Blueberry identification is ‘difficult at best’

art blueberries“It’s football time in Tennessee!” is what John Ward, the long-time announcer for the University of Tennessee, used to declare when the opening kickoff of the season was airborne.

Plant gall formation is somewhat of a mystery

mtnvoicesWhen it rains it pours. Within the past week or so, I received two emails about plant galls. That’s two more than I’ve received in the past 15 years of writing this column. Here goes.

Color on high

out natcornI occasionally see The Smoky Mountain News’ Garret K. Woodward’s Facebook posts about hitting the trails around WNC for a mind-clearing run and my knees twinge with the memories of similar sorties and the sad recognition that without surgery those days are lost. 

Trumpet vine is tenacious and beautiful

ellison trumpetvineIt’s mid-June again … the time of the year when certain plants can be relied upon to do their thing in our yard and on the decks that enclose the house on three sides. Yuccas, oak-leaf hydrangeas, spiderworts, coral vines, various ornamental lilies and roses, and others are in full bloom. But none of these can hold a candle to the trumpet vine.

Albinism in plants

out natcornThe other day, while chasing birdies for the Forest Service, I encountered a pretty wildflower along an abandoned logging road. The plant was small purple-fringed orchid, Platanthera psycodes. It was unusual in that the flowers were white rather than the normal lavender to reddish-purple one generally encounters.

There is hemlock, and then there is poison hemlock

mtn voicesCertain questions inevitably pop up during plant identification outings. One has to do with whether or not eastern hemlock trees are poisonous.

Devil’s Walkingstick is known as The Toothache Tree

mtnvoices“The cascading, four foot, doubly-compound leaves of devil’s walking stick, bunched near the end of long crooked thorny stems reaching as tall as 20 feet, give this plant a decidedly tropical look — it’s a plant that might fit in nicely on the set of Jurassic Park.

Adaptation helps plants weather the cold

As I write this on Tuesday morning there are five or so inches of snow covering the ground outside my window. The forecast on the Internet is for more snow. By Thursday there may be upwards of 10 inches. 

My wife and I protect ourselves from the elements by having an artificial structure (our house) to live in. We can put on additional clothing. We keep the woodstove in the living area stoked up. Bedroom, bathroom, and office doors can be closed so as to maintain warmth in the living area. Soup is simmering in a crock pot. This is our version of hunkering down.

The butternut is a country boy’s tree

“A countryman’s tree is the Butternut, known to the farm boy but not his city cousin. One who takes thoughtful walks in the woods may come to know and admire it for the grand old early American it is.”

— Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Trees (1949)

Stop and smell the … ferns

mtnvoicesOne of my favorite times to observe ferns is in winter when they stand out in the brown leaf-litter. Of the 70 or so species that have been documented in the southern mountains, perhaps a fourth are evergreen. These would include walking fern, rockcap fern, resurrection fern, intermediate wood fern, several of the so-called “grape fern” species, and others.

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