Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Krigia Project

On the day before Christmas, while the other family members were secreted away wrapping gifts, I took a trip to check on the progress of Potato Dandelion, Krigia dandelion, tubers planted out during August.  Many tubers were planted in this woodland site that mimics the original site of Krigia dandelion on the property.  As with the other woodland site, leaves completely covered the woodland floor.

Beneath the leaves were young Krigia sprouts.  Most of these plants displayed abnormally elongated growth resulting from their effort to find a way through the leaves to reach sunlight.  This growth pattern is typical of woodland grown plants.  Plants eventually find their way through the leaf cover, but rarely have an enough stored energy left to produce a flower.  The plants are able to survive and even generate new tubers, but spring blooms are unusual.

Knowing that Potato Dandelions have a tough time growing beneath the leaf cover or competing with other vegetation, I planted tubers in some barren areas bordering the woodland.  These sites generally have bare soil showing throughout the year.

The plants are doing quite well in this barren environment.  South facing slopes and a lack of ground cover allow these plants to receive an abundance of sunlight.  No leggy growth here.  Plants are forming tight whorls and the leaves are developing lobes, both signs that these plants will flower in the spring.  Several references refer to Krigia dandelion growing in prairies, rocky glades and woodland borders, so this may be the ideal location for this plant.  The unknown factor is the heat tolerance of the dormant tubers.  Temperature monitors set at a depth of two centimeters, have recorded summer soil temperatures as high as 125°F on these sites.  The majority of tubers that I have uncovered have been at or just below that level.  I guess I’ll have to wait until next fall to see how many plants make it through the summer.

Mild, wet weather has allowed the container grown Potato Dandelions to demonstrate some amazing growth.  Plants have nearly filled the pot.

Large plants have grown from the tubers planted in August.  I planted nine tubers in this pot.  You can almost identify the nine locations in the previous photo.

New growth includes a plethora of subterranean rhizomes that are responsible for the emergence of these smaller plants.  These young plants are unlikely to produce flowers in the coming year, but they will leave behind tubers that can give rise to flowering plants the following season.  This pot should yield hundreds of tubers next summer.

The plants are showing no signs of developing flower buds.  I am assuming that flower development is governed by photoperiod and that lengthening of daylight periods next April will trigger the creation of flower buds.  This species is roughly at its northern limits at Blue Jay Barrens.  The weather we have experienced so far this year is probably more typical of what the species encounters in its more southern haunts.  There’s still plenty of time for cold weather to appear though.   I’m sure I’ll have an opportunity to watch this plant endure some rapid temperature fluctuations over the next couple of months.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Newt Larva

After being dry for nearly six weeks, the pond was partially restored by a two inch rain during the last week of October.  I’ve been carefully watching for the arrival of the first breeding salamanders of the season.  Both Jefferson and Streamside Salamanders have been known to enter the pond in December.

Last night I spotted several small salamander larvae moving about in the water.

Using a fine meshed aquarium net, I scooped one out for closer examination.  The larva may look large in the photo, but it is actually only about an inch and a half total length.  The mesh of that net has 16 openings per lineal inch.  Beside the larva is a freshwater amphipod.

From the net, I dropped the larva into a glass jar for observation.  Identifying characteristics are poorly developed in a specimen this young, but there is no doubt that this is the larva of a Red-spotted Newt.  Red-spotted newts have a definite spring breeding season, but also seem to be opportunistic breeders throughout the year.  Breeding behavior is common in the water garden during summer and early fall, especially following a heavy rain.  This individual probably hatched from an egg deposited soon after the late October rain.  Eggs typically take three to five weeks to hatch, and warm water would have allowed hatching to occur closer to the three week mark.  I estimate this larva to be about a month old, so it still has four or five months to go before beginning a terrestrial life style.

As the larva develops, the head will become smaller in relation to the body and will develop more of a taper towards the snout.

The hind legs are just buds.  They will grow steadily over the next couple of months.

The beginnings of the distinctive dark eye stripe is just now forming between the eye and mouth.  By the time salamander larvae appear in the pond, the newt larvae will be formidable predators.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Treating Invasives

I took advantage of the mild weather during the first half of November to search out and eliminate some invasive shrubs.  Most of what I find now are young plants that have not matured enough to produce seed.  Birds will continue to bring in fresh seeds, and plants resulting from those seeds are what I am primarily dealing with now.  Birds that left seeds on this spot had a varied diet that resulted in a cluster of my four primary target plants.  Clockwise from upper center are Autumn Olive, Multiflora Rose, Bush Honeysuckle, and Japanese Barberry.

Japanese Barberry is a recent invader of Blue Jay Barrens and has not become very well established.  By the time the first Barberry plants began showing up, I had already begun dealing with invasive shrubs.  Only a few got up to fruiting size before they were discovered and removed.  This species is easy to control by stump spraying with glyphosate.  Even a maximum recommended dilution of the chemical is enough to kill the roots.

I’ve still got a couple of small patches that continue to produce a wealth of new Bush Honeysuckle plants each year.  Fortunately, the glyphosate stump treatment quite effectively kills this invader.  It’s discouraging to annually deal with so many new plants, but the sites are small and the number of plants continues to decrease.  Five years ago, the new Honeysuckle growth here was thick enough to block the view of the ground, so I am making progress.  I have to remind myself of that fact each time I work here.

Only one larger Honeysuckle specimen was found this year.  It was roughly six feet high, but was not old enough to produce fruit.  Last year, this shrub would have been only two or three feet tall and would have been easy to miss in its position on the lower slope of the creek bank.  I don’t mind finding an occasional large plant, as long as I catch it before it has a chance develop fruit.

Autumn Olive is the most difficult shrub to control at Blue Jay Barrens.  I use a stump treatment of undiluted glyphosate 41% concentrate solution.  This method is quite effective as long as the plant being treated is displaying healthy, bright green leaves.  Once the leaves begin to yellow and drop, it becomes more difficult to get a good kill.

Older, fruit bearing  Autumn Olive specimens can be killed by the same stump treatment, but there is a high likelihood of root sprouts appearing the next growing season.  It may take a couple of years to eliminate the sprouts.  Seedlings also tend to recur for several years following the death of the large shrub.  Birds feeding on the fruit, drop some of the seeds from the previous day’s feast.  Some of these seeds are ready to sprout immediately, while some may wait through a few seasons before germinating.  The good thing is that no matter where the new plants are coming from, their numbers tend to lessen with each passing year.

Autumn Olive can grow so rapidly that they sometimes seem to appear from nowhere.  This area of Indian Grass was mowed last November.  Small Autumn Olive plants, hidden in the thick grass, were cut off a few inches above ground level.  With a healthy root system already in place, the regrowth from those cut stems reached six or seven feet high in one season.

This is what the base of that plant looked like.  The dead stub in the center of the stem cluster is the single stem that was cut off last year.  It’s obvious that mowing is no way to control Autumn Olive.

To effectively treat young Autumn Olive, you must cut the stem flush with the ground.  The problem is that the stem you see may not be rising directly above the root.  Autumn Olive commonly produces a horizontal stem that later gives rise to the aerial branches.  This horizontal stem is often hidden by thatch or neighboring plants.  In the photo, the stem to the left was attached to the root and the vertical shoot emerged three inches away.  Cutting and spraying at the base of the vertical shoot would most likely not kill the plant.

I am also beginning an assault on the invasive Crown Vetch.  It was planted along the road about 40 years ago, but only recently has it begun to show up out in the fields. 

I was going to spray the Autumn Olive with Clopyralid this summer, but neighboring vegetation made it impossible to get the spray through to the vetch leaves.  Instead of spraying, I went around and identified the locations of all infestations, about ten in all.  I mowed them this fall and will do my spraying next spring when the vetch begins growing.  I guess I don’t have to worry about running out of invasives to deal with.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Fence Repair

Following a two day wind event, I took a walk along the new fence line to see if any branches had fallen on the fence.  No branches were found, but one large tree trunk had run afoul of the fence on its way to the ground.  To anyone unfamiliar with this view, the abundance of downed trees makes it hard to identify that one that is causing the problem.

There it is.  I have to admit it chose a nice place to fall.  Centered between two wood posts on a patch of level ground, it was probably the easiest place along the whole line to work on removing the log.  The most time consuming part of the job was the one mile round trip to the barn and back to get the tools I needed.

With a high tensile fence such as this, each wire strand stretches independently of the others.  The upper most strand takes the most punishment, while the lowest strand is hardly disturbed.  In this case, the fence wire is actually supporting this section of log off of the ground.  It was fortunate that the log, partially decomposed and heavily worked on by Pileated Woodpeckers, broke into sections on impact with the ground.  The log was held at an ideal position for cutting.

The fallen log caused increased tension on the fence wires that produced an upward pull on this steel post.  This was identified as an at risk post during installation of the fence and was equipped with a steel cable attached to a ground anchor.  The post was able to lift about half an inch before the cable came taught and stopped the rise.  This is how it was supposed to work.  I’m glad it followed the plan.

After cutting the tree trunk in two about a foot back from the fence wire, the remaining log could be pushed up and away from the fence.  Once the log was clear, the fence wires jumped back into place.

In order for the fence to take this kind of abuse without damage, it is necessary to install post clips and staples in a way that allows the wire free movement.  When the tree hit the fence, the added tension was spread over several hundred feet of wire.  Had the wire been firmly attached to these two posts, it surely would have broken as the tree made its way to the ground.

The fence is back to being good as new.  This is why high tensile makes such a good choice for use in wooded areas.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Number 542 - Maple-leaf Viburnum

I just found Blue Jay Barrens plant species number 542, Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium.  My first encounter with this plant was many years ago as an undergrad taking a course in local flora at the OSU Marion campus.  I thought it was a wonderful plant then and am certainly happy to have it now as a resident of my property.  This is a native plant, bringing my list of native species up to 446.  That number is approximately 25 percent of the total number of native plants in the State of Ohio.

The Viburnum is growing in a cedar thicket at the base of a south facing slope.  Up until now, few understory species, with the exception of the invasive Autumn Olive, have colonized this area.  It’s certainly nice to see a native shrub here.

This area was cropped up until the mid 1950’s when it was abandoned and let grow up in Eastern Red Cedars.  The deeper soil at this location allowed the cedars to grow rapidly into tall thin trees.  On April 4, 1987, 18 inches of heavy wet snow fell during about a 10 hour period.  The weight of the snow bowed some trees over and brought others all the way to the ground.  Fallen and curved tree trunks are still visible today.

The leaves of Maple-leaf Viburnum are hairy on both sides and feel like soft fabric.

New twig growth also sports a nice crop of hair.

The six narrow Maple-leaf Viburnum trunks in this little group are most likely the result of seed or seeds deposited in a bird dropping.  It’s possible that all six are part of a clonal group developed from the original seedling.  It’s also possible that more than a single seed germinated in this spot.  Seeds from a single bird dropping would naturally end up in close proximity on the ground.

Fruit on the plants are an indication that the cluster of plants are the result of at least two seedlings developing on the site.  Viburnums are not self fertile, so require pollen from a different plant in order to produce fruit.  A clonal group is essentially a single plant and would not produce fruit unless pollen was carried in from somewhere else.  There are no other Maple-leaf Viburnums anywhere near this clump, making it unlikely that a pollinator carrying the correct pollen happened to visit these plants.  The majority of fruits had already been consumed prior to my discovery.  I hope the birds leave the seeds somewhere nearby.  I’m looking forward to watching this plant flower and develop through the summer next year.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Cedar Waxwings

Eastern Red Cedar fruit is ripe and the Cedar Waxwings have moved in to feed on their namesake meal.  As if in response to the overabundance of cedar fruit produced this year, the Cedar Waxwing flocks are larger than I normally see here in the fall.  This individual is part of a flock that numbers in excess of 100 birds.

The birds are in almost constant motion as they move to and from the fruit laden cedar.

Time spent in the branches of the cedar is spent in consuming as much fruit as possible.

There’s no shortage of fruit on this tree now, but if the Cedar Waxwings stick around, the tree will probably be without fruit in less than a week.  This is a show that I look forward to each year.

The Cedar Waxwings move in for a quick feed and then move away to perch on the leafless branches of nearby deciduous trees.

The birds act as though the food will disappear if they don’t grab it right away.

The bird in the center consumes at least a half dozen fruits in this 16 second video.

If these videos fail to perform, they may be viewed on YouTube by clicking Video 1 or Video 2 or Video 3.

Monday, October 26, 2015


I took advantage of the extremely dry October weather to complete one of the larger items that has been cluttering up my list of necessary projects, construction of fence along about 1500 feet of open property line.  I don’t mind building fence, but it is a time consuming process that crowds out all other activities on my agenda.  The task of fencing is made easier if you have several people helping.  Fortunately, besides myself, I had the help of the property owner, the land manager, the maintenance supervisor, the strategic planner and the ground crew.  The downside to that is the fact that I hold all of those positions, so the total people working on the fence remained at a constant one.

The fence consisted of multiple strands of single high tensile wire.  This is a fairly easy type of fence to construct and is ideal for rough terrain or wooded areas.  The wire will withstand the impact of a falling tree and can be retensioned once the tree is removed.  If a wire does break, it is easily repaired with the use of a slip-on splice.  Fence building would be simple if the entire line were as level and open as this short stretch.

But, obstacles abound at Blue Jay Barrens.  High tensile wire can be stretched for a considerable distances without the need for posts or spacers, so you can easily span a section of creek.  Unless we set a new record rainfall, the bottom wire of the fence should stay clear of the highest flood water.

At the opposite end of the scale from level is Not Level.  The back portion of Blue Jay Barrens jumps the ridge and catches a small portion of a neighboring watershed.  The fence line plunges down a steep grade, crosses a short span of floodplain, and then climbs an even steeper grade on the other side of the creek.  The grade was steep enough on this side that it was difficult to establish footing that kept me from sliding slowly downhill.  Rather than try to negotiate that slope with a fence post slung over my shoulder, I launched the posts Caber Toss style over the edge and let gravity do the work.

On the far side of the creek, I used a rope to pull the wire up the steepest part of the slope.  After attaching the wire to a loop made in the center of the length of rope, I took a more circuitous route to the summit where I proceeded to haul up the wire.  The rope was long enough that the downhill end always stayed close to the creek bank, so I could grab the end and pull the loop back down to the creek in preparation for the next stretch of wire. 

A large oak that once sat astride the property line, was taken down by the 2012 derecho winds.  The pile of rubble to the left of the fence is what I had to remove from the tree’s root mass in order to clear the line for the fence.  The rock is full of fractures resulting from the prehistoric meteor strike, so trimming it back was not impossible for someone using only a metal spud bar.  The rock was much more difficult to deal with while digging post holes.

I managed a few brief breaks in the work to observe some of the interesting things going on around me.  Newly installed wire became a highway for insect life.  Caterpillars, ants and beetles seemed almost magnetically drawn to the wire.

Stick insects found the newly placed wire to be an ideal mating structure.

The female seemed intent on chewing through the strange material.

Newly installed wood posts became instant hunting grounds for Red Velvet Mites.  These two are feeding on a caterpillar that is still quite alive.

The mites were still at it the next day.  At the tail end of the caterpillar are the remains of its shed exoskeleton.  The mites may have come across the caterpillar in the vulnerable condition of completing its molt.

This caterpillar was hurrying up the trunk of a tree, unaware of the fact that it was unlikely to survive to adulthood.

Parasitic wasps are most likely introducing their eggs into the body of the caterpillar.  The wasp larvae will feed inside the caterpillar until time to pupate.  The caterpillar is unlikely to survive the encounter.

Caterpillars were everywhere.  This one fell into my lunch bag and I moved it onto the trunk of a small Pawpaw.  I believe it is an Eclipsed Oak Dagger.

Mornings were cool, but things warmed nicely in the afternoon.  Buck Moths in flight were a regular sight during the past week.  My photos of Buck Moths in flight are almost identical to my photos of woodland scenes.  I know a moth was there, but I can’t find it.

This Imperial Moth caterpillar was feeding on a Redbud growing near the creek bank at the base of a steep hill.  At 15 feet away, the caterpillar was at my eye level.  If I stood at the base of the tree, the caterpillar was about 12 feet above my head.  Many of the Redbuds are already leafless.  This caterpillar is fortunate to have something left to eat.  I hope he gets his fill and pupates before he runs out of food.

At a glance, I thought this was a large snake.

But, it’s just the remnants of a vine climbing up the tree.

I was pushing hard to complete the fence before wet weather returned.  In a three week period I was able to complete the 1500 feet of new fence and make minor repairs to about 1800 feet of old fence.  The weather was perfect and the scenery beautiful, but I’m really glad to be moving on to something else.