Nature Walk at Jemison Park

Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

Jemison Park Nature Trail is one of my favorite local spots. This greenway follows Shades Creek and meanders through Mountain Brook. It’s just a hop, skip and jump away from central Birmingham.

I’ve written about iNaturalist on this blog before, and I’m featuring it again in this post about my recent nature walk through Jemison Park. If you’re in the Birmingham area and want to learn about iNaturalist from an expert, I recommend “Introduction to iNaturalist,” presented by Dr. John Friel of the Alabama Museum of Natural History on May 6, 2018, 1-3:30 p.m., at Ruffner Mountain.

I’ve been using the iNaturalist app since attending one of Dr. Friel’s presentations last year. I find it helps me better observe and appreciate the intricacies of nature, which makes spending time outdoors all the more rewarding. I also like recording and identifying plants in natural areas because my hope is to gradually transform our privet-filled wooded backyard into a woodland garden.

Here is what I observed on my walk through Jemison Park:

Lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”)

I believe this ground cover (also pictured at the top of this post) is lesser Celandine (“Ficaria verna”). iNaturalist’s photo identification software suggested this ID. I carefully compared the database’s photos against mine. I think it’s a match, but the ID needs confirmation from the iNaturalist online community of citizen scientists. This plant is definitely going on my woodland garden wish list. [Update: Another iNaturalist participant later confirmed this ID!]


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Next is Italian Arum (“Arum italicum”). Once again, iNaturalist software helped me venture a guess on the ID. A fellow user, who happens to be pursuing a doctorate in marine ecology and phycology, agreed. That moved my ID up to research grade. It will stay that way as long as two-thirds of iNaturalist users concur.

I also learned that some gardeners underplant Italian Acum with hostas. When hostas die back in winter, Italian Acum will maintain an attractive ground cover. I already have hostas, so I am definitely going to try this!

Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”)

The identification of the Beaked Trout-Lily (“Erythronium rostratum”) above illustrates the combined power of software and collective human brainpower in making sense of the vast numbers of observations uploaded to iNaturalist.

After looking through the software’s suggestions, my best guess at an ID was a Yellow Trout Lily (“Erythronium americanum”). However, another citizen scientist, self-described as a “hobbyist botanist, reasonably well-read on trillium and solidago,” countered that the plant I observed was in fact a Beaked Trout-Lily. His argument: “prominent auricles at the base of the tepals which encircle filaments; tepals not streaked with purple; flower not nodding; petals not sharply reflexed.”

This is a good time to mention another tip about using iNaturalist. Even if you are an amateur, do your best to research and identify your observations starting with kingdom at a minimum, and narrowing down the taxonomy as much as you can. The iNaturalist software and other references can help you do this, as long as you employ common sense and pay attention to the details. The more you can help narrow it down, the more likely someone who actually knows their stuff will look at what you’ve posted. They can then confirm your ID, further narrow it down or correct it if needed.

I’ll close this post with a few more iNaturalist observations from Jemison Park Nature Trail.

Red Buckeye (“Aesculus pavia”)


Little Sweet Betsy (“Trillium cuneatum”), also known as toadshade


My suggested ID, unconfirmed: Common Blue Violet (“Viola sororia”)

The Joy of Tiny Things


Left: Tiny bluet (Houstonia pulsilla). Right: Henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule), dandelion, sedum, creeping jenny and garden thyme.

Appreciate the little things, sometimes even weeds.

My perennials have been coming back to life the past couple of weeks, including herbs, heuchera, creeping jenny, moss and various sedum plants growing in the nooks and crannies of the terrace walls. And, of course, weeds. I can find weeds quite pretty– especially if they are native and/or beneficial to the environment–and they are the inspiration for the tiny arrangements featured in this post.



I am fairly certain that the small lavender-blue flowers pictured above, are tiny bluets (Houstonia pulsilla), native to the Southeast. Moss covers our shady backyard, and the tiny bluets, with blooms no more than a centimeter in diameter, look so pretty against the blanket of vibrant green. I arranged them in a small amber-colored bottle. I will warn you that I had to pull out the tweezers for this one. (As my husband was kind enough to notice, I had a lot of free time that day.)

Henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule)

The next arrangement features the vibrant purple-pink flowers of henbit deadnettle (Lamium amplexicaule), along with a dandelion, sedum, creeping jenny and garden thyme. Native to the Mediterranean, henbit deadnettles are fairly ubiquitous today. They attract pollinators and are a food source for some animals. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even eat them as an herb. (I haven’t tried them, but the leaves smell like parsley.)

Except for the dandelion, which apparently does not last long once picked, this rustic bouquet has brightened my kitchen for almost a week now.

Note: To see what other garden bloggers have put “In a Vase on Monday” check out Cathy’s blog and comments.

Easy daffodils


I have always loved daffodils. They are a bomb of yellow breaking through the drear of winter gray.

This is my first year growing them myself, and I am happy to report they are super easy. I ordered a pack of 50 bulbs last fall, and–I must admit–I was lazy and let them sit in their packaging for a couple of weeks after they arrived. (The instructions said to remove the bulbs from their packaging upon arrival and to plant them ASAP.) By the time I opened the box, a few bulbs were rotten. I was worried I’d ruined the whole lot, but I planted them anyway. Come late February–daffodils!

When I was growing up, my elderly neighbors had these perennials in their yard, and they were kind enough to permit my sister and me to co-opt their yard for all sorts of kid shenanigans. Each year I looked forward to the emergence of yellow blooms. If my child self had had any idea how easy daffodils are to establish, I would have insisted on mixing in bulbs during the annual fall planting of the pansies in my parents’ yard. Finally, in my late thirties, I have them.

Cutting daffodil stems is kind of like slicing okra. They ooze a slimy sap. Apparently, if you use daffodils in arrangements with different kinds of flowers, you should pre-condition the stems first to prevent the sap from clogging the stems of the other blooms. Here’s a source that provides good information on that. Since I did not use any other flowers in this arrangement, I did not worry about this step. I did follow the advice on changing the water after the initial six hours and keeping the water level shallow.

For this arrangement, I repurposed a Seersucker Southern-style gin bottle. This Texas-made spirit makes tasty gin-and-tonics, and the bottle is cute, too.




Forgotten and Found: Perennials

“No, my aunt wasn’t much of a gardener,” said the visitor.

“Oh,” I said, trying not to look disappointed.

Flame-haired and cheerful, the visitor chatting on my carport was the niece of the original owner of our 1960 home. She had popped by while driving home to Virginia from vacation in Florida. I wasn’t expecting her. I was in leggings and an old t-shirt and in the middle of laundry, but when she introduced herself I was curious to glean some house history.

Her aunt, now passed, was like a second mother to her, and she spent a lot of time at the house growing up. Her dad built the backyard patio and terraces; I took a photo of her there.

“This has always been a happy home,” she said. “You will make a lot of good memories here.”

“Thank you,” I said. “We love it here.” And we do. But I am convinced she was wrong on one point. A gardener once lived here, I know it.

Bearded irises, established by the previous homeowner, bloom each spring.

We are only the second long-term owners of the home, following brief ownerships by two others. The yard still needs a lot of work, beginning with the weedy front lawn and ending with privet, wisteria and other invasive plants in the wooded back, but its potential is a big reason why we chose this house.

The patio and terrace walls, though in need of some TLC, are lovely and dappled with shade. Purple and white irises bloom in spring. Sprawling four o’clocks grace summer evenings with hot pink blooms and attract the occasional hummingbird in the morning before their petals close in the sun. I can’t plant anything without finding shards of broken pots or some other remnant of a garden past.

I have conjured up the idea that the past homeowner and I share a vision for this yard and garden. I did not want to hear she was not a gardener. Recently, however, I received a small sign that maybe my visitor had forgotten a few things about her aunt in her younger days.

Goldenrod foliage, which I mistook for a weed for three years.

When tall, leafy stalks shoot up on the western edge of the front yard in summer, I usually pull them up, taking them for weeds. This summer I did not (laziness), and then late September came.

What I thought were weeds turned out to be goldenrod. The vibrant yellow flowers attract honey bees, bumblebees and other pollinators. At a time of year when summer flowers have faded and the leaves have not yet changed color, goldenrod is simply beautiful.


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Now that I have found this established perennial, I will not forget it – at least as long as this garden is mine.