(Pictures relating to the text appear at the end of the notes.)
keywords: spring flowers, bloodroot, hazel, leatherwood, newt, salamander
Leatherwoods (Dirca palustris is their scientific name) are usually small bushes with relatively few, stocky branches. The twigs are, as the name implies, leathery and one can wrap them around a finger. We dont see them very often in Columbia County, mainly in small, scattered clumps in the floodplains of streams.
Leatherwood flowers have both male and female parts: the anthers (or pollen-producing part of the flower) are the narrow stalks tipped by orange-yellow blobs; the pistels (or pollen- receiving, seed-making part of the flower) are the adjacent stalks without the markedly swollen tips.
Leatherwood flowers produce nectar and so attract insect pollinators despite the fact that this is a cold time of year for such an endeavour. Both bees and butterflies are reported to visit these flowers. If we get some sunny, warm weather before these flowers whither, it would be worth doing some flower watching to see who comes by.
It wont be long before these inconspicuous knobs develop into the large, showing leaves of American Hellebore.
A Bloodroot flower thinking about opening. Both basal leaf and flower petals are still shut. This is another insect-pollinated plant awaiting sunny weather. Their seeds are ant-dispersed, but thats another story.
Spotted Salamander eggs along the edge of the Fire Pond. The jelly-like mass that surrounds the eggs is sometimes clear, sometimes cloudy - this seems to just reflect variation in the jelly-making of the salamander mothers.
A Red-Spotted Newt hovers in the water. These are the aquatic adults of the more showy Red Efts that one often finds wandering about moist woods. This salamander-egg and larva predator lives mainly in pools that retain water year around. It is not usually found in vernal (or seasonal) pools.
A tadpole lies in the water by the shore; judging by size and spottiness, this may be a Bullfrog tadpole. Both tadpoles and adults of this species will probably prey upon salamander eggs and young. These tadpoles overwinter at least once, and so need permanent pools for survival.
An ant mound on the shores of the Fire Pond. These ants seem to need openlands that are not regularly mowed. There are several species of mound-building ants in our area, some of which are slave-makers (that is, they will raid the mounds of other species, carry off the eggs, and raise the young as workers in their own nests).
This hot-pink whirl is the female flower of Beaked Hazel, one of our two native Hazels.
One would think that such color would make these flowers pop out of the woodlands, but their tiny size means finding them is something of a hunt.
The catkins found dangling below the female flower house the male flowers which produce the pollen. Hazels are apparently wind-pollinated meaning that the pollen is carried from male to female flowers by the breezes. Why the female Hazel flower is so colorful is an open question (colorful flowers are usually thought to attract insect pollinators), perhaps it was just a whim of time.
I'll close with an installment in our on-going series on cow patty ecology, this picture from my homeward walk: young seedlings springing out of last year's patty. Were these in the dung or did they arrive to the dung in the wind? Perhaps seeing which plants they grow into will give a hint.