Saturday, December 6, 2008

Red Shumard Oak

One of my goals on my smallholding is to plant native species whenever possible. A Kentucky Division of Forestry Agent was passing out Red Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii) seedlings several years ago at a local Master Gardner's plant sale. This one made its way onto my property and appears to be doing well. What struck me today was how late it is retaining its fall color. All of the other oaks in my area have had their leaves turn completely brown a fortnight ago, but this little Red Shumard Oak is still a vibrant red at the top of the tree.

Shumard Oaks are supposed to be drought resistant. That has been important the last two years since we have been on the edge of the severe drought centered in the southeast.

I was a little worried about whether it would survive as it had a bad case of powdery mildew its first and second year. But this year, it seemed to establish itself and thrive. I have found that it is often that case that the 3rd year is when bare-root deciduous trees really take hold or continue to languish until finally perishing. Now that I can confirm that it is well suited to my soil, I may order some seedlings next spring to sprinkle throughout my wood.

If you plant these on your property, be sure that you have enough space as they will grow to be well over 100 feet tall, with crowns as large as 60 feet in diameter.

Cicadas and Their Killers

The Eastern cicada killer wasps (genus Sphecius) were in full force this fall. Here is the common annual cicada (genus Tibicen) along with its foe collected on our smallholding.

The cicada killer females build nest cells within tunnels which they burrow in the soil often working with other females. The females are often seen flitting about in search for their prey. Once located, they sting the cidada and paralyze it so that they can laboriously lug it back to their nest. Once in the nest cell, which is a branch off of the main tunnel, the female cidada killer will place an egg on the cidada and close off the nest cell with surrounding soil. In a few days, the egg will hatch a grub which will feed off of the cicada as it develops. In about two weeks, the larvae will come to maturity and will spend the winter in a cozy cocoon within the nest cell. In the spring, they pupate. Alas, the adults do not survive the winter.

What is quite intriguing is that an egg that contains a female cicada killer will receive 2 or 3 cicadas in its nest cell for feeding whilst an egg that contains a male cicada killer will receive only one cicada in its nest cell. This is because the female cicada killer is nearly twice as large as the male and thus requires more food whilst developing. Only God knows how the female can tell a male containing egg from a female containing egg.

I particularly enjoy the mellow background buzz of the morning cicada especially whilst working in the garden or elsewhere around the homestead.

P.S. My intent is to keep the journal entries relevant to the season at hand, however, I will occasionally make an exception.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Dixon Springs State Park

We made two visits this fall to Dixon Springs State Park which is located within Shawnee National Forest. I will do a longer post on Shawnee National Forest but will only mention that most of Southern Illinois is a well kept secret and is topographically quite distinct from the rest of the rather bland state. The park is on a large block of rock (Caseyville Sandstone) that has fallen 200 feet along a fault line. The resulting boulder formations make for some beautiful scenery as well as providing plenty of climbing challenges.

A moss and fern embanked creek meanders through the moist and boulder strewn valley. It is fed by a spring which runs throughout all seasons. At the head of the spring, there is an artisan well that is commonly frequented by locals for drinking water. The park has several hiking trails that follow the ridge and valley. The woods are dominated by various species of oak, maple, beech, pine, sycamore, sweet gum, cedar, and several species of hickory including my favorite - the shagbark hickory. The hickory nuts were quite plentiful this year and there were numerous signs of squirrels feeding on the nuts.

I am always amazed at the great lengths a tree will go to establish itself in very inhospitable conditions. This sizable sycamore apparently finds plenty of water and nutrients within the cracks and crevices of this rock formation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mushrooms and Woodchucks

I need to catch up on some observations from October.

Whilst moving leaves into the compost pile, I discovered these rather small but bright mushrooms buried in the leaves. As yet, I have not been able to identify them but it is possible that they have not yet reached their mature form and color.

I regularly take a walk down a lane that runs into the countryside. I had noticed a woodchuck (Marmota monax) living in an embankment which was covered with the highly invasive Kudzu. A county road crew was mowing the shoulders of the road and exposed Mr. Woodchuck's hobbit hole. I have only seen him in quick flashes of fur as he dives into his warm abode.

Here is a very small, 3-legged praying mantis (Mantis religioso) on our fence rail in typical "praying" stance and mimicking the color of the fence. I noticed many praying mantises around the homestead this fall. While they do eat many undesirable insects in the garden, they do not discriminate and will eat beneficial ones as well.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Ike in Kentucky?

We were only supposed to receive some much needed rain from the remnants of Hurricane Ike, but the hurricane was re-energized when it met a cold front right over our region. We did not receive any rain but the winds were near 70 mph. Unfortunately, we lost a nice Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) that I planted about 12 years ago. The tree was ~50 feet tall and around 14 inches in diameter at the base. The tree snapped almost exactly in half. It was under this tree that we regularly ate our family meals, weather permitting. Now it will serve to provide heat for our home.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Leaning Cherry

The Christian Naturalist's entry about trees leaning for light reminded me of this Black Cherry tree (Prunus serotina) on my property. You are looking at the central trunk of the tree. It must extend out a good 30 feet from the edge of the wood and the trunk is around 8 inches in diameter at the base. It has required some branch pruning underneath so as to allow me to mow under it.


Here is a little puffball mushroom about 1-1/4 inches in diameter. I can not identify the species as I do not have a mushroom guide and could not find one online that appeared similar. The stem is very short. Any help would be appreciated.

Puffballs are Fungi in the Phylum Basidiomycota and produce spores internally. The spores are released through the hole in the top in a puff of brown “dust” when the body is disturbed.

(Update: I studied the excellent puffball page by Michael Kuo at Mushroom Expert, and I am still a bit baffled. Part of the problem is that this puffball is a bit far along in its cycle. Second, you will note that the spines are only on the bottom half of the ball. Most spined species have them on the entire circumference. I would guess that it was genus Lycoperdon if it had a taller stem, and it is possible that the stem was more substantial in its youth. Further, Lycoperdon perlatum is the most common woodland species. Third, cutting a puffball open is important to identifying it as the color and consistency of the flesh are important indicators. And finally, microscopic examination of the spores can be very helpful when differentiating between the various species within a genus. Alas....I will try to use these tools to better effect next season deo volente.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Herping With Dylan

If you are interested in reptiles and amphibians, I recommend that you take a look at these informative and fun videos by a young Herpetologist, Dylan Cebulske. His YouTube Channel is called Herping With Dylan. Remember - Do not handle venomous snakes!

American vs. Fowler's Toad