Category Archives: natural world

Restoring the Landscape with Native Plants Article Grass-carrying Wasps ~ Isodontia spp.

Bee1

Grass-carrying wasps are a flower-visiting solitary wasp, common in late summer and early fall. Because they are solitary-nesting, and not colonial like yellowjackets or hornets, they do not sting humans to defend their nests. It’s an important distinction to make with wasps in our landscapes, so many are solitary and not aggressive.

 

 

 

Bee2They perform important ecosystem services, pollinating the plants in our landscape, and preying on foliage eating insects, crickets and katydids in particular.

Females look for prey, stinging them several times to paralyze and immobilize them. They carry their prey back to their nests, which are preexisting cavities such as hollow stems or holes bored in wood.

 

Bee3 The prey are stocked for their developing larvae to feed upon. Using nearby grasses, nests are divided into sections with pieces of grass, they also close the end of nest with grass.

Bee4If you erect a mason bee nest board (board with nesting holes drilled in it), grass-carrying wasps will sometimes build nests in the cavities. Look for pieces of grass sticking out the ends of the board holes or plant stems.

I have several different variations of stem nests hung in the yard for solitary bees (and wasps), this one in particular has been utilized almost exclusively by grass-carrying wasps. Cup plant and pale Indian plantain stems work extremely well, both are hollow.

Bee5Here’s a cross-section of one of those stems with the wasp larvae and stocked prey. In my yard, the grass-carrying wasps like to use little blue stem to seal off the cavities.

Bee6Look for grass-carrying wasps in late summer. In my yard, they like to visit stiff goldenrod, common boneset and pale Indian plantain flowers for nectar.

 

 

 

 

 

Article Posted From Restoring The Landscape Website

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Plant of the Week from Ion Exchange, Inc. ECHINACEA PALLIDA | Pale Purple Coneflower

Echinacea from the Greek word for “sea urchin” or “hedgehog” referring to the spiny chaff at the center of these flowers. Pallida is from the latin word for “pale”.

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Perennial; reaches 2 to 3 feet; leaves are mostly basal and elongated ovals up to 7 inches long. Single, pale purple flowers top a stem with a few stiff hairs and few leaves. Favors open prairies and dry open woods of the Tallgrass region; occasionally found along undisturbed roadsides. Blooms from May to July.

Native Americans of the Plains are said to have used Echinacea for more medicinal purposes than any other plant group. The root (chewed or brewed in a tea) was used for snakebites, spider bites, cancers, toothaches, burns, hard-to-heal sores, colds and flu. Current science confirms a cortisone-like activity as well as insecticidal, bactericidal and immuno-stimulant activites. It is still considered a nonspecific immune system stimulant. There are over 300 pharmaceutical preparations made in Germany including extracts, salves and tinctures used for wounds, herpes, sores, canker sores and throat infections. It’s also a preventative for colds and flu. An old folk remedy claims success as a treatment for brown recluse spider bites, but it is not known how the plant was prepared for this remedy.

Edible Uses: Unknown

Medicinal Uses: Plants in this genus were probably the most frequently used of N. American Indian herbal remedies, though this species is considered to be less active than E. angustifolim. They had a very wide range of applications and many of these uses have been confirmed by modern science. The plant has a general stimulatory effect on the immune system and is widely used in modern herbal treatments. There has been some doubt over the ability of the body to absorb the medicinally active ingredients orally (intravenous injections being considered the only effective way to administer the plant), but recent research has demonstrated significant absorption from orally administered applications. In Germany over 200 pharmaceutical preparations are made from Echinacea. The roots and the whole plant are considered particularly beneficial in the treatment of sores, wounds, burns etc, possessing cortisone-like and antibacterial activity. The plant was used by N. American Indians as a universal application to treat the bites and stings of all types of insects. An infusion of the plant was also used to treat snakebites.

The plant is adaptogen, alterative, antiseptic, depurative, diaphoretic, digestive, sialagogue. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use.

Herbal Uses: Unknown

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The Prairie Ecologist Article Photo of the Week A red-bellied woodpecker – January 3, 2013

By Chris Helzer/The Nature Conservancy

This photo was taken several years ago outside the house of my in-laws in eastern Nebraska.  I don’t usually photograph birds, but I was there and the birds were there, and one thing led to another…

A red-bellied woodpecker pauses near a feeder during a snowstorm. Sarpy County Nebraska

It was snowing, but the mid-day light was still bright enough for photography. As the snow fell, I stood in my coveralls near several bird feeders, hoping the birds would ignore me. I had covered my camera in a plastic bag and wrapped my lens in cardboard (held on with rubber bands) – only the best technology for me! While the snow piled up on my camera, eyebrows, and beard, I pivoted the camera around on my tripod, attempting to focus on bird after bird as they came near the feeders. Most of the time, of course, the bird either landed in a non-photogenic spot or moved away before I could get a bead on it. In spite of that, I eventually managed to get a few useable shots.

This one is my favorite from the day – mainly because of the completely white background. It would look like a studio shot except for the blurry snowflakes coming past the tree trunk. In reality, the snow on the ground and in the air behind the bird just blurred together into a pure white background.

The Prairie Ecologist

 

 

Why Are Some Wild flowers Highly Scented with Brightly Colored Petals?

Thought You Might Enjoy this Q&A From Ask.com regarding Wildflowers

Question: Why Are Some Wild flowers Highly Scented with Brightly Coloured Petals?

Top Answer: Some wild flowers are highly scented with brightly colored petals so as to attract pollinators like insects and birds. The pollinators feed on the nectar and help in distribution from pollen grains from anthers to stigma of the same plant or another plant. This enables continuation of reproduction.

Ion Exchange, Inc.

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Sand Dunes Video Explained by Earthyman on the South Padre Island in Texas

Earthyman views the relationship of Sea Oats in the stabilization of sand dunes on the South Padre Island in Texas

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Enhance Your Bird Feeding Station with White Wild Indigo Article

Many bird-feeding stations are barren of cover for birds at your feeders.  You can solve this problem by providing instant cover with fully mature fall or winter-harvested stems of the White Wild Indigo.  When the plants mature and fall comes, the plants will go dormant leaving their study and durable stems erect with dried leaves and stems still in tack.  This makes for the perfect little bush that will give birds a secure place to land.

Just break the stems off at ground level.  Get a two or three gallon container.  Fill with any soil.  Insert the stems into the soil for a secure upright position of the stems.  You may want to put a heavy rock in the bottom of the container to keep the wind from blowing it over.  Place the pots near your feeders.  When the birds land in the branches of the White Wild Indigo, they can rest there and feel protected against predators.

Within minutes you will have more birds right next to your feeders feeling secure and safe.  This will enable you to stand much closer to your feeders and observe birds up close.

You can plant White Wild Indigo from seed and they will mature in two to three years or you could plant them as live plants and they will mature faster.  Seeds should be scarified with sand paper to thin the hard seed coating if planted in the spring and place in a plastic bag with moist sand or vermiculite.  After 10 days you may plant the seed.  If planted in the fall they will not need scarification.  They grow to about four to five feet in height and have beautiful white flowers up and down the sturdy stems in early to mid-summer.  As they mature, they will develop black seedpods, which are very attractive.  They are native from Canada to Southern Texas and Florida and throughout the central region of the U.S.  They will thrive in most soils.

Howard Bright, aka Earthyman

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Restoring The Landscape With Native Plants Tall Beard Tongue Insect Visitors

Article Written by noreply@blogger.com (Heather Holm) on Dec 07, 2012 03:16 pm

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Tall Beard Tongue ~ Penstemon digitalis
Beard tongue flowers have a large, hairy staminode on the lower half of the tubular flower which restricts access to bees to the flower and helps in pollen deposition. Small to medium sized bees are the most frequent visitors.

Tall Beard Tongue flowers can be white to light pink, sometimes with darker pink to purple stripes which act as nectar guides for bees.

Small Carpenter Bees (Ceratina spp) visit Tall Beard Tongue flowers primarily to feed on pollen. Their small size allows them to easily climb over the staminode into the tubular flowers to access the pollen on the anthers.

As they feed on pollen, they often inadvertently contact the stigma. The hairs on the staminode keep their bodies held closer to the stigma, resulting in more contact and pollen transfer.

Digger Bees (Anthophora spp.) are frequent visitors to Tall Beard Tongue flowers as well. They are fast moving and visit flowers for a very short time frame compared to Small Carpenter Bees.

Their medium sized bodies and long tongues allow them access into the tubular flower which results in abundant pollen removal as their bodies scrape on the anthers above.

Bumble Bees (Bombus spp.) are not primary pollinators of Tall Beard Tongue. Visiting the flowers for nectar, they are able to reach the nectar reward with their long tongues without having to insert their body into the corolla and come away with pollen on their bodies.

Look for small holes chewed at the base of the flower. Mason Wasps will chew holes to reach the nectar reward without having to enter the flower. Smaller bees will take advantage of these nectar thievery holes.

The Interaction between Pollinator Size and the Bristle Staminode of Penstemon digitalis (Scrophulariaceae) Gregg Dieringer and Leticia Cabrera R. American Journal of Botany , Vol. 89, No. 6 (Jun., 2002), pp. 991-997
© Heather Holm, 2012.

Article From Restoringthelandscape Website

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UNI student helps return cropland to native prairie Article from The Gazette

Researchers assessing benefits of converting grasses to biofuel

Tall Grass Mix

WASHBURN — University of Northern Iowa professor Mark Myers considered it a “theoretical exercise” when he assigned his wildlife ecology and management students to develop a habitat management plan for a local site.

But, said Myers, Jarrett Pfrimmer, 25, of North Liberty, “took the assignment to heart,” and a year later, prairie grass was growing on 20 acres of former cropland along a Cedar River tributary.

“I did not think he could make it happen in that short a time,” said Myers, who is working with Pfrimmer on another major project with the potential to restore natural functions of the Cedar River watershed — research to determine the feasibility of native prairie as a biofuel.

Pfrimmer, who will complete work on his master’s degree next month, said he worked with the Black Hawk County Soil and Water Conservation District to line up cost-share funding for the stream buffer project.

The Boone native said he also took advantage of expertise at UNI’s Tallgrass Prairie Center to plan and execute the 120-foot wide buffer strips on both sides of Dry Run Creek, which flows past the UNI campus en route to the Cedar River.

Seeded a year ago, the native vegetation will become well established next year, greatly reducing erosion from the former farm fields, improving the quality of the water flowing into the Cedar and providing habitat for songbirds, pheasants and other wildlife.

The absorbent grass also will play a small role in reducing the crest of future Cedar River floods.

“Every little bit helps” when it comes to watersheds’ ability to store and slowly release floodwaters, said State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a leader in legislative efforts to improve watershed management.

Small-scale improvements like the two Black Hawk County projects can help create a mindset and policies “that will help buy down flood peaks for those of us downstream,” Hogg said.

In addition to the Cedar Falls stream buffer project, Pfrimmer has worked with Myers and others to assess the benefits of converting cropland into a prairie biomass production site at the 593-acre Cedar River Natural Resource Area about 10 miles south of Waterloo.

On flood plain land that had formerly been leased for row crop production, the researchers established 48 test plots, each seeded with one of four types of native vegetation ranging from switch grass alone to a mix of 32 species of grasses, legumes, forbs and sedges.

Those plantings were equally distributed among three distinct soil types, enabling the researchers to control all key factors contributing to the productivity of native grass not only as a source of energy but also as habitat for birds, butterflies and other wildlife.

The research got off to a rocky start with the historic Cedar River flood of 2008 wiping out the initial seeding. The plots were reseeded in 2009, burned in 2011 and finally harvested in April, compressed into 550-pound rectangular bales, with an average yield of 4 tons per acre.

About 150 of those bales were later pelletized for an upcoming test burn by Cedar Falls Utilities. “We’re looking to find out how well it burns for energy generation,” said Daryl Smith of the UNI Tallgrass Prairie Center, a partner in the research.

Researchers have suggested that cultivation of low-input, high-diversity grassland biomass could have significant energy and environmental advantages over corn-based ethanol, according to Myers.

While it remains to be seen whether the energy yield would justify conversion of marginal farmland to production of native vegetation for use as an energy source, biofuel production with diverse mixtures of native prairie vegetation “contributes to the maintenance of biodiversity in agricultural landscapes,” the researchers concluded.

Grassland birds and butterflies quickly found and colonized the test plots, according to Myers.

Pfrimmer, who has led bird data collection efforts, will soon complete his master’s thesis on “Bird Use of Heterogenous Native Prairie Biofuel Production Plots.”

In each of the past two years, he has found at least 100 delicate nests hidden among the grass stems by species such as the sedge wren, dickcissel, grasshopper sparrow and lark sparrow. Pheasants and turkeys also have moved into the grass, he said.

“We are starting to see different bird communities established in the plots in accordance with their preferences for the vegetation mix and even the soil types,” Pfrimmer said.

Article taken From The Gazette Newspaper

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[IOWA-NATIVE-PLANTS] Developing Problem – Wild Feral Hogs

There is a developing problem in native habitat areas. Wild feral hogs have been a plague in southern states and have been known to be far southwestern Iowa for nearly a decade. They are spreading farther into the state. Last week, two were killed in Crawford County, north of Denison. They can be dangerous to individuals hiking or working in remote areas and they are an ecological disaster. They can root up and destroy large areas of vegetation and devastate native wildlife.

They multiply rapidly, having two or more litters a year, and can start reproducing six months after birth. If you should encounter one in the wild, give it a wide berth and report it immediately to the DNR. They may have large tusks and can be quite fearless. Be careful when you are out and about, and take this threat seriously.

By: Larry Grill

 

[IOWA-INSECTS] Monarch butterfly research story

Here in SE MN I noticed the same lack of Monarchs in mid-summer. We also had robust milkweeds with very few larvae. I heard from (entomologically oriented) folks in NE MN that in June they saw far more Monarchs than usual, but with their relatively low population of milkweeds the Monarch seemed to overload the larval food plant. Then in August the flight of Monarchs here in SE MN was the lowest I have every seen.

Joel Dunnette

 

On Tue, Nov 6, 2012 at 8:21 PM, Bruce And Georgeann <crazcoot@evertek.net> wrote:
I have been following this topic and want to ask about another angle of the past summer’s Monarch slump -at least it was in Nw Iowa.

The Monarch Butterflies, were a real concern here this year. We had quite good numbers showing up in early spring – in fact the dates were record early arrivals for us. And I witnessed egg laying in the pasture…even photographed eggs as they were so obvious. But the thing that really puzzled and concerned me was we had no egg hatches and no caterpillars all summer! I have never, in my life, “Not” seen a Caterpillar all spring, summer or fall!!!???!!! Why after finding eggs, I could later not find larva?

Then the summer was “scant” as far as Monarchs were concerned. Nearly none, just a handful all summer. This should not have been the case here, we had the largest crop of Asclepias (milkweeds) that I’ve ever seen here…we had A. tuberosa(Butterfly Milkweed) in record numbers…they were stunning all over the county…even the area farmers were asking me what that “orange plant” is showing up everywhere! We had way more A. syriaca (Common Milkweed) than I care to see here – the neighborhood is coated with seed parachutes from our pasture…not a real “good neighbor” relations maker with the local farmers. We also had a good share (but down slightly from past years) of A. verticillata (Whorled Milkweed) and a small compliment of A. incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) in the ditches out front.

I witnessed a lone Monarch laying eggs on some Common Milkweed outside the studio windows in late August and tried keeping an eye on them – they were gone after just 3 days!? I don’t know of “egg” eaters in the insect world but maybe something is going on? I know of parasitic wasps in caterpillars – but saw NO CATERPILLARS all summer (as I said before). I haven’t the foggiest idea what is going on?

This fall we had virtually no Monarch roosts here – we usually have 150-500 individuals roost here each fall. 13 was our high number in a roost this fall…”6″ was the other high day…”high” used very sarcastically…

Some folks following this have raised issue with the drought hurting the mid section of the continent’s Monarch survival…I’m sure that has some bearing. They also have raised issue with GMO crops. But it does nothing to explain a local phenomenon like we’ve been experiencing here…eggs laid but no hatching, no larva…with an abundance of food source for larva and adult stages. We do not spray insecticides here on the acreage, but I have no knowledge of GMO crops or spraying issues in the surrounding area, so I can’t speak to that.

Am I imagining things or is there anyone else raising these kinds of observations or concerns? …Bruce Morrison, SE O’Brien County

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