Nov 20, 2011

Autumn Rainbow: Fall Flowers, Leaves, Berries, and Seeds

Our recent Outdoor Hour Challenge sent us on a search for fall color, and not just in the expected---leaves---, but in the unexpected like berries, flowers, and other forms of flora. The weather was unseasonably balmy so we could take as much time as we liked at one of our favorite local parks, a man-made lake surrounded by many acres of walking trails deliberately planted with a variety of trees and bushes. While I would prefer more "natural" (wild) settings, this park is easily accessed and well-appointed with necessities, like bathrooms. Sometimes that can make all the difference.

Mei was captivated with photographing the geese and ducks.

    The dog was as bent on collecting scents as we were colors, so an early trip-up almost ended our walk before we began.  However Mei Wei was a trooper and followed her mother's urgings to press on. Not until the jeans were rolled up to apply first aid did I realize how badly the knees were skinned.  Sacrifice in the name of science!
     Our goal was to find every color in the rainbow. Here are our results, some of which Mei photographed herself. (Helpful hint: give the child the camera to keep her mind off her troubles... )

Gingko tree.

Gingko leaves. The only leaf with no apex.

Not sure. A member of the tomato family I think.

A determined dandelion


Bradford Pear leaves and berries. Our dog loves them. Whatever.

Tamarack with cones. A deciduous pine.

Tamarack trail.

Bittersweet, a parasitic plant. But really pretty.
Red Maple

Wild rose hips. High in Vitamin C.

Osage oranges.

Osage orange insides. Kinda yucky. DON'T taste like an orange.

The pants, of course. The Shepherd's Purse seeds that are stuck on are brown.

Honeysuckle berries. Poisonous to dogs!

Pokeweed. Also called Deadly Nightshade. Pattern to the color here?
Red clover
Wild blackberry leaves



Pin oak in pond.



New York Asters
And lastly the white notebook page! Not bad for one day's walk!

Note: Oil pastel is better used in larger format work. :-) But it was a new set, so....

Look for other entries in the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival and re-enjoy the last vestiges of fall color.

Nov 5, 2011

Thistles While You Walk

Our latest adventure with More Nature Study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge brought us in close contact with those beautiful-to-look-at/dangerous-to-touch wildflowers called thistles. Some would say calling them wildflowers is a stretch because of their invasive behavior, but more on that later.
                                             Late afternoon at  Sharp's Waterford Farm.

      We live on the edge of the countryside, ever encroached upon by development, but farmland is still in our backyard. On the day we took on the thistle challenge we were finishing a farm field trip that included a very interesting and fun lesson about life as the Pilgrims knew it. Thankfully this farm, in the same family for over a century, had applied for preservation status. Driving away over the upper pastures, we envied the unbroken view to the horizon across cow and horse pastures and acres of pick-your-own pumpkins ("sugar pumpkins, the best for pies"). 
     Mei's riding experience had taught her how dangerous those flat pizza-sized sprouting thistle rosettes could be to her horse. We winced at the thought of the pain or worse it could inflict on the tender underside of a horse' hoof. Knowing this pasture would be a preferred habitat, we very quickly spotted evidence of our subject just inside the (electrified) fence. Jumping out of the car on a narrow lane to snap its pic, I found a large rosette of spiny growth on my side just at my feet. I also spied a couple of teasel plants, one of which I helped myself too. I'll leave that for another post...
Probably Canadian Thistle. Bull leaves are hairy.
    Earlier that day we had used the notes from the Handbook of Nature Study to learn about the two main thistles and how to identify the differences. The Bull or Common Thistle has the larger head and is annual, growing in single clumps here and there. While it may look the fiercer, it turns out that the delicately branched, smaller bloomed and less-spiny Canada Thistle is a wolf in sheep's clothing because of its pernicious habit of propagating itself by underground runners. Snip off the main plant and the off-shoots just become more vigorous! From the Maryland Invasive Species newsletter I found this quote:
  • "Canada thistle is considered a noxious weed throughout the U.S, with millions of dollars spent annually on its control. Left uncontrolled, it can reduce yields of row crops by as much as 90 percent.
    Well, if that didn't get your attention, I give up!
        Of course God doesn't make anything without a reason.  The numerous species of butterflies, bees, and birds that depend on them for food attest to this. And just watching a colorful swallowtail or goldfinch clinging to the flower is a balm to our spirits.I was encouraged by some of this quote:
    A Painted Lady. Lay some eggs!
    • "Red Admirals, viceroys and painted lady butterflies lay eggs on Canada thistle, and the subsequent larvae feed on the leaves and stems. However, only the painted lady butterfly builds up populations high enough to eliminate an infestation. This butterfly is generally found in southern states and will migrate north only once every 8 to 11 years."
    Here's some nice info and a coloring page for kids on Painted Lady butterflies at Enchanted
         By the way, I was relieved to read that Niger thistle, the type sold for feeding goldfinches, is a sterilized seed and not a threat. (Though I'm not convinced because I find SOMETHING coming up under those feeders every year!)
      Spreading seeds. A no-no!
          As we walked the dog to our "thistle sanctuary," an unmown field near a state park, I challenged Mei to find our plants. I was pleased that she could pick out thistles from a distance even though by now the brown, dried stalks with their bedraggled fluffy heads looked very different from the purple-plumed, lanced defenders of the field of a month ago. But because of their post-season state, we weren't sure if we were finding Bulls or Canadians. We snipped a few specimens and headed home.

      Bull Thistle gone to seed
      Bull Thistle spent flower head
      A Bull Thistle flower that was caught by frost.
           Across the road was another field and I had to take a look. Sure enough, thistles, only these had a decidedly delicate structure with many branches and numerous small, fluff heads. These then were the infamous Canadian thistle. The prior were the Bulls.

                                A row of Canadian Thistles going to seed. 
                          Pretty little flowers a month ago.

      Canada Thistle seedhead
      You can see how fragile the Canadian Thistle appears to be compared with the Bull/Common. Looks are deceiving, aren't they?
      We then investigated the bed by the road that had been invaded last year. Plants were popping up everywhere one next to another through their insidious under-ground roots. And  from what we know now, it's going to take a lot more than hand-pulling to eradicate the Invaders!

                                            Garden pests
      Chow down, Bambi!
       The one bright spot was discovering that, for all the damage our local deer do to our landscaping, they may be developing a taste for thistles....!

      Hope you learned a little. Thanks to The Outdoor Hour Challenge, we learned a lot including some things we might rather NOT have learned! Ignorance can be bliss. 

      Hop over to the Outdoor Hour Blog Carnival to see what discoveries others have made.  And don't blow the thistles!

      Oct 30, 2011

      Outdoor Hour Challenge: Yes, You Can Compare Pears!

      Our weekly nature study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge Autumn Series 2011 was to compare a pear! Or several! And against apples! Well this was a tasty idea, and worked out fine with the upside-down weather we've been experiencing. No need for a sunny day. We can just pull up to the kitchen counter for this one.

      Storm damaged Bradford Pear. The dog loves the fruits.
      Truth-be-told, I spent every walk over a couple of weeks looking for SOMEONE who just might have a pear tree in their yard. The closest things were Bradford Pears --those over-planted hybridized freaks that, like so many vain celebrities, are all show but no substance. Bradfords were developed in the lab to be the "perfect" shade tree: compact to be plantable along sidewalks, showy to enhance suburban streets, and fast-growing. What they WEREN'T supposed to do is snap in two after 20 years! Their bio-engineered bodies are top-heavy and one simple storm can send them to the ground. We now know first-hand as we added one of a pair (no pun intended this time) to the mulch pile just last spring.
      Anyway, though there were no true pear trees, there were plenty of the edible fruits coming into season at our local grocer. We also picked up several varieties of apples to com-PEAR.  
      Following the Autumn Challenge guidelines, we first went to the internet and found some great educational pages on pears. (California is very proud of their pears; a-pear-antly, they make it part of their school curriculum!) We read about their surprisingly interesting history (really? pears?). Here's what the Fact Sheet had to tell us:
      • The Bartlett pear was developed in England in the seventeenth
        century by a schoolmaster named John Stair. He
        sold some cuttings to a horticulturist named Williams, who
        further developed the variety and renamed it after himself.
        Early Americans brought pear seedlings across the Atlantic
        to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1812, nurseryman
        Enoch Bartlett discovered the pear variety and, unaware of
        the pear’s true name, distributed it as a “Bartlett.” However, it
        is still known as the “Williams” pear around the world. Bartlett
        cuttings eventually came west when the forty-niners headed
        for the great California Gold Rush and continue to grow in
        California today.
      Then we found this site that got our mouths watering as we viewed and read the delicious descriptions of about a dozen varieties, some of which I've never seen in stores.
      Our sacrificial apple revealed its star-shaped seed cavities.
      Now it was time for the scientific part of our study: observation and DISSECTION! Mei went through the less exciting part of describing the outside of both pear and apple. "Firm," "bruised," "spherical," and "mottled" were some of the better adjectives she came up with. Splitting the pear open she was intrigued with the cavities that held the little "white, tear-dropped" seeds. She also pointed out the flower-shaped arrangement of the cavities and delightedly perceived the same order in the apple.
      Inhaling the scent of the "gift of the gods."
      Finally the time had come for the tasting party. Like any wine fancier would tell you, you must first inhale the bouquet. She found the pear's fragrance to be "sweet and sower (sic)" compared with the apple's overall sweetness. She did not detect a great difference in flavor, but maybe she just wanted to get on with EATING!
      Below is a notebook page Barb included in the Autumn Series Challenge for pears. Now to get some new pear recipes to use on all those varieties I saw in the store this week!

      I see some words to add to the spelling list, but she gets an A for effort.

      Oct 29, 2011

      Outdoor Hour Challenge: Milkweed!

      I love milkweed. I love what milkweed represents: monarch butterflies, the warmest days of summer, weeks at the lake, time spent at the Conservancy Cabin. So I couldn't wait for us to study milkweed with the More Nature Study with the Outdoor Hour Challenge Autumn 2011 .

      Go here for more info on Monarch Caterpillars
      We are fortunate to live on the edge of the countryside and had no trouble finding specimens for study. Sometimes we find them sprouting right in our flower beds and then I have to wrestle with my conscience  about treating them as "unwanted weeds" because I know they are the ONLY food for hungry Monarch caterpillars.  The highway department works hard enough at eradicating them along the roadsides; should I  jump on the bandwagon? Especially when Monarchs have taken such a hit in the last few years with some record cold in Mexico that killed off so many during their hibernation? But for our study time they were going to seed along a section of horse fencing owned by our neighbors.
      Following the questions in the study guide we looked for insects on them and were rewarded (if finding bugs is your idea of a reward; it was ours) by locating Milkweed Bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus)   all over. They were not sure about being photographed. It took several "sneak attacks" to catch them before they scooted to the other side of a pod or simply dropped off into the weeds. had these interesting remarks about the bugs:
      " Eggs are laid in milkweed seed pods or in crevices between pods. About 30 eggs are laid a day, and about 2,000 over a female's lifespan. In the course of feeding, these bugs accumulate toxins from the milkweed, which can potentially sicken any predators foolish enough to ignore the bright colors which warn of their toxicity."
      We then investigated the "milk" of the milkweed. By breaking the weed at any place on its stem, we observed a stream of white juice. The Handbook of Nature Study explains that this milk aids in the healing of the plant wounds.

      We experimented with spreading the stuff on our fingers and, sure enough, it dried into a rubbery film that would NOT wash off. A little research on the origins of rubber would be a logical next step. And when tasted, there's no wondering why caterpillars full of it would be noxious to birds!
      Mei added drawings of the pod and seed balloon to her notebook page.
       It took a few weeks to find the pods beginning to open. Thankfully the milkweed that we had chosen is along our usual dog-walking route so we could easily keep tabs on it. Here it is a month later. Aren't the silky threads beautiful in the sun?

      Inside the pods, we could see the neatly arranged rows of the hundreds of seeds. Hopefully, many of them will find friendly homes to repopulate our roadsides next summer and beckon the Monarchs that love them!

      Aug 30, 2011

      Outdoor Hour Challenge: Dragonflies!

      It's been a really great summer in Eagles Mere, Pa where we spend so much time in God's Great Outdoors. One of the best things about homeschooling is being able to stay as long as we want (well, almost, as there are school-year related activities starting back home, like it or not).  Last year we chose to begin school while still at the lake to give ourselves a slower immersion into the school routine. This also encourages us to take greater advantage of all the nature studies we can do while here. The town has a very active Conservancy which provides all kinds of outdoor learning for every age. This year we enjoyed some of our old favorites, like building Gnome Homes in the woods,  and new ones like a presentation on eagles with a real live rehab-ed guest.  Gave us a new appreciation for our national symbol when she was in flapping distance!

      Wanting a bit of help in doing some nature study on our own, I turned--once again--to Barb McCoy's Outdoor Hour Challenge. I'm so excited to discover the new Newsletters! I immediately downloaded the August 2011 issue and was elated to find the focus on Pond Study. Our lake has an adjoining pond right next to the Conservancy Cabin where we were able to borrow dip nets, containers, and field guides as well as get assistance and insight from our resident naturalist, Irene. We packed our bags with the Newsletter and the notebooking pages, some colored pencils, a magnifying glass, and snacks, and biked on over. (Yes, biked: it's that close!)

      Mei chose to focus on dragonflies which are abundant there in summer. There are so many around  the lake that all the kids treat them as friends and probably get their first lessons in the "birds and bees" from the damselflies mating acrobatics. (The" birds and the bugs?")

      This day we noticed a new courtship "dance" by some small red dragonflies. The male's tail end held the female at her head, while she would dip her tail end into the water. It seems the female is being fertilized and laying her eggs all at once. This was different from the numerous damsels whose males grab the TAIL end of the female and loop their hind-ends around in a circle for the mating stance. The red ones turned out to be

      Golden-winged Skimmers.

      Miss Irene has taught a class on dragonflies to the children for years, so every returning child knows how to tell a Damsel from a Dragon. Damsels rest with their wings laid along their backs, dragons with their wings out-stretched! And that a dragonfly consumes hundreds of mosquitoes a day. But not only as an adult, but even as a voracious larvae-eating nymph! Here's a fun site to learn more about dragonflies! 
      And of course there is Barb's own Outdoor Challenge page on Dragons and Damsels .
      This was perhaps the first time Mei really got into here notebook page, using the How-to-Draw-a-Dragonfly lesson that Barb's newsletter linked us to. On her own she also sketched an Eastern Hemlock on the far shore of the pond, which was a huge step for my reluctant artist.

      I'm really grateful for the opportunity we had to sit and soak in an especially gorgeous afternoon at one of our favorite places in the world. For us, this is "The Place of Returning," a feature article in the newsletter. Our prayer is that the vigilance of the Conservancy will continue to protect and preserve this small but important place.

      Join me at the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival to meet more dragonfly enthusiasts!

      "There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered." --Nelson Mandela



      Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...