Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas tree Disposal

Did anyone notice I have taken a few months off from my Blog?

The holidays are a busy time for me. Thanksgiving and Christmas are busy with family and friends and cooking and cooking and cooking. It is all good, though, as it comes at a time when things at Habitat Home have slowed down.

But now with seed catalogs coming in the mail and the next month gardening magazines arriving, I am anxious to resume documenting things about Habitat Home. So from now until spring, when things start growing again, I will be writing just a weekly post about things at Habitat Home. Like Christmas tree disposal. Each year we buy a fresh tree. We used to go cut one down at a local tree farm but as we have gotten older we now just go into town and buy one. The trees are usually on sale by the time we buy one so close to Christmas.

The tree was up in the house only a bit more than a week but was already getting rather dry and brittle. Today it was removed from the house and we had the ceremonial Christmas tree fling over the deck to the ground below. The tree will roll about the back yard for the rest of the winter. It serves as a great resting spot and protection from the weather for various birds and rabbits and squirrels and probably other critters I would rather not think about. When spring arrives and the need for such diminishes, the tree will be hauled to the burn pile, its final resting place.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dew

This was the scene this morning at Habitat Home. Everything was covered in dew. The trees glistened and the grasses were white. What a magical sight.

Today has turned out to be a beautiful day. We have had so much rain lately that the ground is very soft. So I spent the afternoon pulling up honeysuckle in the woodlands by the house. I am now able to determine in a single glance which little honeysuckle bushes I can uproot with nothing but my gloved hands!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Milkweed seeds

MilkweedIt is raining today but this weekend was full of milkweed seeds. The dry gray pods are so much fun to open, then scatter the ripe seeds and watch as the seeds gracefully float off. It is amazing that some seeds do survive, they seem so delicate and fragile. One would think that from the great number of seeds a single plant produces, milkweeds would cover the earth. What a lovely sight that would be spring, summer, fall and even winter with the empty pods hanging on till our spring burn. I love this plant!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ladybugs

Asian ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis)These ladybugs are captured. They are in the new handy little vacuum cleaner we recently purchased. We had to do something. The house at Habitat Home was literally crawling with Asian ladybugs (Harmonia axyridis). On warm autumn days during harvest the beetles start to swarm and fly about and eventually get into the house though any crack or crevice. Once inside they will settle down and overwinter if you let them. But I cannot. There are just too many of them. They are colorful and they do eat aphids but I just wish they would not come into the house in such great numbers.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Rattlesnake Master

rattlesnake master (Euphorbia corollata)This is a photo of rattlesnake master (Euphorbia corollata) amongst the switch grass in our lower field or, as we optimistically call it, the prairie. The flowering balls go from white to brown. The white flower heads look great amongst the green grasses and other blooming flowers of summer. The flowers are an important source of nectar and pollen for a wide assortment of bees, butterflies, moths and insects. As fall approaches and the grasses fade to tan, the rattlesnake master turns brown and produces abundant seeds. This scene will remain all winter until we burn in the spring. It is an interesting plant from the time it first appears in the spring with large green leaves till it goes dormant in the fall.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) This little bird looks fine in this photo, but it was having problems earlier. She flew into the kitchen's sliding glass door. We were easily able to watch as she slowly recovered from the mishap.
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) Nuthatches are great little birds. They are fun to watch as they move headfirst down a tree looking for insect larvae. The males have a black "cap" and the females have a dark gray "cap". They are year-round residents and it amazes me that something so small and delicate looking can survive the Midwestern winters and the occasional flight into a sliding glass door.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or Treat

Although many think that this fall has been rather tricky, I think it has been nothing but a treat. The fall colors have been beautiful. Perhaps that is because Habitat Home has so many native plantings that really show off in the fall. Such as the Prairie Drop seed in this photo of the walk up to our front door. We no longer get many trick-or-treaters now that our kids are grown and since it is a long drive to our house from just about anywhere. That is a shame for I wonder if even the trick-or-treaters might not enjoy the treat that the native Midwest plants are providing this Halloween at Hbitat Home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Smoke Tree

native smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) I was lucky one year to find a nursery that had the native smoke tree Cotinus obovatus. I purchased two trees and promptly planted them. They were very small when I planted them and unfortunately they have been severely bothered by the deer. But not this year. So far the deer have left them alone and surprisingly the trees have recovered nicely and grown this summer. They had beautiful misty flower sprays this spring and now they have amazing fall color. The trees are dioecious so each plant is either male or female. Male trees have larger showier flower clusters.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Acorns

over cup oak (Quercus lyrata)
What at wonderful surprise it was to come across these sprouting acorns at a park in Urbana. My friend and I gathered up as many as we could. Yesterday, I went about the property and planted about 25 of these acorns. I planted them mostly in the fence rows where there are no oaks growing just a lot of mulberries and choke cherries. I do not know if they will make it but the rain today should really help to settle them in.

This is the acorn of the over cup oak (Quercus lyrata). So named because the cap of the acorn almost completely covers the nut. You cannot see that in these germinated acorns as the cap is gone. However, the leaves turn a beautiful shade of brown in the fall and are somewhat leathery. One might expect to find this tree in a park setting because it is tolerant of a lot of poor soils. But I was most impressed by the abundant crop of acorns that the tree had produced. Acorns are a wonderful food source for so many of the creatures and birds at Habitat Home. Here's hoping that these little acorns grow into mighty oaks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ginkgo biloba

We planted this tree this past weekend. I know, I know, it is not a native. Why is Habitat Home planting this tree? What about our native oaks and hickories and walnuts? Well, blame it on Blog Day and climate change. My mind was on such things - plants surviving climate change - when I saw a wonderful example of this, a Gingko tree at FS and on sale! The Ginkgo tree is the oldest living seed plant. It has existed unchanged for 150 million years. Individual trees can live thousands of years. So perhaps if nothing else survives the changing climate, this tree will. Of course it first has to survive the deer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change and Wildlife Habitat

This post is part of an October 15, 2009 Blog Action Day exercise in which thousands of bloggers are writing about a single topic, climate change, within the context of their site’s focus area. Our message here is simple: Individuals need to consider their local environment as wildlife habitat and take action to protect and improve it, thereby reducing the stresses on plant and animal populations that will come with climate change.

We at Habitat Home find the prospect of the gradual warming of the global environment over the next century to be sufficiently likely to justify careful study and consideration. But the hysteria or “crisis” promoted by the global warming “movement” is disturbing. The focus needs to shift from one of promulgating fear and guilt over climate change, or demanding ever more control (with cost a relatively unimportant criterion) to reduce or stop it, to a focus of how we can manage or even adapt to that change as it occurs. Yes, we need to consider and invest in alternate energy sources, and yes, we may need to adjust our lifestyles. But these things are likely to happen anyway as the fossil fuels are depleted, the economics of energy shift, the global economy becomes more real, and the growth of the human population stabilizes. There will be “change we can believe in.” But unlike the euphoria of the 2008 U.S. presidential election and its instant gratification, changes in global environments and the behavior of populations, societies and economies are not going to change overnight, and certainly not by some local or even multi-national sets of legislation or treaties. No matter how good we may feel about ourselves for short term “accomplishments” in the form of promises or even actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric carbon dioxide will continue to increase and climate changes will continue to loom on the long term calendar. Perhaps we can delay the effects by a few years over the next century, but such a delay may not be very significant.

Instead, or at least in tandem to the hysteria, what is needed is some long range thinking, research, and action to prepare our environments in all aspects (natural, societal, economic) for the likely climate changes that are going to occur. While we may not be able to reduce those changes very much, we can significantly reduce the stresses that those changes bring.

Habitat Home is all about the natural environment and a very local ecosystem of twenty acres. But those twenty acres are part of a larger collection of plant and animal habitat pockets, corridors and reserves scattered within the U.S. Midwest and the state of Illinois. With the expansion of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, the spread of the population westward, the acquisition and distribution of land ownership, and the development of industry, agriculture and urban areas, the natural areas of Illinois have already experienced tremendous and (certainly to plants and animals) very stressful change over the past 200 years. Over the next 100 years, climate change may well replace direct human activity as the greatest threat to plant and animal species and their habitats. In fact, effects of climate change are already being observed. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) issued an extensive report in June, 2009 – “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” – which summarizes results of current research and predicted impacts for the U.S. Of particular interest to this blog are the sections on the U.S. Midwest region and on Ecosystems. The report notes examples of regional and ecosystem changes that have already been occurring over the past few decades, such as “large-scale shifts have occurred in the ranges of species and the timing of the seasons and animal migration, and are very likely to continue.”

It behooves us, both collectively and individually, to do what we can to anticipate and reduce the stresses brought by these changes in ecosystems by conserving, protecting, and nurturing the natural features of any areas that we control or affect.

What can we do? Any more, we seem to first look to the government. But the list of common or “public” issues for which control is given to (or taken by?) various levels of government is growing, seemingly exponentially. Even before the recent economic downturn governments have reduced their commitments to the acquisition, development and maintenance of natural areas. Indeed, the looming dreams and resulting costs of the growing entitlement state will likely swamp any ability to support natural areas at the levels we became accustomed to in the 20th century. State and local parks and preserves are less able to maintain the areas they already have as funding is cut and managers are given other priorities. Another type of government action, and one that all governments love, is to enact legislation and regulation, especially when there are no direct costs or where costs can be passed along to someone else. Such efforts are often counterproductive and are rife with unintended consequences. We saw this first-hand four years ago when Champaign County tried to institute new zoning regulations aimed specifically at reducing rural residential development, and purportedly protecting natural resources. As we pointed out in public hearings, these regulations would have exactly the opposite effect as that intended with respect to conserving natural areas. Not only did the proposals specifically exempt agricultural uses from any of the so-called conservation measures, they reduced the ability of individual landowners to implement well-intentioned management practices they might undertake. Two multi-year efforts to enact such regulations fortunately were defeated by the County Board.

So where can we turn for help? The most effective answer is for us - residential and corporate landowners, farmers, etc. - to educate ourselves about the natural characteristics of our properties, and how those characteristics provide habitat for plants, insects and animals. Look around and notice the plants, insects, birds, mammals and fish with which you are sharing the land and water. Pick up and read some of the books listed in the right sidebar, or any of numerous other publications on the nature and preservation of habitats. You can easily learn to intentionally design and implement conservation, restoration and protection practices that will enhance habitats. The added cost is often zero! Plant native species, landscape with an eye toward beneficial shrubs, trees and plant communities, avoid chemicals or use them only sparingly for specific targets, consider the effects of your pets. Not only will such activity benefit your property immediately, it will increase the amount and quality of habitats thereby reducing the stresses on plant and animal populations that will inevitably occur as climates gradually change through the century.

Join Habitat Home in celebrating the natural world we experience all around us, and in finding joy in working toward being good stewards and doing the right thing!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

American Bladdernut

American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifoliata) When walking along the river the other day I came upon this tree. What a great surprise! American Bladdernut Staphylea trifoliata is a small tree or shrub. It has attractive white flowers in the spring and then it forms these dropping clusters of pods after fruiting. The pods are interesting because they have several small seeds rattling around in them. The tree reportedly grows in suckering colonies but this tree seems to be all alone. So, I intend to plant some of the seeds this fall. The seeds apparently have a double dormancy of three months warm and moist followed by three months at 40 degrees. I hope that by planting the seeds outside now, they will germinate this spring. Habitat Home needs more Bladdernuts. It is reported that deer are not likely to browse Bladdernut shrubs.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Carolina Mantid

Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)This male Carolina mantid (a version of praying mantis), almost three inches long, was found this afternoon on the tomato plants. Perhaps he was waiting for the small wasps to emerge from their cocoons on the dead tomato hornworms nearby. He turned his head over a wide range left and right to keep an eye on me while I was watching him. Although probably common in Illinois, we do not remember seeing these particular mantids before. We will keep an eye out for a mate and/or egg case, since it's that time of year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Prickly Pear Cactus Fruits

prickly pear cactus (Opuntia macroorhiza) The beautiful yellow blossoms of the prickly pear plant have turned into these lovely red fruits. This year they seem to be very abundant and are really a pretty sight. The red and green combination reminds me that Christmas will soon be here, but I am sure that is only my impression. The other inhabitants of Habitat Home view these fruits as food. Various birds, squirrels, ground squirrels and even deer will browse the fruit. Even humans gather the fruit which can be cooked in a pot of boiling water, mashed and then the juice used in various recipes of jelly, jams and candy making. Christmas Candy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mowing

The annual fall mowing has begun. Several areas of Habitat Home are mowed once a year. The savanna was mowed today. This area could be burned but there are many trees growing in the savanna and it borders a nursery. Just too much risk. We mow to control the invasive species Autumn Olive and the mowed grass is left on the ground. I have thought it would be good to rake it up but who wants to rake several acres? This is also a good time to scatter seeds of various forbs that have been collected earlier. So today, seeds of purple cone flower and blackeyed Susuans were sown in this area.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Galls

Bald Cypress with galls Several years ago I planted a Bald Cypress tree along the creek. It was doing great until the deer discovered it. It was destroyed that season by the bucks rubbing the small trunk with their antlers. I thought it was gone. So you can imagine my surprise to find it growing this season. It is doing quite well. Like so many plants this season the deer have left it alone. But it has another problem, Taxodiomyia cupressiananassa, cypress twig gall midge. The larvae of this tiny fly produce the galls. A gall is just abnormal plant material production, the bluish brown clumps in the photo. These galls will not harm the tree but they are not very attractive and the galls cause the branches to droop making the tree look rather sad.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Skunks

skunkAll summer long we have been finding small holes in our lawn. We wondered who was doing this. Was it the turkeys, was it the squirrels, was it Canadian geese, was it raccoons, was it opossums?

Well, it was the skunks. We saw several this morning digging in the lawn. We never see skunks in the morning but this morning we saw two. One in the front yard and one in the back yard. Actually the one in the back yard was also on the back patio looking into my potted tomatoes. And what do you suppose they are searching for? This post now comes with a warning for those who are squeamish, J.grub Yes, this is what they are digging up and eating in our lawn. We must have a lot judging by the number of holes we have found this summer. These grubs will eventually develop into Japanese Beetles. So as long as the skunks don't get excited I can live with the holes in my yard.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Crab Apples

crab apple tree (Malus 'Prairie fire')
The crab apple tree Malus 'Prairie fire' produced an abundance of crab apples this year. The small red apples will stay on the tree all winter long. The birds do not seem to eat the apples until later in winter when not much else is available. A good reason to plant this tree. This particular variety is also resistant to many of the diseases that can plague crab apple trees.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Mulching

Yesterday I spent the day working outside. One of the tasks that I have been working on is expanding the native plantings in the front yard. I decided to add to an existing area of native plantings. This would eliminate more grass to mow and mowing around yet another tree. Last week the area was sprayed with Roundup to kill the grass. Yesterday the mulch was applied and as luck would have it, it is raining today. When the rain stops sometime tomorrow, the ground will be ready to receive the plants. The plants were purchased a few weeks ago from Grand Prairie Friends' end of the season plant sale: 10 plants of Penstemon digitalus. In addition to the plants, seeds of River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) will be sown into the area. The mulch is from the Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana. It is a real bargain at $20 a truckload.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tomato Hornworm

Tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata)The potted tomato plants are still growing and producing lots of tomatoes. Is it any wonder then that there are tomato hornworms about? The horn is on the rear end of the worm. These are caterpillars of hawk moths, and so may possibly be the progeny of the hummingbird moth or a close relative. There are several hornworms crawling around on the tomato plants. Soon most of the leaves will be eaten if the worms are not removed. Handpicking is the easiest way to remove them, they are slow moving and fairly easy to spot on the undersides of the leaves. No insecticides or chemicals are needed. But for this one, I do not even have to do that. The white cylindrical attachments are cocoons of a predatory wasp. When the cocoons hatch the caterpillar will die and the wasps will go on to lay eggs on other tomato hornworms and repeat the cycle. A very interesting situation to observe.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Skippers

Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus and Peck's skipper (Polites coras)As you can see above, the butterfly bush is still in bloom and attracting butterflies. Today, the bush and the asters were full of painted ladies, sulphurs, and skippers. Butterflies are divided into two superfamilies, the Papilionoidea (true butterflies) and the Hesperioidea (skippers). All the butterflies mentioned previously on this blog have been members of the former, or true butterflies.

There are 62 species of skippers known in Illinois, out of a total of 260 or more in America north of Mexico. Skippers are differentiated from true butterflies by their clubbed antennae, widely separated at their base and many with a little curve at the end, by their stout hairy bodies, and proportionately smaller wings. They tend to beat their wings very fast resulting in fast, darting (or skipping) flight.

The photo above shows a silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) on the left and a Peck's skipper (Polites coras) on the right, with a busy bumblebee in between. The Peck's skipper is also shown below.Peck's skipper (Polites coras)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Prairie Dropseed

prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)On a windy day such as today it is interesting to watch the grasses in the front of the house. There are several clumps of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) in the front entrance bed. This short prairie grass is done blooming now so the three foot plumes of flowers are going to seed. Soon the foliage will be turning yellow but the flowering stalks will remain all winter. The seeds of dropseeds are an important food source for many ground feeding birds like juncos and sparrows. The seeds the birds don't get will readily reseed.

I need to collect some seed and plant in other areas of the property where there is none. A task for tomorrow if the wind dies down.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Asters

White aster (A. ericodes)
These asters are growing in the butterfly garden. This white flowering aster (A. ericodes) produces masses of flowers that attract a great number of insects and sulphur butterflies. The asters are one of the largest families of wildflowers in North America and they can be found in a variety of habitats from the sunny dry butterfly garden to the cool shady woodlands. There seems to be an aster for every place and identifying the abundant asters around here can be difficult. I did not plant these asters, like most of the asters on the property they just started appearing over the years.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gray Dogwood Berries

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)The white berries and red stalks of gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) are quite a site this time of year. This large shrub grows in thickets under various conditions at Habitat Home. Later this fall the leaves will turn a purplish-red. The berries are actually drupes, a seed covered by fleshy pulp. This fruit is eaten by at least 25 species of birds. It is also an important cover plant and the fine upper twigs of this dogwood provide excellent support for birds to build their nest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Buckeye

Buckeye (Junonia coenia)I have not seen any Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) this year until late last week, soon after the goldenrod started to bloom. And then I have seen buckeyes only on goldenrod. Like this guy, who was hanging out in the tall grass prairie. With conspicuous eyespots on the upper side, and a preference for settling with the wings open, buckeyes are easily identified; they are unique, with no other similar species in Illinois. They are pretty skittish, though, and I had kind of a hard time shooting through and around some tall grass without upsetting it.

Speaking of goldenrod, I've been having a slightly worse allergy season this year, but everyone is now telling me that the goldenrod is not to blame, nor has it ever been. Apparently just the ragweed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coleus and Begonias

Perhaps not the plants one would expect to find here at Habitat Home. But the deer have not browsed them and the squirrels and rodents and such have left them alone. I read that if the coleus is left to bloom that the blooms will attract some species of butterflies. I have not noticed this. Nothing ever seems to be hovering around these plants except me. I cannot resist the beautiful colored leaves and textures of these plants. They certainly brighten up a dull corner of our patio.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Big mantis

Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa)We are finally starting to see some grown praying mantis (Mantis religiosa). This one was out the other day patiently waiting for a tasty bug to come along. They will sit still for a long time and then at just the right moment, with amazing quickness, reach out that long spiny foreleg and grab an insect flying by. That is why the mantis is a symbol of patience and stillness in some cultures. Wonder what it means that the female will often eat the head of her male partner after mating.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bluebird Bath

We have so enjoyed the bluebird bathing going on each evening (see Bluebirds post), that we brought out the old Panasonic miniDV video camera and shot half an hour of splashing fun. Visiting the bath tonight were at least seven bluebirds, a mix of adults and juveniles. The black eyes on the left side of the bird bath belong to a ceramic frog. The birds seem to like the rough sides of the bird bath and the extra perches that the frog provides above the shallow water surface. These juveniles likely hatched and grew up on the property, but will be departing any day now for points south, perhaps only as far as southern Illinois.

Click on the play button in the window below to play the video which runs about 1 minute 50 seconds. video

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Black-eyed Susans

black-eyed susans and pearl crescents The black-eyed susans are fading fast. But these two pearl crescents have managed to find a small patch
to enjoy. I have been removing the ripe seed heads and placing them all around the property. The plant will readily self sow. If I had a small garden patch it would be best to remove most flowers before they go to seed, otherwise the garden will be overwhelmed with black-eyed susans. But here, they cannot spread fast enough for me so I aid them in their dispersal and carry off the seedheds to other areas of the property.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sedum

Sedum bloom and Painted LadySorry, I do not know which sedum this is. A friend passed it along and as happens with pass along plants, the name often gets left behind. But the butterfly is a painted lady and this sedum plant when in bloom usually has two or three painted ladies and several other insects on it. Although not a native plant, it does not become invasive and if I can keep the deer from eating it, the flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bluebirds

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)This evening the dinner entertainment was watching six bluebirds at the birdbath. They seemed to have some order to the rotation in which they bathed, but at one point there were three in the bath at once! We have three similar simple bird baths located around the house but for some reason this one is the most popular. I added the wire bee sculpture this year and the birds readily perch on it and then hop into the birdbath. They actually splash quite a bit of water out so I need to remember to fill the bath tomorrow but not too full, as they prefer the bath when the water is very shallow.

See the following Friday Bluebird Bath post for a video of the splashing birds.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wolf River Apple Tree

Wolf River apples In 1993, we planted three standard apple trees, Lodi, Honeygold and Wolf River. The Wolf River is the only one to have ever produced an apple crop. This year the tree produced so many apples that some branches broke and had to be removed. Wolf River trees are noted for the large sized apples that they produce which has not been a problem in the past. But this year, the combination of the size and number of apples was more than the tree could bear. Also, the animals seen eating the apples off the tree could have contributed to the damage. Raccoons have been spotted in the upper branches and deer can be seen standing on their two hind feet leaning against the branches to reach the apples.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Snags

Late last night, while reading in the living room we heard a terrible crashing sound in the woods by the house. The bright light of the flashlight revealed that another branch had fallen off a dead tree. We leave as many dead trees standing as possible and even leave them after they have fallen. Many species of wildlife use hollow logs or tree cavities during some part of their life. Some species prefer hollows in standing trees, others prefer them on the ground. These dead trees also harbor many insects for birds and reptiles. This one also harbors an interesting lichen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Crayfish

One of the (relatively) unique features of HabitatHome is a 200 yard stretch of the Salt Fork River, a branch of the Little Vermillion. The River is home to several varieties of fish, turtles, frogs, mussels and crayfish. We were out wading last week looking for mussels, and although we didn't find any live ones, we did find these crayfish, a large one (top, about 2.5-3.0 inches), and a small one (bottom, maybe 1.5 inches) about 10 feet upstream.

We have no experience identifying crayfish (among other things), so if you have any specific knowledge, please add comments. Rob Kanter has a nice post on Appeciating Illinois Crayfish at the Environmental Almanac blog, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History maintains an extensive database, including information and many photos of Illinois speciescrayfishcrayfish

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rough Blazing Star

Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera)
There are over 40 species of blazing stars that occur in North America. This one, Liatris aspera, is a bit unusual because it likes a slightly drier site. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the flowers and finches relish the seeds. As you can see, it is a knock out in the garden. It is a late bloomer and notice that it blooms from the top down. This variety tends to be a bit wild for some gardens but that is what makes it so endearing for natural gardening.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rat Snake

Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta) How can anything so cute have a name like rat snake? Perhaps I will just learn the Latin name Elaphe obsoleta and call it by that. Lex found this little fella while mowing the front lawn. It is obviously a juvenile so it is a little hard to identify and please comment if I have identified it incorrectly. But the young hatch late July to September and I think this one just hatched recently. Rat snakes prefer a variety of forest, shrub, and edge habitats, so he should feel right at home. Carnivorous mammals and raptors prey upon these little snakes. Hope he survives!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chinese Lespedeza

Chinese Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)At first I did not know what it was. Then I decided to identify it: Lespedeza cuneata. The literature states that it forms dense stands that prevent anything else from growing. But I thought it was rather attractive and after all it was originally introduced as quail food so perhaps other birds feed upon it. Really, how bad could it get? Well three years later, it is thick and spreading and has formed a large dense stand. So I am spraying it with a solution of Roundup. I no longer see any beauty in this plant! Remove this plant as soon as you see it. The younger plants are rather easy to pull up, avoiding the use of any chemicals, but these are beyond pulling!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stan Hywet (Boston Trip Part 3)

On the drive home from Boston, we had a hard time deciding where to stop. The book Gardens Across America, Volume I East of the Mississippi is a great resource for finding gardens to visit while traveling.

We decided to stop and visit Stan Hywet and were not disappointed. This was the estate of F.A. Seiberling, the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. He built a magnificent 65 room Tudor Revival mansion on 75 acres where stone had once been quarried. The name Stan Hywet is old English for stone quarry.

The estate beautifully combines formal gardens, the cutting/vegetable gardens and orchard with the natural areas surrounding the estate. The birch allée vista is not to be missed nor the walled English garden pictured below.