August 27, 2013
I rarely go out at night to walk around, especially over the summer. This isn’t because the weather isn’t nice or the calling owls aren’t interesting or the night blooming flowers aren’t lovely.
It’s because of the snakes.
This little piece of the Ozarks had the nickname Copperhead Gulch when we moved here. The copperheads still live here. Even with a flashlight they are hard to see.
Four to six foot black snakes come out after dark. I know they are around because I see them from time to time, usually eating eggs in the hen house. How they have room for eggs considering the mouse population under the barn floor is beyond me. Maybe eggs are dessert.
I do find seeing snakes interesting. Water snakes are at the creek. Ringnecks are under boards or other items left over from various projects when clean up starts. Garter snakes zip away in the garden from time to time.
The road is another place to spot snakes. One day a Midland Brown Snake was crossing as I went out to milk. Another day a Rough Green was sunning at the edge of the road. A Speckled King was peeking out another morning.
So I know many snakes call the place home too.
I found another proof – a snake skin.
Our skin stretches as we grow to accommodate our larger size.
Snakes are covered with scales. Scales do not grow or stretch. When a snake grows too large for the present scale covering, it must discard the old one and replace it with a new larger set of scales.
Since a snake has no hands or arms to remove the old skin, it must find another aid. This black rat snake found a couple of giant ragweeds that had regrown after being chopped.
When I found the skin, half of it was in a little ball with the tail sticking out across the grass. The snake had caught the mouth part on the ragweeds then slithered through as the skin bunched up pulling free of the new scales. Finally some of it stuck and got carried through but it too was left behind.
I carefully pulled the skin bundle loose. The skin is an easy four feet long. It is inside out. It shows the outline of every scale.
The guidebook for Amphibians and Reptiles (by Tom Johnson, Missouri Department of Conservation) says black snakes have double scales below the vent. Looking over the snake skin, I can see this. Forget picking up a wild four foot black snake to look!
Definitely snakes live here too. Over the summer they go roaming at night.
It is now dark when I come in from evening milking. Maybe I will put fresh batteries in my flashlight.
August 20, 2013
Beware all you hay fever sufferers: the ragweed is in bloom.
Two kinds grow along the roads and anyplace else they can around here. Both are now in bloom.
The common ragweed is a lacy looking plant. Its leaves have many deep lobes leaving thin fingers of leaf. The plants get about five feet tall in a good location.
Giant ragweed is different. It has a thick central stalk that can get two inches in diameter. It is tough and strong. The leaves have three lobes of wide leaf sections. The plant can reach eight feet in a good location.
Both plants put up numerous columns lined with pollen bearing pockets. Since ragweed is wind pollinated these are big pockets. The pollen is small and light.
Bump into a ragweed in bloom and clouds of yellow pollen burst out. The yellow cloud hangs in the air waiting. It is waiting for a breeze, even a slight one to come by and waft it over to another ragweed plant.
Unfortunately that cloud hanging there waiting also snares the nose of anyone walking by.
Some plants just beg for war. Ragweed is one.
One line of defense is to pull these ragweed plants up. I do in my garden and around the yard. This only works when the soil is moist and the plants are small.
The second line of defense is to chop the plants down. Ragweed is stubborn. It sends up new stalks from the stub of the old one. These things will bloom when only six inches high!
These are just stop gap measures. Ragweed is prolific. There are so many plants it is impossible to get to all of them. The pollen blows long distances.
Ragweed is winning the war.
Tissue sales will rise. Allergy medicine sales will rise. Sneezing, runny noses, itchy eyes will proliferate from now until frost finally puts an end to the reign of the ragweed.
August 13, 2013
After over nine inches of rain in the last week, everything is soggy. The creek flooded in August, something we don’t remember in twenty years here. That makes it a great year for jelly mushrooms.
Until moving to the Ozarks, I was unaware jelly mushrooms existed. A mushroom was a round flat cap smooth on top and gilled underneath sitting on a stalk.
Those caps come in many variations and colors. Some are smooth. Some have patches on skin on them. Some look like frilly shingled layers. Some are so translucent the gills underneath show through the cap.
There are flat caps, cupped caps, thick caps, thin caps. One cap reminds me of a Mexican sombrero.
Jelly mushrooms are totally different.
These odd mushrooms do come in a variety of colors. But the colors are translucent like Jell-O contained in a tough membrane.
Rain brings out the jelly mushrooms. Like Jell-O, these mushrooms are mostly water and dry out quickly.
The common brown one is often called an ear mushroom as it often has an ear shape. It pokes out of old stumps or chunks of wood usually oak.
Another is white. It looks like a shelf mushroom run amok. The curtains vary from almost clear to opaque white.
A chunk of oak log left over by the sawmill has bright yellow jelly drapes sticking out. These are much smaller than the other two. Some bits are round with smooth edges. Other pieces have deep lobes looking like thick fringe sticking up.
Blobs of jelly mushrooms can stick out anywhere on old wood. One pushed out of the end of a fallen branch. Others are on the smooth surfaces of oak lumber. They can be on other woods but oak is the most common here.
Most jelly mushrooms are small, just an inch or two tall. A few form bigger masses.
The brown ear mushroom is supposed to be edible. One use is in Chinese hot and sour soup. It may have medicinal use.
I’m not too sure I want to try ear mushroom yet. It looks so very strange. That translucent brown Jell-O encased in a tough membrane with a white sheen in the sun just doesn’t look appetizing to me.
At least no other mushroom looks even remotely like it. That alone is reason to stop and take a look when it puffs out of a piece of wood after one of the frequent rains this year.
August 6, 2013
Late summer is aster time. Lots of flowers are blooming but members of the aster family put on the most noticeable display.
Sunflowers are asters.
Thistles are asters.
Hold it. Asters look like daisies. Thistles definitely don’t look like daisies.
Not all members of the aster family look like daisies. What all of them have are masses of tube flowers.
Look carefully at a thistle. That pink mop is a mass of tube flowers with long stamens hanging out.
Thistles are a popular hangout for lots of creatures. The blooms are popular with insects. Each tube flower is a tiny well full of nectar.
The native tall thistle gets eaten by goats and probably deer about the time it starts to bloom. More than once I’ve watched for a thistle to bloom only to find the top gone just before the flowers opened.
Thistles are a great place to take butterfly pictures. Pipevine and other swallowtails flutter around them. The butterfly stands on the flowers slurping up nectar. Its bottom wings are still. The top ones flutter as though making more stomach room for more nectar to fit in.
Skippers are another group of butterflies that like thistles. They get so busy drinking nectar I can sneak up close for photographs.
Along with the nectar lovers, predators move in. Flower spiders blend into the tube flowers with their front legs spread wide to grasp an unlucky fly or bee. Ambush bugs hang onto the sides of the tube flower mass waiting for dinner to arrive.
Once the seeds form, birds like goldfinches move in. Loaded with fat and protein thistle seeds are some of the best bird seeds around. Goldfinches and their babies get fat on them.
There are invasive non native thistles growing in the area. These are nuisances at best and major pasture invaders at worst. Native thistles belong here and are valuable members of the Ozarks.
Now is the time to admire these members of the aster family.