Restored Habitat

Progress implies forward movement. Change toward some unknown future.

But in some cases, it’s good to take a step back. Take this chain of events as they played out over a century or two.

Woodlands developed along the waterways. The mix of trees changes over generations as various Native American tribes across the land hunting game and pausing long enough to plant crops in the open spaces. The larger open spaces, those filled with the diverse plants of a North American prairie thrived. Their extensive root systems held the soil in place, provided food and shelter to wildlife.

Then the Europeans arrived. They came with domestic animals and plows. Cutting down the forest to build homes, they turned the prairie into fields of corn and wheat.

Then a few descendants of the pioneers realized the forest and the prairie were good things. So they purchased land and guided it back to a condition close to that of before settlement.

They created an oasis of sorts. A small area where native wildlife and plants flourish. In the process they give human visitors beautiful vistas and an opportunity to re-connect (for a brief time) with the past.

                          Prairie and woodland on display on a fine day.                                      City visitors such as the author are grateful to the managers of the property who cut trails of short grass through the waist and higher prairie plants.



Make Mine…

Milkweed for Monarchs!

Butterfly Food
Butterfly Food

This is the future. Currently the sturdy milkweed plants are in blossom, attracting a host of pollinators — including monarch butterflys.  In the cycle of life the butterfly eggs will hatch into tiny caterpillars which will munch on the leaves and grow to multiple times their original size.

We call it a weed. This is one plant which can wear the label with pride. It’s a sturdy thing, likes sunshine, and serves as a necessary host to one of the more beautiful, delicate migrants of North America.

Even florists appreciate them. The seed pods which are green in the photo — when they mature and release their seeds on silky parachutes they leave behind a husk that ends up adding shape and depth to many dried flower arrangements.



Apologies to Charlie

Creep. Always going where he’s not wanted. Impossible to get rid of.

If your name is Charles, nickname Charlie, you may not want to continue. Or perhaps you’ll go Latin on me and skip over the common name, Creeping Charlie, and go to Glechoma hederacea. But if your spelling abilities are near mine you go common.

This plant has nice little leaves, similar to the common geranium. Growing habits are more similar to ivy. It loves the shade. And keeps a low profile. The little patch behind my patio spreads over gravel, sending vines over the top and rootlets through the tiny spaces until they find a little nutrition.

Has he found your lawn? He doesn’t read signs, so you’ll have to watch for him. An alert yard owner will find him early and pull out his network before he settles in for a long summer – and the next year — and the next.

A Creeper eager to Run.
A Creeper eager to Run.




A Weedy Tale

Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed tale that is.

It was very common in the pastures and roadsides when I was a child. I don’t see it as often know – I don’t frequent pastures often and roadsides get more herbicide.

Milk weed. Break a stem and you find the source of the name in the white sap. As weeds go it didn’t cause much of a bother. An elementary school art project used the empty seed pods one year. With milkweed and a few other common plants plus lots of silver, gold, and vibrant paint we created original bouquets.

Anecdotes from my oldest brother and his peers tell of another use. During WWII the pods were collected when full and almost ready to burst. The fibers attached to the seeds were then removed and used in insulation for Artic military gear. (Details on this were scarce. Where did they turn them in?)

War Volunteer?
War Volunteer?




A Common Dandy

We call it a weed. And more than one lawn owner has added a few colorful adjectives before they get to the common name, dandelion.

Two features listed in the botany books explain a lot about it’s survival – perennial and tap root. The number of seeds produced and their dispersal by the wind insure a new generation to join the previous each year.

Children find several uses for them. My peers and I would pick the yellow blossom, and when mother turned it down as a gift we’d hold it under a person’s chin in good light to see if they “liked butter”. A yellow reflection confirmed their words. We also practiced braiding if the stems were long or pinched off the blossoms and formed each stem into a “link” for a chain necklace. And of course when the puff-balls became available we had all sorts of tests of our abilities.

Adults use the plant also. When young, the leaves can be used in salads or cooked for greens. They are rich in vitamins but get them young or a bitter taste will prevail. The blossom can be made into wine. The root makes a caffeine-free coffee. And bees process the pollen and nectar into honey.

A pest. A challenge. A lesson in persistence and versatility.

Behold! The Dandelion
The Dandelion

Claiming Space

Cirsium vulgare.

Even this non-student of Latin can shudder at this name. Webster defines vulgar as common, lacking in refinement or good taste.

The name fits the plant. All of my life I’ve been avoiding close contact when possible. Yes, the blossom is a pretty purple. And one plant standing alone can be majestic in an artistic sort of way.

Survival is their goal and I’ll give them high marks. You can mow or chop them down and before long they are back. As big and bold as before. They are impossible to grasp with your hand – sturdy leather gloves help – but then you have the taproot to deal with.

I’ll continue my avoidance plan. And with their common name – also one that conjures an unpleasant image.