Sunday, April 26, 2015

LOOK FOR: Jack in the Pulpit

The Jack in the pulpits are starting to unfurl right now. I've always loved these flowers, showy in their design rather than their color.

Jack in the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum
Jack in the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum
Photo credit: Kid Cowboy
But the name Jack in the pulpit never made much sense to me until I lived in New England. In the southern Unitarian church I grew up in, a pulpit wasn't something you could stand in. It was just a stage with a lectern on it.

One day, I walked into King's Chapel in Boston (built 1689) and I got it. Their pulpit isn't a stage; it's a little cubbyhole, with a roof, just big enough for one person to stand in. This architectural arrangement would have been familiar to the early European settlers who gave Jack in the pulpit its name.

King's Chapel pulpit
King's Chapel pulpit, taken by Kjetil Ree
Jack in the pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum
Jack in the pulpit, taken by Susan Tryforos

As they mature, if you look closely, you'll see that in one "flower" there are actually many tiny flowers, lining the Jack (which botanists call a spathe). These tiny flowers can be either male or female, and often one plant has flowers of only one sex in a given year.

So, sometimes the Jack is really a Jill.

Even better, most plants change the sex of the flowers they make over time. Younger, smaller plants start off producing only male flowers. Older plants have had more time to store up energy in their roots, and will produce more leaves and female flowers.

It's the female flowers, of course, that can produce fruit. You'll see the beautiful red berries of Jack Jill in the pulpits in late summer.

Jack in the pulpit fruit, Arisaema triphyllum

Friday, April 17, 2015

What's Blooming at Turkey Run?

If you do nothing else this weekend, please, PLEASE go see the bluebells in your favorite river valley. They should be stunning. Last Sunday they were just opening up at Turkey Run, and Wednesday they were very close to peak on the other side of the Potomac (around Lock 7 on the C&O Canal).

And there's so much else going on out there. I've finally gone through the pictures we took from both walks. Here are some highlights:

twinleaf, jeffersonia diphylla
Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) and spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
windflower, anemone canadensis
Windflower (Anemone canadensis)
Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Toadshade trillium (Trillium sessile)
blue cohosh, caulophyllum thalictroides
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
trout lily, erythronium americanum
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) -- there are HUGE patches near where Dead Run crosses the trail from Turkey Run
squirrel corn, dicentra canadensis
Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Woodpeckers of Washington DC

Last week we were hearing a Northern Flicker drumming on our neighbor's vent pipe several times a day. This weekend a red-bellied woodpecker started in on our chimney cap. They're not stupidly looking for insects in metal objects; they just want to make some noise. It's that time of year -- and what better way to advertise your woodpecking prowess than by pecking as loud and fast as you can? (And boy, does our chimney make a good speaker system!)

In fact, it was a six-woodpecker weekend. We regularly get downy and hairy woodpeckers at our awesome peanut feeder. And we saw a sapsucker and a pileated in Rock Creek Park on Saturday. So I thought it would be fun to put together this little guide.


With a little practice you can also tell most woodpeckers apart by their calls, or even by the speed of their drumming. (The exception is downy and hairy woodpeckers, which sound exactly the same to me.)

Woodpecker Calls Drums
Downy Woodpecker
Picoides pubescens
Hairy Woodpecker
Picoides villosus
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Sphyrapicus varius
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Melanerpes carolinus
Red-headed Woodpecker
Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Northern Flicker
Colaptes auratus
Pileated Woodpecker
Dryocopus pileatus
All recordings copyright 2015 Cornell University and found in their wonderful Macaulay Library.