Apps Are Awesome

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


Much of my adult life has been spent in a state of cell phone aversion. I actively avoided owning a cell phone until 2011. Despite this distaste for having to carry a cell phone at all times, I will admit I have officially come around to plant I.D. apps. I resisted primarily because I don’t like using my phone when I am out in the woods and I prefer the process of keying out an unknown plant. I am now officially on the plant I.D. bandwagon. This edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist will highlight a few of my favorite apps that you may find useful.

Before I get into the specifics of different plant apps, I must apply a few caveats. The first is that I am cheap and only use free plant I.D. apps. There may be wonderful apps that cost money but I don’t use them. The second is that the majority of apps identify plants based off previous user’s positive identifications. Some answers you receive are incorrect and you will need to not always accept the identification as “gospel” truth. The last caveat is that I am not an expert on app construction or performance. I am judging them merely based on features I enjoy and find particularly unique.

My preferred plant app is iNaturalist. There are a few primary features that make it stand out to me. The best feature is that it covers not just plants but fungi, salamanders and a host of other things from the natural world. This app is especially interactive. Users can interact and suggest possible identifications allowing for more accurate results. When multiple users assist in a plant I.D., quality rankings are created thus increasing confidence in the decision. Another positive to iNaturalist is the map feature. When accessing this feature, the user can see all the identifications previously done in their current area. This feature also allows for easy collaboration on projects. The Nature Foundation has created the Wintergreen Biodiversity project on iNaturalist that allows for anyone to enter their sightings to our species list. Go to https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/wintergreen-biodiversity or search Wintergreen Biodiversity on the iNaturalist app to participate.

My second favorite app is the PlantNet app. My preferred feature on this app is the search engine. It is much easier to search plants via the common name or by genus and family. The pictures on screen are a bit bigger and allow for better quality I.D. than other apps. You can also rule out plants from other regions by being able to work with a specific area’s flora. Unfortunately this app doesn’t do anything outside of the plant world so you can’t use it in the field to I.D.fungi or salamander. Also, the interface is often clunky and a bit slow.

The other app I use but rate it a bit below the iNaturalist and PlantNet is PictureThis. I like this app for the ease and speed of identification. It has one of the easiest interfaces to work with immediately upon opening the app. The major con to this app is the constant attempt to make you sign up and pay for the app. There is a premium service option that is fine if you could seek it out and pay if you so choose. The problem is that every time you open the app you have to close out the sales pitch screen in order to get to the useful information. They even put a premium service button on each screen so it is very easy to click on it accidentally and sign up. If you use this app, know what you are getting in for.

Plant I.D. apps are quite the handy invention and can be very helpful in increasing your knowledge. The key is to use the one that fits your needs and makes the process of identification easier and more fun. Don’t hesitate to dip your toes in the water…feels great to me.

 

August’s Abundance

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


August is the best of times and August is the worst of times. I forever think of August as spider month or more aptly spider web in the face month. Going for a walk in the woods in August means looking like a fool as you dive backwards to avoid the spider web at the last moment. Before I begin to look the fool, I revel in the bounty emerging from the land as the calendar turns from July to August. This bounty comes in the form of edible mushrooms named chicken of the woods and chanterelles.

Chicken of the woods is an easily identified mushroom due to its color, size and growing medium. This vibrant yellow-orange polypore can be found throughout the Wintergreen landscape. It grows on dead or dying wood and won’t be found growing from the ground. It grows out from the wood in large brackets 2-10 inches wide in a layered, overlapping patterns that can prove quite large. This mushroom is commonly found from late July through September. With age, chicken of the woods diminishes in color, becomes more brittle, and is much less palatable.

The flavor of the mushroom may be the genesis of the name chicken of the woods. It has a distinct meaty flavor that is quite robust. Once you have located this tasty treat, I recommend quick preparation before eating or freezing. Although it can sit in a paper bag in your refrigerator for a week, it is best prepared fresh. Begin by wiping it off with a damp cloth and then cut it into smaller portions for cooking. They can be fried, sautéed, blanched or baked. A bit of oil and garlic in a frying pan is my preferred method but it can also be cooked with wine, butter or any preferred sauce. Go light on the liquid while cooking or the absorbent mushroom will give you a bloated feeling.

Chanterelles are wonderful summer treats with a much more delicate taste than the chicken of the woods. It ranges in color from yellow to deep orange which aid in finding them among the green of the herbaceous layer surrounding them. They grow out of the soil and can be from 2-5 inches across. They have false gills on their undersides that look like wrinkles. They tend to be found in rich soils and have a mycorrhizal relationship with oaks. The fruiting bodies can be found July–September. I recommend heading out the day after a good rain to find large areas of orange mushrooms rising out of the ground.

After you locate your patch of chanterelles, kitchen time has arrived. When I bring home chanterelles they are usually a bit dirty. Swish them in and out of some cold water without submerging them to avoid water absorption. Cook small mushrooms whole and slice the larger variety for uniform cooking. I prefer to brown them lightly in a bit of oil, butter or cream sauce. They release an apricot like aroma and maintain a great texture and appearance.

Cooking and eating mushrooms should be done cautiously at first. After you have mastered ID skills and picked your first edibles, cook your mushrooms but eat only a little bit at first. Mushrooms tend to treat each stomach differently.

Don’t let early August come and go without a venture into our rich woods to search for these two varieties. Both chicken of the woods and chanterelles offer a lot of value to any kitchen and are plentiful in our landscape. Make sure you begin your search before spider in the face season!

 

Chicken of the woods

 

Chanterelle

Yellow Blooms Abound

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


The heat of midsummer is upon us and a new season of blooms are upon us. Special summer flowers such as bee balm, wild bergamot and columbine abound throughout our forest. My favorite summer blooms are made up of a group of yellow plants from the aster family that look similar when speeding by in a car or hiking by on a trail. This week’s Nine Minute Naturalist will take a look at the unique yellow blooms bursting in our ecosystem.

My favorite yellow flowers of summer are in the rudbeckia family. The distinguished green-headed coneflower may be our most numerous yellow blooms growing wherever there is broken canopy at Wintergreen. This member of the family rudbeckia is notable for its tall leafy stalk which grows up to 12 feet and its flower which spans 3-4 inches with greenish-yellow centers. Two more species common around Wintergreen is the black-eyed susan and the brown-eyed susan. These species have similarities. They both prefer open fields or open woodlands and both have a yellow bloom with a black or brown “eye” in the center of the flower. The way to quickly differentiate the two species is the height of the plants and the size of the flower. The black-eyed susan grows to about 3 feet in height and has a flower that spans 2-4 inches. It also blooms primarily during July and August. The brown-eyed susan grows taller up to 5 feet but has smaller flowers around 2 inches across. The brown-eyed susan blooms in late summer through early fall. Both species form in great clumps and are valuable attractants to bees, wasps, butterflies and birds, especially the gold finches.

Another common group of flowers blooming along our roadsides and trails are members of the sunflower family. There are bunch of sunflowers that call Wintergreen home. The common varieties in the mountain are woodland sunflower, oxeye sunflower and ten petal sunflower. Each sunflower grows tall and erect up to 6’ tall. The woodland sunflower is a common flower in our edge habitat along the forest edge. Its flower is 1-3 inches across with 8-15 light yellow ray florets. The oxeye sunflower also likes the well drained soils along our mountainside and can be differentiated from the other sunflowers by their large, raised yellow flower heads. The ten-petal sunflowers frequent our mountainside but prefer our slightly wetter soils. A key difference with this sunflower is the margins of the leaf blades, which are long and pointed. Each of these species is a very valuable food source for our birds and a key pollinator for butterflies, bees and hummingbirds.

While this list is far from comprehensive, I hope it aids you as you hike or drive around the Wintergreen landscape. The yellow blooms of the aster family are a wonderful way to appreciate the dog days of summer. Get out and try your hand at identifying the plants yourself.

 

Green-headed coneflower

 

Black-eyed susan

 

Woodland sunflower

A Family Resemblance

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


One of my beloved families of plants is the heath family. So much of our mountainside ecosystem consists of adored representatives of the heath family, such as rhododendron, mt. laurel, and azalea. Once those beauties are done flowering, my focus switches to the less ornate but much more edifying to the stomach varieties such as blueberry, huckleberry, and deerberry. These species tend to occupy the same acidic, poor soil locations at Wintergreen and can be a bit tricky to identify. The goal with this edition of the Nine Minute Naturalist is to help in you feel comfortable differentiating the family resemblance.

Blueberry is my preferred berry option at Wintergreen. The lowbush blueberry, the most common blueberry variety in our ecosystem, offers a tasty, light blue to black berry that is packed in vitamins our bodies crave. The berry is packed in anthocyanin which gives the berry its color and health benefits. The main feature for identification purposes is the green stem down to the ground. While some heath species have green stems close to the leaves, blueberry’s stem is green all the way to the ground. Lowbush blueberry stays low to the ground, rarely rising above three feet in height. The leaf is a dull green on top with a pale almost white underside. The species most often confused with blueberry is huckleberry.

Huckleberry is very similar to blueberry in stature and shape. Both species have white, bell shaped flowers hanging under the stem in mid spring. Their main differences are found in stem color and fruit consistency. The stem of huckleberry is a gray brown with finely peeling bark as opposed to the green on blueberry. The fruit of huckleberry, which is also very nutritious, is distinguished from blueberry by their ten large seeds that are very noticeable when eating huckleberry fruit. Another difference between the two species is found on the underside of the leaf. With the use of a hand lens, yellow resin dots can be seen.

A species that is often confused with huckleberry is deerberry. Deerberry is similar to huckleberry due to its gray brown finely peeling bark and white, bell shaped flowers. The structure of deerberry is a bit different than huckleberry and blueberry in that it reaches up to 10 feet in height and has a leggy appearance. The fruit is a dull purplish berry that ripens mid to late summer and tends to lack the sweetness associated with huckleberry and especially blueberry.

One last species that should be known when picking berries amongst the heath varieties is minniebush. Minniebush looks similar to huckleberry and deerberry in structure with very similar flowers blooming at the same time. This species is easily confused with the previously discussed heath species with a couple obvious distinctions that clear up confusion. The first is on the leaf. Minniebush leaves have a uniquely white tip on the end. The other major difference is that their fruit is not edible. Instead of a lovely blue berry perfect for popping into your mouth, minniebush’s fruit is an oblong woody capsule maturing in mid to late summer.

The time is upon us to get out on the trails and appreciate the heath family for more than lovely flower displays. The time has come to eat to our hearts content among our stands of different heath plants. Use these identification techniques to feel more comfortable eating your way through the woods. Enjoy!

 

Blueberry

 

Huckleberry

 

Deerberry

 

Minniebush

Noises in the Night

by Josh Palumbo, Forest Management Coordinator

I welcome you to The Nature Foundation at Wintergreen’s attempt to bring some nature and knowledge into your home. The Nine Minute Naturalist borrows from NPR’s lovely 90-Second Naturalist podcast. Since we all have a bit more time on our hands, the goal is to take something that is happening out in our environment and stimulate your brain for roughly nine minutes. Don’t let something as “minor” as a quarantine to keep you from learning. I hope you enjoy!


The recipe for a great night sleep for me is an open window on a crisp, windy summer night. The formula for a fitful night’s sleep is hearing loud disturbing noises right outside your window all evening. This past week a rare crisp June night was punctuated by screams that would ruin anybodies night sleep. This week’s Nine Minute Naturalist will focus on those night noises that are the bane to a peaceful night’s sleep.

The culprit for my fitful night’s rest was the red fox. Few animals produce a more blood curdling noise than this normally quiet predator. Their scream sounds similar to a child’s scream and is quite disconcerting if you don’t know who created the sound. Red fox can make 28 different communication noises. The scream is used for a couple different reasons. The primary reason for the fox scream is to locate a mate. The mating season is from December to February. Since fox are generally solitary creatures, locating and attracting a mate takes a bit more effort than for pack animals. Summer time screams usually occur to define territory or to communicate location amongst family units. Use this link to hear for yourself the terrifying night noise of the red fox: https://wildambience.com/wildlife-sounds/red-fox/

Another creature that may impair a good night’s sleep is the American bullfrog, the common species in the eastern United States. The bullfrog chooses to make their variety of sounds both day and night and have been recorded up to 119 decibels! That ranks as one of the highest animals on earth. The bullfrog’s “jug-a-rum” call is primarily connected to the mating season which lasts from late spring into early fall. While the bullfrog’s call is much more soothing and pleasing to the ear than the red fox, the sheer volume of a pond of bullfrogs seeking a mate can absolutely make sleep fleeting. Here is a link to listen to the bullfrog chorus: https://www.virginiaherpetologicalsociety.com/amphibians/frogsandtoads/american-bullfrog/american_bullfrog.php

Another common creator of night noises at Wintergreen is the barred owl. Their call is often articulated as “who cooks for you” and can fill any night with abundant noise. This is the most plentiful owl in the Wintergreen area and can be found frequently calling throughout the daytime hours as well. Their call typically consists of 8-10 warbling hoots but can often be quite diverse. Mating pairs often fill the air with caterwauls and “monkey calls” that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes as “a riotous duet of cackles, hoots, caws and gurgles”. With that much tomfoolery happening outside your window, sleep may prove a bit difficult. Here is a link to their call: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/#_ga=2.91853407.433348844.1593189113-1838848945.1593189113

One typically silent creature whose sound you should know is the striped skunk. This peaceful animal is usually silent but when skunk sounds come in through the window the time has arrived to get up and close it quick. Though rarely heard, skunks can hiss, screech, squeal, smack their lips and stamp their feet loudly. These sounds generally mean the skunk is either stressed or mating and both mean that skunk smell is not far behind the sound. Nothing breaks a fine sleep than skunk odor. Make sure you close that window fast! Here is the sound you should know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EALJZ0P0ng

The knowledge is now yours to ensure that your sleep is only temporarily disturbed. Each of these animals call Virginia home and may visit your residence any night to bother your sleep. Fret not since you now know the source. Sleep well my friends.

 

Fox

 

Bullfrog

 

Owl

 

Skunk