Leaf Buds: Natural Origami

This is a companion piece of sorts to my last post about leaf buds (‘Buds are Swell‘), but this is a more personal tale of a particular bud. 

It all started in January when I planted a Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) in my backyard after reclaiming an area from the abundant English Ivy that the previous owner left me.  In it’s dormant state the young tree looked like a bare branch with a pointed end sticking out of the soil.  That pointed end was a bud.

Covered in insulating hairs, the bud rode out a few snowfalls and numerous freezes until the temperatures began to rise.  Temperature dependent reactions started occurring inside the bud and it began to swell.  Cells differentiated and divided to become the specialized structures that make up a leaf.  Eventually the finite space inside the swelling bud ran out and it split open to unfold and unfurl the leaves that had formed within.

  In this particular case, those leaves that started in that tiny 2″ long bud can easily become 24″ long and 10″ wide.  Sadly, these leaves were denied that chance.  Some (literal) rat bastard chewed them right off the stem a few days after the above photo was taken.

I found it on the ground near the base of the stem.  He didn’t even eat it, probably because the leaves were too fuzzy.

        After I got over my shock and anger I decided that the least I could do is study the remains and hopefully learn something from it.  I discovered an incredibly complex arrangement of multiple leaves folded and rolled around each other inside that relatively tiny bud.  

The repeating pattern of: sheath, leaf, fold and enclose a sheath, leaf, fold and enclose…… led me to unfold and arrange 7 separate leaves for the above photo.  Even that tiniest leaf at the top is folded around an even tinier sheath that I would have needed a scalpel and tweezers to open, but I’ll bet that wasn’t even the last one in the sequence.  Thinking about how those all formed in three dimensions inside of that bud was pretty mind boggling.  ‘Natural Origami’ was my first thought and I haven’t come up with anything better.

Fortunately the tree was left with one leaf to try to feed itself.  Even if it hadn’t been left with that leaf, it had other back up plans.  As I said in my previous post about buds, they start out as just a few hundred cells, so it’s not really a big energy investment until they need to swell up into actual leaves.  Almost all plants have multiple buds somewhere other than the apical bud at the tip.  Depending on where they are located on the plant they can be called axillary or adventitious buds.  They are the multiple redundancy backup plan that springs into action when something destroys the plant’s new growth.  

As such, this axillary bud (just take a second and realize that this bud was formed at the base of this leaf inside the big bud and that each of those 7+ lost leaves had a potential bud at their base too!) and several adventitious buds that you can see below it were activated by hormones to start the dividing and swelling process all over again. 

After a few weeks of swelling, they opened to reveal a few new leafy tops for this tree.  You can see the now much larger and slightly tattered single leaf that remained on the left side of the frame.  This whole process was a setback for sure, and this tree will not put on as much new height this year as it could have, but thanks to the latent buds it is still alive and green. It was also a reminder to me that if I pause and study a plant closely I always learn something new.  

“Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.” – Henry David Thoreau (Oct. 22, 1839)

 

 

 


Welcome to the Art Barn

Welcome to the Art Barn!  This is Beech Hollow’s new building to host our guests for educational talks, workshops and hands on garden crafts.  The Art Barn will also host shows of nature photography and other environmental or nature based artworks.

Images from our Spring Fling:

 

 

 

 

 

Build a Bug Rod puppets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo show of Virginia Linch’s pollinator pictures:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building a Rustic Lattice:

 

 

 

 

 

Not to mention more styling face (or hand) paint:

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Greco and the Gardening for Wildlife Workshop:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why does Beech Hollow have an Art Barn?

Because a picture or an activity is worth a thousand words…

and learning about pollinators is a lot of fun.


Who needs fireworks? Native Azaleas and Tiger Swallowtails

Have you been to a wild azalea grove?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year there are a couple of azalea groves I love to visit in early spring. One is in the Boat Rock preserve in South Fulton County, and another is in the back acreage of our forest at Beech Hollow. And every year the groves are fireworks of flowers and Tiger Swallowtails.

The Tiger Swallowtails always seem to be one of the first butterflies to be up and out in the cool of early spring, and the azaleas are one of the few nectar sources available at the very beginning of spring. It is truly delightful to sit and watch the yellow winged males and the blue-black winged females delicately sip nectar all the while fanning their wings, slowly working their way across the azalea grove in loopy arcs.  There are plenty of native bees visiting the flowers as well; they flit past the arched stamens and pistil to burrow down into the corolla and access the nectar.  Those stamens and the pistil don’t come close to brushing the bees as they pass.

Here’s the thing: How would the bees pollinate the azaleas? The anthers and pistils flare out, well away from the nectar. Bees that access nectar alone won’t necessarily make contact with the stamens or pistil. In 2015, Mary Jane Epps, Suzanne E Allison, and Lorne M Wolfe published a paper about wing pollination by tiger swallowtails of Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) in the Blue Ridge. Very cool! Could our Piedmont Azaleas be pollinated in the same way?

Last spring, Jessi and I decided to take a look for ourselves in our grove of Piedmont Azalea (Rhododendron canescens) up by the boulders in the back of Beech Hollow. While we sat, a male Tiger Swallowtail was on patrol at the grove, waiting for a female. He looped around the grove, from flower to flower, fanning his wings as he nectared. He was such a pale yellow that it was hard to tell if he had gathered any pollen on his wings. Then a female swallowtail came by, and:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above, on the left, female Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) with her wings brushing the anthers of Piedmont Azalea.  On the right, several minutes later,  the same female with pollen visible on her wings.

This is an observation, not a scientific study. But it does appear that the same type of wing pollination that was recorded by scientific study in Flame Azaleas may also be occurring in Piedmont Azaleas.

That same spring at Boat Rock Preserve in Southwest Fulton County my husband Michael Williams was taking photos in the Piedmont Azaleas and caught this critter, a Hummingbird Clearwing moth, (possibly Hemaris thysbe) hard at work in the  azalea flowers:

I wonder if this species is also capable of wing pollination?

Here is the citation for the 2015 article on wing pollination:

Epps, Mary Jane, Allison Suzanne E., and Wolfe, Lorne M. Reproduction in Flame Azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum, Ericaceae): A Rare Case of Insect Wing Pollination. The American Naturalist, vol 186, No. 2. August 2015.

 


The Monarchs are Coming

March 17: Spring has warmed the mountains of Michoacán in the State of Mexico.  As I write this, the noon temperature in that alpine forest is 74 degrees Fahrenheit. The monarch butterflies that have been hibernating in tall fir trees have started leaving their mountain roosts to voyage north on their yearly migration in search of milkweed host plants for their young.  By the end of March, all of them will have left Mexico to journey north.
 
As early as this January and February, Monarchs have already been sighted on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and throughout much of Florida.  They will be in the Georgia Piedmont soon, and as you read this, fragile orange wings are flapping and fluttering against air currents to make their way here. By the time the Monarchs have reached Beech Hollow in late March and early April, the journey will have been roughly 1500 miles.

Why do they migrate?  The timing of the butterflies’ northward migration follows the seasonal availability of the larval host plants that monarchs need to feed their young.  They will migrate only as far north as the milkweed grows.  However the timing of the southward migration has the insects traveling well ahead of cold winter temperatures that they cannot survive.  And as they travel south during the late summer through the fall, there are still plenty of nectar plants for them to forage on to fuel their journey to the alpine forests in Mexico.  How’s that for travel planning? From the summer range in southern Canada to Mexico’s alpine forests, the total journey averages 2500 miles.

Rough timing of Monarch migration stops: When the female Monarch arrives in the southern United States between February through April, she will lay her eggs, and only upon Milkweed plants. Her caterpillars feed on the Milkweed, grow, pupate, and hatch. It takes anywhere from 4-7 weeks for the second generation of butterflies to mature enough to take up this generational relay. 
 
This second generation of new Monarchs flies into the northern United States and Southern Canada in late spring.  When the butterflies arrive, the females lay the eggs of generation number three on Milkweed plants.

In August and September, Monarch generations three and four will start flying southward, retracing their flights back to the mountains in Michoacán and the State of Mexico.  When the butterflies arrive, they overwinter in large fir trees and wait for the return of spring.

Habitat needs:  A garden with native plants which provide nectar for the adult butterflies is important.  Even MORE important for Monarch butterflies is the availability of their larval host plant: Milkweed. Supporting their full life cycle by providing host plants for their caterpillars will ensure the return of these intriguing insects year after year.  Milkweed species that are recommended by the GPCA (Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance) and native to the state of Georgia are: 

  • Clasping Leaf milkweed, Asclepias amplexicaulis
  • Poke Milkweed, Asclepias exaltata
  • Pink Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
  • Butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa
  • and Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias verticillata

Please Provide Water, everyone needs clean water, even insects.  A ceramic plant saucer with large pebbles or a sand ramp in it will allow butterflies to approach the water without being drowned.
 
Minimize use of toxic chemicals, such as pesticides, which can sicken or kill unintended, or “non-target,” wildlife.  If you must use a pesticide, be aware of your larval host plants and other pollinators, apply pesticides carefully to avoid destroying your beneficial insects.

Websites with additional information:

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/monarch.html

https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/biology/index.shtml#migrgen

Annual generational lifecycle:

https://monarchlab.org/biology-and-research/biology-and-natural-history/breeding-life-cycle/annual-life-cycle/

Western Monarch Information:

https://www.westernmonarchcount.org/about/

 

 

 

 


Buds are Swell

Hearts a Bustin’ (Euonymous americanus) stem with numerous buds at the tip.

Deciduous woody plants have adapted to survive in the temperate regions of the world by dropping their leaves for the duration of the cold winter months.  Freezing temperatures and low light conditions aren’t conducive to photosynthesis, so trying to maintain leaves through the winter doesn’t make much sense and would probably result in a net loss of energy.  Once the temperatures do start to creep back up new growth has to begin somewhere, and that somewhere is in the buds.

Buds on a young White Oak (Quercus alba) sapling. Note the half moon shaped leaf scar just below the buds where last year’s leaf detached.

Buds are compact, often tiny, structures that are the first step toward a new leaf, branch or flower.  Where the bud is located on the plant largely determines what it will become.  Terminal, or apical, buds are at the tip of the stem.  They are usually the first to break dormancy and often impede all of the other buds on a branch or stem from sprouting until they do.  Lateral buds are farther down the stem, and axillary buds form at the joint between a branch and the main stem or trunk.

Big Leaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) bud covered in fine hairs to insulate against freezing temperatures. Big leaf, big bud

Many buds have evolved structures to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures called bud scales.  They are overlapping plate-like structures that contain a waxy substance for insulation. Others, like the Magnolia pictured above have hairs that act like animals’ fur to insulate the delicate parts inside.  Those delicate parts are cells akin to stem cells in animal embryos called ‘primordia.’  There can be as few as a couple hundred cells in a bud to start out, but as the temperatures rise and the days get longer, the cells begin to divide and differentiate into the specialized leaf parts they will ultimately become.  The first outer sign of this process beginning is when the buds swell in late winter, AKA right now in most of Georgia.  This all comes back to you, the gardener, in the fact that as the buds are swelling they need nutrients to grow!  Trees and shrubs (especially young ones) should be fertilized right as the buds begin to swell so that they have all the vital elements to make those tiny soon-to-be-leaf structures.

Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) leaves unfurling from a newly opened bud.

Keep an eye on the buds of your woody plants over the next few weeks and you will see Spring getting ready to spring!

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) bud just starting to break open


Out and About at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden

Carol Vanderschaaf at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden

In 2005, Carol Vanderschaaf started the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden with Phil Edwards and the Dekalb Master Gardener Association along with Catherine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  Together, they planted over 40 different species of native plants and shrubs.

Over the following years, the garden has not only added plants, but also been the site of outdoor environmental classes on pollinator syndromes and environmental stewardship for students at Mary Lin School.

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, provides excellent forage for songbirds.

This past October (2017), Beech Hollow and Scout Troop 586 scheduled a workday at the

Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden. The Scouts removed invasive plants from the garden, with adult help and supervision.

While we were hard at work, the Georgia aster was in bloom, and the Heart’s a Busting was dangling berries, to entice the birds to stop by and eat.

Cub Scout Troop 586 finishing a hard day’s work at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

The brilliant scarlet fruits of the Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, made a gorgeous splash of color under the oak trees. For birds, Winterberry and Heart’s a Busting fruits are the plant equivalent of a neon sign that says “Eat at Joe’s.”

Job well done, thank you, scouts!

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden, a short timeline:

2005

Carol Vanderschaaf started the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden with Phil Edwards and the Dekalb Master Gardener Association along with Catherine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  They planted over 40 different species of native plants and shrubs.

2008 through 2012,

EcoAddendum engaged the students at Mary Lin School in both learning to garden, in pollinator syndromes and environmental stewardship.  The students and Carol Vanderschaaf install more plants.

2013 through 2016,

Environmental programming continued with Lauren Sandoval and Trees Atlanta.  Each year volunteers planted new native plants.

2017 and ongoing:

Beech Hollow Farms and the Freedom Park Conservancy along with volunteer groups will continue the maintenance and planting of natives at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden.

Here is a partial list of plants that have been planted at the Freedom Park Bird and Butterfly Garden over the past several years:

Native plants for birds and/or butterflies:
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia fulgida or Rudbeckia hirta
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Golden Fleece Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa
Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
Crossvine, Bignonia capreolata

Native plants for birds:
American Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana
Blueberry, Vaccinium spp
Yellow root, Xanthorhizza simplicissima

Native plants for butterflies:
Butterfly Weed (not Bush),  Asclepias tuberosa
Joe Pye Weed, Eutrochium fistulosum
St. John’s Wort, Hypericum frondosum
Pink Milkweed, Asclepias incarnata
Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata

 


Out and About at the CRNRA

Working in Public Spaces

For several years Beech Hollow has been working in public spaces around the Atlanta Metro Area helping out with native plant installations.  We thought we would put up a couple of posts about these native plant projects.

Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA):

Island Ford monument sign with deer proof planting.

BHF have been working with the staff at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) for the past few years to plant and maintain native Georgia plants in two areas at the Island Ford Visitor’s Center.   The front entrance area has proved to be the toughest to re-vegetate, as the deer have been relentlessly munching plants down to the ground and have even pulled out whole root balls just days after we planted them!

Jeff with a fist full of invasive plants.

Despite the overabundant, graceful pests we have had deer proof successes in a very sunny area that is only irrigated by rainfall.  Plants like Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccafolium), American Aloe (Manfreda virginica), and Splitbeard Bluestem (Andropogon ternarius) are quite happily flowering in the poor, often dry soils of the driveway median.

We will continue working with Park staff and volunteers to reestablish native plant populations along the edges of the entrance and near the historic Hewlett Lodge Visitor Center building in the coming year.  Come out and lend a hand, or just visit to check out our plantings, hike the numerous trails, and see the natural beauty that will make you forget you’re in a large city.

 

Just in case you are curious, here is the list of approved native plants for the CRNRA:

Shrubs:

New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus

Georgia Basil, Clinopodium georgianum

Cedar Glade St Johnswort, Hypericum frondosum

Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium

Perennials:

Tall Thimbleweed, Anemone virginiana

Bird’s foot Violet,
Viola pedata

Barren Strawberry, Waldsteinia lobata

Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum

Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata

Pussytoes, Antennaria plantaginifolia

Blue-eyed grass,
 Sisyrinchium spp

Eastern beardtongue, Penstemon laevigatus

Hoary skullcap, Scutellaria incana

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa

Rattlesnake master, Eryngium yuccifolium

Narrow leaved Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum tennuifolium

Coreopsis, Coreopsis grandiflora

Cornel leaf Aster, Doellingeria infirma

Goldenaster, Chrysopsis mariana

Red disk Sunflower, Helianthus atrorubens

Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinuum

Georgia aster, Symphyotrichum georgianum


There’s Nothing Wrong With Those Leaves, They’re Just Dying.

One of the best parts about going to plant sales and setting up a booth is that you get to hear everyone’s story about their favorite plants that you may or may not be selling.  Seeing people enthusiastic to learn and share plant knowledge refills my inner reservoir of hope.   We participated in the Hall County Master Gardener’s Fall Expo last weekend and talked to some wonderful people (many of whom were Hall Co. Master Gardeners, y’all were awesome!) and sold a bunch of plants.  One exchange in particular made me incredibly happy because I finally heard someone express the concept I’ve been trying to convey to anyone that will listen for years:  Leaves on a perennial plant (especially in fall ) are expendable and don not necessarily reflect the overall health of the plant.

Agastache leaves showing some yellowing as they break down.

I was talking to a couple as they browsed our plants, and as the wife decided she would like a Giant Hyssop (Agastache scrophularifolia) she picked up two pots and started comparing the plants in them.  She asked her husband, “Which one?” He responded that they looked about the same.  She expressed concern about the yellowing leaves on one of the plants, but it had more stems, so she kind of wanted it more. He turned to me and asked “It’s perennial, right?” I said that it was with a nod.  He said “Well, then you’re buying the roots. Those leaves are going to be gone in a few weeks anyway.”  I think I just found my new best friend.  I’m pretty sure I saw the wife roll her eyes and then select the plant with 2 stems.

Magnolia macrophylla with some leaves that have seen better days, but quite healthy roots

Leaves on a perennial plant go through an annual life cycle that eventually ends with them shutting down and dying.  This is known as ‘leaf senescence’ and most people know it more commonly as “when the leaves change color in Autumn.”  This cycle was summed up incredibly well in a paper about the molecular causes of leaf senescence that I came across:

“Leaves initiate their life as leaf primodia. During their development and growth, they become photosynthetically competent and accumulate nutrients. Leaves then enter the senescence stage, followed by their death. Leaf senescence partly involves the process of ‘wear and tear’ during aging, but mostly is a tightly regulated process with a crucial biological purpose.”    – http://jcs.biologists.org/content/126/21/4823

Leaves are formed, perform their function of collecting solar energy to build roots, stems, more leaves and flowers, and then are systematically dismantled and their components are resorbed and redistributed to other parts of the plant.  The remaining framework is then dropped to the soil, most likely to be reabsorbed by the roots after passing through the soil food web.

In this context, looking for the leaves to be green and healthy on a plant in October seems a bit absurd.  Plants that bloom in spring usually shut down in the summer heat, and the ones that bloom in fall are sending all their resources to make flowers and then seeds before a frost comes along.  Another quote from the aforementioned paper again sums it up well:

“The blooming of spring flowers occurs through the utilization of nutrients that have been relocated from senescing autumn leaves. Thus, senescence and death in leaves are active developmental strategies that crucially contribute to the fitness and survival of a plant.”  –ibid

Just look at this beautiful Georgia Aster bloom:

Now take a look at the leaves closer to the base of the stem:

Not nearly as aesthetically appealing as the flower, but part of a totally necessary and natural process on a healthy plant.

Fall is the best time to plant perennials, so now is the time to shop at one of the many plant sales going on in the next few weeks.  If you see some less than perfect leaves, don’t worry. They won’t be there much longer. They too shall pass, and in doing so enable the roots to survive the winter.


Milkweed for Monarchs….and everyone else!

The recent push to plant Milkweed for Monarchs is a welcome development in the gardening community.  Monarchs are dependent on Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) for their survival, as it is the only food their caterpillars can eat.  But it’s not just for Monarchs! LOTS of pollinators visit the flowers to drink the nectar.  I took my camera out to several of our patches of Orange Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) yesterday to document a smapling of the variety of insects I see on the flowers.

One of the common names of Asclepias tuberosa is ‘Butterflyweed’ so one would expect to see butterflies.  This female Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) is dipping her long proboscis into the nectar rich base of the flower in order to drink it up.  It’s like a built in straw.

A close cousin, the Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) also feeds on the nectar. Much like the Monarch Zebra Swallowtail caterpillars can only feed on the leaves of the plants in a single genus, Asimina, or Paw Paws.

This Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) was looking a little tattered, as it was probably approaching the end of it’s ~2 week long adult life.  It was still sipping nectar as it rested on the flowers.

Bees also love the nectar from this plant.  Here a Green Sweat Bee (Agapostemon spp.) perches it’s tiny body atop the flower as it sips nectar from inside. It’s just one of the hundreds of species of native bees here in Georgia.

Another Native bee, possibly a Leafcutter bee (I’m not an entomologist), feeding on nectar.

Another possible leafcutter bee: the whitish mat of hairs on the underside of it’s abdomen are used for collecting pollen.  Look closely to the right of the bee and you’ll see an ant sipping nectar as well.

Speaking of Ants, this Fire Ant also found it’s way up the 3 foot tall stalks for a sugary meal. Ants can be pollinators too, and they are responsible for dispersing the seeds of many spring blooming wildflowers such as Trillium and Bloodroot.

This Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) feeds on nectar as an adult, but like most wasps it hatched from an egg laid on another insect and fully consumed it before the metamorphosis into it’s current winged form.  Golden Digger Wasps are predators to Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets.

This Yellow Jacket adult enjoys sugary nectar, but its larvae need a more protein rich diet, which the adults supply by hunting other insects (many of which are agricultural pests).  Wasps are much maligned by humans, but without their predatory behavior we would be literally drowning in bugs and our crops would be decimated.

And finally, not everyone is there for the nectar! This is one of several clever lizards I’ve seen recently near blooming flowers lying in wait for some distracted pollinator to drift too close…..

Milkweed is for Monarchs, but after they have migrated north it’s for butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, ants, beetles, aphids, and even lizards.