Friday, May 27, 2016

Spider Milkweed Project

Two years ago, I planted seeds of the Spider Milkweed, Asclepias viridis, in one of the garden beds, with the intent that the plants would host the larvae of the Unexpected Tiger Moth, Cycnia inopinatus.  That State endangered moth is primarily known for using Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa, as a host plant, laying its eggs in the milkweed flowers.  I noticed that the Unexpected Tiger Moth had two broods at Blue Jay Barrens.  The early brood appeared prior to the blooming of Butterflyweed and was using Spider Milkweed as a host.  Adults emerging from that brood then layed their eggs on Butterflyweed flowers.  Populations of these two species of milkweeds were located in different areas of the property.  I thought that having the two species growing in close proximity might improve the breeding success of the moth.  Since I already had Unexpected Tiger Moths utilizing Butterflyweed in my garden, I decided to add a population of Spider Milkweed and see what happened.  This is their first year to bloom.

Spider Milkweed is the earliest milkweed to bloom at Blue Jay Barrens.  Shoots were breaking ground on April 18.

This is the same plant nine days later.  Multiple stems radiate from a common root system. 

Barely more than a week out of the ground and a cluster of flower buds has formed.

Plants are currently actively blooming.  I’ve been watching for both moths and larvae, but have seen neither yet.  These plants should produce enough seed for me to plant the rest of this bed to milkweeds and to scatter seeds back into the field where the original seeds were collected.

Sharing the bed with the Spider Milkweeds are Draba cuneifolia, which produced an abundance of seed, and …

Leavenworthia uniflora, which may have set a record for the greatest number of seed pods on one plant.

Monday, May 23, 2016

2016 Krigia Redistribution Project

My efforts to expand the population of the Potato Dandelion, Krigia dandelion, at Blue Jay Barrens met with some success during the past year. This is one of the many bright yellow Krigia dandelion flowers that dotted the Blue Jay Barrens landscape this spring.

Last summer, my container raised Krigia tubers were introduced into a variety of habitats ranging from heavily wooded ridge top to…

… sunny barrens.

The combination of wind, rain and the foraging wild turkeys, tends to remove much of the leaf litter from the ridge top site. This allows the developing Krigia plants to receive adequate sunlight for the development of flowers. A check in early May, found these Krigia plants showing the promise of many blooms to come. This is one of several blocks of tubers that I planted. The orientation of the plants in rows is quite evident.

Things didn’t look so well a couple of weeks later.  Krigia dandelion seems to be a favorite of many plant eating animals. In this case it was primarily the flower stalks and buds that were consumed. The plants still have enough leaf area remaining to fuel the production of new tubers to ensure the continuation of this group of plants into future years.

Tubers planted on the wooded slopes had to fight their way through thick leaf litter to reach the sunlight. Plants growing in these locations rarely produce flowers, but their population size continues to grow with the addition of new tubers.

Just to see how they would respond to a loose, organic soil, I planted a few tubers into the remains of a decomposed tree stump.  The site is to the right of what’s left of the decomposing log in the photo.

Plenty of plants emerged. I’m certain that the area of the stump will soon be filled with Krigia tubers, but this is another of those sites that collects a thick deposit of leaf litter each fall, so I’m not expecting a lot of blooms to develop at this location.

I was most impressed by the performance of those Krigia that were planted into the gravelly barrens. Many of the plants produced blooms which persisted well into the seed development stage. Unfortunately, the flowers rarely produce any viable seed. It may be that Krigia dandelion is not self-fertile, and the original source of plant material at blue Jay barrens is a clonal colony.

The tubers planted into the barrens were randomly set in groups of two or three. They received plenty of sunlight and had little competition from other plants.

Some of the barrens plants did suffer from predation, but an equal number of plants remained untouched.

I’m even finding plants springing up that are not an intended part of my Krigia project. This group of two plants was found on the slope beside the barn. I am assuming it is resulting from the chipmunk or squirrel that dug tubers out of one of my containers and cached them for later consumption. I believe the Krigia redistribution project has been successful enough to ensure that Krigia dandelion will not be lost from Blue Jay Barrens should disaster befall the original population site.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Apple Cedar Rust Gall

This spring’s frequent rains may be messing up my planned outdoor work schedule, but they have been a boon to many forms of life.  Apple Cedar Rust Fungus depends upon high moisture conditions to properly complete the reproductive portion of its life cycle.  The fungus has a two host life cycle, shuttling back and forth between apple trees and cedars.  Each spring, the cedar bound fungus sheds spores that will make their way to apple trees.  In its spore producing form, the fungus resembles some weird sea creature that has washed up onto a tree branch.

Many people are put off by the appearance of this fungus, but I find it to be quite attractive, as well as fascinating.  From a distance, the cedars appear to have sprouted large orange blooms.  I’ve heard some ascribe Blob-like characteristics to these fungal masses, but I’ve never seen one reach out and engulf passers-by.

The fungus reaches the cedar by way of airborne spores produced by the fungus during the summer while in its apple host phase.  Spores that successfully colonize the cedar will form a small, hard nodule on the new cedar leaves.  The nodule, called a gall, will grow in size until it matures approximately 18 months later.  When spring rains and temperatures produce the proper conditions, filaments called telia emerge from dimple-like structures on the gall’s surface.  Fully hydrated telia produce the spores that will be released to colonize an apple tree.  Spores produced by galls on the cedar cannot establish themselves on cedar.  They can only colonize on apple, and spores from the apple can only colonize cedar.  In order for the fungus to survive, both apple and cedar must be present in the vicinity.

In most fungi, what we notice most are the reproductive structures that must be exposed to successfully spread spores to the wind.  This gall has been halved to reveal the body of the fungus from which the spore producing telia emerge.

After the rain has passed, the telia begin to dry.

The telia will dry back to short stalks, but will swell again when the next suitable rain occurs.  This process can recur several times during the spring season.  So far, this has been an exceptional season for the Apple Cedar Rust Galls.  Judging by the weather forecasts, the cedars may bloom several more times before the season ends.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Back After A Ten Year Absence

I just recently welcomed back a plant that hadn’t been seen at Blue Jay Barrens for over 10 years. The Showy Orchis was commonly seen here 30 years ago. It wasn’t long though, until the numbers of blooming plants began to dwindle. It became more and more common to find plants that had been eaten almost to the ground. And then there were none. Since I personally witnessed a Whitetail deer eat two of these plants, leaving nothing but the bases of the leaves and flower stalk, I figured that the increasing deer population was partly responsible for the decline in the orchid population.

The most colorful part of the flower is hidden from the view of aerial observers. You must get down to ground level and look up into the flower to get the best effect. Like most orchid flowers, the Showy Orchis does a fine job of mimicking a face within the blossom.

Although the plant is small, it is easily seen from a distance in the woodland.  The lack of great drifts of spring wildflowers in the Blue Jay Barrens woods may be partially responsible for the clear visibility of this plant.

This particular specimen was found growing on the steep slopes dropping away from a high ridge. If my typical luck holds true, I’ll come back to find that the dead tree in the right of the photo has fallen squarely atop the orchid.

Along with the blooming plant, I found a couple of leaves that looked as though they could be a source of blooms in future years.

The day after finding the orchid, I found a second blooming plant growing about 100 yards away from first. I would like to believe that the appearance of these two plants indicates a resurgence of the Blue Jay Barrens population of Showy Orchis. Unfortunately, I’m too much the pessimist to be entertaining such thoughts.