A September squirrel saga


Every naturalist knows that only those trained in wildlife rehabilitation should take in wounded animals. I know this. But when confronted with a lame squirrel (courtesy of my dog) and a tearful five-year-old (okay, maybe I was the tearful one), what’s a mom to do? With flies already descending on the still and suffering animal, the answer was obvious: wrap the squirrel in an old picnic blanket and deposit him in a bin equipped with water, oak leaves, acorns, hickory nuts, and sassafras.

I realized at the time that there were three distinct outcomes to this course of action: a.) the squirrel could die, b.) the squirrel could magically heal, and c.) the squirrel could live but remain lame. Hello, pet squirrel? Probably illegal, and definitely not on my wish list.

Luckily, fortune shone on my family and Sammy. The squirrel spent most of the afternoon and evening curled in a tight ball, occasionally dragging himself across the bin for a snack. My daughter visited frequently with her sketchbook, supplying our fridge with a slew of sketches in the style of “Beatrix Potter meets Kindergartner.” We went to bed, dreaming of squirrels.

I dreaded the morning squirrel check-in. What if we found Sammy cold and lifeless beneath his pile of oak leaves? But no. Sammy was bright-eyed and bushy tailed, perched on his haunches and peering at his captors with beady black eyes. I sent my daughter to school, pondering the next step.

Apparently, Sammy was the master of his own fate. When I checked an hour later, the screen frame that covered Sammy’s bin was ajar, and Sammy was gone. I like to think that we gave Sammy a night safe from predators, time to heal his wounded legs, and some tasty treats to speed his recovery.

Squirrel enthusiasts like myself are sure to spy leafy, spherical squirrel nests—called dreys—on their woodland walks at Adkins Arboretum, as well as squirrels themselves, intent on preparing for the coming winter. The Arboretum provides prime squirrel habitat: lots of sturdy hardwood trees for nesting, an abundance of acorns and hickory nuts, and, best of all, no large, shaggy dogs intent on a squirrel supper.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

Plan your landscape with help from the Arboretum’s Native Landscape Design Center


There’s just enough time to complete your landscape design in time for the first phase of planting this fall. With fall’s cooler weather, now is a great time to think about how you want to enjoy your outdoor areas, and how to incorporate more beautiful, ecologically beneficial natives into your landscape.

Adkins Arboretum’s Native Landscape Design Center offers a unique Co-Design Service: four meetings with a professional designer who will help you craft your ideas into a well-planned landscape. The first meeting is at your home, with a walk-though and discussion about your goals. The next three meetings are held at Adkins, where you will develop your concept, select plants, and learn about how and when to plant.

The Co-Design Service includes help with county mitigation requirements, planting to reduce mowing, enhancing cherished views, screening not-so-cherished views, as well as taking a look at how you would like to enjoy your outdoor space more, and how to make that happen. With professional guidance, your native landscape is much more likely to succeed.

The timing is up to you, but the process typically takes 3-5 weeks. If you are interested or would like additional information, contact Chris Pax at cpax@adkinsarboretum.org to be on your way toward creating a more beautiful landscape.



There is a season

I was somewhat dismayed to find my daughter festooning the fridge with paintings of pumpkins and bats today. It seems September has barely arrived, and Halloween is more than 45 days away (yes, we counted). This is the time to celebrate shiny red apples. Or, better yet, native paw paws.

Asimina triloba - paw paw

Asimina triloba – paw paw

Perhaps what I love most about nature is its inability to be rushed. Winter will not arrive on November 1 just because the malls have adorned themselves with Christmas decorations. Tulips bloom when they’re ready, not when chocolate rabbits appear on store shelves.

We live in a society that’s always ready for the next big thing. Time spent in nature forces us to contemplate the here and now, whether that’s summer’s fireflies or the delicate bare branches of winter.

There is no pigeonholing nature, either. I know that lady slippers emerge from the forest floor sometime in early May, but the exact day is a mystery until it arrives. Weather conditions, changes in soil composition, the growth of neighboring plants: these are the supporting actors in the lady slipper’s starring role.

Most of us are so busy with the demands of work and home that finding time to check in with the outdoors is rare. We miss the phases of the moon, forget to watch the tides. Luckily, for now at least, nature hasn’t gone anywhere. We’re the ones who are missing.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

Nature’s forecasters


Photo by Daniel D’Auria

Every year, my dad and I look forward to the return of the Canada geese. Often, we’ll mark their arrival to Maryland with a phone call: “I heard them last night!” or “The geese are back!” My home lies directly in their flyway, and I like to stand in the backyard as they hurry noisily over me. It’s no wonder that one of my son’s first words was “geese.”

This year, I heard the first flock go over in mid-August. Curious as to whether early migration is a sign of a hard winter ahead, I did some online research. My efforts turned up little beyond myth. The most scientific information I could find came from a naturalist who wrote that geese migrate when their food sources—grasses, berries, roots, algae, seeds—become scarce, not in anticipation of frigid weather.

During my foray into the correlation between geese migration and weather forecasting, I came across a host of unproven but interesting natural weather predictors. The Farmer’s Almanac includes the following in its signs of a hard winter:

  • Early migration of monarchs
  • Early seclusion of bees within the hive
  • Early arrival of crickets on the hearth
  • Unusual abundance of acorns
  • Raccoons with thick tails and bright bands
  • Muskrats burrowing holes high on the riverbank
  • Spiders spinning larger than usual webs and entering the house in great numbers

While weather predictions based on nature are unreliable, nature can be used to observe the effects of weather. For example, dry leaves are crunchy when humidity is low and flexible when humidity is high. Pine cones close up in moist weather to protect their seeds. Feathery cirrus clouds indicate fair weather, while blanketed stratus clouds signal precipitation. When leaves rustle, wind is moving at a speed of 4 to 7 miles per hour. When large trees sway, wind speed is between 28 to 32 miles per hour.

Homeschool students can learn more about nature and weather in the Arboretum’s eight-week fall program The Science of Weather for Homeschoolers. As for the rest of you, consider using the fall season to prepare for a hard winter: in my home at least, the crickets have begun invading and the spiders are spinning some impressive webs.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator



A fairytale flower

If magic exists, then our children have a monopoly on it. Take the day my daughter appeared in the kitchen with an upturned hibiscus blossom on her head.

Cora3 006
Instant magic! She came demanding a spoon for the mixing of flower petals into pixie dust. My son joined her with the understanding that they would play Legos after they learned how to fly.

Hibiscus moscheutos, also known as rose mallow or marsh mallow hibiscus, is native to our region and a favorite among gardeners as well as aspiring fairies. This magical perennial blooms in white to deep rose with a center of maroon. In true fairytale fashion, each flower lasts only a day. Flowers can grow up to eight inches across (fit for a giant’s garden!) and bloom from mid-summer to fall.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and other nectar feeders are attracted to hibiscus. In nature, Hibiscus moscheutos thrives in moist areas, such as brackish marshes, swamps, and lakesides. In the garden, they should be planted in warm, sunny areas with moisture-retentive soil.

Some gardeners, like my grandfather, prefer to plant their hibiscus in a container. A less than magical childhood memory involves helping him lug his mammoth-sized potted hibiscus into the basement each fall. Fortunately, the rose mallow hibiscus is hardy enough to withstand a cold winter. Its blackened stalks can be cut to the ground after the first hard frost; new growth will emerge in spring.

To add a bit of magic to your garden, be sure to visit the Arboretum’s Native Plant Nursery for its Fall Open House, where the enchanting Hibiscus x ‘Kopper King’ will reign among the perennials.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator