Thursday, November 1, 2012
Another Layer Of Protection
Fringed polygala, Polygala paucifolia, is a favorite native wildflower here. As a low growing largely insignificant plant, it is easy to miss when not in bloom. Its rose purple flowers of unusual form are a special treat in May. The flowers are short lived so they can easily be missed. We have read several references to their decline in the wild. I went contrary to every principle of responsible behavior and moved a single plant from the woods to our shade garden. Flowers followed the first year after the move but there was no sign of the plant this spring. Clearly responsible for the apparent loss of a wild treasure, I felt terrible.
My guilt eased when the plant put out new growth later in the spring. We saw no flowers this year but the plant was still alive. Low growing evergreen plants face a number of challenges. Deep fallen leaf litter can smother them. We had found a large area covered with polygala in bloom in a neighbors oak woods. When we returned the following year to more closely examine these plants in the wild, they had totally disappeared. A thick layer of fallen oak leaves covered the ground where the polygala had flourished.
Our transplanted treasure faced a different threat. The locust tree that provides the shade also sports a suet feeder. Woodpeckers are not terribly neat feeders so much perfectly good food falls to the ground. Crows number among the opportunists that find this fallen bounty. We have watched as they also fed on the nearby Iris christata but took no action. I believe that the lack of snow cover last winter exposed the green leaves of the polygala to the crows. Stripped of its leaves, it had no way to generate the energy to form flowers. A cage now covers the polygala. We hope to see again those delightful purple flowers come spring. Additionally, we will not feed the birds this winter.
Crows are wildly successful social animals. Hawks and owls are sworn enemies of crows. We frequently hear the alarm call go out when a crow spots a hawk or an owl. Quickly the sky is full of other crows coming in from all directions to harass the enemy. Despite their cunning and group ethic, I prefer the majestic hawk. Besides, crows are known to drop baby owls from the nest to their death. This crow has been lying in repose for several days. It was part of a group of four. I do not know if the dead friend is keeping the others away but they have not returned. So for now this crow can remain where it fell.