Extraordinary Eggs

eggsWe all know what a chicken egg looks like—hard shell, gooey clear stuff inside that turns white when you cook it, yellow yolk in the middle. You may have noticed that twisted “umbilical cord” and maybe you fished it out before frying your breakfast. If you break an egg into a bowl, you’ll find that the white (the albumen) has a thicker part around the yolk, and a thinner part further out. And if you’ve ever peeled a hard cooked egg, you might remember two layers of translucent membrane just inside the shell—removing them as you go makes it easier to get the shell off.

But have you ever really looked at an egg? Wondered what all the parts do? An egg is actually an amazingly sophisticated way of protecting and providing for a developing bird embryo.

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Dressing Plants for Winter

We’re turning on the heat, unpacking our winter sweaters, and looking up our favorite soup recipes. And if we’re gardeners, we may be figuring out the best way to protect our plants for winter. Lately I’ve been seeing ads for rose collars and burlap wraps. Should I buy some?

Many hybrid roses are grafted onto rootstocks bred for hardiness, not pretty flowers. It’s imperative to protect that graft union in very cold weather. If the top half of the plant dies, the roots will send up shoots next spring—we won’t be aware that anything is wrong until our petite pink rose suddenly grows into a huge sprawling shrub with ugly white flowers.

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Name that Bird!

Secretarybird_DenverZoo_LAH_1574We’ve given birds some pretty bizarre names. Does the Secretarybird (right) take notes? Who does the Wandering Tattler tattle on? Do chatterers and babblers ever shut up?

Then there are the names that must have come from examining a stuffed specimen in hand. How often do you see the orange crown of an Orange-crowned Warbler?

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Bulbs for a Colorado Spring



It’s easy to be taken in by the catalog photos. Acres of daffodils, blooming cheerily in the sunshine. Vibrant crocuses popping up through the melting snow. Tulips—so many kinds, so many colors! Surely, if I would just order these bulbs, my spring garden will look just like the pictures.

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Bird Quiz: Answer

To refresh your memory, here is the photo from October’s Bird Quiz. The bird was seen in Colorado at the end of August. Don’t read any further if you want one last chance to identify this bird.


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Autumn Crocuses for a Season Finale

Colchicum hyb_Autumn Crocus_DBG_LAH_3082When we think of crocuses, we imagine the first flowers of spring, daring the cold and snow to herald the coming change of seasons. And just as crocuses start the growing season, they can also be among the final flowers of fall. You may know them as Meadow Saffron or Naked Ladies (although that name also belongs to Amaryllis belladonna)—these goblet-shaped pink–to-purple flowers that spring leafless from the ground in early autumn. They don’t last long, only two or three weeks, but their presence when all else is fading makes them worth the effort.

To be fair, autumn crocuses (Colchicum sp., often C. autumnale) aren’t really crocuses. They’re among the lilies (family Liliaceae), not the irises (Iridaceae), and are not to be confused with true autumn-blooming crocuses, such as Crocus sativus (from which we get saffron).

Colchicum sp - Autumn Crocus_DBG_20090915_LAH_0357Still, Colchicums look very much like spring crocuses and you grow them in much the same way. They’re best planted in late summer or early fall, and grow from corms, not bulbs. You bury them in the same way, however, two to four inches deep in amended, well-drained soil. They are happy in full sun to partial shade, but require some sun to open their flowers. Keep in mind that the flowers are easily crushed by wind or wayward footsteps, so plant them in a sheltered spot. Some supplemental irrigation may be needed to keep soil moist. The corms are hardy to zone 5; a thick mulch will provide some insurance in borderline areas.

In spring, the corms send up a few green, strap-like leaves but no flowers. Allow the foliage to grow—this is how the plants store up food for the year. Eventually, these leaves will fade and brown, and can be safely removed. Then, just when you’ve forgotten they’re there, the flowers emerge in showy clusters to add a final burst of beauty to the waning growing season.

Their warm violet color is beautifully set off by fall’s orange and russet hues—something to keep in mind when planting, as they are striking at the base of shrubs with bright fall foliage. Another option, since their own leaves are absent, is to plant them among a low-growing groundcover. Vinca minor, or Lamb’s Ears (as in the photo at top), are good options.

Autumn Crocus_DBG_LAH_4114C. autumnale is the most popular species, and has a number of cultivars ranging from white to lilac pink, mauve, and violet. Some are bicolored, and ‘Waterlily’ (in the photos shown here) has double flowers. C. speciosum, C. byzantinum and C. agrippinum are three more similar species often found in cultivation. Look for them online, as garden centers rarely carry them.

If there’s one drawback to these flowers, it’s that all parts are poisonous. Their colchicine content keeps deer and rabbits away (but sadly not slugs and snails), but is a significant danger to dogs and children. Colchicine poisoning can be fatal, and there is no known antidote.

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October Bird Quiz

Can you identify this bird? The photo was taken in Colorado at the end of August. The answer will appear next week.




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