Monday, December 22, 2008

Have You Seen Me?

Ladies and Gentlemen this is the Honey Bee, Apis mellifera. I find it very annoying how I can go to a website such as and find people who have posted pictures in their ID request section of the Honey Bee. Going back to their home page a second (assuming they haven't edited their page as of this posting,) there is a full color picture of Honey Bees!

Now it is understandable that some people out there just aren't sure of their ability to identify insects. And for those people it's perfectly fine to seek a second opinion. Still though, I find it hard to believe people don't know what they are. Is there honestly anyone in America who hasn't seen the Honey Bee?

Now something that might be confusing is all this killer bee nonsense. Africanized Killer Bees are the exact same species, the difference is their variety grew up in Africa and only the strongest hives survived. Before modern day beekeeping practices were perfected the only way to get honey from the hive was to destroy it or leave it incredibly vulnerable to attack. So the strongest hives in this case were the ones that drop everything and launch a full attack on whatever was looking at the hive funny. Compare this to some European varieties where stinging just isn't done. I'm a member of a beekeeping club and it's astounding. We'll have a meeting every few months and almost always we'll open a bee hive up. We smoke the thing properly, open the hive and start passing around the frames which make up the hive. Not only is no one wearing a bee suit but no one has been stung at any of our meetings for the past year. (Why aren't my hives like this!?)

Yet another possibility is that some other bees look similar to honey bees. But even in this picture I would think the difference is obvious. The other bee here has way more hair all over it's body.

So that leaves me with one other possibility. Maybe it's just that people rely on color to much. Apis mellifera has maybe 3 or 4 main color patterns. And all can be present or mixed within the same hive. Because the queen bee mates with multiple males it's common to see more than one color pattern represented. Here you can see a few individuals in a hive that have more pronounced darker stripes, while next to them are ones who barely have any visible. And around them are something in between this. It's actually possible to find honey bees with full black abdomens and others who have full orange/brown.

I see people starting to turn over a new leaf with all this Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) going around. They're listening to the ads out there and planting plants for the environment. It's great to see people helping out but I'm left to only conclude that no one cared enough before to really learn why bees are important... let alone what they looked like.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shopping Frustration

So last night I decided to shop for the plants I want to order in the spring and see how much it would cost. Here is the list as it stands.

Lupinus perennium for flowers and butterflies.
Prunus serotina (cherry tree) for flowers, butterflies, fruit, and birds.
Lindera benzoin (spicebush) for flowers and butterflies.
Fennal and parsley for butterflies and herbs.
Birds foot violet for butterflies and flowers.
Salix humilis (willow) for butterflies, flowers, and nesting for birds.
Dutchman's pipe (vine) passable a carnivorous plant, but for butterflies.
Native Honeysuckle (vine) for butterflies, flowers, and hummingbirds.
New Jersey Tea (eastern lilac) for butterflies and flowers.

So it's a hefty list and I'd love to plant them all. But I went shopping online last night for them all and couldn't find one place that sold them all. If I ever come through with the native plant club I'm going to start my own garden nursery to make sure there is a source for all these.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Helping a Friend

While working a few weeks ago I found my manager's project for her college level Biology class. It was a bunch of leaves glued to sheets of paper. I recognized a few of them and said their names aloud. My manager suddenly turned to me, "You know what they are!?"

Apparently the project was to identify 50 plants native to New Jersey. This made up something like 25% to 30% of their final grade. Initially the teacher had taken the class out into the woods and pointed out the necessary leaves and small plants they'd need that would be the standard 50 plants to identify. As a rule they could add as many plants as they like and if correctly identified as native to NJ they'd be added to the 50 plants needed to achieve a 100 for the project. The trouble is NOTHING in their education upbringings had prepared them for this project. I don't even think anything in the Biology class itself was geared towards helping with this project. The only resource they had was the teacher himself who would at least tell them if they were correct or not.

To my manager's benefit she'd already ID'd maybe half of the plants but was having trouble with all the others. There I couldn't help her because most of them were trees and I'm not good with those just yet. I know a Birch tree has white bark but couldn't tell you what the leaves looked like. But thankfully she's able to add any number of native plants to her assignment and I happen to have a garden filled with native plants. So I basically showed up to work one day with a trash bag of yard waste. Granted they were all properly labled.

Now you might be wondering why doesn't everyone just go to the garden center and take clippings from all the plants there? Well that would only work if they'd gone to a native plant nursury. Most garden centers get their plants fromt he ornimental indusry which has been importing plants from eveyrwhere but our native forests since America was founded. Almost all of the plants in my garden I had to buy thorugh special order.

Back to my manager's project I was able to obtain for her 22 properly labled and identified species native to NJ. And I could have gotten her more if she'd told me this earlier in the year. Three weeks ago everything in the garden wasn't in the best shape, right now it's all down to a dormant state. I still have to do some yard work too.

So the end result, sofar, is she got an 86 and we're both thrilled about that. Most of the plants I handed in were corretly ID'd but a few I had to just lable as the genus. (e.g. Hyssop sp.). I don't know if he accepted all of these but it makes me feel good for some reason. It's not fair for a teacher to say 1/4 to 1/3 of your grade will be determined with something you've no experence with. At the same time it's not fair that stundents should be so unprepared, the use of species and genus names should have been included in classes all throughout their edgucation. It's as if some sort of propaganda campain of ignorance were trying to erease them form history. Imagen if no one was taught about World War II.

So maybe I shouldn't have helped my manager out but of course I had to ask how well did the rest of the class do. Well it turns out the majority of the class didn't do it. They got a zero! A small minority got 40's and one girl got a perfect 100. That one girl is the hope for all humanity in my mind. Now everyone has the option of rehand in their project to get a few more right. I have every faith in my manager getting a 100 herself. I imagen a great deal of the class will be betting that one girl who got a perfect score for help.

Why so many Fails though? Why did so many of her class mates, (in a BIOLOGY CLASS!) not bother to prove they know what a Genus and a Species are? I recall when I was in Biology class we at least learned what a species was. We learned how they're classafied too. What we never really learned though was taxonomy, we never really had any examples of keying out a species. I believe if more classes had emphases on doing this task students would have a better knowlage of this sort of thing. It would be great if every chapter either started or ended with a key to identifying somesort of organism. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

Environmental Sustainable Native Something

It feels like I haven't posted anything for a little bit, and for good reason. Before Thanksgiving I had a small electrical fire. No damage done, basically the extension cord powering my computer started bellowing out smoke, so I've had to move my operation down to the living room where I'm comfortably typing now.

I'm still going ahead with my plans to start a Native Plant Club and still toying with ideas for names. So far Native Yard of New Jersey or Environmental Gardens sound like the best one. There is a Native Plant club already in the state but they're widely based up north. Also sadly ALL of the links on their site that offer information on endangered or extinct species (and even completely lists of native plants) are broken! Go see for yourself.

It's not that I don't have faith in them at all. I don't know them, I'm not in contact with them. I just hope they're one of those organizations with big dreams but don't have the money to pay for and update a proper website. This actually happens a lot and a website with a good design can be very expensive. A simple 5 button (meaning 6 pages) can cost $1500 with the cost for yearly hosting and domain name renewal negotiable. You may be thinking well I'll just create my own website and I say "Good Fucking Luck!" Of course the 15 year old living next door might have a better offer but think about how responsible and experienced they'll be.

So my other choice for a name was Environmental Gardening and I was shocked to find one website actually had this as a catagory for a form of gardening. Actually a few website do this but it's strange that they also include "Native Plant Gardens" and "Sustainable Gardening" as separate categories. These should all be the same thing. Sustainable and Environmental gardens should be almost nothing but Native Plants! A few exceptions would be plants that are used in place of natives that also aren't invasive.

Here is an example: America only has 3 or 4 native species/varieties of Apple tree (Malus) but the 300 to 400 or so other species/varieties are all alien species brought with us from Europe or specifically bread here in the US. The native apples still exist in the wild but aren't regularly farmed... I believe because they don't taste as apple-like. But here's the thing. The thing is all apples (as far as I know) are still usable by our native moths and butterflies as host plants. My non-native Snowdrift Crabapple tree can still be used as a host plant. Also it's tiny crabapple (berries?) can be eaten by birds. It's also a nice looking landscape plant because the small red berries stay on the plant. A number of shrubs do this too where the fruit stays on the foliage well into the winter. They remain there becuase the berries don't taste good but birds will eventually eat them as all the better tasting berries get eaten first.

You could argue they aren't native and displacing the native apples but at least these aren't bad for the environment. This turns into a simple matter of protecting a 3 to 4 species instead of removing a keystone that causes irreperable damage to the echosystem.