Here’s a native perennial that produces lots of fruit for migrating birds.
American spikenard (Aralia racemosa) is a showy plant that grows three to five feet tall and wide. It blooms in airy greenish-white spikes from June to August and ripens its fruit in August and September, just in time for migrating birds. Click here to see it in bloom.
In my opinion, the plant was misnamed. People must have hoped it was similar to the real spikenard, Nardostachys jatamansi, a Himalayan plant in the Valerian family whose root is made into fragrant essential oil (called nard), but American spikenard is not at all like it and isn’t even in the same family. The American plant isn’t valuable to humans; it cannot make perfume.
But Aralia racemosa is valuable to birds. It’s a low maintenance plant that likes full sun or partial shade and spreads slowly by seeds and rhizomes. In August it offers showy fruit for birds.
Click here for more information at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
We all know that pollen sticks to bees but did you know that air pollution particles stick, too? A recent study shows that honey bees can be excellent monitors of local air quality.
Bees have so much static electricity on their bodies that airborne particles stick to their heads, wings and legs as they fly. This includes airborne pollen, salt spray from the sea, soil dust, and industrial pollution. If you identify the particles, you can identify the pollution source and that’s important if you need to clean it up.
In the study, scientists from the Natural History Museum in London placed eleven beehives near Iglesias, Sardinia, a location known for its legacy pollution of exposed tailings piles from lead-zinc mines in the 19th century. There are also industries five miles away at the coast: an aluminum smelter, a lead-zinc smelter, and coal-fired and oil-fired power plants. At a site like this how can you know where the particules comes from?
Scientists captured 10 honey bees at a control site in rural Italy and 20 bees at the Sardinian site, then analyzed the particulate found on their bodies. The control bees carried natural particles including dust from the local soil. The Sardinian bees carried sea salt (good) as well as industrial pollution and dust from the lead-zinc mine tailings (bad).
Thanks to the honey bees, the people of Iglesias know more about their air quality. Honey bees could monitor our quality, too.
When you see elk antlers and realize they’re shed and regrown every year, it makes you wonder, “How fast do these antlers grow?”
Antlers are a key component of the elk’s (Cervus canadensis) reproductive cycle. Only males have them and they use them to fight over mating rights. Sometimes a bull’s body and antler size are enough to intimidate a smaller male but if no one backs down they fight head to head — and can be seriously injured in the contest.
Bulls shed their antlers in early winter so every male starts with a bare head in the spring and grows a complete set by mid August when the rut begins.
Here’s a typical bull on May 30 with short antlers in thick velvet, photographed by Paul Staniszewski in Elk County, Pennsylvania. The velvet is a soft layer of highly vascularised skin that protects the growing bone.
Only 53 days later, on July 22, the antlers are still in velvet but nearly done growing as shown at the top of this article.
Just before the rut begins the antlers stop growing and the males rub off the velvet against shrubs and trees to shed the dead skin. Below, a bull has shed all his velvet except for a bit hanging from the tip.
When complete the rack weighs 25 to 40 pounds and can be 3.9 feet long with a span 5 feet wide. To reach this size the bone grows nearly an inch a day!
“Overland migration in North America is nearly synchronous with peak flowering of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), suggesting this flower is an important nectar source during this time and may influence the timing of migration.”
This month orange jewelweed is thriving by the creek and wetland in Schenley Park. That’s where I found Soji Yamakawa with his camera last week, spending many hours photographing hummingbirds before his work resumes at Carnegie-Mellon’s Mechanical Engineering Department this fall. Click on the photo above to see a slideshow of his favorite shots.
Soji and I chatted about the birds and noted there were no adult males in the group. Most adult males have left our area by the second week of August but look closely at the throats of these birds and you’ll see faint stippling or a small patch of red feathers. They’re immature males, just hatched this spring.
If you want to see hummingbirds in the wild this month, stake out a patch of orange jewelweed and watch for movement among the flowers. You’ll get a bonus, too. Rose-breasted grosbeaks forage among the stems, eating the jewelweed seeds.
p.s. That white patch just above the hummingbird’s bill is jewelweed pollen.
In June’s wet weather, Pittsburgh’s tuliptrees were attacked by anthracnose, a fungus that turned most of their leaves brown. Click here to see.
July and August were very dry so the fungus died.
The tuliptrees responded. They’ve grown new leaves! It doesn’t matter that August is so close to autumn. They need leaves to make food.
Photosynthesis is restored.
p.s. The first time I saw trees grow new leaves in the fall was after Hurricane Bob stripped the leaves from the trees on Cape Cod on August 19, 1991. It was very odd to see spring-like trees on the Cape in early October.