Nature


tiger swallowtail on phlox at Sues

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on butterfly bush

“My wish is to stay always like this, living quietly in a corner of nature.” Claude Monet

Any wise gardener knows that it is a good thing to walk around your own property as often as possible often to keep alert to pests, pruning needs, vegetables that can be harvested, plants in trouble or simply to enjoy the rewards of one’s labor. I am a firm believer that gardening is not for sissies nor is it uninteresting. The excitement never ends. A trip around my property this week gave a little insight as to how much activity is going on in such a small area.

welcome rock by step

Welcome rock by the front step

Swamp milkweed flowers are great for insects, among them the Mydas fly, Mydas clavats, a large wasp mimic which was on mine. This fly is recognizable by its metallic blue color and broad orange band on the abdomen. They have clubbed antennal tips, much like butterflies, and a stout sponging mouthpart which it uses to obtain nectar from flowers.

Midas fly Mydas clavatus

Mydus fly visiting swamp milkweed flowers

I was surprised to find a male Melissodes subillata, a rather unknown genus of the long-horned bees, tribe Eucerini, in my front garden. Males have very long antennae, and the subillata ‘s are reddish brown. Males are distinguished by these antennae, a yellow dot on each side of the mandibles and thorax hairs that are both light and dark. Females pollinate Asteraceae family flowers including wild chicory, plus milkweed and thistles. There was also a golden fronted bumblebee in the same garden.

Melissodes subillatus

Male Melissodes long horned bee

 Acropteroxys gracilis, the slender lizard beetle, is a member of the Erotylidae family of beetles that includes the pleasing fungus beetles. It is reported to feed on ragweed and other agricultural weeds

Acropterroxys gracillis lizard beetle Bush Hill Road early July 2020

Acropterroxys gracilis slender lizard beetle

There seem to be few butterflies around so far, but recently there was a great spangled fritillary on an invasive spotted knapweed flower nearby. A few skipper species have been around as well as a monarch and tiger swallowtails.

great spangled fritillary on spotted knapweed

Great spangled fritillary

spicebush on tickseed my garden

Spicebush swallowtail on Coreopsis

Hippodamia variegate, small ladybeetles that are found especially where asters and Queen Anne’s lace occur in the wild have been studied for use as agricultural pest predators of certain aphids. The reproductive performance of these diminutive beetles is increased with the availability of Brassica and Sonchus (Asteraceae) flowers for pollen and nectar sources. Males and females have different markings on the thorax.

Lady beetles Hippodamia variegata

Hippodamia variegata lady beetles

Because of continued hot days and drought conditions, it is important to keep birdbaths full of fresh water. Dark colored birdbaths should be kept out of afternoon sun, as should metal ones as water will get hot. A red-shouldered hawk was enjoying a very long bath in my neighbor’s cement birdbath last evening.

red shouldered hawk in neighbor's bird bath

Red shouldered hawk taking a bath

Trimming certain hedges now may get exciting if there are paper wasp nests hidden among the branches. Tap bushes with a long handled rake before trimming to see if there is any wasp activity. At least you will know what areas to skip for the time being. Sometimes a bird’s nest may be found there, and if eggs or young are in it, leave the nest there until young bird have fledged.

chipping sparrow nest in boxwood hedge 7-9-2020

Chipping sparrow nest found when trimming a hedge

Deer, rabbits and woodchucks or other animals may be eating plants, but squirrels at my place, or at least one nutty one, are the only animal problem so far. The hummingbird feeder is drained daily – had to get a metal one because they chewed through the plastic one. Of course, this meant war, and the solution was to use string as a maze around the branches surrounding the feeder to deny access. So far, so good.

P1210602

There are dozens of small frogs, toads and tree frogs all over the lawn and gardens. They seemed to appear within days of each other. There must be plenty of insects for them to eat and I am hoping they are partial to earwigs!

tiny American toad

Tiny American toad

tree frog on garden vine

Gray tree frog on a petunia

Here’s hoping that soon there will come an end to the heat and drought, a rainbow in the afternoon and cool evenings for a pleasant sleep. Also, that woodchucks will not like the taste of any of the garden plants and squirrels will lose their sweet tooth. I am indeed a dreamer…

rainbow

Rainbow over the back yard

Pamm Cooper

mountain laurel

Native mountain laurel blooms in June

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

–  Al Bernstein 

June is the month where green has become the main the landscape color with flowers and some early fruits sprinkling a bit of color in gardens and wild landscape. It is a cheery time for me as the best is yet to come. Butterflies, bees, dragonflies and other insects are everywhere now and provide a little bit of interest as they go about their daily lives. I stop by the woods early in the morning to listen to wood thrushes, veerys, vireos, grosbeaks, catbirds, tanagers and so many other birds of the forest that sing so sweetly at this time of year.

veery

Veery

common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat carrying an insect to its young

Wandering in my yard this week I found a little surprise- an enchanting Clytus arietis wasp beetle resting its little self on a fern. This diminutive, long-horned beetle has striking yellow markings on a dark brown to black narrow body and it has cricket-like back legs. Its larvae live in warm, dry, dead wood, favoring birches and willows. Adults can be found during the day from May- August resting in the open on low vegetation.

clytus arietis wasp beetle

Colorful Clytus arietis wasp beetle

Maple eyespot galls are brightly colored circles of red and yellow that appear on the surface of red maple leaves in early June. Caused by the ocellate gall midge Acericecis ocellaris, this tiny fly deposits eggs on the underside of red maple leaves, which causes a chemical response in the leaf at each spot an egg was laid. The larva hatches and feeds on leaf tissue within the small disk- shaped gall that was formed.

maple eyespot gall on red maple

Maple eyespot gall

Ebony jewelwing damselflies Calopteryx maculate are easily identified by their  metallic iridescent green/blue color and totally black wings. They can be found near streams and rivers, but are especially common found near shallow streams in forests. This damselfly is unlike other jewelwings because it is the only one that sometimes rambles far from water.

green damselfly Ruby fenton

Ebony jewelwing damselfly

White-tailed deer fawns are generally born from late May to June and can sometimes be seen trying to keep up with their mothers early in the morning. They often get exhausted doing so and collapse to rest, sometimes in unusual places. Fawns are generally left alone during the day and the doe will return at dawn and dusk to feed her fawn and sometimes move it along to a safer place.

fawn lying in grass beside a brook 6-3-2020

fawn tired from following its mom

Blue-eyed grass and orange hawkweed are blooming in the wild now, as are wild geraniums, beautybush, viburnums, bearded irises, Carolina spicebush, mountain laurels, tulip trees and raspberry. Grape should be flowering soon as will catalpa trees. Catalpa flowers are pollinated by several species of sphinx moths, who visit flowers mostly during the night.

blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass Sisyrinchium albidum is not a grass but a member of the iris family

orange hawkweed II

Orange hawkweed

Butterflies and moths are more abundant now as we have warmer weather and plants that have leafed out. Giant silkworm moths like the beautiful luna moth emerge from mid-May through summer. Many are strongly attracted to lights and are often found resting on the sides of buildings where lights are left on all night. These large moths do not feed, but live off of stored food until they mate, perishing soon after. Red spotted purples and tiger swallowtails are just a couple of butterflies that visit my property and lay eggs on some black cherries planted a few years ago.

luna moth

The fabulous Luna moth, one of our native giant silkworm moths

red spotted purple June 5 2020

Red-spotted purple butterfly seen June 5 2020- the first of the year for me

Walking through a woodland path at a nature preserve I heard a buzzy high-pitched call above me and saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher sitting on her eggs in a nest. The nest was well camouflaged with a coating of lichens so it blended in perfectly with the lichen encrusted branches all around it.

P1210067

A blue-gray gnatcatcher nest is barely visible in the crotch of this tree

There is so much going on in the outdoors now wherever you happen to go. There are so many flowers yet to bloom, and so many young animals and birds just getting to know the world around them. As I watch bees and butterflies, and listen to the birds sing and the tree frogs trilling away day and night, I think Aldo Leopold got it just right when he wrote “ In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.”

P1200217

A little surprise

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

Invasive species out-compete native plants.

Sometimes plants entice us to enjoy them with an abundance of flowers, brilliant colors or sweet fragrances. They use these lures to keep us from noticing the stealthy way they overtake more subtle but productive native species.  Several examples of this invasive style of growth are showing up in wooded areas and back yards this time of year.

 Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolate)

Originally introduced from parts of Europe and Asia for food and medicinal purposes in the mid-1800s, this flowering plant has become extensively invasive in most parts of the US. It appears in early spring in the undergrowth of woodlands, forests, along roadways and anywhere there is a bare, moist or dry open area. Its presence overtakes many native plants.

garlic mustard

Garlic Mustard

It is a biennial that takes 2 years to mature enough to produce flowers that provide seeds.  During its first year of growth seeds germinate while the low-growing plants develop rosettes of leaves that can be hard to identify as an invasive. Its distinguishing fragrance of garlic when the leaves are crushed makes it easy to identify. A stalk appears the second year with small, white 4-petaled flowers atop the stalk. By the end of May seed pods that are dark and 4-sided develop and may each contain 22 or more seeds. The plant dies back by the end of June and the seeds are dispersed by humans or wildlife. The two-year cycle of germination and seed production continues as the plant spreads into new areas. Some research suggests that garlic mustard prohibits the growth of other plants in nearby areas. Seeds can survive as long as 5 years in the soil.

Management requires long-term  persistence. Hand- pulling to remove roots before seeds develop can be effective for small infestations. Removing plants with flowers and/or seed heads should be bagged and disposed of in the trash,  not in wood piles or compost areas. Chemical control can be effective but must be repeated due to the presence of seeds surviving in the soil.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) 

Honeysuckle plants were likely introduced into North America as ornamentals from Asia beginning in the 1750s. Some varieties arrived through the 1800s, and as late as the mid-1900s some varieties were still sold for various purposes such as arboretum specimens, for soil erosion control and for wildlife cover and food. Some varieties are still sold in nursery centers in some states; they are all prohibited for sale in Connecticut. They have all escaped cultivation and the seeds are spread by birds and wildlife.

The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group lists 6 types of honeysuckle on the state’s list of invasive or potentially invasive non-native species. They include the vine Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and the shrubs Amur honeysuckle (L. maackii ), Morrow’s honeysuckle (L. morrowii), and Belle honeysuckle (L. x bella). These are all considered invasive. The two potentially invasive varieties include the shrubs Tatarian honeysuckle (L. tatarica) and Dwarf honeysuckle (L. xylosteum). Plants that appear on this list are prohibited from importation, movement, sale, purchase, transplanting, cultivation and distribution under CT General Statutes §22a-381d.

lonicera morrowii early spring buds

Morrow’s honeysuckle with flower buds in early spring

Honeysuckle shrubs are leggy, have an open form and range from 8-12 feet high. The vining variety can grow to 30 feet or more. Leaves typically are opposite, oblong and have smooth edges. The leaf upper and underside of some varieties are smooth, other varieties are hairy. Green berries appear in early spring. Small tubular flowers appear within the leaves in May and June and can be white, creamy, yellow or pink. Often several petals cluster to form a tube. If sliced open, stems on non-native varieties will have a brownish hollow center. Stems on native species will have a solid center. Depending on the species, berries can be orange to dark red and ripen in mid-summer until late fall.

lonicera morrowii

Morrow’s honeysuckle blooming

True to their classification, these plants can form populations that out-compete and suppress the growth of native species.  They can deplete the habitat of moisture, nutrients and sunlight. In addition, the nutrients in the berries of invasive species are lower than native varieties. This requires birds to spend time eating large amounts of less nutritious food and could affect their migration.

While honeysuckle population numbers are low in an area, hand removal of seedlings or young plants is best before berries ripen and birds begin to spread them while feeding. Controlled application of herbicides might be required for areas of large infestation. A biological control is not known.

Native deciduous plants such as chokeberry (Aronia ssp.), spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and dogwood  (Cornus ssp.) will all provide food and cover for wildlife as alternatives to honeysuckle.

 Winged Euonymus  Euonymus alatus

Burning bush (Euonymus alatus), also known as winged euonymus, was introduced in the 1860s from Asia as an ornamental landscape plant. It is used extensively along roadsides, in parks and residential plantings and to beautify industrial parks all along the east coast and southern areas of the US.

euonymus alata

Winged Euonymus

It is a multi-stemmed, branching shrub that usually grows 8-10 feet but when mature can grow to 20 ft. It is called “winged” because of the shape of its stems. Small, greenish flowers appear in spring, followed by a hard fruit which matures to a reddish purple in the fall. The leaves of the bush become a brilliant red, giving it the popular name “burning bush.”

It is on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group list of invasive species but its sale is not prohibited. It produces hundreds of seeds annually which generate many seedlings under the parent plant as well as in areas removed from its parent, such as surrounding woodland areas and neighbors’ yards. It seeds are spread by wind and birds.

Its spread can be controlled manually, mechanically or chemically.

Jean Laughman

 

columbine Ruby Fenton May 12.2012

Native columbine

“Do you know why wildflowers are the most beautiful blossoms of all, my son?”

― Micheline Ryckman,  The Maiden Ship 

Why are wildflowers the most beautiful of flowers? Perhaps it is because they are untamed by mankind and often appear when one is not even looking for them. In spring, one of the pleasures of getting out on nature trails or trekking through the woods is coming across some of Connecticut’s spring blooming wildflowers. These colorful and interesting signs that warmer weather has arrived are a welcome distraction to the events around us. Whether found on purpose or by a happy coincidence, these wildflowers are interesting in their own ways.

pinxter flower native 5-22-15 Ruby Fenton

Native pinxter azalea shrub in bloom along the edge of a steam

Canada lousewort Pedicularis canadensis, also called wood betony, is a native plant in the broomrape family that is found in open woods, clearings and thickets. It has small, 2-lipped yellow flowers in a tight spike. Flowers open from the bottom and progress upward. Plants can range from as low as 5 inches in height to 14 inches. Leaves are fernlike and form a basal rosette. It is a hemiparasite that attaches to the roots of other plants while still producing chlorophyll of its own. Look for these wildflowers as early as April- June. Bees will pollinate wood betony.

lousewort 5-23-15

Canada lousewort- Pedicularis canadensis– wood betony

Asarum canadense, wild ginger, is native to eastern North America and can create a slow-growing groundcover in shady deciduous forests and can be found in the rich soils of shady deciduous forests. Flowers are seldom seen unless one knows where to look. Lifting the leaves reveals the bell-shaped flowers at the base of the plant close to the ground. Flowers have three triangular reddish- brown petals that fold back to reveal with an attractive red and white pattern that reminds me of looking into a kaleidoscope.

Wild Ginger (Asarum Canadense) May 20 2018

Flower of wild ginger Asarum canadense

Limber Honeysuckle Lonicera dioica is a native honeysuckle vine that blooms from May-June. Found in bogs or other wet areas, this plant has leaves that clasp the stem much like native boneset. The flowers of this honeysuckle are very attractive to bumblebees.

limber vine honeysuckle Pamm Cooper copyright 2016 - Copy

Limber vine honeysuckle

 

May apple, Podophyllum peltatun, is an interesting native plant that will have two leaves when a flower is produced, but only one leaf if no flower is produced. The large palmately lobed leaves are on the ends of long upright stems and resemble umbrellas. Flowers occur one to a plant, never more, are white with prominent yellow stamens, and are hidden under the leaves at the junction of the two leaf stems.

May apple plants

May apple colony

Violets seem to be everywhere- in lawns waste areas, woodland edges and trails. Over twenty species of violets are found in Connecticut, among them the bird’s foot violet, Viola pedata, distinguished by its finely cut leaf lobes that resemble the foot of a bird.  The petals are flat, with the upper two slightly folded back, and together with the prominent orange stamens it looks to me like it is sticking out its tongue at the observer.

birds foot violet May 2013

Bird’s foot violet Viola pedata

Common Blue Violet Viola sororia

Common blue violet Viola sororia

Trailing Arbutus is a low-growing shrub, usually under three inches tall. As the name implies, it forms a creeping mat, with trailing stems. A good feature for identification of this plant are the stems- six to 16 inches long and covered with bristly, rusty hairs. Leaf edges are toothless, but may also have the same stiff, brown hairs, as do the sepals. The tubular pink to white flowers will appear from April through May here in Connecticut.

trailing arbutus showing hairs on stems and leaf edges April 2020

Trailing arbutus with bristly hairs on leaf edges, sepals and stems

Purple  trillium Trillium erectum

Purple trillium Trillium erectum

Trillium begin blooming in late April or very early May, with different species flowering as late as early June.  The flower of nodding trillium, Trillium cernuum, may be overlooked as it dangles directly below its rather large leaves and is found in damper, shadier woodland areas than the more common purple trillium.

nodding trillium 5-21-16

Flowers of nodding trillium Trillium cernuum are hidden underneath broad leaves

There are so many wildflowers appearing in spring now that it is impossible to include them all in an online journal which is of little importance except to the writer. We all have our favorites, though, and the one I look forward to finding the most is the diminutive fringed polygala. A pink cross between a tiny airplane and Mickey Mouse, it one of nature’s adorable, delightful jewels.

fringed polygala May 13,Pamm Cooper photo

The exotic flower of fringed polygala

 

Pamm Cooper

 

   

 

bloodroot

Native bloodroot started to bloom March 26 2020

 

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

– Anne Bradstreet

This year, the winter here in Connecticut was warmer than usual and had little snow, but plenty of rain. Plants like star magnolias, forsythias and hellebore started to bloom early- here on the UConn campus a Hellebore bloomed the first week of March. A small snowstorm on March 23 brought two inches of snow in central Connecticut and was followed by enough rain to melt any snow cover off by the following day. Bloom progress on the star mags and forsythia came to a halt, but it should resume as flower buds were generally not damaged.

march snow 2020

March 23 snowstorm

Resident birds like turkeys are making their presence known as they go about the serious business of attracting mates. Their fanning of tail feathers and stomping around makes them hard to miss. Woodpeckers are also drumming to attract mates, and red-bellied woodpeckers send out their familiar call advertising what they deem the perfect nesting holes for potential females to check out. They often are inside these holes, just poking their heads out to call.

male turkeys fanning

Male turkeys fanning

Wood frogs and spotted salamanders have laid their eggs in vernal pools and they should be hatching any day now. Wood frog eggs tend to float to the water’s surface, while the salamander eggs are stuck on underwater stems. Both the eggs of wood frog and spotted salamander are sometimes invaded by certain symbiotic algae whose cells are transferred to the hatching generation of their amphibian hosts.

wood frog eggs floating on the surface of a vernal pool March 19 2020

Wood frog eggs masses on the surface of a vernal pool in March

An Eastern garter snake was encountered yesterday deep in the woods. This native snake can mate in March- early May and gives birth to live young in late June- August. This snake can tolerate cold weather and is commonly seen where there is an abundance of most vegetation where it will feed on toads, frogs, worms and other creatures.

garter snake in deep woods near a strem MArch 26 2020

Eastern garter snake in the woods

Lichens are an example of a symbiotic partnership between a fungus and an algae or a cyanobacterium. The fungal part depends upon the other component to survive. The rock tripe is a lichen that resembles dead leaves and is found living on rocks. Umbilicaria mammulata is the most common rock tripe. Soft and pliable like leather in moist weather, when conditions are dry these leaf-like lichens will shrivel and become quite brittle.

rock tripe lichen Umbilicaria

Rock tripe lichens on a boulder in the woods

Bracket fungi, or shelf, fungi comprise numerous species of the Polypore Family in the class basidiomycete. These fungi obtain energy through the decomposition of dead and dying plant matter. The visible fruiting body can be long- lived and hard like wood adding a new layer of living fungal matter at the base of the structure every year. Fungal threads are within the dead or dying woody host where they obtain nutrients.

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungi on decaying tree trunk

Phellinus robiniae shelf fungus are hard like wood

Wooly bear caterpillars, Colletes ground nesting bees and mourning cloak butterflies are a few insects that are active in March. Often seen crawling across lawns in late March, wooly bears are looking to pupate soon, while the Colletes are looking for pollens and nectar sources to provide food for their young, which hatch singly in nesting chambers that resemble ant hills. From the ground level.

Early flowering plants are a good source of pollen and nectar for bees. These include the Japanese andromeda, native bloodroot, spring flowering witch hazel native spicebush, willows, daffodils, crocus and dandelions.

spring witchhazel flowers

Spring flowering witch hazel

As you hike about, check out stalks of plants and small branches of shrubs for mantid eggs cases. These eggs masses resemble tan styrofoam and Mantids should hatch by mid-May, depending upon weather.

mantid egg case keeney st pl March 22 2020

Egg case of a praying mantis

Native sweet ferns, Comptonia peregrina, are blooming and leafing out. These aromatic small shrubs are members of the bayberry family and can be found in dry open woods where there are sandy, acid soils. They are a good spreading plant for difficult dry soils and slopes, and they are one of the host plants for the gray hairstreak butterfly.

sweet fern flowering and leafing out March 22 2020

Sweet fern catkins and new leaves

 

The days are warming up and soon the landscapes will be full of color. But even when it is not so bright and cheery outside, as Charles Dickens wrote ‘ Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own”

 

Pamm Cooper

 

Amidst the chaos, we’re happy to invite our colleague Nicole Freidenfelds, coordinator of a UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy Program, to tell our Ladybug readers about an exciting summer program that you won’t want to miss! Take it away Nicole.

-Abby Beissinger

____________

I am excited to have this opportunity to share with you a free statewide UConn program that is perfect for anyone who gardens or even simply enjoys spending time outdoors among nature. It’s also great for Master Gardeners looking to satisfy their volunteer hours.

The Conservation Training Partnerships (CTP) partners teens and adult community volunteers together and supports their conservation efforts by providing training during a two-day field workshop and guidance as they conduct any local conservation project they want to tackle.

The teams are paired prior to the workshop. During the workshop, each team learns how they can apply innovative, user-friendly mapping and web technology to address local conservation issues through hands-on fieldwork. We have workshops scheduled in Stamford, Waterbury and Eastford this June.

 

After the workshop, the team carries out a conservation project that addresses a local environmental issue in their hometown, using their new skillset. The projects are developed by the team at the workshop and CTP instructors provide support to help the team along the way.

Examples of past projects include planting pollinator gardens, cleaning up local parks, removing invasive plants, and installing rain gardens. Below I highlight a few specific projects.

This Glastonbury CTP team chose to install a monarch waystation at Wind Hill Community Farm. They planted native monarch-friendly plants in a small patch of earth on the farm property, but the plants got eaten by a pesky rabbit. After a second planting that included protective fencing, they were ecstatic to find a monarch caterpillar happily munching on a milkweed. I consider that a huge success!

wildflower map

This CTP team created an interactive map of Benjamin Wildflower Preserve, a property of Aspetuck Land Trust in Weston. They created a map that can be accessed by anyone and used to help identify a number of different wildflower species along the trail.  Check out their project poster and online map to get inspired by the possibilities for your town could be.

hebron

A multi-part project in Hebron involved both digitizing a nature trail and native planting for pollinators at the RHAM High School Memorial Garden. Their goal was to engage the local community and get more people into nature. They used technology to excite and make the public aware of a school trail, and planted a native garden in a school park to attract both local community members and pollinators.

CTP teams typically showcase their projects in the form of a poster or video at a conference in March, but unfortunately the conference has been postponed due to concerns about COVID-19.

The good news is that we’ve decided to host a virtual conference to highlight their hard work and you’re invited to attend! Come learn first-hand about the program and how you can help make a difference in your community. The virtual conference will take place this Saturday, 3/21. For more information and to learn how to attend, check out:  http://s.uconn.edu/fevcc.

If CTP sounds like the right program for you, check out our website for details on how to apply: http://nrca.uconn.edu/students-adults/index.htm . Feel free to contact me with any questions at nicole.freidenfelds@uconn.edu.

By Nicole Freidenfelds, 2020

 

blue skies and sunshine walk

This past weekend was a gift of blue skies and sunshine too good to return or ignore. I took a walk to reacquaint myself with the land outside of home and office walls. Too often winter restricts outdoor activity for those afraid of ice, mud and other slippery surfaces. Plus I hate chapped lips and cold fingers. The past few days hinted spring is making her travel plans to include the Northeast as a destination. Photos snapped  below are reminders of the walk showing new life and signs from the previous season.

mullien basal leaves feb2020

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Mullien, (Verbascum thapsus), is sporting new growth leaves from last year’s basal rosette of leaves. The plant is a biennial weed, common along roadsides and trail edges. Records show it was introduced in the 1700’s with settlers, probably brought as seed for use as a medicinal herb. In summer it will send up a tall spike of five-petaled, yellow flowers. The leaves are covered in soft hairs giving the grey-green coloring.

Magnolia × soulangeana bud in Feb 2020

Saucer magnolia, (Magnolia x soulangeana), was spotted in a local yard with its buds swelling, another sure sign spring is on its way. The terminal bud contains the blossom. The smaller lateral buds are holding the leaves.  This photo clearly shows the bud scar where a leaf was attached to the branch last year. The raised bumps within the leaf scar are where the xylem and phloem connected to the leaf. Water and food is transported through the xylem phloem.

Stewartia buds feb 2020

Japanese Stewartia, (Stewartiapseudocamellia) buds are also swelling and elongating. This non-native specimen tree was planted locally also. When old enough it will produce white camillia-like flowers in summer.

stream and sun reflection

The bright sun reflected off the water of a small stream at the beginning of the trail. Green water plants were being tugged with the water’s flow.

sedge on waters edge feb 2020

Sedge was perking up, coming out of its dormancy. Sedges are identifiable by their sunken midrib sharp edges. Most of last year’s leaves will die back and rot away, providing nutrient release for this year’s foliage.

moss green

Patches of soft moss are coloring up a vibrant green throughout the forest, especially where the sun hit. Later in the season, after the tree leaf canopy blocks most light from them, the moss will slow down it growth. If a drought occurs, it will go dormant waiting out the time until it rains.

moss on roof feb2020

Here some moss grows on the roof protecting signage, which was mostly in the shade.

princess pine, club moss feb 2020

The patch of club moss is known as princess pine. It is neither a moss nor a pine. It is a plant in the group known as lycopodiums, is an ancient plant, dating from the Paleozoic era about 340 million years ago. It is very slow growing via a main runner which forks in two sending out more runners. Picking the shoots off runners very often decades of growth. It is not illegal to pick, as often thought, but it is highly discouraged by plant folks trying to maintain its presence in the ecosystem. They reproduce like ferns sending up candle-like projections as its fruiting structure containing the primitive plant’s spores.

lichen feb2020

Lichen was ever-present through the forest, indicating good air quality. Lichen will not grow in places with air pollution. Lichen is not harming any trees. It is not parasitic, only using the tree for structure. If you look around you will see it on fence posts and rocks proving it does not need a living plant to survive. Lichen is a combination of an algae and a fungus or or cyanobacteria living symbiotically, taking what it needs from each other and the air.

poison ivy vine feb2020

The aerial roots of this poison ivy vine are taking on a red color signifying its awakening. All parts of the poison ivy plant contain the oil urushiol which causes the allergic rash.

preying mantid egg mass feb2020

One leafless, many branched shrub was a favorite of praying mantids as I found two egg masses (ootheca) on its twigs. Each ootheca can contain several hundred eggs which will hatch in the late spring or summer, just in time to feast on other insect feeding on the shrub.

Gall on Oak

Another find on an oak twig is the spent gall. Oaks are host to many gall making insects A gall is a malformation of tissue caused by an insect injecting a chemical to make the oak tissue into a home and food for her young. Mostly galls are just cosmetic, not causing much harm. Some galls will kill twigs.

oak juvenile holding leaves feb2020

Here a young oak hangs on to its spent leaves produced last year. The leaves have died but do not fall and remain on the tree. The term for this retention of dead plant matter is marcescence. Is is most common on juvenile oak and beech trees.

beech in winter

Above is a young beech with bleached out leaves. It will drop these of last year once new green leaves begin to emerge.

mountain laurel feb2020

The native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), provides a rich green to the understory and trail edges. Late May will bring its flowers, especially in sunny spots.

mountain laurel leaf spot feb2020

Mountain laurel is commonly attacked by a several leaf spot diseases, especially in dense areas where there is little airflow. These diseases are usually not deadly, just unsightly. Most highly infected leaves will drop and new, clean leafs will be produced.

blue trail mark closer

Trees marked with blue paint are part of the CT Forest and Park Association’s Blue-Blazed Hiking Trail System. They have 825 miles of maintained trails all across Connecticut and charted in the CT Walk Book and through a free interactive map APP for your phone. https://www.ctwoodlands.org/blue-blazed-hiking-trails

Happy hiking and walking in the woods.

Walk in woods

by Carol Quish, all photos by CQuish, UConn

 

The weather has definitely turned its thoughts to winter here in New England. Snow and ice have blanketed our landscapes several times already and it will be months before most plants are actively growing, putting out flowers to attract pollinators.

Honey bees, Apis mellifera, are clustered in their nests or man-made hives for the winter. Unfortunately, during prolonged cold spells, many bees may die off. If the nest has enough stored pollen and honey then the queen may begin to lay small numbers of eggs early in the new year to help the population recover. Once fresh sources of food are available in early spring brood rearing can begin in earnest. Early spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, lilac, and witch hazel and perennials like bloodroot, trillium, and Lenten rose are great plants to have in your yard as early sources of nectar. Additional early-flowering perennials can be found at our fact sheet Perennials. Clockwise from the upper left are witch hazel, Lenten rose, and lilac.

In April, a colony will be able to collect enough pollen and nectar to begin honey production. Commercial hives world-wide produced over 4 billion pounds of honey in 2017. The chances are pretty good that you consumed some honey last year, either as a sweetener in a beverage, in cooking or baking, or on bread or toast. A trip to a grocery store or a farmer’s market provides so many choices, from locally-sourced, single-origin honey to trendy products such as Mānuka honey, a honey that is sourced from the Mānuka tree that is native to Australia and New Zealand, or ‘prebiotic’ honey. All honey has prebiotic and antibacterial properties, even if it isn’t marketed that way. Raw and organic honey are also available. These products are usually not as clear as commercial pasteurized honey.

Also available in many stores is honeycomb. Honeycomb, or comb honey, consists of the hexagonal wax cells that are constructed by bees to contain larvae and the honey to feed them. This form of honey is not generally used in cooking or beverages. It is more of a novelty, a point of interest on a breakfast table, to be spread on bread or toast. During honey production when the honey is spun out of the comb by a centrifuge the wax cells may remain stable enough to be returned to the hive intact. Returning the wax cells to the hive allows the bees to expend less energy creating the structures as manipulate the wax. They need to consume more than 8 pounds of honey to make one pound of wax.

Humans have gathered honey since ancient times and began fermenting it more than 9,000 years ago in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Mead, also known as honey-wine, is a fermented beverage that at its simplest is made from honey, water, and yeast. Around the world it has more than 4 dozen names based on the local language or the variants that are used in its production. These can include the addition of fruits, herbs, and spices. My son Luke began the process of mead fermentation back in April so that he would have a special gift for the groomsmen at his wedding this past October.

In a simple yet multi-step process, honey is dissolved in just-boiled water and then additional cool filtered water is added to bring the temperature to a level in which yeast can thrive. The yeast that may be used is similar to brewer’s, winemaker’s or baking yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

 

Some other equipment that is helpful are a hydrometer, to measure the alcohol content, and an airlock for the neck of the container, to allow gas to escape but keep bad bacteria from contaminating the ‘must’, another name for the honey mixture.

Once this is set up the must needs to ferment for at least a month. As this happens you can see the fermentation actively happening as gas bubbles continually rise to the surface.

6-fermentation bubbles

The mead is ‘racked’ to smaller, airlocked containers so that any sediment remains in the initial container. Another month of fermentation and then it is ready to bottle and cork. Butterfly-pea blossom petals, from the flower butterfly-pea, Clitoria ternatea, added during the second fermentation turns the liquid a lovely shade of purple.

Speaking of weddings, bees also made an appearance at the ‘Flower Power’ bridal shower for our future daughter-in-law Jamie in the form of cookies and decorations.

The popularity of bees is evident in their presence of many household goods, from shower curtains and towels to honey pots and pictures. They even made an appearance on Jamie’s birthday cake recently!

It is easy to say that 2019 was the Year of the Bee for our family. Those little pollinators made their presence felt in many of our celebrations and in all of our gardens as they went from blossom to blossom, fertilizing fruits and vegetables that we would enjoy long into the new year.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

P1000305II

The fabulous Luna moth

Thus hath the candle singed the moth.

-William Shakespeare

Anyone who has lived in New England and been around outdoor lights in May or June may have encountered some of our giant silkworm moths which  .are members of the Saturniidae moths. The diminutive slug moths, Limacodiae, are perhaps not as well known, but they are commonly attracted to lights as well. Both are natives here in Connecticut and are spectacular in their own way.

luna moth puparium

Luna moth puparium inside the leaf shelter made by the caterpillar

The Cecropia moth and its caterpillar are likely the champs, the Goliaths of their peers. The  moth may be as large as a man’s hand, and the caterpillar comes close to the same size, at least in length. Late instar caterpillars can be heavy enough to cause small branches to droop. Caterpillars feed on locally preferred plants, especially cherry, ash and apple, but also other woody plants. Cocoons are made of leaves tied tightly together lengthwise along twigs or small branches, where they may remain all winter. Pupation takes place inside this structure.

cecropia on elderberry 7-11-16

Cecropia caterpillar is over three inches long in the final instar

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13 - Copy

Female Cecropia moth

 

Luna moths are probably the most recognized giant silkworm moth with their light green color and a pair of long tails streaming from the hind wings. Polyphemus are another species that have beautiful blue and yellow eye spots on the hind wings. Late instar Polyphemus caterpillars have striking white dots along their body that shimmer with silver at certain angles in bright sunlight.

 

polyphemus just out

Polyphemus moth just after emerging from its cocoon

Promethea moths have a strong preference for spicebush, sassafras and cherry for caterpillar host plants. Along with Io moths, their caterpillars follow each other in the very early instars, forming a train-like procession as they travel over a leaf. Both species also feed together for much of their life as a caterpillar.

promethea cats

Promethea caterpillars still hanging out together

Promethea moth female 2010 raised from egg found on sassafrass Belding

promethea moth cocoon

Cocoon of the Promethea moth is inside this leaf tied to the host plant

All silkworm moths lack fully developed mouths and cannot feed. They mate soon after emerging from their cocoons, as their life span as a moth is short. All overwinter as pupa and most emerge mid- May and onward the following year. Eggs are large and smooth. Somewhat flattened, and may be laid singly or in small to large rafts, depending upon species.

On the opposite side of the spectrum as far as size goes are the slug moths and their caterpillars which may be only one centimeter in size. Often found in late summer or early fall, the caterpillars often resemble galls or something else of uncaterpillar-like. They have medial suckers instead of legs and they glide along like slugs.

Red-eyed Button slug september 13, 2009 on small black cherry 12 tee GHills

Red-eyed button slug caterpillar

Always be careful not to touch caterpillars of the slug moth as many have spines that can inflict a painful sting that feels like being stabbed with dozens of hot hypodermic needles. One of the worst stings is from the aptly named saddleback, which has both its rear and tail ends covered with stinging spines. This year, green briar was a preferred host in the north central part of Connecticut, but they can be found on a variety of other plants including oaks, cherry, blueberry and sometimes herbaceous perennials.

saddleback on green briar a favorite host plant in 2019

Saddleback is aptly named

Slug moths are attracted to lights, and if identified, a search of larval host plants nearby may yield some caterpillars. Feeding takes place along leaf edges, and sometimes a shiny trail is left where they have glided along the leaf. Adult sightings peak in midsummer, with caterpillars found from June- October. Like the giant silkworms, adult slug moths do not eat.

smaller parasa caterpillar

Smaller Parasa slug moth caterpillar

 

The smaller parasa reminds me of a Shar-Pei. They have retractable spines, but they are mostly hidden inside warts along the back. When threatened, spines protrude in small clusters from the warts. I have found these most often on oaks, but they will feed on other woody plants also.

Smaller Parasa attracted to light

Smaller parasa moth

 

Skiff moth caterpillars have steep sides and have a short, sharp tail on the rear. Various brown markings help them blend in with dead plant tissue, so they may be hard to find. This slug cat is often found on the upper sides on leaves, though, rather than the undersides where other slug caterpillars are found. Moths can be found early in the night around outdoor lights near woods.

skiff moth back deck July 25, 2009

Skiff moth

skiffy
Skiff moth caterpillar

spiny oak slug caterpillar

Spiny oak slug caterpillar

crown slug on oak ruby fenton 10-2-11

crown slug

Next year, be on the alert for our native slug moths and giant silkworm moths. Check around outdoor lights in May- June for the moths, and look on specific host plants for  the different species of these interesting caterpillars. The excitement never ends…

 

Pamm Cooper

mouse in seed pail

Mouse feasting in bucket of stored grass seed. P.Cooper photo.

Mice are seeking places to spend the winter and actively moving from outdoors to just about any protected area, including our homes, garages, shed and cars. They need shelter from the wet and cold weather like us and prefer to take advantage of areas humans have already created. Any dry and relative warm spot with access to food or an area to store scavenged food will do nicely. Car engines are another favorite nesting spot as they are sometimes warm and provide great protections from predators and weather. Mice will chew on wiring and filters under the hood causing considerable damage and cost for repairs.

House mice can live outdoors in good weather, but some will live in houses year round. They can have 8 litters of young per year with 5 to 6 babies each time. That is a lot of mice! Nests are usually made with 3o feet of a food source to keep the mother in close range with her young. Most often mice are active during the night.

mice in bird house must be evicted when old enough

Mouse family nesting in a birdhouse.

First line of defense to keep mice out of houses is to be preventive by sealing up or blocking points of entry. Seal cracks and crevices with spray foam around foundation where the sill plate attaches the frame of the home. Make sure doors and windows fit properly and use weather stripping. Mice can flatten their skeleton and cartilage to fit through a ¼ inch gap. They commonly squeeze through small gaps around wires and pipes entering the home. Mice are great climbers of trees and sides of buildings to gain access to attics and wall spaces. Trim overhanging tree branches, and prune back foundation planting from touching the house. Keep grass, brush and vegetation away from foundation. Inside the home, eliminate clutter which serves as hiding spots and nesting material. Attic and dryer vents can be covered with hardware cloth and caulk the edges.

Eliminate food sources for mice. If you are feeding the birds, you are also feeding the mice. Spilled seed on the ground attracts mice and other animals closer to the house. Cat and dog food left out all day in a dish for on demand feeding for your pet offers mice an anytime buffet, too. Store dry animal food, including dog biscuits in a hard, metal container.  Mice can chew through very hard plastic containers with their gnawing teeth.

Repellents are available which claim to keep mice away. One type emits a high-frequency sound humans are not likely to detect but animals do not like. Caution should be used as pets may not like either. Some versions are made for use under car hoods to keep mice out of engines. Scented mouse repellents are available containing various mixtures of peppermint, cloves, hot pepper capsaicin. Planting mint around the foundation is reported to work as a deterrent. Some folks claim mothballs will repel mice, but this is not a legal use of the product, and in practice mice have been known to relocate the stinky orbs out of their area.

Mouse control will be needed if your find activity or signs of mice inside the home. Sometimes you can hear them chewing on the wooden structure making up the house. Finding the tell-tale black droppings which look like a small grain of rice, only black, is means for action in that area.

mouse trap

Mouse trap places with the snap end against wall.

Control options are traps or poisons. Traps should be placed where you find the droppings. Mice prefer to run along the edge of the wall rather than out on the open floor. Place set traps butted up against a wall. Peanut butter is a great bait to use to attract them to the trap. There are many different traps on the market from the old-fashioned wooden base snap traps to battery operated traps with a metal plate which electrocutes the mice. I saw a new one which uses a funnel system and extremely small and strong rubber bands which snaps over their head causing a quick a death. There are also humane live traps where the mouse enters, the door closes behind it, and then you take the trap and mouse outside to release it still alive, just take it far away from your house.

Poisons are rodenticides regulated by the federal government. Always read and follow label directions. Mouse poisons can affect other non-target animals by directly eating the poison, or up the food chain if another animal or bird eats a mouse that ate the poison.  Also mice do not always leave the building after ingesting the poison, sometimes dying in the walls creating an odor as they decompose in an inaccessible site. Insects can find the carcass to assist in the decomposition process which brings another problem of bugs or flies into the home. Once the dead animal is completely decomposed, odor and insects should go away.

-Carol Quish

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