Being Green in the Wildlife Garden

Dateline: May 17, 2013*

As I do every morning, I was walking around the property enjoying nature at its best.  I took my normal route past the Rusty Lyonia, Pawpaws and Dwarf Oaks, among others and headed down the bank of the pond into the section that dries up during Florida dry season.  I checked two small temporary pools created from recent rains and watched the tadpoles dance with the diving beetles.

Poised to catch a meal

As I turned my attention to the main section of pond, I was surprised to see a Green Heron (Butorides virescens) standing on the side, poised to grab a meal.  He seemed unfazed with my presence, unlike his compatriots the blue or white herons, which fly off the moment I open the door to the house some 150 feet way.  Not the first time I have met up with a green heron in my pond, but it is an unusual and welcome occurrence.

They stand very still

I watched and photographed as birdy moved stealthily around the perimeter, snagging mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) along the way.  As I walked, we seemed to move in unison, always at exact opposite positions along the pond edge.  He was diligent and obviously very hungry as we spent about 45 minutes doing our opposing dance.  I climbed up the bank at one point and wandered to another part of the yard.

Quick to grab their prey

When I returned, I noticed that the green heron had climbed aboard the tussock (island) at one end of my pond.  When the tussock first appeared, I had visions of wildlife making it a home and my new bird friend made the picture painted in my mind a reality.

Green Heron on the Tussock, my dream vision

Green Herons, small by most heron standards, are “one of the few birds that uses bait to attract fish, it drops such things as bread crusts, insects, and twigs onto the water.”   Fish is the primary diet along with frogs, insects and other invertebrates. They are vocal when they fly in or fly off.

Short and stocky

I gave him some words of warning, advising that I would be VERY annoyed if he ate my new turtle friends and he seemed to stick with the fare of the day, fish.  I hoped that he would snag one of the bluegills or large mouth bass that reside in the depths of the water so I could have that Kodak moment of a wading bird with a fish in his mouth.  It was not to be.  Without warning, my green heron friend flew off leaving me with a good feeling that I am not viewed as a threat to the wildlife friends who come to visit my native plant gardening paradise.

Green Heron is truly a beautiful bird

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on  May 17, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Beneficial Insects: Nice Lice?

Dateline:  April 27, 2012

A dragonfly lands on a branch of my Winged Elm

OK, I’m itchy…I’ve been sitting at the computer scrolling through bugguide.net to try and identify a tiny insect that was on my Winged Elm (Ulmus alata). I was actually giving the tree a once over because it is a larval host for Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and I wanted to see if I had any success thus far by trying to locate larvae. I specifically chose this tree to serve as a butterfly attractant for that species, which I’ve yet to have the pleasure of meeting.

Whatever is this mysterious bug?

I saw something stationed along a limb and I use the term limb loosely as the tree is a mere sapling. The creature was way too small to see without a magnifying glass or at least reading glasses. I took a photo and headed inside to see what I could see via the magic of computer zoom. It looked a little like a fat caddisfly if a caddisfly would have a bee shape abdomen and long thin antenna. Back outside to get a few more photos. Moving the stick of a limb every which way to get a better shot from different angles sent the little creature on a walk up toward the trunk. Satisfied that at least one or two of the numerous photos would provide a clue, I headed back in on my quest for knowledge.

Top of my new insect friend

Well, scrolling through all the caddisflies proved that wasn’t it. It looked a little like it should be a creature with an aquatic start, but I was having no luck. The wing shape seemed a little moth-like and tiger moth came to mind. Tiger and lichen moths are grouped together so I tried lichen in the search box since that was what the bug seemed intent on. Lo and behold, I found a critter that seemed close… stout barklice. EWWWWWWWWWWW! My immediate reaction was to reach for a nit comb and some Rid® shampoo.

It certainly has long antenna

I searched up a rung or two in the taxonomy and began scrolling through various photos of barklice. FINALLY, I found what I believe is my critter. It is in the Insect Order Psocodea that consists of Barklice, Booklice and Parasitic Lice. I was a little disappointed that it is called Common Barklice…with all this effort, there doesn’t seem to be anything common about it. The scientific name is Cerastipsocus venosus and they don’t feed on living plants. They work as a decomposer/recycler so it is a beneficial addition to the landscape. The Galveston County (TX)  Master Gardeners had this to say:

The term lice as part of the common name of these tree dwellers is quite misleading as these insects are neither parasitic nor louse-like in appearance. Upon being informed of the identification of this insect, the typical response of a gardener is a widening of the eyes and other momentary indications of being aghast! Our Galveston County Extension Horticulture Agent advises us to precede the identification with a notation of Congratulations, you have beneficial insects in your landscape!

I like their style! 😉

Up close, Barklice have a face only a mother could love

This particular species of barklice eats lichen so it is one of nature’s cleanup crewmembers. Some barklice build tents along the trunk and limbs of trees. People are often alarmed by this and seek help in what pesticides to use to clear up the culprits. Since the insects are not harmful the recommendation is to hit them with a spray of water if their habits offend your senses. That should send them on their way…at least for a brief time. Personally, I’m glad they are around at my place. I’m likin my lichen, but sometimes it can really put a coat on a tree so anything that keeps things balanced is a keeper to me. Of course, people have that aesthetic fear of nature…you know…so they feel compelled to disburse the BUGS!

Munching away on lichen they prefer trees with smooth bark

In reading I learned that they often travel in packs and are given the common name of bark cattle since apparently disturbing one sends them all on the run. Thank GOODNESS I only found the one rogue specimen…I may have had a heart attack if I’d found a herd of unidentifiable insects. And, with over 3500 species in Psocomorpha the fact that I was even able to FIND the type of creature, let along the seemingly exact species is a miracle…but I think it is more tenacity and luck. Now, I’m off to find my lasso and see if I can’t get in on the roundup to find this fellow’s friends!

Id say my barklouse is doing a good job!

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Garden Pests? Invite the Myrmeleontiformias

Dateline: June 13, 2014*

likely a Mymeleon sp. (Family Myrmeleontidae)

Quite a mouthful.  Antlions and owlflies may be a tad easier to say for the non-entomologists such as myself.  They are members of the Insect suborder Myrmeleontiformia.  Still not familiar?  Ok, let’s put it in terms of their relatives that tend to get all the glory: Lacewings!  Along with some additional allies, all are members of the Order Neuroptera.

Ok, enough with the scientific name mumbo jumbo.  What the heck will they do to help me in my garden?

on dried palmetto frond

Antlion adults eat nectar and pollen and live for about 30-45 days. Some Antlion adult species also eat caterpillars and aphids.

Antlions as adults are a rather attractive flying insect which can easily be mistaken for a dragonfly in flight.  The majority of Ant Lion species are nocturnal for the most part. Your best bet at seeing them in flight is at dusk or at artificial lights at night.  The species shown in the photos can be seen up close and personal when they rest during the day. They try to blend in with plants…generally some dried stalk of taller grasses or, as shown here, comfy on a Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) frond.  I inadvertently disturbed this fella and (s)he moved over to the green frond.

startled, it moved to greener pastures

The ones pictured here are most likely Mymeleon spp. (Family Myrmeleontidae).

Antlions undergo complete metamorphosis. The female searches for a spot where she taps her abdomen and then inserts a single egg below ground.  Several eggs may be laid in the same area, up to 20 eggs per site. As the eggs hatch, the larval stage is formed and this is likely the most beneficial stage.

Look at the curved antenna

The larval stage is commonly known as Doodlebugs, because in their quest to find just the right spot to build their pits, the bugs scurry around drawing “doodles” in the sand. The larvae build a funnel shaped pit and wait for an ant, termite or other insect to slip on the loose sand and fall in.  As the prey slides over the edge and into the pit, the Doodlebug uses its jaws to paralyze the ant by injecting poison. Then it sucks out the vital juices. Once they finish their meal, they toss the skeletal remains out of the pit. Rather like spitting out a watermelon pit in order to eat the next bite.

Showing the wings

The larval stage is a great way for children to observe and explore the world of insects. Antlions stay in the larval form for 1 to 3 years, followed by a cocoon stage made of sand and silk for about a month.  Kids can replicate their habitat by using a container filled with sand, feeding the larvae ants and providing water droplets.

With 22 species found throughout Florida, there are plenty of these workhorses.

A silvery look, this one easily blends in with the airplane wire used to stablize the shed

In addition to keeping some pest species in order, Antlion larvae serve as hosts to parasitic insects including wasps and flies.  They also are eaten by birds that are alerted to their whereabouts by spying the pits created by the larvae.

Next up in the world of Myrmeleontiformia are Owlflies, members of the Ascalaphidae Family. The Owlfly I have encountered is in the Genus Ululodes.

The Owl Fly can easily be identified by its long antenna

Adult Owlflies are similar in appearance to Ant Lions, but they have longgggggggggggggg antenna. They try to blend in with plants by bending their abdomen out to emulate a stick or thin branch on dried out stalks of grasses. Take my word for it, they can be very convincing.   The adults eat “on the wing”, similar to dragonflies.

I will fool you by looking like a stick

Rather than laying eggs underground like the Ant Lion, they go high, laying eggs along the stalk of tall dried grasses. The larva has a similar appearance to the Ant Lion with scary looking mandibles. When the larva hatch they congregate briefly before heading down into the leaf litter or up into trees to chow down in a solitary fashion.  They can be cannibalistic so they part ways with their siblings rather quickly.  When they are fattened up, they build their cocoons in the leaf litter.

Check out the Owlfly eggs. They are very tiny

This brings up an important point.   At all times of year it is imperative to leave some uncut debris as habitat to support these beneficial insects.  If you clear away every last stalk of dried grasses, Owlflies have no place to lay their eggs.  If you clear away all the leaf litter, they have no where to prey upon insects and no safe environment to form their cocoons.

Owl Fly larvae are an interesting bunch

I used to think that cutting down the dried native grass seedheads in spring while leaving the remains in a brush pile was adequate for use by the fauna. After all, the debris was available for the birds to pick up as building materials and any insects would still be there…like a centralized buffet. After seeing the habitat necessary for the Owlfly, I leave quite a bit of tall dead materials for them to use as support structures to lay their eggs. The resulting increase in the numbers of Owlflies at my place has proved quite rewarding.

Leave some tall dried brush for the Owl Fly

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on June 13, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Flipping My Earwig

Dateline: August 9, 2013*

Earwigs (Doru taeniatum) are predators of aphids and others

When I think of earwigs I recall my youth and the creepy crawly insects that were hidden in our somewhat damp basement.  Never did I consider that they could be beneficial in any way.

Of course likely those I encountered in the past were exotics. Earwigs,

“can devastate seedling vegetables or annual flowers and often seriously damage maturing soft fruit or corn silks, they also have a beneficial role in the landscape and have been shown to be important predators of aphids.

Another benefit is that earwigs eliminate decaying organic materials from the environment. They eat algae, fungi, mosses, pollen as well as insects, spiders and mites both dead and live.

Two of the younger members of the clan

This week I discovered a family living in the folds of a Redroot (Lachnanthes caroliniana) leaf.  I was thrilled to discover they are a native variety called the Lined Earwig (Doru taeniatum).  With its bright, shiny pallor that glistens in the sunshine it doesn’t seem creepy to me at all.

Enjoying the sunshine while dancing on the Bidens alba

Earwigs are generally nocturnal, although I’ve seen my guys out and about during the day in recent times,  dancing quickly up and down the Bidens alba and grass seedheads.  The genus Doru are important caterpillar predators and have a particular taste for the egg of the velvetbean caterpillar, a pest of pod plants especially soybeans.

Family oriented

Unlike a lot of the insect world, the momma earwigs provide care to their offspring, feeding their nymphs through regurgitation.  They do, however, seem to play favorites.

Still growing up, this one doesnt seem to quite have full wings.

Rumor has it that they fly, but I my bunch didn’t take to the airways.  An earwig’s defense mechanism is to squirt foul smelling liquid or use the pinchers to…well…PINCH! Stand back and keep your fingers away, or just don’t annoy the little buggers.

Tachinid Flies are an enemy of earwigs

Predators include the Tachinid fly, toads, birds, chickens and ducks.  On a good note, natural enemies of the exotics, include arboreal earwigs (Doru taeniatum). So, I’m welcoming my new little friends!

Out and about in the sunshine eating Bahai grass seedhead (YAY!!!)

While large populations may damage grass and be a pest if they get inside your home, they are generally harmless preying on more harmful insects.  Just use common sense to keep home areas free from dampness.

So, while earwigs as a family may be a mixed bag, I’d vote for keeping my friendly native genus around.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 9, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

We Don’t All Eat Leaves, You Know

Dateline: January 24, 2014*

Bella Moth Caterpillar

This week I was thrilled to find the caterpillar of a Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). While this larvae does eat some plant material in early stages, the diet as it grows, changes over to the seeds, so they bore their way into the seed pods. That’s why these caterpillars may be hard to find. Usually they are inside and not readily visible.  The seeds contain chemical alkaloids, which they consume to become poisonous or at least repellant to predators. Much like Milkweed provides this ability to the Monarch and Queen Butterflies.

Rabbitbells seed pod

I first saw a ripening pod and looked closely to reveal the telltale hole. I removed the pod and split it open to find the tiniest of tiny caterpillars.  If you look closely, you can see the seeds that it began munching away on.

Caterpillar is as tiny as the seeds, but you can see where it was munching on them

I shared a photo via social media and a fellow entomology enthusiast posted a photo of a much larger caterpillar and in his picture the larvae was creating the hole. Armed with this vision in my mind, I headed out to the Rabbitbells a.k.a., Rattlebox (Crotalaria rotundifolia), one of the larval hosts for Bella Moth. Eventually I was rewarded.  There, posed on the pod, was a near mirror image of what was posted.

Now, Theres one thats substantial heading in for additional food

This caterpillar was MUCH larger…as much as 5 times the size of my hidden friend from days before.

This brings up the point that not every caterpillar can be found on, or exclusively eating, green leaves.

Red-banded Hairstreak Butterfly (Calycopis cecrops). Youll find the larval in leaf debris

Some time back, I can remember searching and searching the sumacs and wax myrtles for the larvae of Red-banded Hairstreak Butterfly (Calycopis cecrops).  I never had any success as I turned over leaf after leaf hoping to add to my photo collection of Lepidoptera larvae.  C. cecrops readily flies in droves at my place.

Mind you, I’d be searching until the cows come home since this Hairstreak species is the only Florida butterfly to utilize detritus as larval food. I really need to scout around the leaf debris if I’m intent on finding a photo opportunity. Another excellent reason to not be so quick to do gardening cleanup…there is life in gardening debris!

Litter Moth (Idia americalis) shown here on wood debris, the larvae feed on lichens

Many moth species use leaf litter and other similar larval hosts. Lichen is another popular food. As a matter of fact, there is a whole tribe of lichen moths (Lithosiini).  Lichen is a fungus that grows together with a photosynthetic partner in a symbiotic relationship. That partner is often alga.

Some bagworms feed on lichen

Bagworms, those odd case creators, also have members of their species who eat lichens.

So, when it comes to gardening, you may not be missing a butterfly or moth caterpillar sighting because you don’t see them conspicuously munching on the host plant leaves or flowers. Some are nocturnal diners who only come out in the dead of night. Or, they may just be at the base of the plant eating castoff portions that they need to survive.  Then again, they may be seeking refuge inside the “Rattlebox” cafe.

Many of these caterpillars are thought of as “pest” species… leaf-rollers and leaf miners likely make you cringe. Heck, they are yummy bird food (no personal experience here) or turn into pollinators so consider alternate scenarios before passing judgment.

Grape Leafroller (Desmia spp.) doesnt seem so offensive when it is in moth stage.

What have you found caterpillars eating?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 24, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

The Mydas Touch (Part Deux)

Had a visit to the Oakleaf Fleabane by the mydas fly pictured up top so I thought I’d dust off my lost article on the different species in this family that are documented thusfar at my place.

Dateline:  September 29, 2014

A quick look might have you thinking Mydids are robberflies.

This week I got an email from Bugguide giving confirmation of a fly species that graced my place a year ago.  I had pretty much forgotten about the submission, but the confirmation had a timely arrival since I was stumped earlier in the week on what I might write about today.

Oddly, these insects are similar to the Robber Flies (Asilidae) I wrote about in the past. As I reported then, robberflies mimic bees.  This family of flies are also mimics, but they pretend to be wasps and include the largest flies in the order Diptera. They are Mydas flies (Mydidae) and I’ve several different genuses come visit over the years.

After a year I got confirmation on the species of this fly: Mydas maculiventris
M. maculiventris does resemble a wasp.

“Members of this family are commonly referred to as mydids.”  Mydids, like the robberflies are a hefty bunch size-wise and although small in numbers, they are VERY obvious when they are flying around or alit on foliage. They can be distinguished by the elongated clubs on their antenna, which stick straight out from their heads. It sort of resembles a “Y”.

Mydids don’t seem to show a heck of a lot of beneficial qualities as adults.  There really isn’t much written about the habits in this stage of life. They don’t appear to be a predator of anything, either pest or beneficial since they lack mandibles. They also aren’t commonly seen and there are indications that they have a short life span.

Phyllomydas parvulus. I guess I’ll be having more of these around soon. This is the second species in this genus that I’ve encountered.

There is some anecdotal information that adults are visitors to Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens) flowers so that would indicate some potential pollination duties.  Since I have lots of saw palmetto around, it could be why I have seen a lot of these rather large, beefy flies.

The P. parvulus pair could have cared less about me and the camera.

Since the 19th century it was believed that adult mydas flies live predatory on other insects in a manner similar to the related Asilidae. However, investigations showed that a fair number of adult males feed on flowers while females seem to rely only on the fatty substances accumulated in their abdomen. Species with vestigial mouthparts do not feed at all.

Their larvae is a whole other story.  Most larvae of some species of Mydas flies are predators that can be found in rotting wood munching away on beetle larvae. Mydids undergo complete metamorphosis.

The larvae of M. maculiventris feeds on GRUBS!

There is one species in particular that may have significant benefits since its larvae are soil inhabiting and prey on plant eating white grubworms and other larvae of beetles.  That one is M. maculiventris, who appears to mimic Paper wasps (Polistes spp.).

Mydas Fly (Mydas clavatus)
Mydas Fly (Mydas clavatus) Jet black with orange markings so I have documented two species in this genus.

The other species that I have found visiting in adult stage are M. clavata, Phyllomydas parvulus and P. quercus.

Phyllomydas quercus resting on a bald cypress tree seems to maybe mimic a spider wasp.

So, keep your eyes open and welcome this family of insects that secretly does good work in your beautiful wildlife garden.

* This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 29, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

The Mydas Touch

Dateline: May 13, 2011*

Lynx spider eating stink bug (a good thing)

I’m always excited when I find a new species to add to my “Florida buggy life-list”. Yes, I maintain a sort of life list of the insects and spiders that I am able to identify in my beautiful wildlife garden. I then try to determine whether of not they can prove to be beneficial in the garden. Some are a mixed bag, such as the Green Lynx spider. It is a spider, so it eats destructive bugs and is a food source for birds, but it also has a habit of eating pollinators. I tend to like them having observed grasshoppers in their clutches. I just hope that the pollinators are smart enough to avoid their grasp. At any rate, I suppose it is Mother Nature keeping us in balance. If a certain insect seems destructive, I learn how to control them without resorting to chemicals, much as I did with the Cottonwood Leaf Beetle where I used handpicking as my method of control. (Editor’s note:  as I have evolved and learned more about wildlife gardening, I would not put handpicked insects into soapy water, I would merely squish them and place them in the compost pile to be recycled back into the earth.)

Lynx eating pollinator (not such a good thing)

Amazingly, I find new insect species all the time, despite having lived in this location 5 years. This week was no exception. I was outside with the dogs having an afternoon stroll in record high heat when I saw a VERY LARGE insect land on the wood chip mulch pile. I was excited because it was something I had never seen before. I had to race to get a camera and unfortunately, the one that was “loaded” was my zoom camera which I generally don’t use for the insect pictures since I’m not good at getting close-up detail with it (thus the less-than-quality photo). I zeroed in as best I could and snapped a few shots. My initial thought was that it was some sort of robberfly.

When “new bug” flew off, I headed to the computer to do some research. “Black orange robberfly Florida” was what I put into my Goodsearch search engine that is powered by Yahoo (not a Google fan). I scanned the results and saw there was a listing from whatsthatbug.com, a favorite insect ID site of mine. Sure enough, there was a picture of my finding, Mydas Fly (Mydas clavatus). Then, as I always do, I headed on over to bugguide.net to confirm my findings and to see what information I could learn:

Adults sometimes found on flowers, presumably taking nectar. Some sources say adults take caterpillars, flies, bees, and true bugs. Others are skeptical of this. Bugguide further expands, “Eggs are laid singly in soil or rotting wood. … Mydas larvae prey on beetle larvae, esp. those of June beetles. Larvae pupate close to soil (or wood?) surface… Adults are active only in mid-summer. Mating system in this species unknown.”

Mydas Fly


Since the University of Florida didn’t have it listed as a “Featured Creature”, I turned to the University of Arkansas who, in addition to behavioral data, stated:

“…Adults were long presumed to be predaceous, but the lack of mandibles along with other features of mouthpart morphology and observations of flower feeding tend to indicate that they consume nectar.”… Larvae are associated with decaying stumps and logs, where they feed on scarab beetle larvae.

Bottom line: I vote beneficial. Flower feeding always produces some pollination ability. Got grubs? Mydas Fly larvae will help in control, although the birds might not want to share those delectables.

What are your favorite insects?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 13, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

Where Do You Get Your Trees?

National Arbor Day is April 28, 2017 and many will mark the event by planting a tree.  How many of those trees will actually live to see maturity?  The information in the following (initially written for Florida Arbor Day which is in January) may help YOUR selection have better odds for success.

Dateline:   January 13, 2012*

Sycamore from a local plant sale

Happy Arbor Day (well almost). Ok…are you scratching your head and wondering if I’ve lost my sense of time? In seven days, on the third Friday of January, it will be Arbor Day for both Florida and Louisiana…two states who appear to want to be first in the nation. We are all familiar with National Arbor Day that is the last Friday in April and celebrated by 28 states as their State holiday. Did you know that in addition to the national holiday many states have another date? They choose them according to their best tree-planting times. When does your state hoist the shovels to celebrate?

So, you’ve found out WHEN, then there is the question of WHAT…finding a tree to plant for Arbor Day. Despite the Arbor Day Foundation (ADF) trying to “inspire people to plant” by offering 10 free trees with membership, I always try to discourage this. Wait…don’t get your pansies in a bunch, I think supporting a non-profit is a commendable thing to do, but please forego the free trees delivered to your house. Choose “No trees” or the “10 Trees Planted in our Nation’s Forests in Your Honor”** option instead.

Let me explain why. How many of us have been excited to get our free trees only to struggle to get them established while we watch them fail to flourish or die a slow death. I sometimes think that homeowners who get these free trees become discouraged to plant due to failure of the specimens to thrive. At my own place, a friend who got their free trees gave me two crepe myrtles (not native to Florida, I KNOW, but considered “Florida-Friendly“). Well, those things have been planted since 2006 and are still barely 1-1/2 feet tall and one has yet to flower.  UPDATE 2017: Now about 6 foot tall with sparse branches and minimal flowering they are on the list to be removed since naturally occurring natives have filled in close by.

All ten trees that I received with my membership that same year are dead, despite nursing them according to instructions. If I hadn’t learned about native plants since their “burial” and local provenance, I’d be cursing Florida’s ability to provide a proper garden, blaming the sand that pretends to be soil. Apparently it is that the poor trees just aren’t adapted to the soil conditions or our climate. Heck, it even took me a while to get used to Florida where you can run the a/c and the heat on the same day.

Pinus spp. planted by a bird or the wind. Local provenance assured

Provenance can be a crucial factor in a tree’s ability to live a good long life and using a nursery within a 100-mile radius of the intended planting site will go a long way toward achieving better success. In addition, the question of the importance of genetic diversity and also the possible affect that outside specimens could have on our native populations through pollination or seed dispersal is often brought into discussion.

While purchasing with provenance in mind might give you a head start toward success, that’s not to say that you don’t have to baby a native tree during its young life. While we tout that native plants use fewer resources such as water and are generally carefree, even native trees need regular watering and care in order to get established.

I transplanted this red maple while a single leaf in my driveway to a pot and then into it’s current location

I say when your state celebrates Arbor Day, find a nice native plant nursery in your locale to purchase your tree and support local business at the same time. I have a couple of Red Maple (Acer rubrum) seedlings purchased at our Master Gardener sale that are on tap for planting. And I also noticed a Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) volunteer under the momma tree that I will relocate (at least to a pot).
One of these acorns produced a “vounteer” seedling for me to transplant

Oh…and you gotta love South Carolina. They must be a hearty bunch as they get out there on the first Friday in December to celebrate their Arbor Day.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

**This option doesn’t seem to be available any longer.

Spring Preparation

Dateline: April 1, 2011*

I headed out to my local big-box store yesterday to lay in supplies for the spring season.

I grabbed one of those dolly carts rather than a regular shopping cart so I had enough room for the spreader and other items on my list. I loaded up granular weed killer and the largest bag of 30-10-10 lawn fertilizer that I could find to put in that spreader. The new concentrate of bug killer that attaches to a hose so it can easily be sprayed for great distances and coverage has a good shelf life, so I bought several. I found that there are also fertilizers that come in similar spray form so I added a few of them and a new hose so I can be sure to reach down around my pond area. I am so grateful that you no longer have to mix and pour. Spray and go is quite a handy feature. I got an automatic pump spray of the grass and weed killer to keep the driveway tidy. How cool are these new items?

I headed to the plant section and was awed by the light purple color of Mexican petunias and the fact that they grow and fill in so quickly so I picked up ten 1-gallon containers to cover a blank area of my garden. The Nandina looked so pretty and I’m sure the birds will be thrilled with the berries, so I got five 3-gallon containers to start an informal hedge.

I had a choice of mulches, but I love that pretty red color and since it is the cheapest choice, 20 bags of cypress mulch was carefully squeezed in my small SUV.

Then, I headed home to get started on making my yard beautiful.

April Fool!

If you care about life and the environment, never buy or use what I have listed above. There is rarely a reason to need chemicals in your yard. Consider making compost for your fertilizer needs, avoiding monocultures and providing a balanced habitat so that nature can do the work for you. Don’t rely on the store when it comes to plants…check the plant’s scientific name to ensure that it is not invasive to your area. Avoid exotics that don’t belong in the habitat you are blessed with. Concentrate on working with nature rather than trying to conform to what the purveyors of garden chemicals “think” your landscape should look like. Don’t conform just because that’s what plants are offered at discount nurseries…take the high road and buy quality native plants from a native plant nursery. For your mulching needs, use recycled yard wastes or mulch made from removal of invasive melaleuca or bags from sustainable sources such as pine straw.

Don’t be fooled by the chemical companies who tout unnecessary elements of garden care. They are in business to make money. And we here at Wildlife Garden have no motivation other than trying to promote and protect wildlife for our future generations by offering conversation from our own experiences in providing natural habitat for God’s creatures.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 1, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

When Birds Recycle

Dateline: February 3, 2012*

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) found and used this nest in a Live Oak tree

I was out and about on Sunday, cleaning up after the dogs and looking for wildlife of interest. January is not always the best time of year to find things, but Florida has experienced a relatively warm winter and spring is in the air so we have our fair share of resident wildlife meandering around. I spotted a Saltmarsh Caterpillar (Estigmene acrea) and a Pinewoods Treefrog (Hyla femoralis). I passed by the young live oak and was leaning down under some branches when I heard the sharp whistle of a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) taking flight. The sound created by their flapping wings during takeoff is unmistakable. I nearly jumped out of my skin I was so startled. Heck, I was close enough to feel a breeze in my ear.

I stopped and leaned under this live oak tree

I often see the Mourning Doves, which are native to all of North America, high up in the trees, hanging out on power lines and down pecking around the bottom of the pond in a section that is exposed during the current dry season. They are fond of the areas alongside the driveway which has a lot of Cranesbill (Geranium carolinianum) growing, a plant native to most of North America. Cranesbill provides an excellent source of natural, non-toxic bird seed, if you avoid use of chemicals in your yard. Be wary if you use a weed and feed, as this plant is on many chemical company hit lists to be killed for some unknown reason.

Doves like a view from power wires

I’d never really seen the Mourning Doves low in the trees before, so I glanced at where the bird may have been perched and noticed two bright white eggs, sitting up in a nest. I laughed because now I understood why the bird was at my ear height.

Two perfect eggs

I’m not sure whom the doves’ real estate agent was, but I’m hoping they got a good buy on this nest. It is a “resale” home that was constructed by Mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) last year. The Mockingbirds didn’t have much luck with this location. I have a picture of four eggs one day, and none a day or two later. Victims of some raccoon, hawk or snake’s breakfast, I suppose…or perhaps all three met for elevenses.

Pop (?) keeping those eggs warm!

I looked up the Mourning Dove nesting behavior and found that they lay 2 white eggs in a loosely made nest of sticks and twigs placed in low bushes and tall trees, more rarely on the ground. As you can see in the photo, there are two eggs, soooooo…MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Now, was this a lazy dove? Since Mockingbirds also make nests of loose sticks and twigs I’m attributing the reuse by the dove as being smart and eco-friendly, you know…wanting to recycle…no unnecessary development.

I’ve often been conflicted about whether to remove a bird nest after the miracle of birth has taken place and they leave. I know as I monitor my bluebirds, I need to remove the nest a day after they fledge as it is extremely dirty and can harbor parasites. Bluebird parents will come back a week or two later and quickly build a new nest for a second or third brood if there is enough time left in the season. I’m more inclined to leave the nest of Mockingbirds. I have witnessed them reuse the same nest on more than one occasion. On the other side of the coin, I’ve also had wasps take over a previously used nest, in a less than convenient location. Decisions, decisions.

Cranesbill, also called Wild Geranium are great natives to attract doves.

Mourning Doves are the most hunted migratory game bird (think squab) in North America although they are also protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Since they are granivorous , they eat agricultural crops such as corn, millet, wheat and even peanuts. For a native plant diet, they exist on a variety of grasses, spurges (Croton spp.), goosefoots, lambsquarter (Chenopodium album), saltbushes (Atriplex spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.), Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), Pricklypoppy (Argemone spp.), Pigweeds (Amaranthus spp), Smartweeds (Polygonum spp.), hemp (Cannabis sativa) (my kinda bird), Purslanes (Brassica spp.), Pines (Pinus spp.) and my favorite, Wild Geranium (G. carolinianum), as stated above. Get those meadows planted but if you include Cannabis make sure you have bail money.

Grit is essential component of diet, but why they eat it is unknown. But eat it they do, since they routinely spend some time on my crushed rock driveway. They also like some animal matter, primarily snails. The need for surface water is imperative, so to attract these guys, start planning those ponds.

Snails, such as these native Southern Flatcoils (Polygyra spp.) are a part of a Dove’s diet.

These birds appear to eat fast. They save the food they forage in their crop (that dangly thing at their neck) and digest it later when they settle in to roost. The young are raised on “crop milk,” a unique secretion of the cells of the crop wall provided by both mom and pop.

Mom (?) sees that incubation is continuous

Mourning Doves incubate continuously for 14-15 days, with the male often taking the day shift and the female taking the night shift. They will build where humans frequent and if they feel threatened, parents will use the “nest distraction” technique (fly out of the nest in the hopes you don’t see it) or “broken wing feign” strategy (flapping around on the ground, as if injured). Right now, I need to keep away from that area. I got one photo of the eggs since the opportunity presented itself (glad I keep my point and shoot camera with me). I also got the photo of pop? sitting on the eggs from a distance. Ahhh…the beauty of a zoom camera. Now, “grandmama” will patiently await little heads to appear, but I will do so from across the yard watching through field glasses.

As far as the nest? I’m just curious if the Mockingbirds were savvy enough to downplay the reason they decided to move.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on February 3, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.