Monday, August 29, 2016

browsing through goldenrod

browsing through goldenrod 
blossoms a honeybee bearing
nectar and pollen

My neighbor's honeybees are working the goldenrod in our meadow. One wafts lazily from one golden panicle to another. Landing, she clambers among the multitude of tiny blossoms, probing for nectar, and inadvertently collecting a thick roll of pollen on her hind legs. There are so many varieties of goldenrod. This one appears to be Showy goldenrod, with smooth leaves and a pyramidal inflorescence. An Illustrated Guide to Iowa Prairie Plants indicates seven varieties of Solidago just in Iowa: Missouri, Tall or Canada, Showy, Smooth, Field, Stiff, Lance-leaved or Grass-leaved, and Riddell's or Narrow-leaved goldenrod. Some goldenrod plants a few feet away have toothed leaves. They're all pollinated by bees and wasps, so cross-pollination can result in natural hybrids. Clever way to create new varieties.

While watching the bees, I notice one of the blossoms wiggling. Only one. Peering closer, I detect a tiny worm, covered in goldenrod petals, weaving its head. If you look closely, you can see it in the middle of the photo, slightly duller than the surrounding flowers. I wonder, is the petal costume just an accident or is it using the petals as camouflage? Accidental or purposeful, it sure fools the eye!

perching on the peak

perching on the peak
of great blue lobelia blossoms
a blue damselfly

The striped lavender-blue trumpets of great blue lobelia are growing up between the giant leaves of what might be cup plants. I have my doubts about whether these really are cup plants because the small leaves on the tall stalks don't form cups at the base, but are connected with a petiole.

At the tip of the lobelia's panicle of purple-lipped blossoms a blue "darning needle" perches. The damselfly eats other insects, so I don't think she's looking for nectar. Perhaps she's preparing to lay eggs on the plant. 

This native perennial makes a bright splash of blue in late summer among the many yellow flowers. Its Latin name, Lobelia siphilitica, comes from the use of the roots by Native Americans to cure syphilis. Great blue lobelia blooms at the same time as its cousin, cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis. Both have fringed tubular flowers, but they attract totally different pollinators. Bees and wasps prefer blue flowers, whereas hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies seek out red blossoms. Even when the cousins grow side by side, they will not cross-pollinate. Clever Nature!

Monday, August 22, 2016

wandering the woods

wandering the woods
I come upon a wonder --
giant Jack-in-the-pulpit

At the dead end of our gravel road, I decide to bushwhack through the woods, figuring I'll meet up with the path down to Pilgrim Creek. The path I find looks like it hasn't been used by anyone for years. But because I ventured off the beaten path, I come across the biggest Jack-in-the-pulpit I've ever seen. Each of the lobes of the tripartite leaves are as long as my fingers spread wide and the twin leaves come up to my knee. The seed capsule standing upright between the two leaf stems looks like a knobby green egg.

Another seed pod lying almost on the ground nearby is one turning reddish orange at the top. It will be bright red when fully ripe. Hope I can relocate it to collect some seeds!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

hiding in spiky

hiding in spiky
purple thistle blossom
white crab spider

After the rainstorm the night before, I plow through shoulder-high stands of burr-bearing plants and prickly wild blackberries to a Tall Thistle holding aloft its candelabra of armored buds and lavender flowers. My mission: pull up the sturdy stalk by the roots while the ground is wet. I know butterflies, including Monarchs, seek the nectar hidden in the tasseled blossoms and Goldfinches like to eat the seeds. But if left unchecked, thistles can quickly take over an entire meadow. 

I reach down to the bottom of the stalk where there are fewer thorns to prick my bare hands. A sudden movement on the biggest blossom makes me stop and look. A white crab spider as big as my thumbnail scuttles sideways with its hind legs around the bulbous blossom. It's probably waiting to ambush some unsuspecting insect landing on the bloom so it can snag it with its large claw-like front legs. Under my watchful eye, it finally backs into the fluffy pompom. It would be well camouflaged against the green and white receptacle at the base of the blossom but it's not the least bit hidden against the purple flower. Its attempt to hide makes me laugh and I decide to leave this thistle to its tiny predator.

Friday, August 19, 2016

growing on the verge

growing on the verge 
between sidewalk and street
big white cap mushrooms

World Photography Day, had to take some photos. Two white discs on the green grass between street and sidewalk in town. Paper plates? No, BIG mushrooms! Each shaggy spotted cap, nearly flat, the width of my spread fingers. Perched on a thick stalk with a ragged ring where the cap detached. The center of the cap, a brown nipple. The underside radiating cream colored gills. I check the base, no sack, so not Death Angel. Appears to be a Shaggy Parasol. Certainly thick enough to make a meal. But I leave them undisturbed. I probably look pretty funny down on my knees, bent over, smartphone in hand. Maybe searching for Pokemon!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

curving up and out

curving up and out
fairy parasols pushing up
along the wood chip path

Delicate white cap mushrooms keep pushing up through the grass along our wood chip path like a parade of Japanese parasols. The mushroom starts out as a tiny white cone on the ground, quickly elongating into a thin white stem with a bulbous cap, then spreading out, round and wide, like a paper parasol with tiny pleats and a brown button in the center. In a few days the parasol begins to droop and finally falls over in a ragged heap. A quick search suggests that our little shroom might be Parasola plicatilis (parasol pleated), commonly called Japanese Parasol or Pleated Inky Cap. Probably not poisonous, like the Death Angel, which emerges from a sack and has a much thicker stalk. These mushrooms might be edible, but they're too flimsy to bother gathering. Still, they light up our path and I am careful not to step on them.


barreling up

barreling up
from bare ground, naked ladies --
once again, surprise!

In early August our naked ladies made their dramatic appearance. Over just a few days the leafless arrowhead stalks shot up, unfolded into a cluster of magenta tongues, followed by fragrant ballerina blossoms. They didn't last long. A hard rain beat the shell pink petals into brown tatters. In other yards the late bloomers are still blooming in rows like chorus girls. The biggest surprise this year was the lone resurrection lily rising from what for many years was a circle of magic lilies growing incongruously in the middle of our yard. Maybe the dormant bulbs got too much rain this summer. I didn't plant any of these lovely ladies, but I hope next year the ones by the front door magically return.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

reflections in glass

reflections in glass
striped awning, striped bench, two friends
summer excursion

My friend Sallie and I both take joyfully Julia Cameron's injunction in The Artist's Way to take a weekly artist's walk. So on a mild summer day we drive an hour east to Burlington Iowa, an old town on the Mississippi. When we park (no parking meters), the street slopes down to the river two blocks away. Our first stop is the Art Center, for "Global Faces" by Maurice Sanders, dozens of portraits of native peoples from all around the world. Well done! I'm envious of this photographer's travels and ability to poignantly capture all those faces.

Outside the gallery, Salllie poses on a colorful bench that says Art Knows No Age. How true.

A big building that takes up a full block is being renovated. Pop art.

One of the many old churches in the downtown area is getting a tuck-pointing by a man on a high cherry-picker. The buildings seem to lean up the steep hills of this river town, originally called Shok-ko-kon, Flint Hills, by the Sac and Fox tribes. This town is famous for Snake Alley, a one block serpentine brick lane, now the site of an annual grueling bike race, uphill!

For lunch we discover Digger's Rest, a little coffee and sandwich shop run by an Asian woman. Her mother doesn't speak English but has the biggest smile when she delivers our meals. 

I order a chicken and avocado wrap and a fresh blackberry smoothie. Too hot for coffee, though they have an impressive selection of "specially sourced" organic coffee beans.

Next we walk west a block and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring a series of little shops all in one block on the south side of the street. Fiber Addicts is bursting with gorgeous yarns and cotton quilting yard goods, set off with antiques, including a spinning wheel and drop spindle. Seeing a lovely quilt wall hanging, Sallie goes into shopping mode. After all, birthdays and Christmas are almost upon us!

Weird Harold's Records, a real throwback in time. Apparently you can still buy recently recorded records as well as oldies, and a record player.

Also some of the old hippie accessories, such as incense. 

While Sallie shops for birthday cards, I laugh at the hilarious magnets on a Coca Cola case. Sallie buys a few of these as well.

High on a wall way in the back of the shop, I discover a collection of antique mannikin heads modeling antique hats. I'm a hat person, so I'm totally enchanted. I want that little straw saucer with the red ribbon. Fortunately, they're not for sale.

At The Tattered Parasol, Sallie finds a fun coffee mug for one of her daughters. We both slather on some Naked Bee Pomegranate & Honey lotion from a tester dispenser (no artificial ingredients). I check out the rack of colorful Happy Socks (mostly cotton, too) and the room full of antiques in the back. They also have a connected store full of ornaments, including Disney and Hallmark, but the 2016 "Frozen" ornament (for my granddaughter) isn't out yet.

By this time I feel like we've been snaking in and out of shops in "Shopper's Alley" and it's time for a snack. Voila! A sign on Nature's Corner (on the corner of the block, of course), says "Frozen Peach Yogurt." They only serve one flavor per day, but peaches are in season, so no problem. Gallon glass jars filled with seeds and dry beans line the wall in back of the counter.

This must have been an old pharmacy. They've kept the antique rolling ladders, still used to access the rows of vitamins and other supplements. 

We wander through the store, which is really two connected stores, eating our curly cue cones (deliciously cold and not too sweet). Both of us try some of the testers of essential oils, clary sage on one wrist, lavender on another. Sallie buys more goodies, teas, a protein bar, African black soap, organic buckwheat cereal. All my senses feel completely saturated. Neither of us even stops when we pass a sidewalk sale. Time to head home after a memorable artist's walk.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

at my touch sensitive

at my touch sensitive
leaves fold along the midline --
sleeping partridge pea

As a child I loved touching the feathery leaves of sensitive partridge pea to watch them fold together like the wings of a butterfly. The compound leaves also fold up at night, which gives the plant another of its many common names, sleeping pea. In fact, the leaves look a lot like mimosa leaves, another sensitive plant. 

On the day the temperature hits 100 F (38 C), the delicate-looking plants are growing along the shoulder of the shady hill west of our little bridge. Large-flowered sensitive pea seems to like a mixture of a little shade with a little sun, and doesn't mind growing right in the gravel. 

This annual native legume has a lot going for it. It reseeds easily and grows quickly on disturbed ground, helping to stop erosion, while the little nodules on its roots produce nitrogen, nourishing the plant and improving the soil. It's also a sensitive neighbor. Once other plants begin to grow in the area, the partridge pea, with a life-span of about two years, slowly gives way. 

The pea-like flowers have developed an interesting pollination strategy. Each bright yellow blossom has five petals, with the lowest one being the largest, like an inviting landing platform. The job of one of the side petals is to curve over the purple pollen-containing stamens, encouraging "buzz pollination" by long-tongued bumblebees and honeybees. Attracted by the nectar and perhaps guided by the red spots at the center of the blossom, these bees are able to buzz their way under the petal guard and lap up the nectar, while getting dusted with pollen. 

The flowers keep blooming until the first frost. It is such a good source of nectar when other flowers are not blooming that beekeepers often plant partridge pea for honey production. Of course, they probably don't label their honey "Locust Weed," one of the plant's other names. But "Golden Cassia" sounds enchanting. The Latin name for the plant is Chamaecrista fasciculata, but it used to be classified as Cassia chamaecrista.

In addition to the leaf-folding trick, partridge pea has another clever defense strategy. It produces nectar from orange glands at the base of the leaves, which attract butterflies, ants, flies, wasps and sweat bees. it is thought that the visiting ants remove insect pests from the plant.

When the long, narrow seed pods are ripe, they split open and spiral to eject the seeds, as far as a meter. Those seeds are a nutritious source of food all winter for partridge, which is how it gets the name partridge pea, as well as quail, pheasant, wild turkey, other grassland birds, field mice, rabbits and deer. The close-growing plants also create shelter for ground birds. Both the seeds and the leaves contain a cathartic substance which is toxic for grazing animals if eaten in large quantities, though whitetail deer appear to eat the plant with impunity.

Another name for this native member of the pea family is prairie senna, because it has some of the same laxative characteristics. Various native peoples used the plant medicinally, for such conditions as nausea, urinary tract problems, sore throats, skin problems, a stimulant, fevers, infections and malaria. Probably better for those of us who are not trained in traditional medicinal herbs to just admire the cheery yellow flowers and have fun touching the sensitive leaves.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

man on tall ladder

man on tall ladder
sealing seams in wall hole --
sound of can dropping

I'm walking by a man in a white T-shirt and blue jeans at the top of a tall green ladder, which is leaning against a red wall bordered with blue. He seems to be working on an opening in the wall above the door that will probably house an air conditioner. Suddenly, a white canister falls to the pavement, squirting white caulk. The man turns around and scowls. I can just hear him thinking, "Shoot! It's a long ways down to pick up that blasted can!"