Friday, May 22, 2020

A Cold Spring

Spring snow showers in northeastern Connecticut, May 9, 2020.
It was not much of a winter here in the Northeast, with barely any snow, generally mild temperatures, and as a consequence, a short, early and unproductive maple sugaring season. This has been balanced to a certain extent by the weather since April being mostly colder than average. A couple of weeks ago we even had a chilly, overcast day with on and off snow showers. Nothing accumulated on the ground, but it was the latest snow that I can recall in eastern Connecticut.

Potentilla canadensis (Dwarf Cinquefoil) with just a touch of frost, morning of May 21, 2020.
Then, yesterday morning, temperatures got down to just above freezing, and there were patches of frost out on the lawn, on lower, open spots. In this area, the official frost danger season lasts until the end of May, and frost is not uncommon until about May 15; in my experience we have light frost in mid-May about every five years. But this is the first time I've actually seen this kind of cold after May 20, and I was scrambling to cover up garden seedlings and bring houseplants indoors the night before.

At this point we seem to be done with the cold, and the weather is rapidly transitioning to summer-like temperatures. The native plants seem mostly unfazed by the late cold snap, with maybe a little burning on the edges of tender fern fronds about the only damage I've seen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Spring Cancellations


For the past few weeks it seems like I'm spending at least a few minutes each day on email cancelling or indefinitely postponing various talks and meetings. Back in early March, the Connecticut Cactus & Succulent Society held a meeting as scheduled, but there was some talk among the officers about whether future events would have to be shut down because of COVID-19. Now, at the beginning of April, that seems like it was years ago. This month's big cactus annual cactus show is cancelled, of course, and at this point we're hoping to be able to be able to hold one in March 2021.


The UConn campus is mostly shut down, with classes finishing out the semester online. I'm still coming in to keep the research and teaching greenhouses operational; fortunately it is easy to maintain appropriate physical distancing, with very few other people on campus at this point.

Hepatica americana in Storrs, Ct, April 1, 2020. 
 Spring is underway out in the woods, regardless of the shutting down of so much human activity. I got out for a short hike after work today, and saw that the flowering season had started for a lovely native wildflower, Round-lobed Hepatica. I have been checking in on this particular patch of a dozen hepatica plants for more than 20 years, and it hasn't changed much over the decades; I suspect that the plants are very long-lived. 



Hepatica americana is in the plant family Ranunculaceae (the buttercup family). Some botanists lump Hepatica into the closely-related genus Anemone; this species would be Anemone americana under that treatment.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Neighborhood Eagles

Bald Eagle in Mansfield Hollow State Park, Mansfield, Conn. 

It's the end of Eagle Month here in the Last Green Valley and I've seen Bald Eagles on several occasions recently at one of the nearby preserves, Mansfield Hollow State Park. Bald Eagles mostly hunt and hang out around rivers, coastal areas and larger bodies of water, such as Mansfield Hollow Lake, an artificial reservoir about two miles in its longest dimension.

Adult and juvenile Bald Eagles in a dead White Pine. 
 There are at least two adult eagles and one juvenile (with a brown head) in the Mansfield Hollow reservoir area this winter. There is a known nest site a little south of Mansfield Hollow, on the Shetucket River in Windham, so these birds could very well be that eagle family out hunting for the day. Eagles sightings are a lot more common than they used to be (with low single digit numbers of birds living in Connecticut as recently as the 1990s), but still scarce enough that the state DEEP keeps tabs on pretty much every nesting pair, and seeing them in the wild close to home still seems like a very special treat.

Old road swamped by the Mansfield Hollow reservoir after January rains. 
Overall it's been a very mild winter here in northeastern Connecticut, with just thin and short-lived snow cover and lake ice. Possibly this has encouraged the eagles to stick around the reservoir, which would be completely iced over for long stretches in a more typical winter. I started up my maple sugaring operation last weekend and there has been a fair amount of sap flowing; the traditional start time for maple sugaring in southern New England was more like Valentine's Day.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Gypsy Moth Damage

An old, specimen White Oak killed by Gypsy Moths, June 2019. Cat for scale at base of tree. Note the stacks of firewood in the background from trees that died last summer. 
Eastern Connecticut and adjacent areas have been suffering from a severe Gypsy Moth outbreak for the past few years. The worst of it probably happened in 2017 for a lot of places, but my local area in Mansfield Center experienced patches of total defoliation in the summer of 2018, and now, a year later, it's clear that a lot of trees are goners. Most of these trees had leafed out again after the caterpillars had finished feeding in July 2018, but many trees were apparently weakened, and became infested by wood-boring beetles and probably fungal pests. An unusually hot, humid late summer probably did not help. The foliage on the weakest trees then started turning brown from the top of the crown downwards; trees with these symptoms seem to be mostly dead in 2019, with just a few of them leafing out weakly from lower branches, with dead tops, this summer.

Severe tree mortality, mainly among White Oaks, on a dry gravelly ridge on state park land in Mansfield Center Ct.
Gypsy Moths defoliate just about everything, including pines, during a bad infestation, but they prefer oaks, especially White Oak (Quercus alba). White Oaks account for the majority of the tree deaths in my area, with just a few scattered red oaks and trees of other species having expired. The greatest number of dead trees seem to be on drier, warmer, more exposed sites; I'm not sure if this is just a function of where the densest stands of White Oak were, or if diseases and predators of Gypsy Moths perform better in damper, shadier places.

The view from Coney Rock looking south to Mansfield Center; grey areas are all dead trees. 
Across the region, tens of thousands of acres of forest have suffered significant tree loss during the Gypsy Moth outbreak of recent years. In addition to the immediate and easily quantifiable losses from the cost of dealing with dead trees that are going to become hazards to life and property as they decay, I suspect that there will be essentially permanent ecological effects. The oaks and all of the insects and larger wildlife that depend on them are likely to become less abundant, while Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is going to be much more dominant in the decades to come. Woodpeckers are going to have a very good couple of years with all of the insect-infested standing timber around, but might decline when those dead trees start to disappear, and aren't replaced as they would have been in a normally functioning mature forest.

The ancient "wolf tree" White Oak at Coney Rock in Mansfield: still perfectly healthy this summer.
The Great Gypsy Moth Outbreak of 2016-2018 is, I hope, now finished. The caterpillars are still around here and there in fairly high numbers, but there don't seem to be enough of them anywhere to actually defoliate trees this summer. What is left of the moth population is clearly suffering from a fungal disease (Entomophaga maimaiga) that turns the caterpillars to black mush, and any Gypsy Moth  egg masses that manage to get produced next month are going to be hit hard by a minute parasitoid wasp (Ooencyrtus kuvanae?) that started showing up in large numbers last summer and autumn. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Show 2019



The 2019 Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Show is taking place this weekend at the Bristol Community Center. This is the second year the show has been held at this location, and while it's generally a great venue, big crowds show up and parking space is fairly limited, so you might wind up parking streetside out in the neighborhood and walking to the community center if you arrive much after the opening time.

The free plant line Saturday morning. 
The Connecticut C&S Society gives away free plants to the first 50 people who line up in the morning. The giveaways are pretty common stuff of course, but this is always a popular event. 

The vendors' room shortly after opening Saturday.
The sales area had a full complement of dealers this year and was packed with customers Saturday morning. By the end of the day the tables were looking a little picked over, but there was still plenty of interesting material left for Sunday, such as this Hohenbergia, which caught my eye. This is a spiny bromeliad, about the size of a two liter soda bottle, still somewhat rare in cultivation; I have seen some great specimens in collections in California, but not in the East before. 

Hohenbergia endmundoi at David Burdick's booth. 

Pachypodiums in the judged show area. 
The judged show was pretty full this year; it looked like there were more entries than in the past couple of years, with more people entering plants from a broader range of categories.

Rebutia plants in the 2019 cactus show
The cactus division was well stocked, with some flowering plants, even though mid-April is a little early for peak cactus bloom for most growers in New England. Years ago Ron Byrom, who owned a small nursery called Real Rebutias, was a regular at the annual Connecticut shows; he sadly passed away relatively young in a traffic accident while on vacation in South America. Ron didn't have a greenhouse, so he kept his Rebutia plants in a cold, dark basement all winter, in a dry and dormant state. A few weeks before the show in April, he would load his plants into his station wagon, water them, and park in a sunny spot. By the time of the show, his plants in their improvised greenhouse would perk up and set flower buds and be ready for display! 

Conophytum plants in the show. It looks like C. calculus got the blue ribbon. 
In past shows I've usually been one of the few people entering mesembs (living stones etc., family Aizoaceae) in the show, but I was pleased to have some competition from some of the younger members of the CCSS this year. It seems like these plants are becoming more popular lately, as part of a general increase in enthusiasm for succulent plants.

Conophytum ernstii ssp. cerebellum.
One especially impressive entry not from me was an ancient pot of Conophytum ernstii ssp. cerebellum, from a grower in the Philadelphia area who is fairly new to the Connecticut club. These plants were originally in Frank Distefano's collection (which is now dispersed), and must have been started from one of the first distributions of seed of this taxon, around the time it was described in the late 1980s.