Sunday, December 4, 2011

Missing Mistletoe

A friend and I got together about 10 days ago to plan a garden club program.  Our objective was to lead our fellow club members in making kissing balls.  Neither of us had ever made one, but we had done our research and she had begun gathering some supplies for the project.  We divided up the chores and supply list, pleased that we were well on our way in preparations.

At the top of my list was gathering fresh greenery, especially mistletoe.  After all, it wouldn’t be a kissing ball without mistletoe.  There has always been lots of mistletoe here at Kalorama.  Some of the water oaks have so much that it they hardly appear to loose their leaves in winter.  At least, that’s the way it was a few years ago.  When I began looking for some that I could reach, I realized that there was none, and I couldn’t remember when I had last seen it in the trees.  Several years back, it seems.  I looked more thoroughly, especially in specific trees that I recalled hosting it.  I found one dead, brown clump in the elm tree beside the Visitors Center and no evidence of any elsewhere.  Now when I say there has always been lots of mistletoe here, I am not kidding.  I recall a sprig growing out of a poison ivy vine that was growing up a pine tree about 10 years ago.  It didn’t survive more than a year.  Guess it has low tolerance for poison ivy.  Oh, and the mistletoe itself is very poisonous.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant spread by birds.  The pearly white berries consist of a substance that hardens like cement.  The birds eat them and then wipe their bills on the limbs they are perched on or poop them out on the tree.  The seeds are then cemented to the bark, where they sprout and send their roots into the live tree.  Occasionally you may find it on your car.  When you do, it will take a razor blade to shave it off.  It is very popular with Cedar Waxwings and Robins; two species with the habit of traveling in flocks devouring every berry in site.  Rarely do you see a single clump of mistletoe.  A lot of seed gets “processed” and planted by those guys.

Back to the search for some mistletoe.  I began studying the trees in earnest as I drove around running errands.  I rode shotgun on a trip along La. Hwy.2 from Bastrop to Homer last week, checking out the trees along the way.  No mistletoe.  Then I rode from Monroe to Shreveport along Interstate 20, watching for mistletoe in the trees along the way.  Still no mistletoe.  This morning, on the way home from church, I spotted several clumps in a single ornamental sugar maple tree in a yard in Bastrop.  I checked all the trees nearby, but there wasn’t any more.

I don’t know why it has disappeared.  The horrible hot dry summer of 2011 is not likely the culprit.  I think it has been gone longer than that. I am going to keep scanning the treetops, looking for mistletoe.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Beautiful Colors

Fall is beautiful on the hill and elsewhere this year.  It was lousy last year.  I've noticed when it is not wonderful one year, it more than makes up for the following year.  Not only is it beautiful, but it looks like it there is going to be color for a long time.  Some things are really bright right now and some things are still mostly green.  

Today I drove to Ruston and back.  The pale golden leaves of the muscadine vines were really showing in the trees along the roadside.  The individual leaves are about four inches across and shaped like a rounded heart with jagged edges.  They look like ornaments scattered across the trees.  We have them here at Kalorama, but they are not draped across pine trees like they are on the roadside, so they don't catch the eye among all the other colors.  I do love this time of the year at Kalorama.  Everything is golden and glowing with the sun shining through.  

Here are a few pictures taken this week. 

Cocculus carolinus, Carolina moonseed

Camellia sinensis, Tea (yes, this is the plant whose leaves give us that wonderful Southern iced tea.  The blooms are about the size of a quarter.)

Parthenocissus quinquefolia, Virginia creeper.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

His Eye is on the Sparrow

If the Creator of the universe cares enough about the humble birds to care for them, why would He care any less about us? God provides for the birds' needs; as He loves us even more, we can count on Him to provide for us as well. Matthew 6:26. NAS

Around here, some parts of the bottom of the bottom of the food chain are doing very well.

Yesterday evening I was tending a brush pile fire which is sort of a captive audience-type task.  The bugs joined me in this endeavor. I don’t remember a time when the gnats have been this numerous.  You notice I am not saying the gnats are bad.  Their presence always reminds me that hungry birds, especially hummingbirds, should be getting plenty to eat.  In this case, between the gnats, mosquitoes, and eventually the flies that joined us, my thoughts drifted to the Bible verse above.  Then, the words to the old hymn, His Eye is on the Sparrow came to mind.  And as time wore on, I thought it would be great if one of those sparrows would drop by and perch on my shoulder and gobble bugs.  Before I was done, I was thinking I wouldn’t mind if a big old stinky cattle egret would come hang around with me and scarf some of the flies.  Gnats may be too small for cattle egrets.

It has been a hard year for plants and animals and humans.  As annoying as the bugs are, it is nice to see prosperity on some level, even if it makes hanging around outside mighty uncomfortable.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Upon My Mother's Rock

Rocks, especially the kind you can pick up in Bienville Parish, Louisiana, have been a part of my life from the beginning. My mother gardened with rocks, and her mother did as well. They lined their flower beds with them, paved their paths, propped up bird baths, and used them as garden sculpture. They both gardened on a hillside, and rocks were used for retaining those hillsides. A newly planted shrub or perennial always had a few rocks placed at the base of the plant to discourage armadillos or dogs from digging them up. When our parents, and then our grandparents passed away, it was the rocks that I and my siblings were most eager to haul to our own gardens. Lots of these rocks were large. Playing around them as a child they were pedestals to stand on and maybe get a head above the rest, or reach that bottom limb of a tree to climb even higher. They were also places for critters to hide. Of course, I was always admonished to use a hoe or similar tool to turn over a rock, a habit I adhere to this day. One small retaining wall became a haven for box turtles, and therefore became a regular stop when making a “perimeter check” of my backyard. The rock in the picture was one of my mother’s prized rocks because it had moss growing on it. It also had a piece of resurrection fern growing among the moss up until a couple of years ago. Got to see if I can get that going again. All that green dressing made it highly desirable in my eyes, too, so it was one of the first ones I carted off. It is a big one. I am sure my husband did some major heating pad time after moving it. We hauled it to our first home in South Louisiana, and a couple more after that before bringing it to Morehouse Parish. Of course it came to Kalorama when we moved here, and when I set up the fountain as it is now, it got the place of honor to the right of the statue, “Katy.” The moss and resurrection fern was much remarked on by visitors. And then the other day I noticed a small garter snake sprawled over the rock, gazing out over the water. A fine perch, indeed, though highly exposed, as is often the case when one elevates themselves above the others. I was happy to see it enjoying my mother’s rock.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Goodbye Summer

Summer at Kalorama has produced quite a few encounters with these little stinkers. So cute when they are young and quite willing to live in close proximity to humans.
This one (pictured right) was indignant at being discovered outside in the daylight but it just didn’t have enough “stink” to run anyone off. I figured anything that determined to stand its ground needed its picture taken. A campaign to encourage the little family to move out into a den out in the woods somewhere dragged on for weeks. The dog got a lot of baths. Many weeks have passed since we have seen or smelled one. We are cautiously optimistic that the skunk family has retreated. Such is life on the nature preserve.

The end of summer signals the start of serious seed collecting around here. The bigleaf magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla, (pictured below), prized for its enormous leaves and spectacular blooms in May also has a big showy seed pod. The seeds are very popular with the birds, so it is always a challenge to beat them to the pods. We try to harvest the ones on bottom, leaving plenty up in the top of the tree for the birds.

In spite of the intense summer heat, the meadow areas had spectacular displays of prairie flowers in late June, July, and early August. It is amazing to see how those areas have spread over the years. There is room for a lot more. Typically, those areas are covered with butterflies when the flowers are in bloom. This year butterflies were seldom seen during the spring and summer. As of now, lovely orange Gulf fritillary butterflies and yellow sulphurs are regularly flitting around the Turk’s cap flowers in the butterfly garden. This annoys the ruby-throated hummingbirds to no end as they consider the Turk’s cap to be all theirs.