Bur Oak - Quercus macrocarpa


July 31, 2013

We just planted our Bur Oak sapling this past weekend. The poor thing had been waiting patiently in its container for too long for us to decide where to plant it. It's a relief to have it in, and now we're sending it good vibes in hopes that it flourishes. We planted it on the edge of our native wildflower patch. Our toddler daughter Isa, helped by tossing handfuls of peat moss in to the planting hole, and watering. 

We have few oak savannas remaining here in the northern part of Illinois, but they are some my most favorite habitats native to the area. Like all other oaks, Quercus macrocarpa is slow growing. Their acorns are the largest of any oak tree species in North America, but our little tree won't start producing acorns until it is 30 years old. So...no instant gratification here, but even as a small sapling its a beautiful little tree. 

Other news: Monk Parakeets! I'm working on a painting of Monk Parakeets that hopefully will be used in a very interesting book project I'll be participating in. More details soon. 

Eurasian Golden Oriole - Oriolus oriolus


July 24, 2013

Recently someone was so thoughtful and had sent me this beautiful Swedish postage stamp of a Eurasian Golden Oriole, and so I had to make it in to a collage painting. The male is depicted on the stamp, and I painted in the female.

Eurasian Golden Orioles have a wide range. They spend their winters in parts of Africa, and then in summer it can be found throughout Europe and Asia. They belong to the family Oriolidae which are Old World Orioles, and not related to our New World species. Orioles here in North American belong to the icterid family which includes grackles, cowbirds, meadowlarks and other blackbird species. Icterids are a really interesting family of birds, and include some of the most common and ubiquitous birds you will see here in Chicago such as the Common Crackle and Red-Winged Blackbird. Some icterids have evolved an adaptation that allows them open their bills very strongly. When foraging for food some icterid species will stab their bills in to the ground and then open them wide, prying open the ground; a behavior called gaping.

*painting is available here

Mourning Cloak - Nymphalis antiopa


July 22, 2013

This summer, I have been seeing high numbers of Mourning Cloak butterflies in and around our yard. Some years I don't recall seeing them at all. Last year it was all about Red Admirals, but this year their numbers seem low and the Mourning Cloaks are having their moment. 

I don't know much about butterflies, but I am trying to learn more, and I find them surprisingly difficult to paint well. At the very least I am trying to plant native flowers that encourage their visiting my yard. Seems to be working, because I have noticed a nice variety over the last couple of summers. 

Both Red Admirals and Mourning Cloaks apparently belong to a family of butterflies referred to as "Brushfoots". Adult Mourning Cloaks can be longer lived than other butterfly species, topping out around 10 months. They hibernate through the winter and are one the first butterflies species to emerge in the spring to mate. The larvae like elms, hackberries, and cottonwoods; trees that we have a lot of in our neighborhood. 

Happy Monday to you : )

Going Native


July 02, 2013

Over the last few years I have been trying to educate myself via trial and error about landscaping with native plants. We live in an urban area, but our yard is quite large, thus plenty of room for gardening. I've made mistakes, but there have been small victories too. We try to have a good balance of a garden that provides food for us, as well as filling the rest with native plants that will feed and provide habitat for bird and insect, and overall, encourage biodiversity. 

Early on I was planting cultivars of native species, instead of investing in the non-cultivated versions. The differences to a native bird or insect that feeds on that plant can be significant, and so if the aim is for biodiversity, non-cultivated is the way to go. I initially planted cultivars of purple cone flower and monarda (bee balm). They're so pretty, but I never realized how different they were from their wild versions until I planted a 'prairie patch' in our back yard from wild harvested seeds. The cone flower and monarda in the prairie patch are much more modest and understated than their cultivar cousins, but just as beautiful. 

This year we obtained a lot of new plants from a local conservation group fundraiser. All the plants were from wild harvested seeds. Amongst other things we got American Elderberry shrubs, and Smooth Hydrangea, but the one I am most excited about it a little Burr Oak tree. I have always wanted an oak tree. A few years ago, before planting natives became so important to me, I hastily bought a Red-Spire Oak on sale. Red-Spires are hybrids between an English and White Oak created for the the nursery and landscaping industry. They are beautiful, and I love the flame red that the tiny leaves turn  in autumn. That said, I now kind of view that tree as a sterile ornamental; not sure it will even make acorns. Burr Oaks are native to the Illinois prairie savanahs that used to be common here in the northern part of the state. We're still trying to decide on a spot for it in our yard, but once in, I hope that it will thrive.

New Work


July 01, 2013

In the shop!

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