Pussy toes!

flower pussy toes 1

Isn’t the name perfect? A member of the aster family, they have many similar names like pussytoes, catsfoot and cat’s foot. When I was a kid my grandmother taught me to call them everlasting. I thought the idea of an everlasting flower was magical and used to collect bouquets of them for my grandmother in the Adirondacks.

flower pussytoes 2

The American painted lady butterfly loves them. They make a great ground cover and they feel as furry as they look!


Bring on the pandas!

Tree bamboo

Did you know that naturalists refer to stands of bamboo in the metropolitan Washington area as “Dead Zones”?  Nothing can live in them! Nothing can eat them! Nothing else can grow in a stand of bamboo. I’ve walked past this one every day for years, never really considering how totally impenetrable it is. I think I hear birds calling from deep inside the stand but maybe they are all sitting on the top of the bamboo stalks.  I wonder if there are nests in the bamboo.  Obviously you can’t see very far into it. Wish we could chop it down and send it to the pandas at the National Zoo. Of course it would grow right back… But the pandas would be happy.

Giant bamboos are the largest members of the grass family. One of the fastest growing plants on earth, there is a variety of bamboo that can grow 3 feet in a day. Bamboo has a higher specific compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete and a specific tensile strength that rivals steel. The new shoots are edible but read up on them before you proceed because they contain a toxin taxiphyllin that produces cyanide in the gut.

In the Chinese culture, bamboo, plum blossom, orchid and chrysanthemum are referred to as the “Four Gentlemen” and represent the four seasons. Because of their perseverance under the harsh conditions of winter, pine, bamboo and plum are referred to as the “Three Friends of Winter”.  Several Asian cultures believe humanity emerged from a bamboo stem.  IKEA sells bamboo plants for good luck.

Imagine wild mushrooms with your scrambled eggs

Mushroom puffball 4-7

Much to my surprise I found my first fresh puffball of 2017 on 4/7.  They are called puffballs because their dust-like spores create a brown cloud when the mature mushroom bursts. That makes it fun to kick them. The biggest puffballs contain 7 trillion spores! Unlike other mushrooms, the spores are produced internally. The mushrooms are delicious before the spores form. When people collect puffballs, they cut them in half to check the interior. If the flesh is all white and free of spores, it can be eaten raw or sliced and cooked in butter.

In Tibet puffballs were traditionally used to make ink by burning them, adding water and glue to the ash and then pressing out the excess water.

Does this look like an elegant poinsettia?

Tree catawba leaves

We usually think of the colors of leaves in the fall. But the young leaves of spring contain equally magical colors.  The leaves in the photo are from the catalpa/catawba tree. When I was a kid we called them cigar trees and Indian bean trees because of their long, bean-like seed pods which were fun to play with. The leaves of this native flowering tree eventually become heart-shaped or three-lobed.  They are the sole source of food for the catalpa sphinx moth caterpillar. When caterpillars are numerous, infested trees may be completely defoliated. Due to their large leaf size, catalpas are a popular habitat for many birds, providing them good shelter from rain and wind.

Because the caterpillars are an excellent live bait for fishing, some dedicated anglers, particularly in southern states, plant catalpa mini-orchards for their own private source of “catawba-worms”.

Catalpa is occasionally used as a tonewood or sound board in guitars. Who knew?


Garlic Mustard is not the first two items on a shopping list.

Flower garlic mustard

Garlic mustard is a delicious, critically invasive herb. Before I knew that it was an invasive, I knew it was yummy, raw or cooked. I am embarrassed to admit I planted it in my yard.  Even if we all set out to collect and eat it, garlic mustard has the upper hand. It is one of the few non-native plants that can spread rapidly through the forest floor in the spring, greatly reducing the diversity of all species. A single vigorous plant can produce up to 7,900 seeds. Fortunately/unfortunately most only produce about 600 seeds per year. Try it! You’ll like it!