A novel idea

I started my career as an Arboretum educator knowing a fair amount about nature but not My_Side_of_the_Mountainalways knowing where that knowledge came from. I knew that cattail tubers could be roasted and eaten like potatoes, for instance, and that sassafras roots could be boiled to make a fragrant tea. I knew that acorns had to be soaked in water to rid them of inedible tannins, and that pine boughs would make a fairly soft bed.

But only a few weeks ago, while reading My Side of the Mountain to my son, did I realize that much of my early naturalist know-how was gleaned from its pages. My Side of the Mountain was one of my favorite childhood books, inspiring me to make forts in the woods, gather may apples, and, yes, run away from home (at least until dinnertime.) Obviously, the words of Jean Craighead George and her unforgettable character Sam Gribley had lingered long in my subconscious.

Books can serve as catalysts in many ways, and the Arboretum’s gift shop is full of wonderful nature books for both children and adults. Visit the gift shop Tuesday through Sunday to find literature that inspires your own outdoor adventure, be it gardening, foraging, birdwatching, hiking, camping, stargazing, or simply reading a good book under a shady tree.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

The great pokeberry debate

pokeberryI’m not one to disagree with the host of a party, particularly one who is a family friend and respected naturalist. But when that host makes a statement about the toxicity of pokeberries being overrated, what’s an environmental educator to do but raise the alarm to my fellow partygoers?

Just days earlier, I had taught a foraging class in which I explained that young pokeweed sprouts are edible only in the spring, before they’ve reached a height of six to eight inches. The plant becomes more toxic as it matures, and some experts argue that it’s not safe to eat at any stage in the growing process, despite the fact that “poke salet” was once a staple in the rural South.

All this is not to detract from the pokeweed plants’ benefits to wildlife, which are many. While poisonous to humans, the berries are an important food source to many bird species, as well as raccoons, foxes, possums, and white-footed mice. The juice of the pokeberry was traditionally used as a dye. In fact, an original copy of the Declaration of Independence was even written in pokeberry ink!

To give him credit, my host was armed with a scientific study that claimed it would take 45 pounds of pokeberries to kill an adult human. I briefly considered suggesting he put that claim to the test. But only very briefly. I like him too much.

Visit the Arboretum now to see lovely purple pokeberries in the meadow! Just don’t try eating them, please.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

Speaking and Garden Ranting

Originally posted on Eastern Shore Gardener:

I wanted to send out a reminder that I am speaking to the Chestertown Garden Club on Tuesday, September 8 at 11:15 a.m. The talk is at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, right on Fountain Square, 101 North Cross Street, Chestertown. The talk is open to the public, and I hope to see some of you there!  I will have copies of Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping available for sale.

Also, I am happy to report that I have been “Garden Ranted” today. Susan Harris and Ruth Rodgers Claussen visited my garden in August, and Susan posted about it today on Garden Rant. Since Susan lead with a photo of my handsome Border Collie mix Casey, I’ll post another photo of him here.


Above: Casey is in the process of training his replacement as my scheduling secretary. I’ll post a picture of his replacement, Charlie, when the transition is complete.

Upcoming Talks…

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Current art exhibit is “Finite and Alive”

On Saturday, August 15, a reception was held for the artist Rebecca Clark and her drawings, Finite and Alive.

Against the background of a beautiful native plant flower arrangement and a delicious spread of yummy food and wine, the public was treated to an up-close and personal opportunity to get to know Rebecca and to inquire about her style, technique, and the message behind her work.

The drawings in the gallery, on view through October 2, invite the viewer to examine closely the beauty and mystery of the vibrantly alive and the spirit that lingers after the death of a creature.

Using graphite, watercolor, and colored pencils, her delicate yet strong portrayal of birds, oysters, a deer, a fox, and other environmental subjects was inspiring to both artists and non-artists.

Kestrel 1 (Again, Alive, for Richard Skelton), graphite on paper, 16

Kestrel 1 (Again, Alive, for Richard Skelton), graphite on paper, 16″ x 20″

Reynard, graphite on paper, 30

Reynard, graphite on paper, 30″ x 22″

Oyster 11, graphite, colored pencil, watercolor pastel and oil pastel on paper, 11

Oyster 11, graphite, colored pencil, watercolor pastel and oil pastel on paper, 11″ x 14″

Rebecca, late for having been caught in a Bay Bridge back-up, entered the gallery smiling and relaxed, to applause from us all. She made herself available to her friends and new folks who sought to connect with her and her work.

The underlying message, a ‘memento mori’ that all of life is transient, emphasizes, in her words, “the interconnectedness in nature and our loss of connection  with the sacred.”

Treat yourself to this show and be drawn into a quiet and introspective investigation of the creatures we share this planet with in various stages of their life cycles.  And check out her very lovely website for even more of this artist’s inspiring vision.

by Anna Harding
Arboretum docent, Maryland Master Naturalist

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Red-winged Blackbird / The Epaulet Bird

Originally posted on brighamstephen:

Red-winged Blackbird-0201 Agelaius phoeniceus

Epaulets have been around since the 17th century signifying military rank, authority, and strength, projecting power over all who may doubt. Over the years they got bigger and more gawdy with ridiculous tassels and fringes to where they got into the way of actually fighting the war.  A colorful form of them also appears on the academic robes at each graduation season.  Chief Justice Rehnquist surprised us when he donned them on his judicial robe at the impeachment trial of President Clinton.  In all cases they make a statement; I’m important, don’t mess with me.

King Oscar II of Sweden King Oscar II of Sweden

Who has not welcomed the trill of the Red-winged Blackbird in early spring, beating its rivals to the prime marshland and grassy fields, staking out a breeding territory for the season.  I know this is a common North American bird, seen coast to coast and Canada to Mexico…

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