Feb 042018

Have you heard?  Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) may be one of those things which go the way of the American chestnut tree – “When I was a kid, they were everywhere.  Forest ecosystems were based around them.  Now… well, they are so rare their locations are kept secret to keep them safe.”

At least, that is what a paper published in Ecology concludes may be one outcome in the future.  Looking at various studies and research done over 20 years, they combined factors to extrapolate the effect on the trees.  While the trees’ growth would benefit from certain factor changes, others may lead to them basically dying of thirst.

It remains to be seen if this is another the-sky-is-falling scenario, or if it will actually play out this way.  After all, the authors did say this would be a result of “growing under the considerably drier conditions characteristic of our most extreme climatic scenario”.

The Canadian Journal of Forestry published a research paper which highlighted just how tough it is to be a natural sugar maple seedling in New Hampshire.  From their study areas only 3.4% over 7 years.  “Location, location, location” seemed to be an important factor in their survival.

This, my Readers, is why trees put out so many seeds each year, they are hoping for just one to survive.  It is a tough world out there.

Nov 252016

Here is another post from the past.  This seems like just yesterday, but was actually from almost 3 years ago! Wow, we had not even finalized their adoptions at that point.  What a different time in our lives that was.  Of course, the kids did not let that slow them down …

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

A walk to the garden to pick parsley resulted in finding parsley plants that had been eaten.  Not all the leaves were gone yet, but it was close.  The culprit?  The little green guys in the dish above.

At the time of finding these guys, we didn’t know what they were.  I actually almost squished them, or threw them out into the grass.  Just before my impulsive move I realized that this would be a great thing to look up online.  An Impromptu Nature Lesson!  I love unplanned distractions of this sort.  Usually.

  • What caterpillars were these?
  • What did they become?
  • What did they eat? (Were any of my other plants in danger of being eaten?  Did I need to do a thorough search of them too?)

After searching ‘Caterpillar Identification Images’ we quickly found what we were looking for.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 2

While looking at the caterpillars we found out that if you poke them, these small yellow ‘V’ shaped things came up from their heads.  Out of respect for science {clears through} we had to do an experiment to see what exactly made them do this.  After a few trials it was decided that the best way was to make move them by poking them.  Oh, and the more you poked them the quicker these yellow ‘V’ things appeared.  Then I decided we were bordering on being mean and we stopped.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars 4

The search revealed that:

these were caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly

they use parsley, dill, fennel, and carrots as host plants – the Apiaceae family

Knowing that the caterpillars would turn into butterflies and not eat the rest of my garden I breathed a sigh of relief.  The next thing was to put them in a jar to see if we could keep them till they were butterflies, notice the changes along the way, then release them.

In the basement I had some old 1/2 gallon jars that were the perfect size.  With a bit of hesitation I also cut a handful of parsley.  As I only  have two plants and had been using them for cooking, this was a sacrifice.  In the name of Science though I took a deep breath and proceeded.

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar 3

Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars in a Jar

The kids loved seeing the caterpillars on the counter.

After a few days I realized that we didn’t have the supply of parsley needed to sustain our little colony of caterpillars.  They had a voracious appetite.

In the end one caterpillar started to make a cocoon, but didn’t finish before his energy supplies ran out.  After that I decided to let them fend for themselves in the yard, and so released them back to the wild.

Next time, we’ll only keep one or two.

Further Study – Just this morning I was looking up a bit more information on this caterpillar/butterfly and came across a great post at Ecosystem Gardening.  It was very helpful to find out that I don’t necessarily need to plant a flowerbed border of parsley to attract these butterflies and caterpillars in the future.  Carole references information she found from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  So, yes there are native parsley plants you can add to your garden to attract these beautiful butterflies.

As a side note, I have been to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  It truly is amazing, both the center and the amount of information they have.  They have a love for what they do and it shows.

Aug 122016

bee in the know

After the recent review of The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity byKate Frey and Gretchen LeBuhn, I have been paying more attention to the bees around me.  What I came to realize is, well, there is a whole lot more which I do not know and could learn.  This is a start.

Below is a summary compilation of scholarly papers, book reviews, and letters all concerning our neighbors, the bees.  There were so many papers and sources of information which I could share, but I had to cut it off at some point.  I tried to keep the topics somewhat related to help with narrowing down the results. u6k7v3t5

Relocation risky for bumble bee colonies – this letter in reference to a paper on the relocation of bees addresses some of the possible issues with such moves.

USBombus, a database of contemporary survey data for North American Bumble Bees (Hymenoptera, Apidae, Bombus) distributed in the United States – from the abstract of this research paper, “While a wealth of historic data is now available for many of the North American species found to be in decline in online databases, systematic survey data of stable species is still not publically available. The availability of contemporary survey data is critically important for the future monitoring of wild bumble bee population.  Without such data, the ability to ascertain the conservation status of bumble bees in the United States will remain challenging.”  this paper was authored by Koch, J. et al, representing several universities and the USDA.

Review of the book The Bees of the World 2nd ed. American Entomologist (the review begins on page 3) – As the author of this book review states, “That only seven years have passed since the first edition is testament to the vigorous ongoing research on bees.”  This review happens to have been written 7 years ago with even larger amount of study and focus being given to this insect family.  Some of the references to changes in the classifications have potentially resolved themselves, though even those are under constant review as more knowledge comes to light.

At 900+ pages, this book is not one you lightly add to your library, that is, unless you are a librarian at a large library.

Chemical Signals in Bumble Bee Foraging – though this paper is older, it provides a great look into the world of bumble bees and understanding how they reach the flowers in your garden.

Hive-stored pollen of honey bees: many lines of evidence are consistent with pollen preservation, not nutrient conversion – “Our findings have important implications for the improvement of natural food storage, artificial food supplements, and water balance in the hive especially during overwintering.”  As one who likes to store up one season’s harvest for use in the winter, I have appreciated the research done on nutrient levels and safe storing of these foods.  In a similar fashion bees store pollen, though it has not always been known why this is done nor if there was an unknown benefit for them doing so.  Anderson, K. et al take a look close look at this storage of pollen.


Nest architecture and species status of the bumble bee Bombus (Mendacibombus) shaposhnikovi (Hymenoptera: Apidae: Bombini) – “Here, we report behavioural observations of the nesting biology of B. shaposhnikovi and provide new evidence for the conspecific status of B. shaposhnikovi and B. handlirschianus in our discovery of a nest containing both colour forms.”

I had never put much thought into the structure of a nest – where food was located compared to living quarters, how many eggs were placed in each cell, etc.  It is amazing what you can observe once you slow down and look at different parts of nature.  The authors also present their doubts about the species of Bombus, differentiated only by color, being actual separate species.

Speaking of nests and the various ways of building them, here is a paper talking about the nest architecture of a tropical bee – Nest Architecture and Foraging Behavior in Bombus pullatus (Hymenoptera: Apidae), with Comparisons to Other Tropical Bumble Bees.

And the Bombus transversalisNest construction and architecture of the Amazonian bumble bee (Hymenoptera: Apidae)


Determining the Impacts of Pesticide and Nutrition-Induced Stress on Honey Bee Colony Growth and Survival – while this research project is still underway, I thought it was interesting enough to mention.  When I am  hungry, I know how my performance suffers.  Could it be the same for bees?  Another reason for all of us to take a look at our gardens and make changes, even small ones, to help out our much needed pollinators.

As a part of the above mentioned research project, several papers have already been published looking at various aspects. Here are a few of them:

Honey bee colonies provided with natural forage have lower pathogen loads and higher overwinter survival than those fed protein supplements

Methods for Comparing Nutrients in Beebread Made by Africanized and European Honey Bees and the Effects on Hemolymph Protein Titers

Jun 012015

When planning your garden at home, there are many details to take into account.  You need to pay attention to things like amount of sun, rain fall, average temperatures, length of growing season, and space.  You may also want to take into account flowering plants versus ever greens, height of plants compared to those around them, ease of care, and whether the plants are annuals or perennials.

When I worked in the urban forestry, we would also have to take into account the space needed for roots, any damage it might do to under ground utilities, the maintenance in upkeep (dropping of leaves, fruit, and limbs), height clearance underneath for vehicles if planted near parking lots or roads, scents of fruits or flowers, whether there were thorns or other dangerous attributes, and if the plant was a native, non-native or a non-native invasive plant.  There was a lot to consider when making selections.

Whether you are planning for your yard, as a part of your job, for a local volunteer project or to help out a neighbor, to help make the decisions easier there are often commonly used plants in your area that are recommended.  These are plants that tend to do well in your area (right zone, rainfall, etc.) and are popular with local gardeners.  They are also plants that local nurseries either grow or can obtain.  This does not mean that they are the best for the garden or location you are looking to plant in, only the most readily available.

In beginning to read The Allergy-Fighting Garden by Thomas Ogren, I assumed it would refer to flower gardens only, something along the lines of a botanical garden.  What I found pleasantly surprised me and made me realize some mistakes I had made in the past.  What I found was a very applicable, easy to understand case for considering not only the attributes listed above, but also those that affect our health and that of those around us.

My husband and one kid are affect more by allergies than myself and our other son.  However, we all have some degree of reaction.  Until now, I assumed it had more to do with the dirt in the air (from farmers plowing fields) than anything else, or with me spending time around so many trees in the fall.  After all, it is not like our house is surrounded by a  yard full of blooming flowers.  What I learned is that there may be other, larger sources of allergens and there is something I can potentially do about it.

The first 50 pages of The Allergy-Fighting Garden explain more about why allergies have become so prevalent in society today, what lead to the increase from several decades ago, and how we can go about correcting or reducing the effects.  It also gives a brief over view of how plants work, an important piece of knowledge in being able to understand how to counter their natural process.

The next 176 pages lists plants in alphabetical order, by their scientific names, giving a description of each and how they contribute or aide in the reduction of allergies.  While this section is not something that I will sit down and read straight through, it is a great reference resource for the future as I look to add to the landscaping around our house.  It will also be useful if I am ever in a position again to recommend plants for specific locations.

The biggest lesson I took away from The Allergy-Fighting Garden was that something as simple as planting a female plant, as opposed to a male plant, could make the difference between an allergic reaction and no reaction at all.  The explanations were such that a lay person, with even a minimum understanding of plants, would be able to pick up this book and come away understanding the connections between the plants in the landscapes around us and the amount of allergies experienced by those who come in contact with them.

Not only does Thomas Ogren show you how to plant so you can reduce your allergies, but also how you can fight those that might be around you.  The section on hedges and how to care for them is very  helpful.  As one who has lived in both the country and in the city, I can attest to how different each setting can be when it comes to landscaping and air quality.  When you live in cities, towns, and suburbs, the assortment of plants in a given area can be very  high.  Each person has their own idea of what would be good to grow.  Each garden and home has a different purpose for planting their specific horticultural choices.  When you can not change them, he gives you a way to atleast try and decrease their affects on the air quality in your home, office, or yard.  It truly is a fight against allergies from the garden.

The Allergy-Fighting Garden was an enlightening read and something that has added to my understanding of the natural world around us.  I would recommend this book to anyone who is dealing with or taking care of someone with allergies, or who is in charge of landscaping on any scale.  Being health conscious does not apply to food and exercise only, but also to creating an environment that aides in keeping us health instead of making us sick.


I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Feb 272014

weeds with alianthus seedlingLook at this great tree seedling, all 1 year’s growth of it.  No, I didn’t fertilize it, nor is it a GMO.

This tall, very green tree actually brings up feelings and thoughts I would never think of having towards other trees.  What kind of feelings and thoughts?  Things like:

  • if I pour antifreeze over the roots how long would it take to die?
  • antifreeze would really harm the ground water … what about highly concentrated salt water?
  • am I allowed to “open burn” in town if it is to burn out a stump?

As someone who loves trees, loves being in the woods, even went to school to study more about our forests and natural resources, getting jobs after graduation working with them, it takes a lot for me to have these feelings about a tree.  This tree, however, is not your average tree.  Just look at the pictures above, of the 1 year old sapling.  Was that enough emphasis on the fact that it is only 1 year old?!

Alianthus altissima or Tree of Heaven, is a non-native, invasive plant. And it definitely is not from Heaven.  Quite the opposite. To say that it is hard to get rid of is an understatement.  This tree spreads through prolific root sprouts, showing up hundreds of feet away from the main tree.  This particular seedling is about 100 feet away from the mature Alianthus tree in our yard.

one year old alianthus seedlings

Tree of Heaven one year old seedling

If you think cutting down a mature tree is the best way to get rid of this problem, then you may have think again.  As much as it like to spread by root sprouts is also produces lots of stump sprouts.  You also can’t use the wood chips on your landscaping, unless you want more trees there also.  Yup, they weren’t kidding when they said “invasive” with this tree.

I’ve worked in areas where these trees are pretty common.  They take over and shade out the native trees.  Not only is this bad for the local flora (plants) but also the animals that depend upon those trees.  The plan of attack there was more of trying to keep the trees from spreading more than they already had.  To try and remove these on a large scale would get expensive quickly.

A few years later I found myself working in a different part of the country, in a different climate.  When a tree plan came listing Alianthus as a possible tree on a site set for development I was surprised.  Surely the tree hadn’t made it this far West.  Thankfully the person was wrong.  The tree was a Mulberry tree.

A few years after that we moved to yet a different state, this time further north.  Where it is cold.  The house we bought has a lot of trees.  A few were in poor condition so we called out a tree company to take care of them.  It was in the process of them walking around the yard that one of the Arborists identified this tree.  I had been wondering what this one was, stumped that I couldn’t identify it.  It didn’t help that it has been given a “high and tight” haircut that would have made any army sergeant proud.  All the limbs had been trimmed up above 40 feet.  So I’m giving myself a bit of grace here, it isn’t exactly like I could look at one of the buds.  Well, at least that was the case until the first root sprout appeared.

One of the best identifying characteristics of this tree is the smell.  Peanut butter to be exact.  There are a lot of trees with compound leaves, but the smell is not common.  Virginia Tech has a great publication out showing in more detail some of other identifying traits.  (I’m working on improving my photography skills when it comes to capturing leaf scars and buds.  They have some great pictures at the link above.)  They also list appropriate chemicals to be used in control of this plant – things more appropriate than antifreeze (which really wouldn’t work on this tree anyway, so please don’t try that method).

Jan 292014

volunteer seedlings in compost pile

volunteer seedlings from compost

Here is a lesson I learned the hard way – if your compost is not hot enough, the seeds in it won’t die.  I was thankful that the seeds which didn’t die turned out to be easy to see and pull.

The larger sprouts were from a gourd of some sort, pumpkin or squash more than likely.  There are also more delicate looking seedlings in the mix, which sprouted in clumps.  Those turned out to be tomato seeds from cherry tomatoes I had thrown out.

If I had more room, more time and more curiosity I would have let these grow to see what they produced.  As it was, space was limited that year.  My neighbor let some volunteers grow from their compost pile the following year and ended up with several different kinds of (decorative) pumpkins.  If your plants are hybrids, their seeds will not be replicas of their parents, meaning you won’t know what they will be like.  If that is what you are going for, then you will need to use heirloom seeds.

Jan 222014



DSCN5341blue bonnets

Columbine leaves 2

Columbine leaves

Columbine leaves – if you look closely you can see the unopened blooms

Temperatures outside right now are a few degrees beyond very cold.  Add to that some snow we got Monday night and the garden does not look anything like the photos above.  That doesn’t mean we can’t look at pictures to remind us what it will look like soon enough.

For a lot of you, it will be time to start your seeds soon, or perhaps you already have because Spring always comes, even if all we can see is Winter.


Jan 152014

We are not quite to the season where you will see these, but it will be here before you know it.  The flowers of trees are as unique at the trees themselves.  Below are the flowers of a silver maple (Acer saccharinum) found in my front yard.  I could stand underneath this tree all day, staring up at the new appendages appearing from the end of these seemingly dead branch.  It would be so easy to miss these driving by, or looking down at your phone while on the sidewalk.

Maple, flowers

Silver maple in spring

Silver Maple

Take some time this Spring to look up into the branches of trees as you go about your day.  Which ones do you think you’ll see first?  Do you find yourself able to tell what kind of tree one is from a distance due to its unique look?

For a reference, here is a photo of a red oak (Quercus rubra).  Do you notice the difference between its bark and that of the Acer saccharinum above?

Hint: Look at the texture of the bark.  Also, do you notice a color pattern?

Red Oak

Another way to tell the two trees apart is that the maple trees have limbs that grow opposite each other while the oak don’t.

Oak limbs

Which trees have opposite branching? Remember – MAD Buck

M – Maple

A – Ash

D – Dogwook

Buck – Buckeye

There are a few other shrubs/small trees with opposite branching, though for the context of this post I am referring to larger trees.