Connecting to Our Food Web Dedicated to educational resources towards building and sustaining viable food webs and ecosystems Sun, 15 May 2005 13:02:08 -0500 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/rss.xml Welcome to My Jungle -- September, 2018 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13594/ Sat, 01 Sep 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13594/ Late summer flowering perennials may be less common but they are still an important addition to any garden, both for adding color in an otherwise drab time of year, and possibly as valuable pollen/nectar sources for visiting insects and birds.

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is native throughout much of Illinois and is happiest in a uniformly moist soil situated in a partly sunny location. It will take more sun if the soil is moist. Put it in a hot, dry sight and it will be toast. This herbaceous perennial grows to 1-4' tall, with an erect growth habit that usually remains unbranched. In my jungle, the beautiful china blue flowers are constantly visited by butterflies, bumblebees and other long-tongued bees, and to my never ending wonder, sometimes a ruby throated hummingbird. Great blue lobelia reseeds itself so you only need to plant one to get more. But this is one reseeder that I have never felt the need to reign in. Just pull up a chair and watch the pollinators come in for a visit!

Pink Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua var. speciosa) is a native of Illinois as well, though more so in the southern and western counties…including Madison and St Claire. With a spike of medium to deep pink snapdragon-like flowers and almost always handsome foliage, pink turtlehead will generally succeed in any rich soil in both sunny and shady conditions. It has some tolerance for brief periods of dry soil, making it useful as a rain garden plant. Pink turtlehead is upright, usually unbranched and growing to roughly 3 feet tall. It's easy to understand the common "turtlehead" name once you look at the flowers with a bit of fanciful imagination. Each inflated, tubular flower is irregular in shape, with the two upper petals fused into a hood-like structure (imagine a skull and upper beak) and the other 3 petals forming a bearded, 3-lobed lower lip (imagine the tongue and lower beak). Bumblebees though, fear it not.

Some pollinator plants can be like a watering hole full of crocodiles. Hold that thought. Hairy Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum pilosum) is native to Illinois, though more to the central parts of the state away from the extreme northern and southern counties. Multiple branching within the plant results in a slender bushy appearance, 2-4 feet tall. Compared to other mountain mints, P. pilosum has hairy leaves and stems, and slightly wider leaves. From a standing height, the bloom of mountain mints appear white, but if you look a bit closer you will see that each individual flower is liberally speckled with minute purple dots. The bloom of mountain mints are nectar-rich, making them very attractive to many kinds of insects, including a number of bees and wasps. Parasitic beetles (Ripiphooridae) have evolved to make use of heavy trafficked flowers to target their prey, which is mostly solitary bees and wasps. Adult beetles, depending on species, are known to visits other flowers as well, including elderberry (Sambucus), bonesets (Eupatorium), beebalm (Monarda) and goldenrod (Solidago). Once the female beetle lays her eggs on the selected flowers; the hatching instar (triungulins) attach themselves with their mandibles to a visiting bee or wasp, and are carried back to the bee's nest where they feed on bee larvae and food stores. The adults only live a few days, long enough to find a mate and lay eggs…making them somewhat elusive even if in reality they are quite abundant locally. After learning this, I wondered if I might find any of these beetle species on my own hairy mountain mint plant. Almost immediately, I sighted a suspect (see picture) and moved in for the capture. I think I have it tentatively identified as one of the ripiphorid beetles, but I am going to have it confirmed by a fellow entomologist. Because of the rather secretive nature of these parasitic beetles, and limited research to date, the overall impact on bee and wasp populations is unknown. Regardless, my eyes have been opened to yet another piece of our vast and dynamic food web.

These types of interactions are going on around us all the time, mostly unwitnessed or unknown. On a more obvious scale, I like to watch the comings and goings on various blooms with my camera ready. Many times, I have noticed various assassin bugs (Reduviidae) tending to hang out for an easy meal on my tartarian asters (Aster tataricus 'Jindai') and purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea). I cheer when it's a Japanese beetle and mourn when it's a bee that strays too near. Hopefully, you're ready to start looking at flowers a little closer.

]]>
Welcome to My Jungle - August 2018 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13563/ Wed, 01 Aug 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13563/ It is amazing how just putting the emphasis on a different syllable can almost turn a normal common word to you into a foreign language…just try saying "em-PHAS-is on a different sill-LAB-ill" to see what I mean. Case in point, I just attended a fruit and nut conference that had attendees from across North America. In a setting like this, you quickly realize that some fun can be had just learning all the different common names and how they are pronounced. Take the tasty pecan (Carya illinoinensis). I think I heard it pronounced at least 6 different ways…all of them regionally correct for the person speaking; pah-CON, puh-CAN, PEE-can, PEE-con, pee-CON, and pee-CAN. This line of discussion naturally leads to others, like how to pronounce peony, Lirope or maybe even Clematis.

Some plants have a ridiculous number of common names. Take for example a plant in bloom now, the cold hardy Lycoris squamigera (summer-blooming bulb; zone 5-9). It is commonly referred to as magic lilies, surprise lilies, resurrection lilies; hardy amaryllis, naked ladies (or nekked ladies) and pink ladies, just to name a few. Many of the names seem to stem from the plant's growth habit of waiting to send up an unbranched flower stalk until after all evidence of its spring emerged amaryllis-like leaves have completely senesced…Surprise!...I'm not done yet! Though not native to the US, they are so widespread that many have given them assumed naturalized citizenship status much like the ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva). Spider lily is another common name that is attributed to species and their cultivars with exceptionally long stamens resembling spider legs, hence the common name. But through it all, the scientific name allows gardeners to discuss plants using their local common names while still maintaining a universal translation. How else would I get away with calling a green pepper a mango as I did growing up without qualifying that I was referring to a Capsicum species rather than Mangifera indica. By the way, referring to a green pepper by the name "mango" seems to be unique to pockets in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) fruit harvest tends to coincides with the appearance of magic lily bloom in my jungle. If you have never seen or eaten the fruit, I would describe then as looking like an elongated cherry, pit and all. The texture and flavor is very cherry-like, though sour. Like a cherry, they are sweeter and better flavored if harvested at full ripeness. They will drop from the tree when fully ripe and there is competition with wildlife for a share of the harvest. Pictured here are fruit from an unimproved species type, though a number of named selections with improved fruit quality are available in the nursery trade.

I recently had the opportunity to tour some University of Illinois black currant research at the Champaign fruit research farm, including a taste test of five cultivars harvested from a larger cultivar trial. Compared to 'Consort,' which most agree rates fairly low in flavor, the four additional cultivars were excellent, including Blackcomb, Tsema, Chime and Tenah. I may just have to give black currant another go in my jungle, assuming these tastier cultivars have white pine blister rust resistance and I can source the plant material. Ahh, another challenge that I am fully up for.

]]>
Welcome to My Jungle - July 2018 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13470/ Sun, 01 Jul 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13470/ What a difference the heat of late spring and early summer has on my jungle. I like a changing garden. Gone are all remnants of spring flowering plants; replaced with summer blooms, the likes of shasta daisy, bottlebrush buckeye, monarda, skullcap, oakleaf hydrangea and daylily. Everything has filled in and the entire garden has taken on the feel of secret, enclosed spaces.

Gardens like my jungle are a lot of work though. Unwanted volunteer plants like pokeweed, bush honeysuckle, and redbuds can easily become establish unnoticed. I just cut down a 5-foot tall black walnut trying to escape notice by growing in another plant. It is a constant vigil to keep and/or maintain spreading plants you want while rogueing out those you don't. A recent scouting of beds ended in a happy dance that I hope none of the neighbors witnessed. But really, what is more exciting than spotting a volunteer Indian pink (Spigelia)? Indian pinks are one of my favorite US natives, but I have always found it difficult to get new plants to take. Suffice it to say, Indian pinks are a welcomed spreader in my jungle.

Pretty soon it will be time to start dividing iris. Late summer through early fall is the best time to divide and replant bearded iris. This timing allows iris the four to six weeks needed following flowering for new rhizomes to fully develop before digging and dividing. Once the clump is dug, the individual new rhizomes can be cut away from the mother rhizome with pruning shears or a knife, then replanted. The spent mother rhizome can be disposed of in the compost pile. I usually tag iris that I plan to remove in the spring at flowering so I have a positive identification. Otherwise it becomes difficult to identify one set of rhizomes from another with just leaves present, especially if several cultivars have grown into each other. What I didn't plan for was our new golden retriever puppy, Sophia. Removal of those little ribbons tied to plants seems to be the best game in town.

I was asked recently if it was too late to plant onions in the garden. Although onions can be one of the earliest planted vegetables, early planting is needed only if the goal is the formation of large bulbs by late summer. If the goal is to produce green onions, then onions can be succession-planted throughout much of the growing season because a lot less growing time is needed if no bulb is being formed. Onions grown for bulbs need enough time to grow leaves (modified leaves that form "rings" in the bulb) before longer daylengths trigger the plant's bulbing phase (ring swelling with storage reserves). Onion cultivars are categorized by how many hours of daylength trigger the bulbing process: long-day (14 hours), intermediate (12 hours) and short-day (10–11 hours). In the northern half of Illinois, gardeners whose goal is large bulb onions should grow only l ong-day onion cultivars; gardeners with that goal in the southern half of Illinois can grow either intermediate- or long-day cultivars. A short-day cultivar never has enough time in Illinois to grow leaves before forming bulbs unless started very early as transplants and that is why they are usually planted only for greens in Illinois. This late in the season though, daylength is long enough to trigger bulbing in all types of onions, so long story short, yes it is too late to plant for big onions but not for greens.

]]>
Welcome to My Jungle - June, 2018 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13458/ Fri, 01 Jun 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13458/ Portugal is a beautiful country and I wish everyone the opportunity to visit as I did just recently. Portugal is famous for many products but probably port wine come to mind first. Port wine is a Portuguese fortified wine produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal. It is hard to grasp the human effort over the eons that have gone into building rock walled terraces that follow the contour of every inch of the Douro Valley. Much like the Mosel wine region in Germany, the Douro Valley is made up of incredibly steep slopes that one would think only a mountain goat would be able to traverse. But the Portuguese for centuries have scaled these steep slopes to hand harvest both grapes and olives. Stunningly beautiful!

The climate in Portugal is heavenly, zone 9a to 10a for winter lows but without the blistering summer heat and humidity of south Florida, which has a similar hardiness zone. The average high in the hottest part of the summer is in the mid 70's to low eighties. Since most of the country appears to be built on a steep slope, I can't imagine the effort to walk anywhere if it were hot. One thing you notice is that almost all Portuguese, young or old, have what out travel agent describes as "ballerina" legs. After walking about for two weeks I now know why.

The landscape is a gardener's dream…perfect for roses, camellias, orchids and any number of other temperate and semi-tropical plants. At one market I visited, one of the vendors was selling orchids. And not just measly little cuttings, but huge root bound clumps. Oh, how I wished I could have brought some of those clumps home.

It was not uncommon to see huge camellia hedges and shrub/trees. Unfortunately we missed the peak bloom season, but there were enough hangers on to get a taste of their beauty. While visiting the Lello Bookstore in Porto, rumored to have inspired J.K. Rowling's depictions of Harry Potter's Hogwarts, I bought a book on the Camellias of Portugal, written in both English and Portuguese. The very next day, we visited the private gardens of Casa Villar d'Allen, and wouldn't you know, the current owner turned out to be a contributing author for that very book! Had I put it all together ahead of time, I would have taken my copy for her to sign but instead I have to be happy with a picture of her with her copy of the book.

Did I mention cork? Let's just leave it that Portugal has a lot of cork oaks (Quercus suber) and in addition to their wine cork industry, you can buy just about anything made out of cork.

Portugal is covered with beautiful tiles. It was not uncommon to see entire buildings faced with tiles, including floors and walls. Many were repeating patterns while others were individually unique, painted to tell stories when put together. The U.S. is such a relatively young country, it is always stunning to see a work of art like 'Susanna and the Elders,' a wall-sized work of tile attributed to Marçal de Matos from 1565, still intact in an outdoor environment

It is hard to not think of all the craftsmen over the centuries that contributed to the beauty of Portugal. In additional to the impressive architecture, most of the city streets are still cobbled and the walkways made up of intricate tile work. Walking was not always the easiest, partly due to the unevenness and partly due to the distraction of its beauty.

]]>
Welcome to My Jungle - May, 2018 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13364/ Tue, 01 May 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13364/ With some plants gardeners are quite happy to see spread around in the garden, while others not so much. Maybe the "not so much" plants aren't as coveted, not as showy or maybe they spread a bit more than considered polite. But are the negatives overshadowing the potential benefits for some of these plants? Take our native violets for example. Many gardeners view our state flower as an aggressive weed, both in the lawn and the planting bed, and never really see their full beauty that can be attained under "preserved" cultivation. Compare a violet growing in a lawn under selective mowing pressure to a violet that is managed. The lawn violet will have developed a very short stature in order to avoid the mower blade, whereas the cultivated violet will easily be 6" tall by early spring and full of multiple booms due to crown development. One of the other benefits of violets is their role as an important larval food plant, specifically for fritillary butterflies. Although the adult fritillary butterflies don't sip nectar from violets, females do lay their eggs on violets and the larvae feed on the leaves making violets a critical need in the development of fritillary butterflies. According to Butterflies of Illinois by Jeffords et.al. (a must have), fritillary butterflies only produce one generation per year and females only lay their eggs on or near violets. So if we want fritillary butterflies to flourish, like the variegated fritillary and the great spangled fritillary, we need to adjust our perception of violets and welcome them into our gardens. It will take some added work, but the benefits are worth it!

Spring for gardeners is both a time of joy and a time to mourn. Already this year I have done the happy dance several times when a special plant has survived the winter to give delight yet another year. But I have also stood in silent frustration when a plant tag has to be pulled…I hate recycling plant tags because it means something has died. My most recent happy dance was over the emergence of a lady slipper. I planted two last year, so I was pretty excited over this first success. I trotted over to my other terrestrial orchid expecting to see a similar emergence pattern, only to find it had been entirely dug up, presumably by some rodent over the winter months. Since the planting site is all set up for orchids…sharp drainage, no direct sun from 12-4pm, my next orchid planting in that spot will include a wire cage during establishment.

]]>
Welcome to My Jungle - April 2018 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13285/ Sun, 01 Apr 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13285/ Wattle is not only beautiful but also a great use of repurposed pruning materials. Even if you are unfamiliar with the term "wattle," you most likely have seen examples of fences and other structures made by weaving thin branches ("weavers") between upright stakes ("sales") to form a woven lattice. Check out the Kemper Center vegetable garden at Missouri Botanical Garden where staff are building a short wattle around the central bed using brightly colored weavers and spiral shoots of contorted filbert for additional flair (top image). The more traditional weave would be to weave each row of weavers alternating around the sales, with the next row woven on the opposite side of the sale from the weaver below it. Each weaver row is firmly pressed down before starting the next course. This not only provides support to the sales and the overall structure, but it also hides the sales, resulting in a basket weave appearance. The lower image was taken in Holland and demonstrates a pollarded willow wattle (say that three times quickly!). Because willow readily roots from cuttings, the willows not only supply the withes (weavers) through pollarding, the pollard trees themselves act as the sales to create a living fence. If you have some free time, do an image search on wattle fences or a search on how to build a wattle fence and you will find yourself totally absorbed with the creativity and beauty being shown.

This has been a great year for hellebores, that is, up until Mother Nature played an April Fool's Day joke on us with snow and freezing temperatures. So, knowing the storm was coming, I took the opportunity to collect blossoms for use in a floral display. Hellebores in general have downward facing flowers, so most passerby miss the true beauty of the individual blooms unless they are displayed in a more upward facing manner. The best method I have found for displaying hellebores is floating the individual flowers in a shallow bowl of water. When collecting the flowers, I try to retain ⅛"- ¼" of the peduncle for water uptake and extension of the life of the bloom. As to the cold outside and its effect on hellebores? Hellebores are cold tolerant plants and will eventually straighten from their current bowed state as if nothing had ever happened. Another reason to love these beautiful winter-bloomers!

Let's hear it for ants! Did you know some plants have evolved a method to entice ants to harvest and disperse their seeds? The technical term for this is myrmecochory, and many spring blooming plants like trillium, blood root, twinleaf, hepatica, Dutchman's breeches, squirrel corn, trout lily, and some violets partner with ants to move their seeds from place to place. Ants are attracted to elaiosomes, which is a nutritious fleshy structure rich in lipids and proteins attached to the seed. Foraging ants take the seed to their nest and feed to their larvae. After the elaiosome component is eaten from the seed, the seed is then discarded to their waste area, effectively planting it. Seems like a great tradeoff for all involved, including the gardener who gets more of these spring beauties.

]]>
Welcome to My Jungle - March 2018 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13250/ Thu, 01 Mar 2018 08:00:00 +0000 https://web.extension.illinois.edu/mms/eb415/entry_13250/ Signs of spring are everywhere, but the "peep, peep, peep" of the spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) is what truly heralds its coming. These quarter-sized frogs are members in the Anura order of amphibians comprising the frogs, toads, and tree frogs, all of which lack a tail in the adult stage and have long hind limbs often suited to leaping and swimming. Spring peepers come in shades of brown, gray, or olive, and occasionally towards yellow or reddish. Its underside is cream or white, and it is patterned with a dark cross on its back and dark bands on its legs. A spring peeper's feet are moderately webbed with noticeable disks on its fingers and toes. And although it is a good climber, it seems to prefer the relative safety of the ground in amongst leaf litter.

Late-winter blooming plants also provide good buildup to the coming spring. Walking my jungle the first day of March revealed a number of plants in bloom including hellebores (Helleborus), winter aconite (Eranthus spp.), Fragrant Dawn Viburnum (V. bodnantense), Crocus, Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.), and Hazelnut (Corylus spp.).

Flowers can be absolutely fascinating…the color, the scent and most especially the structure. Take for example the American Filbert (Corylus americana). Being monecious, male and female flowers are borne on the same plant. The very visible male catkins appear in the fall and open in the spring, becoming more yellow as pollen develops and is released. The female flowers are so inconspicuous, they are easily missed unless looking for them specifically. That's because only the stigma and styles protrude just enough to collect pollen from a bud scale on the tip of a shoot, appearing as thin red threads.

If you remember your witch hazels, the eastern witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooms in the fall and all the rest (H. mollis, H. vernalis and H. x intermedia) start blooming in mid- to late-winter. Many selections, most especially the vernal witch hazels (H. vernalis) bloom while retaining leaves (marcescent), while others drops their leaves and allow their spidery blooms to take center stage. Look closely and you will see that each sweetly scented flower sports four narrow, crinkled, strap-like petals that en masse creates a beautiful ray of color.

This is the time of year when time can get away from you in terms of establishing an early vegetable garden. Let's assume April 20th as the date to reference for the last average frost date for the St Louis Metro-east. That means roughly the 2nd and 3rd full week of March (4-6 weeks before the last average frost date) is the window to transplant outdoors very hardy vegetables like asparagus (crown), broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, horseradish ("set" root), onion (set or plant), parsley, Irish potato (tuber "seed" piece), and rhubarb (crown piece). Unless you seeded these transplants in early February, store-bought transplants are your best option for such a short turnaround. Don't forget you can also direct seed a number of cool season crops in this window as well, including kale, kohlrabi, leaf lettuce, onion, pea, rutabaga, salsify, spinach and turnip. Keep in mind that onions cultivars differ in their bulbing potential in response to light duration. For our region, select long-day or day-neutral types if your goal is large bulbs. Short-day types are more suitable in this region for green onions.

The frost hardy vegetables are planted outdoors next (2-3 weeks before the last average frost date), either transplanted or seeded in the garden. Like the hardy vegetables, there is not time to grow your own transplants to a sufficient size if you want to hit the optimal window, so store-bought is the next best option. Seeded frost hardy vegetables include beet, carrot, Swiss chard, mustard, parsnip and radish. Transplanted frost hardy vegetables include Chinese cabbage and cauliflower.

You do still have time though to start transplants for the warmer season vegetable crops. Tomatoes can usually be transplanted outdoors without protection any time after the last average frost date. Tomato transplants should be started no later than the 3rd full week of March to give a full 4-6 weeks for transplant growth. Transplants for peppers and eggplant should be started a week later.]]>