Pollinators


 

 

forsythia

The earth is continuing to awake this week, wide-eyed and full of vigor. The most obvious, in-your-face sign is the bright and intense yellow flowers of forsythia popping up and out of landscapes and yards. There is nothing subtle about forsythia. It is loud and screaming to be seen. A designing friend once called it the “spring vomit defiling the landscape.”  Another bit of sage wisdom on color theory about yellow was offered from a quilt teacher, “A little yellow goes a long way.” But I think forsythia’s splash is just what is needed after months of grey and browns of winter, especially a winter without the white of snow cover.  Forsythia shocks us out of the winter doldrums and seems to waken all the other flowers.

forsthyia in the woods

 

Forsythias bloom on wood grown in the previous year. Prune forsythia the spring immediately after flowering. Flower buds develop during the summer and fall, and fall, winter or early spring pruning will remove them. Forsythia is a non-native plant here. Most species are from Asia with one originating in Southeastern Europe.  Forsythia is often used a marker and reminder to apply crabgrass preventer. Once the forsythia is starting to drop its flowers, the timing is right to apply pre-emergent fertilizer. The same ground temperatures at that stage of blooming are the same ground temperatures to initiate crabgrass seed germination. Good to know.

Daffodils complement the landscape, drawing eyes away from possible blinding by overplanted forsythia hedges. Daffodils come in varying shades of yellow from soft, pale yellows and whites to deep, yellows with almost orange trumpets. Bulbs planted in clumps look more natural than soldier straight rows, although rows add a sense of formality and satisfy the orderly type of gardeners. All parts of the daffodil plant is toxic to animals, making is a good choice where deer and voles are common to visit.

daffodil clumps

Directly following the forsythia flowers, several showy trees begin blooming. First is the star magnolia, (Magnolia stellata), with its white star-like flowers. Any winds will move the tepals, and if you squint hard enough, look like twinkling stars. Star magnolia is native to Japan and is a common specimen tree here in the U.S..  Flowers delicate often succumb to frost damage and turning brown tinged.

 

Saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangiana), blooms a week or two later than the star magnolia. Saucer magnolia flowers are cup shaped in various shades of pink depending on variety. The parents of this hybrid are Magnolia denudate x Magnolia liliiflorsa, both native to China. I love the smooth grey bark visible during the winter once the leaves drop, providing great winter interest.

 Another softer and less yellow flowering shrub blooming currently is Cornell pink azalea AKA Korean azalea, (Rhododendron mucronulatum). Blossoms come out before the leaves turning the multi-stemmed shrub into a mass of many clear pink flowers. It is native to Korea, Russia, Mongolia and Northern China. Bees especially appreciate its rich nectar source and often are can be seen visiting at all times of day.

Rhododendron mucronulatum. Azalea Pamm Cooper photo

Spicebush, (Lindera benzoin), is a native understory shrub with subtle, pale yellow flowers attached along branches before leaves emerge. Look into the woods to see a bit of dotted yellow haze in wet areas. Leaves can be used to make a tea. Red berries will be produced later in the season providing food for wildlife and birds.

spice bush

Cornelian cherry, (Cornus mas), is not a cherry at all, it is in the dogwood family. Native to Europe where the fruits produced later in the season are used for preserves and syrups, if you can beat the birds to harvest them.  Mature trees develop interesting, exfoliating bark.

Look lower to the ground for first spring flowers. The native bluets (Houstonia caerulea) are beginning their show up. Other common names are Azure Bluet and Quaker Ladies. Find them growing in moist areas near stream banks, rivers and ponds. I see them in natural lawns where no herbicides or weed and feed products were ever used. Cow fields are usually loaded with them in rural areas.

Bluets

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is another native spring flowering plant poking its white blossoms up from the soil with its leaves following below. Flowers are self-pollinating, and then form a seed pod which ripens around July. Ants are important allies in spreading the seeds, and eating the rich lipid coating on the seeds, aiding in germination.  Bloodroot occurs natural in woodland settings, blooming before the tree leaf canopy develops. Bloodroot gets its name from the red juice emitted from rhizomes historically used to dye wool and fabrics. It was also used for medicinal properties in the past.

 

-by Carol Quish

 

Male red-winged blackbird

Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a shoe full of slush.  Doug Larson

Following a relatively mild winter, this spring has been a bit of a chiller so far. Forsythia in the north a yellow bud and central areas of Connecticut barely have yellow flower buds showing and star magnolias are just starting to show a few blooms. Spring may be slow to start, but at least it isn’t winter.

Spring peepers are singing, and have been for about three weeks. These harbingers of spring provide a cheery chorus for those fortunate enough to live near ponds. They were joined a couple of weeks later by wood frogs, who have a more throaty but equally welcome spring song.

Spring peepers live up to their name

Painted turtles, the first of which I saw in February on a 60 degree day, can be seen on warmer days sunning themselves on partially submerged logs and rocks. Spotted salamanders have already laid their eggs in vernal pools, and wood frogs should be doing the same now. Check out vernal pools for the eggs of these amphibians, plus you may see some immature salamanders swimming around before they develop lungs and venture onto land.

painted turtle stretching

Painted turtle stretching out

 

Spring azure butterflies, Celastrina ladon, have a single brood, and flight may occur any time between late March and early June here in Connecticut. This is one of our first butterflies to emerge from its chrysalis, and can be seen obtaining nectar from early spring flowers such as bluets and violets.

spring azure on bluet May 19 2016

Spring azure butterfly on a native bluet flower

Another early flying butterfly is the Mourning cloak, easily identified by the upper sides of its large, chocolate brown wings that are edged with cream borders and lined inside that with lavender to blue spots. Imported cabbage white butterflies are arriving from their southern living quarters. This butterfly lays its eggs on members of the brassica family, which includes the wild mustards, including the invasive garlic mustard.

Mourning cloak early spring

Mourning cloak basking in early April

Migrating birds are slow to arrive, but the red-winged blackbirds have been back since early March, although some were even here in late February. Males arrive way ahead of females, which gives them plenty of time to select the best nesting sites in advance. Some warblers may fly through just before invasive honeysuckles leaf out. Palm and black and white warblers are some of the earliest to arrive. Palm warblers flick their rusty tail, much as phoebes do, and they move on northward to their breeding grounds. Many black and white warblers remain here to breed in woodlands.

palm warbler on migration in April pamm Cooper photo

Palm warblers sometimes migrate through before most plants have leafed out

Forsythia and star magnolias are just starting to bloom -later than normal this spring in northern Connecticut, but bloodroot and violets should be blooming any time now. These are important flowers for our spring pollinators. Japanese andromeda, Pieris japonica, has been blooming in some places since late March, and this is also visited by early spring flying bees. Along with pussy willows, this is a great plant for Colletes inaequalis, the earliest ground nesting bee which is active around the time  native willows start to bloom.

Japanese Andromeda flowering in early April 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Japanese andromeda flowers in late March

Check out streams for marsh marigolds and watercress, and dry sunny, woodland areas for native trout lilies that usually start to bloom in late April or early May. Red trillium, Trillium erectum, sometimes has an overlapping bloom time with bloodroot, depending on the weather.

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress blooming in a woodland brook

 

Raccoons, foxes and many other animals may have their young from early spring through June. Some birds, including great horned owls, may have their young in late winter. Sometimes these owls use the nest that red-tailed or other hawks used the previous year.

baby raccoons June 2

Two week old raccoons in a sunny spot in the woods

 

While the central portions on the United States are having bomb cyclones this week that are bringing heavy snows and severe wind gusts, we should have snow here only in the form of a distant memory. I can live with that.

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

goldenrod

One of many goldenrod species

Goldenrods, Solidago ssp., form one of the most interesting interrelationships between flora and fauna of the late-season flowering plants in New England. The name solidago is from two Latin words meaning ‘to make’ and ‘whole’, referring to its use as herbal remedies in the form of teas or compresses, among other uses. Goldenrods are perennial herbs that are members of the Asteraceae, or aster, family. Flowering from August through September, they are often found blooming together with Joe-Pye weeds and asters. The time of year that they bloom has made them a scapegoat for many allergy sufferers who believe they are to blame them for symptoms that are actually due to ragweed that flower at the same time.

 

honey bee on downy goldenrod Pamm Cooper

Honey bee on downy goldenrod.

 

Goldenrods naturally produce rubber, and Thomas Edison actually experimented with the cultivation process to increase the rubber content in the plants. George Washington Carver and Henry Ford devised a process to make a much needed rubber substitute from goldenrod during World War II. It was rather tacky and not as elastic as true rubber, but goldenrods and other native plants such as Asclepias and Chrysothamnus have rubber in sufficient quantity that may one day prove worthwhile. Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) had the most rubber content at 6.34 %.

Goldenrods have a unique type of inflorescence that consists of many tiny flowers that aggregate together in a flower head and form a ‘false flower’. The individual flowers are most commonly in the form of ray flowers or disk flowers. Identification of species is often done by observing the hairs on the seeds, which may be visible when the plant is still in flower. Goldenrods vary in height, with the tallest (Solidago altissima) at six feet. Some, such as sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) have pleasant odors.

Joe pye and goldenrod Harkness Park 9-2-2018

Joe- pye weed and goldenrods blooming together at Harkness Park in Waterford, Connecticut

One of the most common goldenrods in New England is the Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). It is considered alleopathic to sugar maple seedlings, producing chemicals that inhibit their growth. Habitat is disturbed areas like meadows, fields or roadsides. This is a tall plant with hairy stems and a plume flower arrangement.

goldenrods and asters in a field

Asters and goldenrods growing together in a waste area

It is associated with the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis) whose larva feed inside a round gall on the stem which is formed by the reaction of the plant to the larva’s saliva. You can easily find these galls when green or later in the season when stalks turn brown. The larva chew an exit hole before the plant tissue hardens up for the winter. In the spring, the adult fly will exit through this hole. Downy woodpeckers and chickadees will peck at these galls to access the larva, especially in harsh winters. Studies have shown the larger the larva inside the gall, the less likely it is to be parasitized by other insects or eaten by birds like downy woodpeckers in the winter. The goldenrod gall moth also causes a stem gall, but this is a spindle- shape rather than a ball. The caterpillar hatches from an egg laid the previous autumn and feeds its way into a stem.

goldenrod bunch gall and stem gall caused by the goldenrod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis)

goldenrod bunch gall on left and stem gall on right, caused by the goldenrod gall fly (Eurosta solidaginis)

Licorice goldenrod (Solidago odora) has a licorice or anise scent and the leaves were used in a tea by the Cherokee for colds, coughs, and fevers. This plant is found in the southernmost parts of the New England states, but is absent in Maine. Found in woodlands, along roadsides, disturbed sites and old fields, the flowers have been used to make deep yellow dyes and attract beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewings.

White goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) is found at the edges of woodlands. It is also sometimes called ‘silverrod’ in reference to its white flowers. It is the only goldenrod with white flowers in the eastern part of the country. The stamens and pollen will give it a slightly yellow look. Sometimes the spectacular brown hooded owlet caterpillar can be found on this plant where it primarily eats the flower buds and flowers. Found more often on any goldenrods with longer flower spikes, this caterpillar is a favorite of many lepidopterists.

silver rod on the edge of woods Pamm Cooper

Silverrod at the edge of the woods.

Early goldenrod (Solidago juncea) gets its common name from its bloom time, which can be as much as a month prior to many other goldenrod species. This attractive, slender plant has a very delicate appearance and can be distinguished from other goldenrods by the lack of, or near lack of hairs on the stems and leaves. White-tailed deer, woodchucks, cottontail rabbits and livestock may feed on the plant if less desirable food is available.

Goldenrods provide a source of seeds for eastern goldfinch, tree, swamp and song sparrows as well as some migrating warblers such as the yellow- rumped warblers. Mice and other rodents eat the seeds throughout the winter and have a better time of it when seed heads are pressed down against the ground by heavy snows.

asteroid

The asteroid caterpillar

Any insects still around in late summer that have an interest in flowers may be found on goldenrods, especially pollen and nectar seekers and their predators. Some of the many insects and other arthropods that rely on goldenrods for survival are bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, grasshoppers and spiders. Many of these visit for the pollen and nectar often in shorter supply as the season winds down. Migratory butterflies, especially along their shoreline routes, depend upon goldenrods for food sources as they travel south for the winter. Bloom periods are extended for at least two months as different species of goldenrods bloom in succession or coincide with each other.

gray hairstreak on goldenrod

Gray hairstreak butterfly

Black and margined blister beetles are often found on these plants in the late summer and early fall. Many beneficial insects, such as soldier beetles and assassin bugs use the flowers as either food sources or hideouts where they wait to ambush other insects. If you see a butterfly hanging upside down without moving, check and see if an ambush bug or crab spider is feeding on it. Caterpillars such as the asteroid and flower moth caterpillars, aphids, tarnished plant bugs, and many other insects feed on flowers, stems and leaves. Wasps, goldenrod and crab spiders, praying mantids, lacewings, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, spined soldier bugs and birds prey on insects that visit or live on the plants. Cucumber beetles also feed on goldenrod pollen. Some flies cause galls on stems and upper foliage as their larvae feed.

brown hooded owlet caterpillar on goldenrod from Belding September 3 2015

brown hooded owlet caterpillar on goldenrod

Chinese mantids also hang out around goldenrods, and often lay their egg masses on its stems. Look for these in the winter if heavy snows have not mashed the plants into the ground. I sometimes take a stem with the mantid egg case and stick it in my garden. The mantids usually emerge by mid- May, and they disperse quickly

mantids emerging from egg case on goldenrod stem 5-20-12

Mantid egg cases are often found on goldenrods where the adult females were hunting the year before. These are mantids just hatching

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There is a great interconnection between goldenrods and vertebrates and invertebrates, and nature reveals such things to the careful observer. If you happen upon some goldenrod, or seek it out on purpose, just a few moments of careful observation will be rewarded with a peek into the drama that is on display in a simple stand of yellow flowers.

By Pamm Cooper, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

 

Every year at the UConn Home & Garden Education there are a few topic of interest that we get a lot of calls about. Several years ago we fielded a lot of calls about the drought situation in Connecticut that occupied many people’s thoughts in 2016. In fact, that encompassed two years as we started to feel the effects of it in 2015. On the tail end of the drought, and perhaps in part because of it, many parts of the state were visited with an infestation of gypsy moth caterpillars. When we have a wet spring the fungus Entomophaga maimaiga, a natural control of the gypsy moth caterpillar, can flourish. The fungus overwinters as spores in leaf litter and in the soil. It then reactivates in the spring when there is sufficient rainfall. Although we were receiving an adequate amount of rain by 2017 it happened to occur a bit late for the fungus to be fully effective against the voraciously feeding caterpillars. So the summers of 2016 and 2017 were dedicated to answering many questions about the gypsy moth caterpillars and the damage that they wreaked.

As those two events have wound down a new concern arose for many of our clients. Thanks in part to press releases and an interview that aired on NBC CT in June the giant hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, (below images) jumped to the front of the queue. The Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) issued a warning about this invasive species which was first spotted in Connecticut in 2001. Most of the populations of giant hogweed are under control and none of the reported sightings in 2018 were positive.

There are many look-a-like plants and it is those species that we are asked to identify. Starting in early-June calls and emails began to come in to identify large herbaceous perennials that were striking fear into Connecticut residents. This is in part due to the pretty noxious nature of the giant hogweed sap. Within 24-48 hours after skin has been in contact with the sap painful blisters may appear in individuals that are sensitive to it. Three things need to be present for the reaction known as phytophotodermatitis to occur. First, direct contact between the skin and the sap. Second, the skin must be moist as from perspiration, for example. Third, the contaminated area must be exposed to sunlight. If you are working in an area that contains giant hogweed it is easy to imagine that all of the criteria could be easily met.

Before attempting to remove giant hogweed from an area the first step should be positively identifying it. As I mentioned earlier, there have not been any confirmed sightings in Connecticut yet this year. It may be that the suspected plant is one of the following instead.

The first plant that is most commonly mistaken for giant hogweed is fellow member of the Heracleum genus: cow parsnip, Heracleum maximum, (images below). Unlike giant hogweed which was introduced to the United States 100 years ago from the Caucasus region of Central Asia, cow parsnip is native to North America. A tall herbaceous perennial that can reach up to 10 feet in the shade, nowhere near the 18 feet possible height of the giant hogweed, cow parsnip bears its flowers in in the flat-topped or rounded umbels that are characteristic of other members of the carrot family, Apiacea. Both species have compound deeply-lobed, toothed leaves but the cow parsnip lacks the red veining and leaf stalks common to giant hogweed. Cow parsnip also contains chemicals that cause phytophotodermatitis.

The next most common look-a-like is angelica, (below images). A first cousin once-removed, it shares its family, Apiaceae, with the giant hogweed and cow parsnip but is in the genus Angelica. Angelica grows 3-9 feet tall and also has large umbel flower heads. The compound leaves of angelica are what distinguish it from giant hogweed as they are bipinnate, meaning that they are compound leaves in which the leaflets are also compound (think honey locust leaves). Often used as a medicinal herb, angelica is the least toxic of the hogweed look-a-likes although it may still cause a skin reaction.

Queen Anne’s lace, Daucus carota, (below images) takes compound leaves one step further to tripinnate, having pinnately compound leaves that are bipinnate. The more levels of pinnation, the more delicate the overall effect. The airy-looking leaves of D. carota are what give it the ‘lace’ part of its name and are similar to its subspecies, the domestic carrot. Queen Anne’s lace has an umbellate flower head atop a much slimmer stem than giant hogweed, cow parsnip, or angelica. The sap from the leaves and stems can cause a phytophotodermatitis reaction although the flowers are used to make jelly similar to the yarrow jelly from our June 26th blog post.

The native Lactuca species includes wild lettuce (Lactuca Canadensis),

prickly lettuce (L. serriola), hairy lettuce (L. hirsute), and the blue lettuces (l. biennis, L. floridana, L. pulchella, L. villosa).

These tall plants start out from a basal rosette of leaves and can grow to 7 feet tall with large alternating broad leaves.  They have pale blue insignificant flowers compared to the dense clustered heads of the previous plants.

Finally, giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida, has also made a plant identification appearance.  This 6-foot tall annual herb is a noxious weed that has become invasive in other parts of the world as it out competes native species in much the same way that the giant hogweed has here.

As plants and seeds have spread across the globe through human, animal, mechanical, or water means many species have landed in non-native locations and taken root there. If you are a fan of podcasts, check out the Infinite Monkey Cage’s Invasion episode where scientists and comedians take a look at the problems caused by alien (plant) invasions.

Susan Pelton, UConn Home & Garden Education Center

All images by CIPWG and UConn

 

 

tiger swallowtail and obedient plant

Tiger swallowtail on obedient plant flower

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” – Jane Austen

What a strange summer we have had so far in New England! I almost thought of going to Florida to escape the heat and humidity. It has been hot and humid, no doubt, but it is August after all, and things are coming along nicely in the out- of-doors. This time of year there is enough good stuff going on in the landscape to overcome any weather difficulties we may be experiencing, so let’s plod on out and see what’s happening.

Horsebarn Hill on a foggy July morning

foggy morning on Horsebarn Hill UConn

 

 

As we head on into the mid= summer, most garden buffs are by now reveling in the abundance of hydrangeas that are now in bloom. The dwarf ‘Little Lime’ is one of several panicle Hydrangeas that have nice full-bodied lime green flowers that pack a visual punch in the landscape. ‘Little Lamb’ is another of the smaller panicle hydrangeas, this one also having a compact form with pure white, ethereal blooms that give it its name.

little lambs hydrangea

‘Little lamb’ panicle hydrangea

Hibiscus are also blooming now, with their outstanding large, colorful flowers that really provide some visual excitement in the garden. I came across a nice hedgerow type planting that made a nice privacy screen along a sidewalk. I am not really a hibiscus fan, but a pink- flowered one popped up in my garden, and looks so great there that I guess it can stay. I wonder if someone snuck it in there to get me to have kinder thoughts toward these plants…

hibiscus border

Hibiscus

On the wild side, the sweet- smelling Clethra alnifolia is in full bloom and is attracting all types of bees, beetles and butterflies. Look for this small clump-forming shrub in any areas where soils are moist. The white flower spikes are very fragrant, so you can tell where Clethra are long before you actually see them. Groundnut vine is also blooming now, with its pea-like pink flower clusters dangling from its twining stems. Often found twining itself around goldenrods and blue vervain, it is always fun to come across this plant.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Red spotted purple butterfly on Clethra

The barn swallows that are partial to building their nests on the eaves of our equipment building have had their second brood of the year, as have bluebirds. Hopefully that will exit the nest soon and mom and dad can have a much needed rest in the near future. There was a female wood duck taking her brood on a tour in a large beaver pond the other day.

barn swallows ready to leave nest

barn swallows ready to fledge

female and male juvenile wood ducks Early August Airline Trail marsh Pamm Cooper photo

Juvenile wood ducks

I came across a wild grape that had one leaf covered with interesting cone- like galls formed by the grape tube gallmaker midge (Schizomyia viticola). This is a harmless gall, and only affected one leaf on the entire grape plant. Looks like a bunch of tall red, skinny gnome caps were set on the leaf.

grape tube gallmaker on grape leaf

grape tube galls

Combing through garden centers for great plants is always enjoyable when you find something like the Blackberry or leopard Lily Belamcanda chinensis. Star shaped flowers only 2 inches wide are heavily spotted with red, while foliage is sword- shaped. The flowers appear in late summer and bloom until frost, so this is a good plant to spiff up areas where other perennials are fading into the sunset.

leopard li;ly Belamcando chinensis

leopard lily Belamcando chinensis

Interesting plants suitable for containers are agave and other succulents. I saw a good size Agave colorata recently which was very striking in appearance. Its leaves are thick and powdery blue- gray with unusual cross- banding designs on them, plus leaf edges have brown teeth tipped with spines. A spectacular plant!

Agaave colorata

Agave colorata

pattern on agave leaves

patterns on Agave colorata leaves

Caterpillars this time of year are larger and, in my opinion, more interesting than the early season caterpillars. One favorite is the brown- hooded owlet, which is a sports a rich array orange, blue, yellow and red. Look for this caterpillar on goldenrods, where it feeds on flowers and flower buds.

brown-hooded-owlet-caterpillar

brown-hooded owlet

If you want a nice surprise, with a little careful handling you can check inside folded stinging nettle leaf shelters and may find either caterpillars of the comma or red admiral butterflies, or the chrysalis of the red admiral.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a leaf shelter on stinging nettle

 

The skies can provide some viewing that is better than any television show. Thunderhead clouds can provide some drama as they develop on hot and humid afternoons, and may provide further excitement in the form of thunder and lightning, and rainbows may follow. We can have remarkable sunsets any time of year, so don’t forget to have a look at the sky around sunset. August is also a great time for early morning fogs as well, especially when we have had a humid night. Getting up early does have its good points…

P1060375

Thunderhead developing on a hot and humid afternoon

 

Pamm Cooper

One of my favorite plants in our yard is a large wisteria that wends its way through and around our back deck. Planted in the early 2008 this woody, non-native climbing vine was slow to flower. Although a hardy, fast-growing plant, wisteria usually doesn’t produce flowers until it establishes itself and matures so it was a few years before the first blooms appeared in May of 2011, the image on the left. The center image is from May, 2013 and the image on the right is from the same perspective but in May of 2017.

In early May, before most of the foliage leafs out, the flowers will begin to open, starting at the base and gradually working towards the tip. The 6-12” long drooping racemes of wisteria bloom from basal buds on last year’s growth of wood. It will continue to bloom through the summer when it has full sun and well-drained soil.

IMG_20170523_175621809_HDR.jpg

 

Wisteria vines can become very heavy and need a strong structure such as a trellis, arbor, pergola, or in our case, a deck to provide support. The twining of the stems can be used to identify the species, depending on whether they twine clockwise or counter-clockwise when viewed from above. Our wisteria twines counter-clockwise so it is a Wisteria sinensis, Chinese wisteria. Wisteria that twines clockwise is Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria.

I usually prune it in the early spring when I also give it a low nitrogen-fertilizer. If it sends out unruly new growth during the spring and summer I just break them off by hand. Likewise, with any adventitious shoots that appear at the base of the plant. It’s a low-maintenance plant otherwise with practically no pests or diseases. The bees and other pollinators love it and I saw a hummingbird visiting it this week. One of the few pests that are ever on it are Japanese beetles.

JB

As you can see by the oval white egg on the surface of its green thorax this beetle has been parasitized by a tachinid fly, Istocheta aldrichi. These tiny flies attach a solitary egg to the Japanese beetle. It will hatch a week later and then the tiny larvae will burrow its way into the body to feed. The larvae will consume the beetle from the inside causing its ultimate death, exiting the body to pupate. If you see a Japanese beetle with one of these eggs on it, let it be. It is already on death row and the new fly that it is nourishing will go on to parasitize other beetles in the future.

As I walked past the wisteria earlier this week I noticed bees among its beautiful pendulous violet flowers. I took out my phone to get a picture and as I focused on the buzzing bee I noticed how the individual blooms of wisteria are so like the blossoms of the different beans in the vegetable garden.

Bee on wisteria bloom.jpg

Like bean and pea flowers, the blossoms of wisteria are zygomorphic. ‘Zygomorphic’ means that the flower is only symmetrical when divided along one axis, in this case vertically, unlike the radial symmetry of a flower such as a daisy which is the same on either axis. Clockwise from the top these are the blossoms of a wisteria , a purple sugar snap pea, a pole bean, and a yard-long bean.

Wisteria and beans share many traits with the almost 18,000 other species in the Fabaceae family, also known as Leguminosae, making it the third largest family of flowering plants. Grown world-wide, this group contains trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs that bear fruit called legumes. Many legumes are grown to eat, such as the edible pods of freshly-picked snow and sugar peas and beans, the edible seeds of peas and peanuts, or dried pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, beans, and lupin.

I never connected the ornamental lupin, Lupinus polyphyllus, that grow in our flower beds with the salty lupini beans, Lupinus albus, that accompany many antipasto platters. But when you look at the seed pods of an herbaceous lupin the similarity to other legume seed pods becomes apparent. The images are, clockwise from the upper left, wisteria, lupin, purple snow pea, sugar snap peas, and yard-long beans.

Fun fact about another legume: in a method called geocarpy, the seed pods of peanuts develop underground. This gives rise to its other moniker, the groundnut. Post-fertilization, the yellowish-orange peanut bloom sends out a ‘peg’ that grows down to the soil where the ovary at the tip matures into a peanut seed pod.  Like most other legumes, peanuts have nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia in their root nodules. This capacity to take inert atmospheric nitrogen from the soil means legumes require less nitrogen fertilizer. When the plants die they can improve soil fertility for future crops by releasing that fixed nitrogen.

Scarlet runner beans blossoms

Scarlet runner beans

Any home gardener can benefit from growing legumes, whether they enjoy the beautiful blooms, the healthful benefits derived from eating these high protein and fiber foods or to enrich their garden soil for future plantings.

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center, 2018

All images by Susan Pelton

IMG_20170704_084839720_HDR

“Fortunate is the man who knows how to use yarrow in the last days”
Attributed to Brigham Young

Brigham Young was born into a farming community in Whitingham, Vermont in 1802. Like many people at that time he would have been well-acquainted with the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Yarrow in particular has many medicinal and culinary purposes that have used for centuries. Its astringent properties led to it being used to reduce the flow of blood from wounds and the names herbal militaris, staunchweed, allheal, and bloodwort. In fact, legend says that it was used by Achilles’s soldiers on the battleground of Troy. It is that legend that gave us the Latin name for yarrow: Achillea millefolium.

It interested me to learn that since the second century BC yarrow has been used by the Chinese for divination of the I Ching. Diviners prefer dried stalks from locally gathered yarrow as they feel they will be more in-tune with it. Even better are stalks harvested from spiritually important sites such as a Confucian temple. This practice of divination is still widely used today.

In North America yarrow was used by many Native American peoples. The Navajo chewed it to relieve earaches, the Cherokee made a tea to reduce fever and aid sleep, and the Ojibwe, in addition to those uses, burned it for ceremonial purposes. They also gave it to their horses as a stimulant although the ASPCA says that yarrow is toxic to horses, dogs, and cats. For a small number of humans, it occasionally causes allergic skin irritations and photosensitivity.

For the rest of the population, yarrow has so many diverse uses. Let me start with its attractiveness to pollinators. As an umbrellated plant, that is one that has a flower head that is in the form of an open, flat-topped cluster, it is a convenient landing pad for many insects.

These white, yellow, or pink flower heads contain masses of minute, 5-petaled flowers. It is this that gives yarrow the second part of its Latin name, millefolium, or thousand-leaf or petal.

Millefolium can also refer to the many very fine, feathery leaves that adorn the yarrow plant. These lacy alternately arranged, fern-like leaves, can be dried and then steeped in hot water for a ‘tea’. The stripped stems can be boiled in water for 20 minutes and then sautéed in butter as an addition to a salad.  Yarrow leaves and flowers were part of an herbal mixture called gruit that was used as a substitute for hops in the production of beer during the Middle Ages, mostly in the Netherlands, Belgium, and western Germany.

Leaf close-up

In researching yarrow, I came across several mentions of yarrow jelly so of course I needed to make it. I harvested 2 cups of flower heads early one morning, rinsing them and then placing them into a steeping carafe along with freshly boiled water.

I let the mixture brew for an hour before draining it through two layers of cheesecloth. No need for any little insects to be involved in the jelly-making process.

The jelly-making method that I use calls for adding lemon juice and calcium water to the strained liquid. To my astonishment, as I stirred in the lemon juice into the yarrow ‘tea’ the color changed from a dull amber to pink! It turns out that the acid in lemon juice will turn pink when a molecule called an anthocyanin is introduced to it.  Anthocyanin is present in red, blue, and purple flowers including the deep pink yarrow that I used.

Unfortunately, the resulting cooked jelly did not retain that pink color that I love in the blossoms and that is so attractive to insects like the drone and hover flies that recently visited.

A tiny grasshopper nymph  in the species Melanoplus let me get very close to capture his image, jumping away only at the last second.

Grasshopper nymph

Looking a bit lower and deeper into the foliage I saw the tiniest of field ants moving among the feathery leaves. He was not alone.

Field ant (Formica spp).

Nestled in the leaf axil was a spittlebug. No bigger than the head of a pin, the adult Clastoptera lineatocollis was well hidden.

Spit bug 3

The video is of a spittlebug nymph feeding on another plant, covering itself with the foamed-up plant sap.

The foamy ‘spit’ not only hides the nymph from predators and parasites it provides a unique protection from the light that might dry it out.

Further up, an Eastern harvestman spider, Leiobunum vittatum, lay in wait for an unsuspecting red spider mite, Tetranychus urticae. I hope that the harvestman enjoyed his lunch for although one spider mite won’t do too much damage as it sucks out the contents of individual plant cells, an infestation of hundreds can seriously affect the vigor of a plant. Its good to see that a beneficial spider is taking care of that for me. Other beneficial insects that are attracted to yarrow include lady beetles and parasitic wasps such as the Braconid wasp.

If you don’t have yarrow in your flower beds yet I recommend it as a lovely, delicate-looking perennial that brings a touch of antiquity to any site. And here is one more thought from Brigham Young that speaks to the gardener in all of us:

“Beautify your gardens, your houses, your farms; beautify the city. This will make us happy, and produce plenty.”

Susan Pelton

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