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Wool Sower Gall

This particular gall – the wool sower gall, is produced by a tiny wasp called Callirhytis seminator. There are many different types of galls but essentially they are all growths on various parts of plants, such as leaves, twigs, stems, roots, etc. They can be caused by flies, mites, moths, and gall wasps, but sometimes they are a response to injury or disease: Trees are affected by viruses and bacteria as well. Galls are produced when an insect larva releases a chemical that forces the host plant to form a gall. The larva will use this gall as food and shelter.

wool sower gall June 2014

The insects and the mites are quite particular about not only the plant they seek out, but the location on the plant. The wool sower gall is placed on the twigs of the oak tree. I’ve seen other types of galls on the white oaks around my house, and many are attached to leaves. Oaks are important trees that provide shelter and food to over 500 species. Many of these are gall producing organisms so it should be no surprise that the genus Quercus is host to hundreds of types of galls.

oak tree twigs with wool sower galls June 2014

Swing on by!

We’re part of our very first garden tour organized by the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History! I did a short presentation on our woodland garden a few weeks ago and now we are one of 6 gardens on the trip. Call 508 896 3867 ext. 733. The date is tomorrow, June 27. The starting point is the museum, go to 869 Main Street (Route 6A) in Brewster, and kick off the event at the Lynn Peabody Wildflower Garden. 9:30 AM is the start time there, but you can take the tour anytime before 3:00 PM. Visit Scargo Lake, Cummaquid, Brewster and Harwich, and spend some time with artists, naturalists, horticultarists and yours truly. As you should know by now we have a shade garden with some 100 species of native perennials, as well as some pretty cool non-natives and commercial plantings. This being the transition period from spring to summer, and that particular event being delayed somewhat this year, you will see a lot of plants right after or right before their peak. But if you are an enthusiast you will still enjoy what you see. I do every day.

jack-in-the-pulpit June 1, 2014“triphyllum” is the defining feature of this member of the Arum family, as all you initially see is the tripartite leaves, of which there are only two. Last year one plant emerged with just a single leaf and I did not bother trying to identify what I was dealing with. Now I have three plants in different areas of the woodland garden, and they are all about a foot high, and this time they have the flower which characterizes this species. Arisaema triphyllum likes damp and rich woodland. How far my garden has come from the days when only commercial plantings and dry soil were in evidence. The jack-in-the-pulpits just appeared one day, finding a habitat they could thrive in. The other defining element is the hooded “pulpit”, which is a death trap for insects. The plant does not feed on the nutrients of these insects like a venus fly trap does. They just don’t seem to care either way if an insect makes it out or not. The bugs are unable to make it up the slippery slopes.

The sex life of the plants is also somewhat unusual. Initially the flowers of these plants are only male, but the plant adds female flowers as it matures. What is interesting is that the male flowers die off before the female flowers appear, so they do not self-pollinate – other jacks are required to take care of the needs of jill… The jack-in-the-pulpits will disappear by the height of summer. If all goes well I should find red berries. The plant is highly toxic as it contains calcium oxalate. This is a plant to admire from afar…

Arisaema triphyllum June 1, 2014

seed pods on bloodroot, JUne 1 2014Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is slowly but surely establishing itself in the woodland garden. Three little plants two years ago have become a smallish colony of 7 or 8. The flowers are still shortlived as they are easily destroyed by rain and wind, but whatever time they had to attract insects must have been enough. I am happy to see several seed pods for the first time. I hope this means a more rapid expansion throughout the woodland corridor alongside my house. The softly jagged kidney shaped leaves remain visible all summer and fall, and provide a nice groundcover.

Trillium luteum is a native neighbor, as it naturally occurs in Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky. They are also found in the north (Michigan and Ontario), although they are regarded there as having been introduced. However, that northern location provided proof that they could withstand a harsh New England winter. Like other Trillium species, this plant prefers shaded woodlands and scrub. I only have a few plants now, but they seem to like their environment and have grown taller and have shown more vigor since I planted them 2 years ago. They will go dormant in a few weeks, and you would never know they were there because ferns and asters will fill in. Opportunism is a way of life in the woodland garden, as plants vie for the little sunlight that reaches the ground.

rillium luteum, June 1, 2014

Pink lady slipper, June 1, 2014

I was quite surprised to see two of these plants in a narrow strip of woodland right near my house. I am not sure how rare these are on Cape Cod, or anywhere else for that matter, but there were only these two plants and I searched far and wide for signs of other moccasin flowers, as they are sometimes called. This orchid has two fuzzy lightgreen petals with a single stem and flower. The pinkish flower has purple veins across it and some parts that vaguely resemble shoe laces. It’s hard to comprehend that the stem can support such a big bulbous flower, but it must be lighter than it looks.

These orchids are quite interesting plants. Cypripedium acaule has a symbiotic relationship with a soil fungus. The seeds do not have food supplies inside them like most other kinds of seeds, and the fungus breaks open the seeds and passes on nutrients. When the plants grow older and become self sustaining, the relationship is reversed and now the fungus will extract nutrients from the roots of the plant.

pinkladyslipper3

Another relationship is just as important: Pink lady’s slippers need bees, and the flower’s color and smell lures the insects deep into the pouch. There is only one way out of the flower, and the bees are guided by hairy obstacles to the exit, but not without passing pollen and the stigma. Pollen from another lady’s slipper is deposited and fresh pollen is adhered to the bee on the way out.

pinkladyslipper2

At this time the plants are still young and they have not gotten to the point of producing flowers and the signature blue berries. The two blue cohosh plants in the garden are hidden somewhat out of sight behind the stalks of asters and they are about a foot high. Eventually, in another year or two they will be twice that tall and will be producing fruit. In the meantime, the distinctive leaves contribute a greyish-blue hue to the surrounding groundcover.

The rootstock of this plant, native to eastern North America, is well known in the medical community and by herbal aficionados for its medicinal properties. In particular, blue cohosh root powder is used for stimulating the uterus and starting labor; starting menstruation; stopping muscle spasms; as a laxative; and for treating colic, sore throat, cramps, hiccups, epilepsy, hysterics, inflammation of the uterus, and joint conditions. As an analgesic it is more effective than aspirin. You want to be careful about administering blue cohosh root powder without having adequate medical supervision. The effects are similar to what estrogen (a hormone) does to a human body. Additionally, extracts from the plant narrow the heart blood vessels and can decrease oxygen supply to the heart. Caulophyllum thalictroides root extracts are something you want to stay away from if you suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure. On the other hand, there is apparently some food value in the seeds – you can roast them and use them as a coffee substitute.

Blue cohosh June 1, 2014

Blue cohosh grows 1 to 3 feet high. When it first emerges from the soil in the spring the plant is covered with a bluish-green bloom which gradually disappears. In the next few years I hope to see the small greenish-yellow flowers appear during May and June. In the fall seeds, resembling blue berries, will appear on stalks. Over time the plant produces a thick mass of roots.

I am not quite sure how it ended up in the woodland garden, but it enjoys a moist woodland environment. The conditions are certainly ideal. Most likely it arrived as a seedling or seed stowaway among other plants I purchased. I have not observed blue cohosh anywhere in the woods around my house.

Looking back at posts from the past few years that were written around this time, I am seeing some slight differences in the patterns of the critters that live around our Cape Cod home. I usually get large black ants running around my kitchen for several days in late April. Then these ants suddenly disappear. For some reason, I didn’t get that influx this year.

The groundhog that ate most of our plants last year seems to have moved elsewhere, but apparently there is a bunny in his place. I never see the rabbit, but G has caught him several times either about to snack or just finishing up.

As for birds, the catbirds and the hummingbirds have returned. A previous blog mentioned the American Woodcock we spotted with her babies last week, that was a rare sight! The only other thing that comes to mind is that I have seen more goldfinches than ever before. Our native plantings have matured since we started a few years ago, it’s gotten lush, and our yard is a great place for birds to hang out, hide from predators and have babies. Great example – we were about to get rid of an old grill and noticed bird activity around it, some carolina wrens had created a nest inside so we won’t be throwing it out anytime soon. Those guys are crafty!

Carolina wrens build an immense nest. They are quite industrious little birds.

Carolina wrens build an immense nest. They are quite industrious little birds.

The wasps who always return to our kitchen window are back – but it is a good week later or more. An acquaintance told me last week that I will be wasp fan until they sting me, but I must say the only word I can use to describe the tiny beginnings of their little paper nest is cute. We have a birds’ eye view, their wasp nest literally against the glass of our kitchen window and it’s not unlike the honey bee exhibit at the Cape Cod Natural History Museum in Brewster.

Speaking of the museum, we are very honored that the folks at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History have asked Cape Cod Woodland Garden bloggers to give a presentation on Saturday June 7 during a day at the museum devoted to plants! G will be creating a slide show of – I believe – stories about his native plant experiences on Cape Cod. He will also be available to answer questions about the topic of native plants on Cape Cod.

It’s nice to say final good-byes to the cold snowy winter on Cape Cod, which was much colder and snowier than I have experienced in the past few years. Winter really put a damper on my outdoor walks this past year. The spring wasn’t much better temperature wise, and now it has actually become hot. But I have to say as much as New England weather can be crappy, walking around last week on 6A, I felt the cool breeze and thought to myself – people who live in climates that are warm all year are really missing out. There is nothing like the first few days of springtime where the trees are that glorious yellow green color which quickly turns to leaf green, and you can feel the cool air touching your newly-liberated-from-winter-clothing-skin.

Rare sight

Do you ever kick yourself, after the fact, when you have an encounter with an unfamiliar animal or plant, because you are so engrossed in the experience that you neglect to document it on camera? This is the second time now, and both occurences involve birds. I did not bring out the camera when a screech owl fell into our chimney two winters ago, and I made the same mistake last week when an American woodcock with two chicks in tow walked out of the woods into our yard. Although not an uncommon bird, they are rarely observed as they like to keep hidden away in the underbrush. I am not sure what caused this mother of two to go on a walkabout, but there they were trotting along ungainly through the leaf litter and stopping once in a while to peck with their long beaks at the ground, I presume for insects or worms. Was this a teaching expedition or were they disturbed by human activities, I will never know. But the bird and her chicks were not in a hurry, although that could easily be attributed to a body type that seems totally unsuited for the woodland environment. They almost looked uncomfortable and out of place, with their shorebird frame. I was lucky to even spot them, as they are perfectly camouflaged. Up close the adult displays an orange to light brown underbelly and the beak and big black eyes can’t be missed. The young chicks had the same distinctive beak and eyes although their furry plumage was speckled with black and white tones. They did not venture far from mom and followed her into the thickets of branches and leaves of a large rhododendron in my yard.

Picture by Laura Meyers, as displayed on Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds site. © Laura Meyers, NY, Jamaica Bay NWR, June 2011, http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurameyers/5855991189

Picture by Laura Meyers, as displayed on Cornell Lab of Ornithology site. © Laura Meyers, NY, Jamaica Bay NWR, June 2011, http://www.flickr.com/photos/laurameyers/5855991189

Learn more about the American woodcock (Scolopax minor)

Cukes, anyone?

Every now and again, animals and plants wash up on the beaches in great quantities. Aside from the seasonal cycles which land huge quantities of seaweed on the shores, and cyclical die-offs (e.g. mole crabs), there are the storms that dislodge anything from scallops to surf clams and cockles. I guess this weekend it was the sea cucumber’s turn on the south facing beaches. There were literally hundreds of them along the mile of beach that I walked, and the majority of them were alive – they contracted when touched. Mind you, touching these sea cucumbers took a leap of faith on my part. After all, dogs are still being walked on our beaches, and I was not quite sure what I was dealing with at first.

A fact sheet on the NOAA site mentions that these are a group of animals that are scavengers. Some cling to hard surfaces, and others move along the seafloor to feed on algae and microscopic sea life. I had never thought of some sea cucumbers as being “active”, I always assumed they were just attached to a rock and lived their lives in one place. Not so, apparently. After picking up a good amount of them and throwing them back in the surf, I was somewhat horrified to read that they can “shoot sticky threads at their enemies”, or “violently contract their muscles and shoot some of their internal organs out of their rear ends”. I can assure you that would have startled me, to say the least.

Sea cucumbers are regularly eaten by fish, crabs, and by us humans as well. While this is more customary in Asia, there are the beginnings of a commercial industry in the northeast as well. After the decline of cod and now lobster, will this be the next target species?

The species that I found in great numbers was Cucumaria frondosa. It is apparently common in up to 100 feet of water and it prefers to cling to hard surfaces, ranging from rocks to shell debris. Sea cucumbers belong to the same group of animals that includes starfish, sand dollars and sea urchins. However, instead of spikes the longish cylindrical animal has a brown leathery skin. There are two openings on either end: One surrounded with tentacles, for feeding, and the other end should be self-explanatory.

I took some pictures with a year 2000 model flip phone, so they won’t be the best quality, but I will post them as soon as I find a cable that can connect to this ancient phone. I wonder if anyone has any recipes for fresh sea cucumber. I read that most of the sea cucumber available in retail is either frozen or dried. Not that I would try it anytime soon, but there has to be a daredevil out there somewhere…

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