This week’s Outdoor Hour Challenge allows you to pick from a list of the autumn weed studies already in the archives here on the Handbook of Nature Study. Pick one of the weeds and then mark your planner to revisit this weed in all four seasons to experience its full life cycle. Make sure to read the lesson in the Handbook of Nature Study as noted below for specific weed observation suggestions.
This Outdoor Hour Challenge is part of the 2018-2019 Plan here on the Handbook of Nature Study. We’ll be using the Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock to discover new things about the world around us. Join us each Friday for a different nature study topic. Make sure to subscribe to this blog to receive the weekly challenge right in your email box.
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I love milkweed. Not only is it a beautiful flower but it is the host plant for one of my favorite insects, the monarch butterfly! During the autumn we can observe the milkweed plant turning dry and brown and the seed pods bursting open to disperse their seeds. The fluffy seeds fly away to hopefully create a new milkweed patch. This would be a great time of year to also research the many traditional uses of the milkweed fibers.
It is important to note there are many different kinds of milkweed….this I learned as part of our milkweed nature study. We have showy milkweed, purple milkweed, and narrow leaf milkweed in my part of the world. The flowers look very different and the seed pods look different. Use a local field guide to discover what kind of milkweed you have to observe in your neighborhood. If you need some suggestions for field guides, here is my Amazon.com affiliate link for my favorites: Wildflowers.
Here in California autumn is seed time for milkweed. The flowers are long past prime and the plant will be drying out. You may wish to start a year long study of milkweed and watch it over the next four seasons.
How about a free printable notebook page? This one is good for all four seasons.
Note: You do not need to purchase the ebooks to participate but just so you know, the More Nature Study Autumn ebook contains 3 custom milkweed notebooking pages (including an advanced version) and 2 coloring pages. Click the graphic at the bottom of this post to go over to check out the Ultimate Naturalist Library membership.
We have spent lots of time outdoors in the evenings this summer because it is too hot to be out much during the day. We usually start our evening off with dinner on the back deck and then sit later in the evening as the sun sets. We are still experiencing lots of finches flocking to our tree just at dusk…accompanied by lots of singing and chirping.
We also notice the hummingbirds at the feeders as the sun descends lower and lower on the horizon.
The bats come as well and several times I have felt them whisk past my ears while I am on the deck, startling me but they never actually touch me so I am okay with that.
We have been on the lookout for insects at all times of the day. We noticed grasshoppers in Utah and Nevada on our trip a few weeks ago.
I was able to capture some butterflies at my dad’s house that were in among his flowers. This butterfly had a lot of his wings broken off…didn’t seem to stop him from flying skillfully from flower to flower.
My favorite insect of the month so far is this Milkweed beetlethat we saw in Utah. Amazing colors and design!
Here is an interesting bee we saw in our front yard on the lavender.
And then there were crickets in our yard. When I took a video (so I could capture the audio), I realized that there are two distinct sounds. One is definitely a cricket but the other is a buzzing sound. I am thinking it is a cicada of some sort and have done some research on cicadas found in California. There are some so I am now on the hunt to actually see one.
Just remembered that we saw cave cricketswhen we were at Great Basin National Park in the Lehman Caves, which are pale and have really long antennae. I was so focused on the cave and its awesome formations that I forgot to really pay attention to the crickets or take a photo.
I love it when we take one topic and focus on it for a month….I highly recommend it for more in-depth study of anything topic your children are interested in learning more about.
Our our recent camping trip to Yosemite National Park, we made a special effort to really observe the milkweed. This was made lots easier by the fact that there was lots of milkweed in the meadow near the campground.
The real story of the Showy milkweed in the autumn is the way the pods burst open to expose all of the seeds with their silky white hairs. The brown part is the seed and the white part helps the seeds fly away from the plant.
They remind me of dandelions because when you blow on the seeds they scatter to the wind. There are lots and lots of seeds in each pod. The information I read online said that the seeds are very viable and will grow in dry habitats including fields and road sides.
I think the milkweed silky haired seeds are very beautiful…look at them shimmer in the sunshine.
We returned to our milkweed observation spot at Yosemite Valley….and it was full of maturing milkweed! I have included lots of photos below so enjoy our summertime observations, complete with Monarch butterflies!
Depending on where the milkweed was, it would have blossoms or pods and blossoms. Above you can see the growing seed pods with a few old flower blossoms.
Here is some Showy Milkweed in blossom. I can even see some buds still waiting to bloom near the top.
We saw many Monarchs over the few days we were there but this one was willing to pose for us right on the milkweed. What fun to watch these beautiful insects doing there thing!
This plant had the leaf broken off and you can see the milky sap dripping down the plant. You can also see if you look closely a Cobalt Milkweed Beetle, a shiny blue metallic insect that is common on the milkweed.
We found this sign out in the meadow where our milkweed is growing which shows the complete life cycle of the Monarch butterfly. What a great sign…hope more people stop and read it and learn how fascinating the life of a Monarch is and what part the milkweed plays even there at Yosemite Valley.
We will be updating our study in the autumn and of course I will share.
The beginning of our seasonal milkweed study started actually back in May when we visited Yosemite National Park. This would have been our official spring observation and it was just starting to grow and be recognizable. The soft long leaves of the Showy Milkweed were a grey-green color and we did actually see some flower buds forming.
Showy Milkweed at Yosemite National Park – Half Dome
I couldn’t resist stopping during our bike ride to capture some milkweed with Half Dome in the background. No better spot to observe milkweed could there be in the entire world.
We didn’t observe any insects on the milkweed yet but I anticipate seeing some Milkweed beetles when we visit in a few weeks. If there are blossoms there may even be some monarch butterflies fluttering by.
In our local area I only know of one spot where there is milkweed naturally. I did attempt to grow some milkweed last year again but the roofers knocked my pot off the deck when they were replacing our roof. I almost cried. I need to get some more seeds and try again!
Seasonal Milkweed Notebook Page Printable Use this printable page to record your seasonal milkweed study in each season. Start with your summer milkweed and then revisit it each season to observe the changes.
Getting Started Suggestion:
If you already own the Getting Started ebook, completeOutdoor Hour Challenge #8. Take along your magnifying lens when you observe your milkweed. Use it to get a really good look at the milkweed’s leaves, flowers, stem, and any insects you see on the milkweed. Record your observations on the notebook page in the ebook.
Nature Study Goal – Visit Yosemite in all four seasons.
Our spring trip to Yosemite National Park happened this past weekend…under brilliant blue skies and with warm spring breezes. Our original plans were for my husband and I along with the two younger boys to make the trip. When it came down to it, my nineteen year old and I were the only ones who were able to go. Fire season came early this year so my husband had to work a fire in Southern California. See? I always make plans but then remain flexible.
We were up and out of the house early and hit the road for the four hour drive to Yosemite. The time went by fast and I have to say it is super nice to have children that can drive me places while I enjoy the scenery flash by the window. After an uneventful trip there, we parked at Curry Village and took the shuttle to the trailhead at Happy Isles.
The trail to the bridge below Vernal Falls is mostly paved and sections are rather steep. The biggest obstacle are all the people! This is a popular day hike and on this particular Saturday….lots and lots people from all over the world. My son commented on how many different languages he heard as we hiked…Yosemite is a world-class destination for sure.
The one thing I really like about this hike is that you can hear and see the river as you hike. This makes it appear cooler and it reminds you that there will be a spectacular view just around every corner. I am always amazed at the power of water.
Here is what the lower trail looks like as you go from Happy Isles up to the bridge below Vernal Falls. Granite boulders and slabs surround you and the river runs along one side.
From the bridge up the trail to the falls the trail turns into slippery wet granite steps. You can tell how steep they are by observing how much the hikers are leaning over as they climb.This part is called the Mist Trail because you get the spray from the waterfall drenching you with water. I didn’t capture it this time but you can see whole rainbows in the misty air coming off the waterfall as you look over and back. Amazing!
At last! I am up at the top of Vernal Falls after a last heroic effort of encouragement from my son. He was such a great hiking partner and really cheered me on when I thought I had gone as far as I could up the HUGE granite steps and then inching my way up the last ledge with just a hand railing to keep me from falling off the cliff. See my smile? I was happy to up there and it was so very much worth the effort for this 50+ year old woman to be there. It helps that I have lost 40 pounds in the last three months…not so much weight to haul up the trail.
We had lunch and then hiked further up the trail to the bridge below Nevada Falls which was beautiful this time of year. We took our time going back down the trail and called it a day. Our tent cabin at Curry Village was super clean and comfortable. I think I slept better that night than I have in the last six months. I highly recommend the tent cabins at Curry Village for a camping experience without the fuss of taking your own equipment.
Milkweed with Half Dome in the distance
Our second day was spent biking around Yosemite Valley on the bike trails. This is my favorite way to take in the sights and we made the grand loop from Curry Village to Yosemite Village and then around the Swinging Bridge back to the Lodge and then on back to Curry Village where we had our car parked. There are 12 miles of biking trails around Yosemite Valley and you can rent bikes from Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge.
My son took a panoramic photo of the valley floor with Half Dome in the background and me on my bike. Awesome morning ride and we can hardly wait to go back and do it again this summer.
We are always sad to leave but we made some great memories and I feel great for having accomplished the hike to the top of Vernal Falls.
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