Doug & Todd on NatGeo’s Forage Wars

For all you predawn TV watchers:

Doug and Todd Elliott are featured on the National Geographic reality TV show, Forage Wars, Thursday, June 19.  It should be hilarious, especially if you are a forager.  And they gave us a prime-time slot:  5 AM ET !

There are a couple of trailers to the show on this link:

National Geographic Channel - Forage Wars Pilot

Happy foraging.   Doug

The Great Tulip Poplar SlurpFest

Coming soon to a tulip tree near you!

When I tell northerners that I built my house almost entirely of poplar, including the framing, rafters, interior paneling and exterior siding, they seem confused. When I go on to say that there are a lot of old log cabins in the southern Appalachian Mountains built from poplar logs, they look at me like I’m crazy.

I soon found out that to a northerner the word “poplar” refers to aspens and other related trees whose wood is light, soft and virtually useless for house construction. After a bit more discussion, we would finally get our terminology straightened out and I’d get the response, “Oh, you mean ‘tulip tree.'”


Yes, this magnificent tree has many names and even more uses. It is not a true poplar but was so named because its leaves are attached to its branches by long petioles, or leafstems, that allow the leaves to flutter in the breeze in a manner not unlike that of a quaking aspen.

Tulip poplar is actually in the Magnolia family. Its scientific name, Liriodendron tulipifera, translates as something like, “tulip-bearing lily tree.” This is a great name for the tree because its flowers look like a combination of a tulip and a lily. They are a light greenish yellow and each of the six petals has a blaze of orange at its base.

IMG_2967A large tulip poplar lit up with hundreds of large cup-like blooms in spring is a magnificent sight indeed. The flowering of these trees is very important to beekeepers. It is one of the most dependable sources of nectar in the Southeast. The yield of nectar per bloom is possibly the highest of any plant on the continent and has been calculated at an average of 1.64 grams per flower (that’s about one third of a teaspoon). During a favorable season, the nectar is secreted so abundantly that honey bees and other insects cannot carry it away as fast as it appears. Sometimes you can stand under a blooming tulip tree in a light breeze and feel the nectar dripping down like a gentle, sticky rain. poplar-nectar(People who park their shiny new cars under tulip trees often complain about this.) Because the bloom comes early in the season, many honey bee colonies are not strong enough to fully utilize the abundance. For strong hives, however, harvests of 100 pounds of honey per hive have been recorded during just the three-week poplar bloom. The honey is dark in color and is sometimes called “black poplar honey”. When held up to the light, however, it can be seen that it is actually a deep amber-red in color. Though it is not as light as locust honey or as sought after as sourwood honey, it has a rich full-bodied flavor that can be used to sweeten fruit salads, yogurt, tea and other beverages. It goes great on pancakes, waffles, cereal, biscuits, cornbread, and other baked goods. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t eat some.

If you want the ultimate tulip poplar nectar tasting experience, you can sip it straight from the flower like the bees do. To do this, you need to find a freshly opened blossom within reach. Pick or lower the blossom carefully without jostling it. Then lick the droplets on the inside of the petals, and taste that ambrosia! Sometimes the nectar collects in a puddle on one of the lower sepals. If the air has been warm and dry, the nectar will often be thick like syrup. After one taste, you will know you have imbibed the nectar of the gods!

Many wild critters take advantage of the tulip poplar nectar. Along with the multitudes of insects, I have seen hummingbirds and orioles sipping the nectar. A friend was on a cliff in West Virginia in late May looking out over the canopy of the forest when he noticed movements in the crown of a distant tulip tree. It was a bear up in the tree bending in the flowering branches and slurping the nectar. Often you will see hundreds of cut up petals on the ground under flowering tulip trees. These are the remains of the squirrels’ treetop slurp fest. They’ve been up there partying–sipping nectar, chomping flowers, and running around on a sugar high!

It’s a good season for all of us to get outside and run around. Join the squirrels, the bears, the bugs, the birds, the bees and me on the Great Tulip Poplar Slurp Fest! Coming soon to a tulip tree near you.

IMG_2985How ‘bout them flower slurpers; ain’t they a panic,
Slurping them flowers and acting romantic,
If you wanna be a flower slurper, you don’t need to burp it,
Just find yourself a flower and haul off and slurp it!



Head Over to for The Spring Sale–Still Going On–More Items:

Stories, Lore, and Truth Stranger Than Fiction about the Natural World
A 75 page whimsical, homemade, soft-cover book
Along with detailed instructions about how to make a tulip poplar basket, Elliott “covers a variety of topics including ‘possums, old-timey apples, ramps, orchids, bears, ginseng, millipedes roadkills and more…There’s little rhyme or reason to this book. Its topics are as varied and as far flung as Elliott’s wandering mind. But Doug has a unique and deep perspective on the world, and seeing it through his eyes is always educational and fun. This book is wonderful collection, full of woods sense, common sense and more.” –David Wheeler
Half-price sale (slightly water rumpled copies) Normally $12 — NOW only $6

Wildwoods Wisdom, Encounters with the Natural World
196 page, lavishly illustrated hardcover book —
There’s lots more about locust trees, tulip poplar trees, and many other miracles of nature, including beavers, buzzards, snakes, ginseng, Jack-in-the-pulpits, bats, bees, skunks, and more.
Normally $23–NOW $8 off–only $15

An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Half-price Sale Normally $20 — NOW only $10

Thanks to Todd Elliott for the use of two of his photos. To see more check out his website.

You might also enjoy checking out my 8-minute NC-TV video celebrating the tulip poplar:

Locust Blossom Celebration


Locust-2925Locust trees will be blooming soon! Flowering time is usually in April or May. The fragrant dangling clusters of white pea-like flowers often cover the tree. Sam Thayer calls them the “Queen of Blossoming Sweetness” (

Some years they produce copious amounts of nectar during the brief two-week bloom. Occasionally this provides nearby beekeepers with a bumper crop of heavy-bodied, water-white, elegantly flavored honey. In some parts of the Appalachians, locust honey is often called “the beekeepers’ honey” because the locust bloom is very unpredictable, and on the few occasions when beekeepers harvest a crop of this special honey, it rarely makes it to the market because the beekeepers usually squirrel it away for their own use.

Locust blossoms are prime for only a week or so, and you best catch them at the beginning of the bloom. If the edges of the petals are dried and wrinkly, you are too late. They are best gathered in the morning, before the bees and butterflies have sipped away their nectar.


The flowers can be nibbled right off the tree, used as an addition to salads, or dipped into thin pancake batter and fried to make locust blossom fritters.

The most elegant use I know for the flowers is locust blossom cordial. To make it, use freshly opened locust blossoms. Loosely fill a container (ideally a glass pitcher) with the flowers and then cover with cool spring water and stir gently. Set the pitcher in a refrigerator or other cool place for about an hour and then serve in wine glasses. Allow a few flowers to spill into each glass as you pour. The drink has a delicate bouquet and the nectar imparts a subtle, distinctive sweetness. One of the benefits of this beverage is that you can drink glass after glass of this cordial and still drive home safely!


Spring Sale at

Wildwoods Wisdom, Encounters with the Natural World
196 page, lavishly illustrated hardcover book —
There’s lots more about locust trees and many other miracles of nature, including beavers, buzzards, snakes, tulip poplar trees, ginseng, Jack-in-the-pulpits, bats, bees, skunks, and more.
Normally $23–NOW $8 off–only $15

An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World

Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Half-price sale Normally $20 — NOW only $10

To see more of Todd Elliott’s photo work, visit:

Sapsucker Cuisine – Illegal Spirit Food

5120-C-Todd-Elliott“Do you want this dead bird?”  It was my neighbor calling. “It hit my window,” he said, and it looks like some kind of woodpecker. Do you want it?”

Of course I had to answer the call. When he handed me the limp body and I saw the flash of red feathers on its head, I knew this was a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Sapsuckers are amazing critters. They drill parallel rows of small holes in the trunks of trees. These are sap wells. The birds return regularly to these wells to drink the sap and consume the insects that are attracted to the oozing sap. The sapsucker’s tongue has hair-like fringes that function like a brush to facilitate its sap slurping activities.

Sapsuckers only visit our area during the winter months. This was the day of the winter solstice and now I had the mortal remains of this beautiful bird in my hand.

In this dark time of the year, its yellowish breast feathers remind us of the light that will be returning. We marveled at how this mellow member of the woodpecker family lives by tapping hidden streams of life, the life blood of seemingly dormant trees. Its fiery red, iridescent crown and throat patch remind us that even in the frigid depths of the winter forest, the fire of life is still burning. How could we honor its death on this shortest day of the year?

That unlucky bird became our guest of honor, as well as our “spirit food” at our solstice celebration that year. We plucked and cleaned its tiny body, slid it into the oven, basted it with maple syrup (to acknowledge its sap drinking habits), and using a tea saucer as a platter, we served it on a bed of wild rice. It looked like a miniature two-inch turkey in a tiny dish. How we enjoyed the tiny slices of breast meat and the miniature legs, wings, and thighs. A true taste of the winter woods.

We found out later that while we may not have done anything morally wrong, what I just described was totally illegal. A sapsucker, like almost every native songbird is protected, and it is illegal to possess a part of any protected bird (without a permit). It’s technically illegal to pick up a songbird feather in the woods. The intent of this law, of course, is to protect the birds.  If you have the feathers, how can you prove you didn’t kill the bird?  You are not likely to get busted for owning a few feathers, but occasionally wildlife officers will go through flea markets arresting folks who sell crafts (like dream catchers, etc.) that use native bird feathers. Commerce in protected bird parts is a real no-no (Remember the days of the plume hunters!)  I like to wear feathers in my hat, but I always make sure they are legal feathers from crows, pheasants, turkeys and other game birds or from parrots or domestic birds.  If you are allowed to shoot them or keep them as pets or livestock you can own the feathers.


The brilliant flash of a woodpecker’s crimson crest in the drab browns and grays of the winter woods is like a lone glowing ember in a bed of ashes. The flash of red comes at us like a beacon of light and hope. It reminds us that even in the frigid depths of a dormant forest, the fire of life is still burning.


The photo above showing a sapsucker feeding on persimmons reminds me that it is not too late to find ripe persimmons still hanging on, waiting to be harvested.

If you are interested learning more about harvesting and preparing persimmons check out Shake Them ‘Simmons Down!

Wintery Green Blessings to you all,

Special seasonal offers till New Year’s Day 2014 :
Any of my recordings — CDs or DVD — Two for $25. Regular price is $15 each.
Wildwoods Wisdom, the illustrated hardback book, has more “woodpeckerology” and lots more natural history, woodsy stories, and lore. This season (till the New Year) is reduced from $23 to $15.

Soul Food in a Southern Swamp

I recently was a part of the Stories Connect Us All Online Storytelling Festival. This was a free Facebook event at The festival’s videos feature multicultural storytellers sharing stories of their unique cultural backgrounds, challenges and triumphs. You can hear and watch over 60 professional storytellers tell their stories! You’ll have to scroll quite a bit to find me, so here’s the story: After fishermen in the Okefenokee Swamp give me two fierce looking mudfish, I find myself on a hilarious cross cultural journey learning how to cook the fish, and later meet a number of challenges learning how to tell the tale.

That story about “fish bumming” is one of seventeen stories and songs on my award winning double CD entitled Everybody’s Fishin’– A Cross-Cultural Fishing Extravaganza.  Why a double CD, you ask?  Because when I started telling fish stories I couldn’t quit till I had two CD’s (98minutes) filled up! Read more at


Here is picture of a mudfish in its natural environment. I did this drawing to illustrate one of the chapters in my book, Swarm Tree, Of Honeybees, Honeymoons, and the Tree of Life. You can see my wise fisherwoman mentor on the left.  What about that couple slipping under the fence with the police up above? That’s another story. It’s in the book at

Special Offer:

Till the end of November the book Swarm Tree, Of Honeybees, Honeymoons, and the Tree of Life will be on sale for $15 AND the double CD Everybody’s Fishin’– A Cross-Cultural Fishing Extravaganza will be on sale for $15.

Bears in the Beehives

beehivewreckBears in the beehives–what’ll I do?
Bears in the beehives, what’ll I do?
Bears in the beehives, what’ll I do?

The best defense — use common sense
It’s time to build a ‘lectric fence.

“The party’s over.” That’s what I told my wife, Yanna. We knew bears were in the neighborhood, but up until that warm night this summer they had left our bees alone. At first when I saw the toppled hive I thought I had stacked the supers too high. But there were two hives toppled and a couple of supers were broken and dragged into the woods. This was more than gravity. It was BEARS!

So I soon found myself at the hardware store buying parts for a solar-powered electric fence and acquiring fence installation training. Let’s hope its electrical jolt is more of a bear deterrent than those bee stings!

Bees require constant vigilance these days to deter the mites, diseases, and other pests. Up till now most of our pests have been tiny.

It’s getting more and more expensive to keep bees. Amazingly, the price of honey is only just starting to rise. One of our bee club members had his honey for sale for $15 a quart. A customer came up to him and she complained that his price seemed little high. Couldn’t he give her a better price?

He said, “Would you rather I sell it to you for what I have in it?”

“Yes,” she said, “how much would that be?”

“$37.50” he replied.



I’ve been keeping bees as well as writing, singing, and telling stories about bees (and lots of other things) for years. Each of these three items has some kind of bee adventure within and they are all on sale till the end of September. Go to my Products Page here.

Wildwoods Wisdom, Encounters with the Natural World (hardcover) $18 ($5 off)
Sail On, Honeybee, Adventures in the Bee Yard (CD) $10 ($5 off)
Swarm Tree, Of Honeybees, Honeymoons, and the Tree of Life (paperback) $15 ($3 off)


Honeybee Fly Around Song Todd at age 13 singing about honeybees and dancing around (and on) the bee hives.

Poplar Appeal - UNC-TV Celebrating the tulip poplar tree as a source of honey, baskets, and many other things.

Another Snaky Adventure

A loud, coarse hissing sound was coming out of the thicket. The buzz of a rattlesnake’s rattle, I wondered? Peering into the bushes I could see the keeled scales of a writhing, defensive serpent and hear, not rattling, but ominous hissing.

Yanna, Todd, and I were exploring Walnut Creek Preserve with a couple of friends, Bob Strickland and Rich Baird, when that strange, eerie sound stopped me in my tracks. As soon as I parted the overhanging bushes we could see it was a hog-nosed snake – one of the great actors of the reptile kingdom.


Not only did we have a great actor in our midst, we also had a great cameraman on duty that day. Todd whipped out his camera, snapped a few stills then started the video rolling (see below). What a show we had! Its head and neck flattened out sort of like a cobra, its body swelled and thickened as the snake filled its lungs and let out long ghastly hisses. When I poked at it with my fingers, it struck fiercely! But I wasn’t concerned about getting bitten. This snake was striking with its mouth closed! After a few minutes and a few dozen false strikes, it realized the ferocity act wasn’t working, so it changed strategies. It started writhing about like I had just given it poison. It opened its cloaca (the multi-purpose anal opening at the base of the tail) so it looked like an oozing wound, and excreted strong-smelling musk. Slowly the writhing stopped, the snake turned belly up and went limp with its mouth gaped open and its tongue hanging out! We could pick it up and it was as limp as a piece of rope.

It was perfect act – except for one thing. Something instinctual tells the snake that the only way it can appear dead is to be belly up. Even though snake was dead limp, every time we rolled it over with its back up and belly down it would roll itself back over, belly up. No matter how many times we flipped it over it insisted on belly up! Sometimes actors have their own ideas about how a role should be played. Maybe that’s why he never earned an Oscar. We finally departed leaving our overworked reptilian thespian belly up in its thicket, and we hoped it would recover before the buzzards arrived.



For more snake stories and a lot more natural history and plant and animal lore, check out my 196 page hard cover book, WildwoodsWisdom: Encounters with the Natural World. For the month of August I’m offering it for $18.00. That’s $5 off the $23 retail price.