Each fall, the trail cams come down for maintenance and are rehung for the next four seasons. Paul installed the north trail through the floodplain several years ago, opening that area to bird watchers and hikers of all species. It’s a popular resting stop for migratory songbirds. Birder Deb captures beautiful photos there as they flit through.
Here are a few photos that feature the humans who passed the camera on that path. It begins with David, the master who keeps the trail cleared and curbs the further spread of invasive plants species.
By September and October, most of the white, blue, pink and purple wildflowers have faded from the landscape, but our byways glow into early autumn with the bright yellows and golds of what we might refer to simply as “pretty yellow flowers.” Let’s give a respectful nod to four of those cheery wildflowers—Goldenrod, False Sunflower, Jerusalem Artichoke, and Sneezeweed—and get to know them personally.
The four have much in common. All four are members of the huge family Asteraceae, also Compositae; their flower petals grow daisy-like in rays around a center. The centers are typically a cluster of many tiny florets. All four attract pollinators (bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds), so they are important economically and ecologically. Deer avoid them. All are perennial, and cultivars have become popular garden flowers. While they share family traits, their differences can help us distinguish them.
Goldenrod, a common name for Solidago, may be the easiest to identify. More than 100 species grow wild in moist soil in North America, but a few have become popular in gardens. The plant heights average three to five feet. The flower heads are fluffy plumes or fans densely covered by tiny florets. Because they produce almost no pollen, they can’t be blamed for allergies. They are not poisonous to humans; in fact, parts are edible and can have medicinal uses. Because they are native, they are not termed invasive, but they can spread aggressively by seeds and roots.
False Sunflower, one common name for heliopsis helianthoides, is a native that can be mistaken for a daisy. It prefers sun and can grow in a wide range of soil, preferably on roadsides, near wooded areas and in prairies. The plants reach three to six feet and bear flowers with yellow (the common color here) to orange rays that may droop slightly around a soft brown center, earning them the nickname Ox-Eye Daisy. They are neither invasive nor toxic.
Jerusalem Artichoke, or helianthus tuberosus, is not an artichoke but rather a species of sunflower native to central North America. The plants can grow from five to nine feet tall, bearing bright yellow, daisy-like flowers with sturdier petals than False Sunflower or Sneezeweed. Its elongated tubers (fleshy underground stems) vary in color from light brown to white, red or purple and have a nutty flavor. They are highly nutritious and can be eaten, either raw or cooked. In fact, tasty-looking recipes can be found online. The plant was once a widely cultivated root vegetable crop that is regaining popularity.
Sneezeweed, or helenium autumnale, is so called because its leaves were once dried and used to make snuff. The plants prefer moist soil and are at home along streams and wetlands. They grow from two to five feet tall and bear pale yellow to orange flowers with fan-shaped drooping rays. It is sometimes called Wingstem because of the gill-like “wings” running the length of the stems. Although attractive to pollinators, it is poisonous (in large amounts) to humans and livestock.
One final note: all four of these “pretty yellow flowers” look lovely in floral arrangements.
About 20 years ago, I planted a ground cover that was all the rage at the time. I decided that glossy, dark-green euonymus fortunei, a native of Asia, would be ideal to fill in prettily around shrubs and to block weeds. As years went by, a patch in Red Fox Garden succumbed to scale, and the euonymus at my house had a rude habit of climbing up the garage siding and suckering in until pulled down. However, its dense cover did block weeds, and I liked the look of it.
So, I was not prepared when Cousin David, who has spent years clearing invasive shrubs and vines from the Quarry Farm nature preserve, reported an unfamiliar branching vine climbing in a cluster of trees deep in the woods, well beyond my house and garden. It was neither poison ivy nor wild grape vine, and its leaves looked a little like myrtle, only larger. I made a discomfiting discovery: The invader was euonymus fortunei, my pretty ground cover gone rogue. Looking it up on the internet, I was shocked to learn that euonymus is now generally considered an invasive species, a landscaping no-no.
Horticultural websites discuss the aggressive nature of euonymus fortunei. One example is this from North Carolina State University Extension: “Some cultivars may be more of a vine and others more of a small shrub, but the vining cultivars and some shrubs can both be invasive… Climbing euonymus readily escapes into native forests and has no trouble dominating medium-sized trees. [It] is listed as invasive in North Carolina and in other states of the southeast and northeast. When used as ground cover for the showy leaves, it tends to climb if given support. . . .When this vine climbs trees it produces aerial rootlets along its branches. [Its small white berries] are eaten by some birds which is how the plant is spread and often how it becomes more invasive.” This is surely how euonymus flew from my garden into the woods of the preserve.
My experience with euonymus fortunei has been another hard lesson learned about plant selection over the years. When perusing catalogs and nurseries, I should try harder to temper my feverish impulses with some cautionary reminders: Choose natives to the area, more likely to settle companionably into the landscape. Don’t make impulsive purchases based solely on glowing descriptions, especially if a plant is an introduction, sometimes even a “new, improved” cultivar. Know soil (sand, loam, and/or clay), moisture and light preferences. Know how a plant propagates and spreads, so it can be contained if it sends out runners or produces thousands of seeds per plant. In general, know how it interacts with other plants and wildlife.
Better knowledge about such issues might have prevented invasions of bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose, and too many others, which were thought decades ago to have beneficial uses as wildlife food and cover and as living fencing, but became scourges to field and forest, including The Quarry Farm.
I think it will always thrill me to overhear someone asking someone else if they have ever been to The Quarry Farm, for people to talk about the animals, birds, gardens and the clarity of the stream. Not everyone will turn over their yard to goats, roosters, and geriatric pigs, but gardens—the riotous kind filled with a variety of native flowering plants—and trees can make birds and clear water more common. This region’s native grasses and trees have long, branching root systems that hold the soil like a strong net. Have you ever pulled English Ivy? This non-native is tenacious and fast-growing but you can remove a large patch with one pull, so shallow-rooted and interwoven is this European transplant. In contrast, ever tried to pull a Common Milkweed in its entirety? Best of luck.
Old Man Sycamore in the north floodplain of the nature preserve has a hollow base that provides shelter to who knows how many creatures each night and during winter’s worst. As shallow-rooted landscapes topple across Northwest Ohio, he and the 300-year oaks withstand wicked flood currents and down-bursts. As the floodwaters recede, the forbs at his feet grasp run-off silt and soil. Within 36 hours, Cranberry Run is clear again.
You hear a lot about native plants these days. Big-box stores as well as local nurseries stock a variety of plants labeled as native. Keep in mind that native doesn’t always mean native to here. Also, ask your green-grower what kind of substrate your plants are potted in. Mass-marketed plants are often potted for long shelf lives, their roots sandwiched in neonicotinoid-laced soils that wreak havoc on bees and other beneficial insects.
Remember that part about riotous gardens? Variety is the spice of life. Some native plants can be invasive without other native plants to keep them in check. The Quarry Farm Gardener finds it necessary to parcel out starts of Coneflower every now any then, as well as Menarda (Bee Balm). Much is made of the benefits of keeping Common Milkweed for the Monarch butterflies. Without Ironweed, Coneflower, Asters, and Common Hackberry trees to watch over them all, who will feed and shelter Comma, Question Mark, swallowtails, and the Hackberry Emporer butterflies? And without Jewelweed and its orange orchid-like flowers nodding on the riverbanks and floodplains, how will I ever be rid of this confounded poison ivy rash?
May 9 is the biggest day in birding this year. As it’s just 9:30 p.m., it still “is” even though the wind tonight is wild and wooly and no self-respecting owl is going to land in the bowed cottonwood outside the window before midnight.
I don’t know birds. Rather, I have met a few and we got along well. I could pick them out in a crowd. But I don’t recognize many wild birds by call or even by sight unless they are posing neatly at eye level. For the blessed luck and good of all, Deb Weston is a frequent Quarry Farm flyer who helps us see beyond the cardinals, chickadees and house finches at the bird feeders and into the high canopy for warblers, kinglets and other birds who are presently passing through these parts.
Black-throated blue warbler
Not that there is anything less than splendid about the birds we are most familiar with. Deb shared a stunning shot of a fluorescent-beaked female cardinal gathering nesting material from a clutch of honey locust thorns. On the same day, however, she photographed a black-throated blue warbler perched on a rope of grapevine. Along the way, she digitized an orchard oriole singing it’s heart out and a mourning cloak butterfly. Because butterflies are seemingly as confused by climate change as humans are, they are arriving here or emerging from their winter quarters with no food in sight. When Deb shared the butterfly photo, it was a sight for sore eyes.
Mourning cloak butterfly
Just as nature around the world is reveling in the cleaner air and water that’s a result of human lockdown, wild things are going about their business unimpeded here in the Back 40. On Friday night a small group of Girl Scouts spread out along the trails to earn their trailblazing badges. As they climbed out of the Riley Creek floodplain toward the grass prairie, two large fluffy feathered great horned owl fledglings bobbed in a black walnut at eye level. Their parent murmured a short distance away, waiting for us to move along our earthbound way.