Birds & Wildlife

Jane Miller

nature’s underdogs

Dogwoods are nature’s underdogs. So are the many other understory trees native to our woodlands, including serviceberry, wild plum, redbud, hawthorn, wahoo, and sassafras. The sheer size of cottonwood, sycamore, hickory, oak, and maple helps the towering giants win The Most Colorful contest in October. But shorter species offer big blessings, too. In the wild, their individual beauty often is disguised by the hovering limbs of tall neighbors, like schoolyard bullies showing little respect for personal space. By now, though, the big boys have reached their peak and bared their branches, allowing the small-fries of the forest and fencerows to show what they’re made of. They win me over, not just for the cute factor, but for their value in home landscaping. After all, smaller trees are a better fit for most backyards. Plus, many of these space-saving natives offer sweet spring blossoms, glorious fall foliage, and colorful fruits that wildlife can’t resist. The underdogs, in this case, have the last “bark.”

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)


Jane Miller

caught in the web

13444018_largeIt has been raining “cats and dogs” here in the Midwest recently. I’m not sure how this expression came to be, considering the fact that my cat, Max, and dog, Lily, would much rather stay warm and dry in the house on days like these. A lot of people I know are grumbling about the mud, the sloppy fallen leaves, and the difficulty of getting fall garden chores done. Call me crazy, but I view rainy weather as an opportunity to appreciate the finer details that nature offers. Like the way spider webs come into focus when raindrops cling to them. I’ve had a spider residing above my front door all summer. She’s gotten fat on insects invited by the porch light into her orb-shape dining room. Bugs that might otherwise have snacked on me. It would take just a quick whisk of my broom to clear all of the cobwebs from my porch, but I haven’t had the heart to ruin these homespun havens. Besides, it’s almost Halloween. Why should I hang  fake spider webbing when I already have authentic arachnid decor?


Justin W. Hancock

Grow Beautyberry

Beautyberry is a wonderful plant for autumn interest.

Beautyberry is a wonderful plant for autumn interest.

Looking to add some zing to your yard this fall? Try beautyberry! This easy-growing shrub will delight you and the birds that visit your yard with its clusters of brilliant purple (or white) berries.

A small shrub that stays about 4 feet tall, purple beautyberry also offers pink summertime flowers that attract bees.

If the birds don’t eat all the berries by winter, then you’re in for a real treat because the purple fruits really stand out against the snow. Purple beautyberry is hardy in Zones 6-8, though gardeners in Zone 5 can grow it like a perennial and cut it back to the ground every spring.

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