Minding my p’s and q’s, and Bidens, too!

During my routine wildflower inventory visit to Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood in the Town of Ballston today, I discovered several Nodding Bur Marigold plants and found one with an opened bloom.  Also referred to as Nodding Beggar Ticks, this native wildflower is one of several species that waits until September each year before beginning to bloom.

Nodding Beggar Ticks

All of these plants were located in the wetland area just beyond the end of the Hawkwood Trail (white markers) at the western end of this property.  Not far from that blooming specimen, I discovered a closely related plant also in bloom.

Swamp Beggar Ticks

On my way out of the wetland to rejoin the trail and continue my inventory, I found yet another closely related plant also in bloom.

Devil’s Beggar Ticks

These plants look very similar to one another and are indeed related to one another because they are in the same genus – Bidens, which means two teeth.

Of the three shown above, Bidens frondosa (Sticktight, but also referred to as Devil’s Beggar Ticks) is by far the most common Bidens that I encounter on area nature preserves, parks and trails.  Swamp Beggar Ticks (Bidens connata) is a distant second and Nodding Beggar Ticks (Bidens cernua) is not often observed.

Bidens provide a source of food for a number of species of songbirds and waterfowl (such as Wood Duck).  Muskrats eat the stem and leaves of Devil’s Beggar Ticks while waterfowl and songbirds (such as Swamp Sparrow) eat the seeds.

Happy trails!


Wild Plums will be ripening soon

Late August is the time when our local plums – both Canada Plum and Wild Plum – ripen.  The quarter-sized fruit of each species may range in color from red to orange to yellow when fully ripened.  It’s best to test each for firmness and flavor when picking them to determine whether or not they are truly ripe.

Ripening fruit of Canada Plum

Each species can be found in our local forests, but Wild Plum is the more common.  Both species produce more fruit when they receive more direct sunshine.  Therefore, forest edges or within thickets with few taller trees are your best bets to find these fruiting tall shrubs.

Growing up in east central Wisconsin, I enjoyed these tasty fruit during my country road bike rides of my youth – sort of a last “taste of summer” before heading back to school.

Whether raw or cooked or baked, I highly recommend these sweetly tart fruit.  If you find enough to tempt your culinary skills, consider these recipes –

Happy trails!

Sunday Stroll at Hawkwood

While continuing my wildflower inventory at Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood in the Town of Ballston, I was pleased to discover that the Stonewall Trail is now fully open once again, thanks to the installation of two new bridges near its east end.

THANK YOU volunteers and trail stewards – ALL of your many improvements to ALL of the trails are greatly appreciated!

In celebration of all this “newness,” I am pleased to add this destination to my list of places on my Area Nature Preserves, Parks and Trails page.  Please check it out.

During my visit today, I observed the following blooms –

White Wood Aster


Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock

Bulb-bearing Water Hemlock – close-up of blooms

Common Dodder (white blooms on yellow vine attached to the green plant, which is Spotted Jewelweed) – read more about this parasitic plant.

Happy trails!

Nearly time to pick Mayapple fruit

If you’ve ever sampled a truly ripened Mayapple, you know you want to taste that delicious flavor again.  The fruit is aromatic…juicy…tropical.  Yet, it likely can be found in the nearest woodland!  Soon it will be time to harvest them; do so only if the skin of the fruit is yellow, particularly translucent yellow.

Mayapple (also called Mandrake) bears fruit only on two-leaved plants.  The single-leaved plants did not flower; a bloom only appears during the second year when the plant produces two leaves.

Mayapple bloom

However you choose to consume them, please remove the seeds and do NOT ingest them – they are poisonous.

If you are fortunate enough to find sufficient ripened fruit to test a recipe, consider these:

For a few additional Mayapple recipes, obtain a copy of each of these books:

Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook

  • Mandrake Magic Punch (page 221)
  • Mayapple Jam (page 231)
  • Mayapple Jelly (page 238)

Feasting Free on Wild Edibles by Bradford Angier

  • Mayapple Jam (cooked) (page 36)
  • Mayapple Jam (uncooked) page 37) – this method intends to retain natural flavor of the fruit and will keep several months in the refrigerator

Enjoy your harvest.

Happy trails!

Chokecherries will be ripening soon!

While conducting my weekly wildflower inventory at Anchor Diamond Park at Hawkwood today, I spied these ripening chokecherries.

Unripened fruit of Chokecherry

However, those pictured are not ripe yet – fully ripened chokecherries are more purple-black in color, not red.  You’ll want to pick them – like any fruit – at peak ripeness for the best flavor.  Don’t forego tasting these cherries because of their name, but also don’t sample them raw.  They are rather aptly named when eaten raw because of their pucker power.  But, when cooked, their unique flavor comes forth.  It is my favorite wild cherry.

If you find enough ripe cherries to give them a taste test, I would suggest making a syrup or simple sauce to have over vanilla ice cream or pancakes or waffles.  If you are lucky enough to find a sufficient quantity to try a few culinary experiments, then consider these:

Bon appetit!

While strolling along the woodland trails at this park, I viewed this sampler of wildflowers:

Fruit of White Baneberry

Wild Cucumber


Purple-leaved Willow Herb

Mad-dog Skullcap

Happy trails!

Woods Walk at Hawkwood

Began my routine wildflower inventory at Anchor Park at Hawkwood in the Town of Ballston today under mostly cloudy skies with no real hope of seeing sunshine.  Sunshine is very helpful while conducting a wildflower inventory.  In addition to obviously providing brighter light to simply see everything, sunshine also entices blooms to fully open. Low and behold, not long after I started, the sun began shining.  Brightly.  That helped.

Not only did I find a few mores species to add to the property’s total, such as –

Cardinal Flower

Garden Phlox

…but I also noticed a couple of species on an additional trail where I had previously overlooked them.  For example, I spied an Indian Cucumber Root (in its fruiting stage, similar to the image shown below) along the Stonewall Trail (blue markers), which is a species I had previously observed along only the Hemlock Trail (yellow markers).

Indian Cucumber Root fruit

Thus far, my inventory is summarized as follows:

  • Total species for property = 212 (including 170 native species)
  • Total species for Hawkwood Trail (white markers) = 151
  • Total species for Hemlock Trail (yellow markers) = 114
  • Total species for Stonewall Trail (blue markers) = 119
  • Total species for Old Field Trail (orange markers) = 86

The species totals above are consistent with what any visitor to this property will visibly notice:  far less variety of trees, shrubs and other plants along the Old Field Trail than anywhere else.  With that being said, though, it is also important to note that a couple of native species found here are only located along that same Old Field Trail!  One of those native species is –

Herb Robert

If you haven’t already done so, I hope you’ll make a point of visiting this wonderful new park in the near future and make frequent return visits.  With its diversity of habitats and scenic trails throughout this sprawling woodland, it is a great destination to go explore nature.

When you do so, I hope you’ll find something interesting to view, such as –

Pinesap – new blooms in foreground, stems with seed pods from last year in the background.  Pinesap is one of our native parasitic plants; read more.

Happy trails!

Wildflowers that are parasites


To humans, the word has a pejorative connotation.

None of the plants shown below are green in color.  That’s because they each lack chlorophyll, that green substance that traps light energy from the sun, which is then used by those green plants to combine carbon dioxide and water into sugars in the process of photosynthesis.  Since the plants shown below don’t fuel their activities by photosynthesis, each must obtain its food from other plants known as “hosts.”  Some of the plants shown below have very specific plant hosts that they rely upon, while others are far more indiscriminate.

Be that as it may, each of the following opportunistic plants offers its own version of blooms to earn the right to be called a wildflower.


Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) –

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe is a native perennial forb.  The plant hosts of Indian Pipe are certain fungi whom themselves have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of trees; this biological relationship is called a mycorrhiza.  Since Indian Pipe is not dependent on sunlight to grow, it can often be found in relatively dark environments such as the forest floor of dense woodlands.

Indian Pipe: New blooms on the left, stems and empty seed pods from last year on the right

After blooms have been pollinated, the plant straightens out to stand vertically and, as it goes dormant, the plant stem dries out to form a rigid “pole” atop which the seed pod then disburses its contents by simply popping open.  I think the seed pods resemble pumpkins.

Indian Pipe

The dried plant stems and seed pods of Indian Pipe are weather-resistant and therefore remain persistent on the forest floor.  Once you recognize this life stage, you will be able to easily and confidently identify this specific wildflower at any time of the year – even in winter.  Welcome to forensic botanizing!

Indian Pipe


Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys) –

Like Indian Pipe, Pinesap is a native perennial forb that also obtains its nourishment from fungi associated with tree roots, often those of oaks and pines.


The dried plant stems and seed pods of Pinesap, just like those of Indian Pipe, are weather-resistant.  They, too, persist on the forest floor.  Note that, unlike the single seed pod on each stem that Indian Pipe exhibited, Pinesap always exhibits more than one seed pod per stem.  Once you recognize this life stage, you will also be able to easily and confidently identify this specific wildflower at any time of the year – even in winter.



Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) –

Beechdrops is a native annual forb.  Beechdrops parasitize the roots of beech trees using a structure called a haustorium which collects the nutrients the plant requires from its host.



Just as with Indian Pipe and Pinesap, the dried plant stems and seed pods of Beechdrops are weather-resistant and therefore persist on the forest floor throughout the year.  Therefore, they too, enable you to identify this specific wildflower once you learn to recognize this life stage.



Common Dodder (Cuscuta gronovii var. gronovii) –

Common Dodder is a native annual vine.  While it can be found in a variety of habitats, most often you can find it growing in damp areas with partial or full sunshine, such as the edges of wetlands or streams.

Similar to Beechdrops, Common Dodder relies on haustoria to draw moisture and nutrients from its host.  However, these haustoria are located along the stems of this plant and they effectively serve as modified roots that penetrate the host plant.  In the photo above, the yellowish orange stem with white flowers is Common Dodder.  Note that it is wound around its host; in this case, the host plant is Mad-dog Skullcap.  However, Common Dodder is not associated exclusively with Mad-dog Skullcap.  In fact, it is quite indiscriminate in the variety of host plant species to which it attaches.

Watch “Attach of the Parasitic Plant!” featuring Common Dodder.

Happy trails!