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Friday, July 31, 2009


Friday, 7:15 AM. 61 degrees, wind W, brisk. The channel is dimpled, the sky is mostly blue and the barometer predicts sunny weather.
Kids, grandkids and three of the dogs are leaving today. The trip to Lost Creek Falls was a great success, as was the wienie and marshmallow roast at the Larsen’s camp last night. Andy and Judy’s daughter Libby arrived with sons Tyler and little Luke, and the kids all had a great time, climbing trees, pegging green apples, and getting stuck in the pond mud.
The purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria, in the Lythraceae family, is an old garden perennial long escaped into the wild, which has become aggressive and competes with native wetland vegetation. Fortunately, an Asian beetle which feeds exclusively on it is an effective control and seems to be doing its job.
The dynamics of populations are exceedingly difficult to predict, and plants often become invasive only after being naturalized for some time. That is why invaders into ecosystems have to be monitored so closely; sometimes they are not aggressive and cause no problem, and sometimes they become fierce competitors with native plants.

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Thursday, 9:00 AM. 62 degrees, wind W, light with gusts. The channel is calm, the sky overcast. The barometer predicts partly cloudy skies.
The dogs have all had their run, and the families are going to look for the Lost Creek waterfall west of Cornucopia.
The meadow sweet spirea, Spirea alba, is in bloom at the beach. A member of the rose family, it is sweetly scented and a not uncommon shrub of wet places. Although many spireas have herbal uses, I see none listed for this one, however I suspect it might make a nice tea.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Wednesday, 8:00 AM. 58 degrees, wind W, light to breezy, the channel is wrinkled, the sky mostly clear and the barometer predicts sunny skies.
Everyone went to the beach yesterday, sand and water providing endless fascination for the kids.
The garden is very pretty now, lots of blooms, and all tumbled and unkempt. that’s what most gardens looked like before the advent of varied color mulches and Roundup.
Asparagus officinalis, in the Lily family (note the tiny lily flowers) has been esteemed as a vegetable since ancient times, and is native to the steppes of Russia and Poland and elsewhere in Europe. It has always been an important herbal diuretic that stimulates the kidneys to eliminate stones and edema. The tiny yellow flowers will be followed by bright red little berries.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Tuesday, 8:30 AM. 63 degrees, wind SW, brisk. The channel is crawling, the sky is partly overcast and the barometer predicts rain.
Soapwort (also called bouncing bet) is a common roadside weed or wildflower (take your pick of terms) long escaped from gardens. It is a rather effective ornamental, its common name indicating an old use, its mucilaginous juices forming a lather when mixed with water. It had, and still has a number of medicinal uses, too obscure to detail here.
The Denver contingent arrived yesterday before dinner, Eva, Doug, Nick and Kattie and little dog Ronnie. Final Count: 7 adults, three children, and six dogs. If we run out of soap we will do a little roadside plant collecting.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Monday, 8:00 AM. 66 degrees, wind WNW, calm. The channel is calm, the sky partly cloudy and the barometer predicts the same.
Poor Lucky is having a tough time lately. He said something wrong to Greta’s lady flat coat retriever and got roughed up and his dignity bruised, and this morning he ignored cautions and got himself tangled in Erick’s electric garden fence. Life can be tough on an old guy.
We are getting into the season of fruits. The red twigged dogwood, Cornus stolonifera, has very decorative white fruit clusters. The bark of the native dogwoods was once used to treat malaria, as it contains quinine, but the Peruvian Cinchona has long since replace it in use.
The apples of the wild tree on Eleventh Street that Erick has been pruning into shape are already golf ball size. “As sure as God made little green apples, “we are in mid- summer already.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Sunday, 8:00 AM. 66 degrees, wind WSW, brisk. The sky is partly cloudy, the channel is crawling, and the barometer predicts sunny skies.
The nightshade, or European bittersweet, Solanum dulcamera in the Solonaceae family, is a common garden and roadside weed. Its flowers are small but rather pretty. All the nightshades are poisonous to one degree or another, and although this common species isn’t deadly, it’s fruit(green, blue, orange and finally red when ripe, like a little tomato) is attractive to children and should be eliminated where possible. The plant has a narcotic effect and was considered medicinal in ancient times, and purported to ward off the “evil eye,” but is no longer used in herbal medicine. The Solanum family includes many useful and edible species, including the potato, the tomato, peppers and other plants. It is easy to see why tomatoes were eschewed as poisonous when first introduced to Europe from America.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Saturday, 8:00 AM. 62 degrees, wind WNW, light. The channel, like myself, is gray and wrinkled. It has been raining lightly but will hopefully clear and the weather cooperate for the Bayfield Arts Festival, the Washburn Brownstone Days, and the Iron River Blueberry Festival, all occurring this weekend.
The American chestnut tree Castanea dentata, was once a major component of the Eastern Deciduous Forest of North America. It was said that a squirrel could travel from the East Coast to the Mississippi jumping from chestnut tree to chestnut tree, and never touch the ground. It was almost totally wiped out by chestnut blight, a Eurasian disease, over a century ago. There are here and there surviving pockets of chestnut trees, possibly either disease resistant or just very isolated, and there is one such enclave on the Apostle View Golf Course outside of Bayfield. The tree pictured is an offspring from that group. Chestnut trees are beautiful in bloom, the flowers having a not unpleasant, earthy odor. The female flowers are very small, the male flowers very showy, both on the same tree. The nuts of course are very good. The old poem The Village Blacksmith by Longfellow with the lines, “under the spreading chestnut tree,” I have been told memorializes the European chestnut, not our own, but our own certainly spreads every bit as much, and hopefully some day truly resistant American chestnut trees will be discovered and will spread once more. Chestnut trees are usually killed to the roots by the disease, and new stump sprouts can grow quite tall, but then die back to the stump again. A lot of research has been done on the disease and a lot of breeding, but to date success has been incomplete.

Friday, July 24, 2009


Friday, 8:30 AM. 64 degrees, wind W, calm. The channel is calm, the barometer predicts ran, of which we had a few sprinkles last night.
The common milkweed, Asclepias syriacus, in the milkweed family, is in bloom and quite prevalent. It has a very sweet fragrance. It is the obligate host for the Monarch butterfly and so is an important plant ecologically. Its fluffy seed heads, known as kapok, were formerly much used in flotation devices and as an insulating material. It was mistakenly given the species name by Linnaeus who thought that it came from the Orient.
Our Texas contingent, son Dutch, daughter-in -law Leslie and toddler Allison arrived last night with their two Australian Shepard show dogs. The canine guest list is growing along with the human at Chez Ode.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Thursday, 7:45 AM. 56 degrees, wind W, dead calm. The channel and almost everything else is enshrouded by fog, and the barometer predicts rain.
It is a foggy day in Bayfield town, to paraphrase the old song. The foghorn is bellowing intermittently and the ferry warning horn is sounding, otherwise all else is quiet but the birds.
One needs this kind of weather variation to wind down and put things in perspective. The harsh light and constant dryness of desert days would be hard for me to take. I need an occasional foggy respite.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Wednesday, 7:30 AM. 69 degrees, wind WSW, calm. The channel is slightly wrinkled, the sky is mostly cloudy, and .9” of rain has fallen in the past 24 hours. The barometer predicts partly cloudy skies.
David Eades of the Chamber staff, and a pretty good botanist himself, brought a mystery plant from Ashland for me to identify a week ago. It has entire, toothless, opposite leaves and four white petals. Floral parts in fours usually mean it is in the Cruciferae (cross-like flowers) family and I identified it tentatively as the old-fashioned garden Lunaria, silver-dollar plant. David didn’t think it that, and his visiting mother-in-law immediately recognized it by its orangey fragrance as mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius, in the Scrophularia family). Had I used my nose as well as my eyes I would have recognized it also. A lesson well learned; use all your senses or you may well outsmart yourself.
The photo is of a mock orange, native to Asia-minor and long cultivated, growing right under my nose on Eleventh Street.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Tuesday, 7:30 AM. 64 degrees, wind W, light. It is raining, the sky is overcast, and the barometer predicts rain. It will be a “desk day” for me.
The common tansy, Tannecetum vulgare, in the Composite family, is blooming everywhere now. It is hardy, vigorous and can grow fairly tall. It is native to Europe and been long grown as a garden plant and medicinal herb, and is naturalized virtually everywhere. It can easily take over a garden so must be used with care.
Tansy is very strong scented and was used as a strewing herb in the days when most houses had dirt floors. For the same reason it was used as a funeral herb, and its ancient name is “everlasting.” It was much used in Europe at Easter, as a reminder of the “bitter herbs” of the Jewish Passover, and tansy cakes, omelets and puddings were very common at Easter in England (using young leaves as flavor). The root and also the seeds and leaves are reputed to be very efficacious in treating gout (I haven’t tried it as yet myself) and similar ailments, and the macerated leaves were used as a poultice for sprains and bruises. As always, I do not recommend any medicinal use of plants without consulting a medical doctor.
In any case, this is a very beautiful roadside plant, and I particularly like the English common name, “buttons,” which accurately describes the compound florets and distinguishes it from the also common and rather similar yellow millfoil.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Monday, 7:15 AM. 56 degrees, wind W, calm. The channel is glassy with patterned dimpled areas. The sky is blue with some haze, and the barometer predicts mostly sunny skies.
The common, or great mullein, Verbascum thaspis, in the Scrophularia family, is a common plant of roadsides and fields, and is often considered a farm field weed. It is uncommonly prolific and beautiful in flower. It is a biennial, the first year’s growth being a flat rosette of fuzzy gray-green leaves, and the second year it shoots up a tall, rigid flower stalk, sometimes branched, which gives it another common name, “candles.” It is native to Eurasia and North Africa, and is much grown in gardens, particularly in England, where it has many horticultural varieties. It has many uses in herbal medicine, as it is strongly antiseptic, and before modern antibiotics was much used in the treatment of the coughs caused by tuberculosis (consumption). Oil of mullein is still used as a treatment for children’s ear problems. I use the hairy leaves as a poultice for skin infections caused by cuts, splinters, boils, etc. But the main virtue of mullein is its roadside beauty. Birds love the hard little seeds.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sunday, 8:30 AM. 59 degrees, wind W, calm. The channel is glassy, the sky clear and the barometer predicts mostly sunny skies. Looks like a “perfect ten” day.
The dogs had a fine time at the beach this morning. Fireweed, so-called because it is a pioneer plant that often comes in after a fire, is tall, imposing and quite beautiful. There are a number of closely related species of the genus Epilobium in our region, this one probably being E. angustifolium.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Saturday, 9:00 AM. 56 degrees, wind WNW, calm. The channel is calm, the sky overcast, and the barometer predicts sunshine.
Daughter Greta arrived from Columbus, stopping in Menomonee, WI on the way to enter one of her two dogs in a field trial. They are trained to stay in their crates. Lucky tolerates them.
Lucky went to Blue Ribbon Kennels for a shave, haircut and bath, and looks quite handsome and a lot thinner.
There evidently is a rogue bear in the neighborhood, as the DNR was around with a bear trap yesterday, although I don’t know where they ended up leaving it. Evidently hungry bears are not hard to trap in what essentially is a large barrel with a spring loaded trap door. The barrel is transported on a trailer that has a winch, the trap is left in a likely location, and when the bear is in the barrel the winch is hooked up and all put on the trailer and spirited away. I once asked a DNR bear guy if the bears returned, to which he replied, “always.” I asked where he took the bears, and he said, “as far south as I can drive and still get back before dinner.” I asked how long it took for a bear to get back, and he said, “usually before I do.” This was all a bit facetious, but probably not far from the truth.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Friday, 8:00 AM. 52 degrees, wind E, moderate. The channel is wrinkled. The sky is overcast, there is another .2” of rain in the gauge and the barometer predicts more rain, although it seems to be clearing.
Virginia creeper, or woodbine, Parthenocissus quinquifolia, is in the Vitaceae, the grape family. It is a vine, climbing on trees, shrubs or rocky banks, fences, walls, etc. The flowers, growing in dense clusters called corymbs, are insignificant in appearance, but the fruits are very obvious, looking like small blue-black grapes. The leaves turn brilliant orange to maroon in fall.
Unfortunately, the plant is often mistaken for poison ivy, and I would amend the childhood mantra, “leaves of three let them be,” with “leaves of five, let the live.”

Thursday, July 16, 2009


7:45 AM. 56 degrees, wind W, light with stronger gusts. The channel is dark and wrinkled. The sky is mostly cloudy, which the barometer also predicts.
Bayfield streets have been torn up every summer for the last five years, replacing hundred year old infrastructure. Ninth Street is completely devastated, as has been Fifth Street and parts of others. The Coup de grass will be in a couple of years when the business district has its turn. Anyway, it is all necessary and gets done when money is available from the usual sources.
One of my favorite activities while having morning coffee is watching the distant quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) leaves dance in even the slightest breeze. The mechanism which allows this movement is a very long, flat leaf petiole. No other tree that I am familiar with really has this characteristic, for which I can think of no survival advantage. The quaking, or trembling, aspen is the most widely distributed tree in North America, occurring throughout most of Canada to the tundra, in New England, the Lake States, and the western mountains south into Mexico. They are mostly of medium height and short lived, but provide browse for deer and other mammals and the buds and seeds are the food of many birds. They are very important economically for pulp wood, sprouting again from the roots when harvested. Their golden fall leaves are iconic to the Rockies. All told they are one of the most important trees in the economies of man and nature. But why do they tremble and quake? I can think of no other reason than for my pleasure.