Saturday, March 31, 2012

Turtle Time

Yellow mud turtle, that is.  Kinosternon flavescens.

On Wednesday, March 28th, during the one leisurely walk that the boys and I have been able to take this week since getting back on Monday from my visit with Jess in Florida, we almost literally ran across this yellow mud turtle on the path. 

Although yellow mud turtles are not the most prepossessing of animals, I still enjoy my occasional sightings of this species.  I presume these guys hang out generally in our draw, the lagoon, and/or the neighbor's pond.  I usually see them when they venture further afield to look for "greener pastures," so to speak.

The boys saw this guy first.  ("Guy" is purely a guess, from his slightly concave plastron, or lower shell.)  Of course, Becker's and Blue's first instinct was to nose this odd creature to get a whiff of yellow mud turtle essence.  Needless to say, that made him immediately retreat into his shell.  Hence the first photo.

It took 4 patient minutes before I saw this fearless adventurer stick his nose out carefully to begin checking whether the dangerous dogs had left the area.  (They were on down-stay a few yards behind him.)

A minute later, he'd stuck his head further out and was craning his neck around to explore as widely as possible without actually moving his shell/body.  It always amazes me how long a turtle's neck is.  And how does he retract it so completely into what seems like a fully stuffed shell?!

A sneeze from one of the dogs caused him to quickly pull his head back into his shell briefly, but he came back out again in a short time and continued his quiet surveillance. 

It took 11 minutes from the time I first came upon him until he felt confident enough to extend his legs and continue on his journey.  Once he made up his mind, though, he started moving fast to "get the h--- out of Dodge!" they say.  My first shot as he started up was literally blurry!

Not the most socially adept of animals, it was only a short time until Mr. Mud Turtle had turned away and presented me with only this view of his retreating rear end.  A satisfactory end to a brief encounter with one of my fellow inhabitants here on the southern Kansas prairie.

Fringed Puccoon

Fringed puccoon.  Doesn't that name have a wonderful, wild sound to it?  Based just on its name, Daniel Boone should have seen this flower.  Or at least Fess Parker's version of Daniel Boone!  Before I ever saw my first fringed puccoon, my imagination had painted this plant as 2' tall and romantic - a flower that would easily make the transition from wild prairie to gardens.

Reality, though, is not quite the same as imagination!  For starters, the individuals I've seen of fringed puccoon max out at about 10" tall.  The flowers are pretty and ruffly...but rather small.  From a far distance, it would be easy to mistake the buttercup yellow blooms as dandelions, given the short stature of the plants.  Truthfully, the somewhat complicated sounding, scientific name of Lithospermum incisum is probably quite appropriate, given the plant's relative invisibility at any time of year except when it's in bloom.

Imagination aside, I was quite excited when I found a couple fringed puccoons in our grasslands during the first year we lived here.  I'd never seen one before...and now I lived on land that was home to several!

Most years I see only one or two or three fringed puccoons, mainly in areas that have either been burned or that are mowed low.  This year I'm seeing a dozen or more!

Now that's my definition of a tough plant!  Despite last summer's extreme heat and drought, the fringed puccoons in my grasslands have multiplied and are blooming prolifically this spring!  It's just one more example of why I love native plants.  Now I just have to figure how to transplant or seed one or more into my more managed flower beds....

The Best of Springs, The Worst of Springs

Sorry for the bad paraphrase in the title, but it seems to perfectly capture my mixed feelings about this spring.  All the area plants seem to be popping out much too early and much too quickly...yet I can't help but enjoy this gorgeous weather as well as the colorful, glorious blooms and fresh, green foliage that are so abundant everywhere!

Looking at this photo, shot towards the road, down our driveway, I feel like I can see both the best and worst of this spring.  Or maybe I should say that I can see the best of this year and the effects of the worst of last year.

The Willem van Oranje (1933) tulips are absolutely stunning this year, as is the clump of daffodils (whose variety name I've forgotten) beside them.  Both are heirlooms - I'll have to find my invoice from Old House Gardens several years ago to figure out the daffodil name, as the name plate I put beside the clump has weathered beyond legibility.  (I've got to figure out a better way of marking my plant varieties!)

Anyway, back to my original thoughts....

Across the driveway from the bed housing the tulips and daffodils, overflowing the "frame" formed by the square of the metal crossbars of the old fence, are the remnants of a huge, wild clump of asparagus and a large, formerly gorgeous, dark pink rugosa rose.  Both remnants need to be completely cut back.  As far as I can tell, the asparagus completely succumbed last summer - I have not seen any sign of life yet this spring.  The rugosa rose has a few little sprigs of green - basically 3 small shoots of growth - so it's not completely gone, but it will be years before it regains its former glory, if it ever does.

None of my "best" and "worst" plants in this post are native to south-central Kansas.  In fact, none are native to the North American continent.  Perhaps that explains the death of the asparagus and the near-death of the rose in last summer's heat and drought.  Certainly I'm feeling horrible about my decision not to water the outlying beds last year, although I also don't see how I could have decided otherwise, given our reliance on a solitary well for both the house and the yard.

We've had weeks of 70 and 80 degree weather now.  Tomorrow is only April 1st.  What is the rest of the year going to bring us as far as temperatures and rainfall?  Not having a crystal ball, I can't begin to predict...but I can hope.  And, meanwhile, I can enjoy.

Oh, and the daffodils?  Looking back to earlier years, the daffodils are a variety known as Conspicuus, introduced to the trade in 1869.  They were considered to be " of the pioneering achievements of the Victorian daffodil renaissance" according to the Old House Gardens catalog description.  They certainly are conspicuous this year!