Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September
Image of a hot air balloon taken while looking up through a spider’s web


Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

-Albert Einstein

Somebody has said to expect the unexpected and that is exactly what may happen in our travels outdoors. No matter how many times someone may walk the same path in the woods or hills, visit the same beach, walk around the yard or the neighborhood or even enter a building, there can be pleasant surprises every time. There are changes in light or shadows, weather, cloud formations, the colors of leaves, skies or flowers, and the springing up of new plants as seasons change that present new wonders every day.

Pompom dahlia close-up

Look up, down and all around and there are sure to be even the smallest of delights, even if just for the briefest moment in time. Stunning displays in scenery or charming encounters with another creature can lift one’s spirit and become a pleasant memory somewhere down the road.


A black and white koi happened to swim by in water appearing black because of dark skies on this rainy day at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Annual garden Harkness Memorial State Park
110 year old threadleaf maple-Harkness
Waning crescent moon and venus predawn October 13 2020
The whole moon was visible to the observer

It doesn’t have to be nature alone that provides unforeseen pleasure to the eyes and spirit. Perhaps simply a building seen in a new light will, out of the blue, add a bit of whimsy to an ordinary bit of scenery. Sometimes buildings are far more interesting when light or reflections change everything, if only for the briefest moment. Every day the sun changes position slightly and light may differ in color just a little bit. If something strikes you, catch the image as it will probably never be seen in quite the same light again.

Pergola shadows framed an entryway for a moment in time
Reflections of building on windows of other buildings in downtown Hartford



Nature presents the most impressive compositions that are unequaled in the best of man-made designs. Every little thing can become a natural diorama

Nimbostratus cloud hanging low
Common tansy, (Tanacetum vulgare), while considered invasive, still is attractive with its bright yellow disc flowers in bloom this October along a roadside in Old Lyme.
Woodland pond with reflected yellow from maple and birch leaves  created this image when two mallard ducks took off and made some waves.
These mushrooms look like tiny parasols
Mushrooms with caps in three different stages
These mums have an artistic appearance better than any painting could try to capture.

On this October day several years ago, these majestic, ancient sugar maples formed a tunnel over the country road leading to the former Golden Lamb Buttery. Since then, many of the trees have been lost due to old age and storm damage.

Country road in Pomfret in autumn
White oak leaf displaying one of several possible fall colors this tree may have.
Staghorn sumac Rhus typhina, is related to the cashew. It has attractive red seed heads and autumn foliage.  

As the season winds down and gets less colorful, there will still be moments that will give an occasion to cheers us up and maybe makes us laugh a little Maybe something as commonplace as… a weathervane…

Cat and mouse

Pamm Cooper

A monarch caterpillar safely eating milkweed after  stopping the flow of gummy sap by clipping the midrib

A monarch caterpillar safely eating milkweed after stopping the flow of gummy sap by clipping the midrib

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historically, insects have been the most important bane of the plant kingdom. The fatal attraction that exists between plants and insects has woven an intricate balance between good and evil, survival and devastation, and benefits versus harm. While insects play a significant role in pollination, and while over 90% of insects are not a problem, the few that are plant pests can wreak destruction.

Some insects are vectors of disease, especially those that feed by piercing plant tissue. Aphids, plant hoppers and the familiar cucumber beetle may pass along viruses even though feeding damage is not significant. Introduced insects seem to have a field day and may prove to be more damaging than native insects in the long run.

But in all the dramas that occurs in nature, the ones that may be overlooked are the strategies plants can use to defend themselves against insects. Whether it is simply structural impediments such as thorns, prickles, thick bark, waxy cuticles and objectionable chemical compounds, plants are not helpless against attacks. While some defenses are always present, like the above physical qualities, there are other means by which plants can release substances as needed that either repel the feeding insects, or attract predators of the same.

One plant of interest is the geranium that produces a chemical in its petals that can temporarily paralyze the Japanese beetle while it is feeding. This may provide a window for any predator that happens by. Native wild tobacco plants change the time of day that flower buds open in response to caterpillar feeding. This discourages certain sphinx moths that pollinate by night as they are attracted to the scent and color of the flowers, and lay eggs on the plant, which doubles as both an adult and larval food plant. Pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds will visit by day and the plant loses no ground in reproduction and survival. Other caterpillars like the tobacco budworm have no problem feeding on geraniums, petunias, snapdragons and other tobacco relatives. Their saliva counteracts the production of induced defenses in the plants.

Some plants release hormones or other substances upon feeding injury that attract predatory insects or even birds. It is like a silent alarm calling in the troops. Many caterpillars may be parasitized because their feeding releases chemicals in the plants that attract predatory insects such as brachonid wasps. Grass releases a strong aroma when cut, either when cut when insects are feeding on it. Perhaps this is why starlings and other birds flock into a yard or pasture that is under attack from cutworms or other grass pests.

Starlings feeding on cutworms in a lawn

   Starlings feeding on cutworms in a lawn

Fawn sphinx with cocoons of exited brachonid wasps

Fawn sphinx with cocoons of exited brachonid wasps

Milkweeds contain strong chemical defenses that are passed along to insects that feed on leaves but are unaffected by them themselves. The monarch caterpillar and others avoid much predation because of the absorption of these chemicals which make them bitter to the taste of hungry birds. The latex released by milkweed as insects begin chewing hardens quickly when exposed to the air and may cause mouthparts to stick together so the insect starves. Monarch cats avoid this by clipping off the base of the midrib first which reduces sap flow to the leaf.

Some plants have high lignin or tannin content that makes them unattractive to insects later in the season. Window feeding is a way some caterpillars avoid higher concentrations of toxins in leaves or high lignin content that is difficult to ingest, such as leaf veins and midribs. Many beetles avoid ingesting high concentrations of toxins by feeding in large groups, thereby “sharing in the load”.

"Window feeding" helps a dagger caterpillar avoid high lignin in the leaf veins

“Window feeding” helps a dagger caterpillar avoid high lignin in the leaf veins

Pyrethrins are ester compounds produced by chrysanthemum plants which act as insect neurotoxins. Some commercially available insecticides are actually synthetic copies of pyrethrins, called pyrethroids. Tansy is a non-native escapee that has toxins repelling many insects. It has been used with some success as a companion plant with cucurbits, squash, roses and other plants to repel cucumber beetles, ants, Japanese beetles and other insect pests. Sprigs were used at windowsills to repel flies.

Tansy in full bloom in the wild

Tansy in full bloom in the wild

Trillium actually reproduces effectively by myrmecochory- using ants to carry away its seeds and thus protecting them from becoming consumed by various animals. Ants are attracted to eliaosomes attached to the seeds and bring them back to their nests. After consuming the eliaosomes, the seeds are discarded by the ants and they are still viable. Survival of the species is helped along by the little ant.

Red Trillium

Red Trillium

While we may be blissfully ignorant of all the events taking place among the plants surrounding us, at least where fending off insects is involved, there is at least as much drama as any to be found in the entertainment industry.

 

Pamm Cooper                        All photos copyrighted 2014 by Pamm Cooper