Saturday, December 12, 2015

Ants of the Southwest Now Accepting Applications

Ants of the Southwest is now accepting applications for their 10 day course over the summer of 2016!

I attended this course in 2013 and had a blast. It's all the fun parts of the anting hobby in the most biologically diverse part of the US! Pheidole rhea (Big-headed ants with super majors), Trachymyrmex (leaf cutter ants), Neivamyrmex (army ants), Crematogaster smithi, Acropyga, Odontomachus (Trap-jaw ants), Myrmecocystus (Honey-pot ants), and Cerapachys to name a few of the awesome ants I got to see that year.

The Southwestern Research Station does "Science Tourism" very well. I wish more places existed like it in the world. First off you're in the middle of nowhere but also you're not roughing it that bad. The only two issues I really had with the place are as follows. One, it's a little hard to find. This wouldn't usually be an issue but it's in a place where the "roads" are just graded dirt and rain can wash boulders onto the path pretty easily and it's never comfortable fording a small river in a rental car (and not recommended!). Also a wrong turn can put you a half hour in the wrong direction, even though your GPS says it's a five minute drive... the "roads" around the place are that bad. Drive there during the day time! And Two, you need to bring your own supply of drinking water. They sell it at a shop in the station but it's only open 4 days of the week. There's another shop at a road stop down the road from the station but it's not always well stocked with so many folks using it as a resource.

Beyond that, you'll likely be staying in a very reasonably sized dorm. You have access to full showers. The meals are great and a salad and dessert is almost always available if you don't like what they're serving. The place has an in ground pool on site. The view from your room and looking around in general is often fantastic to behold. Because they're part way up in the mountain the average temp is only in the high 70's (at least from when I was there.) For being in the middle of nowhere you could do a lot worse! 

When I went two years ago I was shocked at how few students there were. I think in total there were 11 of us, 3 of whom were instructors. I gathered that there would have been more instructors had there been more students. But as it was, there were only 8 and 3 of those were hobbyists. Take a moment to compare that to Ant Course which has a four year waiting list to get in and focuses more on the lab work side if studying and identifying ants. Ants of the Southwest is all the fun parts of the hobby; field work, specimen gathering, pinning ants, collecting data, I don't understand why Ants of the Southwest is the less popular of the two. If anything I found it a lot easier to get accepted into as a hobbyist.

$1300 for tuition
Coming from NJ it cost me about $500 for a plane ticket (return trip included.)
$150 for course supplies (not all of which are needed.)
and maybe $200 to rent a car. (your price will vary)

In total that's about $2,150 which sounds like a lot. But it's really easy to budget that. Get a credit card that has 0% APR for the first year or so. Even if it's one of the ones that charges you 25% interest you don't get charged that until the term is up. So every week you can just put $100 or so towards paying it off and you're good. At that rate it will take you 5 to 6 months and you can then apply for a better card that has a better interest rate.

Another great reason to go is you never know what you'll find. At the time that I took this photograph I thought it was just a butterfly with black spots on the wings. As it turns out they're actually midges, which are small parasitic flies that feed on the blood or haemolymph of animals or insects. They're considered one of the "no-sees" of the insect world. Meaning they're absurdly abundant but really you don't ever notice them unless they're already attached to something else. There are thousands of different species, many of which look identical, but mostly specialize on one or two groups of hosts. In this particular case, I believe I'm the first person to ever photograph them feeding on a butterflies wings, and not just one or two but at least 8 all at once following the vanes in the wings!   

So there are plenty of reasons to go to this course, and I say if the grad students aren't going to fill those places, then let the hobbyists fill it up! 

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.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Native Plant Reserach

There are a couple of studies being done in the native plant world that have peaked my interest.

Native Cultivars vs. Native True Species
Kim Eierman interviews Doug Tallamy in his project to see if Native Cultivars hold up to their True Species counterparts. Basically they plant a cultivar in the middle of a ring of the true species specimens. This way it would unlikely for the insects to miss their host unless they were actively avoiding the cultivar.

Overall I don't think this will show any surprising results. Cultivars are often just clones of a particular species with the desirable traits. There may be one or two cases where one or two insects have lost a taste for a particular cultivar but I doubt there will be anything shocking to report from this.

Mt. Cuba Center tests out Reforestation Methods

Delaware Online is reporting the Mt. Cuba Center is starting a 20 year long study to compare different reforestation methods.
Mt. Cuba Center staff designed each test plot with a different reforestation technique, including two plots which serve as controls for the experiment: one left to natural forces to reforest itself, called natural succession, and one planted with a commonly used technique, orchard-style planting where trees are placed 10 feet away from each other and the grass between them is mown regularly.

Other plots have different combinations of planting densities and planting types: an orchard-style planting with no mowing between trees; densely planted canopy trees; orchard-style canopy trees and understory trees; and densely planted canopy trees and understory trees.
It's an interesting question for sure, and I really hope their study goes without any acts of god. The article doesn't mention them using any evergreens or species that jump out at me as being fire resistant for example. Also wind storms and hurricanes seem to be becoming more common for the area, so here's hoping nothing like that happens. For a study that's going to take 20 years to complete it would be an awful shame if a Deer screwed it up.

I wonder with the plots that are not being mowed, whether they're planting into lawn or something more wild such as a meadow, and whether or not it would be beneficial to also have a plot with a meadow seed mix thrown down before hand to see if the tall grasses and wildflowers does anything to help or hinder the trees and shrubs. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Red Spotted Purple Growing Up

The Red Spotted Purple, Limenitis arthemis, that I have in captivity has grown a bit since I last bothered to look at its container. It's been nibbling the same leaf in there for quite a few days now. I add a free leaf off the crab-apple tree its egg was laid upon ever few days. I also put a wadded up tissue that's soaking wet with water in the container so it doesn't dry out, though I'm not sure how necessary this is. I know ants are in danger of drying out so perhaps caterpillars have the same risk?

We're now in what I believe to be the third instar. It's no longer making a stick out of frass to hide on, which the younger instars do to escape ants. Instead more natural defenses are starting to develop. I suspect from here on, birds would be the primary predator over ants. Their coloration is starting to mimic that of bird droppings. So they've gone from hanging out on a poop stick, to looking like one! 

And of course it's now sporting a lovely set of jagged horns. My understanding is the horns are hollow and intended to break apart in the bird's throat to, ideally, puncture a hole in the crop or wind pipe killing the bird dead. This probably doesn't happen when they're this small, but I can easily see some damage being done when they're bigger. Birds don't have teeth to chew them up first.

Remember adult birds rarely eat insects as their own food sources. Seeds and berries are the fuel of most adults while protein rich insects are important for baby birds. Would you feed something covered in thorns and looked like poop to your children? (Granted they're eating it half digested as you vomit it from into their mouth, but still someone has to do the initial eating!) 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Strumigenys Nuptial Flight in Day Light

Strumigenys is a diverse genus in North America with almost 50 species. Despite this diversity though, the genus is almost exclusively encountered by Myrmecologiests and those in other scientific fields that involve sifting through leaf litter and dead wood. 

They're so small that they're hardly noticeable, and they look so strange compared to other ants that most people would likely be confused that they were even looking at an ant.

For better close ups, here's a link to Ant Web's specimens, and Alex Wild's album of the genus. Notice the odd petal-like structures that cover the body. These are modified hairs which I believe are used help cloak the ants as they hunt. Some species in the genus have long mandibles similar to a Trap Jaw ant's. These are used to allow oils (and fungi?) which make the ant less noticeable while hunting.

They're primarily predators of springtails which are small, mite or termite-looking insects often found in decaying wood. Truthfully though these ants are more than happy to kill any sort of soft bodied invertebrate.

These ants require "cool" conditions in order to survive. In the wild they always nest inside the damp and decaying media within the hollow of a tree, or in a soggy log that's often well shaded and rotting. Other species are at home nesting in soil and leaf litter, but good luck finding those. Colonies do not make mounds of any kind, entrance holes are often cryptic at best, and populations tend to range around 200 individuals that could happily fit on a US. Quarter. 

Curiously I discovered these ants hold nuptial flights in the day time but under specific conditions. Here in New Jersey it's the calm before the storm as Hurricane Joaquin moves up the coast. The sky has been solid grey clouds for as far as the eye can see for a few days now, and raining has been off and on. It's been cool out too, around 55F but on the day that it was still 77F I happen to find a few alates to this genus landing on my car.

Ants being attracted to bodies of water, parking lots full of cars, and other reflective surfaces isn't anything new, but the fact that this genus flies in the day time is! Everything about their nesting habits has been cold and shaded, and it's entirely possible to accidentally kill them if they get too much sun. So I find it odd that they wouldn't hold nuptial flights at night.

Regrettable I couldn't locate a colony sending alates into the air. Their colonies are just too hard to find. But I was successful in catching a queen and male. I've no idea if she managed to mate or not (leaning towards no) and it's rare for ants to mate in captivity, especially after being collected. All the same, I'll give her a shot and see if she's able to produce any workers. If not then I'll have to store her in alcohol and eventually pin her for my collection.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Other Caterpillar Activity

 Also happening with Caterpillars this autumn, I'm attempting to raise a Red Spotted Purple or two. I eyed a female out in the yard laying eggs, curiously on two nonnatives, which the caterpillars seem to be eating. A Snowdrift Crab Apple but they're in the genus Malus so I'm doubt native or not really matters in that case. The other was a Japanese Weeping Cherry, but that's also a Prunus so maybe that doesn't matter as much? Still though I don't see Tiger Swallowtails or Silk Moths laying on the tree so I'm sure the native Black Cherry is the superior host plant. In the short amount of time I've had the sapling Black Cherry I can say I've already found way more caterpillars on it than the ornamental Weeping Cherry.

 In the wild Red Spotted Purples always lay eggs towards the tip or ends of leaves. Ideally it's the tip but I've seen some of the more spiky edged host plants confuse them when laying and eggs are off center to the side.

Upon hatching, what seems like 7 days later, the caterpillar begins constructing a "stick" or poll out of its own frass and silk which it hangs out on so ants don't eat them.

Funny enough EcoBeneficial interviewed Doug Tallamy about this topic. I have the same Lepidoptera species laying eggs on my Black Cherry sapling, but because I have a happy colony of Camponotus subbarbatus living in a log to that flower bed, my tree still has all its leaves! Every leaf on this plant has a nibble taken out which I would characterize as standard first instar caterpillar bites. But nothing beyond that! No branches stripped, no missing leaves, no half munched bites taken out of the leaves. Because I have this ant colony foraging on the tree, the caterpillars never make it beyond the first or second instar. Even the Red Spotted Purples don't seem to live long enough to make their first poo stick.

After making the poo stick, they're free to feed on the leaf little by little and always have something to run back to.

 A complication with keeping this species in captivity is that they over winter in the caterpillar stage. In the wild they spin silk around a leaf or two to build a "shed" that they nestle into until the tree leafs out again next spring. (Perhaps consuming the flowers in the case of apple trees?)

So a friend suggested to me to keep them in the fridge when all the leaves fall of the tree. Hopefully that will be enough get them to survive the winter and I can continue to photograph their life cycle next spring.

Also out in the garden I found an Arcigera Flower Moth, Schinia arcigera, which is a daytime flying moth that lays its eggs in the flowers to members of the Aster family. They nectar on open flowers but lay the eggs into the buds that have not opened.

It was a little hypnotic just watching this one hover about the asters. She took a liking to the Aster 'October Sky' which has become my favorite cultivar I think. I should really find another Aster cultivar that has a slightly different color to it so I can mix and match.

Also saw this one on the False Indigo Bush. I had to prune off the bulk of the foliage to this plant because it was top heavy and going to tip over. It's already sent up a new stem that's just as tall as the old growth was. A friend who operates the Shaw Nature Preserve in Missouri says he cuts them to the ground each year after flowering. In nature he tells me it's common for them to become top heavy and fall over, often snapping the stem/trunk completely. It seems evolutionary this species is stuck between being a soft wooded tree and a herbaceous perennial.

Some Monarchs

Despite the lack of Monarchs visiting my yard this year I did manage to raise one. Actually it was two but more on that later.

Where I am in New Jersey, we typically don't see Monarchs until August when they're already on their way south. I find them in meadows and natural lands but rarely see them in May or June when Monarch Watch lists sightings of them here. Really the Milkweed here doesn't even emerge from the soil until early May anyhow, but even then August is a more standard time to see them in the yard. I believe this is because they either follow the Delaware river up, or cross it and hug the coast of NJ. Then as they populate over the summer they move more inland finding different fields and gardens with milkweed to lay eggs and start up populations. 

Milkweed this year seemed to be sold out from all the local nurseries until mid July. I finally got my hands on a few plants around that time and sure enough the nursery was having issues with Monarchs laying eggs on their supply. They kept having to relocate the caterpillars onto a patch of common milkweed around the back. Naturally I was willing to help by buying the plants that had caterpillars on them already. I moved the cats to the more established plants I already had growing in my garden and one of them became large enough to house in a cage.

I usually let them feed outside until they're in their last instar. Then I move them into closed containers with milkweed leaves inside. I would have raised more but wildlife got the three or four others over night.

The first emerged earlier last week. They're easy to pose at that stage. They don't seem to feed at all until several hours have passed, usually after their first flight. To fly after emerging they require about an hour of sun bathing. I took the opportunity to place her on a few different plants for pictures.

These are all plants I know they enjoy nectarine on such as Goldenrod, Asters and Sunflowers. She didn't bother feeding from any of them.

There is a preference for Mexican Sunflowers but the Maximilian would have to do.

I would added to this a few pictures of the second Monarch I raised, but I ended up giving it to my sister-in-law. Her father is terminally ill and I remembered the time I first saw a Monarch emerge from its chrysalis, how it brought me to tears watching something so beautiful come to life and fly away. I wanted her to experience that kind of joy because I felt she needed it.

The chrysalis came from an Aster 'October Sky' I bought from a nursery in Delaware. I was at the register buying the plant when I said "Holy crap, this one comes with a Monarch!" eyeing the chrysalis hanging off a plant stem. The nursery grows milkweed but I didn't notice any Monarchs on them and the plants were well away from the milkweed table, so this was a welcome surprise.  

A few days ago this was the picture she sent me. It took off just moments later I'm told and she was grateful that she got to see it. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cape May Gold

Also flower in Cape May were the wonderful Maryland Golden Asters, Chrysopsis mariana. They grow in nutrient depleted, salt rich, sand, which not many other plants can tolerate. 

They grow all year long as a green, simple looking sort of weed, until finally they seem to push all their energy into the flowers which continue to bloom and seed well after the rest of the plant looks to be dead or dying. There's a patch of these at the Mt. Cuba Center, which is much larger now than what's pictured their website, still looks to be green and growing when in flower. I'm not sure if they did something special to the soil but they looked to be healthier when grown in rich meadow soil. Though I know for some plants they will add sand so it's better able to survive the winter. I don't believe this is where Maryland Golden Aster would naturally be found in nature. They would likely get out competed by other plants.

Also flowering were several different types of Goldenrod. Seaside Goldenrod is usually the showiest but the leaves on this one caught my eye this year. I'm at a loss to say what species this is, either Solidago tenuifolia or Solidago graminifolia, leaning toward the former. Growing in the bog where the soil is rich with sand and salt, however these conditions might make them look different than specamins growing in clay and without the added salinity. 

Naturally the Bees enjoy this plant.

A Visit to Cape May, NJ

I drove down to Cape May yesterday. This is only an hour and a half from where I live in New Jersey. On one side of the dunes is a sprawling bird sanctuary, ponds, and platforms and docks which bird watchers can use to photograph the various sorts of birds that migrate through.

It's something of a birding hot spot in the country. I passed more than one tour in progress with lecturers discussing the different sorts of swans and herrings they were looking at. There's an informative sign that talks about the more exotic birds on the list, which the birds had shat on, along with my car.

I'm sure I got a picture of something exciting here, but birds really aren't my thing.

Just on the other side of the dunes there is a sandy beach with droves of seaside goldenrod planted for the Monarch migration. That's the reason I went down there but the day proved too cold and windy for butterflies to fly.

The day wasn't a total bust, as I found a few ants to photograph. This is the common Lasius neoniger, or Labor Day Ant, who's nuptial flights typically happen around Labor Day and in the afternoon no less, sometimes ruining BBQ's and the sport of golf across the US. They're otherwise a rather plane and common sort of ant that make small mounds wherever the soil tends to have some amount of sand to it and in full sun locations.

Also found, and slightly more interesting, was the population of Dorymyrmex bureni. This is a species at home to the state of Florida and South Carolina, but in recent years, it's worked its way up the coast and can now be found in New Jersey!

I believe it was first noticed by someone back in 2011 according to Bug Guide. Curiously the Citizen Science website School of Ants doesn't have a dot there yet, though I may have to fix that. Now that it's 2015 I can say the population there seems to be thriving as I found dozens of nests which outnumbered the indigenous Lasius neoniger. In past years though I've never known the beach line of Cape May to be abundant with ant colonies so this probably isn't an issue to worry about. Simply climate change allowing a species to push its range north.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Also Flowering at the Mt. Cuba Center

With the majority of summer blooming flowers going to seed or fruit, there's now a new cast of flowering plants coming into bloom. And the Mt. Cuba Center is nothing if not inspiring to see what's flowering and when. I strain to think of species they don't have growing somewhere on their property; Campanula americana comes to mind but really few others. In fact I'd say going there has broadened my knowlage of plant species. At times it feels as though I'm walking through Donald Leopold's "Native Plants of the Northeast" which few other gardens can do.

I've been to Longwood Gardens several times and they should really change their name to Long Lawn Gardens. They have long pathways that go on quite a ways with flowers lining the side, but the trouble is it's the same 5 to 10 species or cultivars repeated over and over again, making it about as exciting as watching a copy machine pump out page after page. Their green house has an impressive collection of plants but are setup like museum dioramas without the fake cave men and stuffed animals. Their meadow is the only real highlight I'd say worth going to because of the wildlife factor which at times even out shines the Mt. Cuba Center.  

At the Mt. Cuba Center meadow there's still plenty of wildlife flying around but mostly in bug form.

The natural approach looks better, though I know lots of people won't like this. I just love the sweeping effect of color and the movement of the grass as the wind blows over the field. They do have sections where they specifically put in a plant so when they do tours they can show it front and center.

The late Mrs. Copeland strongly believed that a meadow should primarily be made up of grasses. I do see the beauty in that, but frankly I find such meadows to be boring. Grasses are almost exclusively wind pollinated so you don't get the bees and butterflies that you get when incorporating wildflowers.

At the top of the meadow is the wildflower bed, which you can't see from the bottom. Beyond that line of tall grasses is a hill that gradually slopes down to the ponds where there is a gazebo for sitting. The meadow looks wonderful from that spot, and they try to maintain the primarily grass feel of it down there.

Upon closer inspection though it becomes obvious that several wildflowers have crept down the hill. Black-eyed Susan primarily but also a small amount of Butterfly weed. Both of which I believe were intentional.

Pearl Crescents, common in some gardens, rare in others. These are one of the few butterflies I find drawn to Black-eyed Susans. They host on an assortment of Asters. I believe they're in the habit of laying a single egg here and there, thus it takes a lot of Asters scattered around a forest edge to get them to flourish.

The Mt. Cuba Center was where I first learned what a Leather Flower was. Turns out our native Clematis are rather pretty-looking. They're almost like a fat honeysuckle, and they're good about growing through other plants. Unlike a lot of vines, I believe they die back to the ground each year.

Jewelweed grows like a weed all along the roadsides of that part of Delaware. They include a few plants in their gardens, but I'm sure they also must weed a fair amount of it out.

They make Southern Blue Monkshood look so easy to grow. Aconitum uncinatum, is another vine that dies back to the ground. They have it growing in patches and individual specimens, each time though the foliage is usually hidden with whatever plant they're growing up, through, or laying on. It's only after the plant flowers that anyone really bothers to notice it.

The plant I have in my garden is maybe a single stem with a single cluster of flowers at the end of it. Here though, they have plants that send up dozens of stems that spread out and climb up other plants to bloom all over the place.

This is also one of those deadly plants native Americans used to poison their arrows with so maybe it's good that it's not growing in big patches in my yard.

Yellow Passionflower, Passiflora lutea. This plant has the most charming little leaves I've ever seen on a plant, and the flowers are so tiny compared to other passion vines. This could be replacement for English Ivy in some scenarios.

I had a Yellow Passion plant in my garden that would come up as a single stem, make a few flowers and die off. The Mt. Cuba Center though has one that's taken over the corner fence of their Trial Garden and is loaded with blooms and berries.