Search This Blog

Total Pageviews

Monday, May 22, 2017




Monday, 8:00 AM,  48 degrees F at the ferry dock, 47 on the back porch.  Wind SW, calm with light gusts.  The sky is overcast, the humidity 87%.  The barometer stands at 29.80".
   The paper birch, Betula papyrifera, in the Birch Family, is a tree of the far north, native in North America from the Great Lakes north to the Tundra and all across Canada and Alaska. It is in flower now, the trees bearing both male and female flowers. The small, wafer-like seeds will mature by fall, and will be gradually dispersed over many months, often seen freshly deposited on new snow and ice in winter, and they will be taken everywhere by wind and the waters of melting snow.
   Used as an ornamental, paper birch trees are usually planted in locations too hot and dry for them to thrive.  The natural habitats of paper birch are stream banks, the edges of swamps, rocky hillsides and wet sands, although they will grow on drier sites in a cool climate.
   The paper birch was, and still is, an important element in traditional American Indian life. The exfoliating bark (skillful removal does little to harm a mature tree) provides a light and durable material for canoes and for wigwams, and is an excellent fire starter. Birch Bark makes good drinking cups and baskets.  Birch wood is light and easily worked, and it makes excellent firewood.
   Native Americans had a number of medicinal uses for paper birch, and in many northern countries birch species are taped like maple trees and the sap fermented to make a birch beer, or boiled down to make sugar, although it is inferior to sugar maple sap in that regard.
   Even in nature, paper birch are short-lived trees, seldom lasting more than forty or fifty years, if that.  They are a pioneer species, requiring full sun, and in nature are shaded out by oaks, maples and fir trees.  Paper birch trees will often stand dead, held together by their bark, until a strong wind or other disturbance sends them crashing in a pile of lumpy sawdust.
   The bronze birch borer often kills whole groves of paper birch trees, even in the best native habitat, and it sneaks up on ornamental plantings and kills trees often before it is detected.  Trying to control the borer in the wild is pretty much impossible, and although it is possible to combat it in the home landscape the effort may not be worth it for what is necessarily an ephemeral tree.
   The bronze birch borer is the larvae of a beetle that inserts its eggs under the bark of the host tree, where the borers feed on the cambium of branches and trunks, eventually girdling and killing the tree.  Their presence is indicated by raised areas on branches that trace their tunneling. If the bark is peeled back with a sharp knife the tunnels and grubs can be seen.  Systemic insecticides can be effective if applied soon enough, but are expensive to use and may not be worth the trouble and environmental hazard.
   To help a paper birch tree live as long as possible in the landscape, it should be planted in good topsoil that is on the sandy side, and it must have good drainage but also adequate moisture, and an acid soil.  The roots must be kept as cool as possible, which means mulching (use oak leaves or conifer needles if possible), or at least not mowing the grass beneath the tree.  Under-planting with compatible native shrubs, grasses and wildflowers is also an option.
   There have been a number of hybrids of the paper birch with the European white birch (the birch genus is circumpolar in the far north) or the eastern gray birch that are more adaptable, and are resistant to borer.  Also, the river birch, B. nigra, has a very ornamental, exfoliating  orange-white bark when young and sometimes is used in place of the paper birch, although it becomes a much larger tree and its bark becomes less attractive with maturity.
   Like many things in life, paper birch trees are a fleeting presence, and are probably best enjoyed when and where nature placed them.

Sunday, May 21, 2017



Sunday, 9:00 AM.  42 degrees F at the ferry dock,  41 on the back porch.  Wind NE, calm with light gusts.  The sky is overcast and foggy and it Is raining lightly.  The humidity is 96%, the barometer 29.81" and still falling, predicting continuing rain today, overcast skies tomorrow and rain again on Tuesday, with temperatures warming into the mid-fifties by the end of the week.
    Sweet cherry trees are selections of the European wild sweet cherry, Prunus avium, in the Rose Family;  sour cherries of the European Prunus cerasus. There are a number of edible wild native cherries but the fruits are small, generally tart,  and not usually grown commercially.  They do make excellent jams and jellies.
   The trunks and large branches of cherry trees are often whitewashed to protect the thin bark from damage in the late winter, when the sun's  strengthening rays reflect upward off the snow. 
    Cherry trees can grow quite large if not controlled by pruning, or  if not grown on dwarfing root stocks. They can be difficult to grow but the rewards are great, Bayfield sweet cherries selling last year for $4.00 per pound.

A cherry orchard by the house
"Sadok vyshnevyi kolo khaty")

A cherry orchard by the house.
Above the cherries beetles hum.
The plowmen plow the fertile ground
And girls sing songs as they pass by.
It’s evening—mother calls them home.

A family sups by the house.
A star shines in the evening chill.
A daughter serves the evening meal.
Time to give lessons—mother tries,
But can’t. She blames the nightingale.

It’s getting dark, and by the house,
A mother lays her young to sleep;
Beside them she too fell asleep.
All now went still, and just the girls
And nightingale their vigil keep.

Taras Shevchenko
Sadok vyshnevyi kolo khaty"
("Садок вишневий коло хати")
1847, Sankt-Peterburg (Санкт-Петербург)

Translated by Boris Dralyuk and Roman Koropeckyj 

Saturday, May 20, 2017



Saturday, 9:00 AM.  41 degrees F at the ferry dock, 40 on the back porch.  Wind NE, calm with light gusts.  The sky is overcast and cloudy, the humidity down to 73%.  The barometer is plummeting from its  recent high of 30.29",  and rain is predicted for later today and thunderstorms for tomorrow.
   We have gotten over six inches of rain this past week, and it has left its damp fingerprints on the landscape, from rushing ditches and flood-stage streams, to freshened spring gardens and lichen covered oaks that look as though they have been painted to match the weather.
   No matter how sullen the weather, nature wears a smile, if we but look for it.

Parasite lichen
Lies grey on the years;
Lily buries herself
When winter appears.

Bright rose burns away,
Leaving lichen alone—
Fellow of frost,
Suckling of stone.

I am for lily,
I am for rose—
Delicate beauty
Trembles and goes.
Mary Eliza Fullerton

Nota Bene: Lichens are not parasites but saprophites, merely growing on  the surface of things and normally causing little harm.  

Friday, May 19, 2017



Friday, 8:30 AM.  41 degrees F at the ferry dock, 40 on the back porch.  The wind has changed from NE to SW, and is mostly calm with light gusts (the Nor'easter again lasted three days),  The sky is partly cloudy, the humidity 84%.  The barometer is steady, at 30.34" but will plummet on Saturday, bringing a weekend of rain with highs remaining in the 40's.  Creeks and rivers are at flood stage  already.
   Pin cherry is a shrub or small tree native to most of Canada and the Great Lakes region and mountainous areas in the northern United States.  It bears white flowers in loose umbels, which are followed by sour but edible bright red cherries.  The bark is smooth and gray, distinguishing it from other native cherries.  It is a major wildlife food, both the fruit and as browse, and was an important Native American food and medicinal plant.  It is far too aggressive and short lived for landscaping except for naturalizing.  It is an important reforestation species after a forest fire, as the seeds can lay dormant in the soil for as long as a century and still sprout after a forest fire.  Burned over areas are often revegitated with blooming, fruiting native pin cherries.
   I only have a few recorded blooming dates: 5/03/13; 5/18/09.  Pin cherries are great for jellies and jams, and usually easy to find in  abundance in burned or cut over areas.

Thursday, May 18, 2017



Thursday, 8:30 AM.  41 degreesF at the ferry dock, 38 on the back porch.  Wind NE, light to moderate.  The sky is overcast and cloudy, and it is still raining lightly after torrentia rains again last night  The humidity is 93%, the barometer rising, now at 29.63". It will clear later in the day and tomorrow should be dry, but rain is forecast again for Saturday.  Ditches are running full in the city, and local creeks and rivers will be close to flood stage.
   The red elderberry Sambucus pubens, in the Honeysuckle Family, is not nearly as well known as the common American elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, as it is a more northern species (it also is an important part of the western montane flora).  It is almost as attractive in flower as the American elderberry, the minute flowers occurring in more compact, cone-shaped umbels than the umbrella-like compound flowers of American elderberry.  And whereas the fruit of the latter species is blue-black and edible, the fruit of the former is bright red and it is quite acid to the taste and reported to be mildly poisonous to human uinless cooked, although I eat them without any obvious ill effects, Both species are good for jams and jellies and are also important wildlife plants, both for browse and for their fruits. The red elderberry prefers wet locations but will grow on drier sites, and on a variety of soils.  It is fairly shade tolerant but prefers full sun.
    There is some evidence that leaves, stems and roots of both species can be poisonous to humans, but I doubt people would eat those parts so it is not much of a concern, but it might be best not to put leaves or stems in one's mouth without some experimentation.     Elderberry plants have medicinal properties, and were used in a variety of ways by both Native Americans and European settlers.  The central pith of stems and branches is very soft and can easily be removed to make whistles and other useful objects and were so used in the past.  
   Both American and red elderberry are attractive in flower and fruit, as are their pinnately compound leaves.  The feather-compound leaf of the American elderberry has seven leaflets, that of the red elderberry five. Both species spread by root suckers and are hard to control in the smaller landscape.  My rule of thumb is, appreciate them in nature and where they can be controlled, but be careful introducing them into the landscape.   A case in point is the red elderberry that I have in the backyard.  It grew up between the crevices of a small rock wall and it was so persistent I finally decided that I would let it grow and make use of it rather than to unsuccessfully try to eliminate it.  For a further discussion of elderberries, use the blog search engine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Wednesday, 8:00 AM.  45 degrees F at the ferry dock downtown and on the back porch.  Wind variable and calm.  The sky is overcast, the humidity 97%.  The Barometer stands at 29.61".  Temperatures today will be around 50, with more rain possible.  We had a thunderstorm yesterday evening with heavy rain and wind, that left at least an inch of rain.  There are flash flood watches for area streams.
   The cherry trees at Apple Hill Orchard on Hwy. J are beginning to  bloom and will be a lovely, if ephemeral, sight.  They grow the cultivars 'Cavalier' (early) and 'Lapin' (late). both of which are vegetatively hardy  but can loose buds or blooms, and therefore a whole crop of sweet cherries, due to a late frost, which will occur every so often.
    Failure of the bees to pollinate the blossoms can have the same result, but I am told a good crop can more than make up for a previous year's loss economically.  So far so good this year, as long as the honey bee pollinators don't shirk their duty.
   My recorded blooming dates are as follows: 5/12/15; 5/05/15; 5/29/13.  I wish I had more data, but that's it; seems pretty consistent, though, as the late date could be earlier as we don't drive the back roads every day.
   When I was a young man, not long out of college, my first really professional job was as an assistant to John Voight, the first Director of Milwaukee's Boerner Botanical Gardens.  John was an intrepid, straight-forward man who operated on principle, and expected others to do so as well.  Consequently, he was always on the hot seat with the union, with higher administration,  with the politicians and ward heelers and sometimes the public as well.  Everything I ever was, or had hoped to be, as a public servant I owe to John.
   Anyway, given his indomitable nature, he was constantly embattled, and somewhere along life's pathway he was given  an engraved plaque, which he kept prominently displayed on his desk.  I wish he had willed it to me, but he didn't, and I am sure it no longer exists.  It was inscribed, in a sort-of Latin:
    "Illegitimi non carborundum" which  quite loosely translated, reads:  
 Don't let the bastards wear you down. 
   If John's motto were in my possession today, I would send it to President Donald Trump, who certainly needs that admonishment more than John or I ever did.  
   May God Bless the America I once new, and that is disappearing fast. May He deliver us from the leftists, the anarchists, the snowflakes, the self-serving hacks and all the other devils that assault us and try to wear us down.  John, gone now these twenty and more years, would be out in front in this fight, waving the flag, and refusing to be worn down.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Tuesday, 9:00 AM.  44 degrees F at the ferry dock, 46 on the back porch (discrepancy caused by the ENE wind off the lake).  The sky is overcast and it rained much of yesterday and again some last night, for a total of perhaps an inch.  The barometer is still dropping, now at 29.73", predicting cool and rainy weather for the week ahead, and clearing by Monday.  The weather has not been very pleasant of late, but it is a perfect spring for transplanting.
  The common forget-me-not, Myosotis scorpioides, in the Borage family, is a  plant of European origin that is much naturalized  in wet places and on damp ground.  It is weedy in the garden but can be very beautiful when occurring spontaneously.  It is considered a perennial but  is pretty much an annual that reseeds itself.  There are several native North American species but I am not familiar with them and most of what one encounters is, I think, the European species.  There are other naturalized species as well. A species native to Alaska is the state flower.  The Greek genus name refers to to the mouse-ear-like  blue petals of the flower.
   The forget-me-not has a rich history in literature and folklore.  This grouping is along a retaining wall on a property fronting Hwy. 13 on the north side of Bayfield, but they grow everywhere the conditions are appropriate, and they often are a beautiful display in one location one year, and absent the next. 
   My recorded dates for first blooming of forget-me-nots are: 5/12/16; 5/05/15; 5/28/14; 6/05/13; 5/09/12; 5/25/11; 4/27/10. Pretty much all over the spring calendar, but since they are primarily annuals, I would expect them to be erratic.