Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dame's-Rocket at the Woodland Edge

I escorted the daughter of one of our donors on a short walk across one of our meadows last Friday.  The daughter was in town from California, and wanted to visit the bench we had installed in memory of her brother who died after falling from a cliff in Ontario.  Both she and her brother loved our natural area, and this woman stops by every time she's in town.

En route to the bench, we passed an impressive stand of dame's-rocket (Hesperis matronalis) at the edge of the woods.  I stopped to make a few images while my guest watched a Baltimore oriole tend to its nest overhead.

I like everything about dame's-rocket, from its name to its flower.  Well, almost everything: it's not native. 

According to Wikipedia, the plant has many common names (e.g., damask violet, dame’s violet, dames-wort, dame’s gilliflower, night-scented gilliflower, queen’s gilliflower, rogue’s gilliflower, summer lilac, sweet rocket, mother-of-the-evening and winter gilliflower), but I've only ever known it as dame's-rocket.  The "rocket" moniker denotes its membership in the Brassicaceae, or mustard family.

The genus name, Hesperis, wonderfully exotic and pleasing to speak and hear, is Greek for evening -  probably a nod to the fact that  the scent of the flowers becomes more conspicuous towards sunset.
Dame's-rocket was brought to North America from Europe in the 17th century and has since become naturalized.  The plant is considered an invasive species in some areas; in fact, three states have designated it a noxious weed and have prohibited its sale, importation or cultivation.

Dame's-rocket is fairly common in open woodland glades in my preserve where it grows profusely.  Isn't it interesting (and hypocritical) that I'm willing to tolerate (and even enjoy) this fragrant, lovely, non-native weed while I will go to nearly any length to uproot, deflower, and poison its non-native cousin garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolota)?
Garlic mustard

Monday, May 12, 2014

Spring Spectacular

My favorite azalea at the Jenkins Arboretum
What a great spring weekend!  I accompanied the dedicated group of birders that frequents my preserve for their annual Spring Bird Count on Saturday morning.  We were out in the field for 4-1/2 hours, during which time we tallied 65 species (and I got a bit of a sunburn when the sun came out from behind the clouds during the last two hours).  Included in the list were 13 species of warblers; they were the main reason that I went on the bird walk because the warblers are only here for a few days each spring and fall during migration, and I get "rusty" on my identification skills.  The birders all proclaimed this year to be one of the best years for spotting warblers in decades.

Actually, the great "weekend" began one day earlier.  As I was scooping birdseed from my storage can in preparation for filling my feeder early on Friday morning, I heard a terrific "thwump" on the window behind me and knew instantly from that sickening sound that a bird had flown into the window.  I thought it was probably one of the Blue Jays that had been at the feeder a minute earlier fleeing from a hawk. But no, it was an Ovenbird, an aberrant warbler that looks like a tiny thrush.  Fortunately, the bird was just stunned (and not killed) from the impact, which allowed me to gently lift it off the ground and give it a good inspection - including the orange cap that is almost never visible in the field.  I placed the bird back on the ground and 15 minutes later, when I went outside again, it flew off.
Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapillus) Image courtesy of Audubon
On Sunday (Mother's Day), Kali and I invited our friend Greta to join us on a visit to the Jenkins Arboretum, a 20-acre gem embedded in the Philadelphia suburbs.  Formerly a private estate, Jenkins is now a public garden featuring a native woodland planted extensively with azaleas and rhododendrons.  We chose Mother's Day because the azaleas were at their floriferous peak, and the native woodland wildflowers cultivated throughout the gardens were also at their best.  In two weeks, the whole spring "show" will be over.
Azalea and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
I liked the contrast of the delicate  young maidenhair ferns over the strap-like trout-lily leaves
Along a path
Trillium grandiflorum (Large-flowered Trillium)
I am so jealous of Jenkins.  We saw only one miniscule stand of garlic-mustard (Alliaria petiolata) that the gardeners had missed in their quest to rid the garden of non-native invasive plants, and the entire property is surrounded by deer fencing.  So, Jenkins can support luscious population of several species of trilliums about which I can only dream (because trilliums are "deer candy").
Pinxter-bloom azalea
Our stroll ended along a path winding through a dense planting of native azaleas (Rhododendron periclymenoides).  These sweet-smelling azaleas have the common name of pinxter-bloom or election pink (because of the color of their flowers and the time of year in which they bloom).
I liked the contrast between the dark, coarse bark and the delicate pink flowers