Friday, October 9, 2020

Ant Chat with Alex Wild



Back in 2016 when I attended Bugshot, Texas where I met Alex Wild for the first time. He gave a basic class on ants without talking down to the audience or over generalizing things the way lots of documentaries do. I recorded it with his permission and hopefully it's still okay for me to publish it four years later. If not I'm more than happy to take it down. For now though, enjoy!  

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Jewelweed Setting Seed

Impatiens capensis, Jewelweed or Spotted Touch-me-not has exploding seed pods that cast the next generation far and wide. Though an annual, they can aggressively take over damp sites usually along forest edges. It can be weeded out or thinned easily, however; seeds will sometimes take up to three years to germinate, leading to small patches of plants returning. While flowering though it is treasured by bees and hummingbirds. 
 
 
The nectar is kept all the way in the back of the flower, right in the back of the tube there so that only long tongued bees and hummingbirds have access to it. This one however has been chewed open by a carpenter bee. 
 
 
 
Jewelweed is a prolific flowering plant though and seems to bloom well after the life cycle of most carpenter bees, thus pollination still occurs.   


Seedpods, when ready, explode on a hair pin trigger. Just the slightest disturbance to the tip and they pop open, flinging seeds several feet away. 
 
 
They produce air roots too which pull nutrients from the air. 
 
 
 One plant in the patch I have suffered something that caused it to become variegated above a certain point.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

White House Rose Garden

This is such a non-issue, I'm sorry to even be writing about it. I'm only doing so because I feel like no one reporting on it is a gardener.

I've been seeing articles saying things like "Melania Trump RIPS OUT historic trees," and now the White House Rose Garden looks like a graveyard symbolizing how her husband had killed America. 

I don't mean for this to be a political post so I'm focusing on what was done to the garden aspect here. 

First off I will say, given her choice of shoes, Melania probably doesn't garden regularly. (Added: There are images of her wearing sneakers while gardening but she does not look natural in them. So I'm still thinking she doesn't do a whole lot of gardening.) I question how much of the changes can really be attributed to her and not the White House Landscapers and members of the Historical Society who would be taking care of anything worth protecting. 

The main cause of the controversy is how 10 Crab Apple trees were moved. These trees were originally planted by Jackie Kennedy so there is some historic value to be had. But lots of news outlets are saying they were "Ripped Out" or "Cut Down," and sometimes both; ripped out first and cut down later just to spite them. They have, in fact, been taken to an off site location and will be replanted elsewhere on the White House grounds. 

Lots of people are reporting with pictures of the trees in Spring, when they're flowering and looking pretty. There are also lots of colorful varieties of tulips adding to their glamour. So it's not fair to compare that to how the garden looks in Summer.  

Crab Apples, when not in flower don't always look pretty, especially when they're 50 years old and have been pruned to hell over the years. Part of the reason they were removed was to allow additional space for cameras to be for member of the press to do their job. Holding press meetings outside, where there's better air flow, and sunshine, reduces the risk of Covid transferring from person to person.

Along with the red/pink, white, and blue, flowers the only addition was a much needed side walk to make the gardens more handicap accessible and enjoyable from both sides. The Trump administration is far from being environmentally friendly but the reduction in the lawn is at least beneficial, as is the addition of Anise Hyssop, a native plant acting as the blue in the gardens here. (Though it could be one of the Asian hybrid cultivars.) In a C-SPAN video of the gardens some of the White Roses actually look like they're more of a light cream or faint yellow color. 

People are now saying the garden looks like a cemetery... Personally I blame that mausoleum-like white house in the background. That's just my opinion.


Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Ant Chat: Stealing Nectar from Milkweed


I realized I haven't posted in a while and I have some new editing software that I wanted to test out, so I made a video.

Asclepias sullivantii or Prairie Milkweed or Sullivan's Milkweed as it's known. This species is so timid compared to Common Milkweed, A. syriaca.

Common Milkweed form a lead tap root that every few inches sends out diagonally upward pointing roots that upon reaching the surface produces a new stem away from the main stem. This process repeats though for every new stem produced and the starting stem keeps on making them every few inches. So you can have a 6' deep root with dozens of these upward stems going back to the surface in all directions. And, especially in full sun settings, this can create a patch of Common Milkweed that's really not appropriate for most garden settings.

Sullivan's Milkweed doesn't do that. So you get a plant that looks fairly similar but isn't anywhere near as aggressive in a garden setting. My one complaint with it might be that it's too slow growing. Last year I only got one flower, one single flower, on the whole plant all because Monarchs had laid eggs on it and it the caterpillars ate them.

Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, aka Fragrant Milkweed. Really most Milkweeds are fragrant but only at certain times of the day. This one though, right when the afternoon shade hits it, it smells like warm cupcakes right out of the oven, covered in honey. It's great. It's commonly sold at nurseries and has a number of cultivars. Sadly it's a short lived perennial lasting about 5 years, but it's pretty easy to grow from seed outdoors.

Asclepias purpurascens, Purple Milkweed. This species is not for everyone but by all means if you know a grower and have other species to fall back on give it a try. Basically this species likes some drainage in the soil, hates having its roots exposed, and might just randomly die if it's put in the wrong place. They're a little finicky. I've planted this all over my yard and most of them don't last long, but a few hold outs tell me the plant likely doesn't have a tap root. I don't think they're as drought tolerant as other milkweeds either. But the flowers are some of the prettiest in the genus. 

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Weed. This is the most garden friendly of the bunch. It's one of the first native plants to really show the industry what native plants can do. There was a drought in the midwest and people noticed their gardens looked pretty dead but then looked out in the fields and roadside ditches and saw this plant still green and covered in bright orange flowers. While it's true this and many native plants are drought tolerant they also benefit from some watering in a garden setting. 

Also featured in this episode was Rudbekia hirta, the Black-eyed Susan. It's not flowering yet but I see them covered in aphids right near the flowers. This has never hurt their population and in fact they seem to be doing better than a hybrid I bought that didn't get any aphids. That's not to say aphids are beneficial, though having ants crawling all over the plant might have stopped some of the damage insect herbivores were causing, but more likely the hybrid cultivar was just selected for it's beauty and not its resistance to any of its natural pests.