1-7 April 2004
Installment #217--

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The property that is now Hilton Pond Center was--for perhaps a century--a working farm on which owners raised row crops and livestock. As might be expected, a hundred years of plowing and grazing effectively wipes out most native vegetation, so it's hard to know what actually grew here prior to then. And even though we have allowed the Center to undergo natural vegetative succession over the past 23 years, it's unlikely the 11 acres will ever regain its original floristic complement. Native herbaceous plants and wildflowers are almost non-existent--one reason we take great pleasure in spring when our Eastern Redbuds and Flowering Dogwoods burst into bloom. These native trees brighten the landscape like no other and make us want to spend hour after hour photographing their majestic spring display. In fact, when it comes to dogwoods, it's hard to know just which angle to focus on, so for this week we simply offer a series of Flowering Dogwood photos from which you can choose your own favorite.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

What most folks call the flower of the Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, isn't really. The four large, white petal-like structures are actually bracts--modified leaves that protect a cluster of three dozen or more tiny yellow flowers at their junction.

Only three weeks ago, the bracts were tightly wrapped and still in bud, undoubtedly waiting for just the right number of daylight hours to unfold and unveil the flowers within. At the base of the flowering stem, pointed leaf buds likewise had not quite opened, lest their tender tips be damaged by freezing temperatures that often come in late March.

When the four bracts first open, individual yellow flowers are still enclosed with smooth yellow tops. Eventually, each flower blooms as four petals curl back to reveal a greenish pistil, the flower's female part; surrounding it are four stamens tipped with rough yellow-white pollen. (You've probably noticed by now that everything about the dogwood floristic structure comes in "fours.")

The flashy white bracts of the dogwood advertise the less conspicuous yellow blossom. From the side the bracts appear to make a perfect landing platform for insects. Although dogwood flowers don't attract large numbers of bees, we occasionally see them visited by ants and tiny beetles that, we assume, transfer some pollen. Since stamens hang over the pistil, it may be that dogwoods simply self-pollinate, but it certainly seems that the function of showy bracts would be to attract insects.

Just what this Red-headed Ash Borer, Neoclitus acuminatus, is doing on the dew-laden dogwood bloom isn't really clear, but we suspect it is drinking sap from the base of the flower cluster. Some members of this long-horned beetle family (Cerambycidae) eat both nectar and pollen. From its sap-robbing position, however, this beetle doesn't seem lined up to do much pollinating.

The tip of each dogwood bract carries a purplish-red scar. It has no known function, but religious settlers to America took the four-part dogwood bloom as a symbol of the Easter cross, equating the red marks with blood stains from the wounded hands and feet of Christ.

Delicate venation in Flowering Dogwood bracts becomes more obvious when backlit by a bright blue April sky at Hilton Pond Center. A colorless bract can't photosynthesize, but its veins bring food manufactured by the tree's chlorophyllous leaves--keeping the bracts vibrant for a week or more as we all enjoy this annual spring display.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

NOTE: Be sure to scroll down for an account of all birds banded or recaptured during the week, as well as some other interesting nature notes.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

You may wish to consult our Index of all nature topics covered since February 2000. You can also use the on-line Search Engine at the bottom of this page.

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Please report your
sightings of


1-7 April 2004

Chipping Sparrow--6

Song Sparrow--1
Eastern Towhee--1
White-throated Sparrow--3
Brown-headed Cowbird--1

* = New species for 2004

5 species
12 individuals

16 species
1,177 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
44,492 individuals

None this week.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

This Week at Hilton Pond
is part of the

(with original banding date, sex, and current age)

Chipping Sparrow (2)
03/15/01--after 4th year unknown
07/30/01--after 4th year male

--As the waters warm up in Hilton Pond, great aquatic beasts begin to stir. This week non-native Grass Carp began their slow patrol of the shallows, gobbling up far more vegetation than we might like. Thankfully, only two or three remain from the dozen dumped into the pond more than ten years ago. For a description of these 40-pound fish and problems they cause, see Carp Diem.

--Hilton Pond Center's bird banding totals from 1982 through March 2004 are summarized on a new chart at Birds & Species Banded Annually.

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In 2004, informative and entertaining hummingbird banding presentations are already scheduled for North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan & Kentucky/Tennessee.
(Click on the logo at left for details.)
If your group would like to host Hummingbird Mornings anywhere in the U.S. or Canada in 2004 or later, contact
Bill Hilton Jr.

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Bill Hilton Jr., aka The Piedmont Naturalist, it is the parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Contents of this Web site--including articles and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with the express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To obtain permission for use or for further assistance on accessing this Web site, contact the Webmaster.