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The Golden Wildflower

Throughout the eastern U.S. and in some places in the mid-west, the golden ragwort paints fields and sunlit woodland openings with splashes of golden yellow daisy-like blossoms. Sometimes it is confused with dandelions and hawkweeds by novices, but upon closer examination its 8 to 13 yellow petals, heart shaped basil leaves and clusters of blossoms helps to identify it. When you see these flowers, bend down, get a closer look and enjoy the beauty that this dainty yellow wildflower offers.

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The Non-Native Beauty

In my daughter’s Maryland spring backyard, I discovered a dainty blue wildflower growing in the shade cast by trees and in the shadow of a wooden fence that borders her property. With scalloped leaves and four petaled flowers, the slender speedwell thrives in the moist soils here.

A non-native, this plant traveled from Europe to North America and became established in my daughter’s backyard. Sitting near a patch of these pretty blue blossoms, I watched honey bees and bumble bees buzz from one flower to another for this plant’s sweet nectar. Despite being alien, it supports a variety of native bees and butterflies and that is fine with me.

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The Undesirable Wildflower

It is spring in the U.S and millions of acres of manicured lawns are greening up yet much to the disdain of homeowners billions of yellow dandelions litter the green landscape. People spend millions of dollars and countless hours attempting to rid their lawns of these intrusive “weeds”.

However, this wildflower was not aways an unwanted pest. It was a highly regarded wildflower in Europe where it was treasured for its medicinal uses, nutritional value and aesthetic beauty. Colonists brought this plant with them when they came to the Americas because they viewed dandelions as a valuable plant not a weed.

Dandelions are also prized by bees, butterflies and other pollinators for its sweet nectar. Examining dandelion flowers in my Maryland daughter’s yard, I see honey bees buzzing from one flower to another to sip its nectar. Deer, rabbits and other herbivores eat this nutritious “weed” and many birds will feast on its seeds.

You my feel cursed by this plant, but as far as wildlife are concerned it is a blessing.

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The Tick Terminator

Looking out my Florida room window into my backyard, I was pleasantly surprised to see North America’s only marsupial in my garden – the opossum. Normally, nocturnal, it must have been hungry to be out during the daylight scavenging for a bite to eat. There is plenty to munch on – frogs, lizards, snakes, large insects and… ticks.

Opossums do not specifically seek ticks to eat, but they are prolific groomers and that is when they devour any ticks they have come into contact with. As I watched this magnificent mammal, it stopped frequently brushing its white hairs with its paws and licking its fur as if preparing for a hot date.

A recent study discovered that each opossum eats over 5,000 ticks annually. That might not seem like a lot, but the female ticks would have laid thousands of eggs hatching thousands of ticks. Stay as long as you want my furry friend!

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The Noisy Hawk

Stepping out of my Florida home one morning, I hear the scream-like call of the red-shouldered hawk, a species known for its loud raucous cries and sharp whistles that can be heard from a mile away. I watch it fly over our homes and into a laurel oak tree where it rests briefly then flies to a rooftop of a nearby home.

There is plenty for it to eat – snakes, lizards, rabbits and the large lubber grasshoppers. I have even seen it eyeing up the small birds that come to people’s feeders. I watch it for a while when it suddenly drops down into the concrete driveway and grabs an unsuspecting anole for breakfast and flies off into a nearby tree. This is the way it hunts most of the time – perched on a low branch of a tree waiting for prey to walk within striking distance.

Normally a forest and wetland dwelling species, it has adapted well to the semi-urban landscape here in our community. This is probably why this is one species that has fared well despite the destruction of forest habitat for urban sprawl.

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