23 January 2010

I Like Lichen

I took a trip down to nearby Huntley Meadows Park. This is the largest county park in Fairfax County, with 1,425 acres of "majestic forests, wildflower-speckled meadows and vast wetlands for some of the best wildlife watching in the Washington metropolitan area." I wanted to review the winners of the center's annual Photography Contest, including a photo of Kingbirds entered by a bird-watcher good friend.

A walk through the wooded trails and along the wetlands boardwalk yielded a surprising amount of interesting wildlife for a drab Saturday afternoon in winter. A King Rail was spotted munching in the cattails, with its tiger-stripe orange back and zebra striped belly. Others loafing around included abundant Canada geese, mallards, gulls, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatch, and crows. The more interesting included the downy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, and rare (in this area) red-headed woodpecker. My favorite sighting was the Eastern bluebird, standing out in a background without color.

With my tiny Canon Power Shot in hand, a few interesting photogenic features were found growing in the wood trails: lichen and fungus. The colorful lichen were growing in their symbiotic relationship with with algae and moss, as usual. However, there were a few areas where fungus instead seemed to be its mate. Lichen usually rely on the sugars produced by green algae, so with no algae or moss, I don't know what these little beasties were up to.

The same lichen on trees appeared to be two different colors - pale green and a pale greenish-blue. I wasn't sure if this was the same lichen in a different stage of growth, or a slightly different species. The lichen was so pervasive that the trees looked like a paintball game just finished.

The interesting fungi that were found resembled clamshells with the horizontal stripes, popcorn on the log, and bite-sized caramels on the fallen branch. I believe I was hungry that day, affecting the way I saw things. At least the birds didn't look like chocolate-covered marshmallow peeps.

14 January 2010

The Paper White Files

It must be time to talk about the indoor garden plants. My first Paper White Narcissus (Tazetta narcissus) were planted the day after coming home from Thanksgiving vacation last year. The bulbs were snug in their paper bags just behind the milk and soda in the refrigerator for about two weeks prior to planting. They grew slowly at first, and then just after Christmas, the blooms began. They were stunning for my New Years Open House. What timing!

Since I don't like the concept of disposable plants, the bulbs were watered throughout the winter, spindly leaves and all, and planted outdoors in the spring. The hope was that they would grow strong bulbs with the sunlight and garden soil, go dormant like good bulbs should, and be harvested for planting indoors next year.

This process really confused the plants. Outdoors, the leaves flopped around worse than in the house and began turning yellow. After about a week of dormancy, (or of deciding what season it is and what the appropriate response should be), the plants began shooting up new vigorous leaf growth. This continued for at least two months. Now I was the one confused.

Not knowing what to make it this, and months after the spring blooming bulbs had disappeared, I stopped watering the paper whites. I dug one up to take a peek at what was hopefully a bulb. There was no such thing. The largest hints of bulbs were small marble-sized balls.

This year, new paper whites were planted a week earlier - just before Thanksgiving, but they still bloomed at the same time - right after Christmas and in time for my New Years Open House again. Guests noticed the fragrance after walking through the door. I know that paper whites don't come from the stork, so I need to research more on how to cultivate them to bloom again. I discovered they will die from the cold that our normal daffodils get in the winter. One piece of advice I always find - throw them away and buy new ones.

05 January 2010

Fall Color For Gray Winter

It's the middle of winter, and there is not much to record in the way of gardening. In looking at some past photos that were not posted to the blog, a few noteworthy autumn items for the journal were found. First, there is the gooseneck loosestrife (lysimachia clethroides).

The leaves this year turned a vibrant golden yellow in the fall. The color stayed around for about two weeks before fading into brown. I believe the memory has been fading too, since I do not remember this color on the loosestrife in the past two years of growing it [22.6.2008]. I can think of three reasons:
  1. In previous years, the plants were rather sparse, so maybe the increased density this year created a more solid blob of color that simply got noticed.
  2. This fall had the right conditions to create the color, much like the conditions affect the leaf color in the trees from year to year.
  3. The plants were healthier during the year, since I was trying to get them to fill in and spread (which they did.)
The color was a welcome surprise.

There is a small oak leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) planted in the spring that did not grow much during the summer. The few leaves it had rivaled the maples in fall color. Since this was its first year in the garden, it is not known how prevalent this red color will be next autumn, but I am hopeful. Researching online indicates that the plant is known for its intense red fall colors.