And the winner is…

maple2_webYour favorite fall foliage comes from the Red Maple (Acer rubrum)!

This tree, native to Eastern North America, has grown even more numerous in the past 100 years. When the Chestnut Blight and Dutch Elm Disease swept through forests, it opened up space for the hardy Red Maple to move in. Add in the tree’s popularity in landscaping and you have one of the most common trees in America!

Beautiful, Delicious, Deadly
Those bright red leaves are lovely and the Red Maple produces maple syrup. But if you were a horse, Red Maples could be deadly. The wilted leaves contain a compound that damages the horses’ red blood cells.

Hemlock or Hemlock??


I have never poisoned anyone. I’ve just learned that if I were to try, I would be very bad at it. The hemlock I thought was poisonous turns out to just have an unfortunate common name. And rather than brewing up a batch of tainted tonic, I would apparently make my intended victim an aromatic cup of tea loaded in Vitamin C.

While hiking around the Appalachians this weekend, I spied tons of hemlock trees. “What a great post for October… Hemlock!” I thought and pulled out my sketchbook.

Sketch done, I hopped online to find out just how the poisoner killed Socrates. Uh oh, wait… it’s a different Hemlock?

Evidently, the poisonous hemlock is a small plant related to a carrot. Not THIS hemlock (the Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis) which is a tree known for its wonderful aroma – a sweet, fruity pine-like scent. Oils from the leaves and twigs are condensed and sold for home sprays, perfumes and some homeopathic uses (often listed under a non-Hemlock name though).

Perhaps the Eastern Hemlock would benefit if it produced a little poison though. Small insects called Wooly Adelgids are munching their way through every Eastern Hemlock in the southern Appalachians. Researchers are concerned that, if a solution is not found, most of the Eastern Hemlocks in this region could be gone in the next decade.

Pitch In – Help the Pitcher Plants

pitcherplantsCarnivorous plants have turned the tables on food webs. Rather than insects munching on plants, these plants chow down on insects.

The “traps” of pitcher plants are actually modified leaves. The flap (or operculum) prevents rain from entering the pitcher. The opening to the pitcher lures insects with nectar, but any bug that reaps the sweet reward will find a very slippery surface. Plop!! Into the digestive fluids at the bottom of the trap.

Many carnivorous plants are threatened or endangered. They live in marshy lands, the kind of places humans drain to build subdivisions and shopping centers. And since marshy areas are low spots in the terrain, chemicals like herbicides can wash from higher ground. People also love carnivorous plants to death – millions of pitcher plants have been dug up and sold to collectors.

What can you do to help the pitcher plants?
1) Support wetlands protection
2) Buy daisies, not carnivorous plants. Even if you buy the plants from a reputable source, it increases demand for these plants.

Good Grapes

Vitis rotundifoliaScientists are discovering new species all the time.
If you discovered a new species, what would you name it?

All known species of life are given scientific names. These names consist of two words – the Genus (the group they’re a part of) and the Species, or “specific epithet”. For this grape vine growing in my yard, its scientific name is Vitis rotundifolia (“vine with round leaves”).

Scientific names often describe the organism, though sometimes they’re named for people or places. Names are Latin because it’s a “dead” language so the meanings of words won’t change as people use them.

The names also help us figure out relationships between species. For instance, other grape species include Vitis barbata (“bearded vine”), Vitis sylvestri (“forest vine”) or Vitis monticola (“vine dwelling on the mountain”). Since they all have the same Genus name, we know they’re closely related to our grape.

 So, what would you name your new grape species? Vitis _____

 Here are some Latin word roots to help:
Ascendi – climb
Austr – south
Aqua – water
Bon – good
Callo – thick skin
Carpus – fruit
Folia – leaf
Gluco – sweet
Multi – many
Pannos – ragged
Plati – broad/wide
Purpur – purple
Rubri – red
Sola – sun
Strombi – spiral
Verdi – green