Thursday, August 29, 2013

Countless Yellows

Pollinators have been having a field day in our backyard, where yellow dominates every which way you look. It would be easy to assume that all these flowers are the same species, but at least seven different kinds of wildflower are contributing to the overall effect.

Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) is the most prolific.

Common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), mixing here with the purple of ironweed, doesn't make you sneeze, and it's not common. I've seen it twice in all my explorations of Princeton open space. It has shorter, notched petals and a yellow center.

Tall tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris), bought at either the Bowman's Hill or DR Greenway plant sale and seen growing wild only three times in my life, has distinctive leaves,

divided into three leaflets (thus the "tripteris" in the latin name).

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) is the tallest, reaching 10 feet, rising over the lateflowering thoroughwort in the background. A hummingbird, normally drawn to tubular flowers, was taking sips from these one day.

All the other flowers look like a sunflower. This actually is one. There are many species of native sunflower, many of which spread aggressively underground. Each spring I swear I'll pull every last one out, but a few always survive, to perpetuate the cycle of summer pleasure and spring toil.

Black-eyed Susans are bred for looks. They're of no interest to pollinators,

who prefer the wild, unbred variety.

All the different versions of yellow may seem redundant, but diversity is the basis of resiliency and continuity. Different yellows bloom at different times, claim different ground. One may cater to a pollinator's shape better than another, or thrive in weather that causes others to languish.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Scarce Native Euonymus Found

One of the finer native shrubs you'll almost never see in the wilds of Princeton is Strawberry Bush, also known as Hearts-a-Bustin', or Euonymus americanus. Perhaps without a ten foot square colony persisting in Herrontown Woods, you wouldn't see them at all. These green capsules don't look like much, but later in the fall they'll turn dark red and burst open, revealing bright orange seeds. That's the ornamental part.

The shrub's undoing has been its position high on the list of deer's preferred foods. This one patch survives, badly chewed but with enough leaves to sustain growth and a few flowers, partly because some of the stems have grown high enough to escape the deer's browsing.

Spicebush, another shrub that survived intense browsing pressure only by having a single stem high enough to escape the deer, has made a dramatic recovery in Princeton's woods since deer numbers came down. But deer much prefer the taste of Hearts-a-bustin' to spicebush, and so the native euonymus still gets hit hard even as deer numbers have dropped and other forest understory vegetation has recovered.

I had encountered this rare patch a couple years ago, but hadn't been able to find it again. Only when a few of us recently began clearing trails at Herrontown Wood, which involved cutting down hundreds of the highly invasive Winged Euonymus (also called burning bush, or Euonymus alatus) did I come across it again. It's an excellent example of how an exotic species (winged Euonymus) that is inedible to deer can dominate whole hillsides, while the heavily browsed native euonymus shrub becomes vanishingly rare.

With some careful propagation, along with continued investment by Princeton in keeping the deer population in balance, this shrub could once again populate our woodlands and gardens.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Search for Monarchs--Nature Walk This Sunday

This Sunday at 10am, I'll lead a walk along the DR Canal towpath, beginning at Washington Rd. and walking towards South Harrison Street. Native wildflowers are at their late summer peak along the nature trail loop near Harrison St.--one of the perks of finding yourself in Princeton in late August. If time allows, we'll head up to the university stream restoration, which is packed with cardinal flowers right now.

You can park on the West Windsor (south) side of the canal, in the lot next to the canal on Washington Rd.

Meanwhile, jog your memory. Has anyone seen monarchs this summer? I saw this one in my backyard in early July. Saw another a couple days ago at Mountain Lakes Preserve, in the meadow we planted years back with summer wildflowers. A neighbor says she saw a few. That's it.

There is reason to be worried. All the information I could find online suggests that monarchs are not recovering their numbers during their multi-generational migration north this summer. Winter numbers in the mountains outside Mexico City were down 60% from two years prior. Last year, drought and changing farm practices made for a hard summer. This year, cool temperatures have slowed migration northward. An early August post in Michigan reported low numbers. An in-depth analysis by MonarchWatch is not promising. This link gives a good sense of where the monarchs are. This link offers more up to date news, and a way to report sightings.

The western population of monarchs, which overwinters not in Mexico but along the California coast, isn't doing any better. A Scientific American post states that the western U.S. population has "shrunk from over a million individuals counted at 101 sites in 1997 to less than 60,000 at just 74 sites in 2009."

Click here for past PrincetonNatureNote posts on monarchs, or type the word monarch into the search box at the top of this webpage.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Finding Home in the Far Away

Iguazu Falls in northern Argentina, twice the width of Niagara Falls, with tropical forests harboring all manner of animals exotic to a visitor from the U.S. It's on the flipside of the planet, with seasons reversed, and yet, what is that plant growing on the trunk of the tree?

A begonia like those we grow indoors in the U.S.
And these leaves are reminiscent of the purple passion flower native to New Jersey and points south.
Those trees look reminiscent of figs, somehow,
with a broad leaf,

and sure enough, there are the figs, growing along the trunk, clustered on curious stubby shoots.

This leaf has "wings" along its midrib like the winged sumac that grows along the canal in Princeton.

This grass does a good imitation of bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus) that grows in the coastal plain along the eastern U.S.. Princeton's meadows and annually mowed right of ways have little bluestem, broomsedge, and just a few spots with big bluestem--all closely related.

And this Impatiens growing along the slopes of the gorge, seen also along a stream in Venezuela and in Puerto Rico, occupies a similar wet habitat to our native jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), and has similarly spring-loaded seedpods that explode when you touch them.

This succulent plant looks like a variation of the purslane that springs up in our gardens.

Our winterberry holly has similar clusters of tiny flowers along the stem,

and this vine with orange tubular flowers and long pods is reminiscent of our trumpet vine.
The familiar leaf of some version of wood sorrel grows on the moist rocks.

I thought at first this stiltgrass-like plant might be the dreaded eurasian wavyleaf basket grass (can you say Oplismenus hirtellus ssp. undulatifolius?) that has been invading the woodlands of Maryland and being fought against in an effort to prevent its spread up and down the coast. But a little research suggests it was one of the two native subspecies of basket grass whose range extends from the southeastern U.S. down to Argentina.

At this point, I was reminded by a teenage daughter that there were sights to be seen, where mist and sunlight meet to make standing rainbows, and that Dad was falling behind once again. But I liked the idea of an arc of kinship connecting the known to the otherworldly.

Knowing one's local plants makes the whole world a more familiar place.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Riot of Wildflowers in Quiet August

One perk of spending August in Princeton is the late-summer bursting forth of native wildflowers. The most vivid example of this has traditionally been along the DR Canal towpath, particularly along the small nature trail loop just west of Harrison Street. But we've made some effort to "spread the wealth" around Mountain Lakes House, and also in Harrison Street Park and a few raingardens. Many of these plants can be obtained at plant sales at Bowman's Hill and DR Greenway. I've been meaning to get organized enough to do a literal "yard" sale now and then, because I have so many "volunteer" plants popping up. Always best to seek out local genotypes.

Here's what's blooming along the recreated creekbed in my backyard that handles (exploits) runoff streaming through from the neighbors:

Wild senna

Cutleaf coneflower (also called green-headed coneflower)

Jewelweed, with its pendant flowers and spring-loaded seed pods,

Purple-headed sneezeweed (doesn't make you sneeze)

Some tamed and wooly sunflower planted by my older daughter,

Among the red to blues, a leftover beebalm,

cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) with one of the Joe-Pye-Weed species in the background,

Great Lobelia (Lobelia syphilitica),

the trumpet section--rose-mallow hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos), which can also be white with a rose center,

purple coneflower,

blue mistflower (Conoclinium, formerly Eupatorium, coelestinum),

monkey flower, which keeps coming out white in photos,

and swamp milkweed.

White flowers are more common earlier in the summer, but here's a store-bought version of obedient plant (spreads aggressively in full sun but less aggressive in the shade),

sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), also called summersweet for its fragrance,

the remnant blooms of Culver's Root

and buttonbush,

and the pollinator plaza called boneset (Hibiscus in the background).

Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana)--with toothed leaves rather than the untoothed leaves of the Asian autumn clematis, and planted in a pot to prevent it from spreading underground--is also just opening up.

The seeds of soft rush (Juncas effusus) add subtle ornament,

along with sedges like this woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus)

and green bulrush (Scirpus atrovirens), which sprouts new plantlets at the tips of its seedstalks.