Fruits and seeds are everywhere this time of year...
Nina M. Zitani, 10 November 2013 This time of year fruits containing seeds are dropping, falling, blowing in the wind, and being eaten by animals. The end result is that the embryonic plant (the seed) is dispersed away from its parent, one way or another. This is good news if the plant is a native species, but bad news if it is an alien species. If you must plant alien species in your garden or landscape, make sure they are not known to be invasive, or not able to escape your property via the natural process of seed dispersal, and settle and germinate somewhere else. Many alien species will outcompete native species, resulting in an overall decline in biodiversity wherever they occur. The new banner photo is a closeup showing the seeds of the open fruit of common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, an essential native plant that feeds the caterpillars of the Monarch Butterfly and other native insects.
A fruit of our native Clematis, "Clematis virginiana" (family Ranunculaceae) , a plant with many common names, my favourite being old man's beard (in our biodiversity garden, London, ON, 18 October 2013, N. Zitani)
Mature fruits (paired samaras) of Sugar Maple, "Acer saccharum" (family Sapindaceae), in our biodiversity garden in London, ON, 18 October 2013 (photo N. Zitani)
Ninebark Illuminated the Summer Banner
Nina M. Zitani, 4 July 2013; updated 10 November
Ninebark in our biodiversity garden, London, ON, 7 June 2013 (Photo N. Zitani)
This photo of ninebark was used as the previous (summer) banner photo. I like to change the banner photo with the seasons. But this image captures my attention again and again; I decided to keep it on the homepage a little longer. Many avid gardeners think about their gardens year-round, so I know some of my readers are thinking about what to plant, or other ways to improve their gardens for next year. Beautiful ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, is a shrub in the rose family (Rosaceae). This native rose has abundant, showy white to pinkish late spring flowers, and interesting red or rust-colored fruits. The papery bark peels and sheds in what is believed to be nine layers, hence the common name. It is an important late spring source of nectar and pollen for our native insect pollinators. And like most native plants, it was used medicinally for a variety of purposes by several indigenous groups (for the literature references, search using the scientific name in the University of Michigan - Dearborn Native American Ethnobotany Database). Why not plant it in your garden next year?
Every Garden Needs Black
Nina M. Zitani, 14 February; updated 26 June 2013
Black swallowtail butterfly, "Papilio polyxenes", June 2011, London, ON (Photo: N. Zitani and Greg Thorn)
When was the last time you saw a black swallowtail butterfly in your garden? (When was the last time you saw a black swallowtail butterfly anywhere?). The image above features this stunning native butterfly from our biodiversity garden in late spring 2011. In the lower right corner of the image you can see one of the distinct black-centered, orange eye-spots that are characteristic of the hind wings of black swallowtails. This species is considered common, yet we have seen only two or three in the four years we have been growing our biodiversity garden. Their caterpillars feed mainly on the leaves of species in the carrot, or parsley family (family Apiaceae). They are one of the few native North American butterflies whose caterpillars successfully feed on non-native plant species, such as the invasive and noxious Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota). As development of our lands increases, habitat for butterflies and other wildlife decreases. Can we depend on our governments to protect enough land to provide sufficient habitat for our native wildlife? Think about the idea of providing butterfly habitat in your own back yard. This spring, plant Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), a species in the carrot family that is native to southern Ontario, and a food source for the black swallowtail caterpillar. You could have this gorgeous butterfly in your garden this year!
Moths of an Andean Cloud Forest
Nina M. Zitani, 14 February 2013 Photos: 2010-2012, Yanayacu Biological Station & Center for Creative Studies, Ecuador
One moth mimics a bumble bee, another mimics a leaf. In the slide show I share some of my personal observations of tropical biodiversity, and attempt to qualitatively portray one aspect of biodiversity -- species richness, or the total number of species in a given area. Tropical forests have the greatest species richness of all ecosystems on Earth. For example, one hectare of tropical forest supports many more species of fungi, bacteria, mammals, plants, insects, etc. as compared to a hectare of temperate forest, or a hectare of any other ecosystem on Earth.
For the past three years I was one of the instructors of a field course, Tropical Cloud Forest Ecology, given by the University of Wyoming, USA. The course took place at Yanayacu Biological Station & Center for Creative Studies, near Cosanga in the north-eastern Andes of Ecuador (elevation ~ 2100 m). (You can read more about the course on Jennifer Donovan-Stump's website). The photographs were taken over a ten-day period in May or June of each of three consecutive years (2010, '11, '12). Photographing insects was not part of my job, so I did it when I had a spare moment, which was not often. The slide show depicts about 50 species in the insect order Lepidoptera, commonly called moths. Numerous lepidopteran families are represented, including Arctiidae, Saturniidae, Geometridae, Nymphalidae, and others. The photographs are just a glimpse of the incredible diversity that occurs in a relatively small patch of Andean cloud forest.
Most of the images were taken at a light trap. Each night we set up a standard light trap for collecting insects (a white sheet with lights in front of it, which you can see in two of the images). Many types of nocturnal insects, especially moths, eventually make their way to artificial lights at night. It is hypothesized that they intend to navigate by moonlight, but cannot tell the difference between the moon and our electric lights. When they attempt to navigate using our nearby artificial lights they end up spiraling inward toward the source, thus appearing to be "attracted" to the light. In reality, our artificial lights confuse them, and interrupt their ability to navigate the night sky. Once they arrive at the light, they are again confused or "tricked" into daytime behavior, and the white sheet provides a convenient place for them to roost. For humans, it facilitates observation and collection. Most mornings and some nights I quickly snapped some pics of the many animals on or near the sheet. I present only the best of my images here; there were many more species that I was not able to photograph well due to wind, humidity, the insect's position on the sheet, etc. And I simply didn't have time to photograph the hundreds of species on the sheet each day.
Also included are several images of butterflies from the forest. (Butterflies are moths, just fancy, day-flying moths with clubbed antennae). In two shots a butterfly was taking nutrients from a dead toad (look for the proboscis - the butterflies' mouthpart that is a sucking tube for obtaining liquid food - touching the carcass of the toad). Finally, I include a few nice shots of caterpillars, the immature forms of moths. In two of the caterpillar shots you will notice white cocoons stuck to the outside of the larvae. These cocoons contained pupating parasitoid wasps in the family Braconidae, subfamily Microgastrinae (that fed internally as larvae, then chewed their way out of the caterpillar's body prior to spinning their cocoons). The caterpillars were still alive and could move around, but were slowly dying. They remained alive until the wasps completed their development and emerged from their cocoons, then promptly died.
Take a moment from your busy day and gaze upon these wondrous creatures of an Andean cloud forest. A picture says a thousand words. Looking at a simple visual representation of a small part of the lepidopteran fauna of Yanayacu gives an appreciation of Earth’s greatest treasure -- Biodiversity.
Last updated 10 November 2013
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