A Milkweed Project

Several years ago I discovered a group of milkweed plants growing at the edge of the property. They were in the shade of a 60-foot-tall Norway spruce and lacked the vigor and floral production of open-grown plants. Mindful of the decline of Monarch butterflies and their habitats, I transplanted about 15 plants to better sites in full sun. This was done in the spring of 2015 and 2016.

Most plants survived the stress of transplanting but they didn’t become fully acclimated and established until this year. I’m now pleasantly surprised with the results, and plan to continue the project. The new colonies are producing root sprouts as well as flowers, and the response of nectaring insects was immediate.

Here is a small sample of milkweed visitors last week – and several plants have not reached full bloom yet! This is a wildlife manager’s dream scenario: one action, with multiple benefits.

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Banded Hairstreak butterfly (milkweed flowers are a preferred food source)

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Virginia Ctenucha moth

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Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Given the insect activity, I wasn’t surprised to find a common 8-legged predator lurking in the flower clusters: the Flower Crab Spider (I had to gently lift the flower cluster and shoot one-handed to get the image).

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Flower Crab Spider

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

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Swamp Rose Visitors

I follow the bloom of a group of wild swamp roses along the edge of a swamp. They appear to be thriving in several inches of water and muck, their feet wet year-round; an incredible display of site adaptation and tolerance.

Bees swarm the blossoms, presenting a target-rich environment for my favorite Arachnid: the Flower Spider. Also called Goldenrod Spider or Crab Spider, they’re an impressive ambush predator with a deadly toxin that immobilizes prey instantly. Bees are common prey, but I’ve photographed Flower Spiders with kills as large as the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and Hummingbird Moth (Clearwing) in their grasp!

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Dame’s Rocket

It seems that whenever I search for flowering plants to photograph I find myself having to “man up” and admit that I’m fond of aliens. The blooms of Wild Domestic Apple, Autumn Olive, Black Locust and, now, Dame’s Rocket, have all been impressive — and not one of these plants is native to this area.

Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis; Mustard family) is everywhere now, especially on disturbed sites with moist soils – abandoned fields, forest openings and edges, the neglected borders of lawns, etc. Native to Eurasia and introduced over 200 years ago, it is now widely distributed across most of North America. Extensive, nearly pure stands are common and, in late spring, a dominant landscape feature.

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A naturalized stand of Dame’s Rocket, showing the wide range of flower colors typical of the species

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A nearly pure stand of Dame’s Rocket on the moist floodplain of a small stream

Dame’s Rocket is easily mistaken for a garden Phlox. An alternate leaf arrangement and 4 petals distinguish it from this plant group, which has opposite leaves and 5 petals.

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The Forest Invasive Plants Resource Center is keeping a watchful eye on the spreading Dame’s Rocket, monitoring the “invasion” to determine threats to native flora and fauna.  I monitor Dame’s Rocket for it’s natural beauty and, more importantly, the impressive array of colorful wildlife species that are attracted to the prolific, fragrant bloom.

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Giant Swallowtail nectaring on Dame’s Rocket, 9June14; an unusual, if not rare, sighting in the Northeast

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Flower Spider, an ambush predator, on Dame’s Rocket

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Tiger Swallowtail nectaring on Dame’s Rocket

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Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.