OUTSIDE

Spiderweb

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Spiders have been stereotyped as being dangerous and the natural tendency is to squash them before taking time to consider how beneficial and interesting they are. Their most unique talent is producing silk and spinning it into webs to catch prey.

Tags: 

Butternut, the Other Walnut

By: Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Black walnut is well known to most folks, but there is another walnut native to our area. Butternut (Juglans cinerea), also called White walnut, likes to grow in the same deep, moist soils like its black cousin, but is becoming rare to find.

Tags: 

What Makes Great Fall Colors

Fall coloration of trees in our area is always looked forward to. The presence of a large number of trees having brilliant fall foliage is more unusual than you think, as the only other places in the world with a similar abundance of foliage colorations are northern China, Korea, and Japan. A common question this time of year is: will the colors be good or not? The answer is meteorological.

Tags: 

Apple Knowledge

With autumn comes the nostalgia of the apple harvest, a fruit whose history goes back a long way. Legend and art have made the Tree of Knowledge that led to the downfall of Adam and Eve an apple, but the Bible only refers to a fruit. What follows is more apple knowledge of this famous fruit than you probably care to know.
Apples were first brought to America from England in 1629 by Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop. The first apples probably came from the trees Winthrop planted in Boston, from which “ten fair pippins” (apples) were picked in 1639.

September Dew

September is noted for having heavy dews that bejewel cobwebs and soak your feet when walking through grass. The reason is that nights are getting longer, which allows the grass and other objects more time to drop below the dew point temperature and moisture in the air condenses on the cooled surface. Dew forms on vegetation more readily than other surfaces such as pavement because leaves and grass typically are thin and suspended in the air, causing them to cool more readily to reach dew point temperature.

Tags: 

Fall Traditions are Steeped in History

The Autumn Equinox is one of two times of the year when the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are equal in length. That’s as far into the science of what’s going on that I’ll go. It’s the astronomical beginning of fall, which is my favorite season of the year. After a long hot and humid summer, the crisp cool mornings, balmy temperatures, and visual clarity of lower humidity are very welcome.

Tags: 

Picking Up Pawpaws

You’ve likely got some age on you is you remember singing about Susie “pickin’ up pawpaws, put ‘em in her pocket, way down yonder in the Pawpaw Patch!” The Pawpaw is a curious native tree that gets attention this time of year when its fruit start to ripen. Also called a "Winter Banana" and "Custard Apple", the fruit looks like it should be growing in a tropical rain forest rather than the Appalachian Mountains. It is in fact a relative of several tropical trees in South America, and even the name "Pawpaw" is tropical in origin, being a corruption of the papaya tree to which it is not related.

Tags: 

A face full of spiderweb

The spiny orb weaver

By Steve Roark
Volunteer Interpreter, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
If you hike in the woods late summer into fall you are likely to have a face to literal face run-in with spiderweb.
The culprit is the spiny orb weaver, who has a knack for building webs across trails at eye level. The number of webs increase this time of year as the spiders increase their food energy intake to be able to lay eggs before hard winter sets in.

Tags: 

Heavy Fruit Years

This fall looks to be a good year for nut producing trees like hickory and beech, and oak acorns aren’t looking bad either. Fruit and nut production varies from year to year, and the reasons are many.

Tags: 

Plant Miracles

The more I learn about plants the more I realize they are not the inanimate life forms they seem to be. Yes, animals are cool with the leg and wing thingees that allows them to move about and get our attention. But plants now, plants stand there quiet all day long and perform a miracle: they make things appear out of thin air.

Tags: 

Blueberries, a forest treat

A wild blueberry branch

Sweet tasting blueberries are a popular food for animals and humans in mid to late summer. Blueberry jam or fresh blueberries on top of some corn flakes is hard to beat.
We have several types of wild blueberries in our area, but they all have similar features. All are shrubs with many branches, with two-inch leaves that are spear shaped, smooth edged, and a short stem. The spring blooming flowers are small, white, and bell-like.

Tags: 

Hummingbird Hype

The hummingbird needs no introduction since everyone at one time or other has been mesmerized by its bright color, tiny size and amazing aerial abilities.

There are several hundred species of hummingbirds in the world, but only one is found in the eastern US, the Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris). It is around 3 inches long and weighs only one-half ounce (hummingbirds are the smallest of the bird world). Both sexes have metallic green feathers and a long, straw-like bill. The male has a metallic red throat while the female has a white throat.

Tags: 

Kudzu Crud

Normally I am a plant lover kind of guy, but there is a group of foreigners that I love to hate. They are classed exotic invasive plants, and they are determined to take over the world an acre at a time, disrupting native plants and ecosystems as they go. Probably the most notorious and recognized invasive in the south is Kuzdu (Pueraria montana). You don’t have to drive far to find its vines carpeting the ground, trees, buildings, and anything else standing in the way.

Tags: 

Butterflies Versus Moths

One of the joys of summer is watching bright colored butterflies flutter from flower to flower feeding on nectar. Some moths are also beautiful to see, but most tend to be dull in color and only seen at night. Because of this you probably notice more butterflies than moths, even though there are four times as many moth species as butterflies.

Tags: 

Independence History: An Appeal to Heaven

It intrigues me how trees are so often intertwined with our culture and history. The July celebration of our Independence is a good time for a history lesson. The Liberty Tree was an elm tree in Boston where protesters of English rule would congregate. It became a symbol of individual liberty and resistance to tyranny, and during the Revolutionary War several flags were designed with a tree that represented the Tree of Liberty. One flag in particular had an important message.

Tags: 

June Bugs of Summer

Anyone who has picked blackberries is familiar with June bugs, because they'll startle you when you reach in and pick one of them instead of a berry. As a youngster I was taught that June bugs are those large, green backed beetles an inch long that are common during the heat of summer. They can often be seen flying low over your lawn in a zigzag pattern. You will also find them feeding on their preferred foods which includes grapes, berries, apples, and ripening corn.

Tags: 

The Complex Cicada Song

No doubt you have heard plenty of news stories about the 17-year cicada emerging this year. I have yet to see or hear them in my area yet, but I look forward to hearing the male cicadas’ persistent and often loud chorus. The combined drone of thousands of cicadas singing at once hides the fact that there are three species of cicadas out there, each singing a different song, which chances depending on the proximity to a possible female mate.

Tags: 

Poisonous snakes in our area

Humans seem hardwired to fear snakes, and it is useful to help us be cautious around poisonous species.
But most snake species found in our area are harmless and perform a useful service of keeping rodent populations in check.
There are two well-known poisonous ones in our woods where caution is advised, though.

Tags: 

Pages