Monday, March 27, 2023

Wisteria's Tamed and Wild Twinings

The front porch of Morven has an educational feature for gardeners.

Go to the right side of the porch and witness Chinese wisteria twining up and to the right. 
Go to the left end of the porch and witness Japanese wisteria twining up and to the left. 

This contrast in twining direction appears to be a thing. There's agreement that the two species twine in opposite directions, but disagreement on how to describe it. The Japanese wisteria's winding up and to the left is described as either clockwise or counter-clockwise, depending on the website. The two websites I happened upon agree, however, that the direction of twining is not determined by whether the plant evolved in the northern or southern hemisphere. This is disappointing, as I had hoped for a pattern, which would be all the more satisfying if it happened to match the direction of swirl when water goes down a drain. Alas, some other force must be at work.

What Morven's porch won't show you is just how aggressive wisteria's twinings can become after a garden is abandoned. To comprehend the scale of expansion, you would need to travel to Herrontown Woods, where the extent of a wisteria clone (Japanese by the look of its twining) is still apparent in the woods. There are two clones, both covering more than an acre each. At their exuberant zenith, they had grown up and over trees and rendered the ground a monoculture of their foliage. One clone, up at Veblen House, is now mostly vanquished, in large part due to the extraordinary persistence in years past by Kurt and Sally Tazelaar. The success of that work depends, however, on ongoing vigilance to cut any sprouts still rising from the remnants of its sprawling root system. 

We are still very much in battle with the other clone, however, across the stream from the Barden. Each year for about four years now, the town has paid contractors to spend a couple days each summer applying systemic herbicide to this or that side of the monster. The herbicide is absorbed and translocated down, to weaken the wisteria's massive network of roots and runners. I think of it as comparable to the medicines we use to maintain our own health, well targeted and no more than necessary. 

Then, this past fall, a volunteer named Bill Jemas (posing in the photo with a wisteria vine) contacted the Friends of Herrontown Woods, looking for a good project to give him the equivalent of a workout in the gym. He came several times a week for much of the fall, working largely on his own, checking in with me periodically with a question or two. Cut, cut, snip, snip--he took on the still very intimidating tangle with hand tools and perseverance, making the hillside navigable once again, dotted with piles he made of the cuttings. He then announced his family was headed to Florida for the winter. Reportedly returning this spring, his contribution to the battle has already given us hope that the wisteria monster will not eat the Barden, towards which it was headed, and can be subdued like the one at Veblen House, so that we need only snuff out a few stray sprouts each year. 

A couple related posts:

Another Perilous Embrace--Wisteria and Horse Chestnut : About the horse chestnuts near Morven, and the horse chestnut that was getting overrun by wisteria in front of the 1755 house at 145 Ewing Street. Why does one often find a horse chestnut growing near a historic house? Because they bloom around Memorial Day?

Trees and Thunderbolts : The puzzling story on the Morven grounds of how a thunderbolt killed not the tree it hit, but the tree next to it.

The Specialist Bee That Pollinates Spring Beauties

Spring beauties are beginning to flower at Herrontown Woods. There's a bee that specializes in pollinating the flower. It's a mining bee, in the genus Andrena. The common name stems from its capacity to dig an underground home. The bee only spends a few weeks each year above ground, collecting pollen that it then forms into balls to nourish its progeny. Spring beauty is our most common spring ephemeral. Next time you're out, see if you can spot a bee. Chances are improved during the warmest part of the day. 

The video was taken by Inge Regan, board member with Friends of Herrontown Woods and leader of the Invasive Species of the Month Club, which meets from 10:30 to 1pm on Sunday mornings.

A previous post of mine describes a curious behavior of the bee when disturbed, and includes info about a honey bee swarm seen in Herrontown Woods this time of year in 2020.

A "Bug of the Week" website offers a more detailed description of the mining bee's lifestyle

Coyote Spotted at Princeton Battlefield

 A coyote was spotted at Princeton Battlefield this past Friday, March 24. 

Thanks to David Padulo for sending around this photo of the beautiful animal. 

At the time, David (hopefully not the coyote), was on his way to Port Mercer "to check off a Mercer County Life bird (Tundra Swan)," and so happened to have his camera. Port Mercer, for those like me who would assume there aren't any ports near Princeton, turns out to be just a couple miles upstream: the historic settlement where Quaker Road crosses the canal. According to David, the tundra swan was off track, a half hour away from where they are more typically seen, at Assunpink in Monmouth.

As an avid birder, David has taken an interest in Princeton's birding mecca, Rogers Refuge, and now leads the Friends of Rogers Refuge. David, shown here carrying a wood duck nest to a more auspicious location, represents a new generation of stewardship at the Refuge, taking over from Lee and Melinda Varian, who have done so much to keep trails open and control invasive species. 

Turning 83 has not deterred Lee from wielding a chainsaw to maintain the refuge. After meeting with David to discuss how the refuge's marsh might hold more water (a lot of water drains out of the refuge where this photo was taken), Lee and I spent a highly productive hour cutting a clone of wisteria vines that has been growing up and over some trees. If left to grow and expand, the wisteria would eventually swallow the forest surrounding this remarkable marsh. The nonnative wisteria can expand without restraint because there isn't the equivalent of a coyote to keep it within bounds. 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Princeton Environmental Film Festival

The Princeton Environmental Film Festival begins this Friday, March 24. Check out the schedule.

One movie with local connections is Dark Sacred Sky, featuring Princeton University astrophysicist Gaspar Bakos, an advocate for reducing the waste light that has deprived us of the beauty and fascination of the night sky. Gaspar has been helping us prepare a telescope for use at Herrontown Woods.

According to the website, 

"Dark Sacred Night" is a special storytelling project of the Princeton University Office of Sustainability. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with filmmaker Jared Flescher and Bakos."

Friday, March 03, 2023

May's Cafe and a Nature Hike--This Sunday in Herrontown Woods

This Sunday, March 5, I'll lead a late-winter nature and history walk at Herrontown Woods.  

Meet at the main parking lot off Snowden Lane at 11am. 

Come early to get coffee, homemade treats, and conversation at our pop-up May's Cafe at the Barden from 9-11. 

There are a few signs of spring. The snowdrops are in full bloom at Veblen House. At least one of the black vultures has returned to the corncrib near the Veblen Cottage, where it and its mate have raised their young in past years. And we have an interesting sustainability project going on: milling fallen trees into lumber to use to build a boardwalk.

Considering the Chinese Praying Mantis an Invasive Species

In the past, praying mantises of all sorts were looked upon as beneficial insects that consume insect pests. A few things have changed in this regard. For one, insects in general are becoming fewer. My observations haven't been systematic, but I've noticed a steep decline in pollinators in the past few years, and a coinciding increase in insect predators, particularly Chinese praying mantises. And it's a stretch to believe a predatory insect is going to only consume insects that we consider harmful. Last fall, I found one chowing down on monarch butterflies

In my backyard I recently found four chinese praying mantis egg cases in close proximity. I'm thinking the best thing to do is to destroy them or put them in the trash. One post that helps distinguish between the different species of praying mantises and their eggcases also recommends feeding the nonnative eggcases to chickens. 

Past posts on praying mantises.