Monthly Archives: June 2007

Wildflowers (late June edition)

The wildflowers have been absolutely incredible this Spring and Summer. We’ve had regular rainfall and plants are just bursting from the ground. Once a week, I walk the entire property and photograph everything new. It sometimes takes me a few days, or a couple of weeks, to identify the flowers, using a plant key, the USDA plant database and four field guides that cover this area. If all else fails I call on Pat Folley.

This first flower is the only one of this group that I couldn’t identify. I was relieved to find that it had confounded Pat as well when she first encountered it. It’s an odd little plant that doesn’t look like it has any leaves except a few leaflets on the single flower stalk. It’s tiny, no bigger than the end of my little finger, but about 18 inches tall. The flowers bloom from the bottom to the top, and continue to produce the tiny flowers as the stalk grows. It’s called Procession plant.

I found the next specimen along our forest path. This is Whorled Milkweed (left), the fifth Milkweed species I’ve found this year (there are many more in Oklahoma). The wiry plant in front and to the left of the milkweed is called Threadleaf. I hadn’t managed to get an in focus photograph of that plant while it was blooming (single tiny white flowers at the tips of the branching; the little balls are the seedpods). It’s not really in focus this time either, but I thought you might like to know what was getting in the way.

Wild Petunia: Big flower, small plant (right). I found a few of these in gaps between the taller surrounding plants.
Their name is derived from their similarity to Petunias, not their relationship to cultivated Petunias. It’s too bad the flowers don’t last very long; they’d make a stunning garden display if they did.

Pokeweed (left) is a common perennial. It can grow as tall as 20 feet, but it’s not a shrub. It has a huge taproot, making it hard to get rid of if it’s growing in the wrong place. Most of it’s parts are toxic to humans, however, the young shoots are considered a delicacy in the Southern states if cooked correctly. I don’t plan on chancing it.
Wildlife love pokeweed. Deer will browse on it, and the birds love the purple berries that are produced in the fall.

I’ve included this next flower, Common Sowthistle (below), because not everything flowering at Windhaven is a native wildflower. Sowthistle is probably found just about everywhere on disturbed land in North America. As most of our “weeds” are, this one is native to Eurasia and North Africa where it was eaten by livestock (especially rabbits), and the young leaves can be eaten by humans (tastes like lettuce). Many Eurasian species can be invasive, crowding out the native species, but Sowthistles are not very aggressive, and if they do get out of control, then I’ll make a salad.

This is one of several native true thistles, the Wavy-leaved Thistle (left). It’s hard to get a picture of one of these beauties without some kind of insect snuggled into the fluffy top. I’ve seen wasps, beetles and butterflies going after the pollen and nectar, and crab spiders and assassin bugs hiding in the flower tops going after the wasps, beetles and butterflies. A whole ecosystem in one flower. I don’t have a lot of these thistles but the birds will appreciate the seeds later this year, and the down is quite popular for lining the nests of late season breeders.

Yellow seems to be a popular color in the aster family, this one is the Bitter Sneezeweed. Contrary to the implication of the name it does not cause hayfever. The name is derived from the practice, by Native Americans and early settlers, of sniffing the crushed leaves to clear nasal passages.

The flower at left is American Germander, a member of the mint family. It doesn’t have any uses that I know of, but they form lovely clusters of tall pink spikes along roadsides and fence lines. I found these along our west fence line and on the pond embankment.

This plant was a lovely surprise. I was on my way down the driveway to get the mail when I caught a flash of lilac out of the corner of my eye. I only have one specimen growing of the northward embankment above our driveway. A member of the pea family, it’s called Pigeonwings. The flower is quite big, about two inches. Apparently deer like to eat these, but I think it was spared because it was on the hillside. It’s only a guess based on anecdotal evidence, but I believe the deer prefer to graze from a flat surface. They’ll reach up from the bottom of a hill, but don’t tend to reach down from the top. Whatever the reason, this Pigeonwings plant has been spared. The other fact about this plant bears further investigation, as it apparently likes loamy acidic soil. That’s not how I would describe most of the soil at Windhaven, so I may do some soil testing near the Pigeonwings to assess the soil microhabitat.

The next two flowers I found right next to our mailbox by the street. They’ve since been eaten by deer. The flower to the left is the Four-pointed Evening Primrose. As the name implies, the flowers don’t open until late afternoon, so I kept taking my camera with me to get the mail in the hopes of a good photo.

The flower to the right is the Sessile-leaved Tick-clover, yet another member of the pea family. The big showy pink flowers quickly fade to a green and teal color. The seed pods are flat with tiny hooked barbs that stick tightly to animal hair and clothing. Similar to tick, they’re hard to get off. But they’re nutritious wildlife food which is probably why the deer ate it.

The last flower, that I found along our road, is the Partridge Pea. It is not in the pea family but does produce pea pods. Bobwhite Quail and other seed eating birds and mammals like to eat the seeds. It’s also a good indicator plant of sandy soils.

I can’t wait to see what botanical surprises July will bring.

From the tree to the jar

I picked our first ripe plum on June 15th. The pulp was sweet and juicy, the skin slightly tart; a yummy combination. I cooked a whole grain plum crisp on the 17th, and tried a sugarless compote on the 19th. I picked a total of 12.75 lbs from the tree, and was competing with woodpeckers and deer for the fruit.

I forgot to check the tree for ripe fruit on the 21st and 22nd. On the 23rd, I checked the tree in the morning and found the tree had been picked completely clean. Even the ground around the tree had been cleaned of fallen fruit. Given the evidence of small broken branches in the tree, I suspect there is a very happy, and stuffed, family of raccoons nearby.

I still had about 10 lbs of fruit in the fridge, so I decided to make some plum jam. My Mom taught me how to make preserves, a skill I know many people don’t have. The classic jam recipe is about a 1:1 relationship of mashed fruit to sugar and some pectin (the gelling agent). While doing some reading about steam canning, I came across a pectin that’s activated with calcium instead of sugar. Using this pectin, derived from citrus, you can make jams with much lower sugar, or no sugar, or honey, or even sugar substitutes. I don’t believe in using sugar substitutes but I don’t object to less sugar, so I gave it a try.

I cut up and mashed about 4 lbs of fruit (about 2/3 of what’s in the colander at right), mixed in some lemon juice, and calcium water (4 tsps.), brought that to a boil then added only 1 cup of sugar and the pectin (3 tsps.). Stirred until the pectin dissolved then brought it to a boil again. The result was 4 and a half jars of jam that I processed in the steam canner (on the stove at right) for 5 minutes. I just did a taste test and it is some of the best jam I have ever tasted (if I do say so myself). The reduced sugar and the lemon juice gives a really nice tang to the jam, while bringing out the delicious plum flavor. I’m thinking that colander of fruit may eventually turn into more jars!

It’s incredibly satisfying to have made jam from the fruit of my own tree. I look forward to the future when I have an orchard of all kinds of fruits. Yummm!

Roses are red, aren’t hydrangeas blue?

Hydrangeas are interesting shrubs. I like to call them the litmus plants. Hydrangeas come in pink, blue or white. If they’re white, they’re always white. If they’re colored, they’re either pink or blue, depending on the soil composition. For Hydrangeas to be blue they have to take up aluminum from the soil. Aluminum is only available to the plant when the soil is acidic. Our soil is alkaline, therefore pink flowers.

Assuming there is sufficient aluminum in the soil (I won’t add any), lowering the soil pH could change the flower color to purple or blue. It might be a fun experiment to see how best to reduce the pH, since most plant prefer a slightly lower than neutral pH, and some like blueberries (and blue hydrangeas) need very acidic soils.

Wildflowers, Part 4 (or the June edition)

More new wildflowers for your viewing pleasure! But first, a revisit. I introduced Goat’s Beard in my last wildflower posting and mentioned the puffball on steroids, well here it is. Seeing it in relation to my hand, it’s actually bigger than a tennis ball! I found this one at the top of the bluff above the road.

Working from the front yard to the back, I finally found a patch of Butterfly Milkweed. Of course it had a butterfly on it! This one is a Gray Hairstreak. I forgot to look for Monarch caterpillars. I’ll try to check for them next time I’m out with the camera. I have some saved seeds of this plant that I’ll spread around the house.

The Prickly Pear Cactus are finally blooming. Yes, we have cacti at Windhaven. This is probably Brown-spined Prickly Pear, also called New Mexico Prickly Pear, or just plain Prickly Pear. The fruits are edible but…well…prickly.

These next two are common in our front meadow. The one on the right is Venus’ Looking Glass, the one below is Western Venus’ Looking Glass. The flower in the background below goes by the uncomplimentary name of Cudweed.

This flower spends most of the day closed up, showing the pink underside of it’s petals.

It’s only late in the day that the flower opens up. That’s why it’s given the common name of Lazy Daisy.

Into the woodland edge now, and a different set of flowers.

I needed help with this flower. I only found one so I didn’t want to take a sample, but the local plant guru was able to identify it by the photos as the Carolina Pucoon. Apparently this plant is not as common as it used to be since it was used extensively for it’s natural dye.

Now we get to the back of the property where we share a lovely meadow with our neighbors to the South.

Hidden at the base of the plants I found an inconspicuous but rather attractive flower called the Prairie Bur. When they first open, they’re a deep maroon color and fade to deep pink as they age.

This beautiful big pink flower among the Daisy Fleabane is the Prairie Rose-Gentian. This was a lovely surprise. I had seen some of the non-blooming plants on my way to the back and had planned on returning next week to find out what they’d become, when a came upon a field of them.

Another common prairie flower, Greenthread, can be seen in abundance along the roadsides right now. I’ve only found them in the back meadow so far, but Windhaven is often behind the roadsides when it comes to flowering.

Black-eyed Susans are starting to bloom. I noticed a lot of the earlier ones had been browsed by the deer, but we’re building up a critical mass, and they’ll soon be blooming all over the property.

This last flower, a favorite of butterflies, is Lemon Horsemint. This plant can be biennial so we may not see it next year. We’ll enjoy it while we can. Native Americans brewed tea from the leaves of this plant and it does have a lemony mint smell.