The native persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) grows throughout much of the eastern United States from southern Connecticut south through Florida and west as far as Kansas and Texas. This medium sized, sometimes shrubby tree can be a nice addition to the landscape and produces attractive edible fruit in the fall. While it will do best in Connecticut in the milder climate near the shore, it may thrive in a protected location further inland.   It’s not picky about the site; just about any type of soil will do, it tolerates shade (but will grow more slowly), and has minimal pruning, fertilizer or irrigation. It has few important pest and disease problems.

This is a slow-growing tree, reaching a mature height of 30 to 60 feet. It sometimes has a single trunk and sometimes stems are clumped.   The leaves are deciduous, alternate, simple and entire (non-toothed edges). The native persimmon (unlike the Oriental) is dioecious meaning there are female and male trees. Both are required for pollination and fruit production, but one male can provide a sufficient pollen source for up to 20 female trees. Pollination is by insects and wind and the flowers are used by some bees for honey production. Flowers are small and not showy and are produced from March to June depending on the location. It would lean toward June in Connecticut, the northern-most edge of its range. Berry type fruits ripen in the fall.

Persimmon fruit and leaves. J. Allen photo.

Persimmon fruit and leaves. J. Allen photo.

Persimmon fruit is about an inch in diameter. Ripe fruit is yellow to orange to red in color and may have a glaucous (white) bloom. Berries may contain zero to eight flat, brown seeds about a half inch long. Before ripening is complete, the fruit has a bitter astringent flavor. Once it’s soft it has a sweet flavor and can be used to eat fresh, dried or cooked into desserts or candy. It is sometimes fermented with hops, cornmeal, or wheat bran into a type of beer. Dried and roasted seeds have been used as a coffee substitute and the leaves have been used to make tea. The fruit is high in vitamin C. Many animals feed on persimmon fruit including song birds, skunk, raccoon, opossum, squirrels, deer, turkey, crows, rabbits, hogs and cattle. It can cause livestock to become sick. One downside of the native persimmon in the landscape is that deer will browse on it.

In traditional medicine, the inner bark and unripe fruit of the persimmon have been used to treat fever, diarrhea, and hemorrhage. Fruit extract has been used to make an indelible ink. The seeds were sometimes used as buttons during the 1800s. The wood is very hard and strong and is good for turning. The heartwood is very dark and resembles ebony but one reference states that a persimmon tree must be 100 or more years old before there is enough dark heartwood to produce a useable yield.

Our native persimmon has been introduced into Europe as an ornamental because of its hardiness, adaptability, attractive leaves and abundant fruit. It is difficult to transplant once it’s a few years old because it forms a deep taproot. In some areas of the U.S., this tree is considered a woody weed when it becomes dominant in pasturelands. For landscape use, a number of cultivars have been developed from the wild type including ‘Early Golden’, ‘John Rick’, ‘Miller’ and others. Additional common names used for native persimmon include simmon, possumwood and sugar-plum.

J. Allen

monarch on aster 

Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.  ~Nathaniel Hawthorne

This year was a disappointment in many ways due to a harsh winter and droughty, hot summer. Many plants in both gardens and the natural landscape suffered as a result, but certain creatures had a splendid year. Butterflies in particular seemed to do well, especially certain species of hairstreaks.

In my area, Black Swallowtails were not as common due to the activities of certain predatory wasps. A friend had twelve caterpillars on her dill and fennel she bought for the express purpose of watching the caterpillars develop. Eleven were eaten by the wasp or paralyzed and taken away for the wasp larvae to eat. Only one lived to make a chrysalis, and that was because a protective mesh was put around the fennel plant to keep the wasp out.

Giant swallowtails appeared for the third year in a row, at least in the northern parts of the state. These tropical butterflies wander up here and were not known to overwinter here. But several people were reporting a third year of spotting the larva in their gardens, so perhaps they may become residents as the weather permits. Look for larva on gas plants, rue, and skimmia, as well as on citrus plants put outside for the summer. This butterfly is the largest swallowtail in North America, so caterpillars are equally large and can defoliate plants. In the south where citrus is grown commercially, the larva is considered a pest.

Last year I found a population of Baltimore butterfly larva in leaf shelters constructed for overwintering. In late spring the caterpillars were everywhere in the field in various stages of forming chrysalises. These butterflies are uncommon, but may be found locally in wet meadows where the larval host plants are found. Turtlehead and English plantain are common host plants of these caterpillars. A couple of weeks later, this field abounded in the Baltimore butterflies. This field is a property managed by the CT. DEEP and the manager is careful to mow around the caterpillars when they are “ nesting”. Look for these butterflies in June.

Baltimore Checkerspot at Belding WMA July 6, 2014

Baltimore Butterfly on Common Milkweed

Tiger Swallowtails and  Spicebush Swallowtails emerge about the time their respective larval host plants start to leaf out. Tigers prefer small trees- especially black cherry, tulip tree and magnolia, while spicebush and sassafras are the host plants for the Spicebush caterpillars.

This year there was an abundance of two hairstreaks at the golf course where I work. In the mornings and early afternoons I had to remove them from fairways and greens to avoid mowing them over. These were the Banded Hairstreak and the Hickory Hairstreak, the former common and the latter uncommon.  Both larval stages may be found where oaks  are abundant and flight is from June – August. This year they were around for at least two months, probably as they eclosed gradually depending on temperatures where the chrysalis was formed.

banded hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak saved from a mower

Common Buckeyes, Red- banded Hairstreaks and Fiery Skippers, vagrants that were noted in Connecticut in good numbers in 2012 have been few and far between since then. Places where I could usually find them over the years were unproductive in searches this year.

A site where wood lilies are abundant always provides an opportunity to observe a number of butterflies that like these flowers. Native to our forests, wood lilies grow even where forests have been cleared, and there are local areas where they can be found. The butterflies that use them as a food source and a perching or patrolling spot ( males ) include: Spicebush Swallowtails, Coral and Gray Hairstreaks, American coppers and many skippers. If a male is using the flowers as a patrol site, if you scare it away it usually will return or pick a flower not too far away. It is to note that the Spicebush Swallowtail is one of the few butterflies that can squeeze into a lily flower to obtain nectar and then back out with no harm done.

American copper on wood lily Ju;y 2014

American Copper on Wood Lily

 

coral hairstreak on wood lily Mt Rd 7-18-14II

Coral Hairstreak on Wood Lily

As the year winds down, there are still some butterflies flying around, especially migrating species such as  Cabbage whites, Sulphurs, Monarchs and Painted Ladies. Question marks and Commas are seen in flight as late as October and Mourning Cloaks can be seen in flight both in spring and late summer or even winter. Mourning Cloaks overwinter as adults and may fly during the winter on warm, sunny days. As a note to monarchs, this year there were more reported sightings than last year, so perhaps populations may be rebounding somewhat. MonarchWatch.org is a good site for anyone interested in this butterfly.

Mourning cloak July 11, 2014 Mt RD

Mourning Cloak

As a final note, it is always a pleasant surprise to see a butterfly of any kind to those of us who delight in them. The caterpillars are also fascinating and I have raised many since childhood. I have kept records for years on where and when I find specific butterflies and their caterpillars and the value of this information is well worth the time spent on all the hiking, leaf turning and  documenting involved. And the best part is that each year is different,

Pamm Cooper    All photos copyright 2014 by Pamm Cooper

Years ago when I worked as a horticulturist at Old Sturbridge Village one of my favorite plantings was right by the entrance to the visitor’s center. During the summer it was planted in white sweet alyssum and pale yellow petunias, not very memorable until about now when the lovely lavender colchicums popped their heads up through the white and pale yellow carpet eliciting much delight with the visitors. The folks staffing the visitor center were constantly being asked what that flower that looked like a giant crocus was.

Colchicum autumnale
Colchicum autumnale

Colchicums have been called autumn crocuses, naked ladies, meadow saffron and mysteria, just to mention a few common names. Do note that these bulbs, actually corms, are not crocuses but rather members of the lily family and they are poisonous which means that deer, woodchucks, voles and rabbits leave them alone. If you’ve just moved into a house with fall blooming crocus like flowers and want to know how to differentiate colchicums from crocuses, the former have 6 stamens while the latter have only 3.

The botanical name, Colchicum, comes from the land on the shores of the Black Sea once known as Colchis, now Georgia. According to Greek mythology, this was the home of the sorceress, Medea. When she discovered the unfaithfulness of her husband, Jason, who led the Argonaunts in their quest for the Golden Fleece, she poisoned her children to punish him.

Colchicums were grown at the Village because they were introduced to Europe sometime in the late 16th century and were popular garden plants for about 200 years. Now with renewed interest in heirloom plants, their popularity is again growing. As it should! Colchicums are beautiful yet tough plants for droughty sites where some early fall color is welcome. They do great in drifts under the high shade of large trees as well as in partially to full sun sites in the perennial garden or shrub bed.

If these flowers appeal to you, keep in mind several cultural suggestions. Plant colchicums as soon as purchased from garden centers or catalogs, in the fall, about 3 to 6 inches deep in a well-drained soil in full to part sun. The corms should bloom a few weeks after planting. When the foliage arises in the spring, fertilize with natural or synthetic products as directed on the package. Try to keep the soil pH around 6.3 or so. Consider planting colchicums where they will make an impact. Often this is in complementary or contrasting colored annuals or in beds of groundcovers, especially the chocolate leaved ajugas.

After admiring these little beauties and my favorite dahlia, ‘Peaches’n Cream’, it was off to the vegetable garden to collect the harvest from the past few days.

Peaches'n Cream

Peaches’n Cream

Monday morning woke to a very light frost in the lowest sections of the yard leaving the vegetable garden untouched so there was still a fair amount of produce to harvest. ‘Butta’ summer squash has been extremely prolific. 4 more squash were added to the stash in the frig making this weekend officially summer squash relish making time. The fall crop of mixed radishes was ready for picking as well.

'Butta' summer squash and mixed radishes

‘Butta’ summer squash and mixed radishes

The winter squash, ‘Early Butternut’ and ‘Tennessee Sweet Potato’ can stay out in the garden until a hard frost threatens. I grow members of the butternut family (Cucurbita moschata) every year as they have solid stems so are not susceptible to squash vine borer damage. The ‘Tennessee Sweet Potato’ squash is a 15 pound, pear-shaped heirloom although it is new to my garden this year.

Butternut and Tennessee Sweet Potato Winter Squash

Butternut and Tennessee Sweet Potato Winter Squash

Munched on Asian greens!

Munched on Asian greens!

Those rotten little cross-striped caterpillars ate every little leaf bit of my Asian greens – just during the last few weeks! Thankfully, there are still lots of chard and a fall lettuce crop coming in.

The squirrels kept climbing on the sunflowers to get the seeds causing the plants to bend and sometimes break. They were staked up as good as possible and one sunflower produced this row of flowers along a now horizontal branch.

Sunflowers grow out on a limb!

Sunflowers grow out on a limb!

Enjoy these nice fall days!

Dawn

Early autumn is such a great time in New England. We get to visit apple orchards and pumpkin fields, walk through corn mazes and go on hay rides. We snack on popcorn and apple cider, pick apples and pumpkins to cook into pies and butters and just marvel in the wonderful colors of the changing leaves. One of my favorite things about this time of year is the fall raspberry crop. Years ago we discovered that a local orchard had raspberries in the fall and we were so excited. It is something that we continue to look forward to every fall. A few years ago I picked up some raspberry canes from the North Central Conservation District Plant and Seedling sale (more about that at the end of this post) and they have established themselves nicely.

Caroline raspberries in my home garden. Image by Susan Pelton.

In order to have a fall crop of raspberries you will need to have an everbearing variety, Rubus idaeus. Unlike summer-bearing varieties which may have red, black or purple berries, the everbearing raspberries are usually red. The Fall Gold variety with its yellow fruit is actually an albino red raspberry! The cultivar that I have is ‘Caroline’. Since raspberries are self-fruiting it is not necessary to have several cultivars for pollination although each variety brings its own advantages.

With the everbearing varieties you have two options. They can be allowed to bear fruit in the summer and the fall or only in the fall. The crowns and roots of the raspberry are perennial but the individual canes live for two years. The summer-bearing raspberries will not produce on new growth (the primocanes) until the second year (the floricanes). The primocanes of everbearing raspberries will produce fruit in the fall of their first year. They will then bear fruit on those same canes the following summer. I planted canes in the spring three years ago and this was the best production year so far. If only a fall crop is desired all canes should be cut to the base before the new growth appears in the spring. For two crops a year simply thin out primocanes by cutting them back to the last visible node that had fruit or trimming any tips that are browned.

Primocanes and floricanes at Easy Pickin’s Orchard, Enfield, CT. Image by Susan Pelton.

Growing raspberries is relatively easy if you keep a few things in mind. Raspberries prefer to be planted in a narrow row or hedge and trellised. They will be in the same location for up to 15 years so choose a site that is in sun for at least 6-8 hours a day and will not block other plants. I have my canes in full sun but with their backs to a tall fence. This helps to block the wind so that they don’t get desiccated but they still get good air circulation.

A bee pollinating raspberries. Image by Susan Pelton.

If you don’t have raspberry canes as part of your habitat you may want to consider establishing a bed. The Connecticut Conservation Districts hold their Plant and Seedling sales every spring and are a great way to purchase native edible plants. They can be found online at http://conservect.org/. The Connecticut Department of Agriculture has an extensive list of orchards and pick-your-own farms on their website at http://www.ct.gov/doag/cwp/view.asp?a=3260&q=399070.

Image by Susan Pelton.

Susan Pelton

Silverfish AKA Firebrat

Silverfish AKA Firebrat

Occasionally I find an insect inside my home and don’t worry too much about it, just figure it found its way inside in error, and politely relocate it to the out of doors. But when I found several silverfish in my seldom used extra bathroom, I knew they were an indicator something was amiss.

Silverfish live in damp or wet areas and love rotting wood. They do not like to live on the dry tile of this room. Upon further inspection of the basement just below that bathroom, we found dripping water. Oh no, the joys of home maintenance. The wood below the drain of the shower was wet and soft. Perfect conditions to house silverfish. They are also known as Firebrats in some areas of the country, are actually a different species, but are very much alike. The Silverfish’s Latin name is Lepisma saccharina.

Silverfish feed on high starch sources such as wallpaper and book-bindings and the used in them. They will eat cereal grains, paper and wood. They want a moist environment, especially moist ply wood.

Silverfish Life Cycle, http://www.amnh.org

Silverfish Life Cycle, http://www.amnh.org

Silverfish have gradual metamorphosis, starting with an egg which hatches into a nymph. Several molts take place until they reach maturity. Silverfish can live up to six years! Eggs are laid near a food source in cracks and crevices. As long as moisture is abundant, these insects will live.

Which brings me to control measures. First we had to fix the leak that caused all of the wetness. Next we have to dry out the area with fans and dehumidifying. It is a good idea to disinfect any surfaces to retard a secondary mold problem. Once area is dry, cleaning by vacuuming is recommended. Reduce any clutter around the home, especially papers and books to reduce the food sources. Seal any cracks in foundations or walls, and around pipes to keep silverfish from entering the home in the first place. Insecticides containing boric acid or pyrethroids labeled for indoor use can be used in areas where silverfish are found.

-Carol Quish

 

 

Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) is really at its peak right now, brightening the fading natural landscape of late summer with splashes of yellow in fields, along roadways and on the edges of wooded areas. There are many species of goldenrod and they all have yellow flowers that are produced in late summer to early fall. One common roadside species is Canadian goldenrod (S. canadensis), shown in the photo (if I’ve ID’d it correctly). Goldenrods are in the Asteraceae family and are herbaceous perennials.

J. Allen photo.

J. Allen photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most goldenrods are native to North America and many people consider them weeds but certain species (and cultivars) have been gaining popularity in gardening. Some of the new cultivars are less aggressive spreaders than their wild counterparts and the flowers are very attractive to many beneficial insects including pollinators and parasites and predators of pests. In addition to these nice qualities, goldenrods are considered edible and have been used extensively for medicinal purposes.   Commonly assumed to cause allergic reactions when in flower, the pollen of goldenrods is too heavy and sticky to be airborne in large quantities that would be a problem. This time of year, ragweed is the most common culprit.

Medical ailments historically treated using this plant include minor skin wounds, tuberculosis, diabetes, gout, hemorrhoids, internal bleeding, asthma, arthritis, inflammation, high blood pressure and kidney stones. No significant scientific research has been done to date to support these uses but a few laboratory studies do suggest a benefit may occur for inflammation, muscle spasms, fighting infections and lowering blood pressure.   It also seems to have diuretic properties. It is used in herbal teas. Consult with your doctor before using goldenrod or other supplements to treat any medical condition. A University of Maryland publication on this subject recommends caution for people that have certain existing health conditions.

Bumblebee foraging on goldenrod flowers. J. Allen photo.

Bumblebee foraging on goldenrod flowers. J. Allen photo.

An interesting historical use of goldenrod is for rubber. Its leaves typically contain 7% rubber. Apparently Thomas Edison worked on fertilization and cultivation methods to maximize the rubber content and his work produced a 12 foot tall plant with up to 12% rubber content. Henry Ford, a friend of Edison’s, used goldenrod rubber for tires on the Model T he gave to him. Ford also collaborated with George Washington Carver at the Tuskegee Institute, funding work to develop synthetic rubber and/or commercialize goldenrod rubber when World War II caused rubber shortages. Unfortunately, the rubber from goldenrod was not of high enough quality for commercial use.

Traditional garden lore on companion planting lists goldenrod as a plant that seems to attract striped cucumber beetles away from the vegetable garden. No data has proven this one way or the other. Research indicates that goldenrod may have some allelopathic (harmful/inhibitory) effect on some trees, including black locust and sugar maple.   Goldenrod has the distinctive status of state flower in both Kentucky and Nebraska and is the state wildflower of South Carolina and the state herb of Delaware.

Goldenrods have been introduced as garden flowers in other parts of the world and in parts of Europe and China have escaped cultivation and become problematic invasives. There are recipes available for making goldenrod oil and vinegar. Whether you use the plant in your kitchen or just enjoy the pretty blossoms, now you know a little more about this native plant and its role in the environment.

 

 

 

J. Allen

 

 

furcula- gray or hourglass Mt Rd power lines on aspenAugust 9, 2014 II

Furcula with modified anal prolegs used to wave away potential predators

Many insects never make it to adulthood to complete their life cycles because in the grand scheme of things, they are low on the food chain. Between birds and amphibians, mammals and other insects, there is no lack of creatures that rely upon insects to muscle up themselves or to ensure their young survive long enough to obtain food for themselves.

But insects are not necessarily limpid little defenseless victims of a more sophisticated life form. They have strategies to overcome the odds of becoming dinner for something else. Some use camouflage, others are cryptic in manner and color, some have mastered the technique of veiling themselves with material and others simply hide. When you become familiar with specific species and their means of surviving, then it becomes easier to find them or to at least recognize them when you see them.

One of the ways insects can hide in plain sight is by coloration and feeding techniques. Spring caterpillars that feed on new leaves are often green in color. Late season caterpillars are differently colored and often have colorations or body forms that imitate the dead leaf spots and edges that occur at that time of year. Some feed along leaf edges and appear to be part of the leaf itself. Careful scrutiny will reveal the ruse. Two of the prominent caterpillars, the Wavy- lined Heterocampa and the Lace-capped caterpillar are just two examples of this behavior.

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Wavy- lined Heterocampa feeding cryptically along the lower edge of a sweet birch leaf

Many assassin bugs that rely upon other insects as their food source will often lie in wait in places other insects are sure to visit. This includes flowers. Ambush bugs perch on flower heads, especially yellow and white composites, and wait for pollinators or nectar collecting insects to come to them. Ambush bugs are hard to spot on these flowers as they are the same color as the petals. They are motionless and are hard for even people to spot unless you look carefully for them. Often you will see butterflies that hang limply from flower heads. A close examination will reveal an ambush bug ( or a crab spider ! ) clasping the body and feeding off the insect’s fluids. Also, assassin bugs and predatory stink bugs often hide inside the folded seed heads of Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for other insects that use the structure as a hiding place to come inside. Opportunity may knock, but being in the right place at the right time is a better means of assuring survival.

Walking sticks are a good example of cryptic coloration and mimicry. Early nymphs are found on viburnum and filbert in New England. On these plants, both the insect’s shape and color allow it to blend so completely with that of the plant foliage that unless they move or cast a shadow, they are very hard to find. Later in the season, the older nymphs and adults change their food plants to oaks and cherries where they are able to blend in as their color changes to match the foliage of these trees. Camouflage loopers are small caterpillars that are found on composites. They take petals from the plant’s flowers and “ glue “ them on their body. They blend in so well that the only evidence of their presence will be that the flowers seems to be deformed.

walking stick blending in on filbert July 1, 2014

Early nymph of a walking stick on native filbert. Note how legs blend in with the leaf veins.

Caterpillars, especially the slug moth caterpillars, can have defense mechanisms that utilize urticating hairs or venomous barbs to ward off potential predators. Handling some tussock moth caterpillars. the familiar woolly bears, Io moth cats and others may prove a painful experience for some people. One especially to be avoided is the saddleback caterpillar- small,l but able to inflict severe pain or burning sensation that lasts for several hours or even a few days. The body is covered with hollow spines that release an irritant when brushed or touched. Handled gently, many of these caterpillars will not harm the handler, but use caution around any caterpillar having barbs, hairs or spines. While many caterpillars that have spines and hairs have no toxins, unless you know for certain they are harmless, avoid contact with the skin to be safe.

 

Another means by which insects can protect themselves is by mimicry. Many flies have coloration and markings that are very similar to wasps and bees. These flies can also feed on the pollen of many of the plants that bees and wasps also visit. Birds will tend to avoid any insect that may have  the potential to sting, so these bee mimics need not worry as they go about their everyday work acquiring pollen. The Virginia Flowerfly is one pollen- gathering bee mimic that is very common in Connecticut.

stink bugs hiding jpg

Stink bug nymphs hiding in grape leaf shelter

 

Many types of insects use leaf shelters as a means of hiding from predators by day. Besides caterpillars such as the Spicebush Swallowtail, stink bugs routinely use abandoned leaf shelters for themselves. I have especially found them by day huddling in small groups in leaf shelters on grape, which, along with raspberry, is one of the most common plants they feed on in the wild. Some spiders will use the same type of shelters, so be prepared for that surprise when you open any likely hiding places. Queen Anne’s lace is an especially good place to look for caterpillars, insects, assassin or other predatory bugs and spiders late in the year. Or look on goldenrod flowers, both for predators and caterpillars that feed on the flowers.

 

Slapping old molted skins on or using their own frass piled on their body is another way an insect either protect itself or camouflage itself to get clser to potential victims. Tortoise beetle larva use both methods to keep their presence unknown . All that can be seen is a small blob that looks like debris or frass. If disturbed, they may tip the mess up in the air over the body, somewhat like opening the trunk of a car. Then it is lowered again to conceal the soft body once again. Lacewing larva use their molted skins and other detritus to cover their body in a similar way. They can be found especially on white oak leaves this year. Look for a small, light tan, fuzzy pile moving across a leaf. This is probably a lacewing larva.

lacewing larva with molted skins covering it Pamm Cooper photo

lacewing larva with molted skins covering it

camoulflaged looper plus tiny looper Belding

Camouflage looper on daisy

 

Well, that is a brief look at some ways insects survive or attempt to survive in the world. There are many other ways and means insects employ subterfuge and the rest that could probably fill a book, but this is simply a leaf through…

 

Pamm Cooper

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