15-21 July 2004
Installment #231---Visitor #

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In 2004, informative and entertaining hummingbird banding presentations are scheduled for Aug-Sep in North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia & Kentucky/Tennessee.
Next up: Land Between The Lakes on 6-8 August
(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.


We have mixed feelings about harvesting wild foods for human consumption, especially from our limited holdings here at 11-acre Hilton Pond Center. Oh, we pick our share of Blackberries in summer or delight in the fruit of Common Persimmons each fall, but we usually draw the line at consuming wild edibles that require us to dig up a plant. We'd never make Sassafras tea, for example, because it requires the roots of one of our favorite trees, but in the case of Wild Carrot we make an exception for several reasons.

For one, the plant is amazingly abundant, growing in old fields and even along roadsides where more fastidious flora can't survive. Second, its root is darned tasty (sort of). And third, as the Wild Carrot's more familiar name indicates, it's not even a native plant. We're talking here about Queen Anne's Lace, an Old World import that found much of the rest of the globe to its liking when its seeds were introduced by settlers from Europe.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Indeed, Queen Anne's Lace is so adaptable that in some habitats it's an invasive plant, crowding out native species that can't compete with its vigorous growth. No doubt about it, however, this foreign invader is eye-pleasing, with white umbrella-shaped flower heads that form at the end of three-foot-tall stalks. Whether viewed from the side (above) or from directly overhead (below), we find the three-inch-wide inflorescence is actually a bunch of individual clusters that radiate from the vegetative stalk and that themselves consist of 20 or more individual flowers--each only an eighth of an inch in diameter.

Despite its origins, Queen Anne's Lace is a pretty interesting plant for North American botanists. It takes its common name from a British monarch who was adept at lace-making, and the plant's flower certainly is lace-like, resembling an old-fashioned doily. Curiously, at the center of some Queen Anne's Lace flower heads there is a floret that is deep red-purple rather than white (above). No one knows for sure what the function of this special structure might be, but English tradition says it is a drop of blood that fell from Anne's finger when she pricked it making lace. Perhaps this unusually colored flower part (magnified below) serves as a target for potential pollinators.

Queen Anne's Lace is in the Apiaceae (Parsley Family), along with a number of other aromatic plants that have been used as spices or foods: Caraway, Fennel, Coriander, Anise-Root, Celery, and--of course--Parsley. The deadly Poison Hemlock is also a relative. Many of these plants have lacy, fern-like leaves, but even those of Queen Anne's Lace are highly variable; the coarse form is pictured below left. Most of the Apiaceae also have deep tap roots that provide nutrient storage areas. The root of Queen Anne's Lace is pale orange (below right)--not quite as bright as that of the cultivated carrot for which it is likely a direct ancestor. The documented use of various types of wild carrots--including varieties that were white, yellow, red, purple, green, and even black--goes back about 5,000 years. The modern orange-colored carrot probably arose in the 16th century in Holland, where patriotic plant breeders developed a tuber that celebrated the Royal House of Orange.

The scientific epithet for Queen Anne's Lace is Daucus carota. "Carrot" comes from a Celtic word for "red," while Daucus appears to be derived from the Greek dais, which means "to burn" and pertains to the strongly pungent taste and odor of both wild and domesticated carrots. Admittedly, the root of Queen Anne's Lace is much more bitter than the sweet-tasting carrot from your local grocery, but there's no denying the basic similarity. Incidentally, Daucus carota does have a native congener--D. pusillus--that grows in the western U.S. and eastward along the Gulf Coast states to Florida. The species resembles Queen Anne's Lace but has fewer florets per flower cluster (5-12 instead of 20-plus); it is a good non-invasive pollinator plant for backyard habitats.

Although Queen Anne's Lace can be invasive, its introduction may have been a boon for Eastern Black Swallowtail butterflies, whose caterpillars eat the leaves. (Some sources list the foliage as a source of dermatitis for humans, however.) In addition, the flowers' nectar is a source of energy for native bees, but we've always thought the plant's greatest service was that it serves as a landing platform for insects seeking mates. Buzz onto a large flower head of Queen Anne's Lace, and sooner or later there's bound to be a potential partner joining you for a 12-legged mating dance--as long as a predatory Crab Spider doesn't spoil the encounter.

Queen Anne's Lace is a biennial--a plant that, in this case, germinates from seed and spends its first year developing basal leaves and a tap root. In the second year it sends up a flower stalk, produces blooms, sets seed, and then dies.

The seed head of Queen Anne's Lace is as interesting as its flowers. After pollination occurs--often at the service of miniature flower beetles that roll and tumble among the myriad blossoms--the umbel of the flower head begins to fold in on itself, rather like an umbrella turned inside out (below). When number two son Garry came across these structures on trails around Hilton Pond, he always called them "bird nests"--which the seed heads do indeed resemble.

A close look at the seed head reveals how it can be that Queen Anne's Lace is so prolific. At the tip of nearly every tiny flower stalk is an equally minute ovoid fruit covered with even tinier sharp bristles. The seeds on the plant in these photos are still a tad green, but by summer's end they'll be brown and dry and ready to latch onto the fur of some passing mammal--an unknowing disseminator that will help start a new biennial generation of edible Wild Carrots at Hilton Pond Center.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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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 & photographed
by Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of
Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History.

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Please report your
sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds


15-21 July 2004

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--27
American Goldfinch--1
Northern Cardinal--1
Eastern Towhee--1
Carolina Wren--1
House Finch--24
American Robin--1

* = New species for 2004

7 species
56 individuals

48 species
1,544 individuals

(since 28 June 1982)
123 species
44,849 individuals

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

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (2)
08/04/03--2nd year female
08/21/03--2nd year female

Northern Cardinal (3)
07/29/02--3rd year male (bald)
10/10/03--2nd year female
11/03/03--after hatch year male

Carolina Wren (1)
09/09/03--2nd year male

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The yellow eye-ring & lower bill are diagnostic for this caterpillar-eating Neotropical migrant

--Several times over the past few weeks we've heard the rapid, repetitive "clucking" of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo
(above) from the hardwood stands around Hilton Pond Center. This Neotropical species--which breeds across most of the U.S. and Mexico and winters as far south as Argentina--is becoming less and less common, probably because of habitat destruction on both ends of its migratory path. Exclusively an insect eater, it may also be falling victim to indiscriminate use of pesticides. Since 1982 we've banded only 55 Yellow-billed Cuckoos; 1991 was a banner year, with 18 birds captured, but no other summer brought even half that many. The one we captured last year was the first since 1998, and none have hit the nets so far in 2004. (Even rarer is the more northerly Black-billed Cuckoo, of which we've banded only two in 23 years at Hilton Pond.)

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