“…But only God can make a tree”

Joyce Kilmer wrote it very eloquently, and it says exactly how I feel about trees. They’re truly God’s miracle.

This year I’ve been more attune to the promise of Spring. Seeing the new little buds on trees, their colorful blossoms, their pollen-laden blooms. In the past, I’ve primarily paid attention to trees in their “leafing out” stage, always seen at a distance, always on the go, always in a rush, seeing it as the sign Winter has loosened it’s grip. I’ve missed so much!

In these unsettling times of the pandemic, I believe we all need to embrace something that grounds us, that provides a sense of peace, that offers us joy that can’t be taken away. Maybe it’s the essence of finding some control in our world. And for me, that’s getting closer to nature and marveling at its wonders. Really seeing all the things I’ve been missing for so long. A benefit of Covid-19? Quite possibly.

Maple trees have been capturing my attention of late – primarily red maple (acer rubrum). Their blooms have been spectacular, but most have passed their prime in central Ohio and are off to the seed stage. But even the seeds are quite colorful.

On a recent walk, I discovered catkins on this male Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) tree. They’re almost as colorful as red maples. I’ve never seen these catkins before, or at least that fact never reached my level of consciousness. These trees love the water, and you’ll find them quite often in riparian areas. They can become huge and very tall (up to 120 feet); they can grow 2 to 3 feet every year. In early to mid-summer, the female catkins (which are green and can be up to 6 inches in length) will split open and release 30 to 50 seeds each. I’m sure you’ve seen these before, just floating around in the air. Hopefully it’s not an allergen for you.

Trees are pretty magnificent, even when they’re no longer living. Some can be quite artistic looking (or perhaps the stay-at-home order has my sense of art a bit diminished). Many of these dead snags (and living trees as well) provide homes to a lot of Gods creatures, including this menagerie of squirrels pictured below.

Speaking of squirrels, I came across something recently that caught my eye. Perhaps you’ve seen these too? If you could flip this black walnut over, you would see that the opposite side has exactly the same markings. The tiny little teeth of a flying squirrel did this. I’ve never seen a flying squirrel, perhaps because I’m not out and about trying to take photos at night. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and are actually very common in Ohio.

Flying squirrels don’t really fly; it’s more of a glide from tree to tree. I’ve been told they can glide as much as 300 feet depending upon the circumstances and make 180 degree turns. That’s pretty impressive! Flying squirrels are omnivorous and eat not only nuts, but berries, moths, mice, eggs, slugs, insects and even small birds.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, there are only two native flying squirrels in North America – the northern and the southern flying squirrels. They are both gray brown, but their belly fur color is different. Northerns’ are gray while southerns’ are all white. Perhaps one day this blog will have a photo of one, but don’t hold your breath. My nighttime photo experience is slim to none.

I guess I can’t end this blog without another photo of a tree, or rather, in this case, a group of trees along the Big Walnut Creek. It’s not the most spectacular photo – actually it’s not even a very good one – but it brings with it the promise of Spring. Soon the branches will be full of leaves, casting shade on the stream and providing wonderful niches for birds and the wood ducks that call this little oasis home.

Stay safe and may your world be filled with much joy.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.

Spring Emergence

This week I found myself excited to find spring wildflowers – Bloodroot, Trout Lilies and Virginia Bluebells on a walk along a bike trail not far from where I live. Wildflowers are a treasure after winter ebbs, even though this past winter has been a mild one according to meteorologists. I long to see growing things bursting forth.

Blood Root (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a native of the eastern United States and is aptly named. When the stem or root is pierced, it is said to put forth a red liquid, hence the reference to blood. The flower will have multi-white petals with a golden yellow center, reaching a height of about 6 to 10 inches.

Below is a photo of Blood Root in bloom taken last year. A truly beautiful wildflower. It’s a member of the poppy family and its blooms are relatively short lived. The flower opens in full light and closes at night. It grows in shade/full shade and prefer moist soil.

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are just beginning to bloom in my area. Their foliage covers the hillside near a small stream near me. Flower blooms hide behind tight leaves waiting for warmer weather so they can emerge.

The photo below is from last April and shows the glorious color of the flowers. It always amazes me I can plant and nurture a flower with little success, yet nature can produce this beauty in sometimes the most unusual places with no help at all.

Bluebells are perennials that are in the herb family. They prefer shade/part shade and moist conditions. The flower on the right (below) grew on a riverbank as well.

This year I’ve been mesmerized by the floral buds of the Red Maple (Acer rubrum) tree. I don’t think I have ever realized how truly spectacular they are when you take a close look. In late winter/early spring, the buds open to expose male and female flowers.

The female Red Maple flower is a vivid deep red while the male flower tends to be more orange. In the fall, the foliage of this tree will be a beautiful red color (though some have been known to be yellow as well). Red Maples live to be about 80 to 100 years old on average. Next time you’re out for a walk, take a look at the red maple trees and explore that bloom up close and personal. It’s pretty magnificent!

Another plant I came across this week is one I have considered a non-interesting weed, for lack of a better description. I’ve seen it growing profusely in farm fields and even in my own yard. But when you look more closely at this little plant, you’ll find it has a beautiful flower. It’s Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum). It’s a member of the mint family and has fuzzy spade shaped leaves with pink/purple flowers that are just 10 to 18mm. Very tiny little things.

Mason bees and bumble bees visit these little flowers looking for nectar. Next time you see this plant, look closely and you will see the lines inside the flowers which help direct bees inside. Another wonder of nature. Sometimes we overlook what is right in front of us, at least I have done so when it comes to Red Dead Nettle.

I hope you have enjoyed my first blog post, and perhaps I have shared something of interest or something new. And if you found this of interest, perhaps you will request to follow this column in the future.

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.