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Archive for February, 2012

Wildflower

Can you identify this wildflower?

If you didn’t know the wildflower in this photo, how would you go about identifying it? Most wildflower field guides group flowers by color. But using color is not always the easiest way to identify a wildflower. What you see as pink, your guide might see as lavender. Or, the plant you’ve found may have flowers of different colors. For example, the plant in this photo can have flowers that are blue, pink, lavender, or white.

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Every so often, I encounter a tree in the forest that appears to be on tiptoes. The tree’s trunk is suspended a foot or two above the ground, held up by several strong roots. What kind of tree is this, and how did it come to grow this way?

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Wood frog

Wood frog

As February ends, I eagerly await the return of wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus, formerly Rana sylvatica) to my small garden pond to breed. Breeding wood frogs are one of the earliest harbingers of spring, and their cacophony of chuckling quacks provides a comic lift to end winter. They usually return to my pond in mid to late March. But in years with warmer and less snowy winters, like 2012, they can return earlier.

Wood frogs are 1 1/2” to 3” long and are usually tan or brown with a mask-like dark patch that extends behind the eyes. They’re found in the eastern US as far south as South Carolina and north to northern Canada and west to Alaska. They are the most northerly of all North American amphibian species and are the only frog found above the Arctic Circle.

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Jack-in-the-pulpit

Jack-in-the-pulpit

If you’ve walked in the woods in eastern North America, you may have come across Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), a common and easily identified understory plant. It’s native to rich forests from Canada to the Gulf states. But this common plant has some not so common adaptations for reproduction.

Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers

Jack-in-the-pulpit blooms in April or May with an unusual flowering structure that gives it its name. The visible parts of the flowering structure are the club-like spadix (“Jack”) that rises within and above the edge of a leaf-like spathe (“the pulpit”). The upper part of the spathe curves forward and downward, acting as an umbrella to prevent water from flooding the 30 to 60 tiny flowers that are hidden at the base of the spadix. Individual plants have either male or female flowers—botanists call this dioecy.

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Screams in the Night

Many years ago, while camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my friend and I were startled awake in the middle of the night by blood curdling screams outside our tent. We listened quietly and, a few minutes later, the screams sounded again. We were curious about what could be making such a frightening, almost human-like scream. The screamer moved about in the tree canopy so we assumed it was some type of owl.

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