Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Spooky Sounds In Ozark Woods

For some people standing out in the woods alone with wind swaying the branches and spooky sounds shivering through the air might be scary. Don’t think such things happen only for Halloween. They happen any time of the year.

Before the fall kids were born, when Juliette and Drucilla looked like they were due any day, I went out walking. I walked down to the end of the south pasture and back up into the hill pasture to the persimmon trees to gather a few persimmons for Augustus.

The sound of a newborn goat kid froze me in my tracks. The call came again.

baby Nubian source of spooky sounds
Baby Nubian goat kids are vocal. When lost or upset, they are loud and insistent. Their cries are distinctive, or so I thought until the Ozark woods taught me otherwise.

I put down the persimmons and tackled the hill. That kid had to be up on the side of that hill, the worst hill to climb as loose gravel blankets its sixty degree slopes.

There was no kid. There were no goats.

The next day I was again gathering persimmons and heard the cry again. This time I walked to the base of the hill and waited. The call came again and I spotted the source. It was not a goat kid. It was not alive.

Groans, creaks and screams are some of the spooky sounds I’ve heard out in the Ozark woods. This was the first time I’d heard the sounds of a goat kid. All come from the same source.

Trees die in the woods for various reasons. Branches fall off leaving the trunks standing sometimes for years.

Ozark woods spooky sounds
Trees fall in the Ozark woods for many reasons. Other trees are often close neighbors and the one falling lands in a branch crotch. It can sit there for years before the dead wood decays enough for the truck to fall to the forest floor.

The roots rot. A wind comes by. The trunk falls and lodges in a neighboring tree.

Every time a stiff wind blows the live tree, it sways. The dead trunk rubs against branch and trunk and makes spooky sounds.

Sometimes two branches on neighboring trees rub against each other. These can produce spooky sounds too.

Even knowing what causes these noises doesn’t stop shivers going up the spine when the wind blows and spooky sounds start filling the Ozark woods.

Find out more about the Ozark woods in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Delicate Ice Beauty Frost Flowers

Morning temperatures in the upper teens to low twenties make the temptation to huddle in by the wood stove almost insurmountable. Delicate ice beauty waits out on the hills.

Frost flowers only appear a few mornings in the late fall. Huddle up by the wood stove those mornings and you will miss them. Bundle up and walk out to the woods to savor one of winter’s beauties.

The dittany plant sends out several thin stems with paired leaves. In late summer sprays of flowers are at each leaf pair.

Only a few plants create frost flowers. Dittany is an easy to find reliable one for me. It is a small plant so the frost flowers are only one to five inches tall.

pair of delicate ice beauty
The ribbons of ice in a frost flower vary in thickness creating a textured look. The thickness is barely that of a sheet of paper.

Dittany is a mint family member and grows in open wooded hillsides. The plant is about a foot tall with thin stems and opposite triangular leaves. It puts out sprays of light lavender tube flowers in late August. When frost comes, the stems and leaves turn brown and stand up through the drifts of fallen leaves.

Hillsides tend to stay warmer than valleys so the first few cold mornings generally don’t affect the hillsides. It takes several cool days and temperatures dropping down into the low twenties to upper teens to trigger frost flowers.

ribbons of delicate ice beauty frost flower
The dittany stem is less than an eighth of an inch in diameter. The amount of ice ribbon that comes out of such a small stem is amazing.

Dittany holds moisture in its stems. When the temperatures drop, the water freezes, splits the stem and oozes out as a delicate ice beauty. These ribbons of ice swirl around forming coats around the stems or spread out along the ground. Some form ice rings.

Each frost flower is unique. Each delicate ice beauty is fleeting. One touch crumbles it. A ray of sun melts it.

swirls of delicate ice beauty frost flower
Many of the frost flowers have this general shape as the ribbons ooze out of the stems and curl around it. Yet each frost flower is unique.

This year had a wet fall so the dittany loaded up on moisture. Then the temperatures plunged to the upper teens for two mornings. I knew the frost flowers had to be out on the hill.

The goats wanted breakfast. The wood stove beckoned. I went walking on the hills for a time. The frost flowers were magnificent.

Find more frost flower photographs in “My Ozark Home”.

Taking Bird Pictures

All summer the best place to see birds is on the bird feeder. Trying to get bird pictures out on the hills is almost impossible because the birds vanish into thickets of leaves.

When winter arrives, the leaves fall onto the ground leaving the birds sitting on bare branches. It’s easy to see them. It’s easy for them to see the camera.

bird pictures of Downy Woodpecker
The peach tree is old and rarely ripens any fruit. The birds love it as they sit waiting for time at the bird feeder. The downy woodpeckers find it a good place to hunt insects and it is probably riddled with hidden sunflower seeds.

The first thing to remember when taking bird pictures is that birds are camera shy. They are also people shy.

Walking down the road in the morning the birds move down the road in front of me. Even with bare branches birds hide well. By the time I get to where I can see the bird clearly, it flies further down the road.

The sun presents problems too. Cameras like well lit subjects to focus on. They do not take good pictures looking directly toward the sun.

chickadee bird pictures
Black-capped chickadees are winter visitors here. They have such sharp coloring. They descend on the sunflower seeds, grab one and flee. Sometimes they move in on the suet cake, if the woodpeckers aren’t there.

Birds must know to stay on the side of the road with the sun shining straight through the trees at the camera. If they don’t, they still do it.

I like the zoom on my camera. I can be a hundred feet from a large bird like a crow or fifty feet from a smaller bird like a cardinal and still get good bird pictures.

The disadvantage of using the zoom is how it magnifies any quiver in the hand holding the camera. It takes many shots to get a couple in focus.

There are fewer species around in winter. Those that are around make good picture subjects.

careful Red Cardinal
For months few cardinals visited the bird feeder. The birds were busy on the hills and now on the giant ragweed stalks gathering seeds. This one was checking for fallen seeds out away from the barn. It is wary because my cat Cloudy is sitting at my feet watching it.

Woodpeckers are busy establishing nesting sites. They fly onto a tree and drum staying in the same place for several minutes.

Nuthatches are fun subjects. They are colorful blue and white. They go up and down tree trunks.

Juncos and sparrows hop over the ground or sit on the fences. Blue jays and cardinals hang on the brown giant ragweed stalks. Morning doves sit on the black walnut branches watching the bird feeder.

The key to getting good bird pictures is to keep the camera handy and leave the cats at home.

Find out more about Ozarks winters in “Exploring the Ozark Hills”.

An Ozark Foggy Morning

Big rainstorms dropping three inches or more leave everything soaked including the air. In late fall into winter the clouds clear and the temperatures drop giving the Ozarks a foggy morning.

This morning was white with frost as the temperature had dropped below freezing before rising back to forty. The frost vanished into dew and moisture. This made the fog much thicker than usual.

I walk to the barn. The moisture in the air is cold and damp. It seems to seep through my jacket and moistens my face.

This dense fog erases the hills. Even the trees along the creek vanish into ghostly shadows.

bluebird on a foggy morning
It is November. I saw the bird in a tree across from the barn and zoomed in for a picture. I was very surprised to see a bluebird as I thought they had moved south for the winter.

I spend time standing in the barn door looking out at the swirls of fog. As the sun rises, the fog changes from blue gray to white gray. The sycamores at the bend of the creek take shape. A sudden break in the fog lights them up for a moment.

A deep breath is full of sharp dampness. I long to be out walking across the pastures. This morning chores must come first as there are two more new November kids to tend to.

This morning becomes a race between the goats and the sun. Since most of them are dry and expecting spring kids, I have time to look out at the fog impatient with the goats picking their ways daintily through their oats. I sprint to the house to grab the camera.

old stumps on a foggy morning
These stumps were old when we moved here. Twenty-five years later they are finally disappearing into the ground. They look so interesting with their shapes touched by mist. This picture is used in “My Ozark Home”.

An Ozark foggy morning doesn’t last long. Walking out across the pastures in the fog, seeing the trees loom up against it, listening to the quiet is a morning treasure.

This morning the sun won. The fog was suddenly gone leaving blue sky studded with clouds.

An Ozark foggy morning can come any season although the fog is usually thicker in late fall. Perhaps next time I can make it out to the fields and hills before the fog vanishes.

See the Ozarks in different seasons and weather in “My Ozark Home“.

Beautiful Country “Hillerman Country”

Lately I have been reading through the Navajo mysteries by Tony and Anne Hillerman. What I wish I had done first was opened the cover to “Hillerman Country” by Tony and Barney Hillerman, a look at some beautiful country.

Hillerman Country by Tony and Barney Hillerman
Sized as a coffee table book, the photographs by Barney Hillerman in the book are magnificent. The commentary by Tony Hillerman is interesting. Navajo country is awesome in color, vistas, shapes and making a person face how insignificant a human being is in this natural setting.

The book has commentaries about various places around the area. There are excerpts from the mystery series. All of it is trying to help others see what the Navajos have known for centuries: Desert the area may be, but it is truly beautiful in its colors, its immensity, its shapes.

I have been in Navajo country. It was long ago and some of the memories of this beautiful country are dim now. And, beautiful as they are, the photographs in “Hillerman Country” don’t really convey what it is like to be there.

beautiful country in Glacier National Park
Taken in July,1972 this view of the Rockies in Glacier National Park is stunning. It’s hard for a picture, no matter how good, to convey the sense of size when the landscape is so big.

That is true for anywhere. The United States has many spectacular places and more people should take the time to visit them. To fully find their beauty, turn the smart phone off.

My Ozark hills are not spectacular in the way the redwoods or Navajo country or Yosemite are. Yet I can find some of the beauty on them I found in those places.

beautiful country in the Ozarks
I used this long view of the south pasture in “My Ozark Home” as it shows how lovely the Ozarks can be in the summer time.

You have to stand there and let the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings seep inside of you. If you are thinking about how to tell someone else about the place, you can’t do that.

The experience is unique to you. Even if someone is standing next to you, it is still unique to each of you. Beautiful country speaks to each of us differently because we are different.

Those differences don’t make one person’s experience better or worse, more or less valid than another’s. Recognizing that we are each unique helps us create a better society.

There is another very valuable resource in “Hillerman Country.” A map spreads across two pages.

In “Song of the Lion” Bernie says the morning prayer to the dawn. It asks to be allowed to walk in beauty. That is a prayer all of us, no matter where we live, should relate to. Perhaps if we aspired to walk in beauty in how we see our world, ourselves and each other, we can find the peace so many of us search for.

See some of why I find my Ozark hills beautiful country in “My Ozark Home”.

Eastern Chipmunks Love Acorns

Driving down my road I occasionally see these little creatures shoot across with tails held straight up. These are Eastern Chipmunks.

Both chipmunks and ground squirrels live in Missouri. The ground squirrels are bigger with different coloring and don’t seem to live in my valley.

Except for an occasional sighting chipmunks aren’t noticed much either. My cats catch those that move into the yard. Their favorite routine is to bring the chipmunk into the house and let it go.

Cats do have a sense of humor and must enjoy watching me try to corner a terrified little rodent, scoot it into a container kept ready for such emergencies and slam the lid on. The chipmunk is then carried off down the road beyond where the cats normally go and turned loose.

eastern chipmunk
Eastern chipmunks give another meaning to cheeky. This one stashed an acorn in a cheek pouch for a secure carry back across the road. The swelling might give the impression of a big tumor, but it’s easily removed.

For some reason I had believed eastern chipmunks, like woodchucks, hibernated during the winter. So I was surprised to see several of them busy gathering acorns on a walk down the road.

Chipmunks do not hibernate. They do stay home in their burrows in cold weather. This means they must gather up a supply of food to snack on. Acorns are popular snacks.

That is exactly what these busy creatures were doing when I noticed them. It was hard to not notice one of them.

Most wildlife wants to avoid people. The birds keep flying off to a tree further down the road. Deer bound off white tails waving. Squirrels streak up the trees.

eastern chipmunk eating acorn
Being a rodent, the front gnawing teeth have enamel only on the front which grows continuously. Gnawing on things like acorns wears it away and keeps it razor sharp. The fingers are long on all four paws and have good nails for digging burrows. What most people see is how cute they are.

Eastern chipmunks often do take off and are only rustling in the leaves. One was determined to get another acorn. It darted across the road about ten feet in front of me, stuffed two acorns in its cheek pouches, sat on a fallen branch to assess what I was up to and darted back across the road.

The little rodent didn’t go far. It raced up a fallen tree and across to a perch on another fallen branch to eat an acorn. I assume it was the same one. I saw two or three others in the area.

The next morning was twenty-five degrees. It warmed up quickly and I went walking. The chipmunks had all stayed in their burrows.

Examining Leaf Litter

So many leaves fall each autumn from oaks, hickories, elms, redbuds and more. Mushrooms appear. Examining leaf litter doesn’t seem worth the time and effort.

This year I happened to look down and see something interesting. This oak leaf had rose patterns on it.

Examining leaf litter became interesting.

leaf litter roses
This pattern is only found on chinkapin also called chestnut oaks. Some trees have lots of leaves with this. Others have few or none. Looking for more of them got me examining the leaf litter and finding other things too.

The rose pattern is only found on chinkapin or chestnut oak leaves. Not all of these leaves have the patterns. The leaves that do can have one to a dozen of them.

The fresh patterns have a dark green edge to them. At first we thought a fungus caused them. Now a bacterium seems more likely.

Other oaks shed leaves peppered with little black spots. Galls were on other leaves.

There is a large gall on oak leaves in the spring and summer. The autumn galls were small and covered with tiny spikes.

Then I came across a leaf covered with smooth balls bursting open. When I looked at these under a stereoscope, the insides were lined with tiny particles probably spores for this fungus.

found by examining leaf litter
Usually little spheres on a leaf are caused by larval insects. These weren’t. They seem to be caused by a fungus that forms these spheres which burst to spread the spores so new fungi can grow on other leaves.

My writing at the moment has a creature in it based on the tribbles from Star Trek, the original series. These were bigger than a hand and covered with soft fur. I turned a leaf over and found numerous tiny versions of these tribbles on the leaf.

examining leaf litter for fungal spheres
This is another chinkapin leaf. This one has numerous soft furry spheres on the underside.

A recent Explor magazine from the Missouri Department of Missouri had a recipe for preserving autumn leaves for the color. (It’s free for Missouri residents from their website.) Growing up we put special leaves between sheets of wax paper and ironed them together. I’ve even used clear plastic shelf paper.

Admiring the many colors is a favorite pastime in autumn. High winds pulled the leaves down onto the leaf letter layer on the ground cutting our time short.

Examining the leaf litter has extended the time for admiring autumn leaves this year.

Find out more interesting things about the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Fleeting Fall Colors

Fleeting fall colors seem to be the new normal here. When I chose the pictures for “My Ozark Home”, I went back through ten to fifteen years of pictures for all of the seasons and fall has changed.

When we moved here, a cold spell moved in around Labor Day. It rarely brought more than a touch of frost, but the cold nights triggered the leaves. Day by day the yellows and oranges overtook the greens on the hills.

fleeting fall colors not so past years
This is one of the pictures used in “My Ozark Home” from a time when the hills turned color and held it for a week or more. This same hill this year didn’t turn until killing frost when many of the leaves fell leaving the trees half bare even as color began to peak.

By the time the temperatures warmed up for the rest of September, the hills were a riot of color. The fields were still emerald green which set off the colors. Clear blue skies and sunshine did the rest.

I’m not a big fan of fall as it means winter is coming soon. But those glowing colors were spectacular.

The weather changed. It has changed a lot in the five or six years.

That early September cold spell waits until late in the month. The trees stay green. Then frost hits and the wind roars through.

fleeting fall colors missed the oaks
Some years the oaks would turn a dusky red. Now they turn brown. Many of the leaves are covered by black spots from fungus. This particular kind of oak and I need to look it up had some leaves with this interesting rose pattern on them. No other kind of oak seemed to have this pattern and only a few leaves had it.

This year the temperatures stayed in the seventies and eighties until a cold spell brought killing frost. Suddenly the trees were dropping their leaves, still green. Those leaves left on the trees tried to turn color.

Wind and a second real killing frost stripped half the leaves off the trees. Fleeting fall colors are trying to hang on and mask the bare branches on the hills. Most of the leaves turned brown from the frost and fell mixed with still green leaves.

Nubian goats in woods
My Nubian goats shuffle through the woods noses searching for acorns. A tasty leaf is also eaten. The herd works its way across a long hill, crosses the ravine to start up the next hill and a third one until they finally go down in the pasture for dessert and to wait until I open the gate so they can loaf in the barn waiting for dinner.

The goats are gorging on the leaves and acorns. They pick out the succulent green leaves and turn their noses up at the brown ones. Even so, the pastures are still green and growing and better eating than the leaves.

Much as I hate the approach of winter weather, I miss those spectacular color displays. Fleeting fall colors can’t mask or distract from the end of warm weather.

Visit the seasons in “My Ozark Home“.

Three Toed Box Turtle Determination

In the spring the box turtles move from the west side of the road to the east side. In the fall they go the other way. Both ways the turtle determination to get across is remarkable.

People don’t think about wildlife movements when they put in roads. This is true all over. My road is a good example.

turtle determination to climb
Having passed the first hurdle of crossing the road safely, this three toed box turtle climbed down into the ditch and now faces the climb up the slope. If a turtle falls and lands on its back, it is doomed.

The road is cut into the sides of hills leaving it lined with steep slopes and deep ditches. Some of these have close to vertical sides. Brush cutting keeps the vegetation down leaving bare dirt in many places.

Coming home the other day I spotted a turtle heading across the road. I stopped and watched as it was walking briskly.

Three toed box turtles aren’t really turtles. They are tortoises and have stout legs. They don’t live in water. They are vegetarians.

turtle determination put to the test
A bulldozer came by and dug into the side of the hill many years ago to construct the road. Rain runoff has created small gullies down the slope. But much of the slope remains an almost vertical climb. After dry weather, the dirt is crumbly and slips out from under scrabbling feet. The box turtle slips down 2 steps for every 3 it takes.

Then I realized it was headed for one of those almost vertical bare dirt slopes. With true turtle determination this turtle tackled the slope.

Dirt slid down under its feet. It kept on climbing. The next dirt avalanche took it back to the base of the slope.

Turtle determination took the turtle back to the attack. This time it angled across the slope and ended up under exposed tree roots.

I went over and picked up the turtle. It promptly retired into its shell. I placed it at the top of the slope and waited.

Several minutes went by. The shell rocked as the turtle peeked out. Then it slid down the slope.

Copying turtle determination I picked it up again and placed it more securely at the top of the slope. And waited.

success with help for box turtle
Box turtles are cautious creatures. After slipping back down the slope and being air-lifted back up, this one is warily looking around, feet safely inside its shell. It will stay this way for a long time as turtles are very patient, unlike me. They never have immediate deadlines unless it is to fold up for safety.

The clock ticked. I had to get home soon as sunset was approaching. Chores needed doing before dark.

A head came out. The turtle looked around and saw me still standing there. It watched me as I watched it.

Finally I had to leave. Since I didn’t find the turtle at the base of the slope the next day, its turtle determination had taken it further up the hill to its winter quarters.

More wildlife essays are in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Ozark Quiet Country Road

It’s amazing how fast the trees turn color after a single frost. Walking down a quiet country road is a good time to enjoy the changes.

Black walnuts leaf out late and drop their leaves early. The frost hurried them along. Swirls of yellow leaves blew down looking like a yellow snow storm.

looking down a quiet country road
Fall colors peek through the green. Leaves drift down to pave the road. They blow about with the wind. Birds are quietly eating so the only sounds are the rustling of the leaves and rushing of the wind on a walk down a quiet country road in the Ozarks.

After weeks of calm weather, the winds have returned. Standing on a quiet country road is a time to hear the wind rustling through the drying leaves. The sound is a slow rush punctuated by dropping leaves plopping onto the road.

Black walnuts thud into the grass. On the road the walnuts smash down, muddy rocks hitting a brick wall.

tree turning red
Different kinds of trees turn different colors. Sassafras turns a salmon red. The pasture remains emerald green for now.

A few lizards still dart off. The leaves make it impossible for their speedy flight to be silent.

So many adventure books about Indians mention moving silently through the forest. The Ozarks people get a good laugh at that. Nothing moves quietly through the falling leaves.

mushrooms along a quiet country road
A fallen tree along the road provides a home for salmon shelf mushrooms.

People love noise or it seems so. Their vehicles are loud. The quieter ones have radios blaring.

Having time to enjoy the quiet country road is special. Fall leaves pave the road. Trees range from green to bronze with yellow popular now. The reds are getting a good start.

The creek swishes now as it washes leaf blankets along. Many of the leaves sink down to create warmer places for the fish over the winter.

mushrooms along a quiet country road
A fallen tree along the road provides a home for salmon shelf mushrooms.

Squirrels crash through the leaves as they leap along carrying walnuts up to hiding places in the trees. Other times the squirrel stops to eat and teeth skritch on the hard hull.

Walking down a quiet country road listening to the wind in the trees, watching the leaves swirl down, scattering birds out of the giant ragweed where they are eating seeds, admiring the color in the trees almost makes fall a special time of year. If only winter wasn’t hiding in the wings.

Enjoy the Ozarks through photographs and haikus in “My Ozark Home“.

Kettle of Vultures

Walking along the road I came across a small kettle of vultures. They had spent the night in an old dead tree and were getting ready to sail off.

All spring and summer the turkey vultures have soared in lazy circles in the sky. They need warm air to soar and it is moving south. They are moving with it.

vulture basking in the sun
On cool mornings vultures spread their wings and tails in the sun to warm up. In a large kettle of vultures there may be half a dozen birds standing with their feathers spread out.

When the vultures arrive in the spring, they seem to appear in ones and twos. They are easy to recognize even as tiny specks from how they drift across the sky.

These carrion eaters do keep a look out for dinner. Eating dead animals is messy as the meat may be spoiled. No feathers on heads and necks helps keep them clean. Some does get onto feathers.

Preening gets bits and pieces off. Smears remain. Vultures spread their wings in the sunlight early in the morning to bake the rest off. It’s a good way to warm up on a frosty morning as well.

individual bird in kettle of vultures
Vultures seem to prefer dead trees to roost in. These older snags have dropped many of their small branches leaving larger ones to accommodate a vulture’s large feet.

Vultures seem to spend most of the day soaring on warm air currents rising up to become clouds. They swoop and circle alone or with other birds. They seem to do some of their soaring for the fun of it.

People describe vultures as black. They are mostly black. The underside of their wings is gray.

Few warm air currents are available over the winter. The vultures gather in groups. The groups drift south to warmer climes so they can continue to soar.

birds in a kettle of vultures
The light color on the underside of a vulture’s wings is not a trick of lighting. The underside of a turkey vulture’s wings are a light gray.

That makes fall a great time to get pictures of vultures. A kettle of vultures roosts on a big, dead tree overnight.

In the morning the vultures wait until the air warms before flying off. They spend the early hours with their wings spread or sitting in the tree. One by one they launch swooping down, then up and around circling and drifting off into the distance.

Read more about turkey vultures in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Fall Into Winter Begins

Nature really has only two seasons in the Ozarks. One is growing season. The other is winter. Now the Ozarks is waiting to fall into winter.

Most plants still look green. Looking carefully there is a yellow cast hiding under that green. The few cold nights have turned some plants like the dogwoods to fall colors.

fall into winter foliage and color
Leaves are turning red as sunflowers and asters bloom. The growing season will continue until killing frost turns the plants black one morning.

Wait a minute. Isn’t fall another season? It is for people. For plants it is still part of the growing season as they busily make seeds and store sugars and starches down in their roots for the coming winter.

Green chlorophyll doesn’t photosynthesize well in cooler temperatures so the anthocyanins take over. These come in colors other than green.

For turkeys, deer, squirrels and other such creatures the fall into winter means an abundance of seeds and nuts to gather. They don’t care about colors in the leaves, only in eating and hiding enough of this bounty to survive the winter.

deer waiting to fall into winter coat
Still in the golden brown summer coat this young white tailed deer stands in a patch of sunlight along the road debating whether to flee. The notched ear indicates this one has had a close call in the past. She needs to learn to flee from people fast as hunting season opens soon.

The deer are putting on their dark brown winter coats. The raccoons are retiring up into the hills.

Birds are more mobile. Many of them are following the warmth south. One by one the hummingbird feeders are being cleaned and stored. Migrants are stopping by to stock up on sunflower seeds for extra energy giving us a chance to see some new birds.

The usual residents are ignoring the feeder as they load up on other delectables. This excepts the morning doves who leave standing room only on the feeder in the morning.

The turkey vultures are gathering and soaring in lazy circles as they drift south. The goldfinches have shed their gold feathers and are dull green now.

River oats
One of the easiest grasses to identify, the flat seed clumps are unique. At the end of the growing season they dangle glowing gold in the sun and tremble in the breeze.

The winter visitors haven’t arrived yet. These are the juncos, various sparrows and titmice.

The days are getting short. The temperatures are warm all day and cool at night. All it will take is a good rain and the Ozarks will fall into winter.

Meander through the seasons in photographs in “My Ozark Home.”

Spreading Aster Bonanza

The brush cutter now devastates the roadside every early summer. This has changed the plant communities along the road. One of the beneficiaries is the spreading aster.

spreading aster plant
I find spreading asters along the road. The stalks start growing up straight, but often fall over except for the tips which point up and are lined with flowers. They seem to favor the east and south facing roadsides in drier areas.

One reason these asters defy the brush cutter is being able to regrow after being sheared off. The far showier New England asters are a much taller plant with royal purple rays, but they do not recover as well after the brush cutter goes by as they are beginning to grow.

Another advantage spreading aster has is growing in drier areas. This summer has had long hot, dry spells.

spreading aster flower
Like all members of the aster family, spreading aster flowers are really a group of flowers. The petals are ray flowers The disk is packed with tube flowers.

There are lots of asters in this part of the Ozarks, New England, woodland, silky, sky blue and spreading among them. Their blue to purple blooms appear in late summer.

Many of these asters look similar. Their flowers have similar blue rays, yellow disks and spreading growth.

Spreading aster has the blue rays, but they often have a lighter section close to the disk. The green cup below the flower has numerous bracts with dark green tips. these bracts are layered, but lie flat as though shingling the cup.

spreading aster leaf
A spreading aster leaf clasps or surrounds the stem and has no petiole or stalk. Short hairs line the edges and cover the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf.

Another feature is the leaf shape. It’s long and the same width much of its length. The stem end wraps around the stem with no petiole. Both the stem and leaves are covered with short, stiff hairs.

These asters do get about eighteen inches tall, when they grow upright. More often their stems sprawl over the ground with the tips growing upwards to hold their flowers several inches off the ground.

spreading aster side flower
The cup below the flower is where the seeds will develop. In the aster family this cup is important for identification as many flowers are similar. This one has many bracts lying smoothly on the cup.

The plants prefer sunny spots with few competitors towering over them. They bloom from mid August to frost. Their flowers are about an inch and a half across, which is smaller than many garden flowers. There are lots of flowers opening a few each day giving a continuous bloom now dressing up the roadside.

Asters are featured flowers in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Carolina Praying Mantis Hunting

Usually we find Chinese praying mantises. Their eight inch length is impressive. The Carolina praying mantis is a mere four inches long.

The Chinese mantis is green with brown wings. The Carolina is either all mottled brown or green, not mixed.

A Carolina praying mantis has moved onto a potted plant. She spends the day poised below the flower umbels or munching on unlucky insects she captures.

Carolina praying mantis eating insect
The mantis captured this insect when it came to the flowers. It might be a bee fly or a kind of bee. It’s hard to tell. The mantis starts eating while the insect is still attempting to escape.

Gardeners like mantises as they eat lots of pest bugs. Garden supply houses found they could ship Chinese mantis egg cases easily. These large mantises quickly adopted their new surroundings and spread from gardens to yards to wild areas.

Native Carolina mantises slipped into the background. Their smaller size meant they ate less. Their egg cases were harder to ship as they are wrapped around twigs.

Mantis cleaning arms
After eating, the Carolina praying mantis carefully cleans up her forearms so they are ready to catch the next meal.

Our resident mantis is one of the mottled brown ones. I went out to take her picture. She turned her head to look at the camera.

Mantises have no poison. They do have front legs lined with sharp spines. Once an insect is trapped between them, there is no escape.

This mantis caught what seemed to be a wild bee. It was struggling as she started munching. She eats it all, cleans her front legs and moves back into position.

Carolina praying mantis looking at camera
Praying mantises have good eyesight for motion. This one was focused on the flower umbel above it until the camera showed up. She immediately looked over in case she was in danger.

Although the mantis stays on the plant, she isn’t above going sightseeing. The telephone repair man arrived and found she had hitched a ride on his arm. He was understanding, didn’t stomp on her and we chased her back to the potted plant.

Later a board was carried by and she hitched a ride into the garage. She was coaxed onto a small board and returned to the potted plant.

Her abdomen is swelling with eggs. She will lay them soon. She will die with the summer.

Next spring the eggs will hatch. Perhaps another Carolina praying mantis will hang out on the potted plants.

Saddleback Caterpillar Find

Caterpillars are around all summer. Like spiders they are more noticeable in the late summer. The visiting saddleback caterpillar is one of those.

This is one of the caterpillars the Butterflies and Moths guidebook lists in the back section because of its unusual coloring. That made it one I’d seen and wondered if I would ever see a living one.

saddleback caterpillar side view
The green blanket looks like it was dropped on like a saddle blanket is put on a horse. The vivid color is what gets the saddleback caterpillar noticed.

The saddleback caterpillar is more common east of the Ozarks. St. Louis had a thriving population at one time. Even though it eats a wide variety of plants, city life didn’t agree with it.

The caterpillar becomes a drab moth called the saddleback caterpillar moth. Since moths come out at night, a dark colored one isn’t one we’d see. The caterpillar is another story.

saddleback caterpillar lined with tufts
The tufts of spines make it almost impossible to touch the saddleback caterpillar without touching the spines. The green blanket appears to stop at the bottom row of tufts.

This one has been enjoying Oriental persimmon leaves. We have two or three tub grown trees along with a dozen fig trees in pots. This can’t be its normal diet, but it seems content.

Summer is becoming autumn. The persimmon tree will be dropping its leaves soon. The caterpillar is welcome to eat a few.

In spite of the picture book touting a hungry caterpillar, these larvae don’t individually eat a huge amount of vegetation. I did come across a caterpillar army once that was working its way over a tree sapling. Those individual amounts added up to every leaf on the poor tree.

saddleback carterpillar
I think this is the head end. It seems to go first when the saddleback caterpillar moves. The tufts and red fuzz give warning to look, but don’t touch.

There is only one caterpillar on the persimmon tree, so it is not in any danger of being eaten to the ground.

Another guidebook to caterpillars remarked that the spines on the saddleback caterpillar had a toxic substance on them. No one touched it to find out more.

Having found one new caterpillar, I will have to pay more attention to the vegetation just in case another interesting caterpillar is hiding among the leaves.

The Ozarks is a fascinating place with many plants and animals. Meet more of them in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Garden Zipper Spiders

Some kinds of spiders survive all year. Others like garden zipper spiders begin as tiny spiderlings in the spring, grow all season and die at frost leaving behind, if they are lucky, a case full of eggs to hatch the next spring.

Each egg case releases a cloud of minute spiderlings too small to capture insects. Hay fever sufferers are miserable in early spring when the trees bloom releasing clouds of pollen, but tiny spiders depend on this pollen to survive. Pollen is rich in protein and other nutrients and easy to catch in tiny webs.

As the surviving spiderlings grow, they begin to capture insects for food. The bigger the spider, the bigger the insects their web can catch. By late summer garden zipper spiders are an inch long and easy to spot dressed in deep black, vivid yellow and white.

A new web is spun each morning. A spider tends to stay in the same area unless no food seems available there. Watching a spider spin a web is interesting.

The big spiders are all females and nearly blind seeing little more than light and dark. The web is spun by feel.

garden zipper spiders are web builders
The cephalothorax or head and body region of a garden zipper spider has a woolly look to it. The abdomen is deep black and yellow. The signature zipper is below the spider.

First the spokes are put up. Then the spider starts from the outside and puts the sticky spiral silk down attaching it to each spoke. Garden zipper spiders finish by putting a thick zigzag both up and down from the center.

The spider takes up position behind the zipper and waits. When an insect lands in the web, she races out to subdue and eat it.

Male garden zipper spiders are much smaller than females and don’t spin webs. They hunt for web of females and begin the hazardous task of wooing and mating. They tap out a message on the strands to announce their presence.

garden zipper spider
This garden zipper spider is getting ready to lay eggs. The abdomen gets bigger until it dwarfs the rest of the spider. From the underside a zipper spider is black and yellow.

If the female is interested, the male can advance and mate. Otherwise or even after mating, he can become dinner.

The female’s abdomen gets very large. One day she spins a tear drop shaped egg case and fills it with eggs. Securing it in a hidden sheltered spot those eggs will wait for spring to hatch into next season’s garden zipper spiders.

Meet more spiders in both “Exploring the Ozark Hills” and “My Ozark Home.”

Sensitive Pea Blooming

Barely six inches tall, sensitive pea plants are easy to miss. They are noticeable along the creek because of their numbers.

When I first saw these tiny plants, I kept waiting for them to get bigger and bloom. One day I stooped down to find they were blooming.

sensitive pea plant
Sensitive pea plants prefer moister areas as along the creek banks. They do not grow in the water. The leaves are easily seen and recognizable. The small flowers, in spite of being bright yellow, are hidden along the stem.

Sensitive pea flowers have the typical bean and pea shape. There is the tall petal behind, the flat petals reaching out and the two curled around in the center. These yellow flowers are barely half an inch tall.

sensitive pea flower
Small flowers are often as exquisite as larger ones and very detailed. Sensitive pea flowers are barely half an inch long yet show precise details.

Sensitive peas are small versions of the partridge peas now blooming along the highways. Partridge peas have strong stalks up to two feet tall lined with bright yellow pea flowers often with a red center. Both are legumes. Both are native wildflowers.

The leaves are a central stalk with rows of long, elliptical leaflets. The name sensitive is from these leaves. If you touch the leaflets, they fold up along the stem.

sensitive pea side flower
From the side the sensitive flower hangs from the end of a short stalk coming from a leaf axil.

A number of plants have these fold up leaves. The one commonly seen in garden catalogs is the sensitive briar with its pink pom pom flowers.

This is a small version of the mimosa tree which has fold up leaves too. It grows along the road on top of the hill where the ground is drier. Mimosa trees are not native, but have adapted to the area and grow wild now, mostly along highways.

In more tropical areas the jacaranda tree is much like the mimosa, but has long strings of blue flowers. Its leaves fold up too.

sensitive pea leaf
A sensitive pea leaf has numerous pairs of leaflets. Normally these are spread out. When touched, the leaflets slowly fold up.

Pollinated flowers become pods of seeds. Those of partridge peas are popular with larger birds like quail. The smaller seeds of sensitive pea disappear down other bird gullets.

For now the small, yellow flowers peek out from under the fans of leaves. But you have to get down to ground level to really see and admire them.

Find out more about these little plants and sensitive brier in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Resident Northern Water Snake

The only constant in nature is change. Our resident northern water snake has seen there first hand.

At first the snake took up residence in chunks of broken concrete dumped along the creek near the bridge to stabilize the bank. There was a deep inlet of the creek there with lots of fish coming and going.

The two foot long snake would bask among the rocks. Then it would slide into the creek to catch a large minnow for its daily meal.

northern water snake on concrete piece
Years ago the resident northern water snake was small enough to coil on the top of a piece of concrete to enjoy the sun.

Clumps of grass edged into the creek closing the inlet off into a pond. A willow grew on the island. A bullfrog lived in the pond too.

The willow is dead and gone. The grass clumps are more numerous. The pond water level has dropped. And the northern water snake seemed to have moved elsewhere.

Each nice morning the goats tromp out past the pond on their way to the bridge. Lately I have gone out with them to enjoy the walk out to the south pasture and back. On the way along the bank a ripple of movement revealed the northern water snake disappearing down under the concrete chunks.

Several mornings since I’ve seen the snake lying in loose coils hidden in the grass, but enjoying the sunshine. It has grown to nearly four feet long and as thick as my wrist.

Some people confuse a water snake with a cottonmouth. They are not the same. A water snake is not poisonous, more brownish, but cranky and will bite if harassed. Even so, it prefers retreat.

northern water snake in grass
This year the northern water snake is a bit big to coil on one concrete piece. The weather has been hot so the grass spot over the pond bank is favored for snake relaxing.

Looking at the snake hidden in the grass I’m reminded of “The Carduan Chronicles” as my intrepid survivors encounter snakes. And they are dinner size.

That brings to mind an interesting science nature lesson called the hundred inch walk. You measure out 100 inches of cord. Lay it on the ground in a grassy or natural area.

Now you lie down and ‘walk’ along your cord exploring the distance from ground height. Who lives there? What can you see? Perhaps you will walk through a grass clump and meet a northern water snake.

Learn more about northern water snakes in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Recycling Trees

Trees live for decades, centuries, even a millennium. Eventually they grow old and die. Then nature begins recycling trees.

During the tree’s lifetime, it gathered up nutrients and stored them in its trunk as wood. The nutrients are still there where nothing can use them. Yet.

When an animal dies, other animals eat the carcass. Flies lay eggs to hatch into maggots to consume the meat. Bacteria move in to finish the job of releasing nutrients back into the ground.

shelf mushrooms on tree trunk
The shelf mushrooms on the top of the black walnut trunk look similar to regular mushrooms.

Recycling trees takes other pathways. The ones used depend on how the tree dies.

Standing dead trees dry. The bark slips off and falls leaving a column of weathered wood. Woodpeckers arrive to excavate nest holes or seek insects eating the heart of the tree. As the heartwood disintegrates into wood chips, the snag falls apart, often piece by piece.

The dead black walnut along the south pasture snapped off leaving four or five feet standing. The rest is sloping down to the ground. As when a tree falls and lies on the ground, moisture seeps up the trunk to bring other colonizers.

mushrooms recycling trees
Shelf mushrooms line the trunk of this fallen black walnut. The mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of a fungus growing through and eating the bark.

Fungi threads move into the bark. These masses of tiny threads dissolve the bark and use it as food. Unless you search for them, the threads remain out of sight. Insects and other invertebrates feed on the fungi threads as they are busy recycling trees.

Like all living creatures, fungi want to start new individuals. They do it through spores which function like seeds. The spores are produced in mushrooms.

shelf mushrooms
On the side of the black walnut trunk the mushrooms have the typical shelf look.

Right after the rain went through, brown jelly mushrooms exploded out of the trunk of the black walnut. They shriveled up.

A new crop of shelf mushrooms now lines this trunk. As long as bark remains, shelf mushrooms will be there.

Some mushrooms are edible and wonderful additions to a meal. Read up on morels, chanterelles and more in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Exploring Ozark Creeks

Like exploring Ozark hills, exploring Ozark creeks always brings something new to look at. On a hot summer day, creek exploration can be cool as well.

Our creek runs year round. More than four inches of rain overnight brings the water level up. More than six inches becomes a flood. Fencing across the creek is impossible.

exploring Ozark creeks
After several weeks of no real amounts of rain, this Ozark creek water level has dropped. It still has places deep enough to go wading and provide homes for fish and other creatures.

As rain is scarce over the summer, the water level drops to a trickle between pools. The water continues to flow, but down in the gravel.

I like to wade in the creek with boots on. The coolness seeps through. The mud doesn’t.

snail exploring Ozark creeks
Aquatic snails have dull brown shells and glide over rocks eating algae. When alarmed, they pull back into their shells pulling their operculum door closed behind them.

My Ozark creek has a gravel bed. Algae grows on the gravel and an army of snails glides over the algae dining on it. Crayfish also called crawdads eat a lot of algae too.

Lots of creatures live in the creek. Many live under the rocks. Turning a larger rock over reveals stone chips cemented together to form a shelter for a caddis fly larva.

Water pennies are here and there. Mayfly larvae squirm in the sheen of water trying to get away. Replacing the rock as it was lets these creatures return to normal.

water penny
Looking almost like a living trilobite from the top, a water penny stays on the underside of larger rocks and eats the algae it finds there. These live only in unpolluted creeks. They are barely a half inch long.

Larger creatures try to hide under the rocks as a tall shadow usually heralds a great blue heron or other predator. Sitting quietly on the bank lets the panic subside and the creatures creep out again.

Exploring Ozark creeks reveal a variety of fish. Darters are bottom dwellers. They live under the rocks and dart out to eat algae, dart under another rock.

Madtoms live under the larger rocks. These are small catfish with big appetites for other fish.

blue gill fish in Ozark creek
Minnows are the most numerous fish in my Ozark creek. Here and there are some deep pools and a few blue gill still hang out there. Photographing underwater creatures is difficult as the autofocus bounces off the water surface.

Minnows ply the waters trolling for insects and other tasty morsels that drop in for lunch. A deeper pool under the bridge harbors a few small bluegills.

As I write more on “The Carduan Chronicles,” these aliens have found an Ozark creek. For the Carduans, being only four inches tall, it is a river. Exploring this river gains them gravel for building and food in the form of minnows and crayfish.

For me, I have another excuse to go exploring Ozark creeks.

Visit my Ozark creek in different seasons in “My Ozark Home.”

Hungry Tick Hordes

The Missouri Ozarks is headquarters for the hungry tick hordes this summer. For those lucky people unfamiliar with ticks, these creatures are arachnids related to mites and spiders. They have eight legs except for newly hatched ones with six. They appear round to oval in shape although careful examination reveals a head with a beak and a short section with legs attached.

Ticks hatch from eggs. This is the first instar. After a blood meal, they molt and enter the second larger instar stage. Another blood meal takes them to the third instar. The adult instar is next.

Hungry tick hordes ambush stance
Many ticks of all sizes climb up on a plant stalk to wait for passing animals. They stand with their front legs extended ready to leap on and hang on. They can tell ahead of time when some victim is coming and get ready.

The Ozarks is home to several kinds of ticks. These are somewhat seasonal. Wood or American dog ticks can show up any time of year, but seem to prefer cooler weather. Deer ticks are common in the fall. Lone star ticks are warm weather ticks and the most voracious and numerous.

The hungry tick hordes begin their attack in spring whenever the days are warm. This attack is primarily adults and second instar that have overwintered.

tick racing across leaf
Ticks are determined creatures. This one knew I was sitting on the ground. I think is was sensing body heat. It came racing over. I wanted a picture and moved it away. It ran over. It took several tries before I could get the camera up and take a picture before the tick got to me. These things are fast.

Once I sat down out on the hill. A tick noticed me and charged over. Charged is the right word as this quarter inch across tick crossed a foot of dead leaves in a few seconds.

Binoculars reveal that deer are popular targets. Bloated adult ticks are half inch diameter spheres easy to see.

Goats and, assumedly deer, rub their ears, necks and sides against trees. They scratch with their hooves and can tear a bloated tick open killing it. They lie flat on the grass and scoot along. These may remove some ticks, but most stay hidden in their fur.

Some ticks are all business and attach as soon as they find a good spot. Others hide in the fur, crawl around checking their host out for a day or two before digging in.

one of the hungry tick hordes
Finding an engorged tick out on the hillside is rare. They disappear under the leaves as soon as they can. This one probably fell off a deer going down into the ravine just past this spot.

Maddening as these hungry tick hordes are, the worst begins in summer heat. Those big bloated ticks lay up to a thousand eggs each. Those eggs hatch into what are called seed ticks.

The only real warning of a seed tick attack is the warm, tickling blanket advancing up a leg. Each individual is almost too small to see, a minute brown spot barely the size of a period.

Tick with egg mass
The big engorged ticks are all females. They are pregnant. They try to get the biggest meal they can. The more they eat, the more eggs they can lay. After laying their eggs, the tick dies.

Masking tape picks off scores from skin and clothes. Soap and water with vigorous scrubbing takes off scores more. No matter how careful the search, more are there waiting until the victim is falling asleep at night to crawl across the face or back or dig in setting fire to toes.

The seed ticks have started hatching.

Eastern Gama Grass

Wildflowers usually have pretty colors and shapes. Grass is just grass. I’ve driven past this Eastern Gama grass clump for years.

There seemed to be only one clump along the road. I finally got curious enough to stop, take a few pictures and look it over.

eastern gama grass plant
Eastern Gama grass is hard to miss. It’s big enough to be one of the ornamental grasses sold by nurseries. The clump does get a little larger each year. It seems to prefer sunny, drier places.

This is a big grass. The blades are easily three feet long. The clump is two feet across. Tall flower stalks reach over five feet.

The clumps reminded me of Pampas grass except for the flowering stalks. These looked like a primitive wild corn. Both impressions were wrong.

Eastern Gama grass flowers
Like most grasses Eastern Gama grass is wind pollinated. Anthers hang out like tassels shedding pollen caught by sticky brushes on the seeds down below. The seeds swell up, turn brown and break off or are eaten and land elsewhere to begin a new plant.

As I drove to and from town this year, I noticed several of these big clumps. I stopped, took some more pictures and came home thinking I would look it up in the Grasses guidebook by Lauren Brown.

For me grasses are difficult to identify as the keys use lots of terms I don’t know. Wildflower keys are much the same for me. I prefer pictures.

Skipping the keys, I thumbed through the drawings. This grass wasn’t hard to find.

Eastern Gama grass is native to the tall grass prairies once common in western Missouri. Roadsides are modern day prairies or try to be.

In spite of its size, cattle love it. And it’s a warm season grass, a perennial and makes excellent hay. The goats would probably love it too.

Eastern Gama grass stem
Most of Eastern Gama grass blades come from the root. The blooming stalks have a few blades alternately along them. The base of these blades is wrapped around the stem.

That is the problem. When free ranging livestock love a particular plant, they eat all of it until it is gone. And prairie grasses can be hard to start in pastures.

Since my goat herd is less than half the size it was, I think I’ll give Eastern Gama grass a try. I gathered some seeds from some of the clumps along the road. Maybe I will try starting some seeds in cups like I do the tomatoes. Some I can sow along the road, but inside the fence to avoid the brush cutter.

Perhaps next year there will be clumps of Eastern Gama grass along my section of fence.

An expanse of pasture is one of the beautiful sights of summer. See some in “My Ozark Home.”

Watching Clouds Time

Watching clouds is a rural activity all year. Clouds indicate the weather and dictate outside activities.

Winter clouds are much the same. High, icy, wispy mare’s tails or cirrus clouds blow over. These are long streamers with curled ends like fancy wind blown horse’s tails.

Cirrus clouds
High up the air is cold enough to freeze water. Cirrus clouds form above this altitude and are composed of ice crystals. These clouds often herald and follow storms. If enough of them are up in front of the moon, the ice scatters the light to form a halo around the moon. One night I even saw a double rainbow around the moon due to cirrus clouds floating by.

Behind the mare’s tails come gray sheets or stratus clouds to cover the sky sometimes for days. If these are thick blankets, they probably bring rain. If they are thin sheets, they bring snow. Both bring cold.

At times stratus clouds only bring cold, cloudy weather. The sun becomes a distant memory. Spirits sag waiting for a glimpse of brightness.

Watching clouds is more interesting in the summer time. Cumulus clouds pile themselves up and blow into shapes.

Sometimes the entire sky is covered with cotton balls. Each one is separate and lined up as though on a checkerboard. These are fair weather clouds marching by.

watching clouds form
Cumulus clouds are summer heat clouds. Humidity rises up until the air cools enough for the water vapor to become mist. As this happens at a certain altitude, all of the forming clouds appear at that altitude and have flat bases.

Other days the clouds are wispy. The high winds chase them across the sky blowing them into one shape after another.

On hot, humid days the clouds begin to pile into high mounds. They merge, separate and merge again. Each has a dark, flat base and mounds on top as though they were rootless mountains blowing across the sky.

Each day the mounds grow more numerous and bigger. Now and then one gets too big and dark trails of rain descend below it. Eventually they mass up and become a thunder storm.

In children’s drawings all clouds are white and puffy. Watching clouds shows this is not true at all.

watching clouds pile up
When sunlight reflects off a cloud, it appears white. As the light tries to go through a cloud, less and less is left and the cloud appears darker and darker. Really thick clouds can appear black. White light is composed of all colors of light. The last color absorbed by water is blue so that is the last color you see in the clouds.

Depending on the time of day, clouds come in many colors. Pictures of sunrises and sunsets are popular because of their yellows, pinks and reds fading into purples. During the day clouds can range from black through shads of gray and have dark blue to lighter shads of blue. Parts catch the sunlight and gleam brilliant white.

Watching clouds is always interesting as the show changes constantly. You can watch for a minute or an hour and let stress blow away with the clouds.

Admire more clouds in “My Ozark Home.”

Bottle Brush Grass

Grasses are hard for me to identify. I tend to take pictures of a grass and tack an identifying name to it reflecting what it looks like or where I found it. That’s what I did with bottle brush grass.

Grasses bloom, or boot for ranchers, from spring into fall. Many pasture grasses are cool season grasses and send up their flower stalks in early summer. This is when their nutritional value is highest and when ranchers want to cut and bale them as hay.

bottle brush grass plant
The best place to photograph grass plants is along the road, but dust does coat the plant. Bottle brush grass has only the flower stalks when it blooms. Some blades or leaves are along the stalk. Later the plant will have more blades come up from the roots.

Bottle brush grass is a warm season grass and not included in the pasture roster. It grows along the road here. Lots of it is along the road this year.

When the pastures were baled, another warm season grass was blooming and I did want to identify it. I do have a guidebook for grasses. It has an identification key at the beginning. I thumb through the drawings as I’m not very familiar with grass terminology.

bottle brush grass flower
Like other wind pollinated grass flowers, bottle brush flowers are little more than a couple of stamens hanging out to release pollen and a brushy pistil sticking up on top of the seed waiting to catch some pollen.

Of course I didn’t find the grass I sought. However I did find my bottle brush grass. And to my surprise, that is what it is called. So now I consulted Flora of Missouri, volume 1. The official name now is Elymus hystrix in the family Poaceae. All the grasses seem to be in this family found in over 300 pages of the book.

This is a native grass common in Missouri.

One reason for my interest in the grasses is my ongoing botany project. More immediately I am checking out grasses as many of our basic foods like wheat, rice, barley and oats are all domesticated grasses.

bottle brush grass seed head
Close up the bottle brush grass seed head is a bit sparse. From a distance the resemblance to a bottle brush is much greater. The stamens will drop off. Each of the seeds will swell up and turn brown as they ripen.

As “The Carduan Chronicles” progresses, one of the challenges these aliens face is finding food. Grass seeds would qualify. Larger seeds would be best.

Bottle brush grass has large seeds for a wild grass. There aren’t a lot of them on any one head, but each plant puts up several seed heads. I’m wondering what the seeds will taste like once they ripen.

Ozark roadsides have many interesting plants along them. Meet some of them in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”