Ahhhhh-choo!

Our porch is probably our favorite room in the house during the warmer months. It’s where mister gardener drinks his morning coffee and reads the newspaper. It’s where we love to sit and watch the dozens and dozens of hummingbirds that battle at nectar feeders. It’s a nice place to end the day without experiencing biting insects. BUT right now it is practically unusable.

A yellow haze is clogging the air. The loblolly pines (Pinus taeda L.) are reproducing. Although the loblolly’s pollen does not cause allergic reactions, it does cause a different reaction in most people. Lines at the car wash are longer these days. Our black dogs are both ‘Old Yellas.’  The fish pond is yellow. Leaves are yellow. And the porch is yellow. Windy days like today are dreaded. A little rain is always welcome to wash the pollen to the ground.

The pollen is sticky. We make a valid attempt to wash and vacuum the porch regularly or the coated surfaces form a difficult to remove thick mat that eventually turns a darker not so pretty shade of yellow.

Forest biologist Claire Williams, who studies airborne pollen at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC, says that during peak pollen season in late March and early April, loblolly pines shed millions of pounds of pollen into the air. Although most of that pollen lands nearby, perhaps in our porch, Williams and her colleagues discovered viable pine pollen as far as 2,000 feet in the air and 25 miles offshore. I think the pines are here to stay.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Walk In The Winter Woods

Running Cedar

Stepping off our sandy lane onto a thick cushion of fallen leaves, we don’t have to walk far to find an oasis of green beneath the young oaks, maples, pines and poplars.  In the frigid temperatures and wet weather of January, tiny evergreen plants blanket this zone 7b woodland floor.  These are clubmosses, plants whose ancestors existed almost 400 million years ago before flowering plants populated the earth.  Along with massive tree ferns, the club mosses grew well over 100’ tall with trunk diameters of 5’.  These ancient forests of giants lived in swamps during the age of coal, the Carboniferous era and their decay led to the coal fields of today.

click each photo to enlarge

The first club moss that we encounter in our woods, with its flat branches and the cedar-like appearance, is Running Cedar (Lycopodium digitatum).  At this time of year, the tiny candles or clubs are full of spores and just brushing the plants will generate miniature yellow clouds.  The plants also expand by rhizomes along the ground, thus the name Running Cedar.  In this way, they can cover extensive areas of the forest floor if conditions are ideal. Our woods must provide what they need for the ground is covered with this variety.

Princess Pine

Nearby, we recognize our other clubmoss that looks remarkably like a tiny pine tree (Lycopodium obscurum) or what I call Princess Pine.  It grows about 6 – 8 inches off the ground in our woods but can grow larger. The Princess Pine reproduces by a rhizome as well so I suppose it could be called Running Pine.

The common name, clubmoss, describes the appendage at the tip of the plant, which produces spores for reproduction.  The spores have a high oil content and have been used to coat pills and is still used in powders to sooth the skin. Native Americans used the spores for various medicinal purposes and early Americans and Europeans used them for a wide range of healing.  Interesting, the plant is poisonous but not the spores.  The spores are highly flammable and they were used in early photography to provide the needed flash.

A request was once made for some of our Princess Pine to be used as a church decoration.  I gave my consent.  But in learning more about the plant and how difficult it is to transplant or cultivate, I now protect our miniature evergreen forest, a mere shadow of its ancient relatives.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Having Fun With The Brown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed nuthatchSunflower seeds, peanuts, and suet bring the gregarious brown-headed nuthatch to our garden feeders in the winter.  Like other nuthatches, they eat seeds at the feeder during the winter months, but during warm weather, the bird will forage for bark-dwelling insects.

In the summer, we are alerted to their arrival by their familiar rubber-ducky squeaks.  We watch them climb up and down the pine trunks in characteristic nuthatch fashion inspecting the bark, the cones and pine bracts in their search for spiders, cockroaches, egg cases, etc., as well as pine nuts.  To have a little fun with them, we hide peanuts under the bark that they love to discover, sometimes with the male feeding his mate.

Sadly, due to the loss of their mature pine forest habitat, it is reported that these 4.5″ birds are declining at a rate of 2% a year, down close to 45% in the last 30 years.  One possible way to help the brown-headed nuthatch is to build a birdhouse.  Make sure the entrance hole is 1 1/4″ in diameter with a 4″ x 4″ floor and 9″ ceiling.  Hinge one side for cleaning, make ventilation holes and attach about 7′ or 8′ above the ground. Next, invite them to your feeder.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Save