Berry-picking time

BLUEBERRIES and huckleberries are beginning to ripen and it should be good picking by the end of the week. Don’t forget wine berries are out in full force now.

Blueberry fruits are important food for grouse, bobwhite, turkey, mourning dove and numerous songbirds such as thrushes, bluebird and scarlet tananger. Animals such as black bear, foxes, rabbit, skunk, fox squirrel and chipmunk readily eat fruit, twigs and leaves of blueberries. Deer will eat the fruits and browse twigs and leaves.

The dense colonies of low blueberries provide shelter and nest sites for many smaller mammals and birds such as grouse and junco, and for rabbits and chipmunks. Highbush blueberries, which can grow to 12 feet and prefer moist soil, while low blueberries grow in drier areas.

The periodic and annual cicadas are becoming active now. Besides the loud buzzing noise that has been measured at 120 Db, the cicada can cause “branch flagging,” the browning up of leaves at the tips of the branches. This damage is part of their egg-laying activity in which the female cuts a slit on the branch to deposit her eggs.

Flagging at the ends of branches is also occurring on some fruit trees as a result of fire blight. A fungus causes the branch ends to look as if they were singed by fire. The cool, wet spring weather created conditions favorable for fire blight.

Coneflowers are now in bloom. The flowers make great flower arrangements. In winter, the petals eventually fall, leaving a striking brown-gold conehead. Goldfinches and other birds love to eat the seeds in winter, hanging upside down on the bare coneheads, picking seeds from the centers.

Plant coneflowers in borders with other native plants, and specifically with black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia), or naturalize them in drifts along with Russian sage, yarrow, penstemons and blue flax. There are several native echinacea in North America, as well as cutleaf coneflower, a tall yellow coneflower in the Rudbeckia family.

Many hybrids are available now in nurseries. Native varieties can be started from seed, but the new coneflower hybrids need to be purchased as plants. If you plant the new varieties, watch to see if butterflies, hummingbirds and birds use them for food.

Nature Notes for 7/26/2009