The hands of time seem to spin faster during spring than during any other time of year. This May has been disconcertingly warm, which brought about the early bloom and fruiting of many trees and plants, including this Red Mulberry tree (Morus rubra), which normally ripens its fruit in mid-summer. Every other day, Dean hiked up the hill, bucket in hand, to pick the deep purple fruits that the birds left for us. The soft, sweet berries were small in size, but big in flavor. These were the earliest wild fruits to be had anywhere and not a single one made it past the front door! There are several fruiting red mulberry trees on our property, but only this one bore fruit in May.
Also appearing in early May were several different kinds of small scaled creatures with whom we share this land. The first to arrive were the Six-lined Racerunners (Cnemidophorus sexlineatus), which are most often found inhabiting dry glades and rocky hillsides. These long, slim lizards can reach lengths of up to 9” – most of which consists of the tail. Voracious hunters of insects, racerunners are in constant motion. The males sport an impressive shade of lime green along their sides and heads and seem to enjoy sparring with other males in their territory. Racerunners earned their name because of their ability to run at speeds of up to 18 mph! It’s almost impossible to keep your eye on them when they decide to turn up the heat!
While not everyone appreciates scaly creatures, I happen to be a big fan of lizards, reptiles and amphibians. I especially like those with interesting patterns or coloration. The beautiful Western Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis sauritus) in this picture is a type of garter snake. This one is less than 20” long and very, very shy.
One afternoon, we kept hearing a strange high-pitched croaking sound coming from the garden. After 15 or 20 minutes, I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to go in search of the creature making such a fuss. I didn’t have to look long. The tiny ribbon snake had the lower foot of the comparatively huge gray tree frog below (which is only about 2” long and 1” wide) in its jaws. Despite the fact that the frog was much too big for the snake to eat, it steadfastly refused to let go of its prize. That is, until it saw me. The snakes desire to escape my gaze quickly outweighed that of its hunger and the frog leg was quickly disgorged. The slightly bleeding frog hopped onto a nearby horseradish leaf (below), where it gathered its wits.
I like snakes, but grey tree frogs are one of my favorite amphibians. These true frogs are adept at climbing almost any surface and their call sounds less like a croak than it does a very loud bird chirp. Indeed, the first time I heard the call of the grey tree frog, I thought a bird was stuck in my air conditioner!
As you can see from the pictures above and below, the grey tree frog isn’t always gray, sometimes they are also green.
In fact, most of the tree frogs I find around here, sport a lovely lichen-green back and head. It is interesting to note that there are two species of grey tree frogs in Missouri – the Eastern Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor) and the Cope’s Grey Tree Frog (H. chrysoscelis). For all intents and purposes, these two species cannot be differentiated by their looks, but rather by the speed of their calls or by counting the number of chromosomes each has – both are difficult tasks. The angular dark spot seen in the grey form above is also visible in the green form, but not quite as distinctly. Also, notice the green patch below the eye – this distinguishing mark is found on all grey tree frogs.
Our resident grey (green) tree frog, whom we anthropomorphize by calling it Fred, shelters underneath the porch awning during the day. At night, Fred comes down from his perch to feed on bugs, slugs and snails in the garden. In this picture, he sits on the porch bench surveying his vast territory.
Mid may found us taking long walks about Turtle Ridge, hoping to discover some new flowering beauties. Among the many blooming herbaceous plants we found was this lovely specimen of New Jersey Tea, also known as Red Root (Ceanothus americanus).
This Buckthorn family plant has been used by Native Americans for a myriad of medicinal purposes, but its fame came in the form of a pleasant substitute for black tea during the Revolutionary War. It also makes a lovely ornamental in the flower garden.
The hard-neck garlic was planted in October and grew lushly all winter long, producing cloves twice as large as the seed cloves! To cure the garlic, I engineered a simple rack made out of PVC pipe nailed to a couple of shelves in our airy workshop. So far, the garlic is drying beautifully and I can’t wait to taste it!
I hope this month’s Notes from Turtle Ridge finds you enjoying your garden and all of the wild things in your neck of the woods.
© 2012 Jill Henderson
Jill Henderson is an artist, author and the editor of Show Me Oz
Books by Jill Henderson include, A Journey of Seasons, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs and The Garden Seed Saving Guide – available in our bookstore.
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