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:

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)

Habitat Restoration Series: Native Plant Suggestions for Western New York/Southern Ontario – Part 2

Here is our second installment in our Habitat Restoration Series for Spring.
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Native Plantings for WNY/Southern Ontario – Submission #2 for wet/moist soils:
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Common Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

web_MistyElderberryThese shrubs grow best in rich, moist, neutral soils that have good drainage. I have mine planted on a very shallow slope just above a very mucky spot and they do tremendously well. Sunlight should be from full sun to partial shade (they are often found along the woodland edge in the wild). They will shoot up new canes each year and are subject to spreading so you can choose a spot where they can spread at will or control them through pruning back older woody canes or mowing. It generally takes from 3 to 5 years for fruits to develop after planting young canes. Flowers develop in June so are not usually subject to fruit loss due to frost. Fruits begin to ripen in late Summer and persist well into October. This area native has many, many benefits. It is rich in vitamin C and potassium and has many medicinal qualities, especially in terms of the immune system.

Homeopathically (like treats like) Elderberry is considered to be good for the areas of the body that are “tubular” or “hollow” – blood, respiratory, nerves – based on the plant’s hollow stems. Both flowers and fruits can be used. Be advised that raw Elderberries Elders in flower on "The Acre"can have a strong cathartic effect so we advise that the fruits be heated for 5 minutes to neutralize those characteristics (generally small amounts may be eaten raw – just be prudent). Wildlife thrives on the berries and these shrubs can produce more than enough for sharing. You can have your pie, wine, jam and medicinals while leaving enough for birds and deer to “fatten up” on for Winter.

Sources for Elderberry, other than local nurseries, can be found on our webpage. Be sure you choose the Sambucus canadensis varietal as this is the true native in Eastern North America.
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Did you miss Submission #1? Have no fear, you can read all about Winterberry HERE!

Habitat Restoration Series: Native Plant Suggestions for Western New York/Southern Ontario – Part 1

As Spring deepens, thoughts naturally turn to outdoor activities, and for many of us that means gardening. Regardless of the available space (from acres to pots on the front stoop), nearly everyone can help provide wildlife habitat. We’ll help you along the way with some plant species suggestions over the next couple of weeks, beginning with our first entry below. If you are interested in learning more about providing wildlife habitat, come to our lunch-time talk, Creating Wildlife Habitat, at Erie Community College South Campus on April 23rd when we’ll share lots of way to help our wild friends who face diminishing habitat on a daily basis.

Native Plantings for WNY/Southern Ontario – Submission #1 for wet/moist soils:

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata): You might recognize from the Latin that this is a Holly. But unlike its evergreen cousins, Winterberry is a deciduous holly. And although it loses its leaves in Autumn, behind are left bright red berries that remain into early Winter, hence its name. Winterberry is also dioecious (male and female reproductive organs on separate plants) so be sure you get at least one male and a few females to surround him. This will help ensure an abundance of berries to brighten the early Winter landscape. And what a boon to wildlife in the Winter as the berries are eaten by small mammals, many birds (both song and game) and White-tailed Deer. Known also as Fever Bush and Black Alder, Winterberry was used by Indigenous Americans to treat not only fever, but the bark served in healing bruises and minor wounds. Native to the eastern United States and southeast Canada, Winterberry is challenged as we continually drain and/or develop wetlands. So if you’ve a wet or very moist spot, you can add some Winterberry and watch it spread over the area after a few seasons. It can also be put in drier areas but instead of spreading, it will grow in more of a clump. It prefers acidic soils with light requirements ranging from partial shade to full sun. Sources for Winterberry, other than local nurseries, can be found on our website at: http://oakmossed.com/garden.php.

Photo courtesy of Ohio StatePhoto courtesy of Ohio State

for the rest of the Spring Habitat Restoration series, see below:

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!

IMG_2365

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.

But What of Wolves?

Montana Bison (Photo credit: Matthew Brown/AP)

Montana Bison
(Photo credit: Matthew Brown/AP)

The link below is to an article on Bloomberg regarding the American Prairie Preserve, a very interesting and potentially important project for Montana. It does well to dedicate land for pure-bred Bison and this group claims that on the preserve Bison will “mingle with coyotes, prairie dogs and other scourges of the cattlemen with whom the Prairie Reserve is battling (when it isn’t buying them out).”

But there is no mention of wolves in this article – none. Considering how persecuted the Gray Wolf has become, this project could offer incredible habitat and help to offset the horrendous losses already being seen in the Rocky Mountain Region now that delisting has taken full force. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I recommend all interested in the precarious state of wolves in the lower 48 inquire as to what status wolves will enjoy on the American Prairie Preserve.

Article and Video: But What of Wolves?

(http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-05-22/bison-loving-billionaires-rile-ranchers-with-land-grab.html)

Celebrate Arbor Day in the Northeast!

American Sycamore, a hardy and strong native that survived Buffalo's infamous October storm with little damage.

American Sycamore, a hardy and strong native that survived Buffalo’s infamous October storm with little damage.

Arbor Day is April 26th and what better way to celebrate than by planting a tree or shrub. Below are suggestions for native trees to plant in the Northeast United States.

Remember to ALWAYS purchase trees based on the Latin name to ensure they are native species.  Also, determine needed conditions for growth before your purchase.  Not only will you and your property benefit, you will also be doing a great service for wildlife. Happy Arbor Day!

American Beech – Fagus grandifolia

American Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis ^#@

American Hophornbeam – Ostrya virginiana

American Hornbeam (aka Blue Beech, Musclewood) – Carpinus caroliniana

American Sycamore – Platanus occidentalis +

Black Willow – Salix nigra #@

Common Witch Hazel – Hamamelis virginiana #

Eastern Hemlock – Tsuga canadensis

Eastern White Pine – Pinus strobus ^

Nannyberry – Viburnum lentago

Patriot Elm (disease tolerant cultivar of American Elm) – Ulmus patriot

Pin Oak – Quercus palustris @

Red Maple – Acer rubrum @

River Birch – Betula nigra @

Serviceberry (aka Juneberry, Shadbush) – Amelanchier arborea ^

Speckled Alder – Alnus incana

Striped Maple – Acer pennsylvanicum

Sugar Maple – Acer saccarum ^

Sweet Gum – Liquidambar styraciflua

Tulip Tree – Liriodendron tulipifera

White Ash – Fraxinus Americana ®

Winterberry – Ilex verticillata *@

Yellow Birch – Betula alleghaniensis

* Threatened/Rare

^ Food source

# Medicinal

® Threatened by disease/invasive insect

+ Salt tolerant

@ Tolerates moist soils