Monday, August 31, 2009

Beware of Bamboo--An Update

"Beware of Bamboo"--wouldn't that make a good sign to post at the front gate? Most posts here lately have detailed the native abundance in my backyard. But just across the fence is a more typical Princeton scene. Bamboo, English ivy and Wineberry--all exotic invaders--thrive along a neglected fenceline, advancing imperiously into my yard when my back is turned.

Bamboo is thought to be nearly impossible to weed out, but no beast can remain beastly forever without a source of energy.

As described in a post in June, 2008, the hard part of the counter attack was done a couple years back, when my neighbor permitted me to cut the whole, dense, 20 foot high bamboo clone to the ground--on both sides of the fence. It then sent up a new batch of long stems, which I cut just as they were starting to leaf out. The whole idea was to prevent the Thing from collecting any new solar energy, forcing it to spend its reserves on new shoots that would get cut before they could send any energy down to the roots. Time, and the imperatives of metabolism, were on my side in this "drain the energy bank" approach to superweed combat.

Last year, I again cut the new shoots down to the ground just as the stems were starting to send out leaves.

This year, it sent up only a few strange stems, each crowded with unusually dense leaves. Grasping one stem, I felt like I was shaking hands with a woolly green bear out of Monsters Inc. And like in the movie, the monster has been acting mighty gentle of late.

Fifteen minutes of lopping and it was time to declare victory, though I don't dare turn my back for long.

Insect Diversity Central

The boneset--those broad disks of white flowers held six feet aloft next to a backyard mini-pond--had for weeks been drawing a wildly diverse crowd of insects. The varied pollinators variously hovered and fed on the nectar, and I in turn hovered over them, documenting as best I could the local biodiversity with a well-aged Canon Powershot.

The past several days, it seemed the flowers and their magic had faded. I had started to look elsewhere for action, as the air filled with the peeping of goldfinches feasting on the seeds of cutleaf coneflower.

But then what looked like a stick fallen on one of the bonesets caught my eye, and I was back in the elevated sea of white, being stared down by a giant praying mantis. It had shown up a little late for the main course, with only a few scraps of insect life still visiting now. Still, once I started looking I was able to get photos of what might prove to be a dozen more species in a collection that could reach three figures. They were, of course, keeping their distance from the praying mantis.
A fly with wings straight back.

Another fly, larger, with a striped back and wings spread somewhat.

A tiny fly dwarfed by a tiny flower.

True bugs, who are remaining true to each other, at least for the moment. These creatures have been a fixture on the flowers for weeks.

A weevily looking little character.

A tiny yellow inchworm.
A tiny bee, which looks like all the other tiny black bees that have been the most numerous insect on the flowers over the past several weeks.

You might, like me, not at first see much more here than a lifeless tiny bee hanging just below the flowers.

Whenever some insect isn't moving, it pays to take a closer look. More predators have been showing up lately, including this white spider with a distinctive pattern on its back. Nice camouflage.

A daddy long legs.

Other new insects were as often perched on the leaves as on the flowers, including this crickety looking fellow.

Another cricket with a different color scheme.

A tiny beetle-like thing with a tail.

A fly, perhaps, with mottled wings, that hovered for long periods inbetween brief landings.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Cool Beans!

Why does that expression haunt me so? I've heard it used maybe twice in my life, in situations where "That's great!" might suffice. I resist using it, but it keeps coming to mind. It's nonsensical, but something in its sound and double exclamation fits the feeling. One entry in the Urban Dictionary, describing the phrase's origins, suggests I'm not alone in my quandary:

"The phrase then spread like a virus, infecting the vernacular of people of older and younger generations regardless of gender..."

Finally, however, a situation has come along where it fits perfectly. We found these cool, wild beans along the canal during a recent nature walk. They are (affectionately?) known as hog peanuts. Scientists endearingly refer to them as Amphicarpa bracteata. Cool beans expresses it better. They are fairly common in nature preserves, but rarely do they get enough sunlight to flower and bear fruit.

There's another cool wild bean in Princeton, called ground nut, which not only produces beans but also an edible tuber. At the FOPOS mini-greenhouse, we've started growing them from seed, in an effort to make them more common in the Princeton landscape.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Hurricane Bill Pays a Visit

Hurricane Bill paid a visit to Princeton this past Saturday afternoon in the form of a dense heavy rain. When rain falls on a town where the soil has already become saturated with water from previous rains, the whole town behaves as if it were paved with asphalt. With storm sewers overwhelmed by the runoff, the streets turned into rivers.

This particular river, flowing briskly along Ewing Street, decided to take a left turn into an apartment parking lot.

It then flowed under a wooden fence

and through some surprised homeowners' properties

before heading down Harrison Street to its intersection with Hamilton, where it served as a good traffic calming device.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Parking Lot Habitat

Just because a garden is surrounded by asphalt doesn't mean it's not getting used by the local wildlife. This garden was planted with help from Henry Loevner (Princeton PEI intern for FOPOS this summer). Though it's on high ground, it's planted with floodplain species--Rose Mallow Hibiscus, Swamp Milkweed, Tall Meadowrue, Purple-Headed Sneezeweed, Cutleaf Coneflower--in part because the spot receives a lot of runoff from the pavement. It's also close to a hose, if coming years prove to be dry.

Though all the plants are just getting established, the Swamp Milkweed in the photo has already been used by three species of wildlife. The chewed off tip suggests a deer came by. The brown shell is from a cicada that used the plant as a substrate for its transformation from pupa to adult. And a monarch caterpillar can be seen chewing on a leaf.

Another unlikely island of habitat is located in the parking lot close to the Community Park Pool. There, we found the holes where "cicada killer" wasps live. They are big wasps that tackle cicadas, paralyze them with their stinger, then take them back to their holes. An egg is layed in the body of the motionless cicada, which presumeably remains fresh while the hatched wasp larva eats out its insides. The immature but well-fed wasp then remains underground, its emergence next year timed to coincide with cicadas 2010.

As far as I know, the wasps leave people alone, and are peacefully filling their niche amidst a sea of cars. They can be seen hovering over the grass, as if they've forgotten where their den is.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Boneset Days

Boneset is in bloom, and as some may remember from posts on this blog last August, boneset puts on its very own, unparalleled pollinator festival each year. Every pollinator in the Princeton area--large or minute, scary or comical, linear or round, irridescent green or conservative beige--shows up to drink what must be the insect world's version of manna.

No other wildflower draws such a diverse and numerous crowd. I thought that last year's photo gallery of 50 species visiting the flowers was fairly encyclopedic, but this year I'm finding many additional species, all of which means more posts are in the making.

For every photo posted, ten more are taken, sorted through, cropped and otherwise adjusted. Documenting the biodiversity on this singular flower could be a life's work. Pleasant enough, though, with the feint aroma of honey all around, and always something new to discover.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Wetland Wildflower Walks and Wednesday Workdays

The following activities, free and open to all, are sponsored by Friends of Princeton Open Space


Saturday, August 8, 10am : We'll meet at the Princeton High School Ecolab--a retention basin converted to a wetland that is now in full bloom--then walk to other rain or wetland gardens nearby. Meet at the ecolab wetland on Walnut Street, next to the HS performing arts center. All walking will be on pavement or lawn.

Sunday, August 16, 10 am: A walk along the canal towpath and nature trail loop to see a diverse floodplain plant community with an open canopy of oaks and rich understory that is reminiscent of fire-maintained savannas that would have been common in pre-colonial America. Meet at the towpath, just west of Harrison Street.

Some folks have expressed interest in helping out at Mountain Lakes Preserve during the week. This month, I'll be leading volunteer sessions from 10-12 on Wednesday mornings. Rain date is Thursdays, same time. We'll only work when foliage is dry.
Our focus this summer is going after an exotic shrub called Asian Photinia, which has been invading Princeton's natural areas and Mountain Lakes in particular. We're cutting as much as we can now before the seeds ripen. These sessions are also a good opportunity for teenagers to get out and about.

Loppers, clippers, pruning saws, sturdy work shoes and gloves--all are useful. An r.s.v.p. is helpful for an estimate of numbers. Meet at Mountain Lakes House, up the driveway at 57 Mountain Ave.