Welcome to Autumn!

Blugold – Ash Trees on October Sky

Based on the astronomical definition of seasons, the autumnal equinox marks the first day of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.  This year, that date is September 22 (@ 9:30am).  However, according to the meteorological definition of seasons, which is based on temperature cycles and the Gregorian calendar, the first day of fall was on September 1.

The fall months are the best opportunity to view Fomalhaut – one of the brightest stars in the sky at this time of year.

Memories: A Kaleidoscope of Imagery through Depth of Time (Reflection on Ann Lee Pond)

Observe nature at a local preserve.  Go birdwatching.  Take a tour of any of the area bike trails.

Read about the fall color exhibited by the leaves of New York trees. Read the Guide to Fall Colors in Upstate New York. Read about the science of fall colors. View my blogpage or join me live for the online event, “Fall Colors…from a Different Perspective” (see list of events below).

When will fall colors begin and when will they peak? View The Fall Foliage Prediction Map.

Track the progress of developing fall colors across New York here.

Forage for some wild edibles.  Autumn marks the annual ripening of the fruits and seeds of many plants.  For me, foraging each fall for ripened hazelnuts and hickory nuts is an annual tradition.  If you’d like to learn more about foraging for these tasty wild nuts, please view the list of events below and consider joining me for those upcoming sessions of my Foraging for Wild Edibles series of online presentations.

Hazelnut harvest (American on left, Beaked on right)

With the ongoing pandemic and the continuing need to maintain social distancing, any of the following in-person gatherings may be subject to postponement or cancellation – please verify before you attend.  Other upcoming events will be conducted as online presentations.

Consider trying a new autumnal cocktail while watching one of the online events listed above (or while simply admiring the fall colors or perhaps while watching any of the upcoming meteor showers).

Happy trails!

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week?  (Sept week 2)

This week, I’m featuring Arrow-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum urophyllum) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

Identification Tips:

Arrow-leaved Aster is a perennial that grows 2-3½’ tall, sending up one or more leafy stems during the late spring.  Initially, these stems are erect to ascending, but later in the year they sometimes sprawl across the ground.  Stems are unbranched below and occasionally branched above; they are light green to reddish brown.  The alternate leaves are up to 4″ long and 2½” across, becoming smaller as they ascend the stems.  Leaves are heart-shaped to egg-shaped with the lower leaves coarsely serrated along their margins and the upper leaves slightly serrated along their margins.  The petioles (leaf stems) are up to one-half the length of the leaf blades, becoming relatively shorter as they ascend the stems; these petioles are conspicuously winged along their margins and they are often slightly hairy.  The lower surfaces of leaves have fine hairs along the major veins.

Mid-stem leaf of Arrow-leaved Aster
Photo Credit: G.D. Bebeau; https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/arrowleavedaster.html

The central stem and any upper lateral stems terminate in ascending panicles of flowerheads that are 9-20” long and about one-half as much across.  Each flowerhead is about ½” across, consisting of about 8-15 ray florets (small flowers around the edge of a composite flower head) that surround 8-12 disk florets (small flowers making up the center of a composite flower head).  The petal-like rays of the flowerheads are lavender, light blue-violet, or white. The petals of the disk florets are initially cream-colored or yellow, but they later become reddish purple.  Surrounding the base of the flowerhead are 4 to 6 layers of sharply pointed bracts (phyllaries).  Oblong leafy bracts up to 1″ long and smooth margins occur along the central stalks and lateral branches.

Arrow-leaved Aster – panicles of flowerheads Photo credit: https://illinoiswildflowers.info/savanna/plants/wh_arrowleaf.html

Seed is a small brown or purplish brown egg-shaped cypsela (dry single-seeded fruit formed from a double ovary of which only one develops into a seed), less than 1/10” long, with a whitish pappus (tuft of white hairs) for wind distribution.

Seeds of Arrow-leaved Aster
Photo Credit: G.D. Bebeau; https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/arrowleavedaster.html

Folklore:

In the Language of Flowers, aster symbolizes patience, love of variety, elegance and daintiness.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

As with any aster, fresh flowers and leaves can be eaten as an addition to a salad and dried flowers and leaves may be added to tea blends.  Dried aster leaves and flowers may be stored up to one year in a sealed glass container kept out of sunlight.

No specific medicinal uses were found for this specific species of aster.

Wildlife Value:

The nectar and pollen of the flowerheads attract many kinds of insects, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, Syrphid flies (Sphaerophoria philanthus), bee flies, wasps, and occasional butterflies or skippers.  Asters serve as the larval host of Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) and Checkerspot butterflies (such as Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis)), while the caterpillars of many moths feed on the foliage, flowerheads, developing seeds, stems, or roots (including Black Arches (Melanchra assimilis) and Dark-Spotted Palthis (Palthis angulalis)).

Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) occasionally eat the seeds and young foliage of asters, while White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), rabbits, and Groundhogs (AKA Woodchuck) (Marmota monax) browse on the foliage.

Where Found Locally:

Scouting Report: Autumnberries

As a “sneak peak” for my upcoming “Foraging for Wild Edibles:  Autumnberries” online presentation early next month, I thought I’d share a quick field report on the status of this year’s crop of ripening fruit.  Sadly (for the environment because it’s an invasive species) and happily (for us foragers), this year’s crop looks to be the same as every year’s crop:  bountiful!

Ripening fruit of Autumn-olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Over the holiday weekend, I visited the Town of Halfmoon segment of the Historic Champlain Canalway Trail to scope out this year’s crop forecast.  This is the destination that will be featured in my online presentation, which will be at 1pm on October 4.

While these are beginning to appear reddish in color, they have not yet ripened and really have not yet developed much flavor.  To fully savor their unique sweet/tart essence, you’ll need to wait until at least the end of this month or early October.  Like any fruit, it is best to pick them as they fully ripen on the plant.

What will you do with those you’ll collect?  Fruit leather?  Jam?  Autumn Olive Ketchup?

Got recipes?  If not, then you’ll be sure to want to join me early next month for my online presentation and get some.  See the Events page for details.  Hope to “see” you then.

Happy trails!

Scouting report: Hickory Nuts

As a “sneak peak” for my upcoming “Foraging for Wild Edibles:  Hickory Nuts” online presentation early next month, I thought I’d share a quick field report on the status of this year’s crop of ripening hickory nuts.  While I do not anticipate a “mast” year bumper crop, things look promising as far as the number and size of many of the Shagbark Hickory nuts that I viewed yesterday.

Nuts ripening on Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

My online presentation, which will be at 1pm on October 3, is featuring the unnamed 41-acre property owned by the Town of Clifton Park located along the Mohawk River.

I did not check on the status of any Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra) nuts during my brief visit, although I did find a few of those on the ground.  Finding immature nuts from any species of hickory on the ground is not uncommon from as early as mid-summer onward.  However, don’t bother collecting those; they simply are not ripe.  You’ll need to wait until about that first week or so of October.  Trust me, they’ll be worth the wait – they are delicious!

What will you do with those you’ll collect?  Trail mix?  Add them to shortbread cookies?  Hickory nut broth?  Carya ovata nux crustum?

Got recipes?  If not, then you’ll be sure to want to join me early next month for my online presentation and get some.  See the Events page for details.  Hope to “see” you then.

Happy trails!

Nannyberry fruit ripening…slowly

In advance of my next online presentation, Foraging for Wild Edibles:  Nannyberry (Wednesday @ 5:30pm, see Events page for details), I thought I’d drop by Garnsey Park to check on the status of the ripening fruit.  Yikes!  Those that I saw near the parking lot have a ways to go before they’ll be ready to pick.  (I did not venture further into the property to see others.)

Unripe fruit of Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)

Nevertheless, those tasty fruit will be ripening soon.  What will you make with yours?  Fruit leather?  Nannyberry Butter?  Tipsy Nannyberry Pie?

Got recipes?  If not, then you’ll definitely want to join me on 9/9 for the next session of my Foraging for Wild Edibles series.  Hope to “see” you there!

During my brief visit at Garnsey Park, I viewed these blooming beauties –

Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Trumpetweed (Eutrochium fistulosum)

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Happy trails!

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week?  (Sept week 1)

This week, I’m featuring New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

PLEASE NOTE:  Culturally Significant Plant = Ethnobotanic Uses:  The plant was used by many American Indian tribes for medicinal purposes, especially to treat fevers.  Read more.

New England Aster was an important plant used to make dyes.  The natural color is a yellow-green, which can become a permanent dye with the use of alum as a mordant (substance that combines with a dye and thereby fixes it in a material).  However, there are many colors available from just this one plant and each is determined by the mordant selected.  The stems, leaves and flowers of asters will produce a brassy gold with a chrome mordant, a greenish-gold with a copper mordant, a bright yellow-gold with a tin mordant, and a dark grey-green with an iron mordant.

Among the Chippewa (Ojibwe) nation, the powdered root was smoked to attract wildlife for hunting.

Among the Potawatomi nation, the entire plant was used as a fumigant in the long house; for the Lakota, it was similarly used but instead employed in their purification ceremony conducted in a sweat lodge.  Among the Meskwaki and the Fox nations, the flowers and leaves were smudged in the sweat lodge to revive the unconscious and also to treat mental illness.

Identification Tips:

New England Asters grow up to 4′ tall, consisting of a central stem that is mostly unbranched, but may branch occasionally near the top.  The stems are stout and hairy.  The alternate leaves are up to 4″ long and 1″ wide, becoming smaller as they ascend the flowering stems.  They are lanceolate or oblong and clasp the stem at the base of each leaf.  Margins of leaves are smooth and leaves are spicy scented when crushed.

New England Aster leaves

Clusters of composite flowers occur at the ends of the upper stems and each composite flower contains numerous gold or yellow disk small flowers (called florets), which are surrounded by 30 or more ray florets that are purple, lavender, or light pink.  Each composite flower has no noticeable scent and is about 1½” wide.  An individual plant may exhibit more than two dozen of these composite flowers making New England Aster one of the showiest of all asters.  Lower leaves are often withering by the time of flowering due to the lateness of the season.

Fertilized small flowers give way to achenes (small, dry one-seeded fruits that do not open) that are longitudinally ribbed and slightly hairy and each has a tuft of hair that enables it to be carried off in the wind.

Achenes of New England Aster; Photo Credit:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/gamelaner/15027153954

Folklore:

In the Language of Flowers, aster symbolizes patience, love of variety, elegance and daintiness.

The Iroquois of northeastern North America used the plant as a love medicine.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

Fresh flowers and fresh leaves (which are aromatic) can be added to salads.

North American Indian tribes relied on this plant for a variety of medicinal uses.  A root tea was used for treatment of fever and diarrhea.  The flowers and leaves were used to treat nosebleeds, headaches and congestion.  More specifically –

  • Among the Cherokee, a poultice of the roots for pain, an infusion of the roots for diarrhea, sniffing the ooze from the roots for catarrh (excessive build-up of mucus in an airway).
  • Root exudates were sniffed by the Cherokee for catarrh.
  • The root was also used by the Cherokee in a tea for diarrhea and as a poultice for pain.
  • Both the Cherokee and the Mohawk used the whole plant as an infusion to treat fever.
  • Among the Iroquois, a decoction (extraction by boiling plant material to dissolve the chemicals therein) of the plant for weak skin, a decoction of the roots and leaves for fevers.
  • Both the Iroquois and the Mohawks used an infusion of the whole plant and rhizomes from Panicled Aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) to treat fever in the intestines of mothers.

The species was also used as a decoction internally, with a strong decoction externally, in many eruptive diseases of the skin including contact dermatitis caused by Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) and Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix).

Shakers used the plant to help clear skin complexions and as an antidote for snake bites.

Modern herbalists place aster blossoms in a pan of boiling water to use steam inhalation to treat congestion.  Doing so is reputed to also be anti-asthmatic and antispasmodic for lung tissue, thereby relaxing and dilating the respiratory passages.

Wildlife Value:

The flowers are visited primarily by bees, bee flies, butterflies (including Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and American Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas)), and skippers.  Short-tongued bees and Syrphid flies (Sphaerophoria philanthus) visit the flowers, but they collect pollen primarily and are non-pollinating.  New England Aster is heavily visited by long-tongued bumblebees like Bombus fervidus and Bombus vagans.  Other long-tongued bee visitors include Honeybees (Apis mellifera), Miner Bees (Anthophora abrupta), large leaf-cutting bees (such as Alfalfa Leafcutter (Megachile rotundata) and Broad-handed Leafcutter (Megachile latimanus), and Melissodes druriella.  New England Aster serves as the larval host of Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) and Checkerspot butterflies (such as Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton)).

The seeds and leaves of this plant are eaten to a limited extent by Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), while White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and rabbits occasionally browse on the foliage, sometimes eating the entire plant.  This plant serves as an important fall and winter seed source for a variety of songbirds.

Where Found Locally:

Have you had your trail mix today?

(Given the ongoing pandemic, please permit me to find any excuse to celebrate something, have a smile and, even better, enjoy a snack!  I hope you’ll join me!)

Observed annually on August 31, National Trail Mix Day honors the mix that was developed as a healthy snack to be taken along on hikes.

Trail mix is an ideal hike snack food because it is very lightweight, easy to store, nutritious and provides a quick energy boost from the carbohydrates in the dried fruits or granola as well as sustained energy from the fats in the nuts.  Trail mix is sometimes referred to as “Gorp” (actually, GORP – an acronym for “good ol’ raisins and peanuts”).

It is claimed by some that trail mix was invented in 1968 by two California surfers who blended peanuts and raisins together for an energy snack.  However, in the 1958 novel The Dharma Bums, written by Jack Kerouac’s, trail mix is mentioned when the two main characters describe the planned meals in preparation for their hiking trip.

Hold on, dudes.  Yet another potential inventor was outdoorsman Horace Kephart, dating back to nearly 1910!  However, an even earlier accounting is mentioned here.

Whomever deserves the credit, the concept is creative, portable and tasty – as well as genius.

Many varieties of trail mix are available at your favorite grocery or convenience store.  However, it is easy enough to create your own trail mix using a blend of your favorite ingredients.

Looking for some inspiration?  Consider these recipes:

Check out my Après Hike Trail Mix recipe.  What’s yours?

Happy trail snacking!

For future online Curious By Nature events, what works best for you?

Given both the continuing pandemic and the positive feedback that I’ve received from folks watching my online events over the past few months, I will likely continue to offer such sessions as an alternative to in-person gatherings and outings.

Therefore, I would really appreciate your feedback to this quick poll.  Please let me know your preferences for day of week and time of day for such sessions to be offered in the future.  All responses will be appreciated.

Thank you!

Check out the expanded and updated Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve page!

Looking NW’ly along Tall Spruce Trail as it enters into riparian forest whose canopy comprised principally of Eastern Cottonwood, Green Ash, and Silver Maple

(Click on the photo above for a larger image.)

Please view my expanded and updated Vischer Ferry Nature and Historic Preserve page – now includes many more photos and an updated trail map!

Now you can view some of the main trails (Bird Watching Trail, 1825 Erie Canal Towpath Trail, 1840 Erie Canal Overlook Trail, Forts Ferry Loop Trail, and Tall Spruce Trail) look like and know what to look for when planning your next (or first) visit.

Also, if you are interested to learn about a couple of native shrubs that are found here and that bear delicious nuts (yet this month!), then please logon to view my online presentation, Foraging for Wild Edibles:  Hazelnuts, beginning at 5:30pm on Wednesday (August 26).  See the Events page for details.

Happy trails!

What Wildflower Begins Blooming This Week?  (August week 4)

This week, I’m featuring Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (AKA Wreath Goldenrod; Solidago caesia) as one of our local wildflowers that begins to bloom at this time.

There are more than 100 species of Goldenrods worldwide with nearly 90 of them found throughout North America.  These bright yellow flowered plants have inspired people to find a variety of ways to enjoy and utilize them – in medicine, art (visual and music), and industry.

Honey from Goldenrods often is dark and strong and bees typically will blend it with other nectars, which results in a more mild flavor.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod is a distinctive species in that it is both elegant and shade-tolerant.  It is one of only two species of Goldenrod that produces primarily axillary clusters of flowers with the other being Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis).  Blue-stemmed Goldenrod is typically found in upland woodlands, while Zigzag Goldenrod is more often found in lowland woodlands.

Identification Tips:

This herbaceous perennial wildflower is about 1½–3′ tall and either unbranched or sparingly so.  The central stem usually leans over to one side and light green, while young, becoming blue-gray or burgundy-gray with age.  Alternate elliptic-oblong leaves up to 5″ long and ¾” across with smooth or serrated margins become gradually smaller as they ascend the stem.  The upper surface of each leaf has a prominent central vein and faint lateral veins.

At the axils of the middle to upper leaves, there develops small clusters of 1-12 flowerheads.  In addition, the central stem may terminate in a small cluster of flowerheads up to 3″ long and 1½” across.  Each flowerhead is about 1/8″ across or a little wider, consisting of 4-5 yellow ray florets that surround a similar number of golden yellow disk florets.


PLEASE NOTE: 

Sadly, Goldenrods often get blamed for causing the dreaded hay fever.

This is simply not true.

Goldenrod pollen is quite large and sticky so as to better adhere to the body of visiting insects.  Because of this, Goldenrod pollen cannot become airborne and can never make its way into your sinuses.  The true cause of hay fever is the wind pollinated Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), which broadcasts copious amounts of lightweight pollen into the air.


Fertile florets are replaced by small bullet-shaped achenes (small, dry one-seeded fruit that do not open to release the seed) and each achene has a small tuft of hairs.  Achenes are distributed by the wind, but some may remain on the plant into winter.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod

The fall color displayed by Blue-stemmed Goldenrod is red.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod

Folklore:

Goldenrods are believed to point the way toward buried gold and can show where water is located underground.  If you wear or carry Goldenrod for a day, the next day you will cross paths with your true love.

Culinary and Medicinal Uses:

All Goldenrods may be used in herbal teas (also called tisanes).  The blooms and leaves can also be used to craft medicinal oils and salves for topical use on the skin, such as this Goldenrod infused oil.

Wildlife Value:

The nectar and pollen of these flowers can attract a wide variety of insects, especially short-tongued bees, wasps, and flies.  Blue-stemmed Goldenrod serves as the host plant for the larvae of Goldenrod Leaf Miner (Cremastobombycia solidaginis).

The seeds of Goldenrods are eaten sparingly by the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea), Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), and Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea).  White-Tailed Deer are especially likely to feed on the foliage of Goldenrods in woodlands.

Where Found Locally: