Category Archives: Botany

Enjoying nature in Maryland during the month of June

Guest post by Bryan MacKay

MackaySummer Solstice here on the east coast occurred yesterday, June 21, at 12:39 p.m. To mark the official start of summer, we offer the following June excerpt from Bryan MacKay’s A Year across Maryland, his week-by-week guide to enjoying the natural world in JHUP’s home state.


Enchanter’s Nightshade

The summer solstice brings this diminutive and easily-overlooked woodland plant into flower. Despite its unassuming nature, enchanter’s nightshade competes favorably with other wildflowers for the title of most evocative name. Enchanter’s nightshade is a member of the genus Circaea, named for the Greek goddess Circe. Circe was well known for her magical spells and potions. Supposedly, she used another species in this genus for such purposes, hence the word “enchanter’s.” The leaves of this species resemble leaves of the night shade family,  providing the rest of its common name. It is not in the nightshade family, however, and to my knowledge has not been used as a medicine or food.

Mackay-enchanters-nightshadeEnchanter’s nightshade grows on the forest floor in rich, slightly damp, well-shaded soil. The white flowers are tiny, less than a quarter inch in diameter, and grow on spikes (racemes) that rise above the egg-shaped leaves. The flowers have only two petals, an unusual characteristic shared by only one other genus of native wildflowers, the spurges. It’s worth a close look, even though few hikers even notice this modest plant.

Where to see enchanter’s nightshade this week: Because it is easily overlooked, few people know enchanter’s nightshade. Look for it trailside in places such as Patapsco Valley and Seneca Creek State Parks, Rock Creek Park, and Sugarloaf Mountain.


Blueberries Ripe

MacKay blueberryThe long days of late June ripen blueberries, and long distance hikers on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland appreciate this tasty supplement to their spartan diets. Blueberries are a common ground cover on sandy,  nutrient-poor soils, whether they be on mountaintop ridges in the western part of the state or in pine-dominated forests on the coastal plain of the Eastern Shore. These are not the lush commercial berries you buy at the supermarket. Wild blueberries in this region are pea-sized and more tart than sweet.

Where to find wild blueberries this week:  Blueberries grow in many places in Maryland where there is dry soil. The Appalachian Trail has many miles of such ridgetop habitat.


Fireflies Light Up the Night

Mackay fireflyWhat is more magical than the glow of fireflies in the gloaming? Generations of kids have chased, captured, and observed these commonplace beetles and in the process become familiar, even enchanted, with the natural world. Fireflies don’t require wilderness. The suburban lawn seems to host very high densities of these animals with flashing lights on their abdomens. Although the first fireflies may appear by Memorial Day and persist well into July, late June seems to be the high point of their activity.

Where to see fireflies this week: Most suburban lawns host fireflies; you can even see some in grassy areas in cities. Densities seem greatest at the border between forest and lawn.


Brown Pelicans Raising Young

No natural place in Maryland may be more chaotic, noisy, and smelly than a nesting colony of brown pelicans. When adult birds arrive with fish to feed their young, the excited and raucous cries of these nestlings fill the air. Conditions in a colony are often crowded, and territorial squabbles are frequent. The smells of regurgitated fish, bird guano, and the occasional dead bird, all baking in the mid-summer sun, are pungent. A visit to a seabird nesting colony is a memorable experience.

In the Chesapeake, our largest colonial nesting waterbird is the brown pelican. With a six-foot wingspan, few birds are more conspicuous and familiar to Maryland beachgoers. Most often seen as a line of birds cruising seemingly without effort just above the waves, these handsome birds are also notorious panhandlers dockside. Less often are pelicans seen feeding, but their headfirst plunge-dive into the ocean in search of fish is a dramatic sight.

Brown pelicans are fairly new to Maryland. Their numbers in the United States were decimated by organochlorine pesticides in the 1960s; the species was once even extinct in Louisiana, where it was (and is) the state bird. After DDT was banned in the United States, brown pelicans made an amazingly rapid recovery, reaching historic levels by 2000. As the population grew, birds on the Atlantic coast expanded their range northward above North Carolina, nesting for the first time in Maryland waters in 1987. In 2010, about 2,500 brown pelican chicks were banded on Bay islands near the Virginia border. By late summer, pelicans are a common sight at Ocean City, Maryland, and are now seen as far north as New Jersey.

Where to see nesting brown pelicans this week: While pelicans in flight and fishing in Maryland are easy to spot, nesting birds are found mostly on uninhabited islands in Chesapeake Bay. As of this writing, the largest colony is on Holland Island, but that will doubtless change, as Holland is being steadily eroded away. Nesting waterbirds are very susceptible to disturbance by humans, with very negative results, so observe the colonies with binoculars from a boat at least fifty feet offshore. Never go ashore; some birds would very likely die due to such an intrusion.


Bryan MacKay is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region; Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide; and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers.

Comments Off on Enjoying nature in Maryland during the month of June

Filed under Animals, Biology, Birds, Botany, General Science, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Travel

Trees are flowering . . . it must be spring!

Guest Post by Leslie Day

Amelanchier canadensis, or the downy serviceberry tree, is one of the first to bloom in early spring in the northeastern United States. New York City has just gone through a long , brutally cold, and snowy winter. The snow has finally disappeared, but there are new puffs of white dotting the hills and meadows of city parks: the blossoms of the serviceberry tree.

This little tree has many common names: serviceberry, because it blooms when the ground finally thaws, so that burials can take place; shadblow and shadberry, because it blooms when the shad begin their northern migration into the estuaries off the Atlantic Ocean, like the Hudson River; and Juneberry, because the fruit ripens in June.

An understory tree, it only reaches 15-30’ in height, and has many slender trunks. This is a valuable native tree, and though small in stature it is huge in terms of its ecological value to wildlife. The beautiful flowers attract pollinators, the berries provide nutritious food for hungry birds, and the foliage is beautiful in every season, particularly in autumn. As it is one of the first trees to bloom, it attracts all kinds of pollinating animals, when there are few flowers available. The nectar attracts butterflies, and the pollen attracts honeybees, bumblebees, flies, and wasps. The purplish-red berries are sweet and delicious and are among the most favorite fruit of birds. Baltimore orioles, scarlet tanagers, cedar waxwings, song sparrows, cardinals, bluebirds, catbirds, and rose breasted grosbeaks are some of the beautiful birds that come to this tree in droves. Squirrels, chipmunks, and woodchucks also feed on the berries. Humans can eat the berries raw off the tree, cooked into pies and jams, fermented for wine, or eaten dried.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This little tree has a great botanical and cultural history as the fruit, seeds, leaves, and bark were important sources of food and medicine for native peoples. For many tribes, serviceberries were a common source of food in the summer. They would eat the berries raw as we do today, or mash them and form them into pemmican cakes made of animal fat, dried meat, and dried berries. Other parts of the plant are also edible. The Lakota of the Great Plains, used the flower petals, leaves and stems to make a drink, and the Cheyenne, also of the Great Plains, boiled the dried leaves to make a red tea.

Serviceberry shrubs were used for medicinal purposes by native Americans for the treatment of earaches, toothaches, the common cold, influenza, coughs, and fevers.

Woodworkers and indigenous people used branches, stems, and wood to make baskets, furniture, rope, tools, and harpoons.

In autumn, a blend of pink, orange, gold, and red creates gorgeous, colorful foliage. No two leaves have the same colors. There are times when they are so beautiful that, an inveterate leaf collector since the age of five, I gather each and every one I find on the ground.

Leslie Day is a biology and life science teacher at The Elisabeth Morrow School. She developed the City Naturalists Summer Institute with the Central Park Conservancy and is the author of Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City and Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City, as well as her forthcoming book, Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City.

Comments Off on Trees are flowering . . . it must be spring!

Filed under Biology, Botany, Life Science

Enjoying nature in Maryland this month

Guest post by Bryan MacKay

MackayWith a cautious nod to what seems to be (let’s hope) the arrival of Spring in Maryland, we offer the following April excerpt from Bryan MacKay’s A Year across Maryland, his week-by-week guide to enjoying the natural world in JHUP’s home state.


Rockfish (Striped Bass) Fishing Season Opens

Rockfish, that toothsome and combative gamefish, is now migrating down the Bay along the edges of the shipping channel, after spawning in the upper Bay and tributaries. Striped bass are anadromous fish: mature adults spend most of their time in the ocean but visit freshwater to spawn. About 70 to 90 percent of the entire Atlantic coastal striped bass spawn in Chesapeake Bay, especially in the upper tidal Potomac, the Choptank River, and the Susquehanna flats. The eggs and larvae are susceptible to certain environmental conditions and to pollution. Varying water temperatures cause significant mortality, as does acid rain runoff and trace concentrations of metal ions like aluminum, copper, and cadmium. Young rockfish spend the first three to seven years of their life in the Bay before entering the Atlantic, thereafter returning only to breed. This portion of the fishing season targets spawners returning to the ocean; younger fish must be released when caught. Striped bass can weigh up to 75 pounds; most fish over 30 pounds are female. Larger females are especially important to the survival of the species, as size correlates with egg production.

Where to find rockfish: It is possible to catch rockfish from land at Point Lookout State Park and other sites directly on the Bay, but most striped bass are taken from a boat in deep water. For a listing of charter boats, see www.marylandcharterboats.com.  For a useful weekly blog about what’s being caught where in Chesapeake Bay, see www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport/log.asp.

Lesser Celandine Flowering

MacKay April lesser celedineThe month of April brings the extensive flowering of this invasive non-native plant in alluvial floodplains and suburban lawns. Indeed, just before trees leaf out, lesser celandine seems to be everywhere, choking out native herbaceous vegetation, including the native wildflowers of April like spring beauty, bluebells, and bloodroot. Lesser celandine has kidney-shaped, thumbnail-sized shiny green leaves and brilliant, shiny, yellow flowers.  Emerging from many small bulbs, lesser celandine is almost impossible to eradicate. Only the fact that the leaves are above ground for only about two months, emerging in March and dying back by mid-May, keeps lesser celandine  from being considered our most troublesome invasive plant.

Where to see lesser celandine: Unfortunately, lesser celandine is extremely common, even ubiquitous, on the floodplain next to almost every river and stream in central Maryland. It is especially troublesome in Patapsco Valley, Gunpowder Falls, Susquehanna, and Seneca Creek State Parks and in Rock Creek Park and along the C&O Canal towpath.

American Robins Calling at Dusk

Mackay April robinPerhaps the ultimate bird of the suburbs, robins have adapted completely to humans and their developed landscapes. Robins will begin constructing nests as soon as the trees leaf out, and by mid-April, male robins are staking out their territories, singing to attract a mate, and chasing each other. Dusk seems to bring the most activity, and their alarm calls and song in the gloaming is a favorite sound of spring.

Where to see American robins: Listen for the calls of robins at dusk anywhere and everywhere in Maryland. The only places in Maryland where robins do not nest is on some small islands in Chesapeake Bay and possibly on Assateague Island.

Virginia Bluebells Flowering

MacKay April virginia-bluebellsWildflower enthusiasts may argue over what is our loveliest spring bloom, but certainly one finalist is Virginia bluebells. A plant common to alluvial floodplains, bluebells carpet the forest floor as far as the eye can see in some locations. Sky-blue trumpet-or bell-shaped flowers occur in hanging clusters above light green, fleshy leaves. Bluebells are pollinated by bees and butterflies. The flower buds are a gorgeous shade of pink, converting to blue upon full expansion. Albino flowers seem to occur in most populations. Virginia bluebells have a short season, blooming for only about two weeks in mid-April. Interestingly, while the flower is abundant in the floodplains of some Maryland rivers, such as the Potomac, Susquehanna, and Patuxent, it is missing entirely from others, like the Patapsco. Virginia bluebells form natural gardens covering many acres of alluvial floodplains at several locations in central Maryland.

Where to find Virginia bluebells: Extensive stands of bluebells occur at Susquehanna State Park, along the C&O Canal towpath, at Patuxent Research Refuge (North Tract), and at Bull Run Regional Park (Virginia).

Bryan MacKay is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He is the author of A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region; Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide; and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers.

Comments Off on Enjoying nature in Maryland this month

Filed under Animals, Birds, Botany, Conservation, Life Science, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Wild Thing

In honor of Johnny Appleseed

Guest post by William Kerrigan

March 11th is National Johnny Appleseed Day, the 170th anniversary of the death of John Chapman, the real life Johnny Appleseed.  By the time of Chapman’s death in March 1845,  he had already earned a reputation as an eccentric in the central Ohio and Northeastern Indiana communities where he spent most of his adult life. But even those who knew him best knew little about his origins, and some of the basic facts of his life—and even the precise day and location of his death and burial—remained in dispute for a full century.  It was only in the years after his death that locally preserved oral traditions began to coalesce into the Johnny Appleseed legend.  His debut before a national audience came only in November, 1871, when an essay in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine spread his story to the nation. In subsequent years more stories emerged, some from people who knew him, others invented from whole cloth.  The piece below is an excerpt from Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, recounting the first newspaper report of his death:

Oldest depiction of John Chapman, drawn from a description probably provided by Rosella Rice.

In March 1845, John Chapman passed away. The Fort Wayne Sentinel noted that “his death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous.” But other accounts tell of him falling ill and finding shelter at the home of William Worth, who cared for him in his last days. According to a witness, he was wearing at the time of his death “a coarse coffee-sack, with a hole cut through the centre through which he passed his head. He had on the waists of four pairs of pants. These were cut off at the forks, ripped up at the sides and fronts thrown away, saving the waistband attached to the hinder part. These hinder parts were buttoned around him, lapping like shingles so as to cover the whole lower part of his body, and over all these were drawn a pair of what was once pantaloons.” This erratic collection of scraps was not enough to protect him from the cold winds that whip across the plains of northeast Indiana. His death was attributed to “the winter plague.”

Chapman’s death warranted more ink in the local Fort Wayne newspaper than that of an immigrant laborer who died the same day. “Dies— In this city on Tuesday last, Mr. Thomas McJanet, a stone-cutter, age 34 years, a native of Ayrshire, Scotland” was the full obituary for Mr. McJanet. Chapman’s notoriety made him worthy of several paragraphs. The Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that John Chapman “was well known through this region by his eccentricity and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman and has been a regular visitor here upwards of twenty years.” The obituary also indicated that he was a follower of Swedenborg and “he is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself the most common necessities of life.” The paper credited his religious beliefs for this contradiction.

As to other details of his life, the Sentinel could only repeat local speculation and rumor.  To read more, click here.

kerriganWilliam Kerrigan is the author of Johnny Appleseed and The American Orchard: A Cultural History. Kerrigan is Arthur G. and Eloise Barnes Cole Distinguished Professor of American History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio.

Comments Off on In honor of Johnny Appleseed

Filed under American History, Botany, Conservation, For Everyone, Nature

The Press Reads: Trees of Life

Our occasional Friday series on the blog, The Press Reads, features short excerpts from recent JHUP books. We hope to whet your appetite and inspire additions to your reading list.  Today’s selection is drawn from the preface of Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution by Theodore W. Pietsch. Trees of Life, embraced by reviewers across many disciplines, is now available in trade paperback.

 

Ernst Haeckel's family tree of the mammals, from 1866.

Ernst Haeckel’s family tree of the mammals, from 1866.

This is a book about  trees—not the transpiring, photosynthesizing kind, but tree-like branching diagrams that attempt to show the interrelationships of organisms, from viruses and bacteria to birds and mammals, both living and fossil. It is not intended as a treatise about the philosophy or science behind tree construction, nor is it a defense or refutation of the various relationships depicted among organisms. It is rather a celebration of the manifest beauty, intrinsic interest, and human ingenuity revealed in trees of life through time.

A phylogeny of elephants constructed by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1926, this one a "pictogram," showing relationships, but also an indication of relative size, and the remarkable convergence of general body shape among modern forms descended from markedly different ancestors.

A phylogeny of elephants constructed by Henry Fairfield Osborn in 1926, this one a “pictogram,” showing relationships, but also an indication of relative size, and the remarkable convergence of general body shape among modern forms descended from markedly different ancestors.

The emphasis is on the images, arranged chronologically, two hundred and thirty chosen from among thousands of possibilities, dating from the mid-sixteenth century to the present day. The descriptive text is kept to a  minimum—just enough to provide context.

The frontispiece of William King Gregory's two-volume Evolution Emerging.

The frontispiece of William King Gregory’s two-volume Evolution Emerging.

The focus of this book is on diagrams that resemble trees in the botanical sense, images with parts analogous to trunks, limbs, and terminal twigs, but other configurations are also explored as precursors and variations on the theme of biosystematic iconography. These various related images include bracketed  tables—trees laid on their  side—similar to modern-day analytical keys; maps, or so-called archipelagos, that hypothesize relationships analogous to the juxtaposition of geographical territories; webs or networks, in which individual taxa or chains of taxa are interconnected by lines of affinity or resemblance; and various numerical, symmetrical and geometric systems.

Dinosaur tree by Paul Callistus Sereno, emphasizing the sharp dichotomy between the two orders, the Ornithischia on the left and the Saurischia on the right.

Dinosaur tree by Paul Callistus Sereno, emphasizing the sharp dichotomy between the two orders, the Ornithischia on the left and the Saurischia on the right.

While their choice of imagery varied considerably, most all eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century naturalists were working toward the same goal: to construct classifications of plants and animals that were “natural.” Their thought was that organisms brought together in “natural classifications” ought to share “natural affinities.” But just exactly what was meant by “natural affinity,” remained an unresolved question. It was Darwin’s theory of evolutionary change by means of natural selection that provided the missing context and unified the work of biosystematists in their pursuit of a natural system of classification. The phylogenetic tree as we know it today was one conspicuous result.

A universal tree of life based on ribosomal RNA sequences, sampled from about 3,000 species from throughout biodiversity, and constructed by David Mark Hillis and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin.

A universal tree of life based on ribosomal RNA sequences, sampled from about 3,000 species from throughout biodiversity, and constructed by David Mark Hillis and colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin.


Brain Pickings posted a review of Trees of Life, which you can read here.

“A luminous book . . . For classroom use, the brevity and simplicity of the introductory remarks will serve instructors who wish to teach these images’ and their authors’ significance to the history of biology and the history of scientific illustration. Biologists, historians of science, scholars interested in the intersections between art and design and science will find an abundance of images and wise commentary that reveals new details with each reading.”

— Christine Manganaro, Journal of the History of Biology

“With the concept of evolution now often iconified to the point of misrepresentation, Trees of Life reminds us that both the idea and its representation were—and are—fluid, debated, and reconstructed.”

—Camillia Matuk, Science

“Trees of Life commemorates the tree as a visual representation of life; science buffs will revel in this dazzling forest of transformation.”

—Jen Forbus, Shelf Awareness

pietsch_JACKET COMP5.inddTheodore W. Pietsch is Dorothy T. Gilbert Professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and Curator of Fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science and Oceanic Anglerfishes: Extraordinary Diversity in the Deep Sea.

1 Comment

Filed under Animals, Botany, Conservation, Evolution

Enjoying Nature During the D.C. Summer: Go Early, Go Often

by Howard Youth

The nation’s capital wears its thick cloak of green this time of year. The towering trees, the flourishing vines, the humidity. Tourists feel they’ve stumbled into a tropical city. But, no, it’s just Washington, D.C. in summer. A very exciting time and place for the naturalist. So, drink a lot of water, accept the sweat, and head out early to the city’s wonderful natural areas. You’ll be richly rewarded.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

In 1976, at the age of ten, I developed an interest in reptiles. Two years later, herons grabbed my attention. These alluring birds drew me into birding, a passion I keep to this day. In Washington, D.C. at this time of year, if you are up early and near the Potomac or Anacostia rivers, you are bound to see a heron of some stripe. When you watch one stalk the shoreline in search of frogs or small fish, it’s easy to agree with the many paleontologists who believe birds evolved from trim, predatory dinosaurs. One of the best heron-watching sites is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. Walk the boardwalk into the restored tidal marsh there, or stroll along the lily and lotus ponds. By July, herons dispersing from bay or coastal breeding areas augment the small number of herons present in the area through the breeding season. At Kenilworth, you will likely see the small green heron, the large, grumpy-sounding great blue heron, and the great egret. But others show up, especially in July and August, and these might include little blue heron, black-crowned and sometimes yellow-crowned night-herons.

From July into August, spotted immature black-crowned night-herons loiter around the National Zoo’s Bird House, having just left their nests in the trees. The zoo’s night-heron colony is just one example of how zoos around the world not only exhibit, but also attract, wild creatures. The zoo is open very early for walkers, joggers, and nature buffs. If you walk from the Connecticut Avenue entrance down to the bottom of the hill and back, you not only get a great workout, but you also have the chance to see wild gray catbirds, eastern chipmunks, woodpeckers, wood ducks, cardinals, white-tailed deer, and of course gray squirrels, including black-coated ones that descended from black phase gray squirrels released at the zoo last century. These black squirrels hailed from Ontario. In many parts of that Canadian province, most gray squirrels are black.

Summer in Washington means noticing those small creatures you might have missed in other months. Even if you close your eyes, you can’t ignore the city’s summer wildlife. Listen to the growing crescendo of buzzing annual cicadas, invisible but seemingly everywhere, or the chittering of chimney swifts catching insects high over the city streets. With the abundant heat and humidity, dragonflies and damselflies flourish, snapping up mosquitoes and other small flying insects. At dusk, you might see bats doing the same thing.

Sun-drenched stumps and rock walls may be adorned with five-lined skinks, small and shiny lizards. The females and young sport black stripes running down their backs and flashy blue tails. Males are gold with red heads. Green frogs and bullfrogs, snapping and painted turtles, and maybe even a snake or two will cross your path. Likely snakes include common garter snakes and black rat snakes. The northern copperhead, the only poisonous species in the area, is rare in the city and unlikely to be seen.

While spring in Washington boasts tree and shrub blooms—yoshino and kwanza cherries, dogwoods, mountain laurels, redbuds, azaleas—summer has colors all its own. Day lilies, herbs, meadow flowers such as asters and butterfly weed, and of course, ornamental crape-myrtles: these are plants you see coloring the view at the landscape level. If you don’t want to miss anything, remember that when it comes to appreciating nature, it pays to stop and look around at the small things. The unheralded jewelweed grows in clumps along waterways and moist woodland edges. Its tiny but spectacular blooms draw hummingbirds. The white and red clover and dandelions growing in the lawn attract many pollinating insects, and cottontail rabbits as well.

Growing up in the area, I spent many hours exploring the C&O Canal. If I imagine the tow path, it’s usually a still summer morning, with a bit of mist rising from the water, a dense overhang of American sycamore, tulip tree, and mighty oaks. Another persistent memory: Walking across the entrance bridge to Roosevelt Island, blue-backed barn swallows drifting over the water with a backdrop of tangled vegetation, a mix of vines, shrubs, and trees that made it easy for me to fall in love with tropical places. For if you spend July and August in Washington, D.C. you feel that the heat, and the bounty, of equatorial realms moved north for a spell.

youthHoward Youth is the author of Field Guide to the Natural World of Washington, D.C., published by Johns Hopkins Press.

Comments Off on Enjoying Nature During the D.C. Summer: Go Early, Go Often

Filed under Animals, Botany, Conservation, D.C., Kids, Life Science, Nature, Regional-Chesapeake Bay, Travel, Washington

The Press Reads: A Year Across Maryland

MackayOur summer Friday series on the blog, The Press Reads, features short excerpts from recent JHUP books to whet your appetite and inspire timely additions to your summer reading list. First up,  black-eyed susans and a trip Gettysburg from Bryan MacKay’s A Year across Maryland: A Week-by-Week Guide to Discovering Nature in the Chesapeake Region. Bryan is a senior lecturer emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of Hiking, Cycling, and Canoeing in Maryland: A Family Guide and Baltimore Trails: A Guide for Hikers and Mountain Bikers, both published by JHUP.

 

Black-eyed Susans in Bloom

The Maryland State Flower (officially, our “floral emblem”) is perhaps our best-known and best-loved wildflower of deep summer. A sun-loving plant, black-eyed susans do well in fields, along roadsides, and in gardens, in poor or rich soil, and regardless of whether the summer has been wet or dry. These lovely plants are annuals or short-lived perennials, but they produce seed in such quantity that they seem present every year. Black-eyed susans spread readily and are common to most of North America.

Black-eyed susans have composite flower heads with bright yellow “petals” and a chocolate to deep purple central disk. What appear to be petals actually are complete flowers, called ray flowers, with tiny reproductive structures present at the base of each. The central disk contains hundreds of very small flower buds organized in a tightly packed whorl. A close look will reveal that each day a few of the buds will bloom as tiny perfect yellow disk flowers, so small that they appear like yellow pollen atop the dark-colored disk.

Where to see black-eyed susans this week: Cultivated black-eyed susans are common in flower beds and on highway median strips where they have been planted. Power line right-of-ways, like those between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., often host the wild variety of black-eyed susans.

Rudbeckia_subtomentosa

 

Trip of the Week: Gettysburg National Military Park

What to see and do: Perhaps the most significant battle in American history took place during the first three days of July 1863, at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, just a few miles north of central Maryland. The large battlefield has been faithfully restored and maintained, and the National Park Service offers the opportunity to learn as much about the battle as you wish. To visit in early July and experience the heat and humidity as the soldiers did 150 years ago (except they were wearing heavy, often wool uniforms) heightens one’s appreciation of their valor and dedication to duty. While the battlefield can be toured by auto, perhaps the ideal way to explore the park is by bicycle, where it is a simple matter to dismount to view monuments, explore rarely visited byways, and enjoy fresh air and the sounds of nature. The Gettysburg battlefield is a strikingly attractive rolling landscape of forest and field that is well worth a visit for its natural features, in addition to its great historical significance

Naturalist’s tip: For years, whitetail deer were protected from hunting in the Gettysburg Park, but they reached a high population density and overgrazed delicate forest vegetation. Finally, when their browsing changed the appearance of the park from what it was in 1863, Park Service officials greatly reduced the herd size. The vegetation responded. Wildflowers soon re-populated the forest floor, tree seedlings began to grow to the sapling stage, and as a result the park now has a more natural appearance.

More information: Visit the National Park Service at www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm.

Comments Off on The Press Reads: A Year Across Maryland

Filed under Botany, Conservation, Gettysburg, Regional-Chesapeake Bay