Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Gardening to Support Migrating Insects

The Monarch butterfly is famous for its cross-continental journey from the northern U.S. to Mexico. People have planted milkweed and other flowering plants to support them on their journey. Yet Monarchs aren’t the only insects to make such long trips. Several kinds of butterflies, moths, and dragonflies undertake seasonal migrations, some traveling hundreds of miles.

Just like migrating birds, insects need rest stops where they can find food and shelter before continuing on. What we choose to plant in our own backyards can have a huge impact on butterfly and dragonfly populations.

This article by the Cornell University YardMap program highlights some of our long-distance travelers and the plants that can help them. The original article has some additional tips not listed here.

Gardening to Support Seasonal Migrations of Insects

 

Dara Satterfield, April 25, 2017

Monarch butterflies are famous for traveling long distances each year, but they’re not the only insects that migrate. Many butterflies, moths, and dragonflies take to the air for seasonal migrations, and–although they’re pretty quiet about it–some travel hundreds or thousands of miles.(open_in_new)The success of their journey largely depends on the habitat they encounter along the way. Here, we look at some of these six-legged critters and discuss how even the smallest garden can add fuel to their journey.

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People were once skeptical that insects could migrate long distances. Historically, scientists assumed an organism so small and short-lived couldn’t move more than a few miles. As we now know, they can. Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) in Australia can migrate over 1000 km every spring.(open_in_new) Danaid butterflies (cousins of monarchs) in Taiwan migrate over 300 km in the fall.(open_in_new) Wandering glider dragonflies (Pantala flavescens) cross the Indian Ocean (the image above depicts a beach in India where migrating dragonflies are coming ashore).(open_in_new) The brown planthopper (Nilaparvata lugens), a tiny insect only 4 millimeters long, migrates over 200 km in China.(open_in_new) These are just a few of the hundreds of insect species around the world that make incredible journeys.

dragonfly fixed

By the mid-1900’s scientists finally recognized that insects could move long distances; but still, they assumed insects were being haphazardly blown by the winds, unable to control their direction. In recent years migrating insects like the Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) (open_in_new) provided evidence to contradict that theory, showing, instead, that insects selectively choose directional winds to maximize their speed, allowing some to fly up to 650 km a night. (open_in_new)

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Photo © pingked

Many insect populations have adapted to make round-trip migrations over the course of a year, with the help of multiple generations. Painted lady butterflies, for instance, fly north out of Mexico in the spring to travel to the northern U.S. and Canada; later, their grandchildren or great-grandchildren return south in the fall. Monarchs behave similarly. A handful of insect species engage in single-generation migrations, where the same individual moves during one season and returns a few months later.

 

 

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In eastern North America there are over 30 insect species that migrate north in the spring and south in the fall. Below we describe a few of these migrating dragonflies and butterflies and we also note the butterfly’s’ host plants (i.e. caterpillar food) to inspire your garden selections.

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Left: Nearly full grown caterpillar of the Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia, on plantain in southern Greenville County, SC, USA Right: Common buckeye butterfly nectaring on a species of aster

Common buckeyes (Junonia coenia)
Large eyespots on all four wings make these butterflies easy to identify. In the spring, buckeyes migrate north from Mexico and the southern U.S. They reach the midwest and northeast by May and breed throughout the summer. Male buckeyes will defend territories with host plants to await the opportunity to mate with females. To keep their patch of land, males chase off anything that moves–even birds that enter their territory. In the fall, the next generation of buckeyes makes a massive migration south to avoid a harsh winter of low temperatures and lack of food. Common buckeye caterpillars survive on the leaves from snapdragons (Antirrhinum), false foxglove (Agalinis), American bluehearts (Buchnera americana), plantains (Plantago) and–my personal favorite–turkey tangle frog-fruit (Nodiflora), among other plants.

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Right: American Lady caterpillar – Vanessa virginiensis, Jones Preserve, Washington, Virginia, Left: An American Lady butterfly photographed at the Bob Jones Nature Center in Southlake, Texas in May ’09

American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
These butterflies have an intricate cobweb-like pattern on the underside of their wings. American ladies live year-round in the southern U.S. and Mexico and migrate into the northern U.S. and Canada for the spring and summer each year. Larvae munch on leaves of pearly everlasting (Anaphalis), ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), and asters (Asteraceae). American ladies are closely related to, and often confused with, painted ladies (Vanessa cardui), which migrate along a similar route in the U.S.

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Left: Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar, Phoebis sennae – eating a partridge pea plant, Right: Cloudless Sulfur butterfly on Zinnea

Cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Each spring, these yellow butterflies with pink-edged silver spots migrate from Central America and the southern U.S. into the northern U.S. and Canada. Cloudless sulphurs reach the Great Plains by April and the Midwest by May and June. They can be seen gathering at mud puddles to sip water and salt. Cloudless sulphur caterpillars eat plants in the pea family (Fabaceae). Males relentlessly pursue potential mating partners, but uninterested females may reject males by raising their abdomens in the air, much like turning up your nose. In the fall, a later generation of butterflies returns south, sometimes traveling in enormous numbers.(open_in_new) Sadly, cloudless sulphurs have dropped in numbers since the 1980s in the eastern U.S. Reasons for population declines are not well understood, but habitat loss is a likely cause.

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Left: Question Mark larvae Polygonia interrogationis, Right: Question Mark – Polygonia interrogationis, Natchez Trace, Natchez, Mississippi

Question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
Question mark butterflies, named for a quirky little “?” shape on the underside of their wings and known for their hooked forewing (a.k.a anglewing butterfly), migrate south in massive numbers in the fall along the east coast. Some of the same individuals are thought to return northward into the northeast in the spring where they reproduce, lay eggs, and start the next generation. Plants that support these caterpillars include elms (Ulmus), hackberries (Celtis), nettle (Urtica dioica), and false nettle (Boehmeria Jacq.), but interestingly the females often lay their eggs on non-host plants and when the larvae hatch, they are tasked with finding host plant species to eat. The question mark is commonly confused with the eastern comma butterfly (Polygonia comma), which also have hooked forewings (a.k.a., anglewings) but are currently not known to migrate.

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Left: Mourning Cloak, Inner Canyon, Bright Angel Trail, GRCA, AZ, Middle: Mourning cloak butterfly, Right: Mourning cloak butterfly – wings closed

Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
The mourning cloak could just as well be from the wizarding world of Harry Potter as from anywhere. These butterflies look like Potter’s invisibility cloak – and when they close their wings, they “disappear” into a landscape of dried leaves. Mourning cloaks are globally distributed and thought to be the longest-lived of butterflies, frequently surviving 10-11 months. In the U.S., some of these butterflies will migrate into the southeast in the fall while others remain in the north, but little is known about what controls this behavior. The caterpillars consume willow (Salix), cottonwood (Populus), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), elm (Ulmus), and common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis L.).

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Left: Red admiral caterpillar, eating a stinging nettle, Right: Red admiral feeding on fallen plums

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Red admirals are recognizable from the orange-red bands on both forewings. They live all over the world. In North America, they undertake northward migrations in the spring, colonizing the northeast by April. In October, they appear in massive migratory groups of hundreds to thousands of individuals headed south to Texas and beyond to escape the cold. Males are aggressively territorial over important resources (nettle and false nettle) and will chase off potential competitors. Adult red admirals prefer to consume sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and can be found collecting salts and minerals from bird droppings. In a pinch, they can also nectar on flowers.

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Photo © Anne Reeves

Common green darner (Anax junius)
Green darners are one of at least nine species of dragonflies now thought to migrate each year in North America. Highly recognizable, the green darner has a pale-green face with a darker green thorax, blue abdomen, and clear wings. During August-October these large dragonflies migrate up to 2800 km from eastern North America to southern Texas, and beyond. During this migration, swarms can reach over 1 million individuals. Using small radio transmitters, scientists have tracked these movements and discovered that common green darners can cover up to 140 km per day.(open_in_new) Not all common green darners migrate; some, in northern locations, will delay pupation and overwinter in the water as nymphs, emerging as adults the following spring.

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Photo ©

Wandering glider (Pantala flavescens)
These dragonflies are regular annual migrants in North America, moving from Mexico and the southern U.S. in the summer and arriving into the northern U.S. later than common green darners. They cannot survive the winter in the chilly north, so they return southward in the fall, often traveling at night (presumably to avoid predators). Their pale-yellow face with darker yellow abdomen, dorsal brown stripe, and clear wings make this species of dragonfly easy to identify.

Providing habitat in gardens can go a long way towards protecting these insects and their migrations. Here’s how to make your yard a stopover or breeding site for insect migrants:(1) Plant host plants for the caterpillars and nectar plants for the adult butterflies.
Visit our Explore tab, type in your zip code under “Local Resources”, and a Pollinator Planting Guide for your region can be downloaded. Use this guide for choosing plants for pollinators. A quick summary of those species highlighted above are summarized below.Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 2.02.18 PM

(2) Plant native rather than exotic host plants.
Recent scientific studies suggest native plants provide the best support for butterflies. For monarchs, for instance, the natural seasonality of native milkweeds helps to maintain butterfly migration and health. In contrast, tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), an exotic plant not native to the U.S., can grow year-round in some places and has been linked to high infectious disease risk for monarchs. We suggest planting native milkweed like swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) or butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) whose blooms are more seasonally aligned with monarch lifecycles.

(3) Avoid insecticides.
Synthetic pesticides, including neonicotinoids, can kill butterfly caterpillars. Alternatives to synthetic pesticides include insecticidal soaps (such as those from potassium salts of fatty acids), which can be sprayed on plants when no caterpillars are present and rinsed off with water.

(4) Contribute to citizen science.
Much of what we know about butterfly migration is thanks to the help of citizen scientists. Want to help and contribute to these citizen-science projects? Check out Monarch Joint Venture’s Monarch project list.

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Photo ©

Scientists have a lot more to learn about insects (including ~5.5 million estimated species(open_in_new)) and their migrations. In some cases, insect migrations provide ecological services, like nutrient cycling and pollination, which we are only beginning to understand. As we learn more,we can support these insect migrants through gardening in the spring and fall. If you want to pledge to support pollinators and dragonflies, check out our Planning Tool and let us know about your best intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the Buzz About Pollinators?

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By: Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day AllianceEaton Conservation District

Pollinators have been making news headlines lately. There has been a greater push from the federal government for programs and funding supporting pollinator habitat. More research is being done on honeybee colony collapse syndrome. And recently, the rusty patched bumblebee has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

So what’s the big deal about pollinators? Why should we care? Let’s look at some facts:

  • More than 100,000 different animal species play roles in pollinating the 250,000 kinds of flowering plants on this planet. Insects (bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles) are the most common, but as many as 1,500 species of birds and mammals also play a role. Vertebrate pollinators include: bats, hummingbirds, perching birds, lemurs, and even one lizard (gecko).
  • At least 3 bat, 5 bird, 24 butterflies/skippers/moths, 1 beetle, and 1 fly species identified as pollinators are federally endangered.in the United States.
  • Honey bees (the most commonly known pollinator) help pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the United States each year.
  • Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America.
  • 15% of the crops that make up the world’s food supply are pollinated by honey bees. At least 80% are pollinated by wild bees and other wildlife.
  • Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on animal pollinators. This contributes 35% of global food production.
  • Declines in pollinators may make plants more vulnerable to extinction.
  • Pollinators support biodiversity. It’s been proven through studies. There is a correlation between plant diversity and pollinator diversity. Put simply, the more kinds of pollinators you have in an area, the more kinds of plants you will have.
  • Native bees are often more efficient at pollinating than commercially used European honey bees. Crops like blueberries and squash have bees that specialize on those plants and have developed better ways to dislodge pollen from their flowers.

Shall we go on? We could, there are more facts just like this out there. The point is, pollinators are important. We don’t often see the work they do, but we wouldn’t be able to continue our standard of life without them. Many of the food and fiber products we use every day depend on them.

Fortunately for us, there are a lot of ways to help our native pollinators. Whether you have an entire homestead or just an urban backyard, every little bit helps. After all, think about what you’re helping. Some of these pollinating insects don’t take up much space. 🙂

Here are a few tips to help you on your way. There are additional resources at the end of this article as well if you want to dive deeper.

  1. Use pollinator-friendly plants. Native plants are best, as these are the ones your native pollinators prefer. Shrubs and trees such as dogwood, cherry, willow, and poplar provide pollen or nectar in early spring when food is scarce.
  2. Choose a mixture of plants. Different flower colors, shapes, and scents will attract a wide variety of pollinators. Look into bloom times for plants and have a variety so there’s always something out there for them in every growing season.
  3. Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your landscape. Use them correctly and sparingly. Better yet, incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects for pest control (here are some websites that will help with that: 26 plants for attracting beneficial insects; Native plants for attracting predatory insects, New Moon Nursery; MSU Extension bulletin: Attracting beneficial insects with native flowering plants (pdf)).
  4. Accept some plant damage. Unfortunately, it’ll happen. You’re attracting insects like butterflies and moths whose larval stage may take a bite out of your plants. Your garden may not be picture perfect, but it’ll be perfect for them.
  5. Provide clean water. Pollinators need butterflies like water just like any other animal. A shallow dish, bowl, or bird bath with half-submerged stones will help. Just keep an eye on any standing water source as you will still have a breeding ground for mosquitoes if you don’t.
  6. Leave dead tree trunks. These help wood-nesting bees and beetles.
  7. Support land conservation in your community. Help create and maintain community gardens and green spaces to ensure there’s good habitat around for your growing pollinator populations.

Pollinator Resources:

References:

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Pollinators: https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/pollinatorpages/aboutpollinators.html
  2. White House Press Release, 6-20-2014, Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations
  3. Mother Nature Network, 9 extraordinary facts about North America’s native bees: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/9-extraordinary-facts-about-north-americas-native-bees

Plant These to Help Bees

Spring is upon us!

This comes as a welcome relief to many across the country. Spring in the northern states means warmer weather, sunshine, and the beginning of planting season. The world becomes green again.

Yet just what do you plant? There are so many choices. Maybe you’ll go with a vegetable garden, maybe a fruit tree, or maybe you want to plant some native trees and shrubs. Whatever you choose, you may consider supporting pollinators in your efforts. It’s easier than you think, even common plants you have in your yard can be good for bees and other pollinating insects.

This colorful illustration lists several plants you may consider.

bee plants

If you’d like a poster of this illustration, you can buy them on Etsy. (https://www.etsy.com/listing/174811929/16×20-plant-these-to-help-save-bees)

Gardening is a great springtime activity for adults and kids alike. And if you want even more fun spring activity ideas, check out this post from last year or this neat article from GoExploreNature.com.

Growing More Than Plants: School Gardens Improve Quality of Life for Students and Communities

Healthy Eaters, Strong Minds: What School Gardens Teach Kids

August 10, 2015 7:03 AM ET
Original article published on NPR
Tall brick walls conceal a colorful garden at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., where students like Romario Bramwell, 17, harvest flowers and produce. The program is run by City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings gardens to urban areas.

Tall brick walls conceal a colorful garden at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., where students like Romario Bramwell, 17, harvest flowers and produce. The program is run by City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings gardens to urban areas. 

School is still out for the summer, but at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., students are hard at work — outdoors.

In a garden filled with flowers and beds bursting with vegetables and herbs, nearly a dozen teenagers are harvesting vegetables for the weekend’s farmers market.

Roshawn Little is going into her junior year at Eastern, and has been working in this garden for three years now. “I didn’t really like bugs or dirt,” Little says, thinking back to when she got started. “Well, I still don’t really like bugs, but I like the dirt,” she laughs. She gathers a handful of greens, yanks from the stem and pulls up a baseball-sized beet.

During the summer, Little gets paid to work Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. with City Blossoms, a nonprofit that brings community gardens to schools, community centers and other places where kids gather in urban areas.

Little believes that working in the garden has taught her to try all sorts of new things — like eating different kinds of vegetables more often. And she’s taken those healthy behaviors home with her. Little brings home vegetables from the garden, and she says her eating habits have encouraged her family to buy more fruits and vegetables.

Yanci Flores (left) and Roshawn Little harvest beets from the garden at Eastern Senior High School on July 17.Yanci Flores (left) and Roshawn Little harvest beets from the garden at Eastern Senior High School on July 17. Lydia Thompson/NPR

“We’re a chubby family and we love to eat. Well, I do,” she adds with a laugh. “We mainly live around liquor stores and snack stores. There aren’t that many grocery stores. They’re way out, and you have to drive so far” — a common problem in low-income urban areas. “It seems so pointless, when there are snack stores right there,” she says.

City Blossoms is one of many groups across the country teaming up with local communities to install school gardens, like the one at Eastern, in areas with low access to fresh, healthy foods. These gardens, advocates say, are really outdoor classrooms where kids learn valuable lessons — not just about nutrition, but also about science and math, even business skills.

By The Books

Many of these groups have big ambitions to tackle complex problems. But there is research that shows the benefits of school gardens can be real and measurable, says Jeanne McCarty, the executive director of REAL School Gardens.

“There’s a trend across the country where kids are not spending enough time outdoors, period,” McCarty says.

Top Left: Nychele Williams, 15, gathers basil in the garden at Eastern Senior High School. Bottom left: Yanci Flores rinses recently harvested beets. Right: Carrots and beets are displayed at the Aya farmers market, where students sell their produce on Saturdays.

Top Left: Nychele Williams, 15, gathers basil in the garden at Eastern Senior High School. Bottom left: Yanci Flores rinses recently harvested beets. Right: Carrots and beets are displayed at the Aya farmers market, where students sell their produce on Saturdays.  Lydia Thompson/NPR

To counter that, the nonprofit, which operates in Texas and Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, works with schools to create “learning gardens” and trains teachers on how to use them to get students engaged and boost academics. For example, the gardens can be used for math lessons — like calculating the area of a plant bed — or learning the science of how plants grow.

McCarty says REAL School Gardens — which has built nearly 100 gardens — is constantly evaluating the outcomes of its programs, and the numbers are encouraging.

She says partner schools have seen a 12 to 15 percent increase in the number of students passing standardized tests — not just those in the garden program, but schoolwide.

Students at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., trim bouquets to sell at the farmers market.Students at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., trim bouquets to sell at the farmers market.

And 94 percent of teachers in the REAL School Garden programs reported seeing increased engagement from their students, according to an independent evaluation conducted by PEER Associates and funded by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation.

She says the benefits don’t end with the students, either. Schools that installed learning gardens saw less teacher turnover, McCarty says.

Principal Margie Hernandez tells us she’s seen the effect firsthand among her teachers.

“They start realizing that they need something to invigorate themselves, so they can invigorate their classrooms and invigorate their students,” she says. Her school, Pershing Elementary in Dallas, has worked with REAL School Gardens since 2011.

Rebecca Lemos-Otero (right), co-founder and co-executive director of City Blossoms, helps Erwin Tcheliebou, 15, pick flowers to sell at the farmers market. Behind her is a wall featuring the painted portraits of Eastern Senior High students who have worked in the garden.i

Rebecca Lemos-Otero (right), co-founder and co-executive director of City Blossoms, helps Erwin Tcheliebou, 15, pick flowers to sell at the farmers market. Behind her is a wall featuring the painted portraits of Eastern Senior High students who have worked in the garden.

And for her students — who come from predominantly low-income backgrounds — the experience can be a nutritional eye-opener, Hernandez says. “It totally changed my kids’ perceptions of where food comes from, and what it takes to produce food.”

If They Grow It, They’ll Eat It

Many studies have found that kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables if they help garden them. That’s part of the motivating principle behind Colorado-based Denver Urban Gardens, or DUG, a school garden program that puts a heavy emphasis on having kids taste the produce they grow.

DUG has 13 garden programs at schools where more than 90 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Some of the produce that students grow then gets sold to the school cafeteria. That way, kids can recognize the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor in the lunch line. DUG has found that 73 percent of the students who work in the school garden reported increasing their actual consumption of produce.

Rebecca Andruszka, who works with DUG, says her friend’s children will only eat vegetables from the garden at school — not from the grocery store.

“I think it’s just that it seems less foreign when you’re a part of the growing process,” Andruska says.

Rebecca Andruszka, who works with DUG, says her friend’s children will only eat vegetables from the garden at school — not from the grocery store.

“I think it’s just that it seems less foreign when you’re a part of the growing process,” Andruska says.

Roshawn Little (left) invites customer Nate Kohring to try the herbed salt with bread at the Aya farmers market on Saturday.i

Roshawn Little (left) invites customer Nate Kohring to try the herbed salt with bread at the Aya farmers market on Saturday.

“I used to spend money on anything, mainly junk food,” Little says. “Now, as I’m working here, I learned how to use my money more responsibly.”

Nadine Joyner of Nutrition Synergies LLC, a nutrition education company, has a booth next to the kids at the market. She often buys produce from them to incorporate into her quiches. She says she’s constantly impressed by the kids’ knowledge of what they’re selling — they know how to grow it, how to prepare it, and how to cook it.

“It’s a very impressive thing to see young urban entrepreneurs,” Joyner says, looking over at the kids. “It’s a refreshing thing.”

Joyner believes that teaching young people the importance of healthy eating will have long-term payoffs.

“The payoff is exponential, because they’ll be young mothers or young fathers someday, and they’ll feed their children based on what they’ve learned now,” she says.

Students from Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., sell vegetables, soaps and salts at the Aya farmers market on July 25.i

Students from Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., sell vegetables, soaps and salts at the Aya farmers market on July 25.

But the kids aren’t thinking of that bigger picture. Instead, they’re just enjoying the little things, like the way their hands smell after harvesting herbs, or the satisfying crunch of a freshly picked carrot.