Monday, September 29, 2008


The kousa berries are turning more of a purple color. When I picked one, it squashed in my hands. And surprise! The pulp tastes sweet now!

For several days I have watched this eastern gray squirrel, sciurus carolinensis, helping himself to kousa berries.

The gray squirrels are as common here as anywhere else on the East Coast. They have been getting fat on acorns in the back yard this month.

We also have red squirrels, tamiasciurus hudsonicus.

These guys primarily eat conifer seeds, but that didn’t stop this one from raiding the suet birdfeeder last winter. Unlike the jovial gray squirrels, these pretty little things are solitary and feisty. They are highly territorial and want nothing to do with other squirrels or humans. During the winter I watched this one chase a gray squirrel almost twice his size away from the suet feeder, and I realized he was still living in our yard this past week when he scolded me, quite loudly, for being out on the deck.

Hey bub, the deck is my territory!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Visiting Photographer

Jen Gordy took this picture in our backyard earlier this month.

Meanwhile I took this picture of Jen taking her picture. This is what a serious photographer looks like!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tragically Beautiful

What a lovely shrub this is.

It’s a shame that we have to kill it. This is the poison sumac, Toxicodendron Vernix, that hangs over the back lawn. I toyed with the notion of keeping it as a beneficial plant for the wildlife, because the berries fed the birds all last winter. But now that we have friends who bring their small children to visit, and our own child who will be mobile in another year, it has become an obvious threat. The bush hangs where visitors could easily touch it, and nothing about this plant looks remotely dangerous.

Right now the plant is somewhat distinctive because it has drupes of white berries, and the foliage is turning a beautiful range of yellow, red, and purple. But during the rest of the year it is deceptively plain and green. Nobody - and I do mean nobody! - knows how to identify this plant. Which is why, I suspect, the previous owners let it grow next to their lawn to begin with. They must have suffered from many mysterious rashes.

Although I have read nothing to suggest this is true, I suspect poison sumac comes in a male and female variety, because there is a second tree that appears to be poison sumac beside this one, but it has not produced berries. I wasn’t sure that the second tree was poison sumac at all, because it is much taller than this one – a good thirty feet, in fact. Poison sumac isn’t supposed to get more than ten or fifteen feet tall.

I’ll know for sure when I test it, assuming I can work up the nerve to test it.

It’s Terrible – Taste It!

I have been inviting everyone to taste the Japanese dogwood fruit. It’s amazing how many people will eagerly taste something when you tell them that it tastes bad.

Here is little Grayson’s reaction.

The neighborhood kids decided a more fitting name for the kousa fruits was “dingleberries”. For the uninitiated, “dingleberry” is slang for poo that’s left hanging from the fur of the rear end of a cat.

Marna suspects that the fruits simply aren’t ripe yet. I hope she is right!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Weekend Critters

I got a better photo of mister groundhog when I took the screen off of the bedroom window.

There were many chipmunks about. This one lets me get within ten feet.

Japanese Plants in our Garden

Our blog-friend Hero, who lives in Japan, inspired me to find out what plants in our garden are from Japan.

Acer Palmatum, Japanese Maple.

I have fond childhood memories of a Japanese maple. These trees have such lovely color!

I would like to trim the branches so that the tree looks more like a bonsai. Also so that I can get to the spigot without hitting my head.

Pachysandra terminalis, Pachysandra

This ground-cover grows where little else will: under our deck!


Deer love to eat hosta, but so far they have only nibbled at our hostas a little.

Cornus Kousa, Kousa Dogwood

The flowers were lovely earlier in the year. Now the strange red fruits are even lovelier. They look like katamari. And they are edible! But alas, they have an uninteresting flavor, somewhat bitter, and the texture is unpleasant – rubbery on the outside, and like a gritty orange custard inside. Perhaps the flavor can be improved by cooking.

But I am happy to have yet another edible plant in the yard, even though I don’t like the taste. Perhaps the birds will enjoy the fruit.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Close Encounter of the Deer Kind

Today while Gabe napped I did some weeding out back. I had my back turned to the woods, and I was thinking to myself “wouldn’t it be wacky if the deer snuck up behind me right now?” I wondered if such an encounter would be a bubbly Disney moment, or something more like a creepy horror movie. Attack of the Killer Deer! And I’m not making this up: moments later there was a noise of something bashing its way through the leaves, and our resident fawn walked out of the woods thirty feet away from me.

His mother wasn’t with him this time, from what I could tell. But it is about time he left her, anyway; he is as big as her, and his spots are almost gone. I think he is in his rebellious teenager stage.

So, our rebellious Bambi looked long and hard at me – and walked closer, one hesitant step at a time. He got as far as the swing, which was about twenty feet from me. I crouched down to look less scary, and turned my head to the side so that I would look less like a predator. The only thing between us was my bucket of weeds. Bambi watched me, and nibbled the grass, and watched me some more.

I thought of chasing him off, to teach him to be properly fearful of humans. After all, I have seen both a deer hunting perch and a bow hunter both within a few miles. But. . . I’m greedy. I had this amazing encounter all to myself! I didn’t want to give that up. So I went back to pulling weeds, all the while peeking at the skittish yearling who couldn’t seem to quite make up his mind if I was safe enough to graze near.

After a few minutes, Gabe’s cry came over the baby monitor, and I shot to my feet out of habit. Bambi gave what sounded like an annoyed snort, and he leapt back into the cover of the trees. But he stopped there and looked at me some more. Figuring it wouldn’t hurt at that point to see how he reacted to my voice, I said “you’re beautiful”. Surprisingly – though not much was surprising to me by then - he didn’t bolt. But as soon as I moved, he took off at a leisurely trot. I watched him fade into the swamp.

The encounter was closer to a Disney moment than a horror-movie clip, as it turns out, but thankfully there was no singing.

Our resident groundhog continues to forage near the swing, as well. But he wants nothing to do with humanity, which may have something to do with being caught in our trap. He dives under the porch with silent ninja speed when he hears anyone get close. I have been thinking of transplanting ferns around the porch specifically to give him more cover.

This is the best photo I have of him so far. I took it from the kitchen window.

It turns out that “woodchuck” is just another name for “groundhog”.

Our bunnies continue to be brazen! This young one was grazing right by the front door.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Choate Park

Yesterday I took Gabe to a farmer’s market at Choate Park in Medway. Except the farmer’s market was nowhere to be found. But we had a nice walk.

There were several types of goldenrod in bloom. As with asters, I am not inclined to learn the specific types, even though it is native. There are just an overwhelming number of varieties, and they are all uniformly yellow. Bla.

Joe-pye weed, eupatorium purpureum, is also in bloom. Butterflies love this stuff. It is native as well, and it is unfortunate that it has "weed" in its name, because it makes a lovely garden plant.

There were some crazy mushrooms by the ball park. They were as much as eight inches tall!

I don’t know what this water plant is, but I love it.

The stroller wasn’t really made for rolling over gravel. Gabe got irritable with me for all the bouncing and jiggling.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More Wildlife

Yesterday the yard was downright hopping with critters. In the front was a pair of bunnies eating the lawn and a chipmunk. In back, squirrels doing gymnastics to get at the crop of acorns, more chipmunks, and our groundhog, who is now roly-poly fat. Three times now he has gone diving under the porch or into the woods as I attempted to get close with a camera. And a large bird of prey invited itself to the party, no doubt viewing the territory as one big, furry salad bar; but it flew low into the woods when I failed my camera stealth check yet again.

The brazen bunnies, however, let me get within about thirty feet of them. I got down on my knees and elbows to steady the camera.

I imagine some of the party had to do with the garden fence being removed. Chris has decided the garden is done for the year.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Backyard Visitors

Chris stayed home today with a migraine. He woke me from a nap to tell me that I had a phone call - and there were deer in the yard. I took the phone and sent him off with the camera to try to get some pictures.

This mother and faun have been hanging about our neighborhood, but it I the first time they have stayed for any length of time in our yard while we have been there. I watched them graze for ten minutes when I was done on the phone, and then I went downstairs to find that Chris had crept like a ninja out into the sun-room, where he was taking shot after shot after shot – sometimes with a deer just ten feet away.

The deer hung shyly to the shade at first, but then ventured a little into the sun to eat the grass. They also grazed on winterberry, maple, and a few other understory plants that I couldn’t identify. They also grazed quite a bit on the pile of lawn clippings topping our compost pile. But they seemed too shy of the open yard to venture to the hostas growing close to the house.

Deer tongue!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Monotropa Uniflora, a.k.a. Indian Pipe

It turns out that the seed-pods that I found last winter in my backyard were, indeed, Indian pipe! This is the most mysterious plant I have ever come across. Because of its otherworldly white color and brief flowering, it looks like a mushroom. It used to be thought that this plant just lived off of decaying plant matter. It has no chlorophyll, but instead gets its energy from a fungus, which in turn lives in symbiosis with the roots of a few types of tree roots. Monotropa uniflora appears to be a parasite on this fungus, but there is some speculation that at some point in its life-cycle it may exist in some sort of symbiosis with the fungus. (Alas, I did not bookmark the source of that information back when I found it.)

Because of the ticks and poison ivy and my pregnancy, I didn’t venture into my back yard this summer until too late. The Indian pipe had returned this year – hooray! But all that remained was a fresh patch of seed-pods.

However, I did come across another patch of the plant about a quarter mile away while pushing the baby in the stroller. This patch was in a surprisingly exposed area, right next to the sidewalk, and it apparently had waited a bit later to bloom. Unfortunately I waited a couple of days to return with the camera, so the edges of the plant were already starting to go black.

A week or two later, and the heads of the flowers had turned upwards as they make their transformation into seed-pods.

Getting the photos was a bit awkward, because the property is just on the other side of a hedge from a house where there never fail to be children in the yard. I am afraid the parents might have been suspicious of the strange woman crouching behind a bush with a camera in hand. Thus the blur, as I hastily snapped the photos and fled.