Antelope Island, by the Great Salt Lake

Antelope Island State Park in Utah is on the shore of the Great Salt Lake. In addition to beautiful scenery, visitors to this park can expect to see bison, mule deer and other wildlife. The pictures below were taken in early April, the haziness of the day added to the impact of the views. From certain vantage points it seemed like an alien world.

Great Salt Lake shoreline seen from hill at Antelope Island State Park

The bison at Antelope Island are not truly native, they were introduced in 1893. The original 12 animals have now multiplied into a herd of 550-700.

A bison wanders alone toward the lake while a mule deer stays in the surrounding brush

Stewart Falls, near Provo Utah

Recently five of us (three people and two dogs) had the good fortune to hike to Stewart Falls on a gorgeous day in early April. The walk to the falls and back was just 3.5 miles, but made a bit more challenging by stretches of not-yet-melted snow. The following photos and videos attempt to capture some of the beautiful scenes along the trail.

This link takes you to a site with a map and description of the area.

Starting Point
View along the way
The upper section of the falls was still mostly frozen
The lower section of the falls, flowing freely
A view from behind the falls

A Good Year for Azaleas

This is a gorgeous time of year in SE Louisiana, and the azaleas are blooming vigorously. By my memory, this azalea display in 2021 is much better than last year’s. To bloom their best, azaleas typically need 4-8 weeks of temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit in the preceding winter. So, I wondered whether a mild winter in 2019-20 might have been responsible for the underwhelming azalea blooms in 2020.

To investigate whether there were insufficient chilly days for azaleas in the winter of 2019-20, I downloaded local temperature data for the last two years (available from NOAA). The data was from a nearby small airport and consisted of daily min and max temperatures. These two values were averaged to estimate an average temperature for each day. In the chart below these average temperatures are plotted from mid-June 2020 to mid-March 2021.

Tallying sub-50 degF days reveals there were 20 in the winter of 2019-20 (slightly less than 3 weeks) and 38 in the winter of 2020-21 (more than 5 weeks). Recalling that 4-8 weeks of chilling are needed for optimum azalea blooming, it does seem that a mild winter may have led to a disappointing show of azaleas in 2020.

Azaleas in 2021

Conifers; Utah’s Wasatch National Forest

A winter trip to Utah offered the opportunity to appreciate conifers in a different part of the country. The photos below show three trees seen along the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, east of Salt Lake City.

Lodgepole Pine

The Rocky Mountain Lodgepole Pine (Pinus contorta subspecies latifolia) is found at middle elevations (4,400-7,800 feet) throughout the northern Rocky Mountains.  This tree is closely related to the Jack Pine that is found in Minnesota. Like the Jack Pine, its needles grow in bundles of two per fascicle.

White Fir

White Fir (Abies concolor) is common in the Rocky Mountains at elevations from 3000 to 10,000 feet. It grows to 130 feet, considerably larger than Minnesotan Balsam Fir which most commonly ranges from 45 -65 feet. The White Fir provides high-quality lumber and is popular as a Christmas tree.

Rocky Mountain Juniper

The Rocky Mountain Juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) is a small tree, typically between 15 and 45 feet. Individual trees can reach great ages, the Jardine Juniper in Northern Utah is estimated at ~1500 years old.

Grandiflora Rose – Queen Elizabeth

Grandiflora roses are crosses between Hybrid Tea and Floribunda roses. They combine desirable characteristics of the two lines. Their well-shaped blooms on long stems are inherited from the Hybrid Teas, while their hardiness and repeat blooming come from the Floribunda side.

The Queen Elizabeth rose was the first Grandiflora rose. It was introduced in 1954 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

The slideshow below follows the development of one bud on our Queen Elizabeth rose this January. This plant has been a hardy bloomer, reliably flowering for over twenty years.

Mistletoe

During walks with the dogs through our Louisiana neighborhood in January we noticed irregular balls of green leaves in tall trees that were otherwise barren. We eventually found a clump of this near enough to the ground to take a reasonable picture, and the ‘Picture This’ app identified it as oak mistletoe. Of course we are familiar with mistletoe because of Christmas, but had not realized that it grows locally.

Clumps of mistletoe in barren trees

Oak mistletoe (Phoradendron serotinum) is a hemiparasitic plant that generates some food on its own through photosynthesis, but also steals water and nutrients from its host. Heavy infestations of mistletoe can kill host tress.

The white berries of the oak mistletoe are mildly poisonous to humans, but are an important food for some birds. Birds spread mistletoe seeds from tree to tree, the seeds stick in tree branches thanks to a sticky coating called viscin. After germination, a structure known as the haustorium attaches the mistletoe to its host and taps into the resources of the host tree. The haustorium can be seen in the center image below, along with white mistletoe berries.

Sweetgum Balls

The American Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) is the second most common tree in Louisiana forests (the most common is the Loblolly Pine). Sweetgums are also plentiful in our local suburban landscape despite a significant drawback, the spiny seed-carrying balls that fall from their branches by the hundreds this time of year.

Sweetgum balls yet to fall on my yard
A small sample of the sweetgum balls raked up today

The sweetgum is a fast-growing tree that can reach heights up to 100 feet. In summer its plentiful maple-like leaves make it a very effective shade tree. In the 1940’s several cities promoted planting sweetgums as replacements for elms killed by Dutch elm disease. However it has fallen out of favor in landscaping. Because of its leaves and gumballs it is now recognized as one of the messiest trees.

The gumballs are a particular nuisance to large dogs like our greyhound. They are just the right size to be lodged between the pads of his paws. Many times gumballs jammed between his pads have fooled us into thinking he had badly hurt his foot.

Japanese Camellia

The Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), is one of two camellias commonly used as ornamental shrubs in the southern United States. The other common camellia is the Sasanqua camellia, which has smaller blooms and leaves. In SE Louisiana the Japanese camellia has recently begun blooming in early January, just as the earlier-blooming Sasanquas are finishing flowering.

Japanese camellias originated in east Asia, and were introduced to the southern United States in the early 1800’s. Now there are thousands of Japanese camellia cultivars available to provide color to winter landscapes. Some have been developed that are hardy as far north as Zone 6.

Full Cold Moon

According to the Farmer’s Almanac the full moon in December is known in North America as the Full Cold Moon. Tuesday, December 29 was the day that the Full Cold Moon was at its fullest, but it was still very impressive yesterday (December 30) when these pictures were taken.

The weather was unseasonably warm in SE Louisiana yesterday, so it was comfortable to be outside experimenting with iPhone settings in attempts to get photos that do the scene justice.