Thursday, October 1, 2015

Autumn Miscellany

Darlingtonia californica at the NECPS Show.
Earlier this month, the New England Carnivorous Plant Society held its annual show. As usual there were plenty of superbly cultivated plants on display (and plenty more for sale), and some well known people from the carnivorous plant community in attendance. This Darlingtonia was one of the more impressive horticultural feats; I don't think I've ever seen one so large cultivated in the East. I've never been able to keep them alive for more than a year or two, myself; they definitely tend to decline in our warm, humid summers.

The venue was a new one for the NECPS: Tower Hill Botanical Garden, near Worcester, Massachusetts. Tower Hill is a beautiful location and the public turnout was quite high, with about 2200 paid guests for the weekend. The only minor issue was that space was pretty tight, with the show and most of the vendors packed into one conference room, because of some scheduling conflicts.

Part of the bladderworts of New England display.
Several of the NECPS regulars collaborated to collect fresh specimens of almost all of the dozen or so bladderwort (Utricularia) species that are native to New England. They put on a great educational display and managed to turn up some plants that are found at a limited number of sites, like U. inflata, which supports its flowers above the surface of ponds on spongy, star-shaped floats.

The bees had a good summer and a decidedly better than average fall, which was nice after a cold start to 2015 with more winter colony losses than I'd like to see. It's been on the dry side in Connecticut, but the bees have apparently been finding plenty of flowers. Most colonies have packed away enough autumn honey to get themselves through the winter without any supplemental sugar feeding, which was unexpected. Looks like I'll be holding on to the stack of warehouse club 25 pound sugar bags in the basement until next spring, at least.

I tried to photograph the supermoon lunar eclipse last Sunday, and took a few shots that turned out OK. I don't think my camera was up to the task of capturing the earth's shadow starting to cross the face of the moon. Photos of the total eclipse worked better, without the overwhelming contrast of shadowed and sunlit portions of the moon messing up the exposure.

2015 turned out to be a "mast year" for apples (and oaks, too), with all of the feral or unmanaged trees around town producing crops of fruit that are so heavy that I've seen a number of snapped branches. Mast years occur irregularly; maybe about every third autumn will have this kind of super abundance of apples. The fruits are remarkably free of worms and disease, which is what you would expect based on one idea about the adaptive significance of masting: when all the trees in an area are synchronized in a mass fruiting event, pests can't reproduce quickly enough to take advantage, and then starve during subsequent non-mast years when very few fruits are produced. There is probably a contribution from the vagaries of weather to the masting phenomenon. Pollination limitation might also be involved in synchronizing masting, with any trees that flower heavily in a non-mast year experiencing poor pollination and low fruit set due to a lack of mates, and presumably maintaining reserves that would have otherwise gone into fruit to flower strongly again the next spring.

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