Rain again. Bring it on! Native plants continue to come on the scene. Have you noticed the blooming willows or catkinning pecans? Can you tell the difference between Sow Thistle and Wild Lettuce? Just what is that pile of white spit at the base of some of your grasses and shorter plants? Follow for more...

May 9 2013 Blog

Becky Carlberg

The accumulated rainfall from last night and early this morning was 0.97 inches at my house.  It came in two heavy downpours.  Great!  Maybe more precipitation tonight!

My continuing walk amongst the emerging green scene as spring progresses now takes me past the willow.  Did you know the willows are now blooming?  The native is the Black Willow (Salix nigra) that prefers wet soils, so you see these guys near creeks, wet ditches and ponds.  Willows come in male and female trees.  Botanically speaking they are dioecious.  Both male and female trees produce catkins (fuzzy flexible dangling “pipe cleaners” with tiny embedded yellow male or female flowers).  Most trees that produce the hanging catkins are wind pollinated, but willows are visited by native bumble bees.  Willow leaves, twigs and bark contain salicylic acid, the same ingredient in aspirin, and were chewed by Native Americans for pain relief.  Actually, some butterfly species munch on the leaves during their caterpillar state.

Go visit the Oklahoma Pollinator Short Course site (below), hosted by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.  It does consist of several pages, but is a pictorial display with descriptions covering many aspects of pollinators.  Discover the life cycle of bumble bees as well as other bees and pollinators found in Oklahoma.

www.kerrcenter.com/.../Oklahoma-pollinator-short-course-slides.pdf

Pecan (Carya illinoensis), the smart tree, waited for the cold to leave and is just now leafing out.  Both the longer staminate (male) and short pistillate (female) catkins are on the same tree.  They appear as textured green mini-mops hanging from the outside branches.  Pecans are wind-pollinated, the reason why the catkins are positioned at the outside edges.  The pecan fruit is not technically a nut, but a fruit known as a drupe.  Drupes have a seed inside a shell.  Think of peaches and plums, but they have a thick fleshy covering over the shell, or pit.  Pecans and walnuts have a much drier inedible husk over the shell, but we love the seeds inside.   

Follow the link for an interesting take on the difference between nuts and fruits:  http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/04/what-are-the-differences-between-nuts-and-drupes.html

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) has started its bloom cycle.  Growing along the roads and in fields, these purple-blue flowered, thick-stemmed plants delight the eyes.  The unwieldy scientific name comes from homage to the English Naturalists father and son John Tradescant the Elder (1570s to 1638) and John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662).  The Elder was a demon gardener and collector, and friend of Englishman John Smith of Jamestown, Virginia fame (leader of Virginia colony, first permanent English settlement in North America, from 1607-1609.  Pocahontas was involved with the native Powhatan ritual that indoctrinated Smith into the tribe, so it is said).  Smith left the colony in 1609 returning to England permanently. 

Wild Lettuce (Lactuca serriola or synonym Lactuca scariola) is beginning to gain height.  Eventually it may raise its head over five feet high. Often found near Sow Thistle, closer examination will point out the differences between the two similar plants.  As with Sow Thistle, wild lettuce tapers up to its narrow set of very small yellow flower heads found at the very top.  Sow Thistle has a thicker, often purple stalk, and much spinier leaves.  It matures and blooms earlier than wild lettuce. 

The wild lettuce growing along the road is the closest wild relative to store-bought lettuce.  The young leaves now visible, somewhat rich in certain vitamins and minerals, may be eaten raw or cooked.  They have a slight bitter flavor.  The plant emits latex when cut anywhere, the leaves and veins are prickly, and wild lettuce has sleep-inducing properties.

Spittle has been deposited at the base of many native perennials, especially the Pediomelum species.  These plants used to be Psoralea but are still commonly known as Indian Breadroot.  Spittlebugs are in the Cercopidae family, and the nymphs (insect stage right before adulthood) produce protective covers of frothy plant sap that looks like spit, fondly called snake spit or frog spit or even cuckoo spit.  It insulates the immature insects and provides a moisture retention barrier.  Spittlebugs are also known as “Froghoppers”.  They are the same size and resemble leafhoppers.  The mature Spittlebug has huge leg muscles that operate like a catapult, and some froghoppers can jump up nearly 30 inches in one leap.  

Last are the Roly Polies (Armadillidium vulgare), or pill bugs.  They certainly can dry down and adhere tightly to tile if previously stepped on and not immediately removed.  These harmless bugs roll their segmented bodies up into balls if threatened, thus their scientific name that reminds one of an Armadillo.  The roly polies are congregating around the bases of all my potted plants, or in and under the drip pans, or patiently wait by all the doors for the right moment to crawl into the house.  They unwittingly provide food for many other organisms, so don’t bother too much with these little investigative creatures.  Just have them roll up into a ball and toss them outside!

It won’t be long before summer hits.  Take a hint from the birds and enjoy the spring.