Sunflowers and Gourds



161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_0983acsFUN FACT: Sunflowers are composite flowers, where all is not what it seems. What look like petals are actually infertile ray flowers that attract vital pollinator species to the plant. The center of the sunflower is made up of hundreds of small flowers, each with five petals, a male stamen and a female stigma, where pollination takes place.


161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_1114acsSoybean pods.


161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_1322acs161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_0949acsWheel Bug, Arilus cristatus.

FUN FACT: One of a group of true bugs known as assassin bugs, in the ambush bug family, Reduviidae. They eat soft-bodied insects, stink bugs and, as we witnessed, bees. A wheel bug injects enzyme-laced saliva into its prey, which paralyzes the victim and liquefies their internal parts, which the wheel bug proceeds to consume. Yuck! Adding to their allure, they inflict a painful bite on humans.

They have their good side, though; many of their preferred prey are pests, so they are welcomed in gardens and on farms. And they just look cool.

161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_0873acsThis gourd looked just like a goose to me. I took him home and cleaned him up.

Behold – Gourdon Goose.

161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_0880acs161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_1092acsLeft behind.


161013_pa-sugartown-sunflowers_0981aLooking back on a fun fall day on the farm.

Weird and Wonderful Plants

141225 Longwood Gardens_3410acsThe Conservatory at Longwood Gardens is a welcome respite from the dark and dreary days of winter. Outside the landscaped grounds are cold, bleak and brown. Step indoors and we are welcomed with warmth and color.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3581acsBeautiful flowers are everywhere. Some dangle in delicate shades of blush…

141225_Longwood Gardens_3584acsWhile others offer a brighter palette.

141225 Longwood Gardens_3511aPast the Main Conservatory and the Exhibition Hall, the Silver Garden and the Banana House, each step deeper into the labyrinth of corridors and rooms reveals ever more exotic plants. Bird of Paradise.

141225 Longwood Gardens_3503acsRound the bend and we are met with a shaft of sunlight illuminating some unusual leaves. Ram’s Horn Croton.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3564acsWalking into the Fern Passage brings us among some truly weird and wonderful plants. Look up! See the intricate pattern made from the spore-dotted fronds of the Australian Tree fern that towers over your head.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3560aTurn another direction, and we find ourselves face to face with suspended carnivorous pitcher plants. Smaller ones share a planter with tiny Venus Flytraps.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3592acsWait – our favorite plants seem to be missing. Where are the club mosses? This is Longwood Gardens; they simply have to be here.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3600acsAnd they are. In fact, we were looking right at them. A helpful staff botanist is happy to show us what we missed.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3595acsNot mosses at all, club mosses are vascular plants. We are familiar with Lycopodium, which resembles a teeny tiny Christmas tree, but on this Christmas day, we are introduced to Huperzia, sometimes known as fir moss.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3594aThese particular Huperzia are called Tassel Ferns.

141225_Longwood Gardens_3550aPassing through the Cascade Garden, we find ourselves in the Rose Alley, which speaks to us of both spring gardens and tropical climes. Water droplets glisten on colorful hibiscus.

141225 Longwood Gardens_3531aOutside it is cold and windy, but inside the Conservatory of Longwood Gardens winter dreams blossom into weird and wonderful life.

Mt. Cuba In Bloom

Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6193aThe calendar is marching inexorably toward summer. Humidity is building, and the mercury is oozing toward 90 degrees. It seems like only yesterday that we were locked in snow and ice, and suddenly it’s hot. Did we even have a spring this year?

Mt Cuba 1 Formal_6038aYes, we did. Like her sister Autumn, Lady Spring is an elusive and ephemeral tease. This year, perhaps pouting at the persistence of the Winter Queen, Spring’s arrival was late, and her stay short. But she did grace us with her presence. I have the evidence!

Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6397acs copyAll of these photos were taken at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware. Mt. Cuba is a botanical garden with a commitment to using and promoting native plants in its 50 acre cultivated gardens and 500 acre natural areas.

The center offers many classes on horticulture and conservation, and maintains a Trial Garden where various native plants are studied.

Mt Cuba 4 Ponds_6538aThe pathway leads through a variety of habitats, including woods, meadows and ponds.

Mt Cuba 2 Trillium_6266acsThe stars of the show in spring are the Trilliums. They even get their own garden!Mt Cuba 2 Trillium_6122acsMt Cuba 2 Trillium_6276a

Mt Cuba 2 Trillium_6115aSome Trilliums wear camo…

Mt Cuba 2 Trillium_6253aOr come in double-flowered forms.

Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6088aA shady spot for one of Her Ladyship’s sprites to sit and enjoy her lunch.

Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6416aJack in the Pulpit.

Mt Cuba 3 Woodland_6569acs copyColumbine.

These neat flowers were at both Shenk’s Ferry and Mt. Cuba. They gave me fits trying to get a good photo.

Mt Cuba 4 Ponds_6485acsNow the Summer Queen is knocking at the door. Lady Spring kept us in suspense this year, and her appearance was brief, but oh, was it worth the wait!


Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve

Shenks Ferry WF Bluebell_5526 aCan you imagine life as a spring ephemeral wildflower? You’ve lain dormant for months, through the summer heat and the cold days of winter. As the weather begins to warm, you awaken. You have a few short weeks to do all your work for the year. Leaf out, feed, bloom, reproduce and set seed; all need to be accomplished before the tree canopy above you leafs out and blocks precious sunlight, and the air turns hot. Better get busy!     Virginia Bluebell, above.

Shenks Ferry WF Trillium_5796acsShenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve, along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, is well-known for its variety of wildflowers. Over 70 different species bloom in the spring, with another 60 peaking during the summer.     Trillium.

Shenks Ferry WF Spring Beauty_5779 aDon’t expect a cultivated garden if you visit, though. Oh no! This is a wild woodland glen whose main trail traces the path of creek valley. Wildflowers, many tiny, are scattered along the forest floor under the trees, tucked away in the lush understory. Finding these little beauties is worth the effort though.     Spring Beauty.

Shenks Ferry WF Bluebell_5973aI thought learning to identify different bird species was tough, but it’s nothing compared to plants. I’ve only been studying identification for two years or so, and I’m trying to learn birds, plants, trees, dragonflies, butterflies and lots of other critters  – all at the same time.

I’ve tried to put common names to as many of these flowers as I can. If I’ve identified something incorrectly, or not at all, and you know its proper name, PLEASE leave a comment!

Virginia Bluebells and Wild Columbine.

Shenks Ferry WF_5754acsIn most cases I’ve only gotten as far as a family or genus name, not the individual species. For instance, this is a Violet. Which one, I have no idea.

Shenks Ferry WF_5587 aI think this might be another Violet.

Or something else entirely.

In identifying plants, the flower is the first classification to make (which can be a problem if the plant isn’t in bloom). The next step is to classify the plant itself (wildflower, shrub, vine) and then look at the leaves.

Don’t let the leaves in this photo fool you; they’re from two different plants.Shenks Ferry WF Squirrel Corn_5597a



Here’s Squirrel Corn.

At first I had it labeled as Dutchman’s Breeches, then I looked at Wild Bleeding Heart.

All three plants are in the Dicentra genus, so they’re cousins, and near look-alikes.

Shenks Ferry Morel_5607 acsThis isn’t a wildflower, but a mushroom known as a morel. It will be as short-lived as the spring ephemerals.

Shenks Ferry WF_5605 aI have no idea. Do you?

Shenks Ferry WF Wild Geranium_5883acs copyWild Geranium.

Shenks Ferry WF_5731 aDoes anyone know this lovely lady’s name?

Once the heat sets in, and the trees cast permanent shade, your time to get productive work done has passed. Is this the end for you? Not at all. Though your flowers and perhaps your leaves will wither, you have firm roots in the soil. Like all ephemeral wildflowers, you will go dormant, sleeping away the passing seasons until spring arrives and you blossom anew.

Shenks Ferry WF Bluebell_5998 acs

Unsweetened Iced Tree

Ice Storm_ 1453 acs The wonderful thing about weather is that it’s never the same from day to day. Variety is the spice of life, right? Well, this was one variety we could have done without: ice.

Ice Storm_ 1484aLast week we had a significant ice storm. Ice coated the branches and twigs of the trees, and many of the older, larger trees lost limbs or came down completely. Downed wires led to over 700,000 power outages in my area of Pennsylvania, and many homes and businesses were without power for days. It was just hours for me, and I’m counting my blessings for that.

Ice Storm_ 1533acsAfter the rain stopped, I tried to capture the beauty in the beast before the ice melted away.

Ice Storm_ 1471acs Ice Storm_ 1455acs Ice Storm_ 1493acs Ice Storm_ 1539a Ice Storm_ 1523a Ice Storm_ 1490aA friend said that the patterns in the ice remind her of crackled glass, and I realized that is why I have been so fascinated with the ice this winter. I love glass in all its forms. Really, anything transparent or reflective. I must have been a raven in a former life – I love shiny things. (The image above is worth clicking to see the intricate ice patterns.)

Ice Storm_ 1575acs This has been the winter of our discontent. As I write this, a Nor’Easter has once again buried us in snow, and wind and sleet assault my windows.

Yet, this too shall pass. As the ice of last week melted away, this winter will melt into our memories. Underneath the snow my crocuses sleep, well-watered and warm, waiting for the Spring yet to be.Ice Storm_ 1556a

Independence Day II: A Morris Mosaic

2 Morris Plant_4809 aAfter our ramble through the Wissahickon, and lunch in an air-conditioned restaurant, my friends and I were refreshed enough to take on the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill.

Originally a summer estate, it became part of the University of Pennsylvania in 1932.Besides a wealth of trees, plants and flowers, every summer the arboretum hosts a wonderful garden railway. In addition, this year it is also hosting the BIG BUGS! exhibit. Arboretum Collage White2 Morris Plant_4854 aBug CollageMorris Arboretum_6487 aTrain CollageMorris Arboretum_6769 a

Coming up: Natural Abstraction