On days when I can steal an hour or so and my allergies aren't too bad, I've been touring our local parks for exercise and mental recharging. Sometimes I have a kid with me, but a lot of the time I'm alone, and I like it that way. Still, many of the things I see I would like to share because it all carries so much wonder for me. All it takes is the willingness to look around and take notice, and amazing things start popping out at you. It sometimes it also helps to know a little bit about the plants and animals in the area so that you know what you are looking at though.
Spring is a great big reproductive frenzy in North Carolina. Pollen is flying and flowers are blooming. Ornamental flowers are beautiful, of course, but I tend to value the quieter woodland flowers more... the ones you have to go out of your way to notice. They don't always jump out at you, but they are there never-the-less, like shy little beauties all the more beautiful because they are native and we didn't make them that way.
Here is an example: the azaleas in front of our house. I love it when they bloom each Spring, but look as this Pinkshell azalea I found in the woods. Our cultivars come from native flowers like this. To me it's like the difference between a gaudy hooker and an elegant young lady, though this one was pretty gaudy.
Trumpet honeysuckle is a native vine, unlike the pinkish Japanese honeysuckle (an introduced exotic) that is everywhere. The hummingbirds who have just returned to our area a week ago love to feed on flowers like this and this one was an unexpected splash of red in the forest.
Magnolias are a common tree in the south, a wonderful remnant from millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the area. The Frasier magnolia is more common in the mountains, but we have small pockets of mountainous species in our area. Hemlock Bluffs is a small Town park preserved from development just for this reason. There are hemlock trees there, left over from the last ice age, and apparently also Frasier magnolias. Going to the same places throughout the year, I continually notice things I had never noticed before and these trees are one of those things. I just noticed them last week, even though I have walked that same trail at least 30 times. They bloomed a couple of days before I took this picture. Sadly, I didn't have my camera at that time. The flowers are like those of the Southern Magnolia, but smaller and thinner... daintier. This tree is also called the umbrella tree because the leaf whorls are like big umbrellas.
That particular walk was really wonderful. Looking at the new greenery more closely, look at what I noticed! A green pitcher plant hiding in plain sight!
Walking further along the trail, it occurred to me that it sounded like it was raining. Small things were falling from the trees, but the skies were clear. It took me a minute to figure it out. Looking at the tops of some leaves I noticed small black pellets. Next I noticed that many of the leaves were looking pretty eaten up. Then I saw them. It was an army of inchworms eating the new growth as fast as they could manage and pooping it out just as quickly!
I believe this was an elderberry tree in bloom. Again, a small, little known understory tree. Showing off just a little bit each year.
This beautiful guy was just off the patio in plain sight. Three other people passed me while I was looking at him and didn't even see him. The second one was near the parking lot. Again, overlooked by all who just don't bother to look.