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