July 23, 2014

Plant of the Month: Wild Columbine

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This plant, Aquilegia canadensis--common names, Wild Columbine or Eastern Red Columbine--is following me wherever I go this spring/summer. Do you ever get that feeling? That you're seeing the same plant everywhere?

I haven't left my own state this growing season, but I've been in the north, the south, and the middle sections of Wisconsin--in shade and sun and dappled-in-between. Places with sandy soil, clay soil, and loamy soil.

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This native Columbine seems happy in just about every location--even growing out of rocks, as I mentioned in my last post. It's reblooming in a new pollinator garden I helped establish--out in south-facing, bright sun at the edge of a farm field.

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I've noticed Wild Columbine for most of my life, of course, but this year seems to be an especially good year for it and I seem to be particularly in love with it.

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One especially nifty aspect of this plant, which I didn't realize until recently, is that it competes quite well with our non-native, invasive Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). During a hike in one of our state parks earlier this season, we noticed an overgrowth of Garlic Mustard.

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The only other plant of significance in the forest understory was Wild Columbine. If you have a stubborn patch of Garlic Mustard, perhaps Columbine can help reclaim it.

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A. canadensis is native to most of North America east of the Rockies, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. It's cold-tolerant, heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant, and moisture-tolerant. The blooms seem to be the perfect invitation to birds, butterflies, and hummingbirds--and I've seen them all enjoying its nectar, pollen, and seeds.

A larval host for the Columbine Duskywing butterfly, this plant readily reseeds, and most sources say it's best propagated by seed. It also readily hybridizes with other Columbines, which can yield some interesting color combinations. Some gardeners complain that it can be somewhat invasive.

When we first moved to our current property, we had a patch of Wild Columbine, but for some reason it disappeared. I recently added some back to the garden. I'm a big fan.

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I'm also linking in with Gail's Wildflower Wednesday over at Clay and Limestone. (I made it just in time to call it a Wednesday post!)

July 20, 2014

Ask me a question about Door County, Wisconsin

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That's a dangerous invitation, isn't it? To encourage questions about a place for which I'm not an expert, and where I've simply vacationed. I don't live in Door County. But I've visited many times since the age of nine, and I'm happy to report it has not lost its charm and is still one of my favorite summertime destinations.

If you ask me a factual question, I'll answer with what I know (or I'll find the answer if I don't). If you ask about my impressions, I'll be happy to share those, too. 

About a month ago, the fishman and I vacationed in Door County. We decided to stay in Ephraim, because of its quaint presence and its central location in the Door Peninsula. Anderson's Dock and pier (above), which houses non-profit The Hardy Gallery and is on the National Register of Historic Places, is a must-see for anyone who visits. Norwegian immigrant Aslag Anderson started the pier and was an influential early Ephraim settler.

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Door County has been called the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," and if you visit both places, you'll understand why. A simple blog post can't cover it all. But here are some of the highlights:

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The sunrises over Lake Michigan and the sunsets over Green Bay (shown here) are spectacular. If you're in the right place at the right time, even a camera phone can adequately capture the beauty. This sunset greeted us on our first evening in Door County, at Peninsula State Park.

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Ephraim sits at the edge of Eagle Harbor. There are historical sites throughout Ephraim, as well as shops, galleries, restaurants, and plentiful water and outdoor activities. Anywhere you walk or rest along the bay, you'll see sights like this.

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The beaches are clean, accessible, and lovely.

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But Ephraim is just one of several great destinations in Door County. Another place you have to see--most recommend the breakfast pancakes--is Al Johnson's restaurant in Sister Bay. Yes, those are goats on the roof! You can read more about them, and see the "goat cam" at this link.

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Ephraim and Sister Bay are on the bay side of Door County. Bailey's Harbor--another favorite, with a slightly different personality--has more restaurants, shops, great views, activities ... and, of course, seagulls. (At one point, there were seagulls on every post of this pier.)

Those are just a few of the great towns along the peninsula, and I have to say I love them all. Others will be featured in future posts. You can see a map of Door County destinations here.

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But back to Ephraim, because that's where we stayed during this particular vacation. Wilson's Restaurant has some of the best ice cream in Door County, and they're generous with the scoops!

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We were fortunate during this vacation to witness the 50th anniversary of Ephraim's Fyr Bal Festival. I'm told the Norwegian "fyr bal" roughly translates to fire (bal) beacon (fyr), or bonfire. (I didn't realize until later that this photo was taken at the corner of Cherry and Water Streets--two of the things Door County is famous for.)

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For the annual Fyr Bal Festival in early summer, bonfires are lit at dusk to signify the burning of the "winter witch" and the welcoming of summer. You don't have to be of Norwegian heritage (I'm not) to attend--it's a fun event for people of all backgrounds and ages.

This series shows the progression of the flames, ending with a view of numerous bonfires along the coast of Eagle Harbor:

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It was truly a magical event--viewing all the people and numerous bonfires, close and in the distance, around the edges of Eagle Harbor.

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Another exceptional experience was our hike from Cave Point County Park, and then through the woods along the Lake Michigan shoreline, ending at Whitefish Dunes State Park. The photo above shows where we started, and yes--it's common practice to walk on the flat rocks out into the lake around that large limestone ledge. (Water shoes or waterproof hiking gear recommended.) It's not as scary as it looks, and the views around the corner are spectacular.

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The rock formations, including the ridges and kettles, are fascinating to study. This is part of the Niagara Escarpment, which stretches from New York State, up and over Lakes Huron and Michigan, through Door County and eastern Wisconsin.

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I'm always amazed at how plants, like this Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), cling to crevices and find a way to survive.

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With forest on one side, Lake Michigan on the other, and rock formations down the middle, the views are stunning.

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Some of the freshwater next to the limestone: I think it's blue/green because the water is so clean and clear that the color is vibrant as it reflects the sun.

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Speaking of sun, it was in and out of the mist and fog, the day we took this hike. As we left Cave Point County Park, we meandered to and fro as we walked toward our destination. We ventured out toward the lake along the way.

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And back into the forest to see blooming plants like this Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis).

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More stunning views of the land ... meeting the water ... meeting the sky.

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This particular view took my breath away. You can see the cave formations under the limestone bluffs.

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And our destination: Whitefish Dunes State Park--one of my all-time favorite places in Door County! On a warm summer day, this three-mile-long natural sand shoreline is covered with people. But on this particular unseasonably cool June day, we had the beach to ourselves!

The entire vacation was a great getaway. And now, after reliving it through photos, I can't wait to get back!

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July 08, 2014

Tree Following: The Shady Shagbarks

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It's the height of summer and our Shagbark Hickories (Carya ovata) are saving us money on our air-conditioning (A/C) bill.

I'm joining Loose and Leafy's "tree following" meme each month with updates on our twin Shagbark trees.

This is the time of year when they really earn their keep! I rarely turn on the A/C anyway, until temperatures hit about 85F/30C and higher. But fortunately, we've been hovering around 80F/27C for several weeks--which is perfectly comfortable in my book. It's fabulous to have the windows open, with fresh air pouring in!

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The Shagbarks help, no matter how hot it gets. The other day, I walked from the sunny west-side potager to the shade of the Shagbarks, and the temperature seemed to drop about 10 degrees! Their patch of ground provides deep shade for humans, other mammals, birds, and other critters.

Other observations about the Shagbarks in July:

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It's true what they say about moss: It does, indeed grow on the north side of the tree. There's a bit of moss on the other sides, but a very healthy patch on the north. The tree bark also has a healthy coating of lichens.

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Earlier in the growing season, I noticed there were holes in some of the leaves. I don't believe the infestation has gotten any worse, but the leaves are now larger and the holes are bigger. The leaves are never perfect, but they seem a little more affected this year. I'm pretty sure it's a sign of sawflies. I'm monitoring it, but my understanding is that the trees should be fine if we don't have repeated infestations. I'll try some organic treatments of the soil around the trees--where next year's larvae will hatch.

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Many of the leaves are near-perfect: Catching the sun in their capillaries and carrying on the miracle of photosynthesis.

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Hickory nuts--a definite hit with our resident squirrels--are forming. I'd estimate these are about one inch in diameter at this point.

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The bark is as interesting as ever. The heart shape that I've included in previous posts is now aging and splitting, and I'm starting to see other shapes (maybe a good post for next month).

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Is there a bat up there? Indiana and Little Brown Bats often use Hickories for daytime roosting. (Check out the link: It's fascinating!)

All in all, the Shagbark Hickories are looking good. Plenty of moisture, warmth, and sunshine should help them recover from 2012's drought and last winter's polar vortex. Their deep taproots (several feet deep, depending on the soil) protect them from both extremes, but also make them difficult to transplant.

To learn how other bloggers' trees are faring this July, visit Lucy at Loose and Leafy. Happy tree following!