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.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Friday, June 1, 2007

Nature Notes

Today I went for a sit in the woods. I went up the Poplar Tree trail until the ground was fairly level and then sat on a log and watched and listened from about 2:45 to 3:30.

When I first sat down I noticed that the woods were very quiet with only a little bit of bird song off in the distance. After I sat still about 15 minutes, I there were more birds singing and they were also closer than before. I was not able to identify any of the bird songs, nor see the birds themselves. I heard one call that I thought sounded very interesting--it was a clicking sort of call that started off very quiet and then both slowed and got louder toward the end of the call and then dropped off in volume before stopping. I think next time I do this I will need to remember to take a tape recorder.

After I sat probably close to 30 minutes, a very small mouse like animal--actually I think it was a mole--appeared about 10 feet in front of me and started rooting around in the fallen leaves. I could barely see it except when it moved, because it was very well camouflaged against the leaves. I don't think it even knew I was there. If I rustled the leaves with my foot it would dart into hiding, but then reappear within a minute after I was still again. I also saw another small furry creature farther away, but I could not see it well enough tell what it was.

Also I forgot to mention from last weekend, I saw a rather large snapping turtle along-side Bernhiem's main road toward the Visitor Center just after entering the main gate.

Also, on the same day on the Jackson Yoe trail, I found some whorled loosestrife. I'd never seen it before and but thought it was worth looking up. According to _Wildflowers of Mammoth Cave National Park_ it is 'infrequent' so I guess that means it was a nice find.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Book Review: _Anatomy of a Rose_ by Sharman Apt Russell

Anatomy of a rose is a book about flowers, especially about the thing that they do and that they are that human often overlook. Flowers grow, bloom, they rely on pollinators to reproduce but many have backup plans just in case the pollinators fail, they communicate with specific pollinators, they both cooperate with and trick their pollinators (and the pollinators do the same), plants cooperate and compete with one another, some plants are carnivorous, some plant regulate their body temperature. Flowers that are pollinated by bees may be more colorful than we can imagine, as bees can see higher wavelengths of light than we can.

The author talks about the effects that flowers have on humans. We love color, we want to be around flowers, and we want flowers to ‘heal’ us. Even though flowers have their own purposes and are not here to serve us humans, we do find much delight and practical use in them.

This is a fascinating book about a world in which we humans are often merely astonished spectators, unable to quite see the entire story. Nonetheless, the author manages to describe this world in terms that make the lives of plants and their pollinators relevant to our own experiences. The descriptions of plants as advertising, communicating with one another, engaging in sexual activities, and participating in games of cooperation and competition with one another and the creatures they depend on are useful metaphors to help us understand what it is we are actually seeing when we look out on a field of wildflowers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Native wildflower paper #2: Bloodroot

This picture is ©Daniel Reed -

The bloodroot is a wildflower that grows in wooded areas before the leaves grow out on the trees. It has one large leaf that wraps around the large single blossom. It opens its bloom to the full sunlight and closes up again at dark. The flower is made of numerous ray-like white petals surrounding many golden yellow stamens and a small green pistil.

According to the National Audubon Society’s field guide to wildflowers, Native Americans used its reddish sap as dye and as insect repellant.

According to Wikipedia, the Bloodroot is fertilized by small bees and flies, and partners with ants to spread its seeds. The ants will carry the seeds back to their nests, eat off the fleshy part of the seed called an elaiosome and then dump the seed into the colony’s trash heap, where it will germinate

Native wildflower paper #1: Jack-in-the-Pulpit

One of the things I will be posting on this blog is my homework assignments for the Naturalist-in-Training courses. Here is some of what I have done for BFUN202.

Native wildflower paper #1: Jack-in-the-Pulpit

(By the way, I am going to try and only use my own photographs. If I use anyone else's I will cite the source. Otherwise, you can assume the picture is my own work.)

The first thing I noticed about the Jack -in -the -pulpit is that it is not what I was taught in grade school to recognize as a flower. Rather than having petals and stamens and bright colors, it is characterized by its leaf-like spathe and club-like spadix. This is characteristic of the flowers known as arums. It is also primarily green in color and is very easy to overlook if you are not careful. This flower blooms in the springtime before the tree canopy in the forest is filled out with leaves, in order to take advantage of the abundant sunshine. I found this one (or rather, someone else in the group I was with) found it near the trail head on the Rock Run loop at Bernhiem. As most flowers that have a maroon color (see the underside of the spathe in this case) Jack is pollinated by insects such as beetles and flies.

Jack has an interesting way of changing with changing conditions in it's environment. It can actually change it's sex--producing pollen as a male when resources are tight, and accepting pollen and producing seed as a female when resources are more abundant.

Other interesting things about Jack-in-the-Pulpit is that it contains calcium oxalate crystals and will cause intense pain to the mouth if eaten. Reportedly, Native Americans used the dried root in many medicinal uses from headache to contraceptive. But this is only recommended for true professionals!

I got some of my information from: