St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, May 16, 2015


In trying to spot the first Monarch Butterfly of the season, I went on a milkweed hunt.  Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweeds, and until the milkweeds are up a few inches we rarely see any Monarchs this far north.  

I photographed all of the weeds I saw in the orchard/pasture an acre or two.  Can you identify them?  

Some folks call dandelions weeds and other call them flowers.  This year I put them in the flower category as I have seen so many bees and butterflies visit them over the years and Margo loves the yellow and green contrast in the yard.  Mom always had a few dandelion greens with her spring meals for the spring tonic.  Cutting them just before they go to seed stimulates them to keep blooming.  They keep trying to reproduce by producing more flowers.
The creameries quit coloring the butter yellow each spring as the flush of dandelion fed cow's milk came in and gave butter the "natural" look of yellow.  

Are violets weeds or flowers?   Cows munched these too as part of the cow pasture.  They seemed to grow well in the cow pasture and thrive where other delicate wild flowers fail. 
Creeping Charlie not in bloom -- on the north side of the house.  People who insist lawns must be a single variety of grass are continually trying to rid themselves of this plant.  When it blooms the tiny purple flowers, it is very heavily visited by bees and other insects.
A question for you--Are folks who want a perfect grass lawn conservatives or liberals or doesn't it matter?  I like diversity and welcome the illegal lawn immigrants blown in by the wind or seeded by the birds.  I like to watch natural selection in action from my perch in the easy chair on the porch. 

Two common vines -- the woodbine (Virginia Creeper) above and the wild grape below.  Both spread easily by birds passing the seeds--and are found under anything where a bird might perch from electrical wires to fencelines and trees.  Woodbine has blue-black grape-like berries (inedible by mammals but fine for birds).  Wild grapes are small and have a strong grape flavor and good to eat or make grape jelly. 

I don't know what this weed is, but it could be the dreaded wild parsnip, but I don't think so.  I suppose if I rub some of the plant leaves and stem juice on Margo's arm and see if it leaves blisters, I could be sure.  

The large rhubarb shaped leaves are from the first year growth of a burdock.  Next year it will grow very tall and have the sticky seed balls that inspired Velcro as a fastener.  
A clump of Goldenrod.  The late August brilliant yellow blooms on top of the stalk are a favorite of bees and butterflies.  Grandma Nettie told us boys "I hated to see the goldenrod bloom, as it meant summer was over and I had to go back to teaching school again for another winter."   I remembered that and agreed back in those 6 years when I too was a school teacher.  

Cows and deer love red clover that comes as a volunteer in the old pasture.  It is a biannual, but reseeds itself if left unmown.  Beautiful big red blooms are a bumble bee favorite.   
The nettle stings your bare skin.  Some folks make a tea from the young leaves, but it contains some irritants, so I leave it be.  The long fibrous stems were, according to what I have read, used by Native Americans as fibers for string.  It is a perennial so once you have a nettle patch it spreads by root.  One type of nettle grows in the deep shade of the maple woods, and this kind in more open areas.  Generally it gets crowded out except like here under an apple tree or where the ground is disturbed.  

Hard to mistake are the various types of thistles that grow even in tightly mowed lawns.  They are a favorite of gold finches for the nesting material and seeds.  In the olden days of trying to maintain good hay fields and cow pasture, thistles were despised.  The weed commissioner might see them in your pasture and stop by and tell you to cut them before they went to seed.  Did you know that rural townships appointed a weed commissioner?  The job was to remind everyone to cut the weeds in their pastures, fields, and roadside ditches to keep agriculture thriving.  An oats field yellow with mustard or yellow rocket was a sign of a poor farmer as was the barnyard thistle patch and the straggling milkweeds in the cow pasture.  Many weeds thrived even with heavy pasturing as they had their own defenses of bitter taste, thorns or actual poisons.   Nowadays with herbicides like Roundup that kill everything except what is "Roundup ready" the days of taking the scythe to the barnyard and slaughtering weeds is a memory only for we older folks.
Great Uncle George told us about his memory of his Grandpa, Olaus Hansson, the Swede.  "I had to go tell Grandpa to come in for dinner.  I was just a little shaver, 4 or 5 years old, and Grandpa was out clearing a thistle patch with the scythe.  I hollered to him, but he just kept moving deeper into the patch making me come in after him.  Grandpa was just plain ornery."   It could be that Grandpa was just hard of hearing too!

I think my thistles are Canadian Thistles.  They have beautiful light purple round ball blooms made up of tiny strands.  Beautiful and, like most other blooming weeds, excellent for bees.  Minnesota classes this plant as a "noxious weed."   That means it interferes with agricultural use.   Sometimes our first crop of a newly seeded hay field seemed to be half thistles.  Continued mowing 3 crops a year for a few years mostly got rid of them.  Nothing like using your bare hands to grab hold of a hay bale and get poked full of holes by the thorns, even more vicious dried.

Note the variety of weeds coming in the bare spot where Chuck took out a box elder tree and left unsodded ground.  Weeds have a harder time seeding into sod, so gopher mounds and other ground baring activities give them a foothold.  In the old days of vast prairies to the west, plant diversity often came about from the pocket gopher mounds.  I have a few of these in the orchard and old pasture that sometimes I trap and sometimes I ignore.  A gopher mounded pasture soon becomes so uneven that you can hardly drive a tractor over it without falling off.   

A bare spot in the grass -- hotbed of weed activity.  Thistles and golden rod seem the most likely to fight it out for the location.  
Not sure what the weed is here. 

The leaves in the center are wild raspberries coming from bird strewn seeds under the apple tree.

Been working on mowers all week, and if I get them running, I might just decide to revert to my farmer type childhood when weeds robbed us of our living and were sentenced to be beheaded by scythe -- we boys running it many long hot hours.  Hard to change sometimes.

 Never did find that milkweed plant -- guess it is too early yet.  Monarchs, as of May 14th had still not made it into Iowa so a few weeks maybe.