Friday, June 28, 2013

Phenology: Elder Blossoms

Phenology for 6/28/13: Temperatures in the 70s and 80s, humidity in the 80s and 90s. It's not been a good week for getting anything done outdoors. Heavy rains have stripped off whatever fruit the orchard might have had to offer. More humidity means more tree loss, more progress of fungal blight; population growth for some species (mostly not species anybody particularly wanted), population declines for other species (many of them valuable to humankind).

Only two buck moth caterpillars in the orchard this summer? All local moth and butterfly populations are in decline this summer. Species that are normally abundant have become rare. I've seen only two Desmia moths--most years, by this time, there are dozens--and one Haploidea bipuncta and maybe half a dozen Tiger Swallowtails.

Lots of leaves are turning orange and yellow. In August that can be a sign of an early spring or a dry summer. In June, when it's been a wet summer so far, it's a sign of fungus infections that can eventually kill trees.

The water table is really rising in response to this latest round of thunderstorms. Today I found a terrapin in the yard. I left it alone, dashed out to the Friday Market in Gate City, caught a ride up to Wise, and on the way we passed another terrapin in the road. Yes, the driver got out to make sure the animal safely reached the other side of the road.

Flowers: although bright orange butterfly bush and day lilies are blooming too, the predominant color of the wildflowers I see seems to be pink. Red clover, crown vetch, mimosa, pink and red roses, queen-of-the-meadow...and of course there are still some blue flowers like chicory and lyre-leafed sage (which doesn't look like the herb sage, nor do the leaves remind me of lyres, so go figure; that's what Peterson's Field Guide says it's called). And white flowers like white clover, daisies, and Queen Anne's Lace.

Blooming on the banks above the railroad tracks this week I saw some white flowers that looked like Queen Anne's Lace on steroids. The railroad company sometimes sprays poisons along the tracks, and herbicide residues sometimes cause the next growth of weeds to reach abnormal, alarming sizes, but no, these flowers aren't Queen Anne's Lace; they're elder blossoms, or "elder blow," nature's promise of future elderberries.

Although this web site definitely does not recommend trying to harvest elderberries along a railroad track, the bushes grow well in the wild (almost anywhere they can get sun, and the more sun they get, the earlier and more profusely they bloom). They can be bought from nurseries and planted or transplanted in gardens, where, as Donna Daniels notes, they're likely to need thinning to leave room for other plants:

They can get quite ornamental, with pink or purple flowers as well as white:

A person would have to be working from a book with very poor quality illustrations, or none, to confuse elderberry with pokeberry plants, but apparently some people have managed to make this mistake...

And Odelia Ivy's blog post about pokeberry illustrates the difference between big wide crowns of flowerets and small, pointed bunches of flowers in a way that ought to be cute enough to stick in everyone's mind...