Saturday, September 28, 2013

Long Tall Rat Snakes in Alabama

I met up with this 5 foot rat snake in my barn. It had black and grey markings. Yes, I know they are "good" snakes but I just cannot abide snakes of any kind around my yard and barn. It had to go.  Rat snakes are constrictors who feed primarily on  rats, mice, and birds. I knew why this snake was in the barn. It was looking for lunch. After I killed my mouse eradicator, I was forced to put out poison to do the snake job. This is the way crazy things get started.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Wild Poinsettia

Last year I dug this small plant up and brought it home to my flower bed. I was really surprised when  it returned this year, as I had thought it was probably an annual. There is no doubt that it is a Poinsettia, though, even as small as it is. It is called by several names: Fire on the Mountain, Wild Poinsettia, and Painted Leaf. It is in the genus Euphorbia (know it by the milky sap it exudes when broken) and is currently classified as E. heterophylla although at various times it has been called by other species names. On your walks, keep an eye out for this one to remind you that Christmas is coming. My information says these plants can grow to 3 feet tall, but I have never seen any that big.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sensitive Briar

Mimosa microphylla or little leaf sensitive briar is a commonly overlooked wildflower and is blooming right now (mid-September) along roadsides. It is also know as catclaw briar because of its sharp small thorns. I suppose if you fell into it, it might scratch you a bit, but under normal circumstances, it's not a real hazard. It is however, a real pink powder puff beauty, and an added interesting bonus is the way the leaves fold up when you touch them, hence the name sensitive briar.
It is a member of the pea family (Fabaceae) and like all members of the family, the fruit is a pod. It is a perennial, and spreads in a sprawling manner from about 18 inches to 3 feet.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Ladies Tresses Orchids

I have always thought of Ladies Tresses (Spiranthus) as a rare plant, perhaps because they are orchids. My walks along the road this fall have proven me wrong. I first began to see them popping up along the road sides in late August. and they continue to appear in different places even now, mid-September. They grow right in the grass and weeds on the roadside and many have come up after a recent mowing by the county. When I first saw them this year, they were along one stretch of road, on one side of the road. I counted about 25 plants. The next time I walked several days later, most of those had passed, but there were a few scattered about in other places. Over several days they have opened along the other side of the road over the mile stretch that I walk. The last count was 50 uncounted plants, mostly on the other side of the road from the  ones I first saw. They are not rare, and they are quite tough as evidenced by their chosen habitat, a roadside. I also have several in my "lawn", which I have carefully mowed around.
The flower stalks pop up on naked stems. After they pass, the somewhat fleshy rosette of leaves appear.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Brazilian Verbena

Brazilian Verbena or Purpletop vervain is blooming now in the late summer/fall. This specimen is blooming by my mailbox, a spot that is mostly wild. If it were in my flower bed, I would have already pulled it out. it tends to be very invasive and I learned long ago not to tolerate it there. But in wild areas, I can tolerate and even enjoy it. Several times I have included it in cut flowers, but the blooms do not hold up well.
 There are at least 2 species, V. bonariensis and V. brazilensis, which are not easily separated, at least by me, but for practical purposes they are the same. They both came from South America, and tend to be invasive. Some people do plant them as ornamentals, but those souls enjoy weeding more than I do.  They do make a tall airy screen to view other flowers through, but are not worth the freight to me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tickle Tails

The tickle tails (foxtail) are beginning to pass; the seeds are forming and dropping off, so they now look like ragged hairy caterpillars. I recently realized these are NOT grasses, as they don't belong to the grass family (Poaceae). Some sources call them weeds, and I guess they are in some settings, but i love the way they line the roads and wave at me when I go past. I do try to keep them pulled out of areas where I'm growing other things,though, because they can take over quickly with their large course foliage and many seeds (watch out next year!)
The cooler days we've had a few of lately make my roadside walks more pleasant. There are lots of wildflowers coming in now. The mosaic of leaves, especially sweetgum, is a moving sight.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Garden or Writing Spider

Argiope aurantia or the common garden spider is everywhere this fall. There are 4 or 5 inside my greenhouse, and goodness knows how many outside in the yard, flowers, and shrubs. To me it seems like there are more this year than usual. maybe we need them to take care of the mosquitoes, altho from what I have seen they tend to trap larger insects, like wasps and katydids. Maybe they take the mosquitoes for an immediate snack?
 Many, like the one pictured above have already mated, eaten their mate, laid their eggs and covered them in a silky sac to keep them safe through the winter. It is easy to tell the males from the females. The females are much bigger. Males usually have a small web somewhere near the female, for as long as he lasts. It's not uncommon among the spider clan for the female to feast on the male after the consummation. Perhaps his body provides needed nutrients for the egg maturation, or maybe she just gets distracted and hungry.
  Even as a child I felt both fascinated and terrified of  writing spiders. They are so beautiful with their  patterns of yellow and black. They seem to be alerting me to their presence, warning me to keep back, yet tempting me to take a longer look. I wondered what they were writing about . Was it secret spider knowledge? Their address?  Their shopping list? Or is it merely (can Merely be applied to anything as exquisite as a spider web?) re enforcement to the center part of the web?
 Though they may hang in their webs for weeks eating and threatening, catching and winding up their prey, looking out on a world with spider eyes we cannot be privy to, in the end, one day they are just gone.They  leave behind the ball of silk that will break open late next summer to release a new brood into the world. What happens to them? Do they just wear out and die? Or do the birds find them and eat them? Whatever  happens, I miss them as the days begin to drift into cooler territory.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Picotee Morning Glory

I am a fan of morning glories, and this one with the white edge is just perfect. I have 2 or 3 small plants that have volunteered from ones I grew in this spot last year. The foliage on these, both this year and last, is very light lime green. I wonder if they are growing in an exceptionally poor spot (I did fertilize them, though), or if this is the natural color of their foliage. I intend to collect some seed this year and plant them in a different spot next year to see what they do. I obtained these seed from a swap, and after a year, do not remember if there was a name attached or not. This is the beautiful blue color reminiscent of Heavenly Blue Morning Glory.
The beautiful pink and purple morning glories that grew in my daddy's corn field, and caused him much aggravation, were a form of bindweed, a term that most gardeners are familiar with. These were certainly perennial and were spread by plowing. The roots were broken into smaller pieces which then sprouted into more plants. Only the advent of herbicides brought some relief.
 There seems to be some disagreement about whether there are annual morning glories or not. The same plants seem to be called perennials in warmer climates and annuals in colder ones. To me this says they are perennial. A plant with roots that can reach a depth of 9 feet and regrow from those roots is surely perennial. So be forewarned, unless you want to keep the Round-Up handy, and you want to grow morning glories, perhaps the best thing to do is grow them in a pot with a saucer on the bottom to keep the roots from wandering, gather all the seed that forms, or grow them someplace where you don't care if they do take over.
 Aww, but they are sooo pretty!
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