Birds, bees and blooms

IN WOODED OR brushy areas you may be startled by a young deer, a fawn, that darts out of nearby shelter. After birth, fawns will hide in dense grass of brushy areas. In a few weeks, they will begin following their mothers. Young bucks are the first to leave this grouping, while young doe will stick with their mothers for upwards of a year. Sometimes they will have their own young and form long-term colonies with their parent. Fawns usually lose their spots within six months.

Plants are blooming, birds and bees are buzzing

Monarch caterpillars have been munching on milkweed, their host plant, and are now emerging as butterflies.

A monarch butterfly and caterpillar on a milkweed plant.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Benson

Blackberries are out; wineberries will be coming in a few weeks.

Hummingbirds are enjoying the opening of monarda (bee balm), a dark maroon or deep pink plant well over 3 feet tall. The birds whiz in from adjacent nests and sip the nectar. Hummingbirds are attracted to red, and some birdwatchers recommend tying red ribbons in the garden to attract them early in the season. You can also attract them with a diverse garden of native plants.

Tadpoles have emerged as small baby toads ... they are everywhere!

Sumacs and tree of heaven

Both staghorn sumac and smooth sumac are native shrubs, or small trees, that bloom this time of year, developing reddish berry clusters. The hardy berry clusters turn dark in the winter and provide emergency food for birds and other wildlife. Sumacs become a showy red in the fall. The leaves are similar to the Asian invasive tree of heaven (ailanthus altissima), that has become one of the most common trees to self-generate along highways and in other disturbed areas. Ailanthus lacks native competitors in our area and releases toxins in the soil that retard competition. Ailanthus has large yellow flowers and develops reddish seed bunches that hang down. To remove an ailanthus tree, it must be chemically treated. If it is cut down, dozens more

will sprout from the roots.

Defoliation and tree health

If you are in the Thurmont area you might notice some trees have “lost” their leaves. You are probably witnessing gypsy moth defoliation. Gypsy moths emerged from their egg masses in early May as larvae and have been feeding on tree leaves ever since. Nearly 40,000 acres of forest were sprayed to control this destructive beast, but it hasn’t prevented local populations from stripping trees of their leaves.

The normal leaf color for most trees is a deep shade of green. When foliage deviates from this it could be the result of an insect, disease or an environmental condition that is affecting the tree. If acid-loving plants, like pin oak, have yellowish leaves, it is usually the result of soil with a basic pH, so the essential element iron is not available. Iron is necessary for the green chlorophyll that leaves need to get their energy from the sun. To remedy this, lower the soil pH with amendments like alum (aluminum sulfate) or sulfur, or add an iron source to the soil. The best advice is to check the pH of the soil before selecting a tree or shrub to plant.

Nature Note for 7/20/2008