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.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

New England Carnivorous Plant Show 2018

A carnivorous plant fairy garden. It's kind of implied that the local fairies aren't the brightest bulbs on the tree.  
Earlier this month, the New England Carnivorous Plant Society held its annual show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden near Worcester, Mass. There were nearly 2000 visitors for the weekend, which is a little down from recent years, but still impressive for a specialist plant show.

Darlingtonia californica.
One of the special events at this year's show was the Cobra Lily Challenge. In general, Darlingtonia, the Cobra Lily, is difficult to grow in the Northeast and is poorly represented in shows. So back in June, the NECPS distributed divisions of Darlingtonia to interested members, in exchange for a promise to bring the plants back to display in September.

The Cobra Lily Challenge display. 
The main issue with cultivating Darlingtonia in this area seems to be that the plants like their roots kept cool, and suffer in hot muggy weather, especially when temperatures stay warm all night. People have tried various tricks, like irrigating with ice water or keeping plants in air conditioned terrariums, but the some of the best results were with plants grown mainly outdoors, but protected from the worst of this summer's heatwaves by, e.g., bringing them temporarily indoors in air conditioned spaces under lights.

Drosera, Drosophyllum, Utricularia and others in the show. 

Sarracenia leucophylla. 
There were a number of interesting talks at the show, in particular a presentation by Prof. Larry Mellichamp of the University of North Carolina, on the question of how the American Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia)  avoid trapping potential pollinating insects. The various species of Sarracenia produce pitcher traps and flowers at different times of the year, separated at different heights, and/or with different attractants that draw in separate populations of prey insects and pollinators. Sarracenia leucophylla, for instance, produces dark maroon, bumblebee-pollinated flowers in spring, while its largest, most effective traps emerge in summer and autumn, and use sweet odors and pure white coloration to attract moths at night.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Periodical Cicada Transplant

Magicicada septendecim on a gooseberry in the UConn EEB Greenhouse garden, Storrs, Ct. June 1, 2018.
 Back in the spring of 2001, John Cooley and Dave Marshall of the Simon lab at the University of Connecticut collected some periodical cicadas in upstate New York and brought them back to the EEB department's research garden at UConn. Apparently, some of those cicadas laid eggs, and the nymphs developed on the roots of some small red oak trees in the garden, because now, 17 years later, cicadas are emerging in the garden.

Magicicada septendecim, shed exoskeleton of nymph on a raspberry bush.
These cicadas are from brood VII, from the Finger Lakes region of New York, now restricted to the Onondaga Nation but formerly with a larger range. Chris Simon reports that the New York population started emerging on May 31, the exact same day as the transplanted cicadas in the garden at UConn. Maybe 20 or so cicadas have emerged at UConn, and mostly flown off around campus. I haven't heard them calling, but I'll keep an ear out, and watch for signs that they are reproducing, like "flagging" on the branches of the local trees. It strikes me as unlikely that a new population could establish itself from maybe a few dozen insects, but I guess we'll have a better idea in 2035.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Mud Season 2K18 Astronomy + Maple Sugaring

Venus and Mercury (top center) over Mansfield Connecticut, March 6, 2018.
In between the weekly nor'easters that have been hitting New England lately, there have been some good chances to see the planet Mercury. Mercury is always fairly close in the sky to the sun and generally tricky to observe, and I don't think that I have ever spotted it before. However, this March, Mercury is not only bright and relatively high in the sky just after sunset, but also quite close to the very easy to locate planet Venus, which serves as an obvious marker of Mercury's location.

Venus and Mercury peaking out between layers of clouds.

I've now seen Mercury a couple of times, including the night before last week's snow storm, when the clouds were just barely moving in enough to create some interesting scenes, but mostly didn't block the planets. That evening I also glimpsed a really good shooting star, which lasted for a solid second or two. The planets are visible around half an hour to an hour after sunset, near the western horizon, with Venus being to the bright white one and Mercury being the dimmer (but still surprisingly bright), reddish one up and to the right of Venus. Last week they were quite close to each other, but they were further apart when I checked the other night, separated by the width of several fingers held at arm's length.

Maple sugaring, Mansfield Center, early March.
This year I made the decision to start my maple sugaring operation in mid-January, rather than the traditional Valentine's Day. There were quite a few thaws and warmer spells (the arctic outbreak around the holidays didn't last), and the early start allowed me to take advantage of some productive January sap runs. February saw warmer than average temperatures, including a couple of days in the mid-70s F that broke not only daily and monthly records, but set a new record high in the Hartford area for the entire meteorological winter (December through February). The sap flowed really well during the heat wave, but yielded a strong-tasting, almost black "cooking-grade" syrup, of the type that is usually only produced at the very tail end of the season.

Maple syrup from early February (left) and the February heat wave (right).
After the heat, temperatures settled back to more normal levels and freezing nights allowed sap flows to restart, after a bit of a hiatus. However, the flows haven't been very strong this month, and this week have almost stopped completely, so I suspect that the season is now basically over, several weeks before its typical conclusion. It was a good decision to get an early start!