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Surely all the buds of long-awaited blooms were hardly a mouthful on the tongue of dawn’s foraging deer.

Now colorful leafhoppers linger like little replacements for would-be flowers.

When closely approached, they spring from the leaves of our “Ruby Spice” summersweet.

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Some leafhoppers on surrounding vegetation are blue and red.

All are plant eaters.  Their sap-sucking can wilt leaves and spread disease.

But just now their meager damage hardly diminishes their miniature brilliance.

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Bug Guide indicates that there are several species of leafhoppers in the U.S., six of them with red stripes (the Graphocephala species).  Of these, I’m cautiously inclined to call those pictured above Graphocephala Coccinea:  the red-banded or scarlet-and-green leafhopper.  Other than on the summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), I have seen them on a variety of plants, particularly pokeweed and this increasingly beleaguered sunflower.

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Last summer uncovered a colony of leaves all in mottle like trout that swim.
But not a flower stood among them.

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Fortunately, some weeks earlier on a nearby stroll, a friend
had introduced me to the blooming trout lily.

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We’re now prepared to meet the flowers of Little Crum Creek that, save this brief and delicate week in April, are either a long time coming or a long time gone.

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And knowing what to expect, both this spring and next,
from opening come morning till closing toward night,
we can all visit while they last.

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This continuing catalogue of life along Little Crum Creek seems increasingly filled with introduced species.

So, inspired by a Spring Ephemerals Walk with Marcia Tate and the neighboring Friends of Glen Providence Park, I set out to find some native flowers close to home.

As yet hard-pressed to find the bloodroot, mayapple, or trout lily lately blooming in Ridley Creek State Park and the nearby Crum Woods, I have finally found something native.

Clinging to a fringe of space between the ground ivy and grass, spring beauty blooms downstream along Ridley Park Lake.

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[Click an image for clarity.]

Since these shots, spring beauty has caught my eye at a few spots upstream, including our usual view of the creek, and on several neighborhood lawns.

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Since the berries of pokeweed have shriveled, and the flowers of jewelweed have dropped, up pop clustered white blooms of snakeroot in the chill, drizzling onset of autumn.

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In spring, shallow-rooted succulent shoots start to crowd a narrow space on the hillside.

Some, through summer, succumb to stiff winds, fallen branches, strangling vines, or the trampling browse of animals.

In July and August, those still standing may flower.

Here appears Impatiens capensis, the spotted jewelweed, orange touch-me-not.

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Come September, the pregnant seed pods seem poised to expel another generation at the slightest prod.

101_3413edcropBNow complementing the precious few plants that remain, residual gems of recent rains make it easy to see how jewelweed might have earned its name.

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[Click here to see last year’s post on yellow jewelweed .]

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“Leaves of three, let it be.”

The old saw’s a sure way to avoid the itch of poison ivy.

But it can also make a place like Little Crum Creek seem a lot more daunting than warranted.

After all, several benign plants with three leaves thrive here.  Some are very common, like our recently featured boxelder, wineberry, blackberry, and Indian strawberry.

None carry the rash-inducing urushiol oil.

So learning to recognize them can reduce one’s proclivity to libel undeserving trifoliates.

Moreover this familiarity can help refine recognition of the true peril,  pictured here climbing over 30 feet up a tree.

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In addition to its leaves, those hairy-like rootlets are characteristic of an established vine.  They’ll cling to a tree all year long and can be a good sign of poison ivy even after its distinctive leaves are shed.

Still, to be certain, I contacted the “Poison Ivy Guy” who immediately confirmed this to be a massive infestation of the itchy stuff.  Then I notified the township that keeps the grounds.

101_1739edcropA101_1122edcropAPoison ivy creeps & climbs just about anywhere — high, low, and in between.  But that’s little reason to avoid the weeds and trees.

The fact rather compels us to open our eyes, see past our noses, mind our steps, and watch what we reach for.

Provided we do all that, the plant just might be a kind of ally.

Instead of completely repelling us, the consequential vine invites us to grow ever closer in knowledge & familiarity with a natural community like Little Crum Creek.

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Having escaped another week’s mowing, several horse nettle bonnets, berries, & rumpled stars blossom on the perimeter of a field beside Little Crum Creek.

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Perhaps the immature fruit looks familiar.

Both horse nettles and tomatoes are part of the nightshade family. 

Unlike tomatoes, however, these much smaller fruits are poisonous and turn yellow when ripe.

Prickly & persistent, horse nettle is native to our region.

Here you can spot it where the wilding weeds meet the sunny but overlooked edge of an open space.

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Extending at sharp angles over Little Crum Creek, a couple of scrappy-looking boxelder trees cling to their crumbling banks.

One arches like a wineberry cane–its end tipping the water–while the other stretches toward the sky.

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Each of these maples creates luxuriant chandeliers of male flowers from mid-March through early April.

And just now, spring leaves are quickly succeeding the increasingly stringy blooms.100_9748edcropA100_9829edcropA
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Though its autumn leaves are yellow and not the commonly cited red, and though it never fruits the hallmark crimson keys we’d call “helicopters,” I can finally pin a name to the indifferent subject of my long but casual scrutiny:

a red maple tree.

Other identifying characteristics have been evident throughout the year…

I’ve gathered three-lobed leaves fallen from their opposite arrangement on summer branches, accidentally peeled plated bark from the trunk when tugging climbing ivy, collected many brittle branches dropped to the woodland floor, and patiently watched wine-red twigs and buds endure a long winter.

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But it’s a small flower that finally proves the name.

In early spring, a single red maple can flower a marriage of male and female blooms, a union that will likely produce a bunch of winged seeds.

Other individuals might present exclusively male or female flowers.

The female kind may be pollinated by male neighbors and thereby fruit seeded helicopters.

But this particular red maple has revealed its own dispositon along Little Crum Creek:  a naturally confirmed bachelorhood of total male florescence that won’t be going to seed.100_9467edcropC100_9522edcropC                                                                                                      .

100_9543edcropANow, why its leaves turn yellow in fall, and not red, I can’t yet say.

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The creek’s first pokeweed seedlings popped up in spring.

By July, their leafy crimson stems sprawled widely over the hillside, blooming white-sepaled clusters of tiny flowers.

These flowers soon produced some tough green fruit ripening through August into juicy purple berries.

The berries have since been crowding heavily on September’s and October’s ruddy stalks.

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Pokeweed is toxic to most animals, including humans, and especially children.  Severe, even fatal, poisoning is possible through ingestion.

Still, Native Americans in the area are said to have found several uses for the plant. One was the fashioning of a red dye from its berries.

Likewise, since colonial times, pokeweed has made a convenient ink for writing.

These uses have inspired another common name: inkberry.

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Native to the eastern states, pokeweed is plentiful in the region.

So making a small jar of Little Crum Creek’s American Pokeweed Ink is as simple as pressing and straining a bowlful of berries.

With a simple dip of the pen, we can soon be writing with the creekside.

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Salt & vinegar might help preserve the ink & hold the color. But neither are necessary. Careful around pets & children–the ink is still toxic.