Insect Pests? No such thing…

So many wild species struggle to survive in the face of human activity. Serious population declines over the last half century should instill fear in every human heart – we need these wild animals for our own survival.

  • 76% population decline in freshwater species
  • 70% decline in seabird populations
  • 68% loss of common birds in the United States
  • 40% of terrestrial populations lost worldwide
  • 40% worldwide loss in marine species

Humans, by-and-large, disdain insect and arachnid species, either fearing them or labeling them as pests. Reasons are, for the most part, based in ignorance of the value these animals provide. We call these ecosystem services and natural capital, functions rooted in Nature upon which Homo sapiens depend for our own lives.  Some of these, like the water cycle, are obvious to us – although we still foolishly complain when it rains. Also trees often get lots of credit for their oxygen production, however, when allowed to form a forest, trees up the ante on the services and capital we rely upon – erosion and flood control, water purification, lumber and paper products, etc., etc.

Insects, Spiders and other such animal species, however, do not get much credit for anything other than being “pesty”.  When one considers the full web of life, it does not take long to realize that these invertebrates are critical to all life on Earth. I might even risk saying that they are second only to plants in importance, which explains why they vastly outnumber all other animal species.

This 1st and 2nd place rating is no coincidence. Without plants, no animal eats – none of them. All food is based in the plant world – and many, many plants greatly depend upon insects in order to reproduce, be it through direct pollination services or the protection certain invertebrate species provide to plants.  Consider that approximately 75% of flowering plants rely on animal pollinators to reproduce. Of the over 200,000 species of animals who perform pollination services, 99.5% of them are insects, such as beetles, bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, and moths, or spiders.

Clearly we must educate ourselves on these essential animals.  We need them or Homo sapiens becomes extinct.  The factors that threaten invertebrates are far more than just fear and disdain. While we directly target some for annihilation with chemicals, others are being threatened by our use of resources – habitat loss, pollution (air/water/ chemical) and climate change being the top factors.

And our best-loved insects, the Butterflies, are not immune to humans’ insatiable use and misuse of natural resources. A recent study states that the Monarch Butterfly, an icon of Nature’s beauty, may be only 20 years from extinction. Why? Habitat loss in both its Winter and Summering grounds (they Summer and reproduce in Western New York), pesticides, genetically modified crops and climate change are the reasons.

And let’s think about those devaViceroyButterlfy_inHandstating population numbers above.  What is the link to the invertebrate world? Many of these animal populations feed upon invertebrates, be it the adults, larvae and/or eggs. Mosquitoes are a favorite food of both birds and freshwater animals. Is it any wonder there is a rise in Mosquito-borne disease recently? The interconnectivity of Nature is still a mystery and we need to understand these complex relationships as they relate to our own behaviors and use of the natural world.

What can you do to help reverse such trends? Here’s some suggestions:

  • Become knowledgeable about insects and spiders. Learn what services they perform that eventually trickle down to our own survival. And remember, the vast majority of these species pose no harm to you.
  • Put the chemicals and fly-swatters away. First, it is a losing battle – their numbers are too great and many evolve quickly to survive chemical applications. Instead, make sure your screens are tight and intact, turn off lights near windows and doors, use natural repellents (like citronella, cloves and lemon balm).
  • Create wildlife habitat, especially for those native pollinators in peril. All of Nature will benefit – see http://oakmossed.com/garden.php for lots of information on environmentally sound gardening, native plants and our invertebrate friends.

The future of Planet Earth is literally in our hands now. Our actions and failure to act will not only dictate the further existence of wild animals and plants, but our own existence, as well.

Sources:

An Oakmoss Summer

Our program line-up for the Summer of 2015 includes two field outings and a hands-on workshop in East Aurora, NY as we continue our mission to share the lessons of Nature to benefit the planet and all its inhabitants. Details and registration information available on our website. Please join us!

Twilight Trek
Saturday, July 11 – 7:00 to 9:00pm at West Falls Park. Enjoy an interpretive stroll through the woods and along the creek at dusk, one of the most active times of day as diurnal creatures wind down and nocturnal critters begin to rouse.

Field Flutterers
Saturday, July 25 – 9:00am to 11:30am at Knox Farm State Park. We’ll be seeking out the flighted creatures of the open field, be they insect or avian. From butterflies to birds, there are many species that fill the morning with activity.

Introduction to Herbal Concoctions
Saturday, August 1 – 1:00pm to 3:30pm at the Roycroft Campus Power House. A hands-on workshop in which students will become acquainted with incorporating common herbs into simple preparations for body care and overall general health.

Habitat Restoration Series: Native Plant Suggestions for Western New York/Southern Ontario – Part 5

Here is our fifth and final installment in our Habitat Restoration Series for Spring.
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Native Plantings for WNY/Southern Ontario – Submission #5 – Flowers and Herbs:
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Flowers

Full Sun – Dry to Moderate, Well Drained Soils

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Perennial with rhizome growth form so will spread over time. Excellent for very sunny areas that drain well. Tolerant of dry conditions but flowering can be affected in drought situations. Feathery, fern like leaves with bundles of tiny flower heads.

  • Wildlife benefits: May be used as nesting material for some birds
  • Human benefits: Several medicinal uses
Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

Coneflower (Echinacea sp.): Perennial coming in many varietals. Tall plants, with daisy like petals and large rounded seed center (cone). Does best if NOT mulched. For best growth and spreading, divide every few years.

  • Wildlife benefits: Butterflies and birds
  • Human benefits: Certain varietals have immune boosting characteristics.

Full Sun to Part Shade – Moist, Well Drained Soils

Bee Balm (Monarda sp.): A member of the mint family, this tall perennial has long petaled flowers in pink, light purple and dark red. Pungent scent when leaves are crushed. Excellent companion plant for a variety of flowers and vegetables. Monarda will spread so divide every two or three years if you want to keep it neat.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Human benefits: Long used as an antiseptic, to treat headaches. and for seasoning foods

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): Perennial with light purple flowers, this native of the Northeast United States made the transfer from wildflower to garden cultivar generations ago. Flowers from mid-summer to mid-autumn. Begin pinching the plants in early summer to help them be shorter and bushier. It’s a creeper so should be divided every two years if you want to keep it under control.

  • Wildlife benefits: Butterflies, bees and birds
  • Human benefits: Named after a New England Indian healer, it is reputed to have several medicinal benefits.
JoePyeBed

A bed of amazingly tall Sweet Joe Pye Weed dwarfing the Echinacea and Cardinal Flower

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis): This beauty will do best when do-planted with taller plants which can filter the hot sun in warmer locales. It blooms in late Summer offering a showy finale as Autumn approaches. Most importantly, it is an important nectar source for Hummingbirds as they “bulk up” for the Fall migration.

  • Wildlife benefits: Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Traditionally used by the Hodinöhšönih (Iroquois) for a number of ailments. In the modern world, it is

Herbs

Although not truly indigenous to our area, many culinary and fragrant herbs do offer benefits to wildlife along with being just plain useful to humans. And cultivating your own herbs is the ultimate in locally grown.

Most herbs require full sun for at least 6 hours a day. All prefer moist well-drained conditions, although some make do under dry conditions for a time and are noted.

Thyme: Tolerates dry soils. Perennial that will spread so is good as a ground cover. Low growing and comes in several varieties.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Oregano: Best in moist, well drained environment. Can be perennial depending on variety. Some are tender perennial and may not make it through very cold winters.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Basil: Best in moist, well drained environments. Annual. Many varieties available with varying pungency, flavor and color.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees
  • Human benefits: Culinary

Lavender: Tolerates dry soils: Perennial with a number of varieties. Be sure to note the agricultural zone for variety chosen. Some varieties can get shrubby so pruning and thinning could be required.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Culinary, cosmetic, medicinal and ornamental

Sage: Best in moist, well drained soils but will tolerate moderately dry conditions. Many varieties available with varying pungency and color. Some are perennial; those that are tender perennials should be treated as annuals in our climate.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Chamomile: Roman is the best variety for our region (Chamaemelum nobile). It can do well during dry spells but is not as happy during the heat of Summer so looks its best during the cooler times of the season. Prefers moderate, well drained soils.

Roman Chamomile - small bright flowers atop delicate fern-like leaves

Roman Chamomile – small bright flowers atop delicate fern-like leaves

Although a perennial, it is really an annual in WNY but readily re-seeds.

  • Wildlife benefits: Honeybees
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Mints: Use care in planting mints because they WILL spread so consider confining them to containers, the only sure way to keep mints under control. Consider Lemon Balm, Spearmint and Peppermint. Note: While Peppermint and Spearmint generally spread via their root systems, Lemon Balm readily “jumps ship” so expect to find it popping up all around the area it’s been planted – it is easily harvested, however, and with so many uses, you’ll be happy for the volunteers.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Don’t miss our previous installment in this Habitat Restoration Series:

Habitat Restoration Series: Native Plant Suggestions for Western New York/Southern Ontario – Part 3

Here is the third installment in our Habitat Restoration Series for Spring.
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Native Plantings for WNY/Southern Ontario – Submission #3 for wet/moist soils:
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Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)

Whether called Serviceberry, Shadbush, Shadblow, Juneberry or Saskatoon, the local name of this important shrub is tied to cultural legacy – the timing of flowering or fruiting often coincided with events like the running of shad, the arrival of traveling preachers, or the month of the year; saskatoon is a shortened version of the Cree name for this shrub, mis-ask-quah-toomina, and also points to this species’ predominance in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. Historically, native tribes used Serviceberry for food (including pemmican), medicine and its hard wood for arrow shafts. So valuable was the dried fruit, Indians utilized it as a form of trade with arriving Europeans.

amelanchier_canadensisHere in Western NY, you will find Serviceberry is tolerant of a wide range of soils and light but probably does best in locations that are slightly acidic, moist but well-drained, and partially shaded to sunny. Is has more upright, rounded growth reaching anywhere from 6 to 20 feet, producing small white flowers in late April to May. Its food value to wildlife (songbirds, game birds, squirrel and many other mammals – including bear) is high and, like the elderberry, we humans can enjoy the fruit for pies, jams and wines. Serviceberry is our first fruiting shrub with its gifts ripening in June. Like most fruiting shrubs, its age determines maturity in terms of fruit production, sometime around 4 to 5 years. Ornamentally, Serviceberry, if planted close enough together, can form a natural fence or windbreak and its fall color is very vibrant.

Other than protecting young shrubs from nibbling Deer, this shrub needs little or no maintenance, which is a great bonus. Be advised, if you plan to harvest berries for your own use, prepare to net the shrubs early as our bird friends can easily strip them completely of fruit in one day. Here on The Acre, we net until ready to harvest but leave plenty for wildlife. If you’ve a number of Serviceberry plants, you can also net just one for your own use and leave the others available for critters. You’ll love the deliciously sweet fruits and wonder how you lived this long having not enjoyed them.

See our previous postings in this Series:
#1: Winterberry (Ilex verticillata)
#2: Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

Visions of Summer

As Western New York is in the thrust of probably the last heat wave of Summer, thought it appropriate to share some random images shot over the season. Click on a photo to see enlarged images via a photo gallery Enjoy!

European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris): Thousands gather in late Summer each year along about a 1/2 mile strip between a supermarket and highway during the hour or so just before twilight. My guess is they hold this “convention” to prepare for annual migration. You may note an American Crow or two, true to their reputation, “crashing” the party. Intense chatter abounds.

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe): Regular visitors to “The Acre” each Summer.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus): another “commoner” who is greatly attracted to these Butterfly Weed flowers. This individual is a male as it lacks the powder blue spots on the lower edge of the wings.

Resident Mesopredator (Felis silvestris catus): This individual was discovered raiding catnip set out for drying.

Scat, Butterfly!

Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly making use of what we normally avoid getting on our shoes.

Baltimore Checkerspot Butterflies lapping it up on what we normally avoid getting on our shoes.
Photo taken July 14, 2013 in Delevan, NY.
Copyright 2013 – Oakmoss Education.

It appears dog droppings are mighty useful to these Baltimore Checkerspot Butterflies (Euphydryas phaeton). Likely making use of important salts and minerals that are contained therein. So, perhaps stowing that pooper scoop now and again is actually beneficial!

Gardens and Plantings: Tending the Base

The green world of plants is the base of all life on the planet. Providing oxygen, nutrients and implicit in innumerable ecosystem services, we often fail to pay due respect and honor to the world of primary production.

On “The Acre” plants have a place of utmost importance. About 2/3 of the property is predominantly wet meadow and allowed to naturalize with human manipulation playing a minimal role helping control alien invasives and propagating native species. Dealing with invasives can be daunting so “control” rather than eradication is the more realistic goal. For example, deflowering the majority of Purple Loosestife (Lythrum salicaria) before they go to seed helps keep them from spreading; they are notoriously difficult to uproot and given that the wet meadow receives a great deal of runoff, it is impossible to eliminate them. So interfering with their further propagation is far more practical. Natural succession is in process with the appearance of Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum) and Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) sprinkled throughout the meadow. Curly/Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus), an alien, politely competes with native Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) as some of the predominant herbaceous plants in the meadow with numerous Grasses, Sedges, Asters, Pinks and Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) scattered throughout.  On the higher, dryer end of the meadow, native White Spruce (Picea glauca) have been planted, along with White Pine (Pinus strobus) and Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) creating bird habitat and Winter feeding opportunity for Red Squirrel and White-tailed Deer.

The rest of the property, where possible, is little by little being turned over to garden beds for food, medicine and visual pleasure while also functioning to assist wildlife as much as possible.  A 12 by 24 foot vegetable garden surrounded by herb beds is the major garden installation with a number of flower beds created throughout the rest of the “manicured” section. A mammoth Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) provides the annual supply of maple syrup and a generous source of wild berries have appeared thanks to bird droppings and my personal disdain for trimming around trees.  An old Apple tree makes a valiant effort to provide fruit each year in the dense shade of the Maple.  The last of the dead Scot’s Pines still stands providing valuable Woodpecker sustenance while across the way, long ago planted Austrian (P. nigra) and White Pines provide excellent cover for the many songbirds that visit and live here.

Below are posted some photos of plants that have been introduced around “The Acre.” They are part of a hypnotic, if not obsessive, pleasure that brings balance to not only the property’s environment but also to my own emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. All hail the Green!

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Nasturtiums hang in pots around the vegetable garden providing a lovely, peppery flavor to salads.

Blue Columbines

Lovely blue Columbines have naturalized all over the shady areas of “The Acre”.

Echinacea

A bright orange variety of Echinacea stands out from the more common pink variety planted in other areas of the property.

Pileated Woodpecker

Leaving a dead Scot’s Pine snag standing brings the Pileated Woodpecker in for regular visits.

Shasta Daisies

This bed of Shasta Daisies is full of happy smiling flowers.

Blanket Flowers

A new bed of Blanket Flowers has moved in next to the Shasta Daisies.

Monarda

Monarda, aka Bee Balm, is a favorite among Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a variety of Butterflies as well as the Bees.

Marshmallow

Ants are busy sipping nectar while pollinating these Marshmallows.

Foam Flower and Fern

The base of trees is a perfect place for small beds of native Foam Flower and Ostrich Fern.

Wild Ginger

This new planting of Wild Ginger beneath the shade of the Pines is thus far doing quite well.

Naturalized Black Raspberries

Much credit goes to the birds of “The Acre” whose droppings provide a wonderful supply of wild Black Raspberries.

Common Elderberry

Among the most useful plantings are these beautiful Common Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) which provide powerful medicine for humans and important bird food just in time for Autumn migration.