Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Finding New Plant Names

New plants turn up in well traveled places. Some are brand new to plant lists. I find ones I’ve never seen before. Either way, new plant names are needed.

A couple of weeks ago I had to walk around in town. Out of habit, I watched for plants in bloom and saw several. Spring beauty, grape hyacinths, chickweed, dead nettle and henbit were among them.

One I didn’t recognize was covered with red purple blooms. It was a small plant, a few inches tall. It had lacy leaves and hairy stems.

finding plant names uses leaf arrangments
The plant is low, only six inches tall. It’s numerous stems sprawl across the ground. Flowers bloom from along and at the tips of the stems. This fits lots of plants as do the lacy leaves.

Lots of plants fit this description. Finding new plant names is difficult when sorting through a pile of them with no idea how to narrow the search.

There were no seed pods on the plants. I made a note of where to find one patch so I could come back to see the seed pods.

finding plant names uses the flower arrangements
The flowers are a half inch across. They have five petals and five sepals. The center is a conical mound topped with the anthers and styles. Lots of flowers have five petals and five sepals. Lots of flowers are the purple these are. Finding the name can be difficult. Once the group is determined, the similarities to others in the group become obvious.

In the meantime I planned to check out the flowers on http://www.missouriplants.com, my go to place for new plant names. All you really need to know is the color of the flower and whether the leaves are alternate or opposite. Then you scroll through the thumbnail pictures until you find the flower.

Like so many good intentions in the spring, this one got shoved aside by more pressing matters.

An opportunity presented itself for me to race out and check this plant for seed pods. I found the patch and sat down to check the plant and stared.

finding plant names became easy after seeing the seed pod
The seed pod was the clincher for me. The somewhat bulbous base and long stalk is typical of the various crane’s bill group in the geranium family. It is the source of the common names for the plant as well.

It couldn’t be! These distinctive seed pods couldn’t belong to this plant, or could they? They did and I knew the group this plant belonged with: crane’s bills.

Another crane’s bill, the Carolina Crane’s Bill, grows near the driveway on my road and in nearby areas. The seed pod is a definite identification of the group, no other group has anything like it.

Carolina crane's bill flower
Carolina Crane’s Bill has lovely pink flowers a half inch across topping a scraggly plant that can reach a foot tall. It is a typical geranium flower, but much smaller than the commercial ones.

Finding new plant names can be much easier if the group is known, the geranium family in this case. This little plant has the common name Stork’s Bill. It is the introduced one originally from Europe.

Ozarks Spring Finery

As soon as spring temperatures start shoving winter out of the Ozarks spring finery begins to pop up. People driving by think this means the redbuds and dogwoods are in bloom. They should get out of their vehicles and go walking.

white violet blooming
The old song may say violets are blue and some are, but may are other colors like this white or striated violet. Unlike the common blue violet, white violets have short stems and grow almost a foot tall. The plants bloom profusely all summer along damp, shaded roadsides and in ravines or along creeks.

All the spring wildflowers are rushing their flowers out. White, yellow, blue, Johnny Jump Up and bird’s foot violets are among them. The blue and white ones will bloom much of the spring into summer. The Johnny Jump Up, yellow and bird’s foot will bloom for a few weeks and vanish until next year.

Bloodroot was scarce when we moved here. It’s popular with herb diggers. Now I see it back in the ravines, even along the road. They show for the morning and fade away by noon.

Pale Corydalis flowers
The first year I noticed these feathery plants with their yellow flowers, I saw only a few. Now Pale Corydalis plants show up in the lawn and along the road. They could be considered weeds, but bloom for a short time and vanish. It makes more sense to enjoy their yellow trumpets.

Pale corydalis is one of those bits of spring finery that get overlooked easily. The plants are small and feathery. The flowers are half inch long tubes. Walking along the bright yellow catches the eye.

I like the deep color of rose verbena. It’s common along parts of the road and near the creek and easily spotted. It’s rose purple sets off the nearby orange puccoon.

yellow spring finery orange puccoon
Like the daffodils the orange puccoon is a bright flower. The color ranges from yellow to orange. The plants are normally six or seven inches tall and less than a foot across. I find them on a road cut where the soil is poor and prone to erosion. They grace the area for a month or so then vanish.

These named flowers are only a taste of what is blooming and coming into bloom. There are a couple of dozen out now. The flowers are serious business for the plants that want to set seed to begin another generation of plants. They flaunt their colors and shapes and scents for the insects.

redbuds are pink spring finery
The redbud is a small tree and prefers to grow under cover of oaks and hickories. It does grow out by itself. The flowers emerge from the twigs, branches and trunks in thick clumps surrounding the wood with color. The flowers are edible with a nutty, bit of sweet taste.

All these colors are missed by the people driving by. They can admire the redbuds. These interesting trees put out their pink slippers from their branches and trunks.

They should notice the many wild plums filled with white blossoms. Sassafras is harder to spot as their yellow flowers are much smaller in smaller clusters.

In another week the dogwoods will begin blooming. Then the Ozark woods will be dressed in pink and white spring finery to celebrate the season.

Admire more photographs of Ozark wildflowers in “My Ozark Home.”

Watching Speckled King Snakes

Spring has mostly arrived in the Ozarks. The snakes are out including the speckled king snakes.

People usually think of black rat snakes when they think about rat and mouse control. Many decide to leave these alone as they will eat other snakes such as copperheads.

Speckled king snakes are similar to black rat snakes. Both eat rats and mice. Both are constrictors, squeezing their prey. Both live in similar places. Black rat snakes get bigger.

two speckled king snakes entwined
These two speckled king snakes rolled over and over wrapped around each other. A pair last year did this for over an hour.

In spring these snakes come out during the day. Speckled kings are shy and flee before being spotted much of the time. I see their tails disappearing into the grass.

I’ve heard speckled kings don’t make good pets. I don’t think any snakes make good pets, but a cousin did. He had a black rat snake. It was used to being handled and was the first snake I ever touched.

Snake scales are cool, dry and smooth to the touch. They seem waxed.

Once summer weather arrives the snakes stay in cool places during the day. Evening and night are the times they come out looking for food. Except in my hen house.

The black rat snakes stay under the wood floor of the barn. They have plenty of mice to snack on. Still, they find eggs irresistible. I’m slowly remodeling to discourage their visits.

speckled king snakes in grass
These two speckled king snakes had been entwined, possibly mating as this is the right time. Moments later the smaller male took off followed by the larger female.

Speckled king snakes never seem to be in the barn. They do come through my garden. Most commonly they are out in the pastures.

Regardless of where the snakes are found around the house or barn, they are rarely killed. A couple showed up in my pantry and were moved outside. Snakes are far too valuable as mouse and rat control to harm.

The big problem with the snakes is that they maintain their body temperature by sunning so they don’t need a lot of food. They don’t eat enough mice.

The wildflowers are blooming in the Ozarks. Enjoy pictures and commentary about some of them in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

My Ozark Creek Talking

Spring is attempting to invade the Ozarks. Walking along an Ozark creek is relaxing. Unlike in poems, my Ozark creek does not babble, not all the time.

During the height of the growing season walking along an Ozark creek is a difficult feat. Vegetation is thick and tall. Vines tie it together. Now only the bushes and trees are still there. They can impede progress a little.

Ozark creek rushing by
Water races down the runway with a rushing sound as though it were highway traffic flowing by. Ozark creeks with gravel beds often have sharp drops in elevation and these sluices go from a pool above to the swiftly flowing creek below.

Walking along the creek I could see its many character changes. Some places are placid moving sheets of water. Other places race down sluices. Fallen logs and rocks can narrow the channel. Part of the channel is deep. Most of it is shallow.

Each character change brings a different sound.

Ozark creek glugs and foams
Not tall enough to be a waterfall, water still drops over an obstruction into a hole with glug, glug, glug. The water below the hole foams up and over sounding like a small ocean wave foaming its way up the sand.

Placid areas are quiet. The sheet of water flows quickly by almost silently. It has a soft slipping sound. Rocks sticking up create tiny gurgles. In warm weather the minnows will jump creating plops. The wind ripples the surface into tiny moving eddies.

These quiet areas often end in gravel sluices. Water races down creating a rushing sound almost like highway traffic. If the gravel is large, the creek babbles as it races down the slope.

Ozark creek babbles over rocks
Where an Ozark creek flows over and around rocks of various sizes, it does babble. This is a combination of rushing, gurgling and glugging sounds that ebb and flow as the water moves from one to the next obstruction.

Stretches of fast moving water with large rocks scattered around gurgles. Smaller rocks cause high, soft gurgles. Large rocks cause deep gurgles.

Some places have obstructions. Water leaps over and into a deeper place beyond. The water there foams over the water arriving. There is a deep sound like water making a whirlpool in an emptying bathtub with a rushing sound over it.

Ozark creek pool
Broad pools are great places to sit near and relax. The water slips by almost silently. The sun plays on the ripples. The constant movement of the water with its ripples and eddies quiets the mind.

Walking along my Ozark creek is not boring. The creek is talking all the time. The conversation shifts as I walk by.

These conversations are as varied as the creek bed the water is flowing down on its mad rush to the river a half mile away.

Meet my creek and its denizens in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Snowfall Number Five Arrives

Snowfall, snowfall number five,

Who invited you to come

Spoiling dreams of spring and sun,

Leaving toes and fingers numb?

Snowfall, snowfall number five,

You are not welcome today.

March brings spring and flowers and rain.

Blankets white and cold away!

Snowfall number five ices cardinal's perch
Snowfall number five began with a layer of ice leaving birds with cold perches in the trees. This female cardinal is puffed up to keep warmer in the cold and waiting for her turn eating at the bird feeder.

Snowfall, snowfall number five,

Leaving birds to hunt for food,

Shiver, frozen water too.

Mean and cruel I must conclude.

Snowfall number five buries sparrow's food
Sparrows hop along the ground finding weed seeds and other morsels to eat. Snowfall number five left them looking in vain. The bird feeder became a popular spot.

Snowfall, snowfall number five,

Be the last to come by here.

Spring is due so let it come.

Have a heart and give us cheer.

Reports from other places makes our five little snowfalls look like nothing much. Only a few times has the temperature dropped to near zero and never below. The cold spells last a week and warmer times return.

Ozark winters usually aren’t that bad. I remember some up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and know why we moved.

One of the things that didn’t move with us is the clothing. In places with cold winters, wool clothes are common and warm. They are only available by catalog in the Ozarks. Cotton isn’t nearly as warm.

Warm boots aren’t as easy to find around here either. Cold feet leave me cold no matter how warmly I dress otherwise.

Snowfall number five scattered snow on the hills and rocks along the creek.
Snowfall number five dropped three inches. Wind blew much of it off the hills. Enough was left to put a white backdrop behind the trees. Quiet areas of the creek had a skin of ice.

Snow may be fun for some people. In town one road is blocked off as it goes down a great sledding hill. Snowball fights, building snowmen and other activities are fun too.

Milking and chores are not fun done slogging through the snow. My barn door is on the north side and the snow soon packs into ice. Maybe I can find snap on cleats for my boots.

Better yet, warm sun melts the snow and the ice. Then I get to slog through mud for a few days. Still, I prefer mud and so do the animals including my cabin fevered chickens and goats.

Enjoy more pictures of Ozark winters in “My Ozark Home.”

Anticipating Spring

It is still February, a long winter month in the Ozarks. The days are getting longer, the sun higher in the sky. The weather is anticipating spring.

Winter clouds are sheets of gray covering the sky. There are still plenty of those. Puffy, warmer weather clouds are starting to appear.

approaching spring changes clouds from stratus to cumulus
The grey stratus clouds sheeting the Ozark sky have moved on leaving warm weather cumulus puffs to move across. The sun is below the hills but hasn’t started setting enough to color these clouds.

Trees are bare. Mosses rule the world of green on the forest floor. In open areas the ground is anticipating spring.

The yard is a carpet of tiny , blue flowers. Corn speedwell is blooming madly on any sunny, warmer day.

Birds still mob the bird feeder seeking food hard to find in the wild. The birds argue, they sit in the bushes and trees and sing. They are anticipating spring.

approaching spring warmth brings out yellow in the sunset
Sunsets aren’t very pretty without clouds. Puffy clouds are nice as they light up with a variety of colors. A storm has just passed so yellow is the predominant color this late winter’s night in the Ozarks.

Now the yard has a few robins, a bluebird or two. The sky again has vultures circling. Great skeins of geese honk as they fly north. The juncos are eating madly, getting fat for their migration north next month.

February is a winter month. In the Ozarks no season reigns supreme for long. Masses of warm and cold air vie for mastery of the skies anticipating spring.

A few warm days spread spring fever among the plants and animals. Cold pounces down on this telling one and all winter still rules.

approaching spring brings out early wildflowers
Who waits for spring to bloom? Not little corn speedwell. This low growing plant native to Europe often blooms between snow falls in mid to late winter, if the sun is warm.

Cold air is heavy and stubborn. Warm air slips in to displace it. The battle of the seasons continues.

March comes soon bringing spring on the calendar. The war will continue as neither winter nor spring conform to such an artificial timetable.

Unfortunately for winter, time and sun move on. Winter’s reign is waning for yet another season. Winter will soon be in retreat.

Anticipating spring will become knowing spring has come. Winter will become a memory for months.

A new adversary will enter the seasonal war: summer.

Enjoy photographs of Ozark seasons in “My Ozark Home.”

Snow Days Drag By

Winter is not my favorite season. Most of the things I like to do can’t be done on snow days.

One thing I can do is go outside and look at the snow. Sunny days look great for doing this, but light cloud cover is better.

Snow looks white because if reflects almost all of the light shining on it. After spending some time out looking at snow scenes on a sunny day, everything looks dark inside as the eyes try to recover from the onslaught of reflected light. Even sunglasses don’t help a lot.

Snow days have snow on everything
Moving water has no snow on it. Slow moving water can ice over. The creek has started a gravel bar under the bridge and snow sits on it.

Snow may look inviting on a sunny day. It’s still cold. The snow is cold. The air is cold. The snow will melt onto the boots.

I wandered down and out into the pasture below the barn lot. Snow days are pretty until the snow starts to melt and sinks into ice.

This snow did fall in cold temperatures. For a time the flakes were in clumps an inch or two across. Most of the time it fell as tiny ice spheres. These packed together into a heavy, dense snow layer.

Snow days leave the creek flowing between snowy banks
The creek is such a lovely place to go, except when the banks are covered with snow. Snow looks nice for a few hours. then it makes the place look cold and dreary.

Footprints or tire tracks left ice. Sun melted the base layer into ice. Town beckoned, but I stayed home and looked out the windows or tramped to the barn and looked at the snow.

There’s something about snow days. There are lists of things to work on. There are piles of books waiting to be read. There are several writing projects including rewriting “The Carduan Chronicles.”

snow days leave snow on trees
Snow does make bare winter trees look dramatic. Don’t stand underneath when the sun shines or the snow may drop onto you.

It isn’t boredom. It’s a restless feeling leaving me casting about for something to hold my interest.

What I really want to do is go outside and walk. The snow is waiting for me with pretty vistas. Trudging through snow in heavy boots ruins a walk while keeping the feet warm and dry.

So I stay inside most of the time. And the snow days drag by.

Puzzling Out Beggar Ticks

After going through the plant pictures for last year, I find I’ve completed pictures for 330 plants. This is deceptive. I’ve actually completed pictures for more plants, but don’t know what they are. This leaves me puzzling out beggar ticks among others.

There are ten species listed for Dent county and two others possibly here. I have completed pictures for four or five of these. I don’t know which ones.

bush beggar ticks flowers
Many beggar tick plants are genus Desmodium. This plant is a bush. The flowers fit the regular plan. The seed pod is single, but looks like a beggar tick.

How is that possible? With beggar ticks, genus Desmodium, family Fabaceae, this is easy. The flowers look a lot alike. Many of the plants look a lot alike.

Most flowers are a plum pink. They have two petals standing up and overlapping a bit or fused. These have greenish white teardrops at the base with a dark red purple border.

The other petals form a slipper sticking out. This may be closed around the stamens and pistil. It might not be. One characteristic to look for.

pink beggar ticks flower
This is yet another variation on a beggar ticks flower. The white parts of the eyes are missing. The slipper is open. The flowers are scattered along the stalk. Surely this one will be easy to identify. If I keep looking.

Flowers can be small and close together down a long stem. They can be larger and spaced out. Puzzling out which is which is difficult.

The leaves are in sets of three leaflets. These can be long and narrow or short and round. They can be sharply pointed or have blunt tips. Some plants are a mix.

The plants are often several stems from a central rootstock. At least one is a bush.

white beggar ticks flowers
Most beggar ticks flowers are some shade of pink. These are white. They are lining the flower stalk. They do have the little eyes at the base of the upright petals. They should be in the genus Desmodium.

Seed capsules referred to as beggar ticks are the other important item. Usually there are several seed capsules in a string. Usually these are covered with short, stiff hairs so the capsules stick to fur or clothing. Some strings are fewer than five, Some are more than five.

This is often my problem. I get pictures of the plant, leaves and flowers, but don’t find the same plant to get pictures of the seed capsules. I’m left puzzling out beggar ticks missing a vital piece of information.

Are you confused yet?

There are keys. I work my way through them slowly referring to the glossary for terms and still taking a guess.

beggar ticks seed pods
Beggar ticks are larger than the small football shaped beggar lice. The flat pods are covered with short hairs and attach to passing fur or clothes immediately. The strings often break up as they are pulled off. Different kinds have slightly different shapes and numbers of pods in a row.

There are pictures online. I take a notebook, look each one up and sketch the flowers, stems, leaves and seed capsules noting special characteristics. Once I have all of these done, I will work my way through my pictures.

As the beggar ticks get going this year, I’m ready. I have marking tape. I will tag the plants I’m working on so I know which is which when I go back for seed capsule pictures.

I’m tired of puzzling out which beggar ticks are which.

Promise of Spring

January thaw came a week or so late this year. That’s fine as long as it gets here with its mild days, a respite in winter that all enjoy. It’s a promise of spring.

The first wildflowers are trying to bloom. Dead nettle was blooming in the garden last month. Corn speedwell had a flower or two open today. These are another promise of spring.

melting ice is a promise of spring
The ice fangs and columns have fallen during January thaw. Some would like this to announce spring. I prefer February to finish out as winter and see the season to a close on time.

I went walking as the day was too nice to spend working. But I did have a chore I had forgotten to do.

For years a yellow honeysuckle has grown over the rocks above the creek. It’s the only one I’ve ever found here until last year.

A yellow honeysuckle grew, bloomed and set seed along the road last summer. I collected four seeds to set out on the hill over the creek near where the one lonely plant grows.

This lovely day those seeds finally got out and planted. I don’t know if any will grow, but one promise of spring is that seeds will grow.

armadillos need a promise of spring with abundant grubs to eat
Many people don’t like these ancient animals. I find them interesting. Armadillos are now regular Ozark residents and often bulldoze through the dry leaves on winter days as they do not hibernate and must find food every day.

The acorns have been getting a head start on spring. Last fall was an acorn bonanza. There are still many on the ground and some have sprouted.

Most of the small sprouts dry up and die. I hate to see this, but it is part of how things work. The woods can’t hold that many oak trees. Even among those acorns that do survive, many young trees will die in a few years as the larger trees block the sun and absorb the water.

sprouting acorns are a promise of spring
The acorns are sprouting. Most will perish. A few will become saplings. Fewer will grow to trees. A couple will become large trees. Each acorn is a bundle of hope and a bundle of food for squirrels, turkeys, deer and more.

One of the problems my fictional Carduans must solve is that of food. Looking at all the acorns on the ground, I began wondering about eating them. Right after lunch this thought wasn’t very serious, mostly curiosity. So I found one still intact and dug out some of the interior nut. Very bitter.

Of course the Indians washed the flour with hot water to leach the tannic acid out and make the flour palatable. And they weren’t spoiled with sweetners. Perhaps I will give acorns another chance this fall and wash the acid out. Fresh nuts washed free of acid might make a big difference.

See more pictures of the Ozark springs in “My Ozark Home.”

Special Morning Light

Six degree mornings don’t have much going for them in my opinion. They need all the help they can get. If conditions are just right, special morning light can be that help.

Winter mornings are not sunrise mornings for me. The wood stove goes out around three in the morning. Dawn brings a cold house.

Sunrises are left to themselves as the floors are swept and the fire started in the stove. Only after that are winter mornings looked at.

By this time whatever colors might have appeared for the sunrise are gone. Since winter mornings are overcast more often than not anymore, the color change is from purplish black to blue gray. I don’t find this very impressive.

special morning light sets off the trees
No picture really captures how special morning light sets off the trees along my Ozark creek when cold temperatures coat them in ice. Only some trees glow like this. I think it is a combination of the sun’s angle and where I’m standing that creates this moment. I’m glad it does.

Now and then the sun puts in an appearance which is special morning light all by itself. Such occurrences must be spotted without forecasting help. This winter seems determined to prove the forecasters wrong about cloud cover as much as possible. The clouds simply refuse to leave.

Clear mornings are a double edged sword. It’s wonderful to see the sun and have a sunny morning or, even more rarely, a sunny day. Having no cloud cover lets the temperatures drop.

So the temperature dropped to six degrees. The moisture on the trees froze encasing them in a thin coating of ice. And the sun started sliding up over the eastern hill.

special morning light sets off ice stalactites
This winter has formed magnificent ice stalactites and columns on the bluff rocks along the road. Some are only a foot long. The biggest are easily six feet. Early in the morning the ice glows in the sunlight. What I’m looking at is that great shelter under the rock overhang. The Carduans find a similar an overhang.

Ice is clear. Like water, ice has no color. The trees shimmered as light refracted through the ice turning the trees into crystal works of art.

Less than five minutes and the light show is over. The sun is up over the hill. The ice is melting in the trees.

Like sunrises and sunsets, special morning light is fleeting. Catching a glimpse of it makes even a six degree morning special.

Relax reading about the Ozark seasons in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Snow Colors at Night

January is bringing snow to the Ozarks. It is bringing colder weather with it. That means the couple of inches of snow stays through the night and I could notice some snow colors at night.

During the day snow is a bluish gray to dirty white, if the sky is clouded over. It turns a blinding white in the sun.

What about at night?

I’d assumed it would be dark as the night is dark. Perhaps it is at new moon. As the moon approaches full, snow is not dark at night. It’s not only not dark, but glows in snow colors.

snow colors during the day are mostly white
During the day elephant toe seed heads hold white snow caps. Once night falls the caps may be blue, if they are still there.

I milk at night during the winter. There is a light at the house and lights in the barn. Some of the walk is done using a flashlight.

One of the other additions to winter night milking is carrying buckets of water. It seems, no matter how many buckets I cart to the goats during the day, they are not enough. So I set buckets in the milk room for the goats to get a drink before going back in the barn.

The snow fell early in the day. The clouds moved in to stay for days. Setting up for evening milking, I grabbed my flashlight and a bucket and started out of the barn.

I put the flashlight back.

snow colors during the day are mostly white
White snow sets off the buckbrush berries during the day. By nightfall the snow will be gone although the berries will still be waiting for a bird to come by to eat them.

The snow was a blue glow across the ground. There weren’t any shadows, only this blue. It was bright enough to walk around without any additional light.

The clouds held sway for another day just to spite the forecasters. Again I enjoyed walking in that blue glow on the snow.

Finally the clouds began breaking up late the next day. This night I opened the barn door and the blue glow was gone. A whiter glow replaced it.

If we get more snow near new moon, I will have to check out the snow colors at night then.

Enjoy the views of “My Ozark Home” in my new book.

Warm Winter Brings Cement Snow

A bit of snow finally arrived this winter for the Ozarks. The thermometer sat about thirty-four degrees as the snow fell, perfect for cement snow.

Snow is interesting stuff. It forms below freezing and drifts down. The type of snow depends on the temperature.

Up north snow fell with temperatures in the teens. Tiny bits of white from thin clouds seemed to never end, piling up for inches. The bits were like grains of sugar and poured from the hand like it too. They squealed underfoot as we walked across them.

rabbit tracks in cement snow

Rabbit tracks are among the easiest to recognize as the two front feet land together and the two back feet separately giving a triangle pattern. In cement snow the feet punch straight down to the ground.

When the temperatures were in the twenties, the snow often fell as flakes. These are the patterns for children’s paper cut outs. The clouds were heavier, but still thin enough to make out where the sun was. This snow crunched underfoot.

yucca leaves in cement snow

Yucca leaves roll their edges in for cold weather. Cement snow isn’t cold enough so the leaves poke out through it.

The snow in the Ozarks is different. Temperatures are often near freezing as the snow falls. The flakes can be clumps that splat on the ground. Stepping on this snow squashes it down, making it appear wet. It is wet. This is cement snow.

Water is heavy, eight pounds to the gallon. Cement snow is heavy too, close to that eight pounds a gallon.

cement snow on rocks

Mosses, ferns and other plants like columbine depend on snow to add moisture to their perches on the rocks. This exposed piece of bluff rock is full of cracks and crevices.

Cold snows are easy to shovel. Lesser depths sweep easily off walkways with brisk swooshes of the broom. Deeper amounts push easily with a snow shovel or are light to toss out of the pathway.

Cement snow sticks to the shovel. It mounds up quickly sticking itself into those mounds. Every scoop must be pounded on the ground to remove the lumps. Some need manual shoving. It is exhausting work.

cement snow feeds Ozark creek

Cement snow means water for this Ozark creek. It is up making large languid pools, but the residents are tucked into deep places trying to keep a bit warm.

Only a few inches of this potential heart attack trigger fell. My regular pathways are mostly melted into muddy trails. The roads have long stretches bare of snow.

The biggest disappointment with cement snow is how it looks. It lacks the charm of colder snows.

The advantage with this snow is how fast it melts once the sun reappears.

Read more about snow and floods in the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Invasive Plants Everywhere

It’s strange how I forget to take some pictures for so many plants. My quest to fill in these blanks took me back to ShawneeMac Lakes where I also found several invasive plants.

What is an invasive plant? It’s a plant usually from some other country that is now spreading through native habitats.

How do these invasive plants get here? Some arrive by accident. Colonists brought over crop seed to plant and the invasive plants were mixed in. These are such plants as the plantains, shepherd’s purse, corn speedwell and many other common weeds.

invasive plants include Oriental bittersweet

The native bittersweet and the Oriental bittersweet are very similar in appearance and seeds. The Oriental is very aggressive and can kill the trees it climbs. I’m not sure which this is and will check the flowers this spring.

Another way such plants arrive is by invitation. Some are herbs or edible and are brought over as crops. Some are pretty and gardeners bring them over to decorate their gardens.

Once growing, plants flower and produce seeds. The seeds scatter growing into new plants. Consider the dandelion and how many seeds one plant produces.

Walking around the trail at ShawneeMac I was not concerned with invasive plants. I had a list of plants I needed winter bud pictures for. Even though I knew about where to find these plants, I’m always on the lookout for new ones.

invasive plants include Japanese honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle flowers have a wonderful scent that hangs in the air around the vines. It blooms for months. It covers fences, other plants and buildings.

Japanese honeysuckle is an invasive plant. It can be a terrible problem piling up over native plants, smothering them under thick vines and leaves that stay green through the winter. There is a lot of this at ShawneeMac Lakes.

The little vine climbing up the side of a tree was a bit similar with opposite green leaves. It wasn’t Japanese honeysuckle. Those leaves have smooth edges. These had teeth. The winter bud is different too. I took pictures to look it up later.

invasive plants include wintergreen vines

Gardeners like wintergreen as a ground cover in shady areas. It spreads into wild areas and climbs trees and shrubs burying them under foliage.

The American holly plants are pretty this time of year. The hawthorn had nice buds on it. One of the hazelnuts still had a few nuts on it.

When I first saw this plant, I noticed the red seeds with wings over them. There are a number of plants with such seeds including the wahoo tree. But this wasn’t that plant. I took some pictures of bark, bud, twig and seed to look up later.

invasive plants include burning bush

Burning bush is easily recognized by the wings on its twigs. It makes a nice hedge when trimmed. In wild areas it spreads by seed crowding out native shrubs.

I knew about the bittersweet vines. There are two similar ones. One is a native plant. The other is an invasive Oriental vine. I tend to think the ones at ShawneeMac lakes are the invasive one, but won’t be sure until spring when the vines flower.

Once home I took out “Shrubs and Woody Vines” from the Missouri Department of Conservation. That vine seems to be wintergreen, as invasive species. The bush is burning bush, also an invasive plant.

Invasive plants grow wherever they can find a place. More than these few find a place at ShawneeMac Lakes.

Winter Hiking Weather

So far winter in the Ozarks is following the new pattern. Cold moves in for a few days. Warmer temperatures move in for a few days. The latter are good winter hiking weather.

All spring and summer I take plant pictures. I do download and file them in a file for that year. Winter is the time to go over the pictures and try to complete plant picture sets for the botany project.

winter hiking weather good for seeing American Holly

American Holly is a holiday plant with its green leaves and red berries. Winter is a good time to see it.

The other day I set off for ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area. American Holly grows there. It isn’t supposed to grow in Dent County, but it didn’t read the book.

Holly is an evergreen shrub. I took a picture of it last summer. Green holly against green trees defeats the purpose of the picture: to show what the plant looks like.

In winter holly is still green. The other trees, shrubs etc. are not green, don’t have leaves to hide the holly. Winter is the time to get the plant picture. Winter hiking weather is the time to go walking.

geese on ShawneeeMac Lakes during winter hiking weather

Canada geese do make themselves known by honking loudly from near shore. They are silent as the flock glides across the lake.

The lakes were full of water after a wet fall. The short leaf pines looked lovely. The sunny day had brought other hikers out on the trail.

The trails around the lakes are easy walking. The lake views from the various bridges showed the extent of the lakes much more than when trees block them. A flock of Canadian geese were enjoying the lakes.

watching Canada geese during winter hiking weather

Canada geese can become nuisances. They seem to visit ShawneeMac Lakes on a short term basis.

Several of the holly plants were decked out with red berries. Holly has two plants. The male produces the pollen. The females produce the berries. A number of plants including American persimmons have that arrangement.

Now I have the American Holly plant picture. The next time winter hiking weather arrives, I will be back out on the trail to take winter bud pictures of various trees, shrubs and woody vines.

Enjoy nature for all seasons in Exploring the Ozark Hills, a book of nature essays and photographs.

Finding Goats in Woods

Winter is a dull time for botany. The plants are hunkered down or dormant. Finding my goats in woods makes a walk interesting.

The strange thing about goats foraging in the woods is how they vanish. I wanted to check on the new kids. I knew where the goats had gone up into the woods. I followed the trail.

And I found no goats.

The trail winds across the hill, crosses a couple of ravines and continues back across another hill. Four deer bounded off as I approached the first ravine. No goats.

The leaves were scuffed. There were hoof prints. I saw no goats in woods.

The trail disappeared. I could look down into the big ravine. The herd probably went down and crossed to the south pasture hill. I turned around to start back.

The bare, brown trees were silhouetted against the deep blue winter sky. Dry leaves scattered or crunched under foot. A few green plants hid under the leaves. A sedge with frost yellowed blade tips stuck up.

I remember walking this trail when wildflowers scattered themselves across the hill. This is where I took the shooting star picture on the “My Ozark Home” cover.

But no goats in woods rewarded my walk. I decided to take a side hike up to some big rocks and turned.

goats in woods

Someone is coming, say the goats. They are on alert, ready to run.

The herd stood there looking at me. On the way out I scoured the hills as I walked and saw no goats. Now they stood poised to bolt toward home.

I called and started up the hill. They went back to foraging. Acorns are still thick on the ground here.

Rose, Agate, Pamela and Spring came over for petting. Drucilla warned her kids to stay away from me. She was ignored.

The herd moved on. I trailed behind amused at how goat in woods appear and disappear.

New Year’s First Flowers

No flowers are blooming now. Even the dandelions are dormant. As I go through my pictures from this year, I wonder which will be the first flowers to bloom in the new year.

Several flowers come to mind. Little corn speedwell with its sky blue flowers has bloomed during warm spells in January before.

corn speedwell flower

Corn speedwell came from Europe, but is wide spread in areas of short grass. These little flowers look like bits of summer sky scattered on the ground during warm spells over the winter.

Dandelions always seem poised to open their yellow flowers as soon as warm weather arrives. Their dark green rosettes dot the yard ready and waiting.

daffodil flower

Planted world wide, daffodils are a symbol of spring yet bloom, not as soon as spring hints appear in winter, but after spring is moving in.

Daffodils are thought of as early spring flowers. As far as I’ve seen, their leaves come up early. The flowers don’t show until spring is battling its way through the dregs of winter.

Shepard Purse flower first flowers

This wild green tries to stay green all winter. It doesn’t take much of a warm spell to encourage Shepard’s Purse to put up a flower stalk. The young leaves make a good addition to salads or stir fries.

Shepard’s purse is a surprise contender. It has rosettes here and there around the yard, mostly in the driveway or near the road. It was blooming late into November until the hard frosts were too frequent.

dandelion first flowers

Another wild green, dandelions put up their flower heads even in late winter, if it gets warm enough. The plants stay green all winter and make good additions to salads and stir fries.

If I wander down along the river, harbinger of spring blooms early. It grows tucked beside trees that warm and protect the roots through the winter.

There are many spring ephemerals. I doubt these are contenders for the year’s first flowers. They tend to wait until spring is trouncing winter before appearing.

Harbinger of Spring first flowers

Harbinger of Spring or Salt and Pepper is one of very few native plants to bloom early, before spring settles in.

Some things must be true for such early bloomers. They must be tough to withstand hard frosts and stand back up in the morning. They must shiver through cold days that bracket the few early spring days and endure.

Most of the flower pictures I am working with are from flowers blooming in the warmth of late spring and all of summer. They are often bigger and showier than those first flowers of the year. Their beauty will be welcome and enjoyed.

The one thing lacking for these later blooms is the sheer joy those first flowers bring. Winter is ending is what these flowers herald. That makes them special, no matter which ones they are.

Find out more about the Ozark seasons in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

How Do You Count?

Nature doesn’t count the way we do. When you look at a flower, some flowers are in sets of three, some fours and others fives.

Purple trillium is an easy one to see the sets of three in. It has three leaves, three sepals and three petals. False garlic is another one.

Bluets come with four petals. The early small bluet so hard to photograph as the camera always tries to lose focus has four distinct petals in some shade of lavender, blue or white. The later long leaf bluet has a trumpet that breaks into the four petal lobes at the top.

count three with purple trillium

A spring ephemeral purple trillium sends up a single stalk with three leaves. On them open three sepals exposing three purple petals hiding three yellow anthers.

The rose family has a set of fives. Tame roses have been bred to have so many petals, it’s hard to see the underlying fives. Wild roses, crabapples, wild plums and swamp agrimony have five petals.

People count in sets of ten. We have five fingers, all right, four fingers and a thumb, on each hand. Children use each one to stand for a number and end up making ten.

Our number system is set up on tens. We keep adding one number at a time until we get to that tenth one. It goes in the next column as one complete set of ten plus no ones (10). The ones add up again until we get to that tenth one again. It becomes a two in the tens column plus no ones (20).

count four on a bluet

A common bluet flower has four petals. They are often blue but range from white to lavender. All have the dots of color at the base. I find them very difficult to photograph. They seem to stay out of focus.

As I began to look over my rough – very rough – draft of The Carduan Chronicles, I hit this fundamental fact. I was counting in sets of ten. The Carduans would not count in tens as they do not have five fingers on each hand.

Now, as the Carduans are imaginary, I could change that. Yet I had good reasons for not giving them five fingers. Size is the most important factor.

I am roughly fifteen times bigger than the average Carduan. My hand is about six inches long from palm base to finger tip and half that wide. That would give the average Carduan a hand four tenths of an inch long and two tenths wide, roughly half an inch by a quarter inch. Their fingers would be a sixteenth of an inch in diameter, ridiculously small to have any strength in them.

count five on prairie roses

Prairie roses have this wonderful scent. It’s a bit sweet and spreads for five feet and more around a bush. These simple roses show the typical five petals.

So the Carduans have two fingers and an opposable thumb, three digits on each hand. They will count in sixes. Theoretical math calls this base 6. I’ve heard of it, but know little about how to use it.

This means I have to recalculate things in the draft and correct these counts before I can do a proper rewrite. This changes the number of ration packs in a crate. It changes the time frame altering the time line I need to construct to correct another set of problems.

The one thing I don’t need to change is the number of degrees in a circle. That was invented by the Sumerians long ago and they used a base of sixty giving 360 degrees in a circle. We still use this for navigation, for longitude and for compass readings. And sixty is divisible by six.

I still prefer using the normal way to count.

Wildflowers are one topic of photographs and haikus in “My Ozark Home.”

Finding Proper Viewpoints

Describing how to explore an Ozark ravine isn’t hard, or is it? I’ve explored ravines many times and now have the Carduans exploring theirs. But I need to find the proper viewpoints.

As I ramble down the ravine, I see far up the way. The streambed shifts from one side to the other. Side ravines enter, some folds in a hill, others coming between two hills.

Proper viewpoints of a ravine from my height

From my vantage point, my Ozark ravine is easy walking. Most fallen trees are small and easy to step over. I can see far ahead of myself.

Is this what a Carduan would see? No. Why not?

The Carduans are a little smaller than a blue jay. Finding the proper viewpoints for these explorers entails sitting and lying down. I settle for putting the camera down near the ground and taking pictures.

proper viewpoints for a small animal or a Carduan

From the viewpoint of my imaginary Carduan or any small animal, that easy to step over log is a major obstacle. The leaves mire progress down. An Ozark ravine walk becomes a struggle.

As I walk along, I step over fallen trees and branches. The Carduans will have to climb over these. If they are lucky, the trunk is crooked or lies on a soil hump leaving room to walk underneath.

When I cross over the stream bed, I look up the way and find a sloping way down and up. Most of these do have a foot drop on both sides. No Carduan will risk falling three times their height onto rocks.

proper viewpoints to see how a Carduan would spot a honey locust

The Carduans discovered the honey locust and its thorns. These thorns vary in length. The longest I’ve found was 16 inches. They are tough enough to stab through a tractor or truck tire. That distant tree is a honey locust. What would tip a Carduan off that this is the tree they seek?

Luckily for the Carduans trees fall across the streambed. Some are giants a foot or more in diameter. Others are six inches in diameter.

For me, I’d choose the big trunks. The smaller ones are adequate, but I’m not much of a tightrope walker.

The Carduans would prefer the smaller trunks. These would be wide roads to them and much easier to get onto.

Adam and Eve Orchid leaf

An Adam and Eve or Putty Root Orchid puts up a leaf in the fall. it lasts until late spring when the orchid blooms.

I may be interested in the proper viewpoints to use on my ravine exploration, however I have other things to see. One is an orchid. I’m sure there are more growing in the ravine, but I’ve only found the one.

Called Adam-and-Eve or Putty Root, this orchid puts up a leaf in the fall. It stays green through the winter, then withers away. This is when the flower stalk rises up a foot or more lined with half inch flowers.

Adam and Eve Orchid seed pods

The seed pods of an Adam and Eve Orchid are still hanging on last year’s flower stalk.

I found the leaf last winter. I couldn’t find the place to see the flowers. Now I’ve found this fall’s leaves and marked the place well for next spring.

Interestingly, the proper viewpoints to use when photographing smaller plants near the ground are the same as the ones I need for the Carduans.

Find more views of my Ozark hills and ravines in “My Ozark Home.”

Fall Liverworts Flourish

Wanting to reacquaint myself with the ravines as I get ready to work on “The Carduan Chronicles”, even though this is November, not February, I walk back into the first one after the rain stopped. Water is flowing over the rock shelves and making small waterfalls. Dead leaves cover everything. And the liverworts flourish on the rocks along the water.

liverworts flourish in ravine

Last winter this pond was frozen over and a white ice river extended up the ravine above it. The white ice river moved into “The Carduan Chronicles” for one adventure and a bit of exploration. The ravine itself has influenced the imaginary ravine the spaceship lands in. for now the ravine is a lovely walk looking up the slopes at the fall colors and admiring the mosses and liverworts on the rocks near the water.

November is National Novel Writing Month, that annual challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days. And I am attempting to return to Cardua and finish my draft long neglected as I finished two books, “My Ozark Home” and “Mistaken Promises,” over the year.

I do remember the premise: Spaceship Nineteen from a convoy ferrying colonists and supplies to a new Arkosan colony is dropped out of a disintegrating worm tunnel into a February ice storm and lands in an Ozark ravine where the three crew members and six young Arkosans are stranded leaving them to learn how to survive in an alien environment. Reading through the draft has helped me remember the incidents and interplay between the Arkosans now Carduans as they name their new home Cardua.

Walking through the ravines is to help move me back into the story. My walk was working until the liverworts distracted me.

Liverworts flourish in a pile on a rock

These liverworts pile exuberantly over this rock and each other. This would be a Carduan point of view as I put the camera on the ground looking at the rock.

Liverworts are one of those primitive plants mentioned in biology texts that teachers have probably never seen. There is a picture of a liverwort. The class yawns and forgets all about them.

Much of the year the liverworts around the creek and up some of the ravines merit only that yawn. These plants like lots of moisture and cool temperatures. Summer may have the moisture, but not the temperatures. Winter freezes them. Spring and fall are the best times to see liverworts.

new liverworts flourish

Evidently this is a new liverwort colony. The tongues are growing outwardly, branching and creating a pretty pattern across the rock.

Last spring lasted about three days.

This fall the liverworts flourish. Long green tongues stretch out over the rocks. They branch, pile over each other and almost glow in the dim light under the clouds.

Even being distracted I noted several things I may use in “The Carduan Chronicles” over the course of the month. And I have an added reason to visit other ravines: to see if the liverworts flourish in them as well.

Leaves Change Into Fall Colors

Leaves have a color for every season of the year. With the coming of killing frost the leaves change into fall colors.

Spring brings a delicate light green. The green darkens over the summer. About mid August yellow creeps into the green.

green hills

Fall has limped along with many warm days. The trees stayed green, waiting.

Over the week after killing frost, especially if there is another one or two frosts, that yellow spreads. Reds begin to appear. Length of day may trigger the changes, but frost makes the leaves change into fall colors.

One interesting experiment in my science classes was the chromatography of leaf pigments. It isn’t hard to do.

Take an eight inch or more long strip about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide from a filter. A finer grained one is best and some coffee filters are like that.

leaves change into fall colors

A week after killing frost the change is dramatic. The green hill is now shades of orange.

Have a tall jar so the strip barely touches the bottom and folds a little over the top. Tape the fold onto a pencil so the strip will dangle down from the pencil into the jar.

Draw a line in pencil (it must be pencil) across the strip 1 1/2 inches above the end.

Gather a couple of leaves. These can’t be dried out These can be spring, summer or fall leaves.

Place the leaf over the line and rub it with the side of a penny. You may have to move the leaf and repeat the rubbing to get a dark spot on or barely over the line.

Pour isopropyl or rubbing alcohol in the jar an inch deep. Hang the strip into the jar and wait. You will see the alcohol move up the strip. When the alcohol reaches the top of the strip, take it out and look what happened to the leaf spot.

The alcohol pulls the spot up the strip with it. But not all of the spot moves the same. There should be darker spots of slightly to very different colors in a line over the spot. These spots will fade as the strip dries so look quickly.

leaves change into fall colors

Approaching sunset turns the oranges into fire. The color will peak in about another week, but lose depth as many leaves begin to fall. Soon the hills will be bare for winter.

Using acetone or ethanol works too and can give slightly different spot arrangements. Each likes different parts of the leaf pigments better than others and carries them farther.

The striking thing for many students was that green leaves could have more than one green and colors other than green in them. The colors weren’t always the colors they saw. In class we discussed what the different chlorophylls and anthocyanins were and did.

Now I stand and watch as the leaves change into fall colors.

Leaves Falling Like Rain

Black walnuts are interesting trees. They are among the last trees to leaf out in the spring and the first to drop their leaves in the fall. Frost brings leaves falling like rain.

Walnuts begin falling in early September, a few at a time. By October many trees are bare of both walnuts and leaves. Other trees still have many walnuts hanging high overhead and lots of green leaves.

Killing frost arrives.

Standing in the barn door during milking I listen to the walnuts hitting the metal roof on the workshop. Whump! Pow, pow pow. Thump! It is a continuous drumroll.

leaves falling like rain cover the ground

Many of the black walnuts are still hard and green when they fall. The bigger ones will crush underfoot. The smaller ones roll and can make walking dangerous. Killing frost is a trigger for the walnuts to fall along with the leaves.

Black walnut leaves are compound so there is a foot long stalk with nine leaflets on it. Each leaflet is close to two inches long and half as wide.

Given time walnut leaves turn yellow in late August. This year was warm and moist so the most leaves stayed green

Each puff of wind brought leaves swirling down from the trees. Sunlight highlighted these as they twisted and spun and fell looking like great green raindrops.

Walnut leaves falling like rain covered the walnuts and ground as a green carpet. Walking is again hazardous.

leaves falling like rain leave bare trees

Black walnut trees don’t leaf out until the middle of spring. Their leaves begin to yellow and fall in the middle of August. The trees still grow big.

I was done picking up walnuts. Two loads were plenty and took most of my work time for two weeks. Then killing frost paved the ground with more walnuts.

There will be another load of walnuts. Not as big as the other two. It could easily be bigger.

Walking out to find the goats in the evening the ground under every walnut tree was paved with walnuts and leaves. Out on the hills too there were leaves falling like rain.

By noon the green rain was over. The black walnut trees are bare. It will be another year before I can again watch the leaves falling like rain.

Early Morning Walk

Last night rain poured down for a few hours leaving four inches behind before the clouds moved on. An early morning walk is important to see what damage the water has done.

Surprisingly the water stayed where it was supposed to. The road didn’t wash onto the fence.

pasture in early morning

A layer of mist still shrouds the north pasture and glows white as the sun rises. Behind the pasture the trees on the hill are beginning to turn color.

Up in the north pasture the sun is starting to light up the mist hanging over the grass. Wisps of mist are high enough to obscure the hill behind now turning colors for the fall.

creek in early morning

At the beginning of the north pasture, Whitaker Creek makes a big bend as it heads toward the upper Meramec River. It’s a peaceful place. Fish, frogs and crayfish inhabit the area. Great Blue Herons stop by, but fly off at any disturbance.

Time is sliding by on the crests of ripples on the creek. I turn back to check the south pasture.

The creek is up, but not flooding or even up to high water stage. I saunter across the bridge.

yellow jelly mushrooms

Dead wood as this older plank on the creek bridge is a good place to find jelly mushrooms after a rain. They come in several colors. The brown and white ones seem almost translucent. The yellow doesn’t and is smaller.

Crunching gravel underfoot masks the occasional plop of walnuts hitting the ground. The rushing of the creek keeps me company. It’s so easy to let my rushed feelings tumble downstream with the water.

The gravel is still on the culvert. No trees toppled. There is no real storm damage.

south creek in early morning

Near the south pasture the creek spreads out into a broad moving pond. The creek is split above the area by a small gravel bar.

This is now an early morning walk to simply enjoy the time away from tasks. Shadows still darken the south pasture. The mist is thin and white.

Still, morning chores are calling. For now the calls of the goats are quiet. There is no noise from traffic or whatever projects the neighbors are up to on top of the hill behind the house.

fantasy dragon

The remains of fallen trees can take on interesting shapes that change from different vantage points. I looked up from the creek and saw a dragon heading for the hill pasture across a sea of leaves.

The air is crisp, washed clean by the storm. Early morning walks are special times. I stand and linger looking up across the hill pasture.

Warblers are greeting the day with their songs. Some are quarreling in the trees along the creek.

The sun is peeking over the hills. Reluctantly I turn back to retrace my steps back to the house.

road in early morning

The road goes a tenth of a mile and dips down to a wet weather creek. On the east is the north pasture. Only in the fall does the rising sun stream out across the pasture and light up the road past the dip.

The sunlight is streaming across the north pasture as I walk up past the barn. I stop on the road to look down between the trees. It is tempting to continue my early morning walk.

A rooster calls. My cats Tyke and Cloudy call me. It’s time to serve breakfast.

There are so many special times at “My Ozark Home.” This is one of them.

Persimmons and Black Walnuts

Every breeze brings the plop of falling persimmons and black walnuts. Both crops are large this year.

My stash of black walnuts is growing slowly. Part of this is my fault. It takes time to go out picking them up.

The trees are another part of the problem. I gaze up and see branches laden with black walnuts.

The trees are too large for me to shake. The nuts are too high for me to hit or pick. I am a slave to the wind.

Persimmons are getting ripe now. They fall when ripe. It is not a good idea to pick persimmons. Even raccoons do not pick persimmons early.

a persimmon fron persimmons and black walnuts

This American persimmon is ripe and ready to pick. The wrinkles hide a sugar packed burst almost like a piece of candy. Early in the season, ripe persimmons drop to the ground. Late in the season they must be shaken down or they dry up on the tree. Birds do snack on them.

For the uninitiated, green persimmons make your mouth draw up into a pucker. It leaves the inside dry and mealy. And the bitter taste is added on top.

This result does not wash out easily. Eating a ripe persimmon definitely helps get that green persimmon residue out.

A great way of using persimmons and black walnuts is in persimmon bread. The rich taste of the persimmons is offset by the sharp acid tang of the black walnuts. “Exploring the Ozark Hills” has a recipe.

Since the two are both ripe now, it is tempting to go out and gather the two up and head into the kitchen. There are a couple of reasons not to.

Black walnuts must be hulled and dried or cured for a month before being hammered out of the shells. This lets the oils settle.

American persimmons have thick skins and numerous, big seeds. Both must be removed before using the persimmon pulp in any recipe.

Separating that pulp is not easy. I’ve tried several methods. Boiling is a disaster. Rubbing through a sieve is not much better. Perhaps a ricer would work, but I don’t have one.

What I do have is a freezer. After cleaning, the persimmons are dried off, dumped in a freezer bag and frozen for a week or so. They are so full of sugar, it takes time to completely freeze them.

Then thaw the persimmons. The skins slide off. The seeds pop out with little effort.

squirrels like persimmons and black walnuts

This young gray squirrel is out on the road eating black walnuts. The road is neutral territory for squirrels, but dangerous because of traffic. The squirrels will spend hours grabbing nuts and carrying them off.

Persimmons and black walnuts have other fans. The goats inhale any persimmons they find. And they do search, snuffling through the grass. They know every persimmon tree in their pasture and visit daily. From the trails elsewhere, deer do the same.

Black walnuts are a favorite of squirrels. They depend on walnuts for winter stores. I tend to be a sloppy picker and leave many behind for the bushy tailed crowd.

When the persimmons and black walnuts fall, the leaves are turning, the nights are cooling off and autumn has begun.

My Oak Tree Identification Problem

Any book on oak tree identification will list many oak hybrids. My older copy of “Trees of Missouri” lists fifteen. Yatskievych’s “Flora of Missouri” lists forty.

This is an identification nightmare. But it’s not my primary problem.

oak tree identification from a leaf

Many oak leaves have lobes. The white oak family have no prickles on the tips of the lobes and are rounded. The black oak family has the sharp tips with prickles. This leaf is from a Shumard oak.

Fall is a great time to go out looking at oak trees. Their leaves are still there to aid in identification. They are starting to make their winter buds. They have acorns on them.

One way to do oak tree identification is to lug the “Trees of Missouri” around through the woods. Each oak leaf is checked against the pictures. Each bud is compared. Each acorn is compared. And the tree is hopefully identified.

oak tree identification by acorn

Acorns have tannic acid in them. Those in the black oak family tend to have more and be more bitter. Indians would wash the acorn meal to wash the acid away. These acorns are from a Shumard oak. Each kind of oak acorn has its own size, shape and cup.

I hate to do my oak tree identification this way. I set the book down to grab a branch. It gets scuffed and dirty.

My favorite way is to take the camera out. I take the tree set of pictures: tree (if possible, those in the woods aren’t), bark, top and bottom of leaf, bud and acorn. Back at the house I bring up my pictures and go through my books.

oak tree identification by bark

Oak trees in the black oak family tend to have darker bark. Each kind of oak tree has its own bark pattern. this is a young Shumard oak.

Once I have an oak identified, I can go out again and label it.

This is supposed to be the way it works. I have a problem.

I am five feet tall. I have a walking staff eight feet tall with a hook on the tip. That means I can reach a branch ten feet up and pull it within reach, maybe.

In the woods the oaks have their first branches over ten feet up. The trees tower over me. At most I can see the leaves well enough to tell an oak from a hickory.

my oak tree identification problem

The trees reach up into the sky high overhead. It takes binoculars to really see the leaves. The bark may help identify the tree, but there are no other clues within reach.

Acorns are no help. When an acorn falls on the hillside, it bounces and rolls. Which tree did it come from?

My oak tree identification problem is getting to the leaves, buds and acorns. My only hope is to find young trees still within my reach.