On this early April day I have two different quotes for you, both about the month of April yet each expressing very different opinions about the month.
"April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain."
"April hath put a spirit of youth in everything."
The first one has a strong pull of nostalgia, there's a pain, an absence, a longing for the lilacs of, remember when. The dull roots of the mind, the spring rain of memory. Pushing something that will happen but never in the way we remember.
The second one releases all that. It is free to experience the month in youthful abandon. Not the youthfulness of your past, no, but instead with a youthful essence and openness, experiencing the moment, where you allow all things to be possible. Not anticipating the flower, but being in awe when finding one.
Lately I've been considering the mind. Recently, all of us have had our 'normal' completely tossed to the side. People are coping, processing, reacting in many different ways.
But like the two quotes above show us, it's all up to us to decide how we react.
At a time where so much is out of our control (fellow control freaks I see you) the one thing you can always control is your reaction.
I'm not saying don't be sad, don't mourn, by all means roll around on the floor sobbing into pillows, this is a hard time. But then stand up, look the situation in the eye, and say We Will Get Though This.
Each of us has responsibilities in this situation, stay home, social distance, when out staying 6ft away from one another, and the responsibility of the mind, we will get through this, we must make the best of the situation within the parameters we have.
Along with the initial shock of the situation and losing both of my jobs, I have been holding a heavy guilt. A guilt that even now I'm having trouble writing for fear of being misconstrued.
I have been feeling terrible because I am thrilled.
No I am not thrilled about the masses of folks sick and dying, nor for the small businesses unsure if they'll be able to continue on after this. I am not thrilled about not seeing friends, family, or participating in events. These are terrible things and I mourn deeply for them.
I am thrilled, however, about the impeccable timing; this is a magical time of year to be outside. Naturalists rejoice - we have an audience and they are in the woods! Wanting people to appreciate nature, they must first experience the magic that it is.
In a time so uncertain it is unbelievably reassuring to know that first the skunk cabbage will bloom, then the ducks will migrate through, the tree buds will open next, followed by the ephemerals blooming, the songbirds will migrate through, and the trees will fill with leaves...
Coming back to nature can bring so much more than just fresh air and exercise, it can bring a sense of something so much bigger than our personal worlds. In these times it can be a huge comfort.
This time can be looked at both ways, as a terrible tragedy and as a blessing. And I think we should (look at it both ways). We should make the most of the time we have to enjoy and appreciate what we can (again, within the parameters we have).
Just like the two quotes above, remember, you are in charge, only, of how you react.
Let's allow the spirit of the season move us.
Well now, this month has been a doozy...
I hope everyone is healthy and staying away from others...
The first half of the month life was pretty normal (we've always been fans of hand washing). The second half, however, has been both very intense and very low key.
I will admit I am loving this time to bake, read, work on the garden, get back to nature and this blog, but I am worried about all the grandparents and immunocompromised folks out there. Please stay healthy my friends.
March in the natural world has done what it does best, lead us from winter to spring.
You'll see a few new features on each posting, weather, temperature, and GDD (Growing Degree Days) more info on that HERE.
The month started chilly with snow and ice. March 3rd brings back that wonderful earthy smell one experiences as the Earth warms and the leaves soften and decay. Very tiny signs of growth have emerged. Migratory Ducks and the 'return' of Turkey Vultures are the stars of early March.
By mid March we're starting to see some blooms - in waste areas and along fields the chickweed, whitlow grass, hairy bittercress, even some speedwell. Out in the woods the Coltsfoot starts blooming. Things get warmer. Spring peepers and chorus frogs singing for all to hear.
Late March brings the heavy blooming of trees, maple buds bursting into pompoms, even a few magnolias have opened. The early Ephemerals (spring wildflowers) are in bud - Hepatica & Spring beauties have started blooming. Peepers have faded, the leopard frogs taking over the vernal pool soundtrack.
I hope everyone has been getting outside (safely 6ft or more away from other people). Please remember to be mindful, healthful, and safe.
March 1st - Kenwood
9am - Sunny 20*
GDD:23 Set Feb 4th
3 bluebirds, startled a pileated - 2 singing back and forth, retail hawk, plantain leaved sedge greening, snow on shady side of hills, cocoon still in tact, crunchy snow on bridges.
Wren at feeder, drizzle all day, warm earth smells.
March 3rd - Wooster Memorial Park
Very early signs of spring, tree buds filling out, highly saturated ground.
Sunny but very windy. 52*
Turkey Vulture, 2 Red tail hawks, Beech Trees appearing stark white in the sun, Pileated calling, Earthy smell (SMELL!), slime mold fungi, green nubbins (may apple? trillium?), Christmas fern rhizome & new growth, purple cress leaves emerging, Miterwort base leaves green, ramps small but rising, waterleaf tiny green leaves, scarlet cup fungi is abundant, budding spring beauties, false mermaid is up, lots of trees in bud.
March 8th - Brown's Lake Bog & Funk
Redwing blk bird, Pileated, flicker, bald eagle, dogwood in bud, bluejay, redtail hawk, tutv, fly, grackles, bog smell, crows shouting, baby pitcher plants, from jump high bush blueberry new growth, sensitive fern new growth.
Pintail ducks, 3 eagles, 2 sandhill cranes, skunk cabbage spadix revealed
Silver Maple at work is blooming. Crocus & Snow Drops around town blooming.
March 10th - Wooster Memorial Park
Cloudy & rainy 54*
Rosette under dried foxglove is turning green, spring beauty buds, purple cress greens, sweet cicely greens, false mermaid greens, interesting orange lichen (?), scarlet cup fungus, two-leaf toothwort greens, violet greens, pileated call, tree buds getting larger.
Fallen seeds are bare (when they fall they're fuzzy),
Trunk bark: gray, scale, porous, brown under layers (also porous)
Trunk to limb transition: bark thins to reveal white patches
Far limbs: mostly white (lacking lower bark) with few dark patches
Growing on/nearby: Poison ivy climbing tree, honeysuckle shrub at base, garlic mustard
Other: fallen leaves are larger than my foot!
Partly Sunny 57*
Chickweed in Bloom, FOY Grasshopper, Lagre cloud of mosquitoes
Stinkbugs & Ladybugs emerging in the house
March 17th - Neighborhood
Silver Maple blooming, lots of hair bittercress in bloom, forsythia nearing bloom, purple crocus blooming, snowdrops blooming, Henbit blooming, Magnolia bud, Scilla starting to bloom, Goldfinch at feeder (still dull colors).
March 21st - Johnson Woods
COLTS FOOT BLOOM! (almost open, when the sunshines), grape fern, cutler toothwort bud, spring beauty bud, jewelweed sprouts, maple blooms, TRILLIUM UP!, BARRED OWLS CALLING!
March 22nd - Neighborhood
Lesser Celandine Bloom, Dandelion bloom, goldfinches at feeder, juncos still around, squill (Scilla) flowers blooming.
March 24th - Wooster Memorial Park
bluebirds, turkey vultures, fox squirrels, spring beauty bud, squirrel corn "corns", Trillium UP!, Dutchman's Breeches BUD!, two leaf toothwort, false mermaid greens, grape fern, violet greens, owl pellet, wild chive, bedstraw, scarlet cup, waterleaf greens, woodland cares bud, ramps opening, cress?, garlic mustard, Christmas fern rhizome and new growth, purple cress greens, miterwort stubs forming, HEPATICA BLOOM!!!, Pileated call.
March 25th - Farm, Cemetery Rd, Brown's Lake Bog, Wilderness Rd.
Farm - Observations:
comma or question mark butterfly, housefly, honey bee, flicker, horses have torn up the woods. What is the bulb grass? Spring beauty in bloom, crocus bloom, daffodil bud, multiflora in leaf, blooming bittercress, blooming whitlow grass, blooming chickweed, blooming speedwell, maples in bloom, oaks in bud, dogwood in bud, Phoebe Foy, titmouse, tutu, fat groundhog, bluejay, blue bird, cardinal, redwing blk bird, sparrows, wolf spiders, robins, mourning dove.
Sunshine, light breeze, blue skies, fluffy clouds, fresh country air.
The titmouse's loud flutter, matching the loud songs it sings... loudest tiny bird.
Cemetery Rd - Observations:
Redwing Blackbird, Ring-neck Ducks (diving like orcas), Coots!, Bufflehead, Red Head Duck
Bog - Observations:
Peepers singing, lady beetle, ants on bog, tiny pitcher plants, no fern nubbins yet, comma or question mark butterfly. Just outside bog a harrier was hovering nearby.
Wilderness Rd - Observations:
Shoveler, redhead duck, ringneck duck.
March 27th - Walton Woods & Barnes Preserve
Showers and Sun 53*
Walton Woods Observations:
Burning Bush pink buds, Privet getting leaves, Multi-flora rose getting leaves, Cutleaf Toothwort in bud, Dutchman's Breeches greens up, Dames Rocket rosettes green, Troutlily "fins" are up, spring beauty greens - one growing through an acorn, Red velvet mite.
Barnes Preserve Observations:
Frog Songs!!! Peepers, chorus, and more!, Flicker, Pileated, & Redheaded Woodpeckers, spring beauty buds, yellow rocket rosettes, coltsfoot bloom!, Coopers hawk nesting, big hickory buds, jewelweed appearing.
March 28th - Neighborhood
Thunderstorms in morning, cloudy & rainy 62*
Heavy evening fog, lesser Celandine blooming, hair bittercress still blooming but also sending out seeds, magnolia buds cracked open, vinca blooming, forsythia really starting to bloom, scilla blooms
March 29th - Killbuck Marsh Areas
Incredibly Windy, Sunshine with Big Fluffy Clouds, up to 70*
Cemetery Rd Observations:
Two giant snapping turtles in ditch, sandhill cranes, buffleheads, ringneck ducks, tuvu, redwing black birds, jumping fish, purple archangel blooming
Force Rd Observations:
Leopard Frogs Roaring, sandhill cranes, grebes, beaver lodge, swans, great blue heron, duckweed
Blue-winged teal, shovelers, coot, 2 juvenile bald eagles, skunk cabbage starting to leaf, jumping fish
Goldfinch is beginning to molt - bright yellow splotches here and there
While treating myself to some social distancing on the farm, in the sun, I came across a little white flower. Well, more than one little white flower, great clusters of little white flowers filling the median between the planted field and the fencerow. I let myself sit with them, feeling their leaves, tracing their petals with my eyes. The longer I sat the more variety I found. This wasn't one great cluster of the same plant, it was four different species all opening their little white flowers to the warm sun!
Early Whitlow Grass
(Erophila verna - formerly Draba verna) we learned all about in the post here.
(Veronica something - due to the small size and leaf shape maybe Veronica polita)
Generally speedwell flowers are blue/violet with white centers so this one's a bit of a mystery to me. The vining qualities and four overlapping petals are what lead me to believe it's a Veronica.
Another great vining plant with tiny white flowers. Five white bifid petals giving the appearance of 10 tiny petals.
All the flowers are non-native and a few get rather weedy and aggressive, but it sure in nice seeing things in bloom!
Look at the very first image again... can you tell what 3 are in the photo?
"In March winter is holding back and spring is pulling forward. Something holds and something pulls inside of us too."
- Jean Hersey
(Sarcoscypha dudleyi(?) or maybe S. austriaca(?) not S. coccinea as it doesn't grow in the Eastern US - Microscope is needed to differentiate between the three)
Better known as: Scarlet Elf Cup, Scarlet Elf Cap, Scarlet Cup Fungus.
Found in damp forests in early spring this is an abundant fungus that can easily be spotted due to the bright red coloring that stands out against the leaf litter.
March marks a big turning point focusing on the transition from winter to spring. If you look and listen closely you can already hear & see it happening: birds are singing their spring songs, salamanders are beginning to make the journey to their vernal pools, the very earliest ephemerals are surfacing, and the tree buds are swelling, soon to bloom.
March urges us to move forward. We, ourselves, are also waking from the winter period of rest and this season reminds us to get ready - March forth (4th)! - Spring forward (DST on the 8th)!
Grow, bloom, take winter's dreams and bring them to fruition.
The first official day of Spring is March 19th.
Draba verna is one of the earliest blooming plants, often opening as early as February and blooming through May. It is found in waste areas - the edge of fields, along paths, areas that are often disturbed. The basal rosette is no more than 1 to 2 inches across - this example was no bigger than a 50 cent piece. Originally native to Eurasia, it has made its way across the US (except for a belt across the center of the Country). The flowers are self fertile - which is good as not many pollinators are awake in February - each flower producing very large seeds that drop and can create small colonies. Although the name suggests that it is a form of grass, it is not, it is a member of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family. Once spring passes and summer comes around, the Draba verna withers away.
One site I was reading summed up this plant beautifully, "...Instead, maybe its best to leave it in place and enjoy it for what it is: a tiny, brave reminder that spring is on its way and an encouragement to get down low once in a while to admire the little things." - Awkward Botony
Partridgeberry is a trailing, evergreen herb native to the eastern states growing in shady forests, and enjoying moist soils. Trumpet-shaped blooms appear anytime between May and October, always blooming in pairs. Scarlet berries then form which are enjoyed by a variety of animals: Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite Quail, turkey, skunks, and white-footed mice.
This trailing plant doesn't often grow taller than 2in high so when hiking, look down this time of year, you will likely see the evergreen leaves poking out of the light snow!
What are lichen?
They are symbiotic organisms that are composed of a fungus and a photosynthesizing partner - could be a green algae (85% of lichen), or a cyanobacterium (formerly known as blue-green algae)(10% of lichen), or a combination of both (5% of lichens).
Fungi + Algae = Lichen
Fungi + Cyanobacterium = Lichen
Fungi + Algae + Cyanobacterium = Lichen
The symbiotic relationship between fungi and algae and/or cyanobacterium is unique in the way that it's not just beneficial to both partners but both lose their own identity and a new different, dual organism is formed!
There are three different growth forms of lichen
Crustose - Crust-like, tightly attached to that which it's growing on. Has upper surface but no lower surface.
Foliose - Flat and leaf-like. Can be loosely or tightly attached to surface. Has upper and lower surface. (Images above and below are of this form).
Fruticose - Upright and shrubby, but sometimes hang down. Most of these lichen do not have a distinct upper and lower surface, but have an outer surface.
Where do lichen grow?
Lichen can be found on every continent - including areas in the Arctic and Antarctic and can be found on mountain tops.
Lichen are the dominant organism on around 8% of the entire world's land surface... That's HUGE!!!
Lichen and their role in nature.
In Arctic regions they are used as a winter food for grazing animals. In more temperate regions they are used by birds as nesting materials, insects and small invertebrate will use it as shelter. Lichen can also aid in the breakdown of rock into soil. The lichen with the Cyanobacteria can even fix nitrogen and add fertilizer to the ecosystem.
Lichen as air quality indicators.
There are some lichen that are very sensitive to air pollution (sulfur dioxide). These lichen have been widely used as indicators of air quality to study air pollution patterns around cities and industrial areas.
Thankfully, in many developed countries, air quality has improved to the extent that lichen are no longer affected and are returning to areas that had been so polluted the lichen could not grow.
The Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
A member of the pine family, this coniferous species can be identified by its unique qualities -
Prefers growing in cool, moist areas. Often found in gorges along sandstone cliffs where cracks in the rocks release cool air from deep underground. A native from Canada, these trees were brought to the area thousands of years ago when the glaciers moved through the area.
Important resource for food, nesting, and shelter for many animals including - barred owl, white-tailed deer, turkey, grouse, rabbits, porcupines (not around here), and others use as places to live. Squirrels, mice, and voles eat the seeds.
Hemlock Wooly Adelgid
"Eastern hemlocks are currently under attack by an exotic sap sucking insect that originated from Asia. The hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) is a serious pest in Shenandoah National Park that threatens to eliminate all eastern hemlock stands. First observed in 1988, it has since been found in all sections of the park, at all elevations, and on all aspects where surveys have occurred. Hemlock woolly adelgid has caused significant decline in hemlock crown health and tree mortality has increased Park-wide. Without intervention, there is a very real possibility that this insect pest could directly or indirectly eliminate eastern hemlocks from Shenandoah's ecosystem. Efforts to extend the lives of our remaining healthy hemlocks in 2005 will be accomplished through soil and stem treatments with a systemic pesticide that remains at effective levels to kill adelgids for over a year. Some vehicle accessible areas will also be sprayed with an insecticidal soap. The battle to save a lasting remnant of Shenandoah's hemlock gene pool for future generations continues."
Different from the herb poison hemlock (completely different species).
The bark has been cut and used for its tannin to aid in tanning leather.
A combination of my worlds. My nature journal notes and drawings combined with images captured on noted adventure days!
With the warm weather, there has been some slight growth with the early bloomers. These hepatica leaves, though, are from last year's growth - at the base of the cluster is where the new bulbous starts are filling out.
For the past year I've been contemplating how to merge these two mediums. While I'm sure it'll evolve over time I do like where this is going!
Both Noah and I have had the great pleasure to be accepted into the 2nd annual Wayne County Artist Exhibition at the Wayne Center for the Arts!
The show runs through February 7th. We highly encourage you to take some time to visit, there is some spectacular art there!
Those of you familiar with the blog (and if you're here you probably are) will see these two beauties at the art show. I love how framing and printing an image can give it so much depth! Go check it out and you'll see what I mean.
For the WooWeekly paper I gave this description of my work for an excellent article written by Barb Lang:
“For each of my series I dedicate an entire year to getting to know an area, from the natural history and wildlife down to each plant species and when they bloom in that particular year. Once I choose a location I approach each natural area with a deep sense of curiosity, making notes on what birds I see, what plants are emerging, blooming, or seeding, any signs of animals, scents, sights, anything that I find interesting or that I want to learn more about, each time I visit and compile them into blog posts at www.throughthewoods.net .
Each area I’m learning about I chose a view that either has a recognizable element or that I think could have some very notable changes that would be visually appealing throughout the year, I pick a spot and capture an image. Every month when I’m out walking and observing, I will stop in the same spot and capture another image trying to visit at the same time each day. After a year is up I have not only a concise record of observations from each location but also a visual guide telling of the ebb and flow of the year. Each slice may show just one day of one month but put together a rich tapestry is woven, the quiet winter months, the remarkable quickness with which spring arrives and bursts open, summer’s deep greens slowly fading to yellows, fall sweeping in for a brief bold show, all ending again with the peaceful rest of winter.
We are very lucky here in Ohio to have such great seasons, each should be appreciated for all its worth."
"Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection."
There are a few things that happen at the turn of every new year... changing of the calendars, eating sauerkraut and sausage, the first bird of the new year, and our annual new year's day hike.
This year didn't disappoint. For not snowing much so far this winter, it was wonderful to wake up on the morning of the new year with a fresh sparkling layer over everything. After our pork and kraut breakfasts, we bundled up to see what the new year had to offer.
The first bird Noah saw this year was a titmouse, however, my first bird remained illusive - every time I looked at the bushes or feeders at home, not a bird to be spotted. So as we were driving, about halfway to our destination, something stirred up a large flock of starlings from a tree, then just down the road a large red-tailed hawk appeared. I know it's the FIRST bird of the year but after a few more interesting encounters with the red-tails, there's something I need to learn from each of these birds.
If you're into the spiritual significance of birds/animals that appear, read on.
If not, skip down a bit.
So the very first bird was a Starling, this bird is known for traveling in large groups and teaches us, or rather brings awareness to how we behave in large groups and reminds us to pay attention and not behave inappropriately (note the starlings' tendencies to swarm and mob other birds). It also reminds us to mind our words as they are great mimics of others.
- Clearly a lot of good to meditate upon there, especially in such a busy gathering season-
The second bird being the Red Tailed Hawk. The messenger, the protector, and the visionary of the air. This bird can lead you to your life purpose so when it shows up, pay attention.
So on the way to the bog, we saw these birds, and enjoyed a cool crisp walk along the boardwalk, where ours were the only tracks most of the way. Taking the loop off the boardwalk two more hawks appeared, one first soaring between the forest and the field singing its song, then another appeared and they flew together side by side, one singing, the other strolling, I just picture them as a married bird couple promenading (just like me and Noah!) on this new year day!
Along this hike we found a good number of red-headed woodpeckers (it's been a long time since I've seen so many in one place - okay there were 4, but still!).
It was a lovely start to a new year. Life's purpose, I'm open to whatever you may be!
I hope you all have a beautiful 2020. Thank you for being here with us!
January: Named from the Roman god Janus, who is represented with two faces looking in opposite directions - as retrospective to the past and prospective to the future.
A new year, starting slow - the cold, muted snow, bit by bit will begin unfolding new traits, the rains come, a flower opens, the skunk emerges from its slumber. While it's easy to get caught up thinking about the future, don't forget to pause and enjoy this ever so brief moment of stillness.
Let yourself stand out in the cold, breathe in the cool stillness, only now, right now, on this day (whenever you're reading this) this breath is just for you and only you and will never be exactly like this, these scents, these sensations, ever again. How full yet fleeting a mindful moment can be.
Happy New Year one and all!
*Repost from 2018*
Hold onto your seat as we explore all the Smilaxes of Ohio to be able to identify this particular species
Smilax - genus of greenbriar, catbriars, sasparilla (let's call the whole thing off).
It always amazes me when out of nowhere I see a 'new' plant on familiar trails. I'm sure it's been there all along, sometimes the eyes just seek the familiar and block out the unknown. On this sunny snowy day I found a short, kind of stubby gathering of green in the woods. Recently I became aware of the unique parallel veining in the smilax leaves, so noting that on this plant I did a happy dance (I tend to do that when identifying new species to me in the wild)! When arriving home to put a name to the plant I became overwhelmed, much like the goldenrods and asters, there's many many many different species - 20 native to north america, 300+ to the tropics & subtropics worldwide -oof!
Through the various species the shape, growth, flowers, and berries vary so significantly it's hard to believe they're related so (but then again we all have family members like that right?).
But for today, let's narrow down this seemingly evergreen variety shown here with its very bristly vine/stalk/stem.
USDA has 26 defined native Smilax species (check out the location maps here).
Out of those 26, 9 are marked as found in Ohio:
Smilax bona-nox saw greenbrier - prickly vine with smooth upper stems, triangular/ovate leaves, very prickly lower leaves
Smilax ecirrhata upright carrionflower - smooth herbaceous central stem growing 1 - 3' tall.
Smilax glauca cat greenbrier - Iiana (new term to me) meaning it is a woody plant with vine-like growth form (woody but can't support itself). Has a simple leaf blade with one leaf per node along the stem. No teeth on lobes. Bristly spine. (looking like a match) BUT leaves drop off in the winter.
Smilax herbacea smooth carrionflower - viny but smooth stem - cool clusters of green flowers that smell like carrion - pollinated mainly by flies - round clumps of round blue/purple fruits then grow.
Smilax illinoensis Illinois greenbrier - qualities are that of a possible hybridization of the upright carrion flower and the smooth carrion flower (still not the drones we are looking for (anyone else find these quips amusing? I do :) ))
Smilax lasioneura Blue Ridge carrionflower - Threatened species in Ohio - has tendrils where the other carrionflowers don't.
Smilax pulverulenta downy carrionflower - Endangered species in Ohio - absent prickles
Smilax rotundifolia roundleaf greenbrier - tendency to become quite weedy in the northeast (can create vines up to 20 ft) leaf shape and veining are correct but the vine has thorns instead of bristles.
Smilax tamnoides bristly greenbrier - Woody vine growing to 10 - 20 ft long. Ovate leaves with parallel veining. Stems covered in stiff bristles. ***We have our winner***
The Smilax genus is divided into two similar but separate groups - woody vines with thorns and herbaceous vines/shrubs with no spines.
The bristly greenbrier is a good example of the first group (woody vine with thorns). The various carrion flowers are good examples of the second (herbaceous with no thorns)
Totally unintentional having the winning species be the very last on the list but it makes for a good read through!
Four studies, started in January, are now complete, finished, finalized.
December swooped in like the Cooper's hawk that monitors the yard, now here we are, mid December and all my projects are -technically- wrapping up nicely, but it just doesn't feel like the end. I keep telling myself Christmas is just a few days away, the New Year peeks around the corner saying "Just over 2 weeks!", but I'm just not here yet. Something's missing but I don't know what. Snow perhaps. I think it's time to take a lesson from our animal friends and hunker down, take stock, and use this time to rest!
I don't know what next year will hold for us, Through The Woods, but my intentions are to put together some fun programs, events, and opportunities for all of you.
But for now, looking back over 2019.
2019 One Year Studies
Click on each image to be re-directed
Tis the season to - deck the halls with boughs of holly (fa la la la la la la la la la)
But why holly? What is holly?
Ilex opaca (American Holly)
Leathery evergreen leaves, 2-4 inches long and 1-2 inches wide, with a sharp-pointed tip and spiny-toothed margins (occasionally smooth). Growing up to 50 ft tall, this slow growing, shade tolerant tree has thin, gray, warty bark. Branches forming a pyramidal crown. Light green/greenish white flowers. If both the male and female trees are present, the flowers will produce the bright red berries that adorn so many living rooms this time of year.
American Holly is native to the eastern/south eastern US. There are many different varieties of holly (ie winterberry, possumhaw, even Yerba mate - Ilex paraguariensis) as well as different cultivars of each species. The very similar looking English Holly (Ilex aquifolium) has become a noxious species along the West Coast of the US but doesn't seem to be able to grow well in the Eastern States.
The wood has been used for many, many, different things throughout history: inlays in cabinetwork, carvings, rulers, handles.
The berries were used by the Native Americans for buttons and to barter.
Holly is toxic to humans but birds and woodland mammals enjoy the bitter berries.
Holly is rich with symbolism
Romans would send boughs of holly and gifts to their friends during Saturnalia*.
In Britain, people decorated their homes with holly in the winter to invite sylvan spirits to shelter there.
Christian legend says that holly sprang from the footsteps of Jesus, its thorns and red berries representing his suffering and blood.
Symbolism in heraldry, holly represents truth.
NeoPagan lore, the Holly King rules the dark half of the year (from the autumn to spring equinox) being strongest at midwinter, his counterpart and adversary the Oak King is the inverse.
The Druids regarded holly as a symbol of fertility and eternal life, thought to have magical powers. Cutting down a holly tree would bring bad luck but hanging the plant in homes was believed to bring good luck and protection.
Holly is also believed to protect homes against lightning strikes.
*Saturnalia: Ancient Roman holiday to celebrate the God Saturn, held December 17-23rd. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn and a public banquet, followed by gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival-like atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, social status was equal, gag gifts or small figurines were given.
The poet Catullus called it "the best of days".
The American Crow, one of the smartest, most adaptable birds, has learned to make man's world his own.
They can be found everywhere from corn fields, open beaches, to town centers and forests. Their diet consists of earthworms, insects, small animals, seeds, and fruit. They have also been known to eat garbage, carrion, and chicks they rob from nests.
In flight they have a unique style of consistent, even flapping, very rarely gliding (this can help to differentiate between crows and turkey vultures).
Although a crow family maintains their territory (all living and foraging together), during much of the year individual crows will spend part of the day with their family and the other part out with large flocks of other crows at dumps and agricultural fields.
They have been known to make and use tools - using a cup to gather water and carry it over to a bowl of dry mash - shaping a piece of wood then sticking it into a hole in a fence post to search for food.
Crafty as foragers they'll work with (or against) other animals to get what they want - distracting an otter to steal its fish - following Mergansers to catch minnows the ducks were chasing into the shallows.
The crow in folklore.
The crow knows it's the smartest of birds and embraces this knowledge to the fullest. It is said it is so smart it has chose to stay a crow rather than move on to some other area of evolution. Being able to outsmart most birds, animals, and even humans, it is the master of its world.
Black is the color of creation, night gives birth to a new day, the crow reminds us that magic and creation are potentials very much alive during the day.
Wherever crows are there is magic, symbols of creation and spiritual strength reminding us to look for opportunities to create and manifest the magic of life.
They are messengers calling to us about the creation and magic that is alive within our world everyday and is always available.
The White-breasted Nuthatch is the largest of all the North American nuthatches. These birds can often be found at feeders where large seeds and nuts (sunflowers and peanuts) are provided otherwise they can be found in mature woods and at woodland edges where nut trees are found.
Their name comes from their habit of wedging large nuts and acorns into tree bark, then using their sharp bill to split (hatch) the seed from the inside.
Often you will find them accompanying flocks of titmice and chickadees at feeders, generally grabbing one seed at a time. If you watch closely as they creep along tree trunks and main branches, you can see them hide seeds for later.
Probably the easiest bird to identify is the Northern Cardinal. A non-migrataory and non-molting bird, its bright red body and upright crest makes it stand out through all the seasons. This bird is so loved it has been named the state bird for seven different states (more states than any other bird) - Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina; the meadow-lark comes in second being represented in 6 different states!
There is much folklore and symbolism surrounding these birds, what I've always heard (but can't seem to find in any of my books on symbolism) is when a cardinal comes to your yard, it's a loved one who has passed on coming to visit. I've always found that to be comforting and many a cardinal I have talked to as if they were my late loved ones.
The bright red color of the cardinal reminds us to take charge, be bold, have courage to stand out, be proud of yourself and your achievements.
Add color to your life, and remember that everything you do is of importance.
*Original post 2017*
Now there are many, many thoughts, opinions, and whatnot about guns and hunting but let's just take a moment to understand why there is a hunting season.
I've been watching this grove of burning bush for a couple of years now. Last year an ice storm and snow hit before any prominent red could show on the leaves leaving them a pale yellow. In my reading I read where when this plant gets overcrowded (like in a dense grove) it no longer changed color, so I assumed that's what happened.
This year, however, the conditions have been most ideal for this highly invasive shrub and the grove has turned into a terribly beautiful surrealscape.
Like cherry blossoms in spring, bursts of pink can be found at every turn.
While I wish this property was better managed, it has proven to be an invaluable resource in studying invasives (privet, burning bush, o. Bittersweet, etc). Silver linings I guess.
*Original post 2018*
The fall leaves have fallen, opening the canopy to a wide variety of sights. One of the most easily noticeable is the bright yellow casing with the bold red berry of the Oriental Bittersweet found vining around any number of things - trees, fences, anything it can climb.
It was brought to the states in 1860 from China as an ornamental plant, its berries looking (unfortunately) lovely as fall and winter decor.
This plant is a fast growing woody vine, growing so fast as to crowd out native vegetation. The vine will climb trees, sometimes girdling (wrapping around and cutting off the flow of water and nutrients to the tree) and killing large trees, but often climbing to the top, blocking out the light for any other plants. This canopy of vines spreads fast (one source stated it can cover an entire acre of forest in only 5-7 years!) creating excess weight on the trees, often heavy snow and ice accumulation will force these trees to fall under the weight.
The beautiful fruit with which the plant was brought here for is also attractive to birds and wildlife which aids in the spreading of this dangerous plant.
There is a native to the US bittersweet (American Bittersweet) that can be differentiated from the oriental variety in a number of ways.
- Oriental has round leaves
- American has elliptical leaves
- Oriental fruit capsule is bright yellow-orange & arranged in the leaf axils
- American fruit is an orange capsule & arranged only at the end of the vine
This plant has both male and female species - the males don't produce berries but still cause the same amount of destruction.
To help stop the spread of this invasive plant there are a few things you can do - most importantly DO NOT MOVE THIS PLANT. Fellow DIYers I'm looking at you - I know it's tempting to cut this to use in crafts and wreathes but this is one of the biggest ways the plant spreads.
If you find you do have this on your property, cut and treat it before it fruits. Other resources for control can be found at this link.
Since 2015 we have been exploring and sharing all the amazing things we’ve found in nature.
Emily is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist who is most often found out in the woods.