Trees are plants. They bloom. My botany project, a Dent County Flora, needs pictures of these trees.
Each of the plant entries requires several pictures. For trees this includes the winter bud, the bark, twigs if there is something special about them, the tree, leaves, flowers and fruit.
The problem with trees is their height. At five foot and change, I don’t have much height. Trees tower over my head.
I’ve never been much of a tree climber. I’m not about to learn now. That leaves me staring up at the things I want pictures of.
One solution would be to cut some trees down. This is not the solution I want to use. First because I don’t want to cut down three trees (one for winter buds, one for flowers and leaves, a third for the fruit) of each kind. Second because I don’t use a chainsaw any more.
Another solution is to find the same trees being used as yard trees in town. I suppose this is cheating in a way. However, I definitely find the trees out in the wild before I resort to this solution.
Still another approach is to find young trees with branches within reach. As I have an eight foot walking stick with a hook in the end, this young tree can be fairly tall. I can reach up ten to twelve feet easily to snag a branch and pull it down as long as it is supple and long enough to get down into grabbing distance.
This last method works well for winter buds, leaves, twigs. If I am lucky, it works for flowers and fruit. Most of the trees like to put their flowers up high, out of reach.
The main problem with trees is their height. Once I solve that one for a particular species, I’m left with two others. One is getting to the tree at the right time to see the flowers and fruit. The other is identifying the tree correctly which can be a big problem with hickories and oaks.
Looking over at the hills with their bare trees in browns and grays, it’s easy to overlook the winter greens. To see these, you have to go out walking.
These greens grow in the woods all year. Most of the time they are in deep shade under the tree canopy. Now that canopy is gone and these tiny plants can show off.
Where do you look for these winter greens? One place is on the ground where they show off some of their many shapes.
Mosses are among the first plants to grow on land. They have no roots, only tiny threads holding them to the ground or the rocks or the trees depending on where they happen to grow.
Don’t think moss and assume it’s all the same. Some moss looks like tiny cedar seedlings. Other moss forms tiny green tails. Still other moss coats rocks with soft green fur. There are many shapes and sizes, if you seek in different habitats.
Accompanying the mosses are the lichens. These aren’t really plants. They are a partnership of a fungus and algae. The fungus provides the shape. The algae living in the fungus provides the color.
These too come in a variety of shapes and grow in many places. There are the foliose lichens that often coat rocks with flat tongues usually gray in color. Forming clumps mixed in with mosses on the ground is a branched lichen. This shape likes to coat honey locust branches. Orange lichens grow on black walnut trunks.
The soldier lichen puts up little clubs topped with brilliant red. Still others have green cups.
Like the mosses lichens have no roots and are easily knocked loose from the ground. Step carefully while exploring the hills seeking these winter greens. They are as varied and lovely as the wildflowers that will tower over them when spring comes back to the Ozarks.
Some wildflowers are definitely one color or another like Wherry’s Pink. Then there are those that leave me choosing wildflower colors.
Take Spring Beauty. From a distance the flower often looks pink. Up close the flower is white with pink stripes. It is usually classified as white. So I didn’t add it to my group of pink wildflowers.
Common mallow or cheeses has the same white with pink stripes pattern. This one I did put in with my group of pink wildflowers.
Luckily thin leaf betony was easier. It was mostly pink so it is in my group of pink wildflowers.
However, there is the problem of goat’s rue. It is a big slipper shaped flower in two colors: cream and pink. The upright petals are cream and the slipper is pink.
Most guides classify it as white. Choosing wildflower colors I preferred placing this one in my group of pink wildflowers.
Then there are the wildflowers that fade during the day. Rue Anemone is one of these. The buds show deep pink. The flowers open pink. By noon the petals are white.
When I go walking through the woods in spring, rue anemone is one of the early bloomers. The color I see is the pink scattered in patches on the forest floor. So I placed this wildflower under pink.
Soapwort is another choice. The flowers often appear to be white. Yet they are faintly pink and usually classified as pink. I followed convention.
Other flowers like Violet Bush Clover are named a color. When I see this wildflower, it looks pink. It is a violet tinged pink, but it looks pink to me. I deferred to the name and placed it in the blue and violet group of wildflowers.
Choosing wildflower colors is highly subjective. There are so many of them that are these blended colors. This is why, seeking a wildflower in a guide, it is a wise practice to look through more than one section before deciding the flower was not included in that particular list.
The trees on the hills are bare gray skeletons. Vultures have flown south replaced by juncos from the north. I am spending part of the winter revisiting summer through wildflowers.
This past summer was amazing here for wildflowers. The roadsides, hills, pastures and riverbanks were full of plants I recognized and many I didn’t. My camera got a workout.
Time is finite. Downloading hundreds of pictures takes a lot of it. Trying to identify unfamiliar flowers takes a lot of time too.
Some groups of wildflowers are difficult to sort out. Sunflowers and beggar ticks are cases in point. So I dump them into an Unknown category.
Now the wildflowers are gone for the winter. My camera is used less in a month than it was used during some summer days. Instead I am revisiting summer through wildflowers as I sort through all of those pictures and try to identify those many unknowns.
Several years ago I planned a Dent County Flora. I had lots of pictures and even started looking up and writing about many of the 2000 or so plants growing wild in Dent County. Except I am not a botanist, only an avid amateur. The project languished.
Forget the botanical descriptions I almost understand. Instead I can focus on my pictures. And the pictures can be as much about what I see as beautiful about a flower as an illustration of the flower.
Wildflowers don’t exist as garden subjects, pristine in their shapes and colors. They exist in the world with pollinating visitors, herbivores taking bites out of them, spiders and others using them as hunting grounds. And these make it into some of the pictures.
The best reasons for doing the Dent County Flora project are: having an excuse to go out hiking; taking pictures; and revisiting summer through wildflowers all winter.
Many years ago some nursery catalogs had adds for living fences. The idea was that planting multiflora roses close together would get them to grow into a thorny tangle nothing would want to go through. Such an attitude has left me fighting multiflora roses.
These plants do live up to the hype. Each plant has numerous canes coming from a perennial root. Each cane is covered with sharp barbed thorns. Each cane can reach ten feet or more in length.
The problem that leaves me fighting multiflora roses is how quickly these plants from Asia spread. They produce masses of inch across white flowers in the spring which become quarter inch across hips filled with seeds. Birds each them and drop the seeds off in other places.
The canes become a problem. They are long and need support. If a tip touches the ground, it roots and produces a new plant. If it lands in a tree, it grows up into the tree sending out branches until the tree has more rosebush than tree growing in it.
Down at ground level the canes get thick, even develop bark. I found one over an inch in diameter and had to use a saw to cut it off. And why am I fighting multiflora roses?
Three dogs showed up in the back yard. That means there is a hole in the fence somewhere. The only way to find it is to walk the fence line.
Only I can’t walk the fence line unless I clear off the fallen branches and cut off the rosebushes growing up near the fence sending their armed canes through the fence.
There is a bright spot. I’m only fighting multiflora roses of great size where a pasture once came near the fence. Once I reach the woods, there are fewer rosebushes and more fallen branches and trees.
Fall is the second fruit time in the Ozarks. Oaks drop their acorns. Buckbrush stems are lined with red berries. Persimmon trees dangle delicious golden fruit.
Never confuse native persimmons with Oriental persimmons. Native trees are winter hardy. Their fruit is smaller with a grittier texture and more sugary taste.
Many people believe native persimmons aren’t ripe until after the first killing frost. The fruit does get ripe late, but can be ripe before frost. It must be ripe to be edible by people.
Those delicious golden fruit can pucker your mouth filling it with a gritty persistent film if they are even slightly green. When ripe, the same fruit is sugary sweet.
Ripe persimmons drop to the ground where they are easy to pick up. People aren’t the only ones doing the picking up.
Foxes relish these delicious golden fruit. So do coyotes, deer, opossums, raccoons, mice, ants, flies, any creature with a sweet tooth.
After a windy day, the ground may be peppered with fruit. By dark every single one is gone. The same is true of any falling during the night.
The easiest way to gather persimmons is to use a long stick to gently shake the branches. Persimmons will plop onto the ground. Soft ones are ripe. Firm ones are not. They do not ripen sitting on a window sill.
Creatures don’t mind swallowing the fruit seeds and all. People wanting to make persimmon bread or pudding prefer to remove the seeds and skins.
My old cookbooks told me to push the pulp out through a sieve. What I got was a big mess.
My easy way is to wash off the fruit, dry it, spread it on a cookie sheet and freeze it. Extra can be poured into a freezer bag. The rest can be thawed which will let the skin slide off and the seeds pop out leaving the pulp behind.
These delicious golden fruit are mostly eaten by my goats now. They relish each one dropped onto their evening grain.
When we first moved here, grey squirrels were everywhere. They raced up and down the creek bed, up in the black walnut trees, across the back yard and through the leaf litter on the hills.
This is a good area for squirrels. The black walnuts drop plenty of nuts. The oaks and hickories add their nuts.
We enjoyed watching the squirrels (there is a nature essay in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“) race through the trees rivaling any aerialist with their daring leaps from one flimsy branch to another. Young squirrels newly on their own were easy to photograph as they weren’t as wary as older squirrels.
One year the woods fell silent. No squirrels crashed through the leaf litter. Black walnuts lay untouched on the ground. Every squirrel had packed up and moved somewhere else.
The years went by. For a couple of them we watched for the squirrels to reappear. Then we adjusted to woods with no squirrels.
A couple of fox squirrels moved in. These are larger and browner than the grey squirrels that first lived here. They arrived in late summer in time to enjoy the carpet of black walnuts.
In the spring these squirrels were gone. No more moved in.
A few years ago a couple of grey squirrels moved into the valley. I would see one racing across the road on my way to town.
One by one the squirrels moved back onto our hills. Sudden crashes in the leaf litter caused me to stop and search the hills for the squirrel. It would be hanging on a tree trunk then spiraling its way up into the branches.
This year the grey squirrels are again gathering black walnuts in the back yard. Another sits up in the black walnut near my garden where I can hear it chewing its way into a nut.
Last November a chance sighting of a new crescent moon has begun a search this year. Why wait a year?
The sun and moon shift positions over the year moving north from December to June and south from June to December. As we are situated between a number of hills, there is a clear vision of the horizon at sunset at new moon only a few times during the year.
Of course the crescent moon is visible every month, but only several days after new moon. The quest is to see the crescent as soon after the new moon as possible.
For those unlucky enough to live where the moon phases are difficult to see, the moon revolves around the Earth every 29 1/2 days. Its rotation is such that the same side of the moon always faces Earth.
The moon has no light of its own. The sunlight reflects off the moon so only the side facing the sun is lit.
As the moon revolves, the area lit up increases then decreases as we see it. At new moon, the moon is on the side between the Earth and sun so the entire lit side faces away from us.
Each night after that the moon moves a little farther away from the sun revealing some of the lit portion to us. How soon can we see that first sliver of light? Perhaps on that very next night.
We traipsed out to the south pasture the night after new moon. We were early so we browsed through the chinkapin oak leaves admiring the circular fungus spots on them.
The sun sank down below the horizon. The clouds turned salmon, then pink. We didn’t see the crescent moon.
We tried again the next night. It was a lovely evening, fairly warm, no wind. Dragonflies darted above us as the clouds began to color. Several bats flitted across the sky. Squirrels chattered back in the woods. A crow flew over toward a roosting spot.
We’d given up a sighting of the moon standing there only because the night was so pleasant. And there it was! A thin sliver of white appeared in the cleft between hills at the far end of the south pasture.
Maybe next month the sky will again be clear on the night after the new moon.
A recent popular magazine ran an article about how a dog saved a man from a copperhead snake. What rubbish! Yes, copperhead snakes are poisonous. Their bites are rarely fatal, especially from a smaller snake like the one in the article.
Why do I know about these much maligned snakes? I live with them in a place once called Copperhead Gulch.
A recent article in “The Missouri Conservationist” (Vol 82, issue 6, June 2021 ) about a study of these snakes confirmed what I’ve known for years. They are shy, prefer to flee and are rarely fatal.
One of my first encounters was when my half grown cat Mittens came in with her leg swollen. It was night so I made her as comfortable as I could. She was miserable with her leg triple its normal size.
In the morning the vet told me it was probably a copperhead bite. Mittens would recover. She did and lived a long life after that.
One or more of my goats get bitten every year. Copperhead snakes like moist areas like stream beds and the goats step on them.
The affected goat limps in that evening. Her leg is swollen so that her toes stick out. She lies down in a corner of the barn and moans all night.
The next morning the swelling is going down. The goat is up, still limping, but eager to go out to pasture for the day.
The vet can give a steroid shot to the cat or goat to make the swelling go down faster. It is expensive and doesn’t cut the recovery time down very much.
One year I found a hen dead in my chicken yard. The next day another one was dead. Then it stopped.
I stepped into the hen house that night to gather eggs and found I had stepped over a copperhead now coiling up just inside the door sill. We stared at each other a few tense moments. It slid quickly over the floor to go under the cement pad under the roost.
I checked carefully the next few days before entering the hen house. I saw the snake several times. Then I didn’t.
The snake still lived there hunting the mice that came out at night. I caught glimpses now and then over the three years it was there. I assume the snake had learned the chickens went to bed at night and I came when the light was on at night, so it waited.
Are many poisonous snakes dangerous? Probably. As is mentioned in “America’s Snake: The Rise and Fall of the Timber Rattlesnake”, most bites in the U.S. are because someone was showing off and threatening the snake.
In 30 years I’ve only come across one aggressive copperhead and I’ve seen dozens. Copperhead snakes are not the dangerous snakes people like to tell stories about. Given a chance they will avoid you. After all, you are far too big to eat.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve stood in the milk room door watching the far hill summer green turn to yellow green. Now the hickories are lemon yellow.
A number of trees turn yellow in the fall. Pawpaws are one. Some maples do. Only hickories turn a glowing lemon yellow.
The hills around us are mostly a mix of oak and hickory trees. A few persimmon, black walnut, hackberry, slippery elm and Ohio buckeye are scattered mostly at the edges of the pastures. Dogwood and redbud are tucked into the spaces under the taller trees.
The dogwoods turn a reddish purple and have been working on it for a couple of weeks. Persimmons turn yellow, but have so many black spots on their leaves the yellow seems an afterthought. Black walnuts turn yellow, but drop their leaves early. Yellow hackberry leaves are nearly transparent.
Oaks are an odd bunch. In moist years their leaves turn a dusty red. In drier years they turn brown. As last year many of the chinkapin oaks have an interesting circular fungus growing on them.
Perhaps this dull background makes the lemon yellow of the hickories even more noticeable. It is still a glowing yellow even through rain.
I’ve only found the maples in town to rival the hickory fall glow. Maples are a popular tree in town. The silver maples do turn yellow, but it is a dim second to the glow of a hickory tree.
Other maples turn red. Usually this is a dull red getting its impact from the volume of leaves.
The rival maples turn a glowing salmon pink. There aren’t many of these on my usual routes around town, but I look forward to spotting their towers of color.
Beautiful as the lemon yellow is against the hills, it is transitory. A hard rain with strong wind carpets the ground with the colors which quickly fade to brown leaving the bare, dark gray branches standing through the winter waiting for spring.
Chipmunks are definitely cute unless you are a bird. Invading chipmunks are disappearing with all the sunflower seeds put out for the birds.
At first a single chipmunk kept scouring the ground under the feeder for fallen sunflower seeds. Birds are messy eaters so some land on the ground. And the empty shells along with a few others get dumped there at night.
Chipmunks rarely survive long in the backyard. They seem to defy the cats and end up dinner.
This year brought a lot of chipmunks into the yard. A few have become cat and fox dinners. More move in.
The feeder also proved to be a challenge. The posts are easy to climb. I watched a chipmunk climb up and run into the rim of the feeder floor. It fell back defeated.
Sunflower seeds are a powerful motivator for a chipmunk. That chipmunk tried again and again until it could grab the edge and pull itself up onto the ledge.
Word got around.
This morning I watched two chipmunks at work. One would race over to the clump of grass under the feeder. The cats were sleeping in the house and the foxes were snoozing up on the hill.
The chipmunk raced up the post, onto the ledge and into the feeder. A blue jay left in disgust. A titmouse swooped in to snatch a seed and depart. Invading chipmunks clear out the bully birds.
A short time later the chipmunk reappeared with bulging cheek pouches. It got back on the ledge and slid down the post carrying its bounty away.
The second chipmunk arrived and invaded the feeder. It was sliding down as the first one came over. Both wanted to be sole feeder invader.
Sunflower seeds are a powerful motivator for a chipmunk. These invading chipmunks fell into an alternating rhythm until the feeder tray was empty.
Observing wildlife and Ozark hills has been a pastime for many years. Read more in “My Ozark Home“.
In the dim recesses of my memory I am standing on the baseball diamond of my southern California elementary school as the monarch butterfly migration flutters by. Hundreds of butterflies surrounded us.
Back then no one taught much science in school. Ecology wasn’t a familiar word. DDT was popular.
Yet the wonder of these beautiful orange and black butterflies stopped our gym class game. Even the most nature unaware students stood in awe.
The monarch butterfly migration is moving through the Ozarks now. Those clouds of butterflies have dwindled to one or two a day. And I’ve seen more this year than for several years.
Monarch butterflies are the species shown in science texts as they cycle from egg to caterpillar to pupa to adult. One year we got to watch this for real on the milkweed plants growing around our house and barn.
The adults fly south laying eggs as they go. These adults don’t make it to Mexico. Instead the new generation continues the flight south. A final group makes the last leg of the journey to hibernate.
The monarch butterfly migration is dwindling as those milkweed patches they rely on disappear. Farmers spray their fields and the herbicides drift into ditch rows. Ranchers spray wetlands to increase their pastures. Road crews mow them down. Even conservation department crews mow them down.
People are urged to plant milkweeds. Butterfly weed or purple milkweed are probably the best garden varieties. Common milkweed is spectacular, but it’s tall and tends to spread. Swamp milkweed needs moisture.
There are many other kinds of milkweeds. Most of these are much smaller and their flowers are not as showy. Some require special conditions. Others don’t.
Seeing a monarch butterfly migration was a wonderful experience. Our common milkweed and butterfly weed plants are one way to help such sights happen again.
Milkweeds have been getting ready for this all summer. Now their seeds are becoming wind riders.
Inside each milkweed pod is packed a double row of seeds. Each seed is topped with a silken parachute.
At one time milkweed seed pods were gathered. The silk was used in life jackets. Now the more buoyant and easier to cultivate kapok has left milkweeds relegated to weed status.
Milkweed bugs have spent a month or more stabbing down into each pod seeking the developing seeds. Those they find are sucked dry. Those that escape have a center bulge with a flat wing around them perfect for gliding on the wind.
The common milkweed, purple and swamp milkweed pods ripen in early fall turning brown and dry. The seam down the side bursts to expose the seeds. Then they wait.
Rain is a disaster. The silk gets wet and mats gluing the seeds into a heavy mass. Even drying out doesn’t break up the mass which eventually falls to the ground.
A soft breeze can pull a few seeds loose to drift away. These seeds rarely get even ten feet away. Dr. Rintz found this is the usual case.
Lucky seeds have a dry, windy day. The silk pulls loose. The wind grabs hold. The seeds become wind riders blowing across the pasture.
Even lucky seeds aren’t to the goal line yet. The seed must reach the ground. This sounds easy. The wind riders settle down like a hot air balloon to rest on the dirt.
Bare dirt is rare in nature. Plants grow on most of it in the Ozarks. The silk catches in the giant ragweed or the trees leaving the seed dangling.
A stiff breeze will break the seed loose to glide down and bounce its way down to the ground. If all goes right, the seed isn’t eaten and lands in a good spot, it will grow up in the spring to produce its own batch of wind riders.
Want to grow your own milkweeds? Find out more about handling seeds and seedlings in “Asclepias” by Dr. Richard Rintz.
One morning the gray fox and three pups were playing in the back yard, sitting on the wood pile, running up and down the pile, wrestling in the yard. The next morning a coyote arrives and the foxes are gone.
Foxes are the smallest of the dog family. They are attacked by coyotes, bobcats and people. They rarely live more than three or four years.
We hear coyotes calling back on the hills. The neighbors complain about coyotes killing their chickens. Their dogs are no deterrent.
Coyotes rarely come up to our house. We don’t actively chase them away, but we are usually home and out around the place. They don’t like the activity.
This seems to make our home area a somewhat safe haven. Deer keep their fawns nearby. This is the third time gray foxes have raised pups under the house.
I do have chickens. I do lose a few to the foxes. We come to an understanding. I keep the chickens up unless I am around. The foxes avoid coming near the chickens when I am there and don’t attack them in their yard.
When a coyote arrives, everything changes. Coyotes are bigger predators than foxes. I’m not so sure about yelling at one and chasing it across the yard would work. And a coyote would not drop off an unharmed chicken as it ran off.
Coyotes usually run in packs. I saw only one. Perhaps it was run off by its pack and hadn’t found a place to go yet. I hope it kept on moving.
Wildlife lives here. We see it. We live with it or take action when we must.
For now we miss watching the foxes in the morning. But, when a coyote arrives, things change. Perhaps the fox will come back in the spring with new pups.
Open any wildflower guidebook and the color of the flowers is the most important aspect noted. Open a nursery catalog and flower color variation is rampant.
Garden flowers are bred from wildflowers or are the wildflowers themselves. It isn’t hard to assume some of that flower color variation will show up in nature.
Color is the main thing I look for as I go walking seeking wildflowers to photograph. It’s easier to spot that splash of color than the shape of a new plant. It makes me stop and focus on the flower.
Perennial peas are a vivid pink. It’s hard to miss a slope covered with these big pink splashes. The occasional white ones stand out.
Rose Gentian is another bright pink flower with a greenish yellow center. The white variety still has the center color.
White seems to be the main flower color variation. I’ve seen it in blue phlox and great blue lobelia among others.
Butterfly Weed, the bright orange milkweed, has the greatest range of flower color variation I’ve seen in the wild. The nursery catalog people need to do a little walking along my Ozark roads.
This is one of the wild plants found in nursery catalogs. These versions are usually a yellow to yellowish orange found more commonly west of the Ozarks according to Dr. Rintz who found this color in Kansas.
Along my road I rarely see the yellowish color. Instead I find deep red to fiery orange. Occasionally I come across a plant with two tone flowers, orange back swept sepals and deep red corona.
Flower color variation can mean a new species. One of my new plant finds this year is pale jewelweed with its pale yellow flowers. I found one of these plants growing next to a spotted orange jewelweed. They are definitely different plants.
The brush cutter is busy elsewhere this year. That leaves me plenty of plants along the roads to look over for those splashes of color.
I first found these interesting little flowers years ago in a wetland area. The plant likes moist soil.
The interesting little flowers next appeared along the road at a cold water spring. And this year they are in a runoff ditch down the road.
Each year I put these interesting little flowers in the Unknown folder with the name Ears. Each year I search for an identification and fail to find one.
The plant is about a foot tall with multiple stems and branches. The stems are thin so the slightest breeze shivers through the plant. They are covered with short hairs.
The leaves are opposite. The petioles are about a third the length of the leaf. The petioles are hairy. The leaves have no hairs.
Flowers are on stalks from the leaf nodes toward the ends of the stems. Looking head on two larger petals stick up (my ears) and two smaller ones hang down. Each is separate from the others. The flower is maybe half an inch long.
The flower extends from inside a cylinder covered with sticky hairs. This led me to think, since Royal Catchfly, Fire Pink and Wild Pink flowers are similar, perhaps this flower was in Caryophylaceae. I looked up pictures of all members of this group found in Missouri and came away disappointed.
The seed capsule forms inside this sticky cylinder. When the seeds are ripe, the cylinder splits to release them.
Finding these interesting little flowers is always a treat. They are much too pretty to be stuck with the name ears.
I am again trying to find these flowers on the internet. I am still having no luck.
Perhaps someone recognizes these interesting little flowers and can let me know what their name is. I would like to solve this long standing mystery.
Walking through the woods has a new hazard: spider webs. These stretch between trees or grass stems or any upright, sturdy stalks. Some orb webs have strange looking spiders hanging from the center.
On first glance these spiders might be a piece of twig broken off with points sticking up. The illusion is dispelled by the shine and the colors.
Life is hard for these insect eaters. Cold, wet springs slow when the spiders hatch in the spring. Most web spiders die in the fall leaving eggs behind to survive the winter.
Minute spider hatchlings need minute food. Wind borne pollen works well, but the trees are slow to bloom in cold, wet springs.
Those hatchlings that survive spend the warm months trapping insects and trying to not become food. Birds, predatory insects, even other spiders see them as dinner.
Bigger spiders weave bigger webs until they stretch across pathways and between trees. The sticky silk grabs onto hair, face, hands and clothes. The only warning is spotting the spider hanging in midair.
Walking through the woods can quickly become a challenging affair. A web blocks this path so go around the tree where there is no web. If both ways are blocked, one must be torn down which is a shame as the spider spends a lot of time building her web and depends on it for food.
This year a great number of strange looking spiders are on those big webs. They are in a spider group called micrathena with spiny, hard, glossy abdomens stretched into spiked shapes. Most species are tropical. Several are found in the Ozarks.
All of these big orb web spiders are females as, in their world, females rule. The smaller males are tiny risk takers as, if their courtship dance isn’t good enough, they are dinner.
Wildflowers can be easier to spot and photograph, but there are so many small creatures like strange looking spiders to see on a walk in the woods.
Wildflowers of many colors are blooming now. Pinks, blues and whites are everywhere. But the yellow flowers tower over them all.
Height is one way these flowers tower over the other colors. Many of the plants reach eight feet or even more.
Leaf size is another way these flowers tower over the others. And cup plant is the tops in that category. Its leaves are a double leaf melding around the stem and forming a cup. Rain fills this cup.
Flower size is yet another way yellow flowers tower over the other colors. These are composite flowers with little tube flowers forming a disc in the center. Ray flowers form the outside ring.
These rays can be several inches long. The disc can be a couple of inches across or more. Sunflowers are in this group of yellow flowers.
Rolling along in a vehicle this array of yellow looks much alike. Walking along and looking at the flowers and plants shows they come in many different forms.
Seeing the differences is easy. Trying to put names with flowers is difficult.
All of these flowers are in the aster family. Many of them are in a group called heliantheae. I opened my “Flora of Missouri” and turned to the key. The first choice used ligulate corolla. Corolla refers to the rays. Sigh.
Pictures are the way to go. Since I now have at least eight different yellow flowers without names, my visit to www.missouriplants.com will be a lengthy one.
There are familiar flowers too. The cup plant, yellow ironweed, tickseed sunflower and prairie coreopsis are blooming now. Jerusalem artichoke will bloom soon.
Although Jerusalem artichokes are a garden vegetable, they are also a native wildflower. Both occur here, the one wild and the other attempting a garden take over.
The wild version does have edible tubers, usually small. The garden variety, if well watered, has large knobby tubers. The wild ones bloom a few weeks before the garden ones.
Summer is winding down. The wealth of yellow flowers blooming along the roads celebrates the season. As said in “Exploring the Ozark Hills”, yellow is the color of summer.
For several years I scoured the roadsides, the hills, the ravines, the wetlands for wild plants with the idea of writing wildflower guides. I amassed over 400 plants in pictures and wrote pages about a hundred or more of them.
Why should I bother with writing wildflower guides? I am not a botanist. I can barely follow the descriptions in a botanical description. The identification keys are a struggle.
More to the point, this information is easily accessible both on the internet at places like www.missouriplants.com and in print in books like the three volume “Flora of Missouri”, “Missouri Wildflowers” and “Ozark Wildflowers”. Why should I attempt to duplicate these? Leave writing wildflower guides to the experts.
I love taking pictures of plants and flowers. It is challenging to get that great shot. In sunlight or shade? What about glare? What about the plants around it? How do you picture a vine? How do you get to flowers several feet or tens of feet over your head?
The pile of pictures continued to accumulate. They filled a 16 GB flashkey. Another flashkey is now half full.
Some of the pictures end up on the website. If you are a regular visitor, you’ve seen them. Most of them sit on the flashkey for years.
My dream of writing wildflower guides had met reality and faded away. I tried to stop taking so many plant photographs, but couldn’t. And then I came across “Missouri In Flight” by Mundy Hackett.
This book wasn’t a bird guidebook, but was. It wasn’t a picture book of bird photographs, but was. It was about both the bird photographs and including a short comment about each bird.
In writing wildflower guides the author has one picture of a plant and a lengthy description of the plant. What I love are the pictures and there are never enough of them or enough details in them.
So, instead of writing wildflower guides, I will hope to do wildflower photograph books with short commentaries and names of each plant. My stash of wildflower photographs is growing again.
Warm, wet July weather has many good effects. Wildflowers are blooming their best. Mushrooms including chanterelle mushrooms pop up on the forest floor.
Considered to be one of the vase mushrooms, these mushrooms are one of the easy ones to identify out in the woods. Their bright yellow to deep orange color might make them easy to spot.
A vase mushroom from the side has a thick stalk that flares out to the top. From the top the cap is usually dented and the margins are irregular. Chanterelle mushrooms have gills going up the side of the stalk out under the cap.
There is another orange mushroom called the Jack O’Lantern which is poisonous. It grows in clumps on dead stumps and is a definite gill mushroom with all its gills tucked up under its smooth margined cap.
I hadn’t gone out looking for mushrooms. I was looking for wildflowers and found an assortment. As I started up a hill through the woods, watching for glimpses of color, I spotted orange.
My wildflower walk suddenly became a search for chanterelle mushrooms. They tend to grow scattered in the leaf litter. They are often a smaller mushroom and the litter can hide them.
Many of the ones I saw were small. I passed them by. It’s a good idea to leave some mushrooms behind to scatter spores to start new fungus nets for mushrooms next year.
The larger ones I found were two to three inches tall and nearly that wide across the top. A half dozen were plenty for our dinner that night.
“Missouri’s Wild Mushrooms” by Maxine Stone from the Missouri Department of Conservation has recipes for many of the popular edible mushrooms including these choice ones. But I decided to do a simple dish.
Diced and sautéed chanterelle mushrooms mixed with fried rice made a good side dish for a stir fry dinner.
My local library had a display of Missouri books out as the state approaches its 200th birthday. I took home one called “Missouri In Flight” by Mundy Hackett about capturing bird photographs.
Hackett is a professional with cameras and equipment I don’t and never will have. He has time to travel to good places to see birds, time to sit and wait for that great photograph. His photographs reflect this with birds so close, so real, so ‘want to reach out and touch the feathers’.
I am an amateur who loves to take pictures. My camera is a good one, but with one lens and lots of settings of which I use very few. Although I own tripods, I rarely carry or use one. I do not travel or have time to sit and wait for birds to show up.
But those spectacular photographs inspired me to try capturing bird photographs of my own.
I am lucky. As “My Ozark Home” shows, I live in a place with a wide variety of habitats and lots of open land. This year the brush cutter has not visited yet. (Dance for joy!)
My first obstacle was to get over trying to not use the zoom much on my camera. As Hackett mentions in his Introduction, the greater the magnification, the larger any movement is to distort and blur the image. If I don’t have a tripod set up, how can I stabilize the camera? For shots out across the creek, I use the top rail or the gate. For other shots I sit down and use my bent knees. In desperation I plant my elbows on my chest to create a tripod (Remember: don’t breathe until after taking the shot.).
Even when taking photographs of wildflowers, the hints and suggestions Hackett makes turn out to be helpful. But the big pluses of the book “Missouri In Flight” are admiring the amazing photographs and the inspiration to go out capturing bird photographs of your own.
Living down in a creek valley, one direction to go is up and a nearby road does just that. The climb is stiff as the slope is steep and often in the sun. This is a perfect place for flannel leaf mullein to grow.
Usually this plant is referred to only as mullein as it is unique. However flannel leaf mullein is very apt.
The plant is a biennial. The first year it is little more than a rosette of fuzzy triangular leaves. These rosettes grow in any sunny place like lawns, along roads, the edges of fields.
The leaves are light green. Turning them a misty green is the layer of soft hairs. Stroking one explains the name flannel leaf mullein.
Making the stiff climb up the road I find a row of mullein lines the road where the electric line right of way emerges. The opposite side of the road has electric lines on top of the ridge so the entire area is cut short. A patch of mullein has moved in along the road cut and top edge of the ridge.
This is the second year for many of these plants. They have put out great, long, wide, flannel soft leaves in rosettes. A thick flower stalk rises from the center up to six feet.
Mullein is a night bloomer seeking moth pollinators. The brilliant yellow flowers wilt as soon as the sun hits them.
Wanting to see the open flowers I made the climb mid morning after finishing chores. A few stalks were still in the shade with their flowers open.
Photographing these flowers presented another challenge. The flowers were a foot over my head. The thick stalk is stiff, but a little flexible. Pulling one over brought the flowers within reach.
The petals are smooth and flare. Inside some of the anthers are wreathed with hairs.
Releasing the flower stalk gradually I enjoyed the soft feel of the flannel leaf mullein and turned to walk slowly and carefully down the loose gravel on the steep road leading home.
Big clouds billow up over the hill behind the house. They begin talking to themselves with low rumbles of thunder. Summer thunderstorms are moving in.
The weather forecast is for scattered showers. This means it depends on which cloud sails overhead whether or not rain falls. Talking clouds coming over the hill behind the house will probably rain here.
In the winter into spring great sheets of clouds slide over the sky. They take days to go past and often leave rain behind.
In the summer there are no great storm systems. Instead humidity rises up until the water vapor becomes tiny water droplets in a cloud. These pile up higher and higher to form fanciful cumulus clouds.
These are the puffy clouds forming parades of pictures as they sail across the sky. Dragons, goats, rocs, people, whatever the mind can imagine can be found in their shifting shapes.
When these build up into huge gray into black mountains, summer thunderstorms are forming. The wind rises. The temperature drops. It’s time to run for cover.
Each cloud is separate even though they travel in groups. One cloud may drop curtains of huge drops for ten or fifteen minutes while its neighbor sails by dropping nothing.
Fifteen minutes may not seem like a long time. But the rain may amount to half an inch or more.
When the thunderheads join forces, a simple summer storm may be much more. Lightning with its accompanying thunder lights up a world turned dark as late evening. Hail may pelt the ground. And rain too heavy to see across to the pasture can bring sudden high water to the creek.
Summer thunderstorms often move through late in the day. As the storm runbles off to the east, the setting sun can light up the sky with a rainbow. Maybe a double or triple rainbow forms.