Monday, January 13, 2014

Winter Weeding: Hairy Bittercress

Cardamine hirsuta
Hairy Bittercress
By Emma Erler, The Alice and J. Liddon Pennock, Jr. Endowed Horticulture Intern

This time of year there isn’t too much happening in the garden. Most plants have gone dormant for the winter. However, as the snow melts you may notice a low growing plant with a basal rosette of leaves. This is a common weed in the mustard family called hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta).  Hairy bittercress is a winter annual, which means its seeds usually germinate in cool, moist weather. Seedlings emerge mainly in late summer or fall. They are frost hardy and will remain dormant through the winter until temperatures warm up. In early to mid-spring, hairy bittercress will resume growth, produce flowers, and go to seed. Plants die back as soon as hot weather arrives in late spring and summer.
As a seedling, hairy bittercress has simple kidney-shaped leaves. Mature plants have prominent basal rosettes of hairy, compound leaves with shallowly lobed kidney-shaped leaflets. Flowering stems emerge from the rosette and have only a few small leaves. Hairy bittercress flowers are very small (2-3 mm) in diameter with four white petals. The subsequent fruits are 1-2 cm long capsules that explosively disperse their seeds up to 3 meters from the plant.

The best way to control hairy bittercress in the garden is to remove it before it sets seed. Each plant is capable of producing many thousands of seeds, hence removing the plants before seeds are set will greatly control the population. Small populations can be easily hand pulled from the garden. In large areas, regular hoeing will prevent plants from flowering and going to seed.
 For the adventurous gardener, hairy bittercress is an edible green. Tender leaves collected in early spring or late fall can add a peppery taste to salads.

As the winter progresses, keep an eye out for hairy bittercress and get ready to weed as the weather warms up!



Photos: Emma Erler

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Counting the Birds: A Christmas Tradition

From December through January tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an annual mission: The Christmas Bird Count. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated families and students, birders and scientists to brave the winter weather, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists , to count the birds!
Each of these citizen scientists make an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations - and to help guide conservation action.
On December 21, 2013 several Morris Arboretum staff members participated in this annual tradition. Of the birds sighted, some of the most notable were:  
  • A flock of 220 Snow Geese
  • Cormorants, Mallards, and Wood Ducks
  • Wood Thrush
  • Brown Creepers
  • Carolina wren
  • Red-tailed hawk
  • White-throated sparrow
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

And perhaps the most exciting sighting: A pair of Bald Eagles spotted at Bloomfield Farm!


Pictured left to right: Carolina Wren, Red-tailed Hawk, White-throated Sparrow (Photos by Susan Marshall).

Visit the National Audubon website for more information about the census and how you can participate in 2014.
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