Saturday, August 31, 2013

gone jelly-fishing

Jar of jelly

Like SpongeBob SquarePants, we're going jellyfishing in Mead's Quarry Lake in September.

For more details, go to: Ijams Journal.

Happy Birthday, Karen Sue.

Friday, August 30, 2013

mockingbirds' delight

Much to the delight of the local fruit-eating birds, another native berry producing shrub is now in full display, loaded with ripe red fruits.

This shrub has several common names: American cranberrybush, cranberry viburnum, highbush or high bush cranberry. Its berries have the look and taste of cranberries but the two plants are not related. Cranberrybush is really a tall deciduous viburnum. True cranberries grow on dwarf evergreen shrubs in acidic bogs but the comparison once made, still lingers.

Cranberry viburnum fruits are scarlet red berries, really single seed drupes that hang in festive clusters.

Native to North America, the Tennessee Valley is on the extreme southern limit of its range. You can find them growing and in full fruit along the Universal Trail at Ijams Nature Center.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

buzzer joy

As we approach September, cicada season is starting to wind down; the constant pulsating buzz of the past two months is easing.

We're beginning to find them, dead, scattered about like cast off stogies. Or you find an occasional one with a little buzz left when you pick it up and let it crawl over your hand. Not enough energy left to fly, but still a little buzz on.

The sensation—the buzz in the hand—always reminds me of the Joy "handshake" Buzzer invented in 1928 by Soren Sorenson Adams, creator/manufacturer of such other novelty, practical joke items as the Bug in the Plastic Ice Cube, the Squirting Nickel and the Jumping Coin. (He passed on the Whoopee Cushion thinking it too vulgar.) But it was the Joy Buzzer that was his biggest seller, very popular when I was ten-years-old. 

Getting another ten-year-old to shake your hand was always the biggest problem. Politicians shake hands, not ten-year-olds. You could sometimes find a ten-year-old girl to hold your hand, but a joy buzzer was a pretty speedy way to kill a budding playground romance. 

It's much easier to find a live, albeit half-dead cicada to hold onto. 

And so it goes. (Sorry, Linda.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

orchid hunters' gold

Yellow-Fringed Orchid

This is one remarkably beautiful flower that I have looked for but not been able to find in the Smokies but that's not true for the orchid hunters, Lynne and Bob Davis. 

Lynne recently e-mailed me, "Bob and I went back to Spruce Flats Falls Saturday to get some better pictures of some of the flowers we saw last weekend."

"On the way back from the falls, we took a wrong turn and ended up on a trail we didn’t recognize.  It was narrow and steep, and it kept going further uphill.  Just as the trail started to level off, we found a single plant of Yellow-Fringed Orchid (they’re really orange-sherbet orange).  


"A few feet further on, we came to a trail junction with a single small post.  One side of the post had “M” on it and one side had “T”.  And within a few feet of the junction, there were more Yellow-Fringed Orchids!  After taking pictures of all of them, we chose the direction where we could hear the sound of the river.  Along this path, too, were more Yellow-Fringed Orchids.  After a while, this path sort of petered out, and we voted to re-trace our steps.  We counted at least 12 plants of the orchids on the way back. We got out of the woods just as a light rain was starting."

Thanks, Lynne and Bob. Great story! 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

love that parsley

Black Swallowtail Photo by Tamera Partin

This time of the year, caterpillars can get to be rather linebacker bulky.

"I went out today and found this cutie feasting on the parsley in my herb garden! My identifying book isn't clear enough for me to it figure out! I appreciate your time and hope you can help me out? Also, if there are any other interesting facts about these butterflies?
" emailed my friend Tamera.
Parsley is the key here. Black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes) just love to munch on carrot plants as well as parsley, Queen Anne's lace, dill and fennel. 

Swallowtail's osmeterium
Photo: WikiMedia
Here's your Scrabble word for the day: osmeterium [oz-mi-TEER-ee-uhm] from the Greek osmē meaning odor.

As a general rule, most caterpillars are chunky morsels for anything that wants to eat one of them, like chicken McNuggets with lots of legs. Many caterpillars have no defense against being eaten, just ask a yellow-billed cuckoo. But this caterpillar has a fleshy orange "forked gland,” called the osmeterium that's normally hidden, retracted on the top of its head. Yet, when spooked, this swallowtail's osmeterium, which looks like a snake’s tongue or giant bull horns, swells to at first startle a predator and then it releases a foul smelling, odorous compound to repel it.

Thanks, Tamera

Wednesday, August 21, 2013



From China to UT and it only took 250 years.

The Tree of Heaven is originally native to China and has been grown both there and elsewhere as a host plant for the ailanthus silkmoth caterpillar used in the production of silk. (They spin cocoons and we carefully unwind the yards and yards and yards of raw silk.)

The Tree of Heaven was first imported into Europe in the 1740s perhaps along the legendary Silk Road and then into this country in 1784. It was one of the first trees brought west during a time when chinoiserie—a style of decorative ornamentation that features the extensive use of Chinese motifs—was dominating European arts. China was all the rage. The west was fascinated by all things from the East. Many homes had Chinese vases, prints, knickknacks.
Back then, Ailanthus was prized as a beautiful specimen for gardens and city streets. It grows rapidly with dense foliage and can reach heights of 80 feet.
Today, its popularity has faded but you can find them throughout our area. At this time of the year, look for the cascade of flattened, winged seeds that are a pale yellow that turns to a pinkish gold finally mellowing to a brown the color of your morning toast. There’s several of the Chinese trees now in seed growing on the riverbank along the Neyland Drive Greenway.
This reminds us yet once again of Rabindranath Tagore's wonderful quote: "Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven."
Enjoy the history that grows incognito in our valley.

Monday, August 19, 2013

kudzu man

Kudzu man, the Southern Devil, towers over the innocent redhead.

The devil, i.e. Satan, Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Lucifer, et cetera, et cetera, can appear in many forms, human, foul or otherwise, even a plant in the pea family, in this case a 15-foot giant green Blair Witchy kudzu man that towers over the back parking lot of a local fast food emporium. 

Initially, kudzu was promoted in the late 1800s as merely a full-bodied and friendly arbor plant to shade porches here in the South, as witnessed by this memorable passage from Harper Lee's novel To Kill A Mockingbird:

"Mr. Avery boarded across the street from Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose’s house. Besides making change in the collection plate every Sunday, Mr. Avery sat on the porch every night until nine o’clock and sneezed. One evening we were privileged to witness a performance by him which seemed to have been his positively last, for he never did it again so long as we watched. Jem and I were leaving Miss Rachel’s front steps one night when Dill stopped us: “Golly, looka yonder.” He pointed across the street. At first we saw nothing but a kudzu-covered front porch, but a closer inspection revealed an arc of water descending from the leaves and splashing in the yellow circle of the street light, some ten feet from source to earth, it seemed to us. Jem said Mr. Avery misfigured, Dill said he must drink a gallon a day, and the ensuing contest to determine relative distances and respective prowess only made me feel left out again, as I was untalented in this area."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

kudzu nation

Well, the South is really not a nation, it's only part of a nation, but it's the part that's having the botanical coup d'état. 

Our friends north of the Mason-Dixon probably think it's much ado about nothing, after all, it's only a plant in the pea family. It's not like one of those introduced Asian silver carp that will jump out of the water and hit you in the face along the Illinois and other rivers in the heartland.

Kudzu's threat is more insidious, slowly blanketing neighborhoods returning them to nature with the entwining vine at the top of the pyramid. But it eventually creates a monoculture, discouraging biodiversity and exclusion is never a good thing.

Not far from my home is a winding curvy road down a hill, a little dangerous if you drive it too fast, so watch it. The directional signs that remind a driver of an upcoming "left" or "right" turn have been commandeered by the plant that's "eating the South." Isn't removing a road sign against the law?

Now, could a carp do that?


Saturday, August 10, 2013

hangover relief?

In traditional Chinese medicine, kudzu—a fast growing gift to America from Japan—has been used as a remedy for hangovers. It's supposed to "detoxify" the liver and alleviate the symptoms of having one (or ten) too many.

However, a 2007 study suggested that "the use of the kudzu root is inappropriate as a hangover remedy due to increased acetaldehyde accumulation through mitochondrial aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) inhibition."

Say what? Well, that may be so, but it sounds like physiological body chemistry babble to me, probably involving a lot of expensive lab tests on mice forced to drink their weight in hooch. 

Yet, the proof is on the hillsides. It seems obvious to me that IF kudzu was a good medicinal for hangover relief, the fast growing invasive plant wouldn't be a problem in the South.

Now would it?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Thelma Houston, we have a problem

Invited guest or not, this is starting to get out of hand.
Kudzu, Pueraria montana via. lobata, was introduced from Japan into the U.S. at the Japanese pavilion in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Although it doesn't grow all that well in the City of Brotherly Love, it brotherly loves us to death here in the South. 

It is now common along roadsides and other disturbed areas throughout most of the southeast, including near my home. The above photo was taken only about a half a mile away from where I currently sit. And when I stopped to snap the pic, it inquired just where did I live.

Kudzu has been spreading at the rate of 150,000 acres annually, which means it may get here before I hit save.

Did I just hear the doorbell?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

milkweed bug

I have blogged about the milkweed bug before. They seem to always be at home on the annual milkweed colony in front of the Visitor Center at Ijams.

I have photographed them on the flower heads just before they bloomed, this one is on a ripening seed pod. My question is: Is this the same generation as before, or a new one?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

summertime orchids

Crane-fly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)

Not too late to be thinking about wildflowers, especially orchids, as emails from Bob and Lynne Davies relate.

"Bob and I hiked the Spruce Flats Falls trail at Tremont on Saturday. It’s only a mile, but it’s a good workout, with rocky and steep places. We had the bonus of finding four and maybe five species of wild orchids in bloom. We saw the expected Crane-fly Orchid (Tipularia) and Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera), but also Three-Birds Orchid and Southern Rein Orchid, two new species for both of us. Another plant we saw in bud but not blooming may have been an orchid, too.There was a nice patch of chanterelle mushrooms near the falls. Persimmon trees are starting to get a sprinkling of color already." Lynne

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bartram's oakleaf

Oakleaf hydrangea at UT Hospital

Whenever I encounter one of these lovely rusty things I say:

"Well hello, Mr. Bartram. Honored to remember you." 

A favorite among local landscapers, oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) gets its species name from none other than 18th-century American botanist John Bartram himself who named it from the Latin "quercus" meaning oak and "folium" meaning leaf. 

Bartram discovered the native shrub on his botanizing exploration from the Carolinas to the Florida panhandle in the 1770s.

After the white flowers fade they age to creamy white to pink to a rusty patina that's eye-catching.


Friday, August 2, 2013

big leaf, none bigger

And speaking of magnolias—and I like to speak about them—the bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla—named by André Michaux himself) is one of the hardest to locate in East Tennessee, they are more at home in southern Mississippi/Alabama.

The name fits. Does it ever fit! This tree boasts the largest simple leaf and single flower of any native plant in North America. They're tropical looking. Individual leaves can be up to 30 inches long and 12 inches broad. A bigleaf's branches often bend under the weight of their own heavy foliage.

Bigleaf range. Wiki Media. 
The big leaves suit the bigleaf well allowing them to tolerant the low light levels in the understory. It does not need full sun to survive once established, dappled is just great, although, it cannot survive in full shade.

I took the photo at the top of this post along a mountain road in the Cumberlands near Royal Blue. I also measured the longest leaf and it was indeed a whopping 30 inches long. 

My long ago botany professor at UT, Dr. Aaron Sharp, taught me there were seven magnolias in our area: Fraser, cucumber, umbrella, bigleaf, Southern, sweetbay and the tuliptree, a.k.a. yellow poplar which is not a poplar at all. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

old Fraser

I have not yet been able to photograph the flower of a Fraser magnolia but here's an old illustration from “Curtis's Botanical Magazine,” (London, 1809, volume 30, plate 1206).

How could I capture it any better with a mere camera?

Started by William Curtis in 1787, the periodical that bears his name is the longest running botanical magazine in the world. Its publication continues to this day.