Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Dame's Rocket


Go for a walk along any country road in the northeast and you're likely to come upon swaths of these beautiful phlox-like flowers. Ranging from white to pink to purple, the flowers bloom atop stems standing two-to four-feet high. 

But here's the thing: they aren't phlox. Look closely and you notice that these flowers have four petals. Phlox have five. These leaves are toothy, with rough edges; phlox leaves are smooth.

These beautiful blooms are an invasive mustard called "Dame's Rocket" (Hesperis matronalis), brought to the US from Europe about 400 years ago. They are pretty, but they crowd out native species - flowers that the native bees and butterflies depend on. So if you see some on your walk, go ahead and pick them - just don't plant any (or allow them to go to seed if they grow near you). Unfortunately, their seeds are often included in wildflower mixes.

Want to know more? Here's an article from Ohio State U, and here's one from U of Wisconsin extension.

Friday, June 2, 2023

Sky-Watching with Maria

Her Eyes on the Stars: Maria Mitchell, Astronomer 
by Laurie Wallmark; illus. by Liz Wong 
40 pages; ages 8-12
‎Creston Books, 2023

theme: biography, Women in STEM, comets

Night after night, Maria and her father climbed the stairs to her magical world – their rooftop observatory.

This is a story about Maria Mitchell and how she fell in love with astronomy. At the age of 18 she took a job as a librarian – one of the few jobs open to women, writes Laurie. Eleven years later, Maria is the first American to discover a comet.

What I like about this book: I like the narrative style; Laurie seamlessly slides facts into the story, like details of how Maria determined that what she saw was really a comet. I like how the story shows Maria’s work opening up possibilities for women to study astronomy. And I love that back matter includes Maria’s Rules of Astronomical Observation – which are good rules for applying to any endeavor. There’s also a timeline, glossary, and handy information for observing solar eclipses.

After reading, I had One Question for Laurie:

Me: What made you want to write a book about Maria? 

Laurie: When I first started to research and write my book about Maria Mitchell, there was only one trade book published about her. And that book was closer to historical fiction based on her life rather than a true biography. I felt the need to tell a factual story about her life. Even forgetting her many achievements as an astronomer, maybe her biggest accomplishment was encouraging future generations of women to enter the field.

Sky-Watching Beyond the Books:

Watch a solar eclipse. An annular eclipse happens Oct. 14, 2023, and will be visible in the US from Oregon to Texas. Check out information here. The next total eclipse visible in the US will be April 8, 2024. You can read more about it and find maps for what cities lie in the path here

Planning to view an eclipse? Do it safely. Here’s how you can make a viewer from a cereal box.

Go comet hunting! You may have a chance to see a brand-new comet in October 2024. Check out this article from Earth Sky.

Laurie is a member of #STEAMTeam2023. She has written tons of biographies about women in STEM including these two which I have reviewed on this blog: Numbers in Motion and Code Breaker, Spy Hunter.

You can find out more about Laurie at her website,

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Because this book appeals to older kids, on Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the author.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Explore Outdoors ~ Got Ants in your Plants?

I do! And I'm not too worried. That's because these ants and plants have a working relationship. A partnership of sorts. 
The peony has extrafloral nectaries on the sepals (the leaf-like things that protect the flower). That nectar attracts ants that, in exchange for the food, protect the plant from flower-chewing bugs. There are other nectaries inside the flower that produce food for pollinators - once the flower opens.

This week, take a closer look at flowers and flower buds.
  • Do you see ants on the plants?
  • Do the ants look like they are collecting nectar?
  • Are the flowers open or still closed buds?
  • Are the ants eating other insects on the plants?
  • Do the ants leave pheromone signals letting other ants know how to get to these sweet treats?
  • Do you see other pest-eating beneficials on plants, such as ladybug larvae or lacewings?

You can find out more about ants and peonies at Illinois Extension and the master gardeners at Penn State. And by observing peony flowers wherever you find them!