Milkweed: plant it and they will come!

In recent years milkweed has received much attention as habitat for dwindling populations of monarch butterflies. Most of the more than 100 species in the Americas are tropical, but one species in particular is a staple of monarchs in the North: Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).

My backyard milkweed project started in 2015 with a few transplants from a nonproductive, roadside location. Establishment was slow, but they’re now flourishing. Vegetative reproduction by root sprouts has created a colony of about 30 stems and the large, fragrant flower clusters are insect magnets (according to the US Forest Service, over 450 insects are known to feed on some part of the plant, including flower nectar). I focused on the Lepidoptera, attempting to document the variety of butterflies and moths that benefit from flowering milkweed. Multiple benefits from a single management action is a best-case scenario. The value added from a colony of milkweed is much greater than monarch habitat.

I’ve observed 9 or 10 species of butterflies and moths thus far, as well as countless bees, flies and other insects. This is a sample!

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Honeybee

Monarch10July18#6108E2c8x10

Monarch

TigerSwallowtail6July18#5891E2c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail

CabbageWhite10July18#6152E2c8x10

Cabbage White

CtenuchaMothFly13July18#6507E2c5x7

Ctenucha Moth

Fritillary10July18#6082E5c5x7

Fritillary

TigerSwallowtail12July18#6434E2c8x10

Tiger Swallowtail

WhiteAdmiral11July18#6311E3c5x7

White Admiral

Monarch11July18#6336E2c5x7

Monarch

Photos by NB Hunter (early July, 2018). © All rights reserved.

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The Wonderful Month of June

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A favorite freestone stream in the mountains, alive with aquatic insects and foraging trout

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A massive White Pine with centuries of stories locked within

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Tiger Swallowtails “mud-puddling” to ingest nutrients and improve reproductive success

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A chatty House Wren, rewarding me for the nest box I hung on a garden post

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Taking a grooming timeout while guarding the nearby nest and solitary eaglet.

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird incubating 1-3 eggs; they’ll hatch in about 2 weeks

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An egg-laying Snapper; she dug her nest in roadside gravel near her swampy habitat 

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A month-old whitetail fawn learning about mobility

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Wild mustard colonizing a fallow field on a dairy farm

Photos by NB Hunter (June, 2018). © All rights reserved.

May 2018: Colorful Memories

After an agonizingly slow start, Spring in Central New York did not disappoint! The month of May has been a delightful mix of activity in living color, plants and animals alike. I’m posting selected highlights, in chronological order.

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Bloodroot (4May2018)

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Marsh Marigold (7May2018)

TroutLily8May18#3289E2c8x10

Trout Lily (8May2018)

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Serviceberry (12May2018)

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Sand Cherry (15May2018)

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Red Trillium (16May2018)

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Goldfinch on Sand Cherry (18May2018)

 

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Wild apple flower buds (20May2018)

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Wild apple blossoms (20May2018)

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Baltimore Oriole on its breeding territory (26May2018)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Searching for Spring in 2018

Despite the cold, late spring, I started searching for wild flowers in late April.  The search is a rite of spring, even if there’s snow in the air and it makes no sense whatsoever.

The flower buds of willow shrubs were on hold (April 27),

WillowShrub27Apr18#2838E2c8x10

As were the new shoots of False Hellebore after a freezing rain (April 29).

Hellebore29Apr18#2879E2c8x10

Desperate for color in a wintry April landscape, I detoured to the edge of a wetland and discovered a reliable indicator of the advancing season: Skunk Cabbage (April 29).

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Finally, the weather took a serious turn for the better. The season of renewal erupted, with April events spilling over into early May. Migrating birds, black flies, wildflowers, baby animals, mud…..Spring!

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Bloodroot

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A Rails-to-Trails recreation path, with willow shrubs in bloom (May 5)

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The early blooms of willow shrubs (May 3), a lifeline for hungry bees

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Marsh Marigold (May 5)

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A tumbling brook, swollen by melting snow and frequent rain (May 5)

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White Trillium (May 5)

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Red Trillium (May 5)

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Glory of the Snow

As I follow the sequence of bloom through the seasons, my focus is “wild” flowers, plants that occur in natural, uncultivated landscapes. There are exceptions of course, and no better example than Glory of the Snow. This hardy garden escapee, naturalized in my lawn, appears in late March and early April, often blooming in snow.

In addition to the visual treat of seeing the first floral color of the season, Glory of the Snow gives me an opportunity to observe the influence of annual variations in climate on the life cycles of plant and animal life (phenology). I selected and dated images from 2016 through yesterday to illustrate this fascinating annual conflict between winter and spring. Spring always wins, but more convincingly in some years than others!

18April2018: A week or more (?) until full bloom

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14April2017: full bloom and a welcome event for hungry honey bees

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29March2016: approaching full bloom, but experiencing a snowy delay

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14April2016

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.