Pitch Pine

Pitch Pine is uncommon in our area and very useful back in early settlement days.

Pitch Pine is uncommon in our area and very useful back
in early settlement days.

We have several pine species in our area, and one of the more uncommon ones is Pitch pine (Pinus rigida). It is mostly found on dry slopes and ridges in association with other pines and oaks. It has little commercial use today but was very useful in pioneering days.

Pitch pine has dark green needles that are around 3 to 8 inches long and form in bundles of 3. Tufts of its needles stand out upon the twigs nearly at right angles, and sometimes are found growing directly on the trunk. The tree has ...

Poke salad, a mountain tradition

A mountain tradition is to eat newly sprouted Poke stems, which must be picked and prepared properly.

A mountain tradition is to eat newly sprouted Poke stems, which must be picked and prepared properly.

A family tradition my mom kept was to seek out young poke sprouts in the spring and make poke salad, a king of cooked greens. Back before grocery store chains and refrigeration, country folk came out of winter craving a fresh green to eat, and poke was one of the newly sprouted plants that were sought out, along with “creesies” or spring crest. The lack of fresh green vegetables during the winter months ...

Wild Ginger

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense)

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is an interesting plant found in rich, moist, forested areas in deep hollows and drains. East and north facing lower slopes are its favored habitat, where it can be widespread.

Ginger has a stem (called a rhizome) that grows low along the ground with pairs of heart shaped leaves sticking up through the leaf litter. The leaf stems are very hairy, and if you scratch around under the leaves from April to May you will find a brownish purple flower with three petals. If you break off a piece of the rhizome you will get a strong smell of ginger.

The Extending Tick Season

Tick season normally begins in Spring, but it seems to be backing up into the winter months.

Since I’m in the woods a lot it’s reasonable to assume that I would have more ticks get on board and use me as a meal. But the past couple of winters I have pulled ticks off every month of the year, including the winter months when they are normally dormant. That’s not right people! All of my bites have been deer tick, smaller and harder to see and feel crawling around. Now that your family is outside more with the warming weather, best start body checking yourself and the kids. Since it’s good to know your enemy, here is a rundown on the tick lifestyle.

Trillium Trivia

Trilliums are one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the Spring, and are beautiful to behold.

Trilliums are one of the earliest flowers to bloom in the Spring, and are beautiful to behold.

One of the most beautiful wildflowers to see in the Spring are trilliums, which are members of the Lily family. They are easy to find this time of year in rich, moist woods along rivers, streams, and in deep hollows. There are several species growing in our area, and all are easy to identify. The average trillium is 12 to 18 inches tall with a stout, erect stem. At the top is a whorl of 3 broad leaves and a single flower with 3 petals. Most trilliums have a flower supported by a stem just above the leaves (botanists call this pedicellate). But sessile trillium, also known as toadshade, (Trillium sessile) has no flower stem and the 3 petals appear to come directly out of the leaves. The sessile trilliums I have found locally have yellow petals, but some are dark red. The leaves of sessile trilliums have whitish splotches.

The Bradford Pear Blues

Bradford Pears have become common along roadsides, and while pretty, they are invasive and aggressively compete with native trees for growing space. Their numbers are growing exponentially.

Bradford Pears have become common along roadsides, and while pretty, they are invasive and aggressively compete with native trees for growing space. Their numbers are growing exponentially.

You have no doubt noticed all the white flowering trees that have been putting on a show the past couple of weeks along roadsides, fence rows, and field edges. They are Bradford pears, a popular landscape tree, noted for their beautiful flower blitz, symmetrical round crowns, and supposedly sterile so as not to produce messy fruit to clean up. That last part was a total failure, and the tree has gone Frankenstein and spreading rapidly to become what is called an exotic invasive plant, and a threat to our native plants and even our farmlands. This wasn’t supposed to happen, so what the heck?

The Winters of Spring

Redbuds blooming is a sign of one of several cold snaps we have in the spring.

Ah Spring! After a cold winter, we get one of those sunny, balmy days where the temps get up into the 60s and everybody sheds coats and dreams of gardening or fishing. Then along comes a cold snap that feels colder than what it is because your body had immediately acclimated to that warmth and sunshine. Those cold snaps are regular events that have been around before TV meteorologists, and our forefathers had to watch nature to determine when to plant crops. So through the ages we have weather lore that is still with us today.

Hiking Into the Past

Stone walls and daffodils in the woods are two indicators of an old home site.

Human archaeology normally involves the study of things left by an ancient people in an ancient time, but it is also interesting to observe more recent signs that people lived in our area within the last 150 years or so. Many areas that appear to be natural untouched forests were actually greatly impacted by human presence. I find it intriguing to seek out visible clues and try to figure out what took place many years ago. Here are some indicators that humans impacted the landscape, particularly in a forest.

Periwinkles: the Snail Not the Flower

Periwinkles are tiny freshwater snails commonly seen in clear mountain streams and a sign of unpolluted waters..

Anyone who has hiked and crossed a mountain stream or took a cold drink out of a spring has likely seen periwinkles, which look like small black pebbles scattered about in the water. Closer inspection reveals that they are freshwater snails. I’ve been told by my older kin that seeing these little guys in a stream indicated that the water was clean enough to drink. I wouldn’t go that far about the purity of the water, but they are partially right in that these snails are environmentally sensitive and good indicators of unpolluted streams.

Daffodils are the Harbingers of Spring

Daffodils blooming are a sure sign of Spring, and have a long local and world history.

Nothing says Springs-a-comin’ like seeing Daffodils spotting the countryside. They are of particular interest to me because I’m a mountain history nerd, and they often point to old cabin sites that I like to check out when I’m out exploring

Sycamore is easy to identify in winter

Sycamore is easy to identify in winter by its bleached
white upper limbs and multi-colored bark.

Sycamore (Planatus occidentalis) is a very common tree in our area and easy to find growing along streams and lakes. It is also one of the easier trees to identify in the woods because all of its identifying features stand out.
The leaves of sycamore are large, and as broad as they are long, with a big-toothed edge. The leaf also has a fuzzy underside that can be a source of respiratory irritation. The fruit forms in the fall as a cluster of seeds forming a perfect brown ball about an inch or two in diameter, hanging from a long stem and persisting into winter.

Planting Balled Trees

Taking the trouble to plant a tree right greatly improves its chances to survive and grow into a handsome tree.

Back in the day planting balled trees or trees grown in buckets was pretty straightforward: Dig a hole wider and deeper than the root ball, mix peat moss or other soil amendment with the soil and plant the tree. But some research has resulted in more stringent guidelines for urban trees. The new recommendations assure that roots have a chance to grow into the surrounding soil and produce healthy branches, foliage, and roots. Here’s an overview.

Local Rivers Were Early Interstates

Before railroads local rivers were used to transport resources like timber and iron to industrial centers to feed a growing nation.

Back in the early and mid-1800s the industrial age combined with a growing population created a high demand for raw materials to make products, especially from wood and metals such as iron and lead. Our area had metal ore deposits to produce pig iron in locally owned furnaces fueled by wood charcoal and coke. Pig iron needed to be shipped to big cities like Chattanooga where it was refined and made into metal products such as tools and farm implements.

Attack of the Aliens

Kudzu can consume entire mountains, and is only one of many invasive species that are impacting our area.

There are more recognition days, weeks, or months than you can shake a stick at. Some highlight worthy causes, such National Arbor Day (April 26), and National Girl Scout Day (March 12). Some you scratch your head at, like National Cheese Doodle Day (March 5) and National Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19, aaarrr!). One you probably haven’t heard of, but that I personally think is worth pondering is National Invasive Species Awareness Week (February 26 to March 1).

Snow, white

The color of snow is taken for granted, but the whiteness has a reason for being.

I’m not sure many of you want to revisit the topic of snow after the past couple of weeks, but every now and then I get nailed with a good question: Why is snow white? And where does the white go when it melts? The answer requires an understanding of light.

January is Teatime

Tea is a tree product that is the most popular drink on the planet.

With January being National Tea Month, and since most teas are derived from a tree, I thought I’d study up and share some things I did not know about the world’s most popular beverage.

Sunbeams Are a Nice Natural Light Show

Sunbeams are beautiful but short lived, and worth pausing for.

I lucked into a beautiful light display recently when the early morning sun went behind a small cloud, resulting in rays of sunlight appearing to shoot out from the cloud edge in all directions. After decades of seeing sunbeams, I wondered what causes them, and my researched answer is forthwith.

Hickory History

Shagbark is one of several hickory species we have
locally, and shares a long history of usefulness to humans.

By Steve Roark
Volunteer, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Native Americans and European pioneers were a tough bunch to be able to eke out a living in the American wilderness. Nothing symbolizes that toughness more than hickory, a common tree of great strength and versatility. It goes back a long way as a revered and useful plant.

Those pesky deer

Deer can be enjoyable to watch right up until they eat your landscaping.

The deer population has been steadily increasing over the past few decades, as has the human population. The recent trend of wanting to build a house in the country or in the woods has put both populations in closer contact with each other. Deer are opportunistic feeders and will eat food wherever they can find it, which could be your favorite apple tree, tomato plant, or landscape shrub.

How to Make Snow

snow is the result of a complex mixing of materials and
conditions, but the result is a thing of beauty.

I’m sure you have looked up at a gray winter sky and wondered if it will snow. But have you ever wondered why it snows at all? What follows is God’s recipe for a snow, but I must warn you that the ingredients and mixing directions are tricky to try at home.

First, get around a million tons of water, vaporize it, and mix it in the atmosphere. Next, cool the air down, which will cause the humidity to rise. At 100% humidity the air is saturated with water vapor. Further cooling pushes the humidity above 100% and it becomes “supersaturated” and can’t hold any more vapor. Now add a ton or so of microscopic dust particles for the vapor to condense on, and you end up with countless minute water droplets so light they float on air…in other words, a cloud.