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Archive for May, 2011

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cake2

Last weekend, we celebrated two birthdays. My eldest and youngest daughters were born four years less two days apart, so we had a joint celebration for the birthday girls. In the photos above are Seabrooke and Fiddlegirl blowing out their birthday cake candles. And of course, it was also Mother’s Day. It was wonderful to have the family together for the weekend. We had a delicious dinner, complete with fiddleheads from the farmer’s market. For dessert, Seabrooke made chocolate cupcakes, decorated as little gardens with marshmallow flowers.

Leading up to the weekend, the weather had been cool and rainy, but it cleared up for Saturday and Sunday, and Ponygirl took Ivory out for a ride. Seabrooke and Fiddlegirl both rode as youngsters, but haven’t been riding in quite a while. They enjoyed an opportunity to get back in the saddle and each had a turn on Ivory too.

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The pleasant weekend weather continued into the week, and I spent each day getting as much gardening done as I could find the energy for. We have had a cool, wet spring, and consequently my gardening is well behind where I might usually be at this time of year. The weeds have had a good head start. Not fair! Friday was the last sunny day, and yesterday the cool, rainy weather returned. Today, the rain continues to fall and more of the same is in the forecast for the upcoming week. On the bright side, the garden has been coming along beautifully and there is much to enjoy, so long as you don’t mind doing so in the rain!

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Euphorbia polychroma (Cushion Spurge)

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toad

Rainy Day Toad

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sunset

Vibrant Sunset

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Spring, Evening Sky

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Trees, Evening Sky

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When I stepped out the front door one day last week, a flash of bright white on a log stump at the edge of the garden caught my eye. I used the log last summer to sit a potted plant on, and the stump has been waiting out the winter there. On closer examination, I found several white masses, a type of fungus, growing on the log. The growth was damp and when I gently poked it with a finger, I found it to have a soft, spongy texture.

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I thought the fungus was probably a slime mold, but nothing in my field guide, Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada, by George Barron, seemed to resemble it exactly. The most likely candidate is Fuligo septica, of which Barron says this:

Fruitbody (aethalium) is a cake-like mass, up to 20 cm in the longest dimension by 3 cm thick, white, yellowish, ochre or red-brown, and with a smooth but brittle crust which breaks away to reveal a black spore-mass. Widespread and common, F. septica can migrate 1 m or more to fruit on stumps, logs, or living plants, often in the rich soil of well-manured gardens.

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Although initially spongy, the mass did develop a shiny, brittle crust within a day or so, and over the next few days, the crust deteriorated and cracked to display a solid dark-coloured mass below. When I lifted the edge of the mass from the log, it disintegrated.

Although the photograph in Mushrooms of Ontario wasn’t convincing, the description does seem to match this fungus, as does it’s location on a log in a garden. Such discoveries always remind me of how much goes on right beneath our noses, mostly unnoticed. How complex the natural world is. How ignorant we are. I’m glad I discovered F. septica.

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Coltsfoot

coltsfoot

The first wildflower of the season to be seen around here, even before the dandelions appear, is Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). The brilliant yellow heads, shining from patches of rough roadside terrain like little suns, are a welcome sight. An old-world native, Coltsfoot may have been introduced to North America by settlers who used the plant for medicinal purposes. The scientific name, Tussilago, means cough suppressant, and Coltsfoot has historically been used to treat respiratory ailments such as asthma. However, the discovery of toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids in the plant has resulted in liver health concerns.

My daughter Seabrooke did an excellent post on Coltsfoot back in 2008. I’ll share some of it with you here. You can read the full entry at The Marvellous in Nature.

The flowers superficially resemble dandelions, and can be mistaken for them. Like dandelions, they belong to the aster family. Asters can be identified by having a group of central flowers that form a “capitulum”. In a plant like the coneflower, the capitulum can be tall and pronounced. In the daisy, it’s flat, or slightly domed. The flowers can by tiny, looking to the naked eye like a stippled but solid surface, or they can be pronounced, giving the coneflower its spiky appearance. The “petals” surrounding the capitulum are actually bracts, modified leaves that are frequently brightly coloured to present the appearance of a large flower head, widening the surface area that attracts pollinators.

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Coltsfoot is usually found growing in large patches. This is because the plant grows and spreads from rhizomes, a “root” network (actually a type of horizontal stem) that has the ability to send up new shoots at a distance from the parent plant.

Coltsfoot puts up flowers first thing, even before it grows any foliage. Food, in the form of starches, is stored in the rhizomes over the summer, allowing the flowers to form in the following spring before the plant begins photosynthesizing. A potato is an example of a starchy storage system used by the plant for future growth (in the potato’s case the tuber is from a stolon, not a rhizome, but same basic purpose). Usually the plant’s leaves only begin to appear after the flower has matured and set seed.

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As I was returning home, I spotted a large bird in a field near the house. My first thought was that it might be a Great Blue Heron, but when I stopped the car and took a better look, I could see that it was an American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus). Normally found in the tall emergent vegetation of wetlands, bitterns are usually difficult to spot. They typically thrust their long beaks skyward, and with their streaked, cryptic colouration, blend in with their surroundings perfectly. This bird did tip his beak up, but as he was standing in a green field, he remained rather conspicuous.

American Bitterns are found across the province, with gaps in their distribution reflecting a lack of suitable breeding grounds in areas with extensive wetland drainage or degradation. Bitterns enjoy a variety of food items, including fish, small mammals, aquatic life and insects. They catch their prey by moving slowly, relying on stealth for success. In Ontario, the bittern nesting season peaks in the first half of June, so perhaps this individual is still searching for a mate.

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One of the loveliest of the early spring wildflowers is Bloodroot. It is a native of Ontario and widespread throughout Eastern North America, where it prefers damp forests and stream edges. This particular patch is growing in my garden, under an oak tree. Its presence here predates my own, but it had become overgrown with grass, and I moved the plant last spring, clearing out the grass and giving it a new start. It appears to be happy with its new location and has settled in well.

Bloodroot is a member of the Poppy family. Its common name echoes its scientific name, Sanguinaria canadensis, and refers to the plant’s bloodlike red-orange juice. Native Americans used the plant to produce a dye used in craftwork and as body paint.

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I dug up a single flower and set it on a sheet of white paper. You can see a little dab of coloured sap to the right of the leaf. Each flower stem is embraced by a single deeply lobed leaf. The flowers only open in full sunlight, and close at night, or on dull, overcast days. The closed evening blooms are almost as charming as their open sunlit selves, snuggled cozily into their leafy bed for the night.

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spring meadow

Spring Meadow

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