Fruits of Millennia Past

You’ve most likely seen the insides of a pumpkin one way or another in the past month.  It’s a stringy, gooey mess full of seeds surrounded by thick fleshy walls.  Have you ever stopped to consider why it’s structured that way?  How are those seeds going to get out of that gourd and into a place where they can germinate into baby pumpkin vines?  These days humans cultivate and eat pumpkins, planting their seeds year after year for the past several thousand years.   However, the ancestors of today’s pumpkins were growing wild 30 million years ago in a landscape devoid of humans in what is now North and Central America.

Two ways humans use pumpkins.

  Ancestral pumpkins were smaller than modern ones, but still softball sized, and were full of bitter, toxic compounds to deter potential seed predators.  These gourds were adapted to be eaten whole, with minimal chewing, so as to avoid crushing the seeds.  What animal has the appropriately large teeth and esophagus to handle such a task and the body mass to tolerate toxic compounds?  Did you guess a five ton ground sloth? How about a Gomphothere or their more familiar cousin the Mastodon? Maybe a 12 foot tall camel? If you guessed any of the above you are probably a Paleontologist, and most likely correct.  There were dozens of species of megafauna populating the American continent for millions of years and they co-evolved with many of the plant species (or their ancestors) that are still here today.

 Plants have been growing on land for nearly half a billion years.  In that time countless growth and reproductive strategies have been attempted.  Most people are familiar with the pollination process: male flower parts produce pollen grains that need to be transferred to the receptive female ovary, and the resulting genetic combination is encapsulated in a seed.  Pollination as a means of reproduction wasn’t always an option.  Spores were the dominant means of reproduction in plants for the first several hundred million years after they colonized land.  This strategy is so successful that many plants, such as ferns and mosses, still use spores to reproduce to this day.  A major limiting factor of this strategy is that it requires a moist or wet environment for the spores to combine their genes and sprout a new individual. 

The development of pollen and seed about 380 million years ago allowed plants to move into drier areas and expand their potential range immensely.  Another 250 million years later saw the rise of flowering plants that encased the seed(s) in a fruit.  Fruits are a major part of why flowering plants (Angiosperms) are now the most diverse and wide-ranging branch of the plant family tree.  By protecting their seeds and exploiting animals’ need for calories plants gained the ability to move long distances to new areas and free fertilizer. Fruits and animals have been in a co-evolutionary tango ever since that has shaped the habits of both.

Hawthorn (Crataegus uniflora) fruits on thorny branches.

 In the past 100 million years that flowering plants have been producing fruits lots of animal species have evolved, thrived for millions of years, and then gone extinct.  What happens when the agent of dispersal that loves to eat fruits and unwittingly transport and deposit seeds in far off places suddenly (geologically speaking) disappears?  Fruits will rot on the vine or on the ground and seeds will fall victim to fungal attack, rodent seed eaters, or be forced to try and grow in the shade of their parent.  A new dispersal mechanism must be found or plant populations will become isolated, inbred, and slowly wink out of existence.  This is the situation a number of North American native plants found themselves in recently.  The Pleistocene megafauna that roamed the continent for millions of years went extinct between 15,000 and 8000 years ago.  Fruits that were meant to appeal to these giant mammals still hang on trees today waiting for a ride that will never arrive.

Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos) seed pod that was still on the tree from last year. (6 in. scale)

Plants that appeal to and/or defend against extinct animals are said to be ‘anachronisms,’ that is “belonging to a period other than that in which it exists.”  A few examples of plants with anachronistic fruits in the Southeast are Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), Paw Paw (Asimina triloba), Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), and Kentucky Coffee Tree (Gymnocladus dioicus).  Beyond the Southeast, other familiar new world fruits such as Papaya, Avocado, Guava, Passionfruit, and Mesquite pods were originally adapted to appeal to beasts much larger than humans that could swallow the rind, pulp and seeds together in one or a few bites.  One can also see anachronisms in the thorny defenses on plants such as Hawthorns (Crataegus spp.), Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), Devil’s Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa), and Yucca (Yucca spp.).  These thorns are meant to discourage leaf browsing, but are larger than necessary, and continue up the stems well above the height needed to discourage any living herbivores. 

Serious defense on the Honey Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos).

 

The arrival of humans in the Americas (14,000 to 40,000 years ago, depending on who you ask) coincides with the extinction of the majority of the large seed dispersers, and may have been a contributing factor.  So it goes. It just so happened that many of the fruits and seeds here also appealed to the humans’ mammal palette, or they found inventive ways to neutralize toxins and make them edible and nutritious.  This new avenue of dispersal allowed many plants to continue to spread and thrive even as they produced fruits that were originally meant for someone else.   

The next time you see an avocado, butternut squash, papaya, or if you’re lucky enough to get a pawpaw, think about who it originally appealed to in a world without ovens or knives.  Millions of years ago when humans and chimpanzees were just diverging from a common ancestor in Africa, giant camels, sloths, rhinos, mastodons, and other beasts roamed the North American continent plucking persimmons, pawpaws and locust pods from the trees.   These giants feasted on prickly pear fruits and desert gourds during their seasonal migrations and they consistently deposited the seeds in a pile of fertilizer further down the trail.  Plants are still using their tried and true methods that worked for millions of years, so the brief absence of their partners for 15,000 years has not yet sunk into permanence.  In the meantime they’ve found us human types that are all too happy to pamper their descendants and spread them far and wide if they happen to also appeal to our senses.  Bon Appetit!

Immature Pawpaw fruit in July

 

Credits, References:

The inspiration for this post, and from which I drew heavily for information, is the book “The Ghosts of Evolution: Nonsensical Fruit, Missing Partners and Other Ecological Anachronisms” by Connie Barlow (2001). It’s a great read, and very accessible even if you know nothing of Paleontology, Botany, or Ecology.  She weaves the story of two of the progenitors of the concept of Evolutionary Anachronisms, Dan Jantzen and Paul Martin, with her own investigations into the edibility of fruits, the natural history of plant species, and interviews with botanists, paleontologists, and ranchers. She thoroughly examines past hypotheses of seed dispersal syndromes and shows how many plants have found alternative vehicles (humans and otherwise) to survive.

The wikipedia page for “Pleistocene megafauna” is also a great summary and jumping off point if you click through the references at the bottom to learn more about the giants that took the place of dinosaurs.  


Saskatoons! The Serviceberry

Call it a Juneberry, Serviceberry, Shadbush, Sarvisberry, or Saskatoon; the  Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp) is a native tree that occurs throughout North America. Roughly 14 different species species range from the East to West coasts, and from the northern tip of Alaska down across Canada into the southern reach of Texas.

Currently, Serviceberry is a very popular blog topic, for a lot of good reasons. A member of the rose family, it’s smothered in beautiful white flowers in the spring. Naturally a small tree, with large berries that are dark blue to purple when ripe, it’s perfect for an edible landscape in either sun or part shade. As a tasty and nutritious fruit packed with anthocyanins and vitamins, it’s got all the right healthy talking points. Beyond all the recent chatter found online, this small fruit tree has a long, deep history with both the early people of North America and the Western explorers and Colonists.

As I was rooting around in the Congressional Archive and the internet for cultural history on the uses of Serviceberry, references to pemikan (also spelled pemmican) kept popping up. Containing 50% dried, pulverized meat, 20% soft tallow, 20% hard tallow, pemikan often had 10% dried berries added into the mix, if they were available. The berry I found mentioned most frequently in historical pemikan recipes was the Serviceberry.

One of the reasons most often cited for adding berries to pemikan was as a flavoring. Consider a cold dark winter, with not much fresh food available, dietary protein and fat needs would be taken care of by the meat and tallow, but Vitamins A, B complex, and C, bioflavinoids, anthocyanins and fiber would be more plentiful in fruits and veggies. In addition, the Serviceberry fruit contains protein as well, so it’s not surprising that this berry was an important food. Bountiful Serviceberry harvests would be either dried and stored as loose berries, or mashed into flat cakes and stored for lean times.

For the First Peoples of the North American Plains, storing enough pemikan and dried Serviceberry, along with other dried berries and roots, could be a matter of life and death in a land where winters were long and winter food was scarce. In warmer seasons, animals such as buffalo and elk were more likely to be in the open prairies and meadows eating tender grasses and flowering herbs, making clearer targets for hunters. During the winter, with animals sheltering in woody thickets, hunting was more difficult. Pemikan was a way to preserve meat for months, or even years, after a season of successful hunts. If a tribe’s cache of pemikan ran out, they survived on their winter stores of dried fruits and roots.

In summer months, when Serviceberries ripened in June, both Colonists and First Peoples ate them fresh off of the tree. Colonists had plenty of their own Western style summer recipes for serviceberries, including preserves, tarts and pies. If we wander back into the culinary delights of the 21st Century, the internet is full of Serviceberry recipes in pies, jellies, jams, compotes, scones, galettes, and beer.

If all that berry history and berry goodness doesn’t tempt you into planting your very own Saskatoon/Serviceberry in your native garden, perhaps a butterfly-in-your-habitat-garden reason will: Serviceberry is a larval host plant for the Red-spotted Purple Butterfly or White Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis arthemis.  Limenitis arthemis comes in two color forms: The White Admiral of the northern USA through Canada, and the Red Spotted Purple, which is the color form of this butterfly in the southern USA. The Red Spotted Purple color form mimics the bad tasting Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus philenor) to fend off hungry birds.

The Red Spotted Purple frequently uses many trees in the southern United States from the

By Mike [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

rose family such as Amelanchier spp, Crataegus spp, Malus spp, Prunus spp, as well as several other common native trees as larval host species. Adults tend to inhabit deciduous or mixed woodlands, close to the larval host trees. The female lays eggs at the tip of larval host plant’s leaves. Two broods of caterpillars will span the summer from April through October; the second or possibly a third brood will overwinter in a hibernaculum to emerge the next spring.

Red Spotted Purple adults feed/nectar on small white flowers, sap flows, and rotting fruit, even dung. It should be easy to host the adults in a native perennial garden, once a larval host tree or two is in place in the garden.  We have several Serviceberry Trees planted at Beech Hollow, but after writing this post, I think it’s time I planted a couple in my yard…

More on the Red Spotted Purple or White Admiral Butterfly here.

More on wild edibles here, and here

More on habitat gardening here.


Native Fruit Trees: The Paw Paw Post

Have you ever seen a Zebra Swallowtail? If you have, you weren’t just lucky, there was a Paw Paw involved, and it was somewhere nearby. This beautiful butterfly exclusively lays its eggs on Paw Paw species. “Larval host species” is the official phrase that describes the special relationship between a butterfly it’s host plant(s).

When Mike, Jeff, and I first started hiking the forests at Beech Hollow, we would catch occasional glimpses of the Zebra Swallowtail. That’s because there are Paw Paws in our woods. There are Dwarf and Common Paw Paws in undisturbed woodlands throughout Atlanta, in Decatur, Stone Mountain Park, Mount Arabia, Panola Mountain, and Athens. The Common Paw Paw is scattered throughout North Georgia and the Georgia Piedmont. The Dwarf Paw Paw has a more southerly range, hugging the Coastal Plains and with scattered distribution in the Piedmont. Look for mesic ravines in mature, undisturbed forests, and you may find one of two species of Paw Paw.

The flower of Asimina triloba, or Common Paw Paw.

Now that we have planted Paw Paws on the valley ridge near the nursery, we see more of these butterflies, in our flower beds and nursery, sipping nectar.

The Common Paw Paw is the northernmost species of this mostly tropical family; in Georgia it occurs roughly from the Piedmont northward into the North Eastern United States and Nova Scotia. Often a small tree that can reach 40 feet in height, this species of Paw Paw can also occur as a large multi-trunked shrub. Maroon flowers, one inch across, with six leathery petals,  appear in late spring, nestled under long, dark green, shield shaped leaves. The lumpy yellow-green fruit ripens in late summer or early fall, and is called either

A green pawpaw on the Common Paw Paw tree, Asimina triloba.

the Custard Apple or Paw Paw. At about four to six inches long by two to three inches wide, this is the largest native fruit in North America. Paw Paws tend to be rhizomatous, but they spread slowly. If left to their own devices, one Paw Paw can make a small patch, but it will take two individual plants of the same species to make fruit.

The Dwarf or Small Flower Paw Paw is shorter than the Common Pawpaw, topping out at 6-8 feet in height.   It’s fruit is generally two and a half to three inches in length, smaller than the Common Paw Paw, but just as edible.

One of the delightful things about the Paw Paw species in our area is that they make fruit in the shade. They want shade. You can have a shady back yard, and fruit, as long as you wake up before the birds and the squirrels. Paw Paws make great understory shrubs and an excellent habitat species, providing both cover and food for birds and other wildlife. Plus, your garden can be graced by that glorious beauty, the Zebra Swallowtail. What more can you ask for?


Finally, Fall Is Here!

The Southern heat is about to leave us for some of our favorite weather here at Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm.  Despite all the excitement and energy folks put into planting in the Spring, Fall can be the best time to plant your favorite perennial wildflowers, trees and shrubs.  Here in the south, in October and even into November, the soil is still plenty warm for planting while the air is comfortably cool enough to make plants happy. Our winters are mild enough to give the plants a great time to settle into their new spots without getting scorched by the summer sun and are then well established to produce new growth once Spring and Summer come.  Come visit us at our Fall plant sales, grab some native perennials, let those roots set in over the cooler months and then just wait for those blooms to greet you in the spring!

Want some immediate color for Fall?  Don’t think that the leaves turning brown and falling means that you’re headed into dreary colorless colder months.  There are plenty of wildflowers at Beech Hollow to bring a little colorful pop of joy to each season. Some beautiful blooms will certainly warm you up when the air is cool.  It’s an excellent practice to plan successive bloom times throughout the year in the garden. The best thing about staggering bloom times is that our friendly pollinators appreciate it too!

If you are looking for a particular plant, let us know by sending us a Facebook message or an email at info@beechhollowfarms.com. Let us know which plant and which sale you plan on attending and we will make sure we have it there for you!


Freedom Park Pollinator Garden

by Jeff Killingsworth

Carol Vanderschaaf, at the 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 Catharine Kuchar of the Audubon Society.  Together, they initially planted a small selection of native plants and shrubs.  The site is atop a small hill between a retaining wall and the PATH trail that runs through the park.  Three large White Oaks in an east/west line, a north facing slope, a well mowed southern boundary, and several old driveway excavations make for a lot of niches with different conditions.  In the following 13 years, the garden has expanded 3 times, and now contains over 40 different species of native grasses, herbs and shrubs, 2 bluebird nesting boxes and a bird bath.  Many volunteers from the neighborhood, students from nearby Mary Lin Elementary, and other organizations  have helped to install plants, remove invasives, control erosion, spread mulch and generally maintain the garden for the benefit of pollinators, birds, and other wildlife (including the human kind).

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

Care of the garden was passed from Carol to the staff at Beech Hollow Farm in 2015, and we are still working with any volunteers that care to help.  Last fall we had had Cub Scout Troop 586 out to help pull invasive vines, and we are now coordinating with members of the Freedom Park Conservancy to hold regular volunteer days.  The main issue facing the long term success of the garden is non-native, invasive plants out-competing the native plantings that nourish the birds, butterflies and bees.  Seeds from the Bradford Pear trees that line the nearby golf course are continually deposited in the garden and sprout up

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, provides excellent forage for songbirds.

thorny little trees with leaves that no native caterpillars will eat.  Porcelain berry vines climb over the native shrubs and rob them of sunlight, and the only bug that seems to eat them are Japanese beetles, which we don’t want to encourage with more free food.  In lieu of natural insect controls, repeated pulling and cutting of these and other invasives keeps them in check and allows the natives a fair chance at sunlight and nutrients as they sacrifice leaves to hungry caterpillars that then feed (baby) birds or grow up to be pollinators.

Butterflyweed in the garden, a milkweed that supports Monarch Butterflies

 Volunteers and caring people are the reason that the garden exists and continues to thrive at the corner of North Ave and Candler Park Drive.   Check it out if you should happen to be in the neighborhood.   It’s not obvious from the street, but up close you’re almost always bound to see something blooming, hear birds calling in the trees overhead or frolicking in the birdbath, and see a few butterflies and bees sipping nectar in the shade.  If you are interested in volunteering on a Sunday morning to help the garden grow, you can check our calendar or email pandra@beechhollowfarms.com for information about the next volunteer day.

Wood Poppy, an early spring ephemeral at the garden


Spiders in the Garden

Editor’s Note: While this was posted by Jeff, it was written by Clair, the newest member of the BHF team.  She has been working hard to improve our propagation beds and in the process was inspired to write this appreciation of Arachnids. Enjoy!

Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) with a captured wasp

If you have been outside at all lately, whether walking through the woods, spending time in your garden, or even just sitting on the porch, chances are you’ve come in contact with a spider, or at least its web.  Most spiders have gotten a bad rap over the years as something to fear. Movies, Halloween decorations, pest control advertising, and the spiders’ skittish behavior play into these fears. While most spiders are venomous, very few have the jaw-power or enough venom to do any real harm to a human.  The brown recluse and the black widow are exceptions, but chances are slim you will come across these in your garden (Even if they did manage to bite you the chances of it being fatal are basically zero). Remember, you are much larger than a spider and they are more interested in getting away from you than biting you.

You may be thinking, ‘well, even if the spider won’t harm me, they eat everything, including the pollinators, so why have them around?’  True, spiders are not picky eaters and will eat the “good bugs” along with the “bad.” Spiders may be the most beneficial predator in your garden and play a huge role in controlling pests.  They are not selective in the insects they eat, so it is guaranteed that they will occasionally snag a bee or butterfly in their web, but the few beneficials they do kill is no match for the natural pest control they provide (free of charge, I might add!).    Spiders will feast on aphids, armyworms, leafhoppers, flea-hoppers, leafminers and spider mites. They attack the spruce budworm, pine sawfly, sorghum midge and tobacco budworm. They especially like caterpillars, thrips, plant bugs, cucumber beetles, scarabs and flies. Larger spiders eat larger prey, so some will even eat wasps, cicadas, and grasshoppers.  If you’re really lucky, you may even get to see a spider and a praying mantis battle it out.

There are two types of spiders that you are likely to come across in your garden: web spinners, or orb weavers, and hunters.  Garden spiders and crab spiders are very common web spinners in Georgia. They spin their webs between plant stalks, tree branches, or even from tree branch to ground.  Spiders usually hang out in the middle of their web and wait for an unsuspecting insect to fly into the nearly invisible trap. Garden spiders are often large, like the yellow and black orb weaver or the green garden spider, so hopefully you will catch a glimpse of them before accidentally walking straight through their web.  However, they sometimes hide in a protected corner and wait for their prey from a safe spot. Crab spiders tend to be small and crouch in the center of the web with their eight legs pulled under their armored shell, making them harder to detect as you approach their web.    

Black and Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) on its nearly invisible web.

Wolf spiders are a common hunting spider and do not spin traditional webs.  They are most likely to be found on the ground, nesting in mulch, ground covers and old wood piles.  If you have tall grass in or near your garden you may be lucky enough to attract a funnel spider. The aptly named funnel spider creates a dense funnel with their silk and waits safely in the back for prey to wander onto the outer funnel before they attack.  

Female spiders tend to lay eggs in the fall.  They may hatch quickly or overwinter in an egg sack before emerging in the spring.  Wolf spiders will attach the egg sack to their body and carry it with them if they feel they are in danger and need to move.  When the baby spiders emerge from the egg sack they will “balloon” by shooting a silky thread from their web spinner into the air. When it attaches to a sturdy object (leaf, branch, twig, building, etc.) they will ascend the thread and find a good place to start their first web (anyone remember “Charlotte’s Web?”).

Rabid Wolf Spider (Lycosidae rabidosa) female with egg sack attached

  To encourage spiders in your garden plant a variety of plants with varying heights, preferably plants native to Georgia. Taller plants provide a structure for orb weavers to attach their webs, and low growing ground covers create niches in which the hunters can hide.  Mulch provides a good home and helps retain moisture for wolf spiders since they do not have webs to catch the morning dew. Leave small patches of bare ground here and there for open hunting ground for the wolf spiders. Woody plants and bunch grasses make great homes for funnel spiders.  All spiders play a valuable role in your gardens’ ecosystem and should not be eradicated.  Do not feel bad if you accidentally destroy a spider’s web. They will quickly move on and begin building a new one.  Predators like spiders are a sign of a healthy ecosystem, and acknowledging the pest control services they provide is a great way to start to appreciate them as garden collaborators rather than something to be feared.


Bumblebee ID & Survey Activity & PDF

Bumblebee ID & Survey PDF:

Welcome!  We are glad you are here to read about the SE Bumblebee Survey Activity!  Why should you do this?  There are a lot of reasons, we can give you three quick reasons right here:  

1.) Bumblebees and other pollinators are important.  Pollinators put all of our fruit and vegetables on the dinner table. Humans still rely on pollinators for 30% of our diet: green beans, squash, oranges, strawberries, chocolate, and coffee, the list of foods goes on and on.  Although, during daily life checking on smartphones, we may think we are “apart from” “nature,” the opposite is true: we are still very dependent upon natural systems.  Can’t eat without nature!

2.) Science is fun, and Citizens Science projects are educational! Learning and recording your observations about the plants and nature in your park or garden, is rewarding; you will learn new details about your local ecosystem.  Uploading your observations and pictures to a Citizen Science website run by scientists is exciting; you are helping scientific experts with your information.  Your carefully collected observations added to all of the other observations from other citizens helps research science move forward.  How great can learning get when you are going outside to hang out and observe pollinators on some flowers?           

3.) Why are we counting and identifying the bees? We still need pollinators to help us make our food, but insect populations, and especially worrying, pollinator populations, are declining across the world. If there is an area with good pollinator and bee populations, we all need to know about it!  If a bee population is in decline or missing, all of us need to know about it! It’s all about the Strawberries! Chocolate! Zucchini!

About this pdf: The first page of this pdf provides an inexpensive and easy to carry  schematic ID that highlights several of the key characteristics for seven of the Southeast’s most common bumblebees.  The second page of this pdf has general information about the likely habitats of these bees, their preferred nest locations and floral foraging preferences. The third page has a data entry form to help you collect and organize your observations.

Bombus bimaculatus on Scutellaria spp. at Beech Hollow Farm.

How to use this Bumblebee ID Card:

Print out an ID card, with the information page on the back, a data collection card, and read the data collection instructions.

Select one method of data collection that you will follow.  For the 5 minute sitting observations the observer will sit at one cluster of flowers for 5 minutes, count bee visits to each flower in their chosen cluster.  If the observer can take pictures of the bees, those provide important information that can be verified at a few sites.

The 15 minute walking observation is more complex, and requires more set up time.  The observer should measure 100 feet of transect (a straight predetermined path through the landscape) next to or in a bee pasture or garden.  The measured transect should be flagged both at the beginning and end of 100 feet, and participants would time their walk to go from one end of the transect to the other within 15 minutes.  Very detailed directions for a 15 minute walking observation are available at bumblebeewatch.org.  If you do not have 100 continuous feet of transect along a bee meadow or garden, there are organized ways to break up the transects that are described at the bumblebeewatch website.

The following three websites have experts who will ID clear photographs of bees that are submitted to them:  The site Bug Guide will verify insect and bee ID in clear pictures. The Great Sunflower Project allows an observer to upload up to 3 pictures of each bee, to increase accuracy of bee identification. Clear photos of the bees also provide important information for Bumblebee Watch.  The additional information about the flower being visited, the location, time, temperature, and date, is also important. Information from five minute sitting observations may be uploaded at The Great Sunflower Project.  Information from 15 minute walking observations may be uploaded at Bumblebee Watch.

Here is the form to download the free SE Bumblebee Survey pdf:

SE Bumblebee Survey Form

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Information Deep Dive: 

For those of you who are curious about some of the reasons behind the decline, here is some more information and source material:

Some reasons for pollinator decline:

Climate Change: An increase in global temperatures by 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2100 CE  will affect 49% of insect species with a projected 50% reduction in their habitat or range. (Article/source: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6390/714.full)

Loss of habitat due to farming/corporate agriculture/monoculture practices and other human activity/development.  (Article/source: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/353/6296/288/tab-pdf )

The pesticide use by agribusiness in the EU and the USA has resulted in a massive die off of important ecological “actors” insects, pollinators and otherwise.  An article about bees and pesticides here: Neonicotinoids and bees

The effect of this is creeping upward into the larger species that are dependent upon them:  Insect populations in the EU have declined by 76%.  (Article/source:  http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0185809&type=printable)

Other animals directly or indirectly affected by above factors:

Songbird populations in France have declined by 70% :  An article in the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/21/catastrophe-as-frances-bird-population-collapses-due-to-pesticides)  

Even aquatic systems are not immune to the effects of our introduced chemical compounds.  Aquatic insects and arthropods are being affected by neonicotinoid compounds leaching into surface waters (a broadly used class of pesticide associated with many problems in global insect decline.)  http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/XercesCAAquaticNeonics_Dec2016_Final.pdf

Why worry about terrestrial and aquatic insects and arthropods?  Those organisms provide food to freshwater fish as well as many birds.  We humans also eat fish. Many river systems drain into the oceans. Who knows if the compounds will survive in the complex chemistry of ocean water?  I hope they don’t.  Point being:  we as humans are all a part of this.  The bottom of the food web supports the organisms at the top.  We are at the top, and there will be no foundation to support us.  Pollinators go away, veggies and fruits go away.


National Pollinator Week in Beecatur!

We are thrilled to have been invited to participate in BEEcatur for National Pollinator Week:

June 21: The Bee-autiful Bee Business: Storytelling & Puppetmaking 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Sylvia Cross, Art Instigator and Sycamore Place Gallery Owner, will host a bevy of bee-autiful puppet makers at Sycamore Place Gallery on June 21 at 5:30pm.

Sylvia is a Decatur fixture known for her Art/poetry/Musical collaborations with the children of Young Audiences at Woodruff Arts Center and with a variety of performers in the tree houses of Costa Rica to the nature made galleries and Adult Storytellings at Java Monkey and in her own studio.

She is excited to be part of the artist Pandra Williams’ Bee Business Project and invite the youth of the city to join us in the festive puppet making and spectacular story performance that should heat up this summer’s educational celebration of bee -n- bug life! FREE

For more information visit : http://www.beechhollowfarms.com
Email: info@beechhollowfarms.co

June 21: The Buzz About Native Bees, 7:30 pm – 9 pm,

It’s a bug! It’s a fly! No, it’s a Native Bee! Georgia has more than 400 species of native bees. Unlike honeybees, the coloring of our native bees ranges from metallic blues and greens to the classic yellow and black of the bumblebee. Native bee sizes range from the dainty 3/16 of an inch of the
masked bees to the lumbering one-plus inch of a carpenter bee. How do you tell the difference between these native bees and bugs? We can show you! Pandra Williams, of Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm, will talk about the nesting, forage and habitat needs of these tiny animals who are so important to making a good tomato, blueberries, broccoli…almost all of our fruit and veggies!    FREE
Email: info@beechhollowfarms.com
 

 

Special prices on pollinator support plants
We will have Bee Trays and Pollinator 6 packs for sale.
 For more information Email: info@beechhollowfarms.com

June 21- July 5: Pollinator Portraits: Pollinator Photography Exhibition

 “Pollinator Portraits: Pollinator Photography Exhibition” Photographs by Jeff Killingsworth, Michael Williams and Pandra Williams.  A selection of images from six years of pollinator photos from Beech Hollow Wildflower Farm, Lexington, GA. Part of “Bee At Home In Decatur,” Beecatur’s city-wide celebration of National Pollinator Week 2018! FREE
For more information Email: info@beechhollowfarms.com

Sycamore Place Gallery is located at 120 Sycamore Pl, Decatur, GA 30030 

 


The Pollinators That Don’t Consume Pollen

By Jeff Killingsworth

Bees are most often associated with the word ‘pollinator’ and rightfully so: they gather pollen and nectar from flowers to feed themselves and their larvae. In the process of gathering their food, they cross-pollinate the flowers that give us many of our favorite foods. The 20,000+ species of bees on this planet come in all shapes and sizes, but nearly all of them subsist on pollen with a side of nectar. It’s a direct relationship with flowers that benefits both parties.

There is a another large group of insects known as Lepidopterans, the collective term for butterflies and moths, that also cross pollinate flowers, but not because they are collecting pollen to eat, and they certainly don’t feed it to their larvae. Their young consume a number of other plant parts, most often the leaves, to grow into adults. Their young are caterpillars, and they are not pollinators. Only adult lepidopterans are pollinators, but not all adults are.

Many butterflies and moths lack the mouth parts and/or digestive tracts to consume nectar from flowers. Their only task is to find a mate and produce fertilized eggs before they expend the energy they consumed as caterpillars. The adults that do visit flowers do so to sip nectar through a long, straw-like mouth known as a proboscis. It is often wound in a tight coil at the tip of the head and can unwind to reach the very bottom of tubular flowers where the nectar is secreted. In the process of sipping nectar, the adult is dusted with pollen, either by direct contact with the anthers or by the air currents from its wing beats causing pollen to release from the flower.

This happy accident of lepidopterans transferring pollen as they sip nectar has another happy accident embedded into in that some species of butterflies and moths are migratory. They move seasonally over distances much larger than the small area around a hive where bees forage. Sipping nectar powers the migratory flight, and the pollen gets to hitch a ride with all of its genetic information to far away plants. Long distance gene transfer helps plants spread useful adaptations through their population and enhances biodiversity which makes for plants that are more resilient to pests, pathogens and extreme weather.   For the price of some sugary liquid (and maybe a few leaves for caterpillars) a plant can spread its genes far and wide with the help of the delicate, fluttering pollinators that don’t eat pollen: The Lepidopterans.

 

 


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)