Thursday, April 9, 2020

Winter Ant Quen on Trillium

 One of my favorite ant species to photograph are Prenolepis imparis, the Winter Ant. Their queens are beautifully colored, they fly early in the year along side a lot of our earliest native wildflower and sometimes the two "blooms" line up. That's not the case here, but I'm glad to say I didn't have to stage this photo; I walked out in my garden one day and saw it happening.

This is a patch of Trilliums in the garden that mostly divided this year. It's fairly shady and just under our deck. And it was fairly cold in that spot as opposed to locations in the sun.

 One of the main factors I look for when going out to spot P. imparis queens is a day with temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. That is the bare minimum temperature queens of this species need in order to leave the nest. One degree lower and they won't take off, though you may see one or two who have been warmed by the sun taking flight.

 I'm at a point in my obsessive plant habit where I have Trilliums now dividing into large clumps and spreading a lot by seed. Lots of other plants too are filling in in places around the garden so chances like this are becoming more common without me having to stage them.

And because it's in my yard I don't have to venture far to find it... though this image isn't a good example of that. She's just moved onto a stick that pushed up one of the Trillium leaves.

While it's great that this happened by chance, it wasn't the best location to have happened. The low lighting meant I should have been using a different camera with a flash on it. I took about 70 photos and only the 7 here were really worth showing. They're nice photos but not the best I've taken of the species.

Here's a shot from last year for example, in a different location with better natural lighting and with the same camera.

The queen was sort of cooperating because it was too cold for her to take off. The whole time I'm taking images though I was thinking, 'Man wouldn't this be better if she was on a flower that was open.'

I did soon after took her to a Trillium sessile that was blooming (and smelled amazing!) but the added sunlight was enough to warm her and she took off shortly after this photo was taken.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Some Early Bloomers

 Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, came up in the front garden again. I'm particularly proud of this patch because they're entirely grown from seeds I bought online. I believe it was Prairie Moon Nursery. They took two years to germinate. I dam near weeded out the very tiny first year leaves which are about the size of a quarter and barely an inch off the ground. The following year though they started making full sized plants and even had flowers!

The late winter days when they flower are often met with seasonal winds that topple other flowers that might be blooming. We have crocuses in our lawn for example and the wins flattened the flowering stems to several patches thus the flowers were destroyed. With Bloodroot though the first leaf forms gripping hold of the flower stem for added support, making wind damage less likely to happen. Eventually the flower fades and a seed pod forms which becomes heavy and falls out of the way for the leaf to take center stage. The seed pod lays on the ground or pretty close to it by the time the seeds are mature. Elaiosome on the seeds entices ants to carry them off and start new colonies of bloodroot elsewhere.

 Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, is another late winter/early spring bloomer. However it seems to embrace the fact that it's flowering at a horrible time of year. Blooms last anywhere from 8 hours to 4 good day and often the petals fall off simply by touching it.

By good days I mean it's warm enough for them to have opened. On bad days they have enough sense to close up so those days don't seem to count with their internal counter.

The name Twinleaf comes from their leaf formation which look like a set of elephant ears.

Later on the flowers turn into acorn-shaped structures that are supposed to spill open but more commonly break open and allow ants access before they get to that point. I often see ants going in and removing the elaiosome packets from the seeds without ever moving them.
 Trout Lily. It's been so long that I put these in the ground I forget if the yellow or the white one. Regardless, these mostly form colonies of plants that produce single leaves sticking up all over the place. I'm told individuals that have two leaves coming out of the same hole "might" flower which would be nice. After a decade of growing these it would be good to finally see one bloom.

 Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, is a beautiful little lawn weed. There is quite a bit of diversity with this "species" which is more than likely a complex waiting to be unraveled. Basically it's been noticed that the length, width, and vanes on the leaves vary in populations as well as the flower shape and color... you know all the basic things that define different species.

The population I have going all have narrow grass-like leaves, and white flowers with pink vanes that slowly darken up to magenta as time goes on. And this is fairly typical for this species. There is a form in NJ that has yellow flowers though.

 Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica. When I went to the Mt. Cuba Center the first time I heard one of the gardeners complaining about how weedy this plant was and what a pain it is to rip a clump of them out... A few years ago I bought a whole flat of these and put them all over the yard. Thus far they've spread a bit but not to the levels of Goldenrod or Monarda that I was expecting them to be. They don't seem to be reseeding either so hopefully that changes too.

This is another one with lots of mutations in the wild that aren't offered commercially. Some only have pink flowers, only white flowers, some hue purple or various shades of light blue; all of which have been photographed by random hikers on the internet but have yet to fall in the hands of a grower to propagate them for commercial sale. This is partly why I'm hoping my plants reseed and chance upon a prized mutation to disperse to friends or put in the hands of growers. 

 Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium raptans, is a different story. This is one I didn't see to much of at The Mt. Cuba Center so I thought it would be fairly innocent to grow. Well same story, I bought a flat of it and planted it all over the yard. I've found it's a bit more tolerant of dryer sites and does seem to be producing seedlings in these dryer sites. The established plants though are spreading out quite a bit from the tiny plugs they were just two years ago. They're doing wonderful things growing up into nooks of tree roots around the trunk but are quickly going to become a ground cover in a few years if left alone. I'll update and talk about this plant some more in coming weeks.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ant Chat: 2020 Winter Ant Flight

Prenolepis imparis, The Winter Ant, was flying here last week. This was the first main flight for the species in my area. This wasn't as nice a video as it could have been partly because I'm getting over Bronchitis and with the current COVID-19 pandemic going on it's not a good thing to be sick in general. Thankfully the ants were good enough to hold a flight in my yard so I didn't need to venture off to a park to find them.

In General, you're looking for a warm day. Queens don't fly unless it's 68F or above out and days when it just hits 68 really aren't good enough. You'll find colonies sending queens up but very few of them are taking off. Days well into the 70's are much much better because as soon as the wind blows or the queens fly off they're not immediately getting chilled.

The next thing to look for are trees, or large wooden structures. The days when this species flies tend to be windy and they need to forage on aphids and scale insects that feed on trees so plants are kind of important with this species. Swarms of males will gather around the trunks of large trees and tall shrubs which is easily seen when looking up towards the sun. Their wings glitter and reflect the sun's rays. I say "wooden structures" because friends in Philadelphia, PA. once reported finding a swarm along a tall wooden fence near one of the many parks they have there in the city. So even in an urban setting you can find this ant.  

Once a swarm has been located you want to hang out a few minutes. Males greatly out number the queens of this species a good 200 to 1 or so. Often there will be several trees near one another so spend a few moment casually walking around the trunk to each and repeat. If there's leaf litter by the trees you may want to kick it away as the queens tend to blend in with it almost perfectly. 

Lastly this is somewhat anecdotal. I've long suspected that males were attracted to the color of the queens along with the pheromones. While recording video and taking pictures I noticed several males land on the monitor to my camera. Further anecdotal evidence, when I was a very young child (not even 10 years old) I had a bright yellow plastic shovel meant for moving sand at the beach. I assume I had used it outside in the winter to play with the snow. And sometime that winter I went out and found it full of male ants. I was too young to say what species it was but I'm pretty sure in guessing they were P. imparis males. It's just one of those things I've been meaning to experiment with. 

Wildflowers Coming Soon

Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica. It's actually started flowering here so let's start there. The thing is, only one or two of them are blooming and the patch now is turning into it's own sort of lawn. So better photos will be on the way instead of this edited one. It's a small grass-like plant right now but each of these strands continues to grow and unfurl through the garden/lawn and produce lots of little flowers along the way.

Fernleaf Phacelia, Phacelia bipinnatifida. I have finally gotten this god dam plant somewhat established in my yard! This is a biannual that only flowers on it's second (and last) year of life! Also they have to cross pollinate from a plant that wasn't related to their parent. Between driving to Delaware each spring and dealing with what has to be one of the worst online nurseries on the internet I'm glad to see these coming up on their own.

Giant Waterleaf, Hydrophyllum appendiculatum. This plant lived up to its name the first year I planted it growing a good 3' tall and wind. Subsequent generations though have either been annual or biannual growing only a few inches tall, flowering and then death. They keep coming back though.

Hydrophyllum virginianum, more of a late spring bloomer. It's just a little tuft of leaves now but the patch quickly expands to fill up the garden.

Golden Alexander, Zizia aurea. This is a native carrot though I don't think the roots are meant to be eaten. I think it's a biannual too but I'm not certain. Some years the patch is lush and full with plants but others there are bare spots. This is a host plant to the Black Swallowtail but I've found they only lay eggs on the flowers in the spring time, and plants are largely ignored over the summer in favor for non-native like Parsley and Queen Anna's Lace.

 Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium reptans. This plant is semi-evergreen, maintaining a rosette of leaves all winter. Light blue is more true to their normal bloom color.

Roundleaf Ragwort, Packera obovata. This plant suffers from having one of the worst common names ever. It's actually one of the more striking yellow flowering plants of spring.

 Wild Hyacinth, Camassia quamash, a native bulb that should be planted along side Easter Flowers.

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata. I think this is a cultivar with thicker petals called 'Blue Moon' but I'm not certain anymore. Patches of this plant only come back when there's no mulch or barely any leaf litter. Originally the plant was fragrant but for the past few years I haven't noticed any fragrance, making me think the original plant has died out and these are all seedlings.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Witch Hazel Flowering

Even in the dead of winter there are plants that have evolved to flower. Along with a random Snowdrop that came with an Easter bulb set one year, our Witch Hazel has decided to open up. I'm not sure if this is technically early for this species due to an unseasonably warm winter or fairly normal for this species but we're glad to see it flowering all the same. 

Normally Witch Hazel has yellow or orange flowers but many hybrids have vivid combinations there of the two. The Rare Find Nursery catalogue we get in the mail has about a page and a half devoted to assorted cultivars in lots of different colors. This particular one is called "Amethyst" and hues more on the purple/red side of the spectrum. 

Regardless of the cultivar, because they flower int he late fall mid winter range they're almost exclusively pollinated by flies. There are reports of honeybees working them too and I'm sure dozens of other little insects that over winter in the adult stage. These insects all require warm days above 45F in order to function, that's also when Witch Hazel plants produce a faint fragrance to attract them.

I'll be keeping my eyes out for any pollinators on our shrub. It's still fairly little though so I'm not expecting to get much.

Hope your winter is going well.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Photobucket Outage

So I used to host a lot of my photos on Photobucket. Sadly they had a power outage at one of their facilities and they were down for about a week. I've gotten a message explaining that my images might come back but honestly I'm not putting much faith in that. It still tells me I have photos but I can't see or access them. They don't load when I click on them. So until that gets fixed (if it does) a lot of my old posts are gonna have error messages.