The gatekeepers

There they sat, like black, lumpy beads strung across the roofline. A baker’s dozen, "Cathartes aura -Florida -USA -upper body-8" by Dori - originally posted to Flickr as 20100130_9526. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cathartes_aura_-Florida_-USA_-upper_body-8.jpg#/media/File:Cathartes_aura_-Florida_-USA_-upper_body-8.jpgnot fit for any pie. Who knows when they arrived—a month, two months after the old house became empty? I had watched them on my daily walks for several weeks, trying but not succeeding to admire their dark feathers and hunched silhouettes.

Despite my personal ambivalence, turkey vultures, also known as buzzards, were viewed favorably in ancient times. The Mayans knew them as death eaters, believing they could convert death into life. To the Egyptians, vultures were the gatekeepers to the Underworld. Native American shamans interpreted vulture flight as a way to reveal weather and omens. In Greek mythology, vultures symbolized the oneness of heaven and earth, and ancient Assyrians saw in them the union between day and night.

Vultures are the false gold of my students, who unfailingly identify them as hawks until I point out the characteristic teeter-totter of their otherwise smooth glide. A knowledge of this bird’s ecological importance is a lesson in itself: while the thought of carrion for dinner is unpleasant, even more unpleasant is that of a world devoid of scavengers and decomposers. The vulture has its place in the food web, as well as legal protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

While the sight of twelve vultures roosting on a roofline may be off-putting, there is an admitted majesty to that of one vulture soaring over Adkins Arboretum’s meadows. With a wingspan of up to 72 inches, the vulture is an easy sighting for beginning birders and nature enthusiasts. Visiting the Arboretum in search of hawks may or may not be successful, but visiting to spy a vulture will almost never disappoint.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

**Visit the Arboretum Sunday, March 29 for Tree Rings 102, a family-friendly program that is part of the Arboretum’s Outdoor Explorers series. You’re almost sure to see a vulture overhead.**

What’s in bloom?

spring beauty

spring beauty

What’s happening in our gardens and in the woods? I am finding that my trees, shrubs, and bulbs are about two to three weeks behind due to the record cold winter temperatures. So enjoying many of the March and April blooms this spring may start a little later. This is great news because you haven’t missed anything! There is plenty of time to get outdoors and enjoy the blooms and sounds of spring. Come walk in the Arboretum woods and look for ephemerals like spring beauty and bloodroot.  American beech is still holding last year’s leaves, but soon will they finally be pushed off by new spring growth. Soon the bullfrogs will be singing in the wetland as you cross the bridge. The sounds last for a short time, so don’t let spring at the Arboretum pass you by. Make time to enjoy the outdoors–I hope to see you on the paths!

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services Coordinator
Certified Professional Horticulturist

Soup ‘n Walk report – February 21

This report captures the enjoyment of the February 21 Soup ‘n Walk program. Join the March Soup ‘n Walk this Saturday, March 21 at 11 a.m. Click here for more information.

For the past few years, we have talked about getting snow for our February Soup ‘n Walk. Well, we got snow last Tuesday, and it was still on the ground by Saturday. But many who had signed up did not come because the forecast for this Saturday afternoon was not good. That said, only 8 of the 19 who had reservations came today. Those who were here had a wonderful time walking in the snow and enjoying the lunch and talk afterward. The weather for the morning walk was crisp, and the woods blocked the breeze. The bad weather came later in the afternoon, and mostly on the Western Shore.

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On our snowy trek, we did find a few early skunk cabbage blooms poking through the snow when we peered over the first bridge. Some already knew about the chemical reaction that helps the skunk cabbage melt through the snow and helps entice the few flies around to pollinate. The snow was soft and crunchy underfoot. We noticed the change in sound from the bridge to the trail. So quiet as we stepped off the bridge onto the trail.

emerging skunk cabbage

emerging skunk cabbage

Many of the trees were showing the start of leaves at the tips of the branches. We especially looked at the paw paw, with its soft paw at the tip. Beech tree leaves were still on some of the younger trees, and we could detect the new copper-colored bullet-shaped leaves ready to pop and push off the old papery leaves. The last of the translucent leaves made a whispery sound in the breeze. Hearts a’ bursting were showing red leaftips at the edges of the green branches.

beech leaves

beech leaves

Digging through the snow, we found a few cranefly orchid leaves that we carefully covered again. As we left the woods, my companion turned to me and said, turn around. Look how lovely the woods look from here. I agreed and mentioned that this view is again special to me when the dogwood set their lacy blooms under the trees in April. He said he would be back.

The green moss was mostly covered with snow, but down close to the Blockston Branch banks we could see just a little green. Most of the green was visible on the holly leaves, Virginia and loblolly pines, and red cedar trees. Green was also visible on greenbriar branches and hearts a’ bursting. The milkweed pods in the meadow against the snow also attracted our attention. Someone mentioned the zebra butterflies at the paw paw trees and monarchs at the milkweed patch. We are getting the word out.

milkweed pods

milkweed pods

The smell of hot kale, corn, and black bean soup greeted us at the Visitor’s Center. We chowed down on the Eastern Shore cole slaw and ancient grain bread with spinach spread, and enjoyed the warm dried fruit compote with vanilla yogurt and wheat germ. All of these are hearty winter foods to remind us of the season outdoors. There was a discussion of the good nutrition in these foods, and all received the supplement cookbook with these and more recipes as a tenth anniversary gift from me. Zaida W. had brought samples of some of the seeds, leaves, and berries from outdoors, and we identified them. Many said they were appreciative of the discussions and information.

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We had enough food ordered for 19 guests plus docent volunteers, so there was plenty extra. Zaida had brought many containers, and guests and volunteers all had plenty to take home. The guests were all smiles and said they had a wonderful time and would be back. This truly is a great showcase for the Arboretum.

The volunteers and staff who helped have my many thanks. With help from Pat B., Mary Jo K., Pat R., Clara Mae S., and Zaida W., we were able to set up, greet the guests, do the tour, serve lunch, and clean up. It was a superb effort from everyone. Lynn L helped bring some of the dessert. Robyn, Allison, Diana, and staff helped with some of the preparations. Thanks to all.

by Julianna Pax
Arboretum docent naturalist

Happy spring (at last!)

Spring is coming! The first day is this Friday, March 20! We are all longing for warmer temperatures and longer days of sunlight, and we are excited to hear the frogs and birds sing again in their annual chorus.

Spring peeper. Photo by Ann Rohlfing.

Spring peeper. Photo by Ann Rohlfing.

It’s time to plant those cool season organic vegetables like peas, broccoli, lettuce, kale, and spinach. Remember to think about plant nectar sources for pollinators and host plants for the butterflies when planting new native perennials. Plan your new planting areas on exposure to sun, shade, wind, and make sure that a water source is close by. New beds should have a soil test done before planting vegetables or flowers. Remember to compost soil with good organic matter.

If you make one change in the garden this season, I hope you will have less lawn and more plants in your garden, and that the area you do mow is mowed with a mulch mower. These environmental mowers mulch your grass clipping right back on your lawn to feed natural nitrogen. No racking, no bagging, no need to fertilize! Gardening made so easy.

Happy spring!

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services Coordinator
Certified Professional Horticulturist

Springing forward with furry friends

756Now that the weather is getting nicer, remember to walk your dog at Adkins Arboretum every Thursday at 10 a.m. with dog expert and Board member Vicki Arion. Watch spring pop while walking your best friend. Catch the spicebush in bloom with its beautiful early show of yellow flowers. Look for the maroon-colored “hoods” of skunk cabbage as they poke through the soil of the forest floor. Watch for the structure of the fiddleheads of Christmas fern emerge and the delightful spring ephemeral, including bloodroot. Enjoy the wonders of the Arboretum as you take a walk with your dog. Hope to see you on the trails!

by Robyn Affron
Visitor Services Coordinator
Certified Professional Horticulturist