Naked ladies, toads return with the rain

08/09/2013 10:16 AM

08/06/2014 2:34 AM

I’ve been wondering a couple of things this week:

Exactly how much rain will it take for the sound of it falling on my roof to stop sounding strange?

And do I really need to keep my collection of cookbooks in this age of the Internet?

First, the rain. It has brought welcome moisture, flooding, unexpected glee at any return of the sun – and a continued deep gratitude and snuggle under the covers at the pounding of it on the roof.

It has also brought rampant growth of plants and their friends that range from the ridiculous to the sublime. The ridiculous, in the amount of weeds that are everywhere. When I take a walk in the park (I confess to cutting through grassy areas), I come home with red welts that I think wouldn’t be there if not for all that riotous growth.

Slime mold can be found in lawns, and fungus on decaying tree trunks, neither of which is anything to be concerned about, beyond the initial gross-out factor.

Grasshoppers are having a heyday, and next year could be even worse, what with all the high-weedy places in which they can lay their eggs for the Plague of 2014. It’s yet another reason to take care of high-growing areas on your own property. If you have tall grasses that are ornamental, there’s not too much you can do about that, extension agent Bob Neier said this week. If grasshoppers are doing damage to your garden plants, at this mature stage of the game you have to hit them directly with permethrin, he said.

The sublime is much more pleasant to contemplate. After in large part taking a powder last year in the drought, the leafless lilies familiarly known as naked ladies have bounded back in miraculous flowering this August. The lilies, botanically known as Lycoris squamigera, and also nicknamed surprise lilies, magic lilies and resurrection lilies – which is your favorite? – put on leaves in the spring, but then die back for the summer, only to magically send up a bare stalk in the heat of summer, followed by a bud, and then a fluster of pink flowers.

Jean Gust of Midtown called Monday to tell me that her naked ladies had multiplied to create quite a show in her backyard. I rushed over before the next hammering rain could do them any harm, and was enchanted to see them congregating in little groups along the paths leading through the shady backyard of her house, which was on the historic Midtown tour last year. Gust figures she has 200 of the lilies – she quit counting at 100. They make beautiful companions to purple summer phlox, which also are having a bang-up summer.

Neier said he thinks the lilies have shown up a little later than usual this year and are looking a little weak because of the drought. He’s usually tuned in to them because “it’s county fair time, and people enter these like crazy at county fairs as cut flowers.”

Also sublime was one of my co-workers telling me about a cacophony of toads that she heard last weekend while at the home farm in Finney County. Apparently, the toads’ calling had not been heard there for many a dry year.

I consider my life to be sad from the standpoint that it has had way too few frogs and toads in it. The real truth is they’ve never been part of my life. So when I had a reason to call a herpetologist about them and the first word he uttered about my question was “cool,” things were looking up.

Travis Taggart, curator of herpetology at the Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, said that desert-like toads can burrow 6 to 8 inches underground and stay there, in suspended animation, for years. “They don’t have a moist skin to begin with. They’re pretty resistant to drying out,” he said. When it rains, they emerge, and this time, they probably are mating, because it hasn’t rained for so long, Taggart said. The males call from pools of water, and other males looking for water, along with females, head toward the sound.

“They get slaughtered by the hundreds on roads as they try to get to where they are calling,” Taggart said. Poor toads.

Now, about the other thing I’ve been wondering about. I am not a planner of a cook, usually deciding to whip something up at the last minute. The Internet has turned out be a huge blessing for people like me, as I have only to Google the main ingredients I have, and I’m almost certain to find a recipe that fits my level of involvement (minimal) and ingredients on hand (you never have to have every single one). I find that I have less and less use for my cookbooks, which could be a boon for gaining some much-needed space in the house. We’ll see if I can actually let go, though.

This week brought a great surprise in the preparation for eggplant, which I love to grow and to eat but hate to peel, salt, leave to turn moist, etc. A simple recipe from my friend the Internet (I can’t usually state our relationship that favorably) had me slicing the eggplant vertically into four pieces and placing them in the bottom of a baking pan, then topping them with chicken breasts and a tomato sauce before baking at 375 degrees for around 30 minutes. Fresh basil was the finishing touch.

You can get more ideas about growing and cooking with eggplant at the next Saturday Sampler at the Extension Center, Aug. 17. Extension agents Rebecca McMahon and Denise Dias will lead the free seminar from 9 to 10 a.m. in the master gardeners’ demo garden at 21st and Ridge Road. Rebecca makes no secret of her dislike of eggplant, so it’s always fun to see if some dish changes her mind.

The garden and the farmers markets are loaded with foods that get me hitting the Internet for my next gastronomical surprise, right in line with those surprise lilies outside my window. I have to acknowledge that winter will not bring such serendipity – or such transporting flavors – so we must carpe diem while we can. I probably will have to keep those cookbooks after all, to dip into come November.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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