Days of flowers and fungi, part 1

GroupTwo weeks ago we wore coats down and up the trails to the northeast homestead to find out if the bloodroot was in bloom. The answer was a frosty “no.”

If the bloodroot blooms did weather the April freezes, they were gone by May 2, when naturalist Tammy Spillis led a walk along greening Quarry Farm trails. Armed with field guides and mnemonic devices like “sedges have edges,” staff and registered attendees started down Red Fox hill in a search for wildflowers and fungi.Violets

Our first find beyond a carpet of wood violets was tall meadow rue. “Anything in the buttercup family is poisonous, but they’re good pollinators,” said Tammy.

A sap test on the next find was done on something in the lettuce family, a plant called lion’s foot. A painted turtle raised his head from Cranberry Run, perhaps at the mention of wild lettuce, then swam upstream and away.

One of the preserve’s many corded grapevines, thick as a bodybuilder’s bicep, hung over the creek. “I never cut grapevines down,” said Tammy. “The larger the root going into the ground, the greater the volume of water. What actually brings down a tree is not because the grapevine is a parasite, but because water is heavy.”

She explained that an upper offshoot of a grapevine such as this one, when tapped with a plastic bag secured over the cut, can yield up to a quart of sweet water in a half-hour’s time. “Always keep a grapevine in your woods, just in case your well goes bad,” our guide advised.

Black mustard grew, hot and spicy, near the vine. Kidney leaf buttercup was a few steps beyond. Way back when, certain plants were thought to be a tonic for the body parts they resembled. “As science advanced and they made explanations into the different folklore, they found many of the plants held true to that,” said Spillis. “But many did not. This is toxic. Don’t eat it.”Spring Beauties

She pointed out a native loosestrife, common name moneywort, good for pollinators, flanked by spring beauties. Spring beauties are related to purslane. So let it grow — purslane is high in Omega 3 oils. That means it’s good for you.

Eric, the brewer in our party, was interested in the wild ginger growing on the old quarry’s edge. We first noticed one or two Gingersplants and their burgundy pipe-like flower in that spot a couple of years ago. The warm green leaves have increased in number since then, and new beds are springing up elsewhere in the flood plain. Tammy told us that ants are making this happen.

“The wild ginger seeds have this oily sugar coating. The ants come back for the seeds and move them to their ant colony. They don’t eat the seeds themselves; all they want is the sugar coating. Wherever the colony is, you’ll get another colony of wild ginger. Isn’t that nice?”

It sure is. More good things to come, further up the hillside.

Spring 2015 newsletter

2015 Spring Newsletter coverThree workshops await you on the The Quarry Farm this season, including a May 2 workshop that should be of great interest to science teachers and gardeners.

Click on the newsletter cover to the right to read the highlights of what has happened recently on the nature preserve, gardens and farm animal sanctuary, as well as what is to come.

Hope to see you on the trails!

May 2 workshop now open for registration

SAVE THE DATE: On Saturday, May 2, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m., rain or shine, walk The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve with naturalist Tamara Spillis and learn more about native mushrooms and wild plants.

– Registration: Open to the first 20 applicants (age 16 and over). Call 419-384-7195 or 419-234-4620 or email thequarryfarm@gmail.com before April 30 to register.

– Workshop Fee: $15 (includes lunch)

(Optional) Bring a favorite field guide, notebook, pencil, cameras, trail snacks.

-7xo5oaRukMz_q5gaOTNMGByCtLGRcBuUldJ0QIJt0nSt_MM5KSOfXCSPv3XWc6I2T4DW0bPMhJ0DngL1ZgR_pF4bcvMNPaCTCeXwLY7-348F1BfNXFmjF6GWGnuRt4FxWlVY0gIGioYtoX65Us5yZganOVg2DRIuL_zbkOrlhF6GkSkPWkcQV0R4xDONsplaCorlfT0xgWxzf_Yigelk3KFEd3• If you are allergic to penicillin, you should not eat morel mushrooms, no matter how delectable. Morels contain a substance also found in penicillin that accumulates in body tissues and can eventually cause anaphylactic shock.

• Oil lamps containing mushroom wicks may have lighted the world for ancient peoples.

• Genghis Khan made gun powder out of charred shelf mushrooms.

These are a few of the fascinating mushroom facts shared by naturalist Tamara Spillis during a recent slide presentation to The Gathering Basket Herb Society.

On Saturday, May 2, Tamara will share her extensive knowledge with 20 lucky people as we walk The Quarry Farm nature trails and prairie.  We will have the opportunity to explore with Tammy as she identifies and talks about the mushrooms, flowers, and plants along the way, and if you have brought your camera, you can get some great photos.

Some wildflowers that we know about, like wood violets, blood root, and Jack-in-the-pulpit should be blooming on May 2, but the Quarry Farm staff are excited about the prospect of discovering other species that we haven’t yet identified.  When Tamara is finished surveying plant life here, we will have a great educational resource to share with visitors of all ages in the future.

Keep an eye on the weather forecast and come prepared for conditions.  No matter what, we will have a great day on the trail.

tammy spillis Harison Garden Club2-1About Tamara Spillis, Naturalist:

Tamara works part-time as Master Gardener Coordinator in Henry County (Ohio).  In addition, she is a small business owner who manages a naturalist service, working with private landowners and conservation entities to identify and document populations of wildflower and wildlife species.

She also teaches and lectures at museums and colleges on Native American bone and stone tool use.  An amateur mycologist, she has published articles on the use of mushrooms by diverse ancient and modern cultures for fire, warfare, and medicine.

Color photos that Tamara has taken in the field showed insects feeding on and pollinating wildflowers, plants in the various stages of their life cycles, easily confused plants with similar flowers — one edible and the other deadly, mutually supportive plant and insect relationships, common wild plants that are edible and others that are toxic, plants that we live alongside of but rarely see in our everyday lives, and many other insights into the natural world of the fields and woods around us.

welcoming Spring

IMG_9128

It’s Monday and snow is falling outside the window. The temperature is low enough that the white stuff of winter is sticking in clumps on trees and on what new grass there is. Two days ago it wasn’t much warmer, but it was still the first full day of spring. And even though the morning blew in on a cold northwest wind, Spring is great cause for celebration after a polar cold winter that began prematurely with snow on October 31.

IMG_9108We planned a March 21 ‘Welcome Spring’ Family Day three months ago by placing the event announcement in our winter newsletter. It was an optimistic move, one which dreamed big of turning over logs to find salamanders and the first bloodroot leaves curling up from the ground around the old homestead well north of the 10-acre grassland.

The forecast looked promising for Saturday, with sun and predicted temps in the high 50s. As noted two paragraphs ago, what we got was cold wind and gray. Laura switched the refreshment menu from cookies and lemonade to doughnut holes, cookies and a selection of hot beverages which we thought would consumed by those of us who live close by.

Instead, we were joined by three families, all hat-and-coated and ready to hit the trails. Most were return visitors, so they knew that the wind chill would drop once we entered the nature preserve with its tree lines of defense.

Two Canada geese stayed put on the melted quarry surface, at least long enough for us to watch them lift off. We saw plenty of signs of movement, from a variety of tracks to wild turkey feathers. And since this walk was one to greet Spring, this group inaugurated the vernal pool trail for all future guests.

Steve gathered two water samples from the largest pool, an oxbow that was once part of Cranberry Run prior to a brutal 1950s attempt to ditch the natural, wild creek. The oxbow is home to frogs, dragonflies, woods ducks and a variety of turtles. Saturday, most burrowed deep and our enthusiasm sent anything with wings away, but the net did yield scuds, a tiny crustacean akin to shrimp.

We pondered scat in the upland grassland, talked about the sharp hawthorn that sometimes stores a shrike’s lunch and made maple leaf angels on the main hardwoods trail.

Up and out again, and several donuts and hot chocolate cups later, the south Cranberry Run trail led us to the farm animal sanctuary where Buddy, Beatrice, Johnny, Marsh and Mister Bill led the pack in a high-five. Turkeys Inigo and Humperdink paraded their splendid selves about, puffing and drumming as their heads mottled from pink to blue to purple and back again.

IMG_9146It was the first visit with guests for Mister Bill, a very, very, very large Boer goat, and he was tolerant until he’d had enough and wandered away to chew on a spruce. We took the hint at high noon, the scheduled departure time anyway, and were escorted to the gate by turkeys, goats, Buddy and Beatrice.

A warmer spring walk, one fit for wildflowers and light sweaters, is in the works for April.

Stay tuned.

Walk on the Wildflower Side

  • Mom and RowanOh, yes I did.

I titled this post what I did a) to get an eye-roll from you and b) because that is just what several of us did last Saturday. Cameras were slung over shoulders as intrepid amateur botanists crossed Cranberry Run to record spring wildlflowers on the Quarry Farm.

The “first really good time walking through the woods taking photos of pretty things” Spring Wildflower Photo Shoot and Sketch Walk resulted in a good list of the showiest wildflowers that Northwest Ohio has to offer in May. At least those that we could identify. 

RMcKeeA late blooming season resulted in here-and-gone bloodroot blossoms and trout lilies, but we did see the distinctive foliage. The same cool conditions did mean that ramps were still green and a few Dutchman’s breeches were starched white and puffed. There is a new trail cleared for visitation around the old oxbow, a site rich with engraved brackets, soft moss and woodduck calls. An expanding forest of mayapples lines the ridge of this young path.

Here’s the list, common names only, and a few photos of flowers and other wild things seen that day. The gauntlet is down, Becky. Let’s see what you’ve got on your box.

  • Bloodroot (foliage)
  • Toadshade
  • Wood Violet
  • Cinquefoil (Common?)
  • Jack-in-the-Pulpit
  • Dutchman’s Breeches
  • Mayapple
  • Wild Ginger
  • False Solomon’s Seal
  • Spring Beauty
  • Cutleaf Toothwort
  • Dandelions
  • Creeping Jenny
  • Wild Geranium
  • Trout Lily
  • Ramps (stems and leaves)

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Sixteen Chicks and a Kit

It’s only Tuesday and it’s already a busy week.

On Monday, we received a call from the Pandora branch of the United States Postal Service.

“There is,” a woman explained, ” a package for you.” Long pause. “And it’s talking.”

Chicks TiredThe chicks we’d ordered late last winter had arrived: five Black Australorps, five Black Giants and, as it turns out, six (though we only ordered five) Buff Orpingtons. Now ordinarily we don’t buy the animals that live here. There are more than enough domestics out there in need of a different situation that we don’t have to. But chickens? Well, they hold a special place in my heart and, frankly, they feed us. Not with their bodies; we’re vegetarians. But we have absolutely no issue with eating the eggs they produce, Chicksparticularly since the eggs they lay are infertile. This is not to say that we don’t take in wayward chickens. We do and have: Barbara the Australorp, Karen the Rhode Island Red and Big Girl, the Ameraucana,  just to name a few. But there’s something about raising a chicken from virtually her first breath. At least, there is for me.

Then, on Tuesday, today, we received a call from Nature’s Nursery Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation Education. A couple in our county had found an orphaned red fox kit and were looking for assistance. I met Rachel and Andy in Ottawa in the parking lot of the local Rite Aid. They explained that they’d found him huddled next to a dead sibling and kept a watch out for the mother. 003When nearly two days had passed without an appearance, they took the kit in and contacted NN, which in turn called us. We provided him with a little watered down formula, which he gladly drank, and, since he was severely dehydrated, gave him a subcutaneous injection of sterile saline solution. So he’s here for the interim. Tomorrow, we’ll try him on a slurry of soft cat food and formula.

From there, thanks to Rachel and Andy, the sky’s the limit.

Signs

I woke up this morning with this in my head:

[In Just-]
by e.e. cummings

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and

it’s
spring
and
the

goat-footed

balloonMan whistles
far
and
wee

I have a passion for poetry and cummings is one of my favorite artists. Inevitably, this particular piece of work comes to mind at some point in March. While not the first sign of Spring, it is a significant one for me. Still, you needn’t look to the page, or even delve into the convolutions of my sleep-addled mind to find the artistry of onrushing Spring.

Fox Squirrel Geese CabinOf late I’ve seen the return of turkey vultures and red-winged blackbirds and American robins in arguing masses so large that they’ve painted an acre of the big back field nearly white with their droppings. I’ve heard the buzz of a woodcock and the whickering of its wings as it flew toward the moon to prove its worth to a potential mate. Skunks and ‘coons and squirrels quarrel and fight in the woods and Canada geese and mallard ducks, in flocks and individual pairs, holler from the quarry.

Fairy Shrimp CircleTracksIn the lowest lying areas of The Quarry Farm, back in the woods and well below the quarry itself, on the ground referred to by locals as Coburn’s Bottom, vernal pools have already formed. These temporary ponds serve as habitat for a host of ephemeral animals: fairy shrimp and salamanders and mayfly nymphs and dragonflies. Within a few months, the pools will have evaporated, but their inhabitants remain in burrows underground or as eggs, tiny packets of a potential future.

MossAnd then there’s the greening of the woods, with mosses already climbing up the trees and laying soft blankets on the ground. It’s easy to forget that this whole area was once rainforest. It’s easy to forget, that is, until you take the time to walk into an Ohio woods and take an honest look around. And if it’s not a matter of forgetting – if, in fact, you didn’t know – then the realization of where you are is an epiphany and you’ll never look at a stand of trees in Northwest Ohio in quite the same way again.

(e.e. cumming’s [in Just-] was originally published in The Dial, Volume LXVIII, Number 5: May, 1920)