Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Using Red Cedar Poles

I’ve been using red cedar poles for years. They make great chicken roosts.

The advantages to red cedar include the smell. This does diminish over the years. The tree tends to have a trunk that stays much the same diameter for a long distance . There are usually lot of them in a small area. And they are easy to cut down.

Maybe that last one is a stretch. Red cedar trees are lined with branches. Each branch must be cut off. Many of them are small enough to use loppers instead of a saw.

red cedar poles come from large red cedar trees
Although the tree is called red cedar, it is a juniper. It takes advantage of any open area and can come up in hordes. Few animals eat red cedar. Goats do in the fall and winter, possibly deer as well. The berries are valued by birds like cedar waxwings. It is a good roosting spot for many birds especially in bad weather. However, too many of the trees will kill out competing plants.

Why the sudden interest in red cedar poles? I don’t need any at the moment. That may change as the goats like to browse on them in the winter.

As I write “The Carduan Chronicles,” I realize many of the things easily available to me won’t be to these small survivors. That includes lumber. They do have the wooden crates their supplies are packed in. But that will be all the lumber available.

They want to build things. At the moment shelving is needed to keep kitchen pots and pans and utensil up off the ground. They will need to store food supplies.

red cedar poles for the Carduans
Red cedar saplings tend to have trunks that stay the same diameter for two to three feet. They are about three quarter of an inch in diameter. There is no red center, only white sapwood with lots of resin. Still, they will work as poles for small building projects.

This is where the red cedar poles enter the story. They will make excellent uprights to hold these shelves. Granted that these poles will not have the lovely red centers as such trees are much larger than the Carduans would care to tackle. But the white wood lasts a long time when kept dry and is easy to work with.

The resin might be a problem. But these survivors need to make torches and the resin will work very well. That is, it will once they learn how to start a fire.

Come to think of it, those red cedar poles will work as roof rafters too. Oak might be better, but they don’t know that. Yet.

Read more about Ozark red cedar in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Honey Locust Thorns

Every year honey locust seeds drift into my garden. I pull up dozens of the little trees. Some I reach for and find I have a handful of honey locust thorns.

Some seedlings come up armed with half inch needle thorns. Most do not. The grown trees are the same.

honey locust tree
From a distance a honey locust tree looks like a tree. What sets them apart is the hazy look around the trunk caused by the thorns. Even the thorns don’t keep deer or goats from chewing on the bark so this tree is protected as the goats do value the shade in the summer as a favorite lay up spot in this pasture during hot weather.

Somewhere I read that, although honey locust trees have both male and female flowers on them, some have more female ones. These are the ones covered with thorns. I’m skeptical.

The prize winner of the honey locust thorns was a whopping sixteen inches long. Most are half that. Those on twigs and small branches may be a mere two or three inches long.

thorns make useful tools
Anyone who has ever driven a rubber tire over a honey locust thorn knows they are hard as nails and very sharp. Only trees that have been attacked by deer or goats make huge numbers of long thorns.

Small thorns are generally a single barb pointing up. Longer thorns have side thorns on them. The small ones are the most dangerous.

Honey locust branches are easily broken off, especially when they are small. These barbed booby traps sink down into the grass. The thorns last for years, hard and sharp. Any foot or tire that goes over them may regret it.

small honey locust thorns
This small two inch thorn may not look that fearsome. It will flatten a tractor tire. If you are a four inch tall Carduan, it will be very useful as a weapon. Think about porcupine quills. Not too many would be predators want a mouthful of thorns.

On a honey locust trunk the thorns grow in clusters. The color varies. Old thorns weather into a dull grey. New thorns are shiny reddish brown. Others are intermediate.

Scattered clumps of short thorns adorn a honey locust trunk. Then a deer or a goat comes by and starts nibbling. The number and length of the thorns increases. Some trees end up with their trunks so lined with thorn clusters its hard to see the bark. It does deter the goats.

honey locust thorns
This honey locust hasn’t been bothered much. It has small thorn clusters up to four inches long. The tree is in an old cow pasture that is hayed, but no livestock. If deer browse on the bark, more thorn clusters will appear and the thorns will be much longer. The tree got its name because of the sweet pulp inside its seed pods. The flowers drip with nectar as well and attract lots of insects.

Why the interest in honey locust thorns? As I write “The Carduan Chronicles” I find these small aliens need to defend themselves and hunt for game. These thorns are ideal.

The thorns are hard, sharp, fairly easy to get, come in a variety of lengths. They will definitely discourage a predator that doesn’t want a mouthful of thorns. They can double as a spear to bring down small game animals. Then there are the various other uses: walking stick, digging stick, lever.

Honey locust thorns are very useful indeed.

Wishing For Spring

Winter is arriving in the Ozarks with typical fanfare. A day of seventy degrees is followed by a day of falling temperatures from forty to near freezing. This leaves me wishing for spring.

There are other reasons. The first chapter of “The Carduan Chronicles” won second place in the Arts Rolla writing contest. Definitely incentive to complete this massive mess.

Spring Beauty flowers
Spring Beauty plants are a stalk with two opposite leaves. The top of the stem forms lots of flower buds that open a few at a time. Some petals are nearly white. Others are nearly pink. Most have the pink anthers over pink stripes on white petals.

And there is NaNo – National Novel Writing Month – where I have said I am completing “The Carduan Chronicles” even though I’m not sure it will take another 50,000 words to complete it. As part of bringing the two plots together, I am taking the two ships through one day at a time. And the Ozarks is in spring.

The Carduans are meeting spring flowers like Spring Beauty, Rose Verbena and Toothwort. They are munching on flowers from the Redbud trees. And I am wishing for spring so I can enjoy these flowers with them.

Redbud spring flowers
Flowers are for producing seeds as far as a plant is concerned. They are sources of food for many kinds of insects. Redbud flowers are edible by people with a delicate nutty sweet taste.

I do realize that anyone reading this novel won’t want a daily diary stretching out over fifteen six day weeks. It would get boring quickly. But, since I am melding two plots, I must have a strict timeline so they meet at the proper time.

Knowing much of what I am presently working so hard on will end up cut out of the final novel could be very discouraging. However, I don’t know now what will be cut or merged or summarized as I start the final major rewrite of the novel. The Ozarks in spring is an exciting place to the Carduans.

Rose Verbena plant in bloom
Roadsides and creek banks sport vivid rose pink from early spring to frost in the form of the Rose Verbena.

These little aliens have few flowers on their home planet Arkosa. They are amazed at the ones they see. They are searching for food. Do you know which wild plants are edible? I am learning. They must find small creatures to kill for meat and face the necessity of killing their own meat.

Then there are dangers. The snakes are coming out for the warm seasons. Four inch tall Carduans are tasty morsels or are they? How do you protect yourself?

Still, in spite of all the regular plot and events happening, it is the arrival of spring I enjoy most. I am wishing for spring and savoring each description I include in my writing.

What else might the Carduans discover? Check out “Exploring the Ozark Hills” for clues.

Autumn Leaf Rain

Late autumn leaf rain in the Ozarks isn’t what you think of when you hear the word rain. It isn’t water.

Frost arrives and the leaves turn color. This year many of them turned brown. Some turned yellow, purple or orange.

Regular rain did go through when the color was peaking on the hills. Heavy stratus clouds blanketed the sky and kept the days dim dulling the colors.

goldfinch eating seeds
The giant ragweed and other plants are dead sticks now with food attached. Goldfinches, sparrows, juncos and cardinals are reaping the seeds.

Peak color often holds for several days. It did hold this year for two or three dull days.

Finally the clouds moved on one afternoon letting the sunlight make the hill colors glow. Wind made some leaves fall.

The next morning was about twenty degrees. This is frost flower temperature.

These delicate ice curls only happen one or two mornings each year. I go up on the hill to where the dittany grows to look for them.

autumn leaf rain
The first big killing frost signals the beginning of the autumn leaf rain and the end of fall colors. Any hint of a breeze brings down clouds of colorful leaves to blanket the ground. It continues until the trees are bare for the winter.

As I crossed the bridge, I found I was in the middle of the autumn leaf rain. Every tree was raining its leaves.

Most deciduous trees have s special layer form between their leaves and stems when the leaves change color. This double layer of cells is where the leaf will break free when it falls.

Like the color change, temperature determines when most leaves fall. A deep killing frost like twenty degrees does it.

Under foot the ground was paved with color. Leaves drifted down on the wind making me look for birds and finding only leaves.

ice edged leaves
Spikes of ice create a lacy effect on pasture plants. This takes temperatures in the twenties or below. These spikes vanish when the sun touches them.

The pastures were white with frost. Birds were everywhere. The juncos or snowbirds and sparrows have arrived for the winter. They are eating seeds on the various plants such as giant ragweed, daisy fleabane and grasses.

The hillside hadn’t gotten cold enough for frost flowers. The dittany even had green leaves on its stems. The trees were the attraction with their autumn leaf rain.

Admire the Ozark hills more in “My Ozark Home.”

Blazing Maple Colors

Many tree leaves turned brown and are busy falling. Maples are defying them by turning their usual blazing maple colors.

In looking through my “Flora of Missouri” volume I found there are quite a few different kinds of maple trees. Around here there are silver, sugar and red that I know of. That made me think.

Lots of people have maples in their yards in town. Fall is always lovely because of the blazing maple colors. These range from a simple lemon yellow to orange yellow to orange salmon to deep red.

The different kinds of maples look a lot alike to me most of the year. I know the shapes vary some, the barks vary and the leaves have differences. I’ve never really studied them, but should start again in the spring.

In truth I should start now. The different blazing maple colors are a good place to do just that. The colors are the key.

subdued sugar maple color
When we moved to this house, the sugar maple was a spindly thing. Large oaks shaded it. The oaks are gone now, one fell over and the other one died. The sugar maple has gained in size and is a tower of color in the fall.

Someone long ago planted a sugar maple tree in our front yard. It is finally getting big. It turns an orange tinged yellow. In cloudy light the color glows.

The silver maples growing in the area turn lemon yellow. It looks almost like the leaves are painted as the color is so true yellow.

I don’t know which maples turn that gorgeous shade of orange salmon. The trees are easy to spot as they seem to be on fire as the color is so vivid. I need to note which trees these are as they must be a different kind of maple.

blazing maple colors
One kind of maple turns this gorgeous color in the fall. There are several trees in town to admire. In the sun the trees are ablaze. In cloudy weather the trees smolder.

The deep red ones might be red maples. It seems logical to call them red maples, if they turn red in the fall. There aren’t as many of these around.

Asking the home owners which kind of maple grows in their yard won’t work. The trees are old and the houses have had several owners. I will have to get pictures of the buds and bark this winter. Flowers and leaves will come next spring. Perhaps next year I will know the kind of tree for each of the blazing maple colors.

See more photographs of Ozark seasons in “My Ozark Home.”

Ozark Fall Colors Finally Appear

September was warm, in the eighties most of the month. Leaves stayed green although they did yellow a bit showing that fall colors lurked just below the surface.

Killing frost hit suddenly a week early in October. The leaves ignored the warning.

Not all of them ignored this cold. The dogwoods turned purple. The black walnuts dropped their leaves a little faster. The far hillside looked more yellow.

some fall colors showing on hill
Ozark trees are having trouble putting on their fall colors this year. Some are just dropping their leaves. Oaks don’t drop their leaves and are turning red a week or so after the first killing frost.

Several more frost have whitened the mornings. Finally the trees are taking notice.

I read somewhere that day length was what triggered fall colors. Watching the trees here I have serious doubts about this.

The trees do change color over the growing season. Spring has a lighter, more vivid green. Summer has an intense darker green. Fall brings in a dryer, yellower green.

But these are all shades of green. Very few plants show fall colors as long as the temperatures stay warm. Poison ivy turns red even before frost.

fall colors increase
In just a day the amount of color showing on the hillside has increased. The trees were ready to turn color. The sycamores along the creek have had some leaves turn yellow, some turn brown and others fall still green.

Frost brings out the yellows and reds. The colors don’t show overnight. I’m watching the hillside trees.

First the yellow deepens. It’s as though the trees are discussing what to do next.

A week or so later the trees seem to come to consensus. Oranges creep in.

Over three or four days the entire hillside turns into a riot of fall colors. These will hold until a deep killing frost, high winds or storms knock the leaves off the trees en masse. The leaves do drift off a few at a time before this and would slowly leave the trees bare without the bigger pushes.

hillside in full fall colors
Once the trees begin to change color, the hillside is reddish orange in a week to ten days. The line of persimmons has already dropped its leaves leaving fruit hanging on the branches. This drops a few at a time when the wind blows. The goats harvest the fallen fruit during the day. Deer scavenge during the night.

This hillside  of mostly oaks is easy for me to watch as it is opposite the barn door. The goats have taken to staying out late and have to be hunted down and encouraged to come in. The late blooming grasses, falling leaves, acorns and persimmons are too good to leave, it seems.

I walked down the creek bed and out into the pastures. Perhaps I was late doing this as the hickories are brilliant yellow. Perhaps I should take more time away from settling the garden for the winter and go looking at the fall colors as they won’t be here nearly long enough.

Enjoy Ozark seasons in photographs and haiku in “My Ozark Home.”

Country Fall Sounds

Killing frost came by followed by a couple of light ones. Summer is over. Fall sounds surround those outside in the Ozarks.

Over the summer wind blowing through the leaves has a rustling sound. In the fall the leaves are dry and brittle so they clack and bang. Some of them drift off to the ground.

Cicada buzzing dominates the summer days sounding like a thousand tiny chainsaws at work. That is gone replaced by the chirping of katydids, chips of crickets and sawing of grasshoppers.

crickets iconic fall sounds
Only male crickets chirp. The difference? Males have two spines off the abdomen like this one. Females have a third longer one in the middle used to lay eggs down in the dirt. And the number of chirps a minute do reflect the air temperature.

Great Vees of geese fly high overhead on their ways south. The honking precedes and follows them helping anyone watching locate the flocks.

Warblers twitter in the trees. They spend the days raiding the giant ragweed stems of seeds. Evenings find the birds gathering in great noisy flocks getting ready to move further south overnight.

Crows have some kind of debate going on. One caws to gather a group together. They caw loudly as they leave the gathering. Then another one calls a meeting.

Woodpeckers are busy staking out their territories. Pileated woodpeckers have the loudest calls and sound off as they fly in their swooping patterns from tree to tree. Once the birds land, the drumming begins as the they drill out nesting holes.

Fall sounds add many new nuances to the country music buffet as many summer sounds retire for the year. Some sounds ignore the seasons.

morning doves
Morning doves are ground birds like chickens and have flat feet for walking. When spooked, doves take off with a whirring sound. These are waiting for the food to arrive at the bird feeder. Sunflower seeds are fine. Milo is good to. Millet is the best. This seems to be the opinion of the doves.

Morning doves whirr up from the ground when anyone approaches. The only difference is in number as the young birds have made the population swell. Some will migrate. Others will remain camped on the bird feeder.

Sadly the sounds of ATV’s, motorized mules and vehicles remain too. The fall sounds stop or get drowned out as these roar by. Hunting seasons are starting up so more are driving by.

Distant sounds of chainsaws drift in. Cold weather reminds so many of a need for firewood. Cutting earlier is better as the wood has time to dry.

Long stretches between man made sounds still occur. Then the fall sounds fill the air reminding all that winter will be here soon.

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

Wild Harvest Season

An almost glugging sound comes from the hills and pastures lately. The wild turkeys are enjoying wild harvest season.

Some walk around in the pastures reaping grass seed for hours. Grass seed is very small and it takes thousands of seeds to fill up a turkey. Our oats and wheat were once small until ancient farmers selected for bigger and bigger seeds.

Here and there clumps of trees drop another wild harvest. The persimmons are ripe.

persimmons are a sweet wild harvest
I have one goat who comes in not for the oats, but for the persimmons. The tree in the front yard obligingly drops several a day now and the goats love them. The goats must compete with the grey foxes, the opossums, the raccoons, the deer and other wild creatures who also love persimmons.

Wild lore says that persimmons aren’t ripe until after frost. That seems true most years, but not this year. The persimmons are ripe and falling even though there has been no frost, not even a light one this fall.

Lots of animals love persimmons, raccoons among them. Growing fruit requires protecting it from these crafty and determined fruit eaters.

Not persimmons. Even a raccoon won’t eat a green persimmon. It puckers the mouth filling it with a sharp taste that persists for hours. Ripe persimmons are soft, sweet as candy delights.

Up on the hills the squirrels, turkeys and deer are enjoying another wild harvest: acorns. This is a great year for them. The ground is covered with the various kinds.

acorns valuable wild harvest
These are chinkapin oak acorns, I think. Different kinds of oaks have acorns that look very different both in shape of the nut and the shape and size of the cap. The one in the center has a tiny hole in it where a weevil larva burrowed its way out after eating the nut.

White oak acorns are the preferred ones as they have the least tannic acid giving them a milder taste. The acorn consumers don’t stop there and eat any of them they find.

Lean times are coming. Winter will drop the leaves to the ground and stop the grass from growing. Here in the Ozarks food will be scarce for three to four months. Even the animals that don’t hibernate want a thick layer of fat to help keep them warm and to draw nutrition from.

The goats agree. They charge out of the pasture gate each morning and head to favorite spots. The first is a group of persimmon trees across the creek.

N is for Nubians who love acorns
From “For Love of Goats” this entry for N is Nubians, of course, who love the wild harvest of acorns.

Next is the hillside nearby for the acorns. This leads to another hill with a great wild harvest spot just over the crest.

Late in the afternoon the goats come down along a wet weather creek to the line of persimmon trees there. And they are getting fat from gorging on the wild harvest.

Essays about events happening in the different seasons are in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Garden Armadillo Caught

Evidently I have been maligning my garden woodchuck. The livetrap caught a garden armadillo.

The garden woodchuck is not innocent. It ate my fall cabbages except for one now fenced in. It is eating the Jerusalem artichoke leaves. It eats my tomatoes.

It is not responsible for most of the digging.

Armadillos eat things like earthworms and grubs. They can smell them several inches under the dirt.

Mulch encourages these favorite armadillo foods. So the garden armadillo was busy rearranging and removing the mulch to enjoy dinner.

garden armadillo trapped
This was one very unhappy armadillo. It was blundering along digging up my garden pathway and walked into the livetrap. The door closed and it sat waiting for me to come by. As the trap was not baited, I took my time checking it.

I must take some of the blame for this. The woodchuck did dig a couple of holes under my garden fence. I ignored them.

The reasoning went along the lines that the garden woodchuck would just dig another hole or climb over the fence.

Woodchucks are good climbers. That’s how they harvest apples and Asian pears. This one even seems to ignore electric wire.

My back garden fence is covered with wild grape vines which the woodchuck is eating and morning glories which it seems to ignore. Climbing this is easy.

So I left the holes. And the garden armadillo found them.

Armadillos don’t seem to dig holes under garden fences. I could be wrong. They do dig efficiently as their burrow holes show.

armadillo free again
The armadillo was a bit dazed. It wandered out of the livetrap and walked away. This one lives in the nearby pasture but likes the garden. There are enough armadillos around that killing or relocating this one would make no difference. I will reinforce the garden fences.

For now I will fill in the woodchuck holes. And I will watch for new ones. This isn’t easy at this end of the season when vegetable plants and weeds have turned the garden into a jungle.

Over winter I will reinforce my fence. The grape vine will be trimmed back. The morning glory vines will be pulled off. The weeds will be pulled.

Both the garden woodchuck and the garden armadillo and any reinforcements they may invite to the garden will find it harder to dig into. I will at least try.

What I don’t really understand is how I trapped the armadillo. The woodchuck had eaten the bait and departed, as usual. Besides, the bait wasn’t something the armadillo would eat.

Armadillos have very poor eyesight. I suppose the garden armadillo blundered into the trap and triggered it. It was glad to have me open the door and send it on its way.

Blue Morning Glories Take Over

One thing about the brush cutter: he cut the brush so close to the ground it’s still only a half dozen inches tall. The blue morning glories love it.

Even the poison ivy is having trouble recovering from being scalped. A few wildflower sprigs of yellow ironweed and various asters escaped and are trying to bloom. Blue morning glories spread their vines over all and bloom profusely.

blue morning glory flower
Blue morning glory flowers are best seen shortly after dawn when their blue color seems to glow. The flowers are only a couple of inches across, but numerous. They fade and wither after hot sun hits them.

Usually other vines take over the roadsides. Other years I found clematis, virgin’s bower, wild potato, wild yam and moonseed competing with taller brown-eyed Susans, Jerusalem artichokes and New England asters. This is the year of the blue morning glory.

My garden is a haven for morning glories. My fence is covered with them. My garden ones are the purple and the blue.

Morning glories can be a nuisance. They seed profusely. The seedlings will come up through six inches of mulch. They come up as soon as the ground warms up and continue to come up until killing frost.

blue morning glory plant
Morning glory vines twine around any object they encounter, even themselves. The vines are tough. When they get to the top of a gate, they hang out in space searching for something else to grab hold of. Once a half dozen strands run from a gate to a gatepost, it takes strength or pruners to get the gate open again. This is true even after frost kills the vines.

Since I have no real flower garden, the morning glories are a welcome bit of color. So I tolerate their shortcomings although pulling handfuls of seedlings can get annoying.

The purple morning glories are larger and more aggressive than the blue morning glories. In the garden two fence sides are for blues and the purple is on the other fences and a trellis. Both try to move into the bamboo.

The bamboo is popular. The woodchuck tried to dig a hole in it. The praying mantises lay their egg cases on the canes. The birds sleep among the canes and might build a nest there. Morning glories hang their blooms off the tips of the tallest canes.

morning glory leaf and flower
Blue morning glory leaves have three lobes. The flowers have the typical trumpet shape and the two colors, one at the base and another on the flaring edges.

The bamboo is not popular with me. I am busy trying to shrink the patch by half. It is in full attack mode sending runners out in all directions.

After three weeks of hot, dry weather, a half inch of rain fell. One of the joys of going out this morning was seeing the blue morning glories blooming profusely all along my path to the garden and barn.

Next year no doubt the other vines will again take over the roadsides. Still, I can enjoy the morning glories in my garden.

Velvet Ants and Snakes

It must be the continued summery weather here in the Ozarks. Animals are trying to get ready for winter, yet are still in summer mode. Velvet ants and snakes are among them.

My first snake encounter was at the laundromat. A woman was pulling her laundry out of a washing machine and backed up.

“There’s a snake in my laundry!”

I thought some poor black snake had been pummeled and drowned. Still, I went over to check it out.

Midland Brown snake
This Midland Brown snake is full grown yet doesn’t even fill my hand. After such an eventful day, it was very anxious to find a quiet place to rest up. Under a flake of mulch hay was the perfect place in the snake’s opinion.

Delight! The snake in question was a Midland Brown. And it was still very much alive.

For those unfamiliar with this wonderful garden snake: Midland Browns only get about seven or eight inches long. They eat slugs, insects and other small creatures that eat vegetables. They are not poisonous.

The snake moved to my garden.

That evening I almost stepped on a copperhead. It was on the road at the foot of the driveway and fled into the vegetation.

The next day I opened the shed to get my potato fork out to do some garden weeding. Another copperhead was coiled in the shed.

coiled copperhead snake
Vivid color indicates this snake molted recently. It was a bit of a surprise to open the shed door and see it. The snake seemed as startled as I was. That is typical of a copperhead. They seem to prefer leaving the area to being aggressive. This one never even turned its head toward me.

The snake remained motionless for a couple of pictures. Then it went into full panic mode getting tangled in the tools as it tried to disappear down a knothole to under the shed.

Yes, copperheads are poisonous. I do not kill them. It is rare to see them and they eat mice and voles.

On a walk that afternoon I came across another resident very rarely seen: a velvet ant.

Velvet ants are not really ants. They are wingless wasps. They can sting.

This one was very busy looking for unwary insects to dine on. Velvet ants are speedy, rivaling tiger beetles.

Velvet ants are rarely seen
Velvet ants are small, a half inch long. They race across and under leaf litter as the camera tries to anticipate where it will show up next.

Velvet ants are solitary and race through the leaf litter and other debris on the ground. In all the time we’ve lived here, this was only the second time I’d seen one.

Frost isn’t due until next month. Autumn officially gets here next week. Unofficially it is already here with cool nights and hot days. The animals and birds are on the move. What other surprises await me?

The Ozark Hills hold many surprises for those who walk them. Join me on the hills in “My Ozark Home.”

Impressive Bull Thistles

Surrounded by wild land, the house yards regularly sprout various wildflowers. This year was the year of the bull thistles.

I feel people recoiling in horror. Thistles are weeds! They have thorns.

There are a number of invasive thistles such as musk thistle. These are not allowed to grow here. Tall and bull thistles are native plants.

Even the native thistles can become weeds. One of the things about them is the tremendous number of seeds they produce. The lawn mower keeps the hordes at bay allowing only a few thistles to grow to maturity.

bumblebee on bull thistles
Every hair like pistil in a bull thistle flower head comes from its own tube flower. The bumblebee works its way around the blooms checking each flower for nectar before moving to the next cluster.

Thistles are a kind of aster. Those pink flower heads are masses of tube flowers, each a well of nectar. That makes thistles popular with insects such as bumblebees.

Hummingbirds like thistles too. They hover near a flower head and sip nectar from each flower before moving to the next breakfast buffet.

This year we had a couple of impressive bull thistles. Most of the plants fall over and send numerous branches skyward to bloom. Or they send up handfuls of stems each trying to be the main stem, but ending up making a thorny bush.

bull thistles can be impressive
The branches on this plant start about waist high on me. The top is a foot or more over my head. New flower heads open as older ones wither to begin forming seeds.

This year two of the thistles sent up single stalks that began branching three feet off the ground. One topped off at five feet. The other was over six feet tall!

As the flowers become seeds, thistles are still popular. This time the warblers and goldfinches hang off the flower heads eating the seeds. Many of the fluffy comas drift away minus their seed burdens. Plenty still have seeds to scatter across the yard.

We had a few years with moth mullein plants occupying the front yard with their short spires of delicate white flowers with purple centers. Then a couple of years hosted regular mullein towering up over their rosettes of huge hairy leaves. This was the year of the bull thistles. What will next year bring?

Enjoy essays about plants and animals from an Ozark year in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Fall Spider Watching

Spiders have been quietly spinning their webs since spring. They are big enough for spider watching in the fall.

Most of the orb web spiders die in the fall leaving behind egg cases from which the spring generation of spiders will hatch. Remember “Charlotte’s Web”?

double spider webs in morning dew
Double webs are common in summer and fall. One spider spins both. The spider has a look out spot between the two webs, but is difficult to spot and has an escape spot for quick getaways.

The baby spiders are tiny dots with legs. They spin tiny webs to catch pollen for food.

As the spiders get bigger, food means insects. Mosquitoes, flies and other insects we don’t want around. It takes a lot of insects for a spider to get big.

By fall orb spiders are big. Their webs are big. Grasshoppers are on the menu.

Spider watching begins early in the morning for garden spiders. That is when the spider spins her web. If you’ve never watched a spider weave a big orb web, you should.

garden spider great for spider watching
Garden spiders get big and their bright color makes them easy to spot. Each one seems to stake out an area and build a new web there each day. You have to get up early to see the whole process as the spider begins at first light.

As you watch realize that spider is essentially blind. Orb web spiders see little more than light and dark in spite of their many eyes (six or eight). A web is spun by instinct and touch.

The big black and yellow garden spider finishes up with a zipper in the center of the web. A marble spider (red with a blotchy yellow abdomen) spins in the evening and has no center decoration. Neither do the various carapace spiders with the large spiky abdomens.

All of these large spiders are females. The males are much smaller. They spend much of their time looking for female spiders.

carapace spiders have an other worldly look
This spider group is different. The spiky carapace is strange. There are several kinds. I’ve seen two around my hills. This one seems more common.

If you are lucky, your spider watching might spot a male courting. Remember these spiders can’t see. Theirs is a world of touch and vibrations. The courting is done by playing tunes on the web.

Spiders have many enemies besides people. Morning may find an empty web with a hole in the center. A bat came by. Birds eat spiders. Mud dauber wasps paralyze spiders for their young to eat as they develop in those mud nests.

Hopefully there will be plenty of egg cases hidden in protected places. We need spiders, not just for spider watching, but for non-chemical, ecologically friendly insect control.

Meet more Ozark residents in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Visiting Montauk State Park

Strange how it’s so easy to not visit interesting places close by. People do it all the time. I kept putting off visiting Montauk State Park.

The Paradoxa Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society gave me the opportunity when they went down to look for some rare plants. The weather forecast looked great. The forecast was wrong.

Current River in Montauk State Park
Current River begins in Montauk State Park where a cold spring pours water into Pigeon Creek. Much of the park is forested. There are some hiking trails. Members of the Native Plant Society were checking out the plants along the river.

Rain had moved into the Ozarks. Six inches over three days had fallen at my home during the week. The day for visiting the Park dawned overcast and was light drizzle by noon.

The drive to the Park was lovely. Usually August is hot and dry. This August has been hot and wet. Everything not kept trimmed back is green and lush.

Montauk State Park is at the headwaters of the Current River. A large cold water spring joins Pigeon Creek to form the river. The cold water is perfect for rainbow trout.

fishermen in Montauk State Park
Most people come to Montauk State Park to go rainbow trout fishing. The cold waters from the spring are right for the hatchery and the river.

A hatchery at the Park supplies fish for the droves of fishermen and women who descend on the Park beginning March 1 Opening Day and continuing until winter. There are hiking trails, but almost everyone is dressed in fishing garb carrying poles and gear. They line many areas along the river.

Members of the Society gathered to talk with the Naturalist. He is excited with the population of butternut trees in the Park as most of the trees were killed off by a disease. Those in the Park seem resistant and may offer a chance to spread these trees back into their original range.

small bluff along the Current River
Montauk State Park is filled with Ozark hills formed of thick layers of limestone and dolomite. When these are cut by the river, bluffs like this one form.

Butternuts are similar to black walnuts with compound leaves that look the same. The trunks are lighter in color and have a different bark pattern. The nuts are more egg shaped and have a better flavor.

We went down along the river in search of the two seeded mercury. The drizzle got worse. The mercury plants weren’t where we were searching. Lots of other plants were.

The scenery was lovely. Visiting Montauk State Park was worth the drive even though we had to leave early. I plan to go back and do some more plant searching when the weather is better.

Ozark hills are beautiful. Enjoy more of it in “My Ozark Home,” a book of photographs and haikus.

Misty Meadows

Thunder showers ran by in the late afternoon dropping a half inch of rain. The temperature dropped. A silver haze hung in the air low to the ground making misty meadows as sunset approached.

Mist usually shows up in the morning. It hangs heavy over the meadows and obscures the hills. It shimmers in white as the sun rises and dissipates when the sun’s rays light up the meadows.

morning misty meadows
The sun is still behind the hills barely visible shining through the gaps between the trunks of the trees on the hilltop. In the meadow white mist blankets the ground coating the grass with moisture, hiding tree trunks for the first five feet. The air is cool, still and wet.

This mist is predictable. First there is a lot of moisture on the meadows and in the air over them. Second the air temperature drops. Water vapor in the air becomes minute water droplets that reflect the light making haze over the meadows.

Going out walking through the misty meadows as the sun rises is peaceful and quiet. The night insects go silent. The birds start to call.

Morning mists
Morning mists didn’t always form layers. This one went up into the trees. As the sun rose, the mist formed white curtains hanging between the trees on the hills.

Increasing light whitens the mist. Spider webs and plants are hung with water droplets shining brightly.

When the mist is heavy, trees and other objects take shape slowly as I approach. Standing close to the trees there is the sound of light rain as the drops fall from the leaves and branches. Standing too close nets a shower.

Looking back a dark path marks my passage. On both sides the dew still shines on the plants. The dew from my path now soaks my pants legs.

Rubber boots help keep the feet dry longer unless the plants are taller than the boots. The dampness seeps down my pants legs into my socks and leaves my feet cold and wet by the end of a walk.

old stumps in misty meadows
When the meadow was cleared, the tree stumps were shoved into a pile. Over the decades the bottom stumps slowly decayed and the others settled. Out walking through the mist, the stump pile loomed suddenly in a clear pocket yet in sharp relief from the moisture on the wood.

Cold, wet feet are the signal to go back to the house. The way back is slow as the sun is up enough now to make the mist bright white even as it fades away.

Evening misty meadows seem blurry hidden below the hint of mist over them. The light is too dim for photographs and fades away as the clouds overhead turn salmon pink over meadows turning purple then black for the night.

Two of these pictures are from “My Ozark Home.” Check it out.

Fall Monarch Butterfly Migration

During the spring Monarch Butterfly migration the butterflies are big with bright colors. For the fall Monarch butterfly migration they somehow seem a little smaller and duller. They are still beautiful.

We have grown several kinds of milkweeds for years. Each year the Monarchs arrive in the spring and fall.

Ozark springs have been cool and wet the last couple years. Milkweeds don’t grow well in cool weather. The Monarchs arrive to find small plants struggling to survive.

In the fall the milkweeds have bloomed and some have set seed. Others still have their seed pods ripening. The plants are shutting down for the year.

Fall Monarch butterfly migration brings butterflies
Monarch butterflies, all butterflies really, never stay put long. I followed this one for some time trying to photograph it as it tried to elude me as a possible predator. It finally settled on a Butterfly Weed flower umbel to eat a snack.

Still, the plants have plenty of leaves for several caterpillars to munch on. Monarch butterflies keep producing more as they move south. Not all of them will beat the cold weather.

It’s a good thing some people grow milkweeds for the fall Monarch butterfly migration. The road crew has cut them down along the road ditches. The city crews have cut them down along electric rights of way. The Conservation Department has cut them down trying to control uncontrollable lespedeza.

I find it ironic that the Conservation Department urges private land owners to plant milkweeds for the Monarchs and cuts their own down.

Today a half dozen Monarch butterflies wafted through stopping to visit the wildflowers for nectar and the milkweeds to lay eggs. Only the Butterfly milkweed is still blooming.

The butterflies seem to move in erratic paths. This must be to elude would be predators. It works for photographers too.

If the fall Monarch butterfly migration continues as in past years, we will see several of them a day for a week or so. Then they will be gone along with the hummingbirds and the warblers.

Even now the trees are getting ready to show off their fall colors. I’m not ready for summer to end.

Find out about more natural happenings in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”

Pokeweed Thickets

When spring warms up, pokeweed sticks up its first shoots. This is considered a wild green.

The shoots should be gathered when six to eight inches tall. They are bitter in taste so parboiling them is a good idea.

Parboiling is putting the shoots in water, bringing it to a boil, then draining the water. The half cooked shoots can then be used in other ways.

Frying the shoots is popular. I prefer to boil them. That way they end up with a taste and feel similar to asparagus.

pokeweed plant
Pokeweed has a big tap root with multiple stems growing up. The stems are red, up to 2 inches wide and hollow. They branch at the top with these covered with large leaves and streamers first of flowers, then with berries.

The time for gathering pokeweed shoots is long past in August. The plant is now a tall, leggy plant with thick red stems. The stems branch giving the tops a wide spread.

Flower streamers hung down for a short time. The flowers are small, white and waxy in appearance. Berries have replaced the flowers.

The berries start out green, but mature to red purple. They are juicy. The juice was used as ink in pioneer days. The berries are poisonous to us.

Pokeweed was an unfamiliar plant when I moved to the Ozarks. That first year I saw my goats urinating this red stream and panicked. The panic passed and I found them happily eating pokeberries.

pokeweed berries hang in clusters
A pokeweed berry begins to grow almost before the flower is done blooming. The top flowers bloom first so the berries form and ripen from the top of the cluster down. They are full of a red juice that stains the hands.

One thing about this plant: it seeds prolifically. Birds spread the seeds all over including lawns and gardens. The lawn mower takes care of those seedlings.

I was teaching and my garden was very neglected. Pokeweed takes advantage of such opportunities. It moved in.

My garden sprouted a pokeweed thicket. It survived two or three years getting bigger each year.

I wanted to reclaim my garden and attacked the thicket making an unwelcome discovery as I snapped a spade handle trying to pry one plant out. This plant puts down a big – really big – taproot. A couple were close to a foot across and two feet long with several large side roots going off.

Each plant required time consuming excavation. New plants are now pulled as soon as they are spotted.

Pokeweed is on the march here again. A thicket has sprung up near the composting manure pile. Several plants are scattered around the workshop and garden areas.

I am out with my loppers for large plants. My garden is checked often. And the birds are feasting out in the pasture.

Brush Cutter Attacks Roadside

The brush cutter came by the other day. I will admit the road was overgrown and needed trimming.

Plants love light and grow out toward it. An open road is inviting as it lets lots of light in. So the bushes and tall wildflowers had grown tall and wide. Branches reached out nearly touching a single vehicle going down the road.

road before the brush cutter came
Plants do tend to spread out to gather more light in the road. This does make the road seem narrower than it is. The feel is more of wilderness, of a green and leafy tunnel surrounding the road. Wildflowers add touches of color.

That wasn’t a problem to me. There are so few houses along the road and traffic should be slim. Of course that wasn’t the case.

Hundreds of vehicles drive by the house in a month. Almost all of them are ones that have never driven by before and never come back again. Still they complained about the brush.

The brown-eyed Susans were coming into bloom. The blackberry lilies were blooming madly. The curly top ironweed was spreading purple in places. Downy skullcap added blue to the mix. The elderberries and blackberries were getting ripe.

cutter went to bare dirt
Parts of the roadside were cut down into the dirt. Some plants were chipped off in their roots and tossed out onto the road. The objective seems to be to leave only grass yet the bees and other creatures need the native plants.

No one notices. They see only the reaching branches. And the brush cutter came by.

I do understand the need to trim back the exuberant growth, but this was a massacre.

The bushes are more than cut back, they are gone. Shattered stems an inch or two high mark where they once stood.

Six inch diameter trees are shattered into kindling scattered along the road.

tree limbs were shattered
The brush cutter is a huge, movable rotary cutter. The blade is quickly dulled by rocks and dirt. Thicker stems and branches aren’t cut, but shattered by the cutting blade.

Wildflowers vanished. Sometimes even the dirt was churned up leaving roots pulled up and shattered.

Bigger trees have their branches broken off from near the ground to ten feet up. These were eight feet off the road and weren’t growing out over the road.

People say how open and nice it is now to drive down the road. The brush cutter did a wonderful job. The plants will grow back.

road after the brush cutter went by
The road is bare. Lots more light shines in. Nothing is there to appreciate it now. The birds have moved elsewhere. The ground squirrels are staying up on the hill. Even the cats stay near the barn now.

Some plants will grow back. Some will come up as seedlings. The roadside will turn green again providing nesting spots and food for the birds along the road.

Then the brush cutter will return in the quest to make the roadside a golf green once again.

See the beauty of the Ozarks in “My Ozark Home.”

Tree Frogs As Visitors

This year every time summer settles into the Ozarks, a storm rolls through to laugh at it. The frogs love this.

Normally the tree frogs occupy the rain barrels until June. Then they are off to try to keep cool and damp elsewhere. Behind them are batches of tadpoles growing up, becoming little frogs and hopping away.

Hot, dry weather arrived on schedule. The frogs were silent.

A storm arrived bringing cooler temperatures. The frog chorus began again with renewed vigor. Even as July begins to end the tree frogs are calling from the rain barrels. New batches of tadpoles are hatching out.

tree frogs like it cool and wet
This tree frog found a small, private pool to rest in for the day. Notice the big pads on the toe tips used for climbing.

All these tree frogs need places to stay during the day. One discovered my houseplants. Several of the plants are in self watering pots with water reservoirs at the bottom and a half circle opening to pour water into.

This opening goes into a fist sized pool. Every rain storm fills it. When rain is scarce, I fill it. A tree frog moved in.

One autumn I brought my houseplants inside for the winter. They have a shelf in the bathroom with a grow light and a window. It isn’t really warm, but never freezes either.

Killing frost hit. Several more rolled by. Winter was moving in.

In the bathroom a tree frog began calling every evening.

This was a big problem. Frogs change their physiology to hibernate for the winter. This frog thought winter was over.

tree frogs are grey with brownish stripes.
Grey tree frogs are small. This one is about 3 inches long without the legs. The plant is in the sun so the water got too hot and the frog moved to somewhere else.

Frogs eat live food like insects. I’ll admit my house is popular with insects over the summer, but not enough to feed a frog. Perhaps I could convince this frog to eat purchased meal worms for the winter. Perhaps not.

Winter moves in for a week or so, then retreats for a week or so. When the temperatures eased, I put the frog outside near good winter hibernating places.

This new tree frog is welcome to enjoy my houseplants over the summer. However, I will check carefully before bringing my houseplants in for the winter.

Admiring Beautiful Rainbows

Ozark summers are a time of scattered showers. Sunset was close, clouds were drifting over. The light turned yellow turning the pastures in glowing gold. The perfect time for beautiful rainbows.

Rainbows happen when the sun is low in the sky shining toward a light shower. There was no shower, only hot and humid weather.

As the last goats finished eating, I watched the pastures glow under the yellow sky. The goats got done and went in. I headed to the chicken house to close them up for the night.

There it was: a rainbow.

A double rainbow
The main arc of color was vivid in this rainbow. The second arc was barely visible. Double rainbows are not unusual here.

This valley is a great place for beautiful rainbows. The valley runs north to south. The side valley runs west giving a break for the setting sun to stream through.

The east side in summer is tree leaf paved hillsides. These darken as the sun sinks behind the western hill.

The clouds had moved in from the west. They scudded over the valley laughing at my thirsty garden. Over the eastern hills the clouds stalled and dropped a steady, misty rain.

Sunlight hit those water drops reflecting and refracting inside them as inside a prism. The light split into colors and the rainbow arc wavered into being.

The rainbow strengthened until it was clear and strong arching over the hills. A second arc tried to appear above it but never quite showed more than a hint of color.

This rainbow set off the dark green hills and blue grey sky for five to ten minutes. Then the sun sank below the lip of the hill. The rainbow was gone as quickly as it appeared.

beautiful rainbows at sunset
This rainbow was a surprise. The small pasture is across from the porch and makes a great place to admire the rainbows.

Over the years we’ve seen many beautiful rainbows in this valley. Each has been special and held us in awe watching as they strengthened then vanished. Many have been doubles. One seemed to end in the north pasture.

Knowing something of how rainbows form is interesting. It doesn’t reduce the awe seeing a rainbow brings.

Find more about rainbows in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Garden Variety Monarda

I’ve seen Monarda out in the fields and pastures for years. Two kinds, beebalm and horsemint, grow here. They are similar. they are not the garden variety Monarda.

The flowers are long downwardly curving tubes of light lavender with lavender spots. These come from a spherical base and hang out looking like a loose mop head.

Horsemint blooms first. It likes to grow in the woods and has leaves that sit down on the stem.

Horsemint flower
In wild beebalm the bottom ring of a Monarda flower head opens first followed by succeeding higher rings until all have bloomed. In the garden variety, most of the flowers open at the same time.

Beebalm likes the sunny pastures. Its leaves have petioles. That’s the easy way to tell them apart.

The garden variety of Monarda is different.

The flower arrangement is similar. The long tubes hang from a central sphere. The mop heads top every stem.

Color is the big difference. The garden variety Monarda is deep red. The leaves are more triangular and deeper green.

red garden variety Monarda
Typical of the mint family, red Monarda has a square stem. The leaves are opposite. The flowers are a deep maroon red. It makes a lovely, if pushy garden plant.

In another way the so-called tame Monarda is typical of the family. This is the mint family.

I obtained this red Monarada as a tiny plant, innocent looking. The fact that it is a mint never crossed my mind. I set it out in the flower section of my garden and ignored it.

That was several years ago. It is no longer ignored.

butterflies like garden variety Monarda
Monarda is a clump of tall, single stems from a single fibrous root system. At first the stems were a modest two feet tall. This year they are four feet tall and fill 2 square feet of space. Insects love them.

In typical mint fashion, this tiny plant has expanded into a large clump. It is not a short, pretty flower. It is four feet tall. At least it doesn’t have long runners.

I stopped to admire it late the other day. Bumblebees hummed tumbling from one flower to the next. A pipevine swallowtail butterfly hovered feeding on the different flowers. This was close to sunset so I’m sure other insects visit earlier in the day.

I do like having a flower corner in my garden as I have no time to do a regular one. Unfortunately it seems filled with tall, leggy plants now. Chicory, evening primrose and now garden variety Monarda hide my lilies and irises. They are nice. They are too numerous. The Monarda clump is getting too big. I guess I will have to work in the garden flower spot for a time this fall.

Swim In the Water

Summer temperatures make the creek and nearby river seem very inviting. Lots of people drive by on their way to swim in the water.

We watch them drive by with their children and dogs going there and back again. We stay home.

There is a creek running the length of our place. With all the rain the level is up a bit making some nice deep pools. When we first moved here, there were some pools deep enough to swim in the water.

The creek in summer
Shade, green and gravel, softly noisy water make sitting by the creek a nice pastime in the summer.

We were still close to being city people back then and found the resident fish and snakes intimidating. We did fill our solar shower to take daily baths. We had no house that first summer.

Although I do occasionally walk through the creek now, I don’t relax in it. Snapping turtles visit in early summer. They are hard to spot, cranky, with a mean bite.

Just because I don’t choose to swim in the water doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. Sitting in the shade over the creek usually includes a gentle, cool updraft. The bubbling, gurgling, rippling sounds of the creek are relaxing.

So many creatures live in the creek. Stepping on the stones will crush many of them. There may be an alternative.

This pool is deep enough to swim in the water
In the picture the creek doesn’t look very deep. The main channel is 18″ to 24″ deep for about twenty feet here. I plan to come back with some old sneakers and go wading in the water. Barefoot won’t work for me on slimy, snail covered rocks with crayfish and fish darting about.

No, it doesn’t include going to the river. Noise is part of going to the river for most people. Many of the people going down there are responsible. Others go down to party leaving shattered beer bottles scattered on the river bed. Other trash is left along the shore. As this area is private land, no one bothers to clean it up.

Instead I will walk along the creek. I seem to remember a few places with an overhanging bank and deep pools made for dangling feet. But I still don’t plan to swim in the water.

Relax by an Ozark creek in “My Ozark Home.”

Watching Wildlife

Since no dogs live here, watching wildlife is a fun pastime. Wildlife can be a problem, but seeing it is still a treat.

Raccoons and opossums generally come after dark. When they become a nuisance, the livetrap is set out and we see them in the trap before taking them elsewhere.

ground squirrel watching me
This ground squirrel might be looking for a new place to live, but the yard is definitely not a good choice. Foxes would find it a delicious morsel. These squirrels are cute creatures. I hope this one found its way to a safer territory.

Ground squirrels seem to be everywhere lately. These are belligerent characters when challenged. Mostly they are a blur crossing the road with their tails held straight up.

Watching wildlife on the road is important. Many dither or panic as the vehicle comes up. Snakes and turtles tend to stay put and need persuasion to get off the road.

copperhead snake on road
Copperheads are poisonous, true. Most are not aggressive and will take off given the chance. Their bites make my goats swell up, usually a leg, and hurt for a day or two. Then the swelling goes down and all is fine. In cooler weather snakes bask on the gravel road for the warmth. This includes green grass, black rat, hognose, ring and middlin brown as well as copperheads. It’s a great opportunity for looking at them as they lie still unless disturbed. I make sure they get off the road before driving on as so many people deliberately run over them.

The local coyotes have given us some special opportunities for watching wildlife. The coyotes tend to stay back on the hills and in the ravines away from the pastures and buildings making the areas safer.

Deer bed their fawns down in the tall grass in the pastures. One was next to the pasture gate and discovered when the goats went traipsing out.

watching wildlife as a fawn takes luck
A motionless fawn curled up in tall grass is a brown hump easily overlooked. Normally I see them as a small, white tail disappearing in the distance. This one stayed put as the goats and I tromped out past it, never seeing it. I saw it on my way in from the bridge.

Coyotes kill foxes making them rather rare in the area. One pair has moved by the house to raise their four kits.

This is the second year this pair has been here. Last year half of my hens disappeared. I am more careful this year and keep them up most of the time.

The fox family is very shy. Any hint we are around sends them into the brush. Luckily the house has lots of windows.

watching wildlife from inside the house keeps shy foxes in view
Grey foxes are like small dogs in size, about double a big house cat. They are pretty and fun to watch. The kits are growing up and mother fox is taking them out into the brush. She is very attentive to them, but demands immediate obedience.

The male fox sometimes curls up out in the back yard. His favorite spot is a ways out from the bathroom window making taking pictures easy. He does know I’m there, but doesn’t find me a threat as I am in the house.

One day the kits were out in the same area. Mother fox let them play a few minutes before leading them off across the yard and into the woods.

Watching wildlife is fascinating. It is also a matter or luck: being in the right place at the right time, camera in hand.

Looking At Caterpillars

This seems a summer destined to keep me from doing much walking due to an injured foot. Nature is all around me and I found myself looking at caterpillars. Lush vegetation invites these herbivores to gorge.

The cabbage worms and loopers on my cabbage along with cutworms made good meals for my pullets. They have begun clucking.

Most caterpillars are on wild plants. They can take careful searching to find. Usually I don’t search for them, but suddenly find myself looking at caterpillars right in front of me.

looking at caterpillars can find surprises
The Abbot’s Sphinx Moth caterpillar looks like someone was working on a mosaic with its light green tiles in a dark brown background.

That happened the other day. I was moving mulch hay from the barn to the garden. Since it was only a couple of armloads, I carried it. A strange looking object was lying on the ground.

Around here anything that doesn’t sound or look right bears investigation. I stopped to take a closer look. It turned out to be a very strange looking caterpillar.

Shape wise the caterpillar looked like a tomato horn worm without a tail. It had the same soft, bulbous body and a big shield on the rear end with an eye spot instead of a tail.

back end of the Abbot's Sphinx Moth caterpillar
Spinx moth caterpillars have this round thickened area on their rear end. It looks a little like an eye. On horn worms the tail spike sticks out of the center. On the Abbot’s Spinx Moth caterpillar only the eye is there.

The resemblance stopped there.

This caterpillar had a dull brown body covered with light green shields. It looked like it was tiled. These tiles covered the entire body.

I do have a Peterson Guide for caterpillars. It’s identification selection is limited. I don’t use it often finding looking at caterpillars is diverting only. This one was worth looking up.

Surprisingly the caterpillar was in the guide. It is the larva of the Abbot’s Sphinx Moth. There are two color forms of caterpillars for this moth. I’ve seen the brown form before, but didn’t look it up.

looking at caterpillars from the side
Pulling the Abbot’s Sphinx Moth caterpillar onto its side exposes the green patches there. this must be done carefully to avoid hurting the caterpillar.

This particular caterpillar will spend the summer eating and growing. It’s favorite foods include Virginia Creeper and Wild Grapes. Both grow abundantly around here and it is welcome to feast on them.

In the fall the caterpillar will burrow into soft dirt to form a brown pupa. Next spring the Abbot’s Sphinx Moth will crawl out of the pupa case, spread it’s wings and fly away.