Sunday, November 8, 2015

Attention All Coffee Drinkers!

Keep an eye you for this symbol when buying coffee.

There are two species of Coffee plants in the world that are farmed. One grows in the shade of tropical rain forest trees and the amazing diversity that entails. Roughly 700 tree species in one square mile! The other grows in Sun and requires the rain forest be cleared and any sort of mountainous terrain to be bulldozed into a flatter slope. This is devastating stuff!

You can plant all the native plants you want to save the birds, but if they can't get their food when they migrate south it's all for nothing. Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world, right behind oil! For some countries it makes up 40% of their exports! This is an issue!

One problem pointed out by the symbol though is that certification only requires "trees" be grown in the coffee field, but doesn't specify what type. So farmers are free to do a more Permaculture approach with their farms. Permaculture is great but not on such a large scale where, if the plants still don't provide food for wildlife. Sadly it's currently not know what species of trees should be planted in these types of farm conditions. Anything native would certainly be better than nonnative but we don't have a detailed list of plants to say which genera and species are most beneficial to that part of the world.

So the symbol has some kinks to work out, but it's my understanding that they will update their standards when the research comes out. Until then, some trees are better than no trees. And Shade Coffee is better than Sun Coffee.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Georgia Aster

Symphyotrichum georgianum, is easily one of the latest flowering perennials in the temperate US. Both a failing and a highlight of this species is that they start blooming right after the trees have dropped a lot of their leaves. Goldenrod and other Asters are all usually past the half way mark in their bloom by the time this species even starts to flower. So a lot of the plant be beneath a pile of leaves leaving mostly just the flowers poking up among the fall color.

This is also an endangered species in the wild but nurseries are easily able to propagate it by seeds and cuttings, as I intend to do with the few plants I have in my yard.

The flowers themselves are a bit on the scraggly side but the overall size as well as the individually long florets in each flower disk makes them quite attractive.

As far as ecological benefits go, you're probably not missing much by having this species in your garden. While they are restricted to a few populations in the state of Georgia, the species is hardy from zones 5 to 9. The plants in my yard are really just prolonging the the lives of a few male bumblebees another week or two.

Older specimens can be quite floriferous, turning more bush-like, similar to but not quite like Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. If you're going for a low bushy boarder of flowers though you should probably just plant S. oblongifolium, and really unless you have a nice population of New England Asters going, there isn't much reason to plant Georgia Aster. Everything that is going to over winter is pretty well fed already. But if you're still looking for something that flowers this late in the year then by all means give S. georgianum a try.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Red Spotted Purple Emerges

Well the Red Spotted Purple emerged, Limenitis arthemis. And it's bizarrely small, maybe 3 inches wide at most. I've heard of small generations of other Lepidoptera being born but it was always attributed to poor leaf quality, occasionally species having to eat leaves that had already fallen off of trees. I don't think that's what happened here. In the last two instars I was picking leaves fresh off the tree in groups of four to seven and the caterpillar consumed them all in one sitting. My only thought on this is either it's somehow beneficial to be smaller than typical during the winter months (when these dwarf versions tend to occur) and must be somehow triggered by either chemicals in the tree leaves it consumed and/or hours in the day. 

I did notice the White Snowdrift Crabapple retained its leaves, and still has them on the tree even now, where as the native American Plum, Beach Plum and Black Cherry have all already dropped their leaves. It also had ripening fruit on it, so maybe it's just a result of hosting on Apples instead of Plums at this time of year. (They can use both).

I'm going to try and keep this one in captivity. We're well past the time to let them go for the year, and outside the only thing blooming is Goldenrod and Georgia Asters. The species does not migrate south and they do not over winter as adults, so there's zero chance of it surviving beyond a week. My intent is to keep this one as a specimen. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Some Goldenrods

I got a picture of a honeybee having an awkward moment. Without explanation this bee clearly looks poisoned or diseased, but really though it was perfectly fine and I watched it working droves of flowers in my patch of Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima. It was a cool day though and in the shade I just so happen to get the perfect shot as she decided to roll off of the flower instead of make a perfect take off as she'd done hundreds of times before.

I actually moved the patch of Solidago altissima to a dryer part of my yard. It's actually much better behaved there, spreading slowly instead of each cane producing seven more the following year, and growing only 5' tall instead of 13'. I'll still need to thin it out but probably only once every five years instead of every other.

Seaside Goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens, is also flowering. And I realized what it is that I love about this species. It has petals! And you can clearly see them, whereas the common Goldenrod species all have small petals that are so scraggly they almost blend in with the anthers. Pictured above it's a day or two past its prime but you can still make out what I mean with the most recently opened blooms at the top. They remind me of Golden Ragwort, and in fact if you google this species you'll see a picture of Golden Ragwort actually comes up.

One thing I don't like about the plant is their habit of falling over. Each plant produces a series of stems that all grow too long and flop over under the weight of their own flower buds. You can see the one above arching over a branch to one of my Beach Plums. 

Seaside Goldenrod is a new species to my yard. I have a few of them planted in the sand patch I made, along with the Beach Plum. Hopefully they survive the winter. Where I live in New Jersey I'm closer to Pennsylvania than the Jersey Shore or Pine Barrens, so I'm well inland on a plot that's almost entirely clay. This species grows happily in 100% sand at the beach and does not occur naturally anywhere away from the coast or adjacent bays. Beach Plum also occurs here and did survive in my yard from last winter so hopefully these plants will too. I have one planted in the meadow garden where the soil is almost entirely clay. Actually it's neat digging in the meadow now because I see the 7 or so years of decomposing organic matter there is slowly turning the soil more loose and loamy.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I Goofed, Red Spotted Purple Update

So I noticed the caterpillar seemed to make an abrupt jump in its development. I made an assumption that as long as the apple tree I found it on had leaves, then this caterpillar would happily eat them. What I forgot though was the average temperature and amount of day light were also factors.

Posing the question of when I should put this one in the fridge to over winter, I learned I should have done that a week ago when it was in the third instar. Apparently that is the instar that they go into hibernation. Unlike species who spend winter in the chrysalis stage, the number of hours in the day when the sun is shining as well as the temperature determine whether or not they should hibernate or move on to further instars and adulthood.

Tragically my caterpillar is well into its 5th instar and I'm told nothing will stop it now from developing into a chrysalis and emerge into an adult 7 to 10 days later. This species does not migrate and by then it will be late October or early November, when it is too cold to release, and the host tree (a White Snowdrift Crabapple) will likely have lost all its leaves. I suppose I will have to let it happen and keep the butterfly captive until it expires. I'll try and keep it alive by offering it pieces of rotting fruit, and eventually pin it I guess.

Speaking to its host plant for a moment. The little crabapples have turned orange and the birds are already eagerly pecking away at them. Lots of the leaves are now covered in damaged fruits as well a surprising amount of bird droppings. I wonder if actually having real bird crap around makes the disguise this caterpillar produces more or less convincing.

There are likely two or tree more Red Spotted Purple caterpillars on the tree, but as they're likely just in their third instar, I'll have to wait until the leaves fall off of the tree to look for them. My understanding is the "shed" they make by rolling a leaf around them with silk does not fall off of the host plant. If I find a few, I'll be sure to collect and store in my fridge until the tree leafs out and flowers the next year.