Birds.− In 1936, writer and naturalist Donald Culross Peattie opined that “February is a good month in which to make friends with the birds of a great city.” Perhaps Peattie is correct: In the heart of winter in
By the end of the month, purple martins and tree swallows will begin to reappear. Barred owls begin hooting their mating calls. Also, woodcocks begin their elaborate courtships in February. It is worth braving the cold this month to watch male woodcocks spiral skyward and fall rapidly back down to earth making a distinct “peenting” call in hopes of attracting a mate.
Butterflies.− Many of our over-wintering butterfly species will re-emerge this month. Near forested habitats, one might expect to see question marks, eastern commas and mourning cloaks. In open habitats (e.g., fields and roadsides), expect to find American ladies, late sulphurs, orange sulphurs, clouded sulphurs and cabbage whites, a commonly seen species that was introduced from Europe. Other species sighted in
This month, we will consider another sub-family of the brush-foots: the emperors (Apaturinae). Apaturinids tend to be fast and nervous butterflies, often found perched on tree trunks or feeding on carrion, rotting fruit and dung. They will land on people, taking salt from arms and finger-tips. Resident Piedmont Apaturinids include the tawny emperor (Asterocampa clyton) and the hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis), medium-sized orange-brown butterflies with dark brown-black spots. Found in moist woods, along streams, and in backyards, both of these species lay creamy-white eggs on the leaves of hackberries (Celtis occidentalis) and sugarberries (Celtis laevigata); however, the tawny emperor lays large clusters on the underside of the leaves and the hackberry emperor lays single eggs or small clusters.
Reptiles & Amphibians.− This month, expect to hear southeastern chorus frogs and spring peepers. You might also catch the sharp, repetitive clinking of a northern cricket frog, the musical trill of an American toad, the low-pitched croak of the pickerel frog or the sheep-like bleat of the eastern spadefoot. Also, continue to look for breeding salamanders.
In Bloom this Month.− Look out for these February fruits and flowers:
In Bloom (*in some years):
RED MAPLE – Acer rubrum
HAZEL ALDER – Alnus serrulata
*EASTERN SPRING-BEAUTY – Claytonia virginica
*AMERICAN TROUT-LILY – Erythronium americanum
*CAROLINA JESSAMINE – Gelsemium sempervirens
*LITTLE HEARTLEAF – Hexastylis minor
BLUETS – Houstonia sp.
SUGARBERRY - Celtis laevigata
HEARTS-A-BUSTIN’ – Euonymus americanus
AMERICAN HOLLY - Ilex opaca
February is a great month to eradicate any non-native, invasive plant species growing on your property, many of which are easy to identify even in the middle of winter. In the southeastern
Exotic species – a non-native plant that will grow, but not spread in a given ecosystem
Invasive species – a non-native species that will spread and cause harm in a given ecosystem
Native species – a species that historically occurred in a given ecosystem
Noxious weed – any plant whose presence is detrimental to crops or desirable plants, livestock, land, other property or is injurious to public health (note: can be native)
Notable invasive plant species in our area:
Chinese privet (Ligustrum sinense)
Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis)
Common reed (Phragmites australis)
English ivy (Hedera helix)
Hydrilla (Hydrilla verticillata)
Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum)
Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin)
Multiflora rose (
Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
Princesstree (Paulownia tomentosa)
Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia)
Sericea lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)
Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
Plant Profile.− This month’s plant profile is the ALLEGHENY CHINKAPIN (Castanea pumila).
“The Allegheny chinkapin [may] well be our most ignored and undervalued native North American nut tree.” – Payne et al., 1993
The Allegheny chinkapin (Castanea pumila), also known as the American, eastern, common or tree chinkapin[i], [ii], was first mentioned in Captain John Smith’s 1612 account of Virginia, where local American Indians called it checkinquamin6. Like its congener, the nearly extinct American chestnut (Castanea dentata), the Allegheny chinkapin bears sweet, dark nuts, smaller than those of the American chestnut, but still coveted by chipmunks, deer, deermice, rabbits, squirrels, along with bobwhites, grouse and wild turkeys 2, [iii], [iv]. The Allegheny chinkapin is also the larval host of the orange-tipped oakworm moth (Anisota senatoria)13.
The Allegheny chinkapin is found up to 4,500 feet elevation in the dry woods and rocky uplands of
Allegheny chinkapins clump into shrubby thickets or grow into small trees[vi]. As a small tree, it can stretch 40 feet into the sky and obtain diameters of up to one and a half feet 6, 8. The toothed, bristled tipped leaves are 6 – 20 cm long, 2.5 – 5 cm wide with a whitish, velvet underside and green top 6, 7. The twigs are also woolly with buds much smaller than the related American beech (Fagus grandifolia)1, 7.Whitish flowers, in upright catkins 4 – 6 inches in length, bloom in July in North Carolina6, 7. While dark brown fruits or nuts, covered in a spiny involucres or cupules, mature in September or October7.
The small, egg-shaped chinkapin nuts are produced on trees by the second or third growing season, with 1,200 to 1,500 nuts being produced per tree by the sixth year4. These sweet nuts are 5% fat, 5% protein, 40% starch and 50% water2. The leaves of the Allegheny chinkapin have been used medicinally to treat fevers associated with the common cold 9, 11, 12.
Threats to the Allegheny chinkapin included weevils and other beetles2. Although the Allegheny chinkapin is largely resistant to the fungus that decimated the American chestnut, some plants have been affected by the blight2. This species is considered threatened in
Cook, D. 2001. The Piedmont Almanac.
Daniels, J. C. 2003. Butterflies of the Carolinas. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, Inc.
Peattie, D. C.
[i] Petrides, G. A. 1988. A Field Guide to Eastern Trees.
[ii] Payne, J. A., G. P. Johnson, and G. Miller. 1993. Chinkapin: potential new crop for the south, p. 500-505 In J. Janick and J. E. Simon (eds.), New Crops, Wiley:
[iii] Halls, L. K. 1977. Southern fruit producing wood plants used by wildlife. United States Department of Agriculture,
[iv] http://plants.nrcs.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_capu9.pdf [accessed
[v] http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=CAPU9 [accessed
7 Radford, A. E., H. E. Ahles and C. R. Bell. 1983. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the
8 Holmes. J. S. 2002. Common Forest Trees of North Carolina (revised, 18th ed). North Carolina Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, Division of
9 http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Castanea+pumila [accessed
10 http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/factsheets/trees-new/castanea_pumila.html [accessed
11 Moerman, D. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press,
12 Weiner, M. A. 1980. Earth Medicine, Earth Food. Ballentine Books
13 http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=CAPU9 [accessed