Eastern Garter Snake

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                Yes, its that time of year. Although the recent cold spell has ran most of the reptiles back underground it is not uncommon to see the Eastern Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis, out from early spring on through summer. Occasionally they may even be seen on some of the warmer winter days.

                Garter snakes are medium sized with longitudinal stripes. Sometimes these stripes are broken so as to form a checkered pattern. The background color ranges from yellowish through brown, to bluish green. The belly is light colored with dark spots. Average length is 16 to 26 inches. The eastern garter snake is viviparous and gives birth to live young. The number of young average from 15 to 30. They are similar to adults but have stronger patterns.

                These snakes seem to prefer to live near water or damp places but can be found in almost any habitat. The garter snake feeds primarily on earthworms, small toads and frogs, and salamanders.

                The eastern garter snake will attempt to escape if possible but if cornered will sometimes flatten its body. Individuals vary and some will bite if captured while others will not. This snake will usually calm down however and makes a gentle pet.

By Jack Glisson

Published in The Ballard County Weekly 04/01/2015


Eastern Redbud Tree

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               It seems that spring has finally arrived. We have had a few cool spells and there will be more before summer brings lasting heat. But for now everywhere one looks something is blooming. While most of our native trees bloom white (sarvis and pear trees are in bloom now with dogwood soon to follow),  an exception is  the Eastern Redbud Tree or Cercis canadensis. With its pinkish/purple blossoms on bare twigs this small tree is a welcome sight following a cold winter.

                Redbuds are native to eastern North America and so tend to grow well in our soil. Scattered in the wild or available from nursery stock it is a common ornamental in our area. Although a fairly small tree reaching a total height of only twenty to thirty feet it will spread twisted branches to fill a canopy almost as wide as it is tall.

                The pink blossoms are soon replaced by flat shaped seed pods and heart shaped leaves. The leaves turn a bright yellow in fall putting on a second seasonal show of color.

                Twigs have been used for flavor in game meat and flowers can be eaten raw or boiled. Although I have never tried them the mature seeds were reportedly roasted and eaten by Indians.  

                As usual when describing edible or medicinal properties I must add the following disclaimer, neither the paper nor myself are responsible for the mis-identification and/or possible untoward effects from eating or otherwise utilizing wild plants.

By Jack Glisson


Published in The Ballard County Weekly 04/08/2015


Northern Spring Peeper

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                Without a doubt spring has finally arrived. Although we will still have a few cold spells the recent warm muggy weather has reptiles and amphibians out in large numbers.

                The Spring Peeper, scientific name Pseucacris crucifer, is one of two common frogs one hears in early spring, the other being the chorus frog.  Spring peeper males sing mostly at night starting in early spring through early summer. The best description I can think of to describe this little frogs call is that it sounds like sleigh bells. They are very common throughout our area.

                During breeding season spring peepers congregate in low laying, moist areas near water. The males usually climb a short distance up some brushy structure and call to attract a mate.  These calls can be heard from up to a couple of miles away if several frogs are calling. Eggs are laid in shallow water and there may be up to one thousand of them!

                Following breeding season these frogs retire into the forest. They lead a secretive life and are rarely seen until the next spring weather again brings them to breeding areas. Being nocturnal (active at night) makes it even more unlikely to run across one unless turning over logs or debris or other such cover.

                Feeding on almost anything that moves and small enough to swallow their diet includes flies, beetles, ants, and spiders.

                Color may vary between gray and brown and almost anything in between but spring peepers are easily recognized by the darker “X” marking on the back.

 By Jack Glisson

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 04/15/2015


Downy Phlox

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                Out looking for turkey or just driving around, one is likely to encounter this showy plant this time of year. Downy Phlox, also commonly called wild phlox or prairie phlox is common in this area. The scientific name for downy phlox is Phlox pilosa and there are actually nine sub-species depending on the geographic location.

                Downy phlox plants are from one to two feet tall and tend to grow in clusters. Color can range from pink to blue. They are perennials which means they come back year after year in the same location. The foliage is present from early spring until fall but is rarely noticed except for a brief flowering season in late spring to early summer. Common on roadsides and river bottoms this plant seems to like areas where the soil is warmed by sunshine early in the year before other plants leaf out but later in the summer these same areas are then cooled by shade.

                This plants foliage is eaten most wild mammals and many long tongue bees and butterflies feed from the nectar. However I find no listing for nor have I ever heard of this plant being edible for humans. It is however used extensively for gardens and landscaping. Available from gardening supply houses or plant nurseries, propagation is by seed or root rhizomes.

 By Jack Glisson

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 04/22/2015


Virginia Bluebell

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                Another spring wildflower common in our area this time of year is the Virginia Bluebell, or Mertensia virginica.

                The plant can grow over two feet tall and spreads by rhizomes underground. This means that when found it may form dense patches that may be a considerable size. Each flower is over an inch long so a patch of these wildflowers is a showy sight. Fertile soil in partial shade seems to be preferred. I have seen it mostly along creek banks.

                The long tube of the flowers makes it difficult for some insects to feed on the nectar but it is a favorite of butterflies which can commonly be seen flitting from plant to plant.

                I mentioned earlier that bluebell plants are spread by underground rhizomes but it can also be propagated by seed. If seeds are gathered they need to be sown immediately or frozen for around 6 weeks. If rhizomes are dug it is best to do this when the plant is dormant.

                Leaves and flowers of the Virginia bluebell are edible. Good either raw in a salad or stir fried it can add a distinctive flavor to other dishes.

                As usual though, neither the paper nor my-self are responsible for the mis-identification and possible untoward side effects from eating unknown wild plants.

By Jack Glisson

 Published in The Ballard County Weekly 04/29/2015