Archive for ‘Nature / Ecology’

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Skunk cabbage

by Caroline Brown

Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is staring to leafing out in wetland areas so I know that spring is really here. Pretty soon, the ground in swampy areas will go from brown to green almost overnight as the skunk cabbage leaves unfurl.

Skunk cabbage leaves are pretty cool–big & wide, deeply veinated–but it’s the blooms that get most of the attention. It’s the first plant to flower in many areas. Skunk cabbage blooms before it leafs, as early as February even in cold areas. Its dark red spathe covers its spadix like a hood, similar to a jack-in-the-pulpit.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Caterpillar food plants

by Caroline Brown

I’ve been reading a bit lately about butterflies and how to attract them to your yard and garden. It’s important to plant flowers whose nectar attract butterflies, but don’t forget the larvae (caterpillars). Many butterfly (and moth) caterpillars only eat specific plants. The best known example is the monarch butterfly caterpillar, which eats only the sap from Asclepias species, or milkweeds, including butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) and swamp milkweed (A. incarnata).

(Author’s note: At this point let me acknowledge that it is a cheap ploy on my part to publish butterfly photos with this post. I should be posting caterpillar photos, but really….who wants to see those.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Science lesson: marcescent leaves

by Caroline Brown

Marcescence is when a plant part dies but is not shed. It’s most frequently noticed in the winter, when certain deciduous tree species don’t lose their dead leaves. Oaks and beeches have normally marcescent leaves. That’s an oak at left, and marcescent beech leaves are pictured below the jump.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A walk in the woods

by Caroline Brown

This past weekend I participated in a seminar called 21st Century Landscape Literacy at Apeiron Institute for Environmental Living in Coventry, RI. Apeiron’s mission is to promote sustainable living practices and ecologically healthy communities in southeastern New England. On their property, they’ve built an eco-house using green building practices. (You can take a virtual tour here, it’s really cool.) Apeiron held this seminar to teach people how “to read our lands remembering the ‘old ways’ and with new technologies toward sustainable relations.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cranberry production: the journey from farm to juice bottle

by Caroline Brown

With approximately 15,000 acres of cranberry bogs, Massachusetts is the second largest cranberry-producing state. (Wisconsin is the first.) I recently spent an afternoon driving around southeastern Mass. looking at cranberry bogs and learning about cranberry farming.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Monarch butterflies

by Caroline Brown

Tower Hill Botanical Garden was loaded with monarchs when I visited last week. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many in one place. They must be getting ready to head south, no?

The monarch (Danaus plexippus) is native to North America and is well-known for their mass migrations to warmer climates, especially coastal California.