Sunday, March 15, 2015

2015 Waking Up

Alright that was a nice winter break. It's time to get back in the habit of updating my blog on a regular basis. 

We've just had our last couple of snowfalls for the year. Things are melting fast here in New Jersey. Friends in Florida are already sending me reports of Winter Ants, Prenolepis imparis, flying  and I'm sure they'll be doing that here in the next few weeks. My bee hive seems to have survived and are actively taking advantage of the early pollen sources nature provides. Willows, Swamp Cabbage, and patches of Crocuses are already in bloom here. Other plants have yet to wake up though and I'm looking forward to a bustling year of biodiversity in my garden.  

Northern Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, is going to put on a nice display of blooms for me this year. I planted two saplings which were 4 inch plugs a few years back. They did flower last year but it was nothing worth mentioning really. This year though I seen flowers all over the stems, and between the two plants I may have lucked out and gotten a male and female. The buds look different but I won't know for sure until they open.

Virginia Waterleaf, Hydrophyllum virginianum, was another surprise. Firstly because of all the wildflowers I grow, this was the only one that had leaves roughly 8 inches long already. They're not green but that's an amazing amount of growth to push out this early. They still have the bleached water marks on them too which give the plant its name, water leaf, as if drops of water had gathered on the leaf. Someone had told me once this plant can be hard to grow but of the few plants I started with I can say they're reproducing at a nice rate. They're supposed to spread by rhizomes but I'm finding seedlings popping up all over the place, even in pots adjacent to the flowerbed they grew.

Also alive and well is Golden Ragwort which already has rosettes of green leaves. I've planted a second patch of these out in the meadow garden but I've yet to mow down last year's growth. Clearly I need to get on that.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bees on Georgia Aster

Georgia Aster, Symphyotrichum georgianum, is one of the last asters to bloom. Flowers open right when the leaves start to fall around October into November. Presumably the purple flowers are better contrasted with yellow leaves that accumulate in the foliage. Despite the common name of, Georgia Aster, this species is fairly cold hardy and can grow well into zone 5. Where it occurs in the wild it's locally threatened and uncommon, but several nurseries have started carrying the species and it can be bought by mail order.

For the most part this plant spreads by forming a clump, similar to Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, with new stems coming more and more each year in an outward pattern. Plants can be divided every few years or can be started by seed. Cuttings are probably easy to root too so the fact that this uncommon species is sold in nurseries is more forgivable. It's unlikely that plants are being stolen from the wild.

This past year I planted two plugs of this plant and at least one grew well enough to flower. The other I've lost track of among other plants but I assume it's doing fair. I intend to buy more of these this year, hopefully from a different nursery to ensure genetic diversity. I noticed my New England Asters didn't start reproducing by seed until I planted more than one. It's likely members of this genus benefit from cross-pollination to spread by seeds. A tip I learned while touring New Moon Nursery is you might as well try getting a stem or two to root right while they're young. Plugs often have too much green growth to roots as it is; they'll likely flower at the wrong time of year anyhow and it's beneficial for small plants if these buds are removed. Smaller cuttings survive better than bigger ones because it's the roots that hydrate all the growth above.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Third Annual New Jersey Ant Together (Video)

The video supplement to out anting trip back in July. Coming Soon: Ants of the Southwest!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rover Ant Nuptial Flight

Brachymyrmex (Rover Ants) is a genus of mostly tramp species that have spread across the globe by human commerce. Colonies are more than happy to move into potted plants and are then transported around, usually a short distance but sometimes all over the place. It's not uncommon to bring a few colonies indoors in the winter time on accident either and species can be found in greenhouses throughout the world.

Despite a lot of nonnatives species in the genus spread around the world, they're not invasive. Colonies remain small and don't seem to displace other ant species.

Flights happen in late afternoon along side Lasius claviger, but seem to favor muggy days with an over cast to them and a slight chill in the air. Around 70 degrees is ideal of course but this species seems to be cold hardy, like Prenolepis imparis. They tend to favor nesting spots in damp, sandy soil, and go unnoticed on account of their size. Any mound formed around the entrance is usually insignificant, and on par with what a Monomorium would make, lots of extremely tiny dirt partials, unlike what a Lasius or Dorymyrmex species would produce.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Scoliid Wasps on Goldenrod

While touring New Moon Nursery I couldn't help but notice the alarming amount of Scoliid Wasps on their Goldenrod. I believe this is the cultivar 'Fireworks' but these are only plugs so they're not really representative of the adult plants. But even in flats, you can see a lot of these plants still try to flower.

Scoliid Wasps are parasites of beetle larva, including the nonnative Japanese Beetle. The adult form though is a pollinator that's fond of generalist composites and mint. Goldenrod, Aster, Mints and a few others are all good at attracting them to your yard. And because the larval stage consumes beetle larva they're beneficial to lawn health too.