Tuesday, June 25, 2013

beak full of dragonfly

beak full of dragonfly
a summer tanager calls
ki-ti-tuk ki-ti-tuk!

As I walk up to our front gate, I spot a dragonfly with beautiful gold tipped wings. Suddenly, a flash of red lands on our low bamboo fence. At first I think it's a male Cardinal, but this bird doesn't have a crest. Ah, he's that Summer Tanager we spotted a few weeks ago, throwing himself at his reflection in our windows. Now he looks comical with dragonfly wings sticking out of his stumpy beak. As he works on consuming the insect, he repeatedly makes a sound like ki-ti-tuk! Then he's off before I can get my camera out, flitting from tree to tree and warbling. His song has four distinct phrases that sounds a little like an American Robin. 
          Excited to see him again, I follow him around the house and manage to get one good photograph. He's easy to spot with all that bright red against green. In fact he's the same color as the goumi berries on the nearby bush. Scientists say that the color of bird's feathers comes from their diet and we know that the Summer Tanager mainly eats berries, but also insects, so maybe he's been eating goumi berries as well as dragonflies.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

picking goumi berries

picking goumi berries
glistening with raindrops 
after a summer shower

A short rain shower brought a refreshing coolness after days of heat, so I make a counterclockwise circuit around the inner ring of our permaculture garden, the area inside the low fence that surrounds the house. The wet soil makes it easy to pull weeds and of course I get to browse on berries while I work. There are a few strawberries hidden under leaves that the birds didn't find, the blueberries are just turning blue, something has eaten the leaves off the currant bushes, leaving the red currants, the saskatoon has some red and purple berries for the first time ever, and the gigantic goumi bush is absolutely loaded with small red berries, glistening with raindrops.

The berries look like small oval cherries and up close they have a silvery speckled surface, giving the shrub another common name, Cherry Silverberry. I pick a handful and pop them in my mouth. They're sweet but have a slightly tart aftertaste. (Some varieties are sweet without the tart.) The large seeds have pointed ends and are covered with  crevices. Birds have been eating the bright red berries, sometimes just pecking part of the berry and leaving the rest hanging. This one looks like a football player with a red helmet and face guard.

Or sometimes leaving behind some of the smashed pulp and the seed.

Insects also like the berries. Here a pill bug is having a snack.

Other insects use the goumi bush for a different purpose. These eggs are on the speckled underside of a leaf. They look like tiny silver batteries crowned with bristles.

Some of the berries still bear the dried up remains of the flowers.

I decide to pick some to dry like raisins, hoping that will make them sweeter. So I fetch a little bucket and start harvesting from the branches that are hanging over the fence.

Many of the berries hang in clusters, so I can gather as many as eight with one hand. I feel like a kid, raindrops running down my bare arms, sucking berries and spitting out the seeds. What makes me stop is not my full bucket, which I could easily empty, but the mosquitoes landing on my bare arms and the back of my neck. I don't want to become someone else's snack, so inside I go.

One of the reasons I included goumi in our permaculture garden is that the berries are high in vitamin A and E, bioactive compounds, minerals, flavinoids and proteins. The fruits and seeds are a good source of essential fatty acids as well, which is very unusual for a fruit. Their lycopene content is the highest of any food. I've read that goumi is being used in the prevention of heart disease and cancers and in the treatment of cancer. Cooking the fruit increases the lycopene content, so I'm going to cook these berries before I dry them.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

alluring linden

alluring linden 
draws honeybees to bell blossoms--
exchanging gifts

It's National Pollinator Week and with the hot, sunny days the honeybees are out in full force. One of their favorite hangouts is a gigantic linden tree on campus. It must be at least 80 feet tall and so covered with yellow blossoms that the branches bend down to the ground. The flowers emit an intoxicating fragrance, which attracts me along with the honeybees. Each tiny flower looks like a round, brass Indian bell with a long clapper. The buds look like a Chinese knot button with five little bumps that open into petals which then split in the middle. Inside the "bell" there is a fringe of pollen-bearing anthers surrounding the long style. When the bee enters the blossom to gather nectar, she brushes against the sticky end of the stigma, depositing pollen. The tree has already put forth the long pale green "wings" that will carry the seeds. The linden is an incredibly hardy and long-lived tree, often grown in cities because it can withstand pollution. Hail to pollen-bearing plants and their life-sharing partnership with pollinators. We would not survive without either of them.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

next wave of wildflowers

next wave of wildflowers --
spiderwort, phlox, blue-eyed grass,
blackberry's white blossoms

The next wave of spring flowers are in bloom. Spots of color in this oh-so-green-spring panorama catches my eye, and when I look closer, I'm intrigued by nature's love of numbers. Congregations of bluish-purple spiderwort, each with three petals. Tall lavender-pink phlox with clusters of four-petaled flowers. Blue-eyed grass with six petals, each ending in a tiny point. And the white blossoms, each with five petals, on the curving stems of wild blackberry. The blackberries bristle with thorns to discourage browsing critters, but come summer I'll be snacking on the juicy purple berries as I walk the trail along Pilgrim Creek, coming home with my fingers stained wine red.

brown dragon's striped hood

brown dragon's striped hood
hidden under three-lobed leaves
warns of poison below

It feels like monsoon season here in the heartland of America. More flash-flood warnings. During a one-day break in the torrential rains, I walk down to Pilgrim Creek. It's full to the brim with rushing brown water, and the piles of deadwood and flattened plants along the trail give evidence that the water has been up over the banks.
          I almost miss seeing a trio of Jack-in-the-pulpit blossoms hidden under large three-lobed umbrella leaves. I go down on my knees to get a closer look at the exotic blooms. Jack-in-the pulpit gets its name from a thumb-shaped spadix, the "Jack," which contains tiny male and female flowers and is enclosed and covered by a hooded spathe, the "pulpit." The shape and color of the inflorescence gives the plant another common name, brown dragon, although these specimens look more red than brown. This unusual plant is also called Indian turnip because it grows from a small white turnip-shaped corm, which happens to be quite poisonous.