The Sweet smell of spring: It must be spicebush!

spicebush (426x640)

Two things are a must for spring to be real to me: First, the white blossoms of shadbush sparkling an otherwise drab woods, which I haven’t seen yet.

And second, the sweet, sweet smell of spicebush, which is flavoring the air right now. Found blooming spicebush on the Back Moutnain Trail, photo at bottom, and further developed on a trail at Frances Slocum. Both delightful, even though today isn’t.

Common spicebush Facts

Common spicebush is a type of deciduous shrub that belongs to the laurel family. It originates from North America. Common spicebush grows on moderately moist, fertile soil in partial shade. It can be found in the moist woodlands, on the edges of the forests, along the streams, on the hillsides and in the marshes. Common spicebush is an understory plant that usually grows near the yellow poplar, highbush blueberry and elderberry. Common spicebush can be used in human diet, but it is usually cultivated in decorative purposes.
Interesting Common spicebush Facts:

Common spicebush is roundish shrub that develops several stems covered with hairs. It can reach 3 to 9 feet in height.
Common spicebush has brown or gray bark covered with lens-like pale markings on the surface.
Common spicebush produces elliptical leaves with pointed tips and entire margins. Leaves are alternately arranged on the branches, green on the upper side, slightly paler below. Color of the leaves changes into yellow during the autumn. Crushed leaves release pleasant, spicy aroma.
Common spicebush produces yellow, globular flowers arranged in clusters of 3 to 15 flowers. They grow close to the stem. Common spicebush is dioecious plant, which means that male and female flowers develop on separate plants.
Common spicebush blooms from March to April. Flowers appear on the naked branches (without leaves). Common spicebush is one of the first plants that bloom in the spring. Fragrant flowers attracts bees, that are responsible for the pollination of this plant.
Fruit of common spicebush is berry-like drupe. It is oval in shape, bright red colored and filled with one large seed. Fruit ripens during the autumn.
Common spicebush can be propagated via seed, cuttings and sprouts.
Fruit of common spicebush is important source of food for the American robins, grey catbirds, flycatchers, raccoons, white-tail deer and opossums.
People often cultivate common spicebush in their gardens to attract butterflies that lay eggs and feed on the leaves of this plant.
Fresh or dry fruit of common spicebush can be used as spice. Common spicebush has lemon-like, slightly peppery flavor that perfectly matches gingerbreads, rice puddings and ice-creams.
Twigs, leaves and fruit of common spicebush can be used for the preparation of tea.
Fresh twigs of common spicebush were used to tenderize the meat of game birds and old roosters in the past.
Native Americans used tea made of spicebush in treatment of cough, menstrual disorders and measles. Oil obtained from berries was used in treatment of arthritis.
Bark decoction of common spicebush can be used for the elimination of toxins from the body, in treatment of typhoid fever and intestinal worms. Poultice made of leaves, bark and berries can be used in treatment of rash, bruises, irritations and itch.
Common spicebush is perennial plant that can survive from 5 to 20 years in the wild.

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A rare plant? Brooklyn — of all places– teaches me otherwise

I find this little plant and can’t ID it. Looks like it has the leaves of cuckoo flower and the petals of whitlow grass, or something like that.

So have to prowl around and after a tentative ID from someone on Dave’s Garden I think I finally nail it: Hairy Bittercress.

So I go to look it up to find out details on this “rare” plant and find it’s not so rare. In fact,  the Brooklyn Botanical Garden selected it as a “Plant of the Month.”

So, again, shown how little I know. Oh well…..bitter

Hairy Bittercress

As winter warms to spring, a favorite weed of foragers starts to emerge in rather cute clumps—it’s hairy bittercress! It has actually been lurking near the surface all winter, having germinated in the fall and waited out the cold temperatures before sending up flowers and seeds.

Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) leafs out in a basal rosette, and like other members of the mustard family (Brassicaceae), its tender greens are edible. Don’t be fooled by the common name—its flavor is mild and peppery, not bitter. Though the flowers can be tough to chew, the tender leaves are suitable for a chic microgreens salad and have tons of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, beta-carotene, and antioxidants.
Hairy Bittercress
Cardamine hirsuta(hairy bittercress). Photo by Saara Nafici.

The flower stalks shoot up above the rosette, topped with clusters of tiny, cross-shaped white flowers. Indeed, the former name for the family is Cruciferae, a reference to the crucifix pattern of the petals common in that family’s flowers. However, when I was little, I remember thinking these tiny flowers looked like frosty pixie wands or fairy crowns, at once earthy, tough, regal, and whimsical.

More: Learn to identify more weeds and find out more about each one by browsing the Weed of the Month archive.

While urban grazers will be most focused on the leaves, I think the seed capsules are the best part of hairy bittercress. Called siliques, they look like purplish-green toothpicks standing upright around the flower. As the seeds mature, the pods begin to coil tightly until—pop! A gentle touch or passing breeze triggers the pods to explode and send the seeds flying as far as three feet from the mother plant. This ballistic dispersal strategy, known as ballochory, is also employed by jewelweed and cranesbill.
Hairy Bittercress
Cardamine hirsuta’s toothpick-like seed capsules coil up tightly and then explode when touched, flinging the seeds far from the mother plant. Photo by Saara Nafici.

Though hairy bittercress is originally from Eurasia and was introduced to North America, there are several species of Cardamine that are native to the United States. Several are listed as threatened or endangered, mostly due to habitat loss.

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Want to see nature: Look down at your feet

spotted (800x530)Was weeding the garden yesterday — on my way to 30,242 steps, 9.67 miles  on my generic fitbit –  when I saw this spotted wintergreen.

Gave me an idea for an article I’m gonna pitch to my editor right now: wild flowers and plants all found in my own back yard.  Hook  being you can find nature at your feet if you just look.

Others already spotted and snapped: the dreaded gill-over-the-ground, my mortal enemy that I start my third year of battle; henbit, the violets — exact type I have to look up — mat like prostate spurge and many, many more.
Spotted Wintergreen
Latin name: Chimaphila maculata
Family: Pyrolaceae (Wintergreen Family)on

Medicinal use of Spotted Wintergreen: The plant is analgesic, antibacterial, astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, febrifuge, rubefacient, stimulant and tonic. The plant has an antiseptic influence on the urinary system and is sometimes used in the treatment of cystitis. An infusion of the plant has been drunk in the treatment of rheumatism and colds. A poultice of the root has been used to treat pain whilst the plant has also been used as a wash on ulcers, scrofula and cancers. All parts of the plant can be used, though only the leaves are officinal. The plant is loaded with the biologically active compounds arbutin, sitosterol and ursolic acid. Arbutin hydrolyzes to the toxic urinary antiseptic hydroquinone.

Edible parts of Spotted Wintergreen: The leaves are used as a snack, being nibbled for their refreshing qualities. In Mexico the herb is used as a catalyst in the preparation of “tesguino”, an alcoholic beverage produced from sprouted maize.

Other uses of the herb: The plants stoloniferous root system, and dwarf spreading habit make it a god ground cover, though it is a difficult plant to establish and grow well.

Propagation of Spotted Wintergreen: Seed – very difficult to germinate, see the notes in cultivation details. It is best sown on moist sphagnum peat. As soon as they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a shady position in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division. Rather difficult because the plant is very sensitive to root disturbance. It is best attempted in the spring as the plant comes into growth. Cuttings of softwood, June in a frame. Use some soil from around an established plant.

Cultivation of the herb: Rich woods. Dry woods.

Known hazards of Chimaphila maculata: None known

Mt. Trashmore: I live with it — and loathe it — every day of my life

Mount Trashmore (800x533)


By Bob Quarteroni

An op-ed I’ve written for and perhaps the Harrisburg Patriot-News.  The pic  is of Mt. Trashmore, taken from my front door.


“In America today you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops.” Paul Brooks, “The Pursuit of Wilderness,” 1971


And boy, do we have a corpse in this murder: A mountain of culm – coal waste – on a 55-acre site that makes the moon’s surface look attractive.

And best of all: It’s right outside my front door, a giant Mt. Trashmore that does sooo much for the ambience, not to mention the catacomb of tunnels that may or may not be under my old miner’s house.

With real estate it’s normally location, location, location. Here, it’s desecration, desecration, desecration.

No one knows exactly how much waste is there, but coal mining operations took place at the Harry E. Colliery site in Swoyersville, my little town, from the 1880s until 1960, so there’s enough that it’s going to take an estimated 20-25 years to clean it up.

We may not have exact numbers, but– fantastic as it sounds — I’ve seen traces of snow on top of Old Smoky when it was bare everywhere else.

So now, after a mere 78-year interlude since mining stopped, they are going to start removing it. But it’s not a kumbaya let’s-be-green moment. It’s only happening because Keystone Reclamation plans to haul away the coal in July for use at two cogeneration power plants, which use waste coal as fuel to create electricity.

Just another day in the land of the free and home of black lung. Environment savaged, fortunes made on the back of poor miners, and a big, black ugly legacy to how things work when money trumps environmental concern and respect for the land is spit upon.

Just because this is a remnant of our unique anthracite coal mining legacy in northeastern Pennsylvania, don’t think you – any of you – are safe from the same type of treatment, particularly in the light of today’s damn-the-environment federal government.

Thanks to a president who has never seen an environmental regulation he doesn’t want to overturn, we’re all just bait fish for the sharks of development and fossil fuel fun.

All our former presidents – whether I agreed with their politics or not – have been staunch defenders of the environment. Republican or Democrat, they have acted responsibly and America today is light years cleaner, green and less and less dependent on fossil fuels than it was 20, 30 or 50 years ago.

Even the man I’ve hated most of my life, Richard Nixon, understood:

“Our physical nature, our mental health, our culture and institutions, our opportunities for challenge and fulfillment, our very survival — all of these are directly related to and affected by the environment in which we live. They depend upon the continued healthy functioning of the natural systems of the Earth.”

It’s pathetic when he looks like a responsible leader compared to the clown show we have today.

Trump, who never saw my Uncle Mike gasping for air in the last stages of black lung disease, had the effrontery to say in his State of the Union message that his administration had “ended the war on beautiful, clean coal.”

To me, that sacrilege is like saying he’s ending the war on “beautiful, healthful cancer.”

He’s so anti-Earth he prefers placing actual enemies of the environment in charge of agencies that are supposed to protect the environment.

The most dangerous, of course, is the Poster Child for fossil fuels, Scott Pruitt, who is making no bones of trying to gut the EPA of its guardian of the environment role as much as possible.

Unfortunately, I don’t have space to even list the number of environmental regulations Pruitt has rolled back or is trying to roll back. As Vox said last week about his first year in office “Pruitt celebrated the rollback of 22 regulations under his watch, and cheered President Donald Trump’s rejection of climate science and policy.”

But this one hits home. Last week, EPA announced plans to scrap Obama-era rules tightening restrictions on disposal of coal ash, the toxic byproduct from coal-fired plants that has caused major water contamination problems across the country.

Pruitt said the proposal gives states “more independence” over coal ash disposal.

What it also gives a lot of us is a death warrant. Living within a mile of a wet coal ash storage pond poses a greater health risk than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, raising the risk of cancer to one in 50, an EPA study from 2010 found.”

Vanity Fair summed up all this environmental mayhem in the headline of an April 5, 2018 article: “Can Scott Pruitt poison the environment enough to keep his job?”

Yep, I bet he can.

And this noxious Batman and Robin are ready, willing and able to build a Mt. Trashmore of some polluted type for each and every American.

So while yours might be air you can’t breathe or water you can’t drink or land that poisons your body, it will loom just as large and just as dangerous as my personal back yard monster.

What can be done? I know I’m a broken record but the answer is always the same: Get involved. This is really the time to unwrap the old chestnut of thinking globally and acting locally and do something: Speak up if a dump is proposed for your backyard, or an old coal mine threatens to come alive.

And, of course, vote. Vote this fall as if your life depended on it. Because it does.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead, who sagely noted “We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment,” knew the answer: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”



As always, the girls are prettier…..

hazfemusehazle catkins

Well, despite the gale like conditions, at least it was warm at Frances Slocum yesterday.

I’ve posted pics before of the male catkins of hazels before. They are large and easy to spot and were all puffed out and ready for duty yesterday.

. But I’ve never posted pics of the incredibly tiny female flowers. The flower bud is about the size of a pin head and a flaming, taunting redhead.

Both male and female flowers are on the same tree.

An interesting evolutionary question is what possible advantage can it be to the hazel tree to have a flower this small, making it harder to find and pollinate. But that’s above my pay grade.

The male flowers (catkins) on the hazel trees have been growing since last autumn. But where are the girls: without female flowers there will be no nuts…

Now, in mid to late January, the male flowers are full size and opening out to release their pollen. Consequently, the much smaller, female flowers are appearing. You have to look closely to spot them: they’re just a wisp of red or cream peeking out from the tip of a bud. What you see is just a part of the flower, the styles, that will receive the pollen. The rest of the flower is inside the bud. The more female flowers there are, the more chance there is of a good crop of nuts at the end of the summer.

The Silence of the bells: What a difference a year makes.

Went to the river  yesterday to see what was what. It was like mid-March more than mid-April, especially when it came to mertensia, Virginia Bluebells. The picture of the leaves was taken yesterday and shows how early in the blooming process they are.

The other pic was taken last year, on April 14 — only two days from now — and shows how fully in bloom they were. So it’s definitely a delayed spring this year.

Next, going to Frances Slocum today to check the shadbush which were beginning to come into bloom this day last year. Have a feeling I won’t be seeing a thing this year.mertensia (2)leaves

 Mertensia virginica

Common Name: Virginia bluebells
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Boraginaceae
Native Range: North America
Zone: 3 to 8
Height: 1.50 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: March to April
Bloom Description: Blue
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Rabbit, Black Walnut


Easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soils in part shade to full shade. Prefers moist, rich soils.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Mertensia virginica, commonly called Virginia bluebells, is a native Missouri wildflower that occurs statewide in moist, rich woods and river floodplains. An erect, clump-forming perennial which grows 1-2′ tall and features loose, terminal clusters of pendulous, trumpet-shaped, blue flowers (to 1″ long) which bloom in early spring. Flower buds are pink and flowers emerge with a pinkish cast before turning blue. Smooth, oval, bluish green leaves (to 4″ long). Foliage dies to the ground by mid-summer as the plant goes dormant.

Genus name honors Franz Carl Mertens (1764-1831), professor of botany at Bremen.

Specific epithet means of Virginia.


No serious insect or disease problems.

Garden Uses

Best massed and left undisturbed in moist, shady woodland, wildflower or native plant gardens. Clumps may be sprinkled in borders or rock gardens, but, since plants go dormant in summer, they must be overplanted with annuals or used in conjunction with perennials (as ferns or hostas) which will expand as the growing season progresses.

Finally, I’ll be able to probe the mystery of the off-limits new bridge at 7 Tubs

bridge.jpgWent to Seven Tubs yesterday and the mystery continues: Why did they build a brand new bridge but then mark it off limits to pedestrians and keep it that way for the last six months?

So my editor has given me the go-ahead to look into it so I’ll be contacting District Forester Nick Lylo and see what I can see.

Pics are of the bridge, which I took yesterday, and one of the Seven Tubs, taken in winter. A great tubs.jpgplace to visit when you’re allowed to visit all of it!


900 Bear Creek Blvd, Wilkes-Barre, PA Get Directions

Seven Tubs Nature Area in Plains TownshipD

Seven Tubs Nature Area is a 500-acre site located in Plains Township. The main feature of the area is a stream called Wheelbarrow Run that flows through a ravine where a series of large potholes or “tubs” are gouged out of the underlying bedrock. The cascade of water has attracted visitors to the site for generations. Surrounding Wheelbarrow is a forest composed of plants and animals typical of northeastern Pennsylvania. Hiking trails lead to and around the Tubs area allowing visitors to enjoy the diverse natural life and hilly terrain of the area.