Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

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.”

Haying Time Means Summer

Even though summer is in full swing here in the Ozarks, winter will return in a few months. And haying time is necessary preparation.

Like most plants grasses make seeds which means they bloom. Cool weather grasses bloom in late spring into early summer. Their nutrition value is highest when they begin to bloom.

haying time begins with mowing
The day before this field was almost waist high with grass stems and calf high with clover. Now all of it is lying down in neat piles drying in the sun. Normal desires for rain are switched for anxious cloud watching, hoping rain will wait until after the hay is baled and stacked in the barn.

And cool weather along with frequent rains make it difficult to make hay. Haying time consists of cutting the fields, letting it lie for a few days allowing the cut forage to dry thoroughly, then baling it and putting the bales under cover. More than a quarter inch of rain ruins the hay robbing it of nutrition and spreading mold.

The fields here have never been cut for hay as no one wanted to come any distance for the four small fields. This year is different. The fields are being cut and baled.

It is now summer and the main cool weather grasses have finished blooming and setting seed. These fields have lots of warm weather grasses in them too. And the cool, wet spring let the white and red clover grow luxuriantly.

haying time continues with baling
A rake gathers the windrows into long, tall windrows for the baler. Many people now prefer large round bales. This is an old farm with an old barn suited for square bales. Besides, I can move a square bale without a tractor.

Clover has thick stems which dry slowly. To help dry it more quickly, the hay is cut with a conditioner that crushes the thick stems.

The goats were not impressed with the cut fields and went elsewhere. Two young doe deer thought the cut fields were great for playing in. They engaged in chase games over the rows of cut grass.

stacks of hay ends haying time
Cloudy Cat immediately staked out a new napping place on a stack of hay. Unfortunately for him, more hay was stacked in the barn and he will have to find another, shorter stack to sleep on.

A few hot, sunny days later, the hay was dry and ready for baling. Haying time leaves those working in the hay hot and sweaty, covered with bits of dry grass itchy inside the clothes and dead tired at night.

In the barn, the growing stacks of hay spread aromas of sweet, dry grass and provide valued sleeping spots for the cats. The stacks promise well fed goats next winter.

Baby Praying Mantises

Early summer is a very busy time for gardeners. It doesn’t leave much time to go out walking. Baby praying mantises in the garden bring some nature home.

My invasive bamboo is beloved by many creatures which makes me reluctant to get rid of all of it. Birds nest in it. Fireflies rest there during the day. Praying mantises lay their egg masses on it in the fall.

baby praying mantises go hunting
Unless a baby praying mantis moves, it is hard to see. There were at least five egg cases in the bamboo. There are lots of these two inch long mantises scattered around the garden. They need to hide well as northern fence lizards also patrol the garden although these prefer sunnier areas, but will probably eat the mantises until they get big. This one is hunting across the chocolate mint plants.

I’m not sure when the baby praying mantises hatched this year. The weather was been much cooler than usual this spring. I do know they hatched.

One year I was lucky enough to see the baby mantises hatch. These are the Chinese ones sold to gardeners. The egg case was on the wild grape vine on the back garden fence.

The babies were a half inch long and squeezed out of the case. They lined the vines and fence weaving in the sunshine. They moved off in various directions by walking and jumping.

baby praying mantis reaching for another leaf
This was a most determined baby praying mantis. It wanted to get away from me and sped swiftly up into a patch of bamboo shoots. It stretched out, grabbed the next leaf, pulled itself over, sometimes leaping to the next one.

Baby praying mantises can not fly. Their wings are only nubbins on their backs until they molt into adults.

The mantises are now two inches long and spring green in color. They like to be in the bamboo as they blend in and lots of insects rest on the leaves.

Last fall I cut back the size of the bamboo patch by two thirds. The bamboo was not impressed. It sent out runners all over the garden. The runners put up shoots. I am now cutting all of these shoots down and pulling some of the runners.

As I cut shoots, I came across one of the mantises. It was climbing up into the bamboo shoots I was targeting.

baby praying mantises can climb
Baby praying mantises have no wings. They run, jump and climb to get around. They are surprisingly fast. If they stop, they disappear into the green background.

Instead I sat back and watched the insect climb the leaves. The mantis was determined to go up the shoot reaching up to the next leaf, climbing over it and reaching for the next one.

The shoot was cut and the mantis was shifted to a shoot not scheduled for cutting. It’s nice to know many of the baby praying mantises survived the dangers in the garden, found enough food and are well on their way to their ultimate six to seven inch length.

Meet more wild insects of the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Daisy Fleabane Temptation

Bigger daisy type wildflowers like ox-eye daisy and black-eyed Susans are already in full bloom. Daisy fleabane begins the parade of smaller white daisy type flowers that will extend all the way into the fall asters.

This three foot tall plant is easy to spot along roads and in pastures. Its leaves line the stalks with dark green. The stalks split into small stalks branching out to open bouquets of the white or white shaded with pink flowers.

daisy fleabane plant
In my garden the daisy fleabane plants are nearly four feet tall and still growing. The leaves are big and dark green. The numerous flower buds promise a snowfall of white soon. Unfortunately the flowers are followed by even more numerous seeds.

White heath aster is a similar plant. It blooms later. And the flowers are different.

Like all the flowers in the aster family, the flowers are really a group of flowers. Some are tubular in the center of the disk. Others put out what people call petals and botanists refer to as ray flowers.

Fleabane ray flowers are numerous and thin. It gives a fringe like look to the flower group. Aster flowers have fewer and thicker rays.

daisy fleabane flowers
The central disk of a daisy fleabane is a mass of tube flowers that open from the outside edges toward the center. The ray flowers are numerous and thin.

Both daisy fleabane and white heath aster have yellow centers. Another member of the family blooms at the edges of the woods. Drummond’s aster is pale lavender with a lavender center.

This year a few daisy fleabane plants have come up in my garden. They are in an open area used as a path rather than for planting.

The plants look wonderful as garden soil is a big treat for them. They will be masses of white flowers. And I like daisies and asters.

daisy fleabane buds
The flower beetles move in even before the flowers are open. These beetles have the transparent wings, but only partial covering wings.

The temptation is to leave these garden visitors and enjoy the show. I don’t normally plant flowers as I never have time to take care of them.

Moth mullein, evening primrose, chicory, hispid buttercup, corn speedwell, dead nettle and chickweed already grow in my garden. The first four are primarily for enjoyment. The last are for the bees in early spring.

The problem is with the prolific seed production of these wildflowers. Daisy fleabane is a big temptation. I’m sure next year I will be pulling up dozens of plants as weeds.

Read about more Ozark plants in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Monarch Time Is Here

The announcement that monarch time is here at my place is the common milkweed plants. They come up as soon as the ground warms enough.

Monarch butterflies rely on milkweed plants to raise their caterpillars. The Missouri Department of Conservation urges landowners and homeowners to plant milkweeds to aid the butterflies.

common milkweed sprout
Common milkweed sprouts are much larger and a lighter green than the grass they often grow up through. They grow quickly gaining several inches a day.

This is also the time of grass seeding. The pasture grass is close to three feet high so the goats vanish except for their ears. The grass gets tall along the roads too and the mowing crews come out.

In this rural area most roads have ditches on either side several feet away from the pavement. Ditches are prime habitat for common milkweeds. Yet the road crews mow them down even though they purport to support the monarch initiative to grow more milkweeds.

group of common milkweed sprouts getting ready for monarch time
Common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, spreads through gemniferous roots, a term coined by Woodson in 1948. The root structure was confirmed by Dr. Richard Rintz. This habit lets the plants migrate from one location to another and increases the number of stalks forming large patches which are very impressive in full bloom.

Road crews are not the only culprits. Landowners too insist on turning their ditches into golf courses.

One problem is that many people don’t know what a young milkweed plant looks like. This is true of road crews and Conservation people as well.

common milkweed plant
This common milkweed plant is a little over three feet tall heading toward five to six feet when mature. The leaves are opposite and alternate directions at intervals along the stalk. The leaves can be eight inches long and half that wide.

Monarch time is close. These beautiful butterflies are on their way north from central Mexico where they spend the winter.

Common milkweeds don’t make good yard plants as they spread out colonizing new areas. Our big patch has moved about twenty feet over the years. Butterfly weed is a much better choice for a yard plant.

monarch time finds this milkweed plant ready to feed a few caterpillars
At a little over three feet tall this Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, is starting to form flower umbels. The large opposite leaves are easy to see.

Still, common milkweed which can reach six feet tall lined with large umbels of flowers abuzz with wasps, bees, bumblebees and hawkmoths is impressive. They really look nice along a road ditch.

If you have a road ditch, plant some common milkweeds. Then ask the road crew to not mow it until the fall giving the milkweeds time to flower, set seed and store up supplies for the winter. Mowing the flat area near the road gives plenty of visibility.

Monarch time is here. Growing milkweeds is a way to welcome them back for the summer.

For those seriously interested in U.S. milkweeds, look over Asclepias by Dr. Richard Rintz.

Hispid Buttercup Invasion

Several years ago a lovely buttercup appeared in my garden. After much debate, I decided it was an Hispid Buttercup, although the plant in the garden was much bigger and lusher than any in the wild.

As is the case with wildflowers, the next year produced a bumper crop of Hispid Buttercups in my garden. I pulled most leaving a couple to grace the garden with their sunny yellow flowers for most of the summer.

Hispid Buttercup flower
Hispid Buttercup flowers are bright yellow and held over the foliage. A happy plant is covered with blooms for months.

The plant was not happy with my garden as a place to grow. It decided the entire yard needed a few buttercups. Some made it across the road into the back yard.

On the way to town I pass a horse pasture, at least it is supposed to be a pasture. It is yellow as the Hispid Buttercup has taken over.

Hispid Buttercup plant
This small plant was out in the creek bottoms. The one in my garden is much larger and lusher and made me wonder if it was the same plant.

Normally the plant is small, only a foot tall or so. It sports a handful of flowers. It favors drier areas with a bit of shade as the edges of the woods.

The flowers are glossy. They really have a special chemical giving them their bright shine making them a nightmare to photograph. Cloudy days work the best along with restricting the light setting.

The flowers are smaller, about three quarters of an inch across. Pistils form a pompom in the center. They become a little fruit filled with seeds.

Hispid Buttercup leaf
The basic hispid buttercup leaf has the three lobes. Bigger leaves can have lobes in the original ones making a more complex leaf. The majority grow up on long petioles from the base of the plant.

If you can put up with the invasive nature, the Hispid Buttercup would be a lovely addition to a flower garden. It blooms from late spring through most of the summer. In the garden the plant is around 18 inches tall forming a mound of green foliage hidden by the yellow flowers.

In my garden, which is supposed to be a vegetable garden, my buttercups have a spot where several plants are allowed to grow. All others are dug out and removed.

Admire more Ozark plants in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Dwarf Larkspur

For over 25 years I’ve walked around on these hills and along the road. Surely I’ve found and seen all the flowers by now. Dwarf Larkspur proves me wrong this year.

dwarf larkspur plant
The dwarf larkspur plant itself is small. The flower stalks give it its height, a little over six inches.

This is a small plant with big dark blue flowers. A single plant was nestled in the grass by the nearby spring.

That dark blue is how to find this plant. It stands out from the spring greens around it. Even so I was lucky to spot it as this plant was barely over six inches tall, but the flower stalk was still getting taller.

dwarf larkspur flower
Deep blue and hairy describes the flowers of the dwarf larkspur.

The plant I found was in a low, moist, shady area near a spring. The area has lots of grasses, periwinkle, wild geranium among others. The area has been let go wild now rather than mowed for picnicking.

dwarf larkspur side flower
It’s easy to see the spur or up swept tube looking at the dwarf larkspur flower from the side.

The leaves are on long petioles and have numerous lobes sticking out from a central area above the petiole. The tops are light green and the underside even paler. The petioles come from the base of the plant.

dwarf larkspur leaf
Called palmate, the dwarf larkspur leaf is the type where all the lobes radiate out from the top of the petiole.

The dwarf larkspur flowers begin blooming from the bottom buds on the flowering stalk and move upwards. It’s easy to see where the name came from as the flower is horn shaped with the back swept up into a blunt point.

The open end of the flower is split into six petal tabs surrounding a white ring. Inside are short hairs, stamens and pistil. The blue outside has a covering of short fuzz.

None of the seeds were ripe. However I peered into the throat of the old flowers now green husks. At the base were four seeds still green and growing.

I had planned on going to other places this year, but am staying close to home to avoid other people as much as possible. Having found a new plant, dwarf larkspur, around my home area I’m planning to do more exploring. There may be other new plants out there waiting to be found.

Find out about some of the plants and other things in the Ozark hills in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Putty Root Orchid

Exploring in the big ravine a few years ago I came across a single interesting leaf. I remembered seeing a picture of it in my “Ozark Wildflowers” guidebook under an entry for the putty root orchid also called the Adam and Eve orchid.

In the fall this single large leaf appears. It is finely striped green and white yet looks green. It is elliptical with a blunt point. Only one leaf survives the winter.

Having no way to mark the spot, I made note of a large sycamore nearby on the edge of the ravine waterway. A couple of fallen branches were moved to surround the leaf.

And I couldn’t find it again.

A couple of falls back I found the leaf again alongside a single stem with seed pods on it. The putty root orchid blooms in the spring and this was the result.

I again marked the spot. This time I could find the stem as it was a bit over a foot tall and more easily visible than the leaf down near the ground.

Missouri is home to a number of orchids. The most well known one is the Lady Slipper. Other nice ones to spot are the Lady’s Tresses with their small, white flowers spiraling around a central stem.

Putty root orchids have the single leaf in late summer through the winter. By spring it’s tattered and drying up. Some springs, not all, the plant sends up a stem topped with purple and green flowers.

putty root orchid flower

This spring I got lucky. I had gotten good at finding the correct sycamore tree and could watch for a flower stalk. And it was up with the first orchids open.

The Lady Slippers are blooming now too. I love finding the big yellow moccasins in various ravines.

The putty root orchid is much smaller, but lovely colors. Even better is finally finding it in full bloom.

Milkweeds bloom in the summer. Check out the new guidebook to Missouri Milkweeds.

Walking My Ozark Hills

Walking my Ozark hills has been a real joy for many years now. They provide inspiration for some of my posts, comfort when things go awry, relaxation on lazy afternoons.

Watching the goats out in the pasture the other day reminded me of some people who wanted to buy some goats one year. I warn people to set up a day when they will come by so I can keep the goats in.

walking my Ozark hills can be challenging
This Ozark hill is very steep. All those leaves hide gravel, holes, fallen branches and other hazards. Only an emergency will get me to go straight up this hill.

These people were expected in the morning. Instead a vehicle pulls up the afternoon before. They were out driving and thought they would drop by to see the goats.

using a goat and deer path for walking my Ozark hills
Goat paths are often easy to follow. They angle along most of the way up then fan out leaving me scrambling the last third of the way. One hazard of following a goat path is being taller than they are. There are times I must detour around fallen trees they walk under or over.

I knew where the goats were. They were on top of the hill. Walking my Ozark hills had long since taught me to respect them. I warned these people about how steep they were. They insisted they were in shape and would enjoy a little hiking.

hillside gravel
Loose gravel is an accident waiting to happen. My Ozark hill is covered with the stuff. It shifts underfoot. It slides down taking my foot with it. Hill climbing shoes must have good tread.

We set off across the bridge and out along the side of the hill. I knew from previous times the far end was an easier way up. They kept pace until we started up the hill.

This hill is steep, stair steep without the stairs. It is covered with loose gravel that rolls under foot. It is a steady climb of a couple hundred feet or more.

lichen and moss on rock
Larger rocks are covered with folious lichen and moss. This is interesting to look at. It is dangerous to assume such rocks are securely embedded in the hill. The bigger ones are. The smaller ones often aren’t.

We got to the top of the hill. The goats looked us over and decided to move over to the next hill. A cascade went past down the hill and up the next hill.

The people watched the goats go by. I asked if they wanted to follow the herd. They declined. They would be back in the morning as previously arranged. I heard panting as we went down the hill.

looking at the creek walking my Ozark hills
Steep as the hill is going up, don’t look down. The creek flows along much of this particular hill. The path can run on the edge of the slope down. There are places where one slip on the gravel will land me in the creek. So far I’ve only slid down five or six feet before stopping. It does get scary at times.

Walking my Ozark hills never seemed that bad to me, at least not going up. I tend to follow the goat trails and set a steady pace. It’s good aerobic exercise.

The hard part is coming back down. Some parts are done tree to tree or sitting down and sliding. Who needs a roller coaster when I have my hills?

Enjoy my Ozark hills in My Ozark Home.

Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri

A few hardy wildflowers are blooming in the Ozarks. The milkweeds, milkvines and pipevines of Missouri are months away as they like it hot.

As wildflower season begins, I’m checking through my equipment. Camera and batteries. Tripod. Walking stick. Guidebooks.

Speaking of guidebooks, there is a new one out. Dr. Richard Rintz has completed his guidebook to the Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri.

cover for Milkweeds, Milkvines & Pipevines of Missouri by Dr. Richard E. Rintz

Wildflower enthusiasts know about milkweeds like common and purple and swamp. Gardeners may know butterfly weed, the orange milkweed. Missouri is home to fifteen milkweeds.

The four milkvines are around, but not as well known. Maybe I should amend that comment as Cynanchum laeve better known as sand vine, angle pod or blue vine is something of a nuisance once it moves in.

Milkvines that should be better known are the Mateleas or climbing milkweeds. These two vines are long vines adorned with flower clusters, one purple and the other white. They are not difficult to grow and come back year after year needing a trellis and little else.

angle pod flowers from Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri
Angle pod is one of four Missouri milkvines. The names milkweed and milkvine are from the thick white sap of the plants.

Pipevines are different. Missouri has two. Most common is one called Virginia snakeroot. It likes wooded hillsides and is difficult to spot even though it is a foot and more tall.

The second is known as Dutchman’s wooly breeches and is hard to miss along rivers when it’s around. The leaves are a foot across and heart-shaped.

pipevine flower from Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri
Looking at a pipevine flower from the side it’s easy to see where the name pipevine came from. The flower uses its shape to trap small insects inside for a day to cover them with pollen, then releases them to seek out another flower. The insects are well fed in return.

The flowers give the group the name of pipevine as they are shaped like a pipes. The Virginia snakeroot flowers are a brownish purple and near the ground as they are ant pollinated and ants cart the seeds away. Those up on the big vines are green and a couple of inches tall.

Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri has lots more information about these plants. The guidebook is full sized with large full color photographs to aid in identifying these plants.

These guidebooks are privately printed and spiral bound. Dr. Rintz has studied these plants extensively for many years. This guidebook is easy to use for any wildflower enthusiast.

Read sample pages from the guidebook Milkweeds, Milkvines and Pipevines of Missouri.

Multiflora Roses Everywhere

I remember the ads years ago advertising living fences. Multiflora roses were touted as ecologically good and planted all over.

Now everyone wants rid of their multiflora roses. They spread quickly reaching up into trees and covering pastures. Every branch touching the ground puts down roots.

Trying to walk through a patch of these thorny bushes shows why people thought they would make good fences. Clothes, hair, skin get caught in the thorns. Branches wrap around legs and attach to backs.

multiflora roses have white flowers
Rosaceae, the rose family, has a basic flower pattern like that of the multiflora roses. There are five or a multiple of five petals around a central cone surrounded by numerous stamens. This same pattern is seen in common and rough cinquefoil, wild plums, apples, hawthorns, pears and native roses among others.

In areas where multiflora roses are common it’s a good idea to stick some hand pruners in the back pocket. These are the easiest way to extricate yourself from the embrace of these determined plants.

To give the plants their due, they do cover themselves with masses of white flowers in the spring. The flowers are small, single roses with little scent and become small, red rose hips that persist through the winter unless eaten. Native roses are pink with a strong, sweet scent and larger hips.

Goats and probably deer like the leaves. Their dexterous lips reach in between the thorns and yank the compound leaves off.

Like all successful invasive alien plants multiflora roses leaf out early. The bare stems already have swollen buds and some have opened into leaves. These will be welcome food during this lean food month for wildlife.

multiflora roses leaf out early
It’s February with snow threatening the Ozarks. The multiflora rose cane buds are swollen, some already opening up their leaves. Native plants are still dormant. If the rose leaves aren’t killed by frost, the plants will be growing vigorously before the native plants are leafed out.

Eradicating multiflora roses is next to impossible. They have deep perennial roots. Even if all of the canes are chopped off, new ones grow up from the roots.

Some herbicides will turn the bushes brown. Some of these roots will grow out again.

Intensive grazing by goats will kill the plants out as the new buds are eaten as soon as they open out into leaves. This works best if the old canes are cut down first so the goats can eat the tender new canes and leaves. They will take the tips of old canes, but not the main woody part.

These plants are a nuisance, but multiflora roses are here to stay.

Kingfisher Comes Visiting

Raucous cries greeted me the other morning as I went to open the pasture gate for the goats. I thought I recognized the bird call and looked for the source. There in a tree was a kingfisher.

kingfisher
Kingfishers have a big voice, but aren’t very big. I tried to blend in with the goats. The kingfisher was not fooled.

When we first moved here, there were deep pools along the creek. Two properties up there was a beaver dam slowing down the flood waters and evening out the regular flows. A kingfisher was unusual, but did come calling.

The loggers came through several properties above us. The property before ours cleared the land all the way to the creek then put large cattle on it.

New owners destroyed the beaver dam after killing all of the beavers. They used a small bulldozer to straighten the creek.

kingfisher
Minnows inhabit the creek in front of the tree where the kingfisher sat. The creek is only a foot deep and eight feet wide at this spot. Maybe the creek will deepen more over the next few years and the kingfisher will be able to move into the area.

Our deep pools filled with gravel. The creek bed gained about eighteen inches of the stuff.

The properties above us have new owners. The beavers are trying to establish themselves again. The creek banks are growing up in sycamores, black alder and willows. Slowly the gravel is being pushed down to the river and pools are starting to form along our creek again.

Snapping turtles discovered the creek. One or two come up the creek every year. One even laid eggs a couple of years ago.

kingfisher
The goats were eager to go out and graze. The herd left me standing with my camera. The kingfisher inspected me and decided I was no immediate threat. After I went back to the barn, I heard his calls from further down the creek.

Now a kingfisher has come up the creek to look the place over. The pools aren’t really deep enough yet for him to dive for his supper. The fish are still a bit small.

As far as I know the creek mainly has broad headed minnows, bloody shiners, darters and madtoms. The minnows and shiners can reach six inches, but are normally four or less.

Maybe, in another year or two, the pools will again have blue gill in them. They will again be four feet deep. Then a kingfisher won’t just visit looking the place over, but will decide to stay.

Looking At Seeds

When was the last time you thought about seeds? Not buying them, but what they are. Looking at seeds shows several things. They are truly wonderful things.

A seed is a special package designed to survive in harsh conditions. Inside is a precious cargo: a new plant.

Those who split open persimmon seeds to forecast the winter weather talk about spoons, forks and knives. What they are really talking about is a plant embryo lying in different positions inside a package of provisions to nourish it when it germinates.

giant ragweed seed
Nestled against the stem giant ragweed seeds are protected until the birds come by. Finches and sparrows hang on the stems picking the seeds out and eating them. The birds never seem to eat them all judging from the numbers of new plants showing up in the spring.

Splitting open a peanut lets you see the plant embryo too. It’s that little nubbin at one end.

Looking at seeds shows their great diversity. Lots of familiar seeds are small. A giant ragweed seed is a quarter of an inch long. That seed packs a big plant into a tiny package.

Birds love seeds for the same reason plant embryos do. That little package is packed with nutrition. It has lots of fats, carbohydrates and proteins, perfect for keeping animals warm during cold weather.

Before anyone starts feeling guilty about eating those seeds, plants make more than enough. Picture a dandelion clock. Looking at seeds in the ball will show couple dozen seeds.

looking at seeds and counting them
Dandelions are common plants usually considered weeds, but are edible. The clock or ball of seeds is easily recognized. How many seeds are in one? Each white dot is over one seed.

Now picture a lawn say 30 feet square. That gives it 900 square feet. If a dandelion plant needs a quarter of a square foot of space, that lawn can accommodate 3,600 dandelion plants.

If one dandelion plant grows in that lawn and produces seeds at the rate of 20 per ball and five balls on the plant (You do know this is a very low estimate, if you’ve ever watched a dandelion.), that one plant will quickly become one of 101 plants.

These will be large enough to bloom in a month. If each produces the same number of seeds and the original plant produces another batch, there will be 10,100 plants vying for those 3,600 spots.

We need more birds eating more dandelion seeds. And that goes for most plants. Enjoy eating some seeds today.