Brookside – May 2019

I’m just now getting around to posting some pictures I took at Brookside Gardens in May: the butterfly exhibit, the conservatory – and everything blooming outdoors. So many subject to photograph – flowers, immature seed pods, seeds, leaves, garden furniture and fountains….peonies, poppies, magnolias, alliums, maples, dogwood…what’s not to like. Enjoy the big slideshow!

The side of the conservatory not used for the butterfly exhibit always has interesting plants in bloom – or photo worthy in other ways (like giant water droplets on green leaves).

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The door that volunteers and staff use is surrounded by greenery. Somehow it seems bigger this year.

I arrive 15 minutes before my shift in the butterfly exhibit. Sometimes I have a few minutes between the orientation and the arrival of the first visitors arriving to photograph butterflies.

May is a big month in the gardens. I have a series of Brookside Gardens rose pictures that I’m saving for another post.

Blooming Trees in Our Yard

About a week after our trek to the National Arboretum – I walked around our yard to take pictures of our trees in bloom. The maple is not quite as bright red as it was earlier…about done with its blooming for the year. The forsythia our neighbor planted at the edge of the woods is blooming behind the maple. The misty yellow of the spice bush is still weeks away.

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The cherry tree in our front yard is blooming profusely. There were several kinds of bees (I presume bees….some of them were too small for me to see for sure).  In previous years our cherry tree lagged the peak bloom at the tidal basin and the arboretum in Washington DC by at least a week…and that seems about right this year as well.

We also have a plum tree and, even though the flowers are smaller, they keep their pink color all the way through the cycle rather than becoming white like the cherries.

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The spring blooming trees are a clear indicator of the season change…warmer days to come. The colors are a welcome break from the browns of winter. Next comes the delicate spring greens as leaves begin to unfurl.

Belmont – March 2019

Howard County Conservancy hosted a training session at Belmont for upcoming elementary school BioBlitzes last week. I hadn’t been to the location since January, so I looked around before going into the Carriage House for class. The plane trees (they are like sycamores but are a little different – have some seed balls in pairs rather than single) seemed full of seed balls. We’ve had quite a lot of wind and the fibers holding the balls to the tree look worn at this point. I wondered how long they would stay attached after I saw the zoomed image through my camera.

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It was sad to see the stump of the red maple they had to cut down recently. Evidently it lost a lot of big branches during some of the recent winds. The colors in the stump drew my attention. The tree was not extensively rotten but there were some insect holes. The stump would have to be sanded to count the rings. The tree had been struggling in recent years, but I always pointed it out because it had small branches low enough on its trunk for children to see the flowers and leaves.

It also had a root that was above the surface and been injured by mowers…but still survived.

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I almost always pointed out the red maple to contrast with the nearby sugar maple – which is still standing with some ivy growing on it. It was a good concept for student to think through – how the trees were alike and how they were different…both maples.

The class had an outdoor portion to try out the app and tablets the students would be using. I used the time to take a few more pictures. There were crocuses blooming in the grassy area near the mailboxes.

The wind had blown pine cones and sweet gum balls into the same area.

The pond still looked like it has all winter. The clouds had rolled in while we had been indoors. And this landscape shows the dimness of the day.

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I turned back to the view the manor house and notice a maple that no longer had its upper branches. One of the them was very rotten. But the tree is still blooming!

We headed up to the cemetery and I checked the hemlock. The tree looks like the treatment for wooly adelgid has worked. I tried an experimental shot with a cone highlighted…and blurry branches above and below.

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By the time I am at Belmont again – there will be even more signs of spring.

Twigs and Witch Hazel

I have been looking more closely at twigs of trees recently and trying out simple dichotomous keys. As an example: here is one I looked at during a class on winter tree identification. Looking at the full branch – it was obvious that the leaf scars were opposite. Next, we needed to look at the leaf scars in more detail. There were hand lenses for everyone but I used my 15x lens clipped to my phone so I could share what I was seeing. The leaf scar was D shaped and had three bundles. And the new growth was red. We had to break the twig to smell it…its didn’t smell rank, so it was a RED MAPLE.

It turns out that multiples buds at the twig tip is indicative of maples and oaks…and that maples are opposite, and oaks are alternate. So – it’s possible to take a picture looking up into a tree and make a tentative identification. For example – this was a picture I took in my neighborhood with alternate branching and multiple buds at the end of the twigs – an OAK.  I had been using the relative height of the trees in my neighborhood (oaks are taller) but this identification is better and maybe easier too for the street trees planted by the builder 25-30 years ago – oaks and maples.

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I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the crumpled bark on the red maple twig. I wonder if they smooth out as the twig grows when the weather warms?


On a more colorful note: be on the look out for witch hazels. Some bloom in the fall but others bloom now. There is one at Howard Country Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant location that I am watching. Hopefully bitterly cold weather will not damage the flowers that are beginning to unfurl.

In the Fall Yard – November 2018

We finally got some vivid leaf colors in the trees behind our house. The usual vibrant yellows of the tulip poplars were almost missing since those leaves turned brown quickly before they even left the big trees this year.  The pines were shedding some needles too.

A rain came, and a lot of leaves fell from the trees within a day or two of achieving good color. I let the leaves dry for a day or two then went out to rake. The temperature was in the 50s and the sky was clear. The trees still had a few leaves…but most were on the ground.

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My plan was to rake leaves that were on grass into areas where deep shade prevented grass from growing. The area between the compost bin and the red maple and then back to the forest is a great location for piles of leaves from the rest of the yard.

I didn’t put any more leaves in the compost bin because they were just raked…not shredded. I discovered that a lot of the pine needles had fallen with the rain, so I got a trash can full of them and put them into the compost. How nice to have pine scented compost!

Saturday Hike – Part I

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Last Saturday, I lead a hike from Howard County Conservancy’s Belmont Carriage House down to the Patapsco River. It was a cool gray morning – a good day for a fall hike.

The starlings and male brown-headed cowbirds were busy around the carriage house when I arrived.

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I appreciated the leaf color of the sugar maple near the carriage house since most of the other leaves in our area seem to be staying green on the trees or falling off before they change color

I noticed that the pods on the butterfly weed had opened but the seeds were still tightly packed inside. Perhaps the rain has come frequently enough this year that the white fibers haven’t dried out enough to become the parachutes for the seeds.

That was the calm before the hike. The list of people that had signed up was long – over 50 people. But only 21 showed up. That was large enough and I was glad that another volunteer was available to bring up the rear on the way down and be at the front for the uphill trek.

More about the hike itself in tomorrow’s post.

A Few Minutes Observing…a female cardinal

Taking pictures through my office window with my new camera is a bit more challenging than it was with the old camera; getting the lens camp off takes too much time. But there was a female cardinal that stayed perched on the gutter long enough for me to get a portrait.

It was a cool breezy day and the bird’s feathers are fluffed…the crest is a little rumpled too (a bad crest day?).

I noticed some leaves in the gutter; it’s not clogged yet but it could get that way with more leaves flying in the next few weeks.

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Right now – most of the leaves visible from my window are still green…with a few patches of color. The tulip poplar leaves go to yellow and

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The maple will go to red. Eventually.

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And that was my few minutes observing through the window!

May 2018 Tree Status

All the trees are growing well with the warmer temperatures and rain. The sycamore behind our house has lots of small green seed balls among its new leaves; last year a freeze came at the wrong time and the tree only produced one seed ball.

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The tulip poplar is full of flowers as usual. Its leaves are larger than the sycamores at this point. Later in the season the sycamore leaves will be the largest.

The maple had so many seeds early in the month that they made the tree look brownish…but then the were blown off the tree and the maple looks like is normal summer self.

The sweet gums are starting new seed balls as well. They look like spikey globes among the leaves.

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But the celebration of tree blooms this month is the horse chestnut. The tree I photographed is at the end of the drive up to the manor house. The top fell out of the tree several years ago but the part that Is left is blooming profusely. I stopped one day after I finished hiking and leaned out the open window of my car to take some pictures of the flowers.

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Photography through a Window – April 2018

The juncos were in out backyard and frequent visitors to our feeder and birdbath at the beginning of the month…and then they left for their nesting grounds to north and west. We won’t see them here in Maryland until it gets cold again.

The big story of month for our backyard was more about trees than birds. The red maple bloomed and made seeds. I am watching for when the seeds helicopter away from the parent. Of course, some of our backyard birds (cardinals and goldfinches) were in tree for some of the pictures. They like to snack on the tender seeds.

The tulip poplar leaves are unfurling with the pods from last summer still holding a few seeds.

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The sycamore is still looking very much like it has all winter; it is always one of the last to leave out.

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The tree I haven’t photographed yet is the black walnut. I noticed last time I walked around that it had some leaves unfurling but it’s location requires that I walk to it rather than trying to photograph it through a window!

First field trip of the season

The spring field trips have begun. I volunteered for the first pre-school field trip last week provided by Howard Country Conservancy at Belmont. It was the day everyone went back to school after our big snow and there still patches of snow on the ground. It was a sunny day but very chilly. The children arrive in cars with a parent (or two) rather than a bus. They were mostly 3 years old…a few had recently had a 4th birthday. They were bundled up enough that we walked around and looked at trees. The maple trees were blooming and had a branch that I could show them the flowers closeup. One little boy noticed that the color was redder in the sunlight but was almost black when the branch was in my shadow.  I learn something every time I do these field trips!

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We talked about how seeds are planted – sprout – grow…Then started looked for tree seeds. They were thrilled to find sweet gum balls under one of the trees.

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I also showed them a magnolia seed pod…also from under the tree.

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We all pretended to be a tree seed growing in a forest – growing tall – and our branches moving in the breeze. Then we went inside and I shared a tiny tulip poplar tree (root and small shoot). The leaves had started unfurling because I’d had it inside for the past three weeks. The children warmed up while they learned about butterflies and the animals in the nature center. We learned a little about birds then trekked back outdoors to see and hear them. Unfortunately, it was a very quiet morning. We did see a hawk and the children remembered that they has seen geese on the pond earlier.

A good time was had by all!

Snow Day - Part 2

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By mid-morning – it was obvious that the ‘big snow’ was going to be during the day on Wednesday. The backyard became a winter wonderland with snow accumulating on every available surface.

The azalea that has been showing a lot of stem and leaf color earlier in the day became indistinguishable from other mounds of snow.

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After lunch I opened the garage door and took a snow measurement on the driveway – a little over 4.5 inches and it was still snowing. I also photographed the sidewalk in front of our house. I wondered if the plum tree was going to have some breakage from the weight of the snow; there was no wind – a good thing.

I decided to shovel the driveway. The snow was not as heavy as I thought it would be – which made the job easier. There were plops of snow falling from the trees and I could hear some slow trickles of water. The temperature was about 33 degrees.

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A little while after I came in from shoveling, the snow plow made a down and back pass at our street. Later in the day they came back and did the side streets. Events for Thursday began to be cancelled.

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The next morning (Thursday), there was still snow on the trees at sunrise. But the day was sunny and the forecast was for a high of 45…probably the last of the snow days! I got some pictures of the forest and the maple blossom in the morning sunlight.

Blooming Maple

The red maple in our backyard is blooming and has been since earlier this month. I photographed it from my window on the 3rd (with a dove looking back toward my window. Maybe it sensed it was being watched.),

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With snow on the 7th (there were doves in the tree again…fluffed to keep warm.  I wondered if the weather was going to damage the flowers, but it didn’t get below freezing for very long.)

And yesterday (when the flowers looked even more numerous than before).

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I went outside yesterday to get a closeup of the flowers.

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The red maple is probably one of my favorite trees in the spring because it blooms before just about everything except the earliest of bulbs…and it’s the only red in the scene!

Signs of Spring

The very first days of March and there are already two signs of spring outside my office window:

A robin looking for worms (not flocks of them yet but single birds…I’ve seen larger groups at both Belmont and Mt Pleasant already this years) and

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The red maple blooming. I’m a little worried about the red maple because we are going to get some cold weather again in the next week or so. How much can these maple flowers withstand? It will be interesting to watch and see. Last year we had very few samaras (seeds of the maple) because some cold water caught the tree at a critical time. I’ll be looking for maple seedlings soon to pull up for display during the tree activity for pre-schoolers; hope there were other maples in the neighborhood that did produce seeds.

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Icy Day

Earlier this week we had about 24 hours of icy coated trees (and streets were impacted enough that schools closed for the whole day). I was glad I had no reason I had to be out and about; I could enjoy the ice through the windows of the house – or open doors to get a clearer picture. I noticed how different the types of trees looked with the ice. The pines droop over very quickly from the added weight of ice coating their needles. The tulip poplars develop little icicles on their more horizontal branches, but the seed pods didn’t seem to accumulate any ice.

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When I first looked at the maple, I thought it hadn’t accumulated ice as much as the other trees. When I zoomed in with my camera I saw that it did have ice accumulation and the buds were already dark red. I don’t think the buds will be damaged by the ice since they are still closed.

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The sycamore had a thin coating of ice and longer icicles. I was surprised that the lone seed ball from last summer does not appear to have ice on it!

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I worried the most about the plum tree in our front yard. It has a lot of small branches that are almost horizontal and tends to be coated with ice rather than icicles forming. It glistened in the morning sun (that didn’t cause very much melting because it was so cold).  Fortunately, there was very little breeze so I don’t see any breakage.

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Birding through a Window – January 2018 (1)

I was at home more in January than December…and saw a lot more birds through the window. I posted about the bluebirds back on the 16th but they have continued to visit our bird bath and deck; most of the time I don’t have my camera but I did manage to photograph one just yesterday – perched on the old weather station pole.

The blue jays are regular visitors too. They come to the bird path, the maple, the sycamore and the tulip poplar…staying still long enough for good pictures.

The cardinals alert me to their presence with their chirps. Both the male and female come to the deck for seed and I often see them in the trees around the yard and into the forest.

When we had the very cold days, the Carolina Wrens were entirely missing; I didn’t see them or hear them. But they have returned now that it is a little warmer. They are heard more often than seen.

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The doves were missing during the cold days as well but now they are back and frequent visitors to our deck.

More birding through the window from this month in tomorrow’s post.

Silver Maple Stump

Last month, two silver maples were cut down near the farmhouse at Howard County Conservancy’s Mt. Pleasant Farm because they were dropping large limbs and endangering nearby structures. One of them is conveniently located between the drive that loops around the farm house and the Honors Garden. When I first looked at it, I was thrilled that the stump could be used to talk about tree rings generally…and the history of Mt. Pleasant specifically. The first challenge was that the saw marks were so deep that it was difficult to see the tree rings.

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Fortunately, several volunteers stepped forward to sand the smoothest part of the stump so that the rings would be easier to see. It was still a little challenging. The stump includes rotting areas and splits near the center. The stump is still very much alive as well – with sap coming to the surface as the roots continue to collect water and nutrients from the soil. The first time I attempted to count the rings it was a cloudy day and the size of the stump was a bit daunting. I realized I needed a step stool to see the rings toward the center. I came back on a sunny day and climbed up to sit on the stump when I realized that the slope was not going to work with my step stool. I managed to count 124 rings!


I made a strip of lightweight cardboard with years on it (counting from the outermost ring) and a page that talked about tree cookie parts. For kindergarten and 1st grade students that hike by the stump – we’ll talk about counting rings and then either count 5-6 rings from the outer edge (how much did the tree grow since you were born) or from the center (how big was the tree when it was as old as you). For adults, I have a time line for what was happening at the farmhouse and Mt. Pleasant over the past 124 years and plan to develop some discussion about the weather over the life of the tree. The 1940s and 1950s were the best years for the silver maple!

Walking in the Neighborhood

Our neighborhood is not great for a long distance walk…still – there are photographic opportunities at every turn. Before I even left my house, I saw a sycamore tussock moth caterpillar (dense white hairs with butterscotch tuffs at the head end).

I also realized I needed to do another round of raking; the sycamore is beginning to shed is very large leaves – some more than a foot across.

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Along the walk I saw a few other leaves on the ground and photographed ones caught my attention. The oaks (not that there are two different kinds of oak leaves in our neighborhood) are shedding their leaves more than the other trees. Most of the maples – which provide the most colorful or our fall leaves – are still green.

The storm water retention pond is not appealing – still full of scum that is very visible without the vegetation that used to grow around the pond. On the plus side, the slopes have not been mowed so the erosion that happened right after the pond was cleaned out last spring has been stabilized.

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I sat on the bench and took some zoomed pictures of some of the plants in the unmowed area.

I walked up to the entry of the neighborhood and took a picture of the cornfield across the street. It will be harvested soon. The only green left in the field itself area the weedy vines using the corn for support. There is some chicory growing in the area between the road and the field. Chicory seems to be resilient to just about everything – unlike milkweed which no longer grows in the margins around cornfield.

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Finally - Some Rain

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The last 4 weeks have been very dry in our area with the only moisture being dew coating everything in the mornings. It’s unusual to go this long without rain although it has made the fall field trips easier for the students (into the streams/rivers or BioBlitz). It finally rained yesterday and I’m sure all the vegetation is soaking up the moisture.

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It might be too late for the fall foliage to recover enough to show vivid colors. Some trees have already lost their leaves…a very brief and muted color change then leaves swirling. I’m still hopeful that the trees behind our house will show their typical colors since the leaves are still on the trees and green. The color in our backyard usually peaks just before Halloween.

The status of our trees before the rain: cherry (leaves already on the ground), plum and oak (about half the leaves already on the ground), tulip poplar (about 1/3 leaves yellow and the rest are still green), maple (leaves green), sycamore (some curling brown leaves on the tree and ground, still about half the leaves are green and still on the tree).

After a few days of rain – we’ll see what happens.

Gleanings of the Week Ending October 7, 2017

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles and websites I found this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article.

Ancient Roman Mosaic in England Discovered by Amateur Archaeologists – A 4th CE Roman mosaic near the village of Boxford in Berkshire….discovered and then covered up to protect the mosaic until decisions are made about what to do next.

Fall Color In-Depth: Maple Trees Offer New Answers to Diabetes, Alzheimer’s – National Geographic Society  - I like maple syrup and often us it in cooking….it adds more than sweetness and – evidently – is better for you because of those other elements!

Electric Car S-Curve Adoption by Country (Fun Chart!) | CleanTechnica – Norway followed by Iceland and Sweden lead…The US is behind China.

Question: Can People Use Rooftop Solar Power During an Emergency? Answer: It Depends | CleanTechnica – As more battery storage becomes available…the problem of having solar panels but not being able to utilize them if the power grid is down may go away.

Spectacular Shots of Summer Fireworks Festivals in Japan - Hanabi Taikai – Wow! What a huge display.

Infographic: Brain Infection and Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology | The Scientist Magazine® - Evidence of infection (biofilms) in the hippocampus and temporal lobe in brains from people that have died with Alzheimer’s neurodegeneration….several theories about their relationship to Alzheimer’s.

These Breathtaking Natural Wonders No Longer Exist – 18 landscapes that no longer exist…including a beach in Hawaii…some sights in US National Parks.

Free Technology for Teachers: Historical Patterns Animated – A site from the University of Oregon…worth browsing even if you aren’t a teacher.

Interactives from NASA…Exoplanet Exploration – Create your own Earth-like planet….or a hostile world.

LED Lights, All-Electric School Buses, Hydroponic Gardens ... (Cleantech in Action Series) | CleanTechnica – A roundup of cleantech press releases that came out in September.

Zooming – September 2017

I spent a lot of time outdoors this month; it’s fall and the weather has been near perfect. The moon was visible in the morning of one of the clear days and I took pictures through frames of leaves. This one is my favorite.

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In the first half of the month the butterfly exhibit at Brookside Gardens was still open and I have lots of zoomed pictures for that but picked two of the blue morpho for this post. Toward the end it was hard to find one with wings that were not battered and palpi intact. These two are in reasonable shape.

Then there were butterflies out in the gardens. The Mexican sunflowers and cone flowers were popular. Do you see the tree skippers (butterflies) on the yellow cone flowers? Click on the image to get a larger view.

The streams are beginning to be colorful with newly fallen leaves. The macroinvertebrates we search for to assess stream quality love matted, rotting leaves! I like the zoom on my camera that helps me get pictures without putting on my tall boots and wading into the river.

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A large silver maple was cut down this month at Mt. Pleasant (Howard County Conservancy) and I working to count the rings and create material we could use with hikes we do for elementary school children. The saw marks were so deep that it had to be sanded before we count the rings…but insect damage was evident. More on this project as it progresses…

Of course, there are plants that area always a favorite – a graceful curve of a leave with water droplets, a flower turned to face the sun, a rose on a rainy day, a beechnut husk (the goody already eaten by a squirrel), birds hunting the bounty of seeds, and a tangle of succulent.