Winter Wildflowers: Violets

This week as part of the Winter Wildflower blog-a-thon at Wildflower Morning, we were asked to come up with some literary connection to wildflowers. I remembered that I had just the thing for this entry.
I recently read a really interesting book about flowers. 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells was a quick, fun read and was packed full of interesting tidbits about how both garden and wildflowers got their names.
According to the author about the violet:
Common Names: Violet, pansy, heart’s-ease, Johnny-jump-up, love in idleness
Botanical Name: Viola

She also relates the story of how violets became associated with love. Let’s just say it has something to do with the Greek gods Zeus, Hera, and a heifer.

She includes literary connections to violets by referring to works that violets play a part in like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She also relates a story about violets that has to do with Napoleon.

“When Napoleon was banished to Elba, he said he would ‘return with the violets.’ When he did return, Josephine was dead, and he picked violets from her grave before being exiled again to St. Helena. They were found in a locket, along with a lock of hair, when he died.”

We are going to keep this little book handy as we enter the spring term and our study of garden flowers. Each flower has a small illustration at the beginning of the chapter. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in short accounts for many common flowers. I got my book on bookmooch.com but you can find it used on amazon.com for less than a dollar.

Some other flowers included in the book: dahlia, daffodil, daylily

Winter Wildflower Identified: California Wild Radish

California Wild Radish

Thanks to my blog reader, Shelly, I have now been able to identify my winter wildflower as California Wild radish. (see my original entry) I appreciate all her efforts to help me figure out what my find was. When I had originally observed this plant from 60 mph along the freeway, I did think it was mustard. It wasn’t until I got out of the car and looked up close at it that I realized that it wasn’t just yellow like mustard and that the flowers were very different and a variety of colors. The article that I linked to above explains that many times it is mistaken for mustard.
California Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum)

More interesting reading on the California Wild Radish. This will fit in with our current study of biology very nicely. I love it when we can make connections like that.

Snowshoe Adventure: Tahoe Snowshoe Hare

This was an outdoor weekend spent in the Sierras. We spent an afternoon taking a hike on snowshoes. It looks really cold and dreary in this photo but it was really not all that cold…above freezing by a few degrees. I could have done with a few less layers. :) I took off my gloves for awhile and that helped. Most people we saw on the trail were on cross country skis but we enjoyed the crunch, crunch , crunch of snowshoes. I was on the lookout for mammal tracks.

We saw lots of canine tracks beside the trail but as we worked our way up from the lake into the conifers, we were rewarded with these tracks.

In this area there were many little “rabbit trails” giving us a clue as to what sort of mammal was in the area. I came home and discovered that they are more than likely Tahoe Snowshoe Hare tracks. (Lepus americanus tahoensis) See snowshoe hare.

We are new to identifying tracks so if anyone thinks they are from a different animal, please leave me a comment.

Not only did we see some mammal tracks but we were treated to a “new to us” bird. The red-breasted nuthatch. He was seen clinging to the side of this pine, sticking his head into little holes looking for some bark insects. He moved easily in all directions while clinging to the bark. Amazing.


Red-breasted nuthatch

I was busy taking photos when a bunch of ducks flew into view. We saw them later eating some seeds that a fellow hiker had left along the shore. They were later joined by a few Canadian geese.

So I think we had a successful outing….we did manage to find some mammal tracks in the snow and that was our aim.

From the Handbook of Nature Study, page 217,
” An interesting relative of the cottontail is the varying hare or snow-show rabbit that lives in the wooded regions of north-eastern North America. Of all animals he is one of the most defenseless; foxes, mink, and other flesh-eating inhabitants of the woods find him an easy prey. He has not even a burrow to flee to when pursued by his enemies…..He has one important advantage over his enemies: twice each year his heavy coat of fur is shed. In the summer the coat is a reddish brown that so blends with his surroundings that he is hardly noticeable; in the winter it is perfectly white so that against a background of snow he is nearly invisible.”

Anna Botsford Comstock has included pages 215-219 with information on the cotton-tailed rabbit. I found these pages very useful in coming up with a way to study our snowshoe hare. Even though the information doesn’t completely apply to our hare, we can adapt her activities to our study.

Winter nature study at its best.