Friday, December 30, 2016

All that Glitters are not Goldfinches

A friend of mine had a flock of small birds at her feeders that she could not identify. She had looked in books but the dull yellowish grey birds were a mystery. I asked her could they be Pine Warblers or Yellow-rumped Warblers and she said  “No they did not look like any of those birds.”  It dawned on me that she had a flock of Goldfinches at her feeders but the small bird field guide she had only showed birds in their summer plumage.  Many birds have such different seasonal plumages that they look like completely different birds.  It is important to purchase a bird field guide or smart phone app that has all a bird’s plumages. Some smart phone apps also come with bird songs and calls and this feature can help correctly identify some birds.  The flight call of the American Goldfinch sounds like they are chirping “potato chip, potato chip, potato chip”. While most birds fly in beautifully synchronized flocks, a goldfinch flock looks like chaos.  A goldfinches flight pattern looks they are on a roller coaster, as one bird swoops up another swoops down.  I have often wondered why they don’t collide.
Like other finches, the goldfinch has a short conical bill that is ideal for opening and consuming seeds.  At the feeder, they can quickly clean you out.  They prefer oil sunflower and nyjer seeds at the feeders and will eat on the feeders or on the ground.  In the wild, they seek out seeds of any member of the aster family with thistle and dandelion being some of their favorites. They also eat grass and other weed seeds. Unlike other song birds which consume some insects, the goldfinch has a pure vegetarian diet.
Goldfinches live in central Virginia year round. They change their plumage twice a year.  In late summer, they transform from sunny yellow to dull little birds.  In the late winter, they shed their dull winter feathers for bold summer colors.
Goldfinches are our smallest finch; they are about the size of a chickadee. They are often seen feeding with House finches in the winter.   Keep your feeders full this winter and when spring comes, maybe you will be able to see them change into their colorful summer feathers.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Hydrangea - Flower of Many Colors

Hydrangeas are to summer what Azaleas are to spring: a dramatic punch of color in the landscape. In older neighborhoods, large shrubs of mophead Hydrangeas dominate the garden with billowing blue flowers signaling the start of summer. Blue is a rare color for flowers and will get plenty of attention; stealing the show from other flowers.  But not all Hydrangeas are blue. White, pink and purple mopheads can also be found along with Lacecaps, Oakleaf, Peegees and Arborescens.  Lacecaps and mopheads are closely related. Botancally they are Hydrangea macrophylla and native to Japan. The color of the flower depends on the pH of the soil. Most of the Hydrangeas around here are blue because the soil is slightly acid. Adding lime in the fall will turn the flowers pink the following summer. If you want to have fun with your hydrangeas, sprinkle a hand full of Lime on one side of the bush and a hand full of Aluminum Sulfate on the other side. When the Hydrangea blooms you will have pink, purple and blue flowers. This trick will not work with white mop heads but they will blush with pink hues as the flowers fade. Hydrangeas age gracefully turning mauve, slate and chartreuse and other antique shades providing weeks of changing colors.
 Hydrangeas are great cut flowers and are a favorite of June brides and Church Flower Guilds. Just cut a handful of blooms, remove the lower leaves, and stick them in a vase for an easy flower arrangement. 
If you are trying to grow more native plants then Oakleaf and Arborescens Hydrangeas are for you. Both were traditionally white but now a few pinks are on the market. Pinky Winky Oakleaf starts out white and turns pink as the flower ages. Oakleafs need really good drainage, plenty of sun and room to grow. They often get 12 feet tall. The orange fall leaf color is a bonus.
The cultivated Arborescens Hydrangeas have huge white mopheads and often need staking. The wild forms look more like Lacecaps with smaller flowers. ‘Annabell’ is one of the most popular cultivars but new pink cultivars have hit the market in recent years. Plant them in morning sun or dappled shade.
Pruning Hydrangeas can be a little tricky, but the old garden rule “Prune after the bloom” holds true for Hydrangea macrophylla both mopheads and lacecaps. Flower buds for next year form in the summer. Flower buds are easy to identify –big and fat compared to leaf buds. So when you prune, cut just above a fat bud.   But all hydrangeas can go for years without pruning. I only prune them when I cut them for flower arrangements. Peegee and Arborescen Hydrangeas bloom on new wood and can be pruned in the winter without loss of bloom. Peegees and Oakleafs can be trained up like a small tree.  

When purchasing Hydrangeas look for repeat bloomers and new color combinations to try in your garden.
#Hydrangea #flowers #gardens

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Tale of the Shamrock

 by Kathy Woolsey

Shamrock Shenanigans
The days of my youth were spent happily in the backyard playing croquet and looking for four leaf clovers. My cousin Joanne and I spent hours close to the ground among the white clover flowers seeking out the prized four leaf clover surrounded the many three leaf clovers.

We would make daisy chains out of the flowers for necklaces and headbands. The coveted  four leaf clovers were often pressed into Bibles and other books to show off for later. Our ability to find four leaf clovers impressed many other children and adults.  Back then ‘White Dutch’ clover was planted with grass seed to help improve the soil. Like all legumes, clover had nitrogen fixing bacteria in its roots therefore it could help feed the grass.  ‘Dutch Clover’, Trifolium repens only grows about 6 inches tall and makes a great cool season ground cover. Many types of native bees and honey bees sip nectar from the flowers of clover. I was shocked to learn that ‘White Dutch’ Clover is often considered a weed in lawns and people buy herbicides to kill it.  I don't like certain weeds in my lawn either, but I always avoid killing the Clover because even to this day I will stop and look for a few four-leaf clovers.

Myth Buster
But how did the Clover become a symbol for St. Patrick and Christian Ireland?
There are 2 thing most folks know about St. Patrick: He went to Ireland as a missionary and used the 3 leaf clover the teach about the Trinity and he drove the snakes out of Ireland.
Well let’s clear up this snake myth right away. There were no snakes in Ireland. Some islands like Iceland, New Zealand and Ireland have not had these reptiles since before the last ice age. Myth Busted!

As for the clover myth, there is a good possibility it may be true. Part of the problem is that St. Patrick lived a very, very long time ago, March 17 in 493 is generally believed to be the date of his death. There are only two documents believed to have been written by him These are the “Declaration”  and the “Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus”. In the “Declaration” he gives the story of his life. There is no mention of clovers, shamrocks or snakes in either document.

Shamrock comes from Irish seamr√≥g, which means small clover. There are many members of the Clover or Trifolium family in Europe. Trifolium dubium, with yellow flowers and Trifolium repens, with white flowers are common plants in Ireland and would have been a handy visual aid for St.Patrick or any Christian missionary. The first time St.Patrick was depicted holding a shamrock was in 1675 on a coin call the St. Patrick's Copper.  On the coin St. Patrick is dressed as a bishop and holding a clover and preaching to a crowd. Was the clover put on the coin to symbolize the Trinity or Ireland?  

But is the clover of my childhood the real shamrock? Two recent surveys were conducted in Ireland asking people to identify the shamrock. More than half of the people call the yellow flowering Trifolium dubium  the shamrock, about 1/3 said the ‘White Dutch’ was the shamrock. Less than 10% identified Trifolium pratense red clover or Medicago lupulina Black Medick as Shamrocks. Oxalis acetosella the Wood Sorrel was identified by less than 3% as the shamrock. Oddly enough in America Oxalis is often sold at garden centers as “Shamrocks” even though most Irish would disagree.  Black Medick is a common lawn and roadside weed and more abundant in the south than ‘White Dutch’ or the common red clover.  Both ‘White Dutch’ and Black Medick bloom during the month of March.  

I think there was a good possibility that St. Patrick or other Christian Missionaries could have used a 3 leaf clover to explain the Trinity. So why are the 4 leaf clovers lucky?  Perhaps it is because they are rare, but to me they represent the Cross.