Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Choosing Wildflower Colors

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.

choosing wildflower colors for common mallow
Common mallow, Malva neglecta, is pink and white. So is it more pink or more white? I decided to go with pink and put it in the Dent County Pinks book.

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.

choosing wildflower colors for goat's rue
I suppose goat’s rue,Tephrosia virginiana, could be classified as white because of the cream colored upper petals. I went with the pink slipper as that is more standard in color from one flower to the next. Yes, there is a beetle, a weevil, drinking nectar.

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 flowers
Are soapwort, Saponaria officinalis, flowers pink or white? They tend to be pale pink early in the morning and fade to white during the day. I classified them as 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 for violet bush clover
To me the flowers of the violet bush clover, Lespedeza violacea, look pink no matter when I find this plant in bloom. Someone thought it looked purple and named it purple. So I’m adding it to the Dent County Blues, Violets and Browns book.

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.

Lots of wildflower photographs are in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Revisiting summer Through Wildflowers

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.

beggar tick or tick trefoil flowers, genus Desmodium, look like little pink slippers
Long stems hang out lined with little pink slippers. Some kinds have eyespots, Some are three quarters of an inch long, others barely a quarter inch. All make flat triangular seed pods covered with fuzz to stick to anything walking by. These are the members of Desmodium, the beggar ticks or tick trefoil flowers.

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.

revisiting summer through wildflowers like Deptford pinks
Deptford pinks are not large, barely half an inch across. It’s their vivid pink color that is remarkable. They were brought over from Europe and have made themselves at home along roadsides and in fields. The plants are tall, thin stems, but the flowers top them for months.

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.

Then I came across “Missouri In Flight” and saw a way to reshape my botany project.

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.

Bull thistle flower with butterfly and bumblebee
Thistles are thorny plants, often big and leggy, so people cut or mow them down. Leaving one or two is worth the space as birds from hummingbirds to finches and insects including dusky skipper butterflies and bumblebees visit the flowers for nectar and the seeds for food.

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.

Fighting Multiflora Roses

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.

fighting multiflora roses means cutting through the tangle
Multiflora roses were advertised as living fences. One look at the tangled, thorny stems makes it clear why they are just that. I cut the stems off in foot long pieces and pile them out of the pathway. It takes a lot of time to clear a few feet of such a tangle.

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.

fighting multiflora roses means sawing down the enemy
This may look like a small tree trunk. It isn’t. Its a multiflora rose stem over an inch in diameter. It is so big, vines have started growing on it. It is so long, it reaches ten feet up into a neighboring tree. Multiflora roses are a determined invader of pastures and open fields.

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.

ripe persimmon
Working out in the woods is tiring. A tasty snack is always welcome. The persimmon trees had a big crop this year and i found a few within reach. Ripe persimmons are delicious.

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.

tree lying on the fence
The multiflora roses and blackberries are the big problems in open areas along the fence. In the woods the trees can be a problem. Small branches are easy to cut off. Trees require a chainsaw. This one got a reprieve until I go up with the chainsaw.

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.

Maybe it isn’t such a bright spot.

There are native roses, pink and wonderfully scented, in the Ozarks. Meet them in “Exploring the Ozark Hills”.

Delicious Golden Fruit

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.

delicious golden fruit - persimmons
Persimmons hang in the trees sometimes all winter. Ripe ones have a wrinkled appearance and are soft to the touch. A stiff breeze can litter the ground with fallen fruit, a magnet for many creatures to enjoy the sweet treat.

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.

doe deer
The deer are changing from their lighter brown summer coat to a brownish gray coat for winter. The yard grass is relished by deer as it stays lush much of the winter.

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.

delicious golden fruit is a favorite of deer
With the coming of cold weather and breeding season, buck deer sometimes show up in the yard in the evening. We don’t hunt and put out a salt block for the deer although squirrels use it too.

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.

Missouri Grape Ferns

Wildflowers get lots of attention because of their colors and variety. Ferns tend to get overlooked.

Some years ago I started looking at the ferns growing on the hills and up the ravines. The biggest problem with them is trying to identify them.

One group is easier: the grape ferns. Only three grow in Missouri and they are very different from each other. (Other ferns are written about in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.)

All three grape ferns have a single leaf or frond. This lasts all season. They each put up a fertile frond with numerous ball-shaped sori giving the look of a bunch of grapes.

rattlesnake grape ferns are one of three Missouri grape ferns
In the spring lines of rattlesnake grape ferns show up mostly in ravines or lower, moister woods. They immediately produce their sori and spread their spores. Like other spring wildflowers, these are spring ephemerals, vanishing by mid summer.

Only two of the three species were supposed to grow around my area. The rattlesnake grape fern was easy to find in the spring.

The frond is lacy. The plant has a long underground stem so the fronds appear at intervals. It sends up its fertile frond in mid spring. By summer the plant has withered.

Dissected leaf grape fern plants survive all year long. It likes the ravine floors. The challenge with these is spotting plants with the two different fronds.

one of three Missouri grape ferns cut leaf grape fern has a fancy leaf
This is the lacy version of a cut leaf grape fern leaf. It too will turn red in the fall.

One frond has broad leaflets with wavy edges. The other has so many tiny lobes along the frond leaflet edges, it looks like fancy lace.

By the time this fern sends up its fertile frond in the fall, the leaflets are tuning color from the lovely green of summer to a deep, dull red for the winter.

cut leaf or dissected grape fern leaf in fall color
Cut leaf grape ferns have two frond shapes. This one has plain leaflets. The frond turns bronze or red in the fall. In the spring it will turn green again until it is replaced by next year’s frond.

Long before we moved here someone built up banks for a spring fed pond in the ravine behind the backyard. Near that pond I found a frond one fall that wasn’t turning red. It stayed green all winter.

This frond’s leaflets were different too. They were broader and thinner like a maple leaf is thinner than as oak leaf.

sparse lobed grape fern frond
This third Missouri grape fern, the sparse lobed, is supposed to be along the southern border. It must be moving north as I am a couple of counties north of the border. One key way to be sure of the identification is to watch in the fall. The sparse lobed fern frond does not turn red in the fall, but stays green all winter.

I watched this fern for a few years. It was the third grape fern, the sparse lobed fern, the one not supposed to grow here.

One year it disappeared. Maybe I’ve found it again this year. Maybe I should pay more attention to the ferns next season.

Grey Squirrels Return

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.

Grey Squirrels love black walnuts
The road has several black walnut trees along it. Their nuts drop onto the road and the grey squirrels collect them. Some they eat sitting on the road. Most they carry off to eat high up in a tree crotch or stash for the winter.

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.

Grey Squirrels carry black walnuts off
Three black walnuts drop their nuts in the backyard. Several grey squirrels search for them and carry them off trying to avoid meeting each other. Squirrels are very territorial and aggressive toward trespassers.

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.

Crescent Moon Search

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.

sunset before the crescent moon
Without good filters capturing the sunset is difficult. Standing looking down the valley toward the clouds turning first yellow then pink, the grass and trees slid from green into darker shades as the light faded away. Birds called as they went to roost. Bats flew out of the woods. Crickets started their chorus. The peacefulness makes it hard to leave.

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.

crescent moon
The sky is almost dark when the crescent moon appears. It is actually too dark for my camera to get a good picture as it tries to limit the bright light from the moon and still capture the sky. Folklore says this ushers in a dry month. For me it seems to usher out an Ozark dry spell as the next storm dropped over an inch of rain.

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.

Each full moon has a name. Find out more in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Defending Copperhead Snakes

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.

my cat Mittens survived copperhead snakes
When Mittens was young, she was bitten by a copperhead. She was miserable for several days, but survived. Another cat, Dot, rolled on top of a copperhead one evening. The snake did not bite her. Both were surprised by the incident.

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.

Nubian doe High Reaches Agate
The goats never seem to watch where they step. Shortly after I took this picture of Nubian doe High Reaches Agate, the herd started across the bridge narrowly missing the coiled speckled king snake sunning on the planks. A goat is most often bitten on a front leg probably from such a close encounter with a copperhead.

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.

copperhead snakes eat mice in buildings
I store my garden tools in a small shed. This copperhead snake had moved in to hunt for the mice who had moved in as the chick house with lots of chicken feed was in the other half of the building. I only saw the snake here once when I got the potato fork out. It was later spotted patrolling the garden. Their markings are easy to recognize. They are nervous and slow making decisions to move, so giving them a minute and moving slowly around them avoids problems. The same is often true of paper wasps sitting on nests.

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.

Black rat snakes are a bigger problem in the hen house as discussed in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Autumn Lemon Yellow

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.

lemon yellow leaves make hickory trees stand out
Hickories are one of the first trees to don fall colors. Their bright lemon yellow makes them easy to spot in the woods or on the pasture edges.

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.

dogwood tree in fall colors
Most wild dogwood trees are tucked into the woods. This one grew up on a hill cleared for pasture and became a lovely tree no matter what the season.

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.

Circular fungus on chinkapin oak leaves
This lovely fungus pattern shows up on chinkapin oak leaves in late September into October. Damp leaves and good lighting makes the fungus colors vibrant.

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.

fall salmon maple glows like lemon yellow hickory
Only a few fall colors seem to glow. The salmon colored maples are one of them.

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.

Perhaps you’ve only looked at dogwoods in the spring. Check them out in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Invading Chipmunks

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.

invading chipmunks must be acrobats to gain the metal ledge
Metal fence posts are easy for chipmunks to climb. It is a long stretch to reach the edge of the metal ledge. If it were an inch wider, the chipmunks would be unable to get up on it. Once a chipmunk is on the ledge, it becomes a great vantage point for spotting other chipmunks who might be going up on the feeder or cats looking for 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.

invading chipmunks pause on the wood feeder rim to check out who is eating
Once the chipmunk has gained the ledge, getting onto the wood bird feeder rim is only a long stretch. The rough wood makes it easy for tiny claws to hold on as the chipmunk pulls itself up. Any bird in the feeder then either flies away or ignores the chipmunk. Most of the birds leave. The chipmunk moves into the tray to eat.

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.

cheek pouches filled, invading chipmunks leave the bird feeder
Chipmunks don’t hibernate. They do tend to stay in their burrows when the weather is cold. Sunflower seeds make great snacks for those times. After eating a few seeds, the chipmunks stuff their cheek pouches full and prepare to leave the bird feeder. The ledge is over four feet off the ground, but they seem to barely use the fence post as they plummet to the ground.

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“.

Monarch Butterfly Migration

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.

member of monarch butterfly migration
The fall monarch butterfly migration brings butterflies to the area to lay eggs on the remaining milkweed plants and drink nectar from the wildflowers before flying further south.

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.

monarch butterfly caterpillar
Monarch butterfly caterpillars eat a lot of milkweed leaves and grow quickly. Even the seed pods are considered food. This one at about five inches long is ready to find a place to form a pupa.

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 butterfly pupa
A Monarch butterfly pupa is a little over an inch long and half as wide. It is a delicate green. It hangs in a sheltered place to a couple of weeks as the caterpillar inside becomes a butterfly.

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.

Monarch butterfly pupa ready to hatch
A day or so before hatching the monarch butterfly pupa becomes transparent allowing the colors of the wing to show through.

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.

Monarch butterfly emerging from pupa
The new Monarch butterfly pulls out of the pupa and hangs on it as its wings expand. This can take an hour or more.

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.

new member of the monarch butterfly migration
Once the new monarch butterfly’s wings are expanded and dry, the butterfly walks carefully off the pupa case to someplace solid. The butterfly launches and flies off a short distance to continue fanning its wings to make sure they are dry and ready to fly. It then flutters off to find some flowers before joining monarch butterfly migration south.

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.

Find out about Missouri’s milkweeds in Dr. Rintz’ “Missouri Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines“.

Wind Riders

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.

swamp milkweed seeds are wind riders
Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, pods are thin and smooth. Inside the seeds are still packed in a double row. When the pod splits open on a dry, windy day, the wind pulls out the silk to send the seeds blowing on the wind.

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.

wind riders being pulled out of milkweed pod
The silk threads on common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, seeds is a couple of inches long. They are soft to the touch and tough. The many threads come from a single point on the top of the seed and break off when pulled sharply.

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.

milkweed seeds blowing in the wind
A stiff wind quickly pulls common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, seeds out of their neat formation inside the pod. Most seeds pull out separately to go their own way. Some travel in a tangled clump.

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.

Coyote Arrives

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.

gray fox and pup
Left on her own, this mother gray fox raised her family of five pups in the relative safety of the house so she could leave them to hunt. The little ones were almost as big as she when they moved onto the hillside.

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.

coyote arrives
Coyotes are enemies of foxes. This coyote moved onto the hill where the foxes were staying. The foxes vanished. The coyote seems to have moved on. Coyotes look a lot different than foxes.

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.

Flower Color Variation

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.

white rose gentian flowers
Rose Gentian flowers are bright pink with a small lime green center. The foot or so tall plants are covered with flowers. Tucked in among the pink flowers can be a plant with bright white flowers. The green center is still there.

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.

incomplete flower color variation
Perennial pea flowers are a vivid deep pink impossible to miss. Here and there a plant has what appears to be white flowers. The pink isn’t quite gone.

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.

white is a common flower color variation
Normally the flower of the great blue lobelia is blue, a deep almost purplish blue. That makes a plant with white flowers even more obvious.

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.

Pale Jewelweed Flower
On first glance the pale jewelweed flower could be a color variation of the orange spotted jewelweed. But comparing the two, it definitely isn’t. The pale jewelweed plant is bigger. The flower is bigger and the center tube is larger compared to the flower length.

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.

Flower color variation is another factor to consider when writing a wildflower guide.

Interesting Little Flowers

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.

Interesting little flowers
The stamens and pistil are inside the tube. Only the petals stick up outside the tube. The two top larger ones remind me of ears on a deer so I label the photographs ‘Ears’ when I place them in the unknown folder. I would like to move them out of this folder and give these interesting little flowers their real name.

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.

flower tube of interesting little flowers
The petals stick up out of a tube covered with sticky 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.

unknown plant leaves
This little plant has opposite leaves. Interestingly, the hairs covering the stems, the capsules below the flowers and the leaf petioles don’t occur on the leaf blades leaving them smooth and thin.

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.

fruit of interesting little flowers
The flower stuck out of the top of this capsule. The seed pod is nestled inside the capsule and has just started to split open to release the seeds. All of those little hairs have a sticky glob of glue on 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.

Identifying Missouri milkweeds is easy with “Missouri Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines“.

Strange Looking Spiders

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.

Strange looking spiders look like bird droppings
The large abdomen on this spider looks heavy. The spider hangs onto her web with it dangling down. It looks like a big bird dropping hanging in midair. Even the coloring evokes dropping.

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.

strange looking spider with spikes
Spiders have spinnerets to make the silk for webs. On this spider they are in the black structure. The patterns go around the spinnerets.

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.

strange looking spiders have fancy patterns
No one knows why these spiders have these large, hard abdomens, but the structures make them a big, tough mouthful for a bird. This one has a fancy light yellow pattern on black on the structure.

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.

Yellow Flowers Blooming

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.

yellow flowers on cup plant
Cup plant is unmistakable. It often towers over you to eight feet. The huge leaves merging around the stem are unlike any other sunflower. Rays are relished by insects. The flowers seem small compared to the plant, but are numerous shooting up like a loose bouquet out of the topmost leaf 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.

yellow flowers prairie dock
The common question about this plant is about the huge leaves sticking up in a basal rosette. The flower stalk grows up several feet from the rosette and opens a series of yellow flowers. These rays are long and narrow. The tube flowers fall off by the afternoon.

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.

yellow flowers ashy sunflower
This is one of the easier sunflowers to identify. The rays are distinct. The disc has a distinctive pattern. And the leaves have a slight scallop edge.

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.

Unknown sunflower
This is a typical sunflower. It is much like several others blooming now with its yellow rays and central disc of ray flowers. Several identification points are important. One is the size, shape and color of the main flower. Second is the cup holding the flower as the overlapping bracts can be smooth or stick out in points or rounded points. The leaves matter too. For sunflowers they are usually opposite, but vary in shape and having or not petioles. The edges can be smooth or toothed.

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.

Writing Wildflower Guides

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.

reject picture for writing wildflower guides
If I wanted a picture for a wildflower or grass guide, this would not be it. Why not? Because the light glares on the top of the foxtail grass bloom. If I just want a picture of a foxtail, I might choose this one because of how the light picks up the hairs on it.

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?

Desmodium flowers used in writing wildflower guides
Beggar tick seeds come from plants in the genus Desmodium. There are a number of them and this is the largest. All of the flowers look similar in shape and color to this one. Lighting is what makes the flowers stand out. The background was in shade. A single ray of sunshine lit up the flowers.

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.

wild potato flowers
In writing wildflower guides, photographs are usually confined to individual flowers. This saves space. Often I prefer to have more than one flower in a picture as the light qualities of each vary and the picture is more interesting. These wild potato flowers are best photographed in the morning in the shade or on a cloudy day.

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.

Count the sparrow's feathers
One of the best things about taking my camera with me most of the time, is the opportunity to get a picture like this one of a sparrow. This sparrow was sitting in my garden fence. Fledglings are not as wary as adult birds and can give photography opportunities.

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.

Hunting Chanterelle Mushrooms

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.

hunting for chanterelle mushrooms
This chanterelle mushroom almost got overlooked. Dry leaves and twigs were partially over it. I saw it only because I was looking down searching for a glimpse of orange.

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.

chanterelle mushrooms
Color is the easiest way to spot chanterelle mushrooms. They look messy with their uneven edges. These are fresh with a damp look. Older ones lose that sharp color and darken.

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.

Find out more about chanterelle mushrooms and morels in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Capturing Bird Photographs

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.

capturing bird photographs takes planning
This flycatcher had nested in the nearby tractor shed. It commonly used the gate and fence as a landing spot from which to launch to grab nearby insects. Knowing a particular bird’s habits lets you set yourself up for a good photograph, one of the hints from Mundy Hackett.

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.

use telephoto lenses to capture bird photographs
I had read to avoid using the zoom feature on my camera as much as possible, to get close to the subject. This is not good advice when it comes to birds as they tend to leave when approached. The problem with magnifying the bird is that it magnifies any movement blurring the picture. But using magnification allows for getting bird photographs not otherwise possible.

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!)

wild turkey feeding
This year two tom turkeys are feeding in the pastures. They have gotten a little used to having me around, but still stay far away. I set my camera on the top of a gate to steady it to take this picture. It was one of several pictures and the only one I kept as the turkey moved around and sometimes gave a good shot and often didn’t. That is an advantage of using a digital camera. You can take multiple shots and review them immediately to choose the ones you like best.

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.).

ground squirrel
The same techniques used for capturing bird photographs can be used for other subjects. Luck is part of getting a good photograph. This ground squirrel is living on borrowed time as a fox family lives near the yard. It stays on the alert and near cover.

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.

Flannel Leaf Mullein

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.

flannel leaf mullein plant
This mullein plant is near a ditch along the road going down a hill. it evidently has gotten just the right amount of water as the flower stalk was six feet tall when it began blooming. The bottom leaves are easily a foot long.

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.

group of flannel leaf mullein
Mullein reproduces primarily by seed. The seed obviously doesn’t travel very far many times as this group, only partially shown, had three or four dozen individuals in it. These were higher up on the road cut and competing with each other so they weren’t big plants, mostly four to five feet tall.

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.

soft hairs make flannel leaf mullein soft
Soft hairs cover upper and lower leaf surfaces as well as the winged stems. These are short, maybe an eighth of an inch long, but give the plant the feel of flannel.

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.

mullein flowers
Many plants with flower stalks bloom from the base to the top. Mullein flowers open more randomly, but move up the stalk. The buds are covered with hairs.

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.

More Ozark wildflowers are found in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Summer Thunderstorms

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.

thunderhead clouds building
As thunderstorm cumulus clouds pile up, they can take many shapes. I see a creature in the center. Do you? The colors vary from blinding white to deep blue.

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.

summer thunderstorms turn the sky black
Serious thunderheads are thick, blocking out the sun. A bright sunny day settles into shadow and can become as dark as late dusk as the clouds cover the sky.

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.

summer thunderstorms leaving
As the storm clouds blow away, they again take on fanciful shapes. The air is washed clean, crystal clear. The trees look closer and sharper.

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.

This storm is over. Tomorrow may bring another.

Follow a thunderstorm in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

White Yucca Towers

In late evening as the pastures dim and darken, white yucca towers seem to glow against the dark. Perhaps from a distance they can make a person think of ghosts.

Yuccas look more like desert plants than Ozark natives, which they are. Their long leaves stick straight up for a foot or more from a basal rosette.

white yucca towers above the leaves
Yucca leaves are twelve to eighteen inches long growing in a rosette. The flower stalk shoots up from the center of the rosette reaching for to five feet tall lined with little flower branches. The flowers seem to glow in the late evening.

Each leaf is thick with a center vein making them into a long fold. During winter cold the edges curl around until the leaves form a tube.

Leaf edges have strings curling off. These strings are tough and remind me of sewing thread.

In late spring older yuccas put up a single thick stalk. Its tip moves to point it in the direction of the sun all day.

Side branches push out from the main stalk once it reaches three feet. It can keep growing to five feet putting out more and more of these flower stalks.

white yucca flower
During the day yucca flowers are bell shaped and hang down. In the evening the flowers flare open for the night. The next day they will have a yellow tinge, be bell shaped and hanging down again.

Then the white yucca towers begin to open.

Each bell shaped flower appears to be waxed. They are slick and reflect light. The bells begin to open late in the afternoon and open fully about dark.

Inside each flower is a single fat pistil with six curved stamens around it. All are white.

Night flowers are often pollinated not by bees that sleep at night, but by moths. Yuccas have a special moth, their only pollinator. A Missouri entomologist gained fame for finding it as mentioned in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

white yucca moth
Hiding up in some of the yucca flowers are the moths, usually one to a flower. These moths can be hard to spot as their wings are the same vivid white of the flower. With the wings folded over the back, the moths resemble the anthers they are clinging to. These moths are only pollinator for yuccas.

Like the yucca flowers, a yucca moth is white. It sits inside a flower up against the stamens looking like an extra one.

After pollinating a flower, the female moths lay eggs against the pistil. The larvae burrow in and use the seeds for food.

We had no yuccas when we moved to the Ozarks. We took a few from a neighbor’s pasture and planted them here.

white yucca towers in a field
Yuccas are spreading both by seed and by offshoots so that they put on impressive displays in several old fields. The last light of the sun has hit this group.

Yucca plants die after blooming, but put up side shoots so the original plant soon becomes a colony. The seeds start new plants nearby.

Now we have lots of white yucca towers lighting up our evenings.

Visiting Pickerel Frog

Gray tree frogs and American toads frequent my vegetable garden. Another visitor has moved in for a time: a pickerel frog.

I rarely see the American toads as they are nocturnal. The gray tree frogs are common on the rain barrels. The new frog shows up in various places wherever plants grow tall.

I’ve seen pickerel frogs in the garden before and assumed they were green or southern leopard frogs. They leap off and vanish into the vegetation before I get a good look at them.

side of pickerel frog
Another way to recognize a pickerel frog is to see the brown bars across the back legs. The round patch behind the eye is the ear. These frogs like to hang out in areas with thick, tall plants, especially grass better known as weeds in the garden. It moved down into the lambs quarter section.

This particular frog was in a patch of walking onion plants. I was removing weeds when it leaped out of the last patch. Unfortunately from the frog’s point of view, the weeds along the workshop wall had all disappeared leaving it in the open.

Several pictures later I left the frog to find the hollyhocks in the bottom corner. They need weeding too, but are huge and in full bloom now. The weeds will wait.

Looking over the pictures I got out my copy of “The Amphibians and Frogs of Missouri” by Tom R. Johnson from the Missouri Department of Conservation and looked up green frogs. This was definitely not a green frog.

back of pickerel frog
The folds down each side of the back with two lines of white rimmed brown patches are typical of a pickerel frog. Another identification is the orange yellow under the arms and belly. The gathered back legs are ready to launch this frog if I get too close.

Next I checked out the Southern Leopard Frog. These pictures didn’t match very well. I browsed and found the Pickerel Frog. This was a match.

These are interesting frogs and often associated with wet caves (a cave with water), one of the only frogs to stay back in caves. We have a creek, but no known caves.

The frogs do live along the creek especially the small flood ponds near the creek. When I walk along the creek I hear the frogs plop into the water and sometimes catch a glimpse of legs disappearing beneath the leaves at the bottom of the water.

Rarely I spot the frog before it leaps. They are spotted is all I have time to see as these frogs are very wary.

My best chance to observe a pickerel frog will be spotting my garden visitor.

Frogs are diurnal. Toads are nocturnal like the one in “Waiting For Fairies“.