Wednesday, July 11, 2007

James Bruggers - Watchdog Earth

I saw lots of mussle shells and even one or two live mussles when I was kayaking on the Green River at Mammoth Cave. I had no clue they were endangered--I'm glad I didn't take the live one I found home with me!

James Bruggers - Watchdog Earth

The federal Endangered Species Act generally has a lot of muscle. In certain circumstances, it can bring development to its knees -- at least long enough to try to figure out how to protect rare animals and plants.

Now that muscle is helping rare Kentucky mussels.

Dave Baker with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife supplied Watchdog Earth with these two photos of an effort to boost the mussel population in the Green River. Both photos feature mussel researcher Monte McGregor. The top photo shows McGregor yesterday preparing to release juvenile pink mucket mussels from a jug of water into a riffle located near Munfordville in Hart County. Let go were approximately 1,100 of the federally endangered mussels, each the size of a grain of sand.

At left, McGregor holds a number of endangered fanshell mussels, preparing to place them in Green River.

If nothing else, these photos illustrate how the Endangered Species Act protects what can seem like the lesser creatures of the Earth, and not just those more charismatic animals like bald eagles and grizzly bears. Mussels may not seem that important, other than the ones many of us like to cook in a white wine sauce and dip in butter. But these freshwater varities have, historically, been very important for filtering and cleaning water in Midwestern and Southeastern rivers. They are also important sources of food for other animals.

Look here for more information, and next time you are at the gym working on your own muscles, think of nature's mussels, too.

-by James Bruggers

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

June 22-23 Kayaking in Mammoth Cave National Park

Here are some picture I took kayaking the Green River in Mammoth Cave National Park, and also some of the wildflower species I found there. Enjoy!

Wildflower species I found in and around the park:

  • Hairy Ruellia
  • Nodding Thistle
  • Trumpet Creeper (found a bloom floating in the Green River)
  • Queen Anne's Lace
  • Bedstraw
  • Blackeyed Susan
  • Dayflower

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Wildflower Paper #4: Hairy Skullcap

I found this example of Hairy Skullcap on a wooded trail at O'Bannon State Park in Southern Indiana, on June 9, 2007. The first thing to catch my eye was the cluster of Snap Dragon-like flowers perched on a stem that was about 1 1/2 feet tall. The next thing was the fuzziness of the stem and leaves, which is fairly apparent in this photo. Also note the opposite, lightly toothed, and petioled (on a stem) leaves. According to Wildflowers of Mammoth Cave National Park, this should also have a square stem, though I don't remember noticing the shape of the stem at the time. The square stem is a characteristic of the Skullcap's being in the mint family.

According to Wildflowers of Mammoth Cave National Park, Different species of skullcap have been used to treat irritability and nervous conditions as well as insomnia and exaustion. I have found other sources online attributing these uses to skullcap species and adding on that it is also used as "anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, slightly astringent, emmenagogue, febrifuge, nervine, sedative and strongly tonic" with a warning that an overdose can cause "giddiness, stupor, confusion and twitching". ( I didn't, however, find any sources that attributed these uses to this specific species of skullcap.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wildflower Paper #3: Red Columbine

Red Columbine is a pretty little flower that blooms in Kentucky when Spring is well underway. The flowers are roughly bell shaped and draped downward, and is in the Buttercup family. Four or five structures stick out of the top of the blossom (or the back if you consider the opening of the petals to be the 'front') that remind me of a jester's cap. They also give the columbine one of it's other common names: jack-in-trousers. It likes a woodland setting, especially near clearings where it has plenty of access to sunlight.

Columbine is a favorite of butterflies and hummingbirds, and receives special mention at, a site for ruby throated hummingbird enthusiasts. The hummingbirds and butterflies presumably gain valuable nectar from the flowers, and in return spread the pollen to other nearby columbine plants.

The plant has been used in the past by humans to ease a number of ailments. The seeds have been used to treat headache, sore throat, poison ivy rash, and the roots have been used for gastrointestinal problems. (source:

Friday, June 8, 2007

Plant of the Moment: Poision Hemlock

For pictures, go here: Poison Hemlock Pictures

This is the first year I've had any idea what hemlock looked like, and lately I've been seeing it everywhere. Around Bullitt county it seems to line all the fence rows and railroad tracks where it has not been mowed. The flowers sort of resemble Queen Ann's Lace (before I knew better, that is what I thought it was.) I learned to tell the difference when another Naturalist-in-Training pointed it out on a hike. The leaves of the hemlock look fern-like, and a single stalk branches out into a circular upper hemisphere of white flower clusters. Right now they are in full bloom and are quite beautiful on the sides of the road.