the northwestern half of Mississippi and nearly all of Kentucky. Its distribution map is at www.fastestbows.com/images/articles/corrigan/soft_mast_opp9.jpg
I'm told that some folks around here use the name buttercup for a violet-colored flower that's probably a kind of primrose. Of course there's no accounting for the common names people use but in my mind calling a violet-blossomed flower a buttercup goes too far. The whole idea behind buttercups is that they are like "little cups of butter," which means flowers that are yellow to white.
On my buttercup page linked to above I show a certain trick that helps you figure out whether a flower is a real buttercup or not. On that page, notice the inset at the lower right of the picture. It shows the much magnified base of a single petal from a buttercup flower. A scale is attached to the petal, and between the scale and the petal there's a tiny droplet of nectar that attracts pollinators. That scale is peculiar to buttercups, so the next time you think you have a buttercup flower, pull off a petal and look for the scale -- the "nectariferous spot" -- at the petal's base.
WANDERING TENT CATERPILLARS
The caterpillars wandering around now have already done their leaf-eating damage, have grown as large as they can, and are looking for protected places in which to pupate. When they do find a protected spot they'll spin a cocoon. The cocoon will be about 1 inch long, made of closely woven white or yellowish silk, and attached to other objects by a few coarse threads. The adult moth will emerge from the cocoon about 3 weeks later. The moth will be reddish-brown with two pale stripes running diagonally across each forewing.
You can read all about this species and see photos of the tent, the caterpillar and the adult moth at www.uky.edu/Agriculture/Entomology/entfacts/trees/ef423.htm
SQUIRREL TREEFROG FULL OF EGGS
RAINFOREST TO HAMBURGERS
The article says that in 2001 and 2002, an area of Amazonian rainforest the size of Haiti was cut, and that during the last twelve months the rate of forest destruction has increased by 40%. The main cause of the destruction is people wanting to raise cattle, most of which is exported. Literally, rainforests are being converted to ground beef.
Because so many of our birds spend their winters in tropical America, the diminishment of the migrant population I have noticed is largely the consequence of our culture's unrestrained appetite for hamburgers.
If you can read Spanish, you can read the article at http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/spanish/science/newsid_3592000/3592145.stm
THIS WEEK'S MIGRATING BIRDS
SONG OF THE FIELD SPARROW
When spring comes, you find out, for the Field Sparrow's song is pretty as can be. Adjectives coming to mind are plaintive, tender, ephemeral, wistful... Though the recording is surely of a Yankee Field Sparrow, because the song is faster and less expressive than what I heard Friday, you can hear a Field Sparrow calling at www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/htmwav/h5630so.wav
THINKING OF LONG MAN
I know the Smoky Mountain country of the Cherokee very well and I can easily imagine how one raised there and living a whole life among the mountains' mists, deep valleys and bounty of life could conceive of a presence in the land whose head lies in the mountains, and who emanates wise and generous thoughts in all directions, like water rushing downslope, maybe the water itself being Long Man's meditations.
If Long Man's head is in the mountains, then his feet lie in the Gulf of Mexico, for that's where the water ends up that flows from the Cherokee heartland. The water flows into the Little Tennessee, then the Tennessee, then the Ohio and finally the Mississippi before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, Long Man's well-formed thoughts flow near here. I fancy that the dusty loess mantling our landscape here is some kind of residuum or distillation of Long Man's cogitations.
But, of course, of what good are Long Man thoughts now? Traditional Cherokee culture already has gone the way the Amazon is going, and essentially for the same reasons. And the same Western cultural dynamics that destroyed the Cherokee way of life, and now converts Amazonia into hamburgers, today engenders a generation of young people unable to hear well-formed thoughts over the din of hip-hop.
Spring is here. I hear Field Sparrows plaintively singing and think of Long Man, his head in the mountains, constantly speaking to anyone who will listen.
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