Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Focus on...Bloodroot

Bloodroot is a favorite among spring wildflower enthusiasts. The flower's ephemeral nature and early arrival make it easy to love. So let's take a closer look at this jewel of the woodlands and find out a little more about it!

On a warm sunny day in April one of the first bloodroots will open their pure white flowers with bright yellow centers. Composed of 8 to 12 white petals, the flower itself is arranged in what we call radial symmetry. That is, the petals are radiating out from the center of the flower like the spokes on a wheel. The yellow center contains the pistil and stamens all ready for early flying pollinators like flies and native bees. According to Carol Gracie in her wonderful book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast, the primary pollinators are andrenid bees. You can see picture of them here. Nighttime darkness and cloudy days will cause the flower to close. This helps to protect the flower from early spring elements when conditions are not quite right for those pollinators to be out and about.

Once pollinated, the petals quickly drop off and the seed start to develop. Although cross pollination achieved by insects is ideal, this flower can also self pollinate. If cross pollination has not been achieved after a couple of days then self-pollination takes place.

The single leaf enters the world tightly wrapped around the flower bud. As the flower stalk rises up and the flower begins to bloom the leaf will also unfurl and grow towards the sun. The leaf has much greater staying power than the flower and will persist well into the summer. 

Also, not all bloodroot plants will actually flower each spring. We have many bloodroot plants that only send up a leaf. They may be immature or just resting, as producing a flower takes a lot of energy. It may take some time to manufacture and store enough energy to produce one of these gorgeous flowers. 

Either after the flower blooms or there is just a leaf, it fans out and has a distinctive shape. Some liken it to Batman with his cape spread out. What do you think?

Here is an interesting specimen. This plant only developed 4 petals.

A couple of years ago, we received a special cultivar of Bloodroot called 'Multiplex'. This type of bloodroot consists of numerous petals. All these petals have been converted from the stamens and pistils. So, obviously this particular plant cannot produce seeds. There are no reproductive organs! It as been cloned within the horticulture industry. Interestingly, this variant was originally found in Ohio in 1916, and being the only one, all 'Multiplex' plants sold today are divisions from that original plant! Wow!

So the big question remains, why is it called Bloodroot??

The sap from this plant is a bright red color. This sap has been used as a dye by Native Americans and early colonists. There is a long history of medicinal uses by Native Americans as well. In the 1990s scientists discovered the alkaloid, sanguinarine within the sap. This substance was widely used in toothpastes and mouthwashes as an anti-plaque substance until some bad side effects were known.

So, as we are a Nature Preserve I don't want to intentionally injure on of our bloodroot plants, so here is a link to a photo of the sap on

I had help from a couple of great sources for this post:

Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast by Carol Gracie - you can view her blog here
The Book of Forest and Thicket by John Eastman

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Arrivals

Things are moving right along and I have a new list of birds and blooms for you! First, lets have some fun pictures of the colorful things in bloom right now. 

Bloodroot is one of our earliest spring wildflowers. It seem to pop out of the ground on a warm sunny day. These beauties only last a day or two and only open to the sun. We have several populations growing in a couple of different micro climates which extends the time we can see them. How lucky for us!

Coltsfoot is not a native wildflower, but is a welcome site nonetheless. Its bright, sunny face lines roadways and other disturbed areas bringing us some much needed cheer after a long winter.

Common blue violet is loved and hated by many. An aggressive seeder it can invade a lawn area quickly. Okay by me but not to others who prefer a grass only lawn. For me, the sea of purple when these guys bloom is a beautiful site.

Confederate violet is a cultivated variety that only grows around the Nature Center. It has a large bloom and is a reliably early bloomer.

One of the little flowers that will bring a blush of blue to the yard areas is really captivating up close. You can see some of the dark veining that can help guide pollinators to the good at the center of the flower.

For those of you who saw last week's post with the just opened spicebush flower, here is one fully opened.  A bunch of these shrubs in bloom can have look like a mist of yellow-green in the woods. A really cool sight.

Finally, a delicate looking Rue Anemone greets us along the Casa Burro Trail. They are actually very hardy and tend to be in bloom for a while. The slightest breeze will make them quiver giving rise to another common name, Wind Flower.

Okay, here's your latest list!

Common Blue Violet
Confederate Violet
Speedwell sp.
Rue Anemone
Spring Beauty

Yellow-throated Warbler
Chipping Sparrow

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's a Good Day... be a snail! be a spice bush flower... be a toothwort bud... be a blister beetle... be a water drop on blue cohosh... be a salamander egg mass... be a trout lily leaf... be a Glory-of-the-Snow flower... be a gander goose waiting on your new family to hatch...

...but best of all, it's a good day to be outside!

It's also a good day because the following flowers are either in bloom or will be by this weekend:
Blue Cohosh
Cut-leaved Toothwort

The following birds have been seen and/or spotted at the preserve this week:
Louisiana Waterthrush
Eastern Phoebe
Wood Duck
Tennessee Warbler
Pine Warbler

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Ever since the movie Up came out, we have used this word a lot. Especially with kids. It's funny to us, because many kid's attention spans are just like that dog from the movie. (Oh, if you haven't watched this movie - it's animated - be prepared. It's not all sunshine and rainbows. I cried a lot watching this one.) Anyway, on to a real squirrel - the Flying Squirrel!

Contrary to popular belief, flying squirrels are quite common. They just happen to be active after it gets dark, so we don't really have a chance to see them. Also, as I'm sure you know, they don't actually fly, they glide using wide skin flaps between their front and back legs to catch air. It's like when a sky diver wears one of those suits with the extra fabric going from arm to leg on each side. The principle is the same. 

As you know, we have several bird feeders set up and a couple of them are just under a window. Well, when you feed the birds you also feed other animals and we happen to have some flying squirrels that like to dine at the buffet. Most often these guys come out right at dusk during the winter. A couple of weeks ago however, they were out right in the middle of the day. How fun! The following pictures are taken through the window, so please forgive the poor quality. 

The first thing these shy guys do is peek out from behind the shutters. Got to make sure the way is clear! Note their large eyes for seeing in the dark.

Here we go!

Leaping out from the safety of the shutters, he's got his eye on the prize!

I love this one. It totally looks like he's diving. Don't be fooled by these pics. This is all happening really fast. It's peek, jump, grab, jump back to the shutter, and eat the seed. Don't blink too much or you'll miss it. 

While this one chooses he seed, you can really get a good look at those big eyes. Also you can see where that important flap of skin is. Right now of course, it's all folded up because he's not using it. In this picture and the next you can get a good look at his very flat tail. He will use it as a rudder to help guide him during his glide.

Flying squirrels are pretty cute, I'll admit and they are chock full of cool adaptations to help them survive. Try a look-see at night sometime, you may be surprised at what you find!

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Who me??

Some bees, in their quest for the sugary treat flowers offer up to ensure cross pollination, cheat. Yes, I'm afraid it's so. Some bees will chew holes at the base of a flower to get at the nectar. Several bees I watched yesterday simply took advantage of the space between petals. You may need to click on the picture to make it bigger.

This is fine for the bee, who gets his or her dose of energy, but it doesn't help the flower out much. Not that this species of bee is responsible for pollinating this flower. Not all insects that visit flowers are pollinators. Well, they could be, but just not for that specific plant. Some flowers have evolved a defense against nectar robbing. The catchflies, Silene, have a sticky substance at the base of their flowers to make it harder for anyone to bypass their reproductive parts.

Here is a bee doing things the proper way.

This fellow sure had to perform some interesting acrobatics to reach his reward. 

My best guess is that these bees are from the genus, Colletes. Otherwise known as cellophane bees. These small bees were happily sipping nectar from the patch of Snow Drops growing on the upper terrace. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Arrival of Spring

Tomorrow is the official start of Spring. How fitting that several new spring heralding things are happening at Wahkeena!

Most notably, today is our first open day of the 2014 season! Yea! It's a bit of a soggy start, but much better than say the opening day of 2011. Check out what that day was like here

Spring signs abound today despite the cool, wet weather. A Pine Warbler is singing and so is a Phoebe. Many of our resident birds like the Chickadees, Titmice, Song Sparrows, and Cardinals are also singing songs of love and territory. Also singing for the first time this spring are...Wood Frogs! A sure sign that spring is here. 

The Goose Wars are beginning to heat up. This afternoon, even the male Mallard got involved. During a lull in the honking and posturing a muskrat swam across the pond. 

Will we have salamander activity tonight or later this week? Don't know for sure, but we hope so! Salamanders are a sure sign of spring!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Another Sign of Spring

So this picture isn't the greatest, but i wanted to share it with you anyway.

If you look carefully at the center of the photo, you will see two reddish blobs in the shape of hawks. There are two Red-shouldered hawks that have paired up! There has been a lot of calling, and chasing from these guys the past couple of weeks, but it looks like things have been sorted out and mates have been chosen. To hear the call of this bird click here. We've never been able to locate the nest of a pair of these birds, but we know that if they aren't nesting on the preserve property, they are very close by. 

Red-shouldered hawks are common hawks and enjoy habitat in riparian areas. If you haven't seen our captive Red-shouldered hawk yet, make sure to stop out and check him out. They are strikingly colored, and a treat to see up-close. 

We'll be open in less than two weeks! Opening day is March 19th!