Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Season for Butterflies

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

Butterflies tend to be star of the insect world… they’re cheerful, uniquely ornate, and inspire us to fill our gardens with plants that attract the winged creatures.  To attract butterflies you need two types of plants:  nectar plants and host plants. 

Nectar plants provide food for butterflies and other pollinators.  Many nectar plants already find themselves in our gardens due to their showy flowers: Phlox, Bee Balm, Cosmos, Marigolds, Hollyhocks and Zinnias.  Butterflies are attracted to scented and colorful plants, and they tend to prefer vivid shades of purple, pink, orange and yellow. 

Host plants provide a food source for the larval stage of butterflies, otherwise known as caterpillars.  Adults will lay eggs on host plants and when the egg hatches the caterpillar has a ready food source.  The native vine Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia tomentosa, is a host plant for the Pipevine Swallowtail.   

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar

Pawpaws, Asimina triloba, are the host plant for the Zebra Swallowtail, and the Black Swallowtail caterpillar feeds on parsley, fennel, and other Carrot Family plants.  The infamous Monarch Butterfly caterpillars feed on milkweeds (Asclepias species), which contain the toxins cardiac glycosides.  After feeding on the milkweeds, the caterpillars retain the toxins, which makes them less appealing to predators.  

Asclepias syriaca in bloom

Mixing both nectar and host plants is a good way to ensure a diverse butterfly population.  Remember that host plants will be eaten by the caterpillars, meaning you’ll need to be able to tolerate leaves being eaten… caterpillars do tend to have voracious appetites! 

Monday, June 20, 2011

What's Blooming?

Summer Solstice is nearly here, but summer weather has already blossomed in the High Country.  Many of our native plant beauties are also blooming in celebration.  What might you see out in the forests and riverbanks this time of year?  

Whorled Loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, is blooming in forest areas in the High Country.  With beautiful yellow flowers and a whorl of dark green leaves, this plant will certainly catch your eye.  

Another Loosestrife that is absolutely stunning in mass plantings is the Gooseneck Loosestrife, Lysimachia clethroides.  Showy star-shaped white flowers are clustered together forming beautiful racemes that arch above the smooth green leaves.  This plant has spreading rhizomes, and can become aggressive in areas.

Gooseneck Loosestrife flowers up close

Wild Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens, is in full bloom in most areas.  Commonly found along shady hillsides and roadbanks, Wild hydrangea is a small, multi-stemmed shrub with white flowerheads, opposite leaves and peeling bark. 

 Flowering Raspberry, Rubus odoratus, is often found in rich woods and along roadsides and is just beginning to bloom.  The plant produces a small tasteless berry that is relished by wildlife.  

Get out and see what other native beauties can be found blooming in the High Country!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mosquito Season in Full Force

Rain and warmer weather are closely followed by increases in mosquito activity particularly
with the Asian tiger mosquito.   Most people still think of swamps, ponds, etc. as the source of
the mosquitoes that show up in their yards.  However, in most residential areas the source is
more likely to be all of those small and inconspicuous water sources that are prime mosquito
breeding sites.   So, before people start planning a chemical assault on their yards as the solution to their mosquito problems, they should start with the simpler and more long-term approach of eliminating "collectibles". We don't mean souvenirs; we're talking about all of those objects that collect and retain rainwater.

- Bird baths -  simply flush them out with a garden hose.  The birds will also appreciate the fresh water.  For horse owners with water troughs near stalls or out in pastures, one option is to use a product such as "Mosquito Dunks" which contain the 'Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis' and are labeled for use in animal watering containers.  Although you can use them in water bowls for dogs, it is far simpler (and better for the animals) if you 'tip and toss' the water and replenish it with fresh water.

- Old cans, tires, etc.  - empty them and get rid of them. 

- Outdoor flower pots - empty the water from the dishes/trays underneath them.  Your plants have plenty of water without the overflow.  This also helps reduce fungus gnat problems.

- Remove all of that built-up debris from your gutters.  The water and decaying material attract mosquitoes

- Tarps covering boats, your grill, etc. collect pockets of water that can remain for 1-2 weeks.

- The bed of that '57 Ford pickup that you've been restoring for the last 15 years can collect water particularly if the tailgate faces uphill in your yard.

- Kids' pools - if they're not being used by kids, they're probably being used by the mosquitoes. Same thing applies to pools (inground or aboveground) that aren't maintained (such as on properties in foreclosure).

- Drainage ditches - they're meant to collect water *temporarily*.  Keep them free of debris so
that water flows out.

- Decorative fish ponds can be a source of mosquitoes if they contain a lot vegetation which
provides hiding places for the mosquito larvae.  'Mosquito Dunks' are an option here.

- Tree holes -  When limbs fall off trees, the remaining hole in the trunk can collect water.  Flush that out or put a small piece of a mosquito dunk into it.

Many people ask about treating shrubs in their yard. Mosquitoes *may* be resting there during the day but whether it "controls" a mosquito problem is debatable. Similarly, people that use outdoor foggers will definitely kill mosquitoes but depending on the time of day/evening that they use it, they may be missing the peak activity.  Two other issues about using outdoor foggers are important.  First, safety is critical.  Make sure you're standing upwind from the direction the fog is being applied and wear appropriate protective equipment to prevent the fog from getting into your eyes and lungs or on your skin.  Second, know where the fog is going.  Some of your neighbors may not want chemicals drifting onto their property (particularly if they're outside eating at the time!)  Same thing applies to the automated misting systems that some people have installed on their homes.

One other point to remember - mosquitoes have no concept of property lines.  Mosquito
management takes a neighborhood effort to be truly effective.

More information on the web at:  http://insects.ncsu.edu/Urban/mosquito.htm

Written by:  Mike Waldvogel and Charles Apperson, Extension Entomology, NCSU

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wetland Field Day

Last week, third grade students from Two Rivers Community School took a field trip to the newly constructed wetland in Boone for a hands-on wetland exploration day.  The students teacher, Allison Zich, was a Professional Naturalist when she lived in the Northeast, and she knows how important it is to have the kids experience the world around them.  The first encounter was a "mama" snapping turtle scouting a place to lay her eggs, followed by bull frogs sitting on the submerged vegetation, dragonflies humming about and lots of bird calls.  Throughout the morning, students got to view a dragonfly leave its larval exoskeleton and take off into flight.

Karee Mackey, Watauga County 4-H agent taught the kids about wetland soils, and pollination while Wendy Patoprsty, Natural Resources agent taught them about wetland function. The students got to collect live damselflies, dragonflies, water striders, whirligig beetles, backswimmers, diving beetles, water boatman and even microscopic life through the microaquarium. After learning how the new created wetland helps clean stormwater runoff they each constructed their very own hummingbird feeder. Hummingbirds are frequent visitors of the wetland! All in all we learned that wetlands are important ecological systems home to an array of diverse species in our community!