Five is false, ten is true

a patch of white flowers in the sun

Rue anemone or false rue anemone?

another patch of white flowers in the sun

The previous two pictures look really similar. (There’s even a log in each!) They’re white flowers, approximately the same size, with very similar leaves. But they’re different: all of the flowers in the first photo have five petals, but only some of the flowers in the second photo have five petals, and most have more than five.

I can always remember that there is a distinction in the petal numbers, but I haven’t been able to remember which is which without looking it up. Thank goodness for minnesotawildflowers.info.

yet another patch of white flowers, each with five petals

Color might help: if it’s pink, it’s rue anemone. But with such similar common names, what are the chances I’ll remember that? Slim.

closeup of four pinkish flowers, one with seven petals, two with six, and one with five

In addition, both can be white, so it’s not safe to rely on color. So it’s back to counting the petals. False rue anemone always has five petals; true rue anemone has between five and ten.

closeup of a white flower with eight petals and several smaller flowers drooping away

However, that rule has never stuck with me. I have to keep learning it and re-learning it. Even in my own garden — where I have one of these flowers but not the other…

six white flowers, two with five petals, one with six, one unknown, and two missing several petals

… the only way I know for sure is to look at the tag.

an out-of-focus white flower next to a plant tag that says rue anemone

This year, I posted this problem on Instagram and asked if anyone has a mnemonic to help. Within a couple hours, a new Instagram friend, Jenny Stratton, responded with this spur-of-the-moment suggestion:

Five is false, ten is true?

Let’s give it a try:

sunny shot that focuses on a couple flowers in the foreground, with many more blurred in the background

All of these flowers have five petals, so it’s false rue anemone

 

focus on one pinkish flower, with many more around it

All of these flowers have [up to] ten petals, so it’s [true] rue anemone

It works! And I’ve managed to remember this saying for two weeks.

closeup of one pinkish flower with seven petals

One problem is that five petals could mean either flower. But a patch of true rue anemone, as far as I have seen, never has all five-petal flowers. In fact, I usually don’t see any with five; it’s usually six or eight. As long as I am not in a hurry and look at the entire patch of flowers instead of just one individual, I’ll get it.

closeup of one white flower with five petals, with half a dozen more in the background

Learn more about these flowers

Butterflies and suddenly so many flowers

The first thing I noticed in the garden this afternoon was a butterfly flitting around the pearly everlasting.

blurry photo of a black-and-orange butterfly resting on a small, light green plant

When I got closer, I noticed that there was another one nearby – and then another and yet another. I managed to get a photo with two of them in one frame.

two of those butterflies close together among seedlings

Altogether, four American lady butterflies, possibly already laying eggs! I couldn’t wait to get inside and write a post about this.

But then I started seeing other new discoveries in the garden. I’m way behind on the phenology report and need to get recording!

Irises are showing purple.

about a dozen iris buds, some with dark purple tips

I hope these are first-year cup plant seedlings (because there are close to a dozen of these, so it would be nice if they’re a good plant).

plant with red, rhubarb-like stems and large but relatively narrow, toothed leaves

Peonies are already covered in ants.

one round bud in the foreground, two in the background, all covered in small ants

Ferns (not my favorite) are already huge.

at least six nearly fully-grown ferns

The invasive creeping bellflower is already out of control.

the entire frame covered in dozens of green, elongated heart-shaped leaves

The creeping charlie is everywhere, too, although that is at least somewhat manageable. Tonight I pulled this by hand for 30 minutes and actually made a large dent in the strawberry / vegetable garden.

the entire frame covered in short plants with lots of purple flowers

Back to the wanted plants: Canada violet, joining the wood violets that have been blooming for a couple weeks.

white violets in the foreground, light-purple violets in the background

Baby wild ginger leaves, next to the fading flowers.

two dark purple triangle-shaped flowers, to the left of one small, green, rounded leaf

With any luck, this will be the first time we’ve had more than one jack-in-the-pulpit! I spotted three shoots.

And the large-flowered trilliums are finally open.

a drooping three-petaled flower that is starting to open

I can’t decide if that was my favorite find, or if this is instead: common milkweed making an appearance. Monarch butterflies will be here any day now, looking for places to lay their eggs. Grow quickly, milkweed!

six or so tightly packed, short milkweed stems with new leaves standing straight up

Territorial robin

The robins are back! One decided to set up shop in our front yard.

robin perched on a pine branch facing left

Last year, a pair of robins built a nest on the downspout and raised several babies, so I was excited that we might be able to observe that process again this year. But I haven’t seen that yet; instead, he has spent his time fighting an intruder in his territory. (I am assuming this robin is a male.)

robin in midair with its feet straight up and claws extended

Except the other robin is just his own reflection in our front windows.

silhouette with its head turned to the left and wings outstretched

For several days in a row, rain or shine, for hours on end beginning at 6 am, he would watch the reflection from his spot in the tree, then move in closer and perch on a stick close to the window, then go in for the attack.

Each incident lasted from 2 to 5 seconds, and then he’d fly back to the pine tree and pause for a minute or two, then look both ways, then look straight at the window and start again.

The tree shows evidence of his presence.

pine branch with many bird droppings

This wasn’t just playful; this was feet-up, claws-out wrestling — at least, as much as he can wrestle with a window.

silhouette with wings outstretched, tail down, feet up

Nothing we did to dissuade him worked for the long term. Not putting up more anti-bird-strike stickers, not putting up shiny metal tape, not hanging a screen, not shooing him away from the inside or outside.

silhouette from the side, mouth open, right wing up, left wing down

He just kept coming back and fighting and fighting

silhouette from the left side, wings back, right leg and claws visible

and buzzing by repeatedly.

flying to the right, wings down

flying to the left, wings down

Finally, one day the constant attacks stopped. I imagined he must have admitted to his rival, “You are a worthy opponent.” He’s still around, and every now and then he’ll attack the window-robin once, but that’s it. And on Sunday we saw (and heard) a real skirmish: a robin flew super-fast into the tree and apparently dislodged another bird; they wrestled and screeched in midair, and one flew away.

hovering in front of the window, wings back, feet down

But mostly now he just watches his territory without incident. So far, I haven’t seen a nest; maybe he hasn’t had time to find a mate, what with him being so busy patrolling and all.

back on the branch, facing right, looking left

Learn more about this behavior

Springing up all over

After the warm spell in February, it returned to more seasonal weather and even snowed a bit. The snow didn’t last long, and then we were in a long stretch of the awkward time period when it was still cold but not quite winter and not yet spring. I was pretty jealous of all of my Instagram friends’ posts of early-spring blooms, when everything was still completely brown in my yard.

tall stem of blazingstar from last year, brown stem on a brown background

Then one night it rained, and suddenly there was a small patch of pearly everlasting and what I assume to be Canada goldenrods.

a few purplish-green plants and a few light green plants

(In the two weeks since, these have multiplied.)

many skinny green plants and many other stout green plants, much more similar in color this time

I traveled to the backyard and when brushing away the leaf layer, I found spring beauty leaves that were growing unnoticed.

several skinny grasslike leaves, some with bunches of tightly closed buds

And lots and lots of violets, which are taking over the woodland garden — proving once again that just because a flower is native, it doesn’t mean that it’s desired everywhere.

10 clumps of violet leaves growing close together with no other flowers visible

Since I’m still waiting on blooms in my own garden, I headed to Eloise Butler’s garden on April 8 to see some. Things seemed to be a week behind where they were last year. First, hepatica:

six-petal white leaves on skinny stems with no visible leaves

then snow trillium…

seven small trillium flowers and many leaves without flowers

…and skunk cabbage.

three purple skunk cabbages close together

When I got home, when I was still in the car in the driveway, I saw my first butterfly of the season, a red admiral. (But I scared it off before I could get close enough for a photo.) Later that evening, in the woodland garden, I saw one ant, three worms, and unfortunately, two mosquitoes. A full, 70-degree day.

Just three days later, it snowed, showing how fickle spring can be. Of course, it all melted within hours.

pointy iris leaves with water drops at the tips, poking out of wet snow

The plants that were emerging in February seem to be okay now, if not quite normal. They’re growing around last year’s stems, which are still in place. I won’t remove them until it gets a little warmer, just in case insects are still hibernating.

Here’s sedum; I think the smaller, purply leaves are the February ones that have been stunted, while the bigger ones are new. And the middle of this plant seems to be digging itself up.

two big green sedum leaves at the left, with a dozen smaller purplish leaves to the right, roots visible in a hole

The pink turtlehead is fine…

more than a dozen green, tall, skinny stems with purplish leaves standing straight up

and the white one is finally growing after taking awhile to get started, almost as if it were nervous to start growing in case the temperatures plummeted again.

a dozen very skinny two-inch stems with tightly bound leaves, and many more stems that are less than an inch

And the cup plant looks really good.

two dozen plants, each with several unfurling leaves

One night I saw a bat fluttering around in the twilight, swooping back-and-forth and up-and-down in front of my window for about 10 minutes until it got too dark for me to see it anymore. Birds have showed up, too, such as goldfinches and robins.

With all the rain this week and warm temperatures forecast for the weekend, we’re about to see an explosion of plant growth. Looks like hepatica might be the first one to bloom — and I’m thrilled to finally see so many of these buds, since in past years there were only one or two. (Spring beauty is getting close to opening, too.)

nine drooping white nearly-open buds on hairy stems but no leaves

I’ve wanted to create a list of all the plants in my garden for several years, and the time is now. I’m recording them as they appear this season.

This is February.

This is what the yard should look like right now: seedheads sticking out of the snow.

brown turtlehead seedhead in the sunlight, with other turtleheads in the shade in the background and snow

And this is what it looked like earlier this month.

grayish-brown stiff goldenrod plant with barely any seeds left, with snow in the background

Two years ago today, I was talking about below-zero temperatures“It’s the time of the year when it feels like winter will never end, when even though we’ve had less snow than normal, it’s been bitterly cold for weeks.”

This year, though, it seems like we barely even had a winter. In the middle of February were 14 straight days of temperatures above freezing. It started with five straight days above 40, which was weird enough. The temperature dropped a bit for one day before climbing back up to 42 and then shooting up to 63. That was the start of six straight days above 55, with five daily records set. On five of those nights, the low didn’t get below freezing.

In February. In the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Not surprisingly, the little snow we had disappeared. The ground got squishy, and then the perennials started appearing. It’s usually such an exciting sight when the first shoots are spotted – but I cannot muster the energy to be anything but concerned in February.

Lilacs and tulips are bad enough. But then the turtleheads started emerging, too. Turtleheads! They’re far from flowering, but we still should not be seeing any plant growth this early. This one gets a fair amount of sunlight, especially in late afternoon.

broken brown stems from last year, with green roots showing above the ground and four bright-green shoots

This one, however, is in full shade during the winter.

unbroken brown stems from last year, with greening-up roots showing above the ground and about a dozen purple shoots

(To be fair, another one that’s in between the two locations is still in ice.)

brown stems from last year, with bare dirt showing in places and ice and others, no shoots

But the sedum has really popped.

two dozen purplish-green leaf balls and one tipped-over pink leaf ball between last year's stems

(Three years ago, it was late April when the sedums and turtleheads looked like this.)

And the cup plant has lots of little purple shoots.

six thick brown stems from last year, with several small, blurry dark pink or purple spiked leaves

To end the month we were back down into the 30s and 40s, and teens and 20s at night, still warm but closer to normal for this time of year. The ground firmed up again. I had to wonder if the trees – which had begun to bud – were confused about what just happened.

suspended silver maple branch with three sets of buds

Final data is not in yet, since the month hasn’t officially ended, but as of Feb. 27, the average daily high temperature was 39.9 degrees, more than 10 degrees warmer than normal.

This is not normal. This is what the garden looks like now, without snow – more like November than February.

brown turtlehead seedhead, with other turtleheads in the background and no snow

grayish-brown stiff goldenrod plant with barely any seeds left, and no snow

Blue snow

It seems strange to talk about snow after days and days of 50- and 60-degree temperatures and rain have left us with virtually none. This observation happened just over a week ago.

Near the compost pile I noticed a bright blue spot

round spot of bright-blue snow, with dark blue spots, several inches wide

and then another that I had walked right by without noticing.

oval-shaped dark blue snow next to a hole with a leaf

I had heard of this phenomenon before: animals eat some kind of plant, which turns their urine blue. I thought I had heard it was caused by deer or rabbits, and either could be the culprit in our yard. So I started looking around, and then I started noticing lots of round scat, which means rabbits. (Deer scat is more oval.)

small pile of snow with lots of brown emerald cedar leaves and rabbit scat

The plant: was it buckthorn? Hmm, didn’t we just realize we have a patch of buckthorn in the yard?

small woody stem cut off several inches from the ground

Yep, the stems of these small trees (which I suspect are buckthorn, given their appearance and location close to confirmed buckthorn) seem to have been snacked. An Instagram friend told me last year that rabbits chew the stems of plants cleanly at a 45-degree angle, like the photo above, while deer cuts are more crushed or ragged. Rabbits are also known to remove the bark all the way around a tree, potentially like the messy work below – though so are deer. This damage’s cause is less clear to me.

a tall, thin stem with more than half the bark removed to various depths, with ragged pieces hanging off

Several unofficial sources agree that both rabbits and deer are the animals in the equation, and the chemical is almost always from buckthorn (though apparently salts could be another culprit). Interestingly enough, it’s the bark of buckthorn, and not the berries, that causes this phenomenon.

And a closer look at the first spot showed some rabbit scat right next to the blue.

blue snow

If only the rabbits could eat enough of the buckthorn to kill it.

References