Anne Holcomb

Nature contains millions of specialized relationships between different species. One such relationship exists between two Arkansas natives - the eastern box turtle, and the mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum.

Looking for a tree to plant? How about a tree that hosts over 150 moth and butterfly species. It hosts sawflies, whose larvae are food for baby bluebirds and chickadees.

Its seeds are eaten by squirrels, chipmunks, voles, turkeys, bobwhite, mourning doves, red-bellied woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, pine warblers, and wrens, and many other bird species. Warblers, crows, hawks, and bald eagles nest in it, as do others.

It tolerates poor, dry soil. It has a deep taproot and is essential for the existence of many species. It’s the state tree of Arkansas.

Here in Arkansas, we’re lucky to have native blooms almost year round, if we know what to plant. The brilliant red flowers of late blooming Turk’s Cap go strong into early December or the first hard frost.

One of the first native spring bloomers, if not the first, is Ozark witch hazel (hamamelis vernalis). Flowering begins in January. Its fragrant orange-yellow blooms with their ribbon-like petals are bright spots in the winter landscape.

December, named by the Romans, literally means the tenth month, because the Roman year began in March. For us, it marks the end of the year and the official beginning of winter.

During December, the sun rises and sets over the shortest day of the year, while Orion roams across the night sky with his dog Sirius. Our winter birds include the Hermit Thrush, who sings his flute-like melody in the forest, and the loons who cry on Lake Maumelle.

We’re depleting the earth at a faster rate than it can sustain itself. This means we’re headed for a disaster, unless we can slow our rate of consumption.

Have you ever taken a minute to think about how if at all you help to sustain the earth’s biosystems? Here are some suggestions.

One sign of autumn is the leaves of our native Virginia creeper vine, which turn beautiful colors ranging from pink orange to maroon.

Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, is often mistaken for poison ivy. But they’re easy to tell apart. Virginia creeper has five leaflets, and poison ivy only three.

Do you have Virginia Creeper in your yard? It makes a great ground cover. It grows well in sun or shade and does not need fertilizer, herbicide or pesticide.

If you’re walking in Arkansas nature this month, be sure to watch out for the webs of orbweaver spiders. It’s not pleasant to walk into an orbweaver’s web at face height, but you probably won’t see its creator, because most orbweavers hide during the day time.

In the evening, many will eat the old web and then spin a new one, with both sticky and non-sticky silk. Orbweavers use their third claw to travel over the nonsticky part of the web. They stun their prey, which includes flies, mosquitoes, and ants, with venom and wrap it in silk.

Bumblebees are those bees that belong to the genus Bombus. They are generalist feeders, meaning that they feed from a variety of flowers.

One of the first bees seen in the spring and the last in the fall, the bumblebee can tolerate colder weather than most bees. Like honeybees, bumblebees are social, with a queen and workers, but they don’t make honey. A bumblebee colony lasts for only a year, after which the new queens leave to form new colonies elsewhere and the worker bees and old queen die. Most bumblebee colonies are underground.

This month, we are sharing our own personal experiences in nature.

On 40 acres of open meadow near Ward, Ark. on a temperate May evening just at nightfall, it begins. Gradually, here and there, then seemingly everywhere at once, the high grass of the field lights up with an absolute storm of insect paparazzi-flashes as tens of thousands of fireflies take to the air in their own version of a massive date night extravaganza.

The honeybee, Apis millifera, is the Arkansas state insect. But the honeybee is not a native bee—it was brought to the United States by Europeans after 1600.

On the other hand, there are at least six species of bumblebees native to Arkansas. They nest either underground in deserted rodent burrows, on the surface in thick grass, or in holes in trees. Bumblebee colonies typically only last one year.

Did you know that turtles have lived on earth for over 200 million years, since the time of dinosaurs? Today they are threatened in Arkansas by habitat loss, roads, and the pet trade.

How can you help turtles? First, if you see a turtle on the road, stop if there is a safe place for you to pull over, and take the turtle to the side of the road it was heading for. Do not try to carry or touch a snapping turtle—they have strong jaws and can stretch their long necks and easily bite you.

Nothing is more beautiful to hear on a cold winter's night than the call of a great horned owl.

They are native throughout Arkansas and live in diverse habitats from forests to cities. Specially formed feathers enable most owls to fly silently the better to seize their unwitting prey. Owls' flat faces remind us of our own with forward facing eyes, but unlike us, owls can rotate their heads around 270 degrees.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution from the master naturalists.

Now is the perfect time of year to start a brush pile. They can be located as a bridge between two habitats, such as a pond and a woodland, near a feeder, or simply in a corner of your yard. A brush pile serves many of nature’s purposes. Butterflies and moths will overwinter in them, birds will shelter and feed in them, and small mammals and reptiles will also use them as a shelter and feeding place.

With the onset of winter, days shorten and temperatures drop.

Animals meet winter’s challenges in different ways. Some mammalian species like chipmunks, bats, and bears experience different types of dormancy, lowering their body temperatures, slowing their heart rates and metabolisms, and going without food for periods ranging from several days to several months.

Reptiles have their own version of dormancy, called brumation, often going for months without food and oxygen, but drinking water throughout the period.

Foxes and deer grow heavy winter coats.

Winter birds are one way we mark the passing of the seasons. In central Arkansas, two species who winter here are dark-eyed juncos and yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

Dark gray with a white belly and white outer tail feathers, the junco will eat feeder seed thrown on the ground. Juncos frequent semi-open habitat such as woodland edges, thickets, and yards with trees and shrubs.

Why is the city of Fayetteville giving replacement trees to people who cut down their Bradford pear tree?

Because not all trees are good.

The Bradford pear is just one of many cultivars of the callery pear, which is actually a non-native invasive species in the United States. The first callery pear was imported in 1908 from China to resist a blight attacking U.S. pear orchards.

On Arkansas summer nights, fireflies’ blinking bio-luminescence attracts mates, defends territory, and warns predators away.

These beetles love humid, warm environments. But fireflies are disappearing worldwide, because of habitat destruction and light pollution.

Have you ever seen a distinctive orange, black, and white monarch butterfly? April brings monarchs north to Arkansas from Mexico. A female will lay a single egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The caterpillar that hatches will molt five times before it forms a chrysalis. Out will hatch a butterfly, who will mate and continue the next part of the migration north, as far as Canada.