Sunday, February 10, 2013
Located in a small town (Newtown) off of the Little Miami River east of Cincinnati, are many weedy fields growing non-native and native species prospering in the alluvial soils. Characterized by sod farms, agricultural farms and countryside suburbia with many mature trees, and wooded lots it's a town that supports more wildlife than your average Cincinnati suburb. The field I will give you a tour of in this blog post is actually Hamilton County Park Land that is unused, mowed once a year, connected to the backside of their Golf Course. They usually mow it in March before most warm season forbs and grasses have started growing. This field features wet-mesic and dry-mesic native species naturally volunteered into the turf, with wet-mesic and mesic forbs and grasses growing along wooded edges that border a seasonally flooded swale that flows into a tributary of the scenic Little Miami River.
The field is home to many bird species that forage in the good diversity of insects and seed sources. Butterfly diversity is high during the months of June-August climaxing in Mid-Late July during which all milkweeds are blooming with Wingstems (Verbesina alternifolia), Tall Ironweed (Vernonia altissima), an unidentified Desmodium species, Canadian Germander (Teucrium canadense), False Sunflower (Heliopsis occidentalis), Cut-leaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia lacinata) and many other species. Let's take a virtual walk through this field of indigenous and non-native plants (both commonly known as weeds).
In early to mid June, Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) offers a bounty of nectar and pollen available to short-tongue and long-tongue insects
The flowers sometimes vary per colony, with each clone (from rhizomes) usually appearing identical, while separate plant colonies sometimes having a darker or brighter flower. All colonies of Common Milkweed however, can rear the young of the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) as you see hugging the stem in the picture above.
Wherever there are milkweeds, throughout most of the year, there are Red Milkweed Beetles (Teraopes tetraopthalmus), one of the few insects chemically adapted to feed on milkweed plant matter.
Bumble Bees (Bombus sp.), native bees, and non-native bees (honey bees) compete wing to wing for nectar and pollen offered by Common Milkweed (Asclepias syricaca).
Note two things in this picture above, the different tone of purple in this flower compared to the whiter others, and the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) in the bottom right, which sucks the "embryo" of the seeds with a piercing mouth tool that goes through the thick milkweed pods.
Still in the month of June, if you wonder across the field towards the strip of riparian woods bordering the field and the Hamiliton County Park Golf Course, you'll come across a partially shaded swale that leads to the creek. The truly wet-mesic soil supports large colonies of Lizard's Tail (Sarururus cernuus).
This is a picture of a small mass of the invasive Crown Vetch (Securigera varia) starting a monoculture expansion into the field in 2011. In 2011, I could easily walk up to this mass and fit it in one camera shot at a close distance, unlike the large mass it asexually reproduced into in 2012 pictured below. A few native insects have adapted to this legume as with many other non-native legumes utilizing it as a host and nectar source. Overall, because of diversity concern which pawns all potential benefits, it need be eradicated upon discovery so it doesn't build up a seed bank and/or reproduce. It's root systems are perennial, deep rooted, drought tolerant and the foliage is partially resistant to herbicides. It requires multiple treatments per year and over a few growing seasons to totally destroy it.
This is one years growth, same patch, taken in July of 2012, I obviously had to take a few steps back from the patch just to get the majority within the frame. The patch grew exponentially smothering surrounding perennial plants that cannot escape the wave of growth. The nearly impenetrable matting growing pattern can prevent and stunt tree succession, and destroy diversity of herbaceous species that cannot keep up with the aggressive nitrogen fixing legume. Beware!
This poor Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) has it days numbered, as you can see the crown vetch blooming in the background creeping around it's slender taproots. Speaking of Butterflyweed, this alluvial soil supports a good population of it which is odd as it can be found within the vicinity of moisture loving plants like Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and Sneezweed (Helenium autumnale). Butterflyweed prospers in well drained soils, primarily corse textured, with high sun exposure. It's native to the short grass, mixed grass prairie, and tall grass prairie regions. In Ohio, Butterflyweed grows in disturbed areas like this open field, and drier parts of tall grass prairie remnants.
The flower of Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), is nothing to fight over, and the plant itself is very common, but hosts a beetle (above) well worth searching for. This beetle is called the Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus), dogbane being another name for Indian Hemp, it's shiny metallic appearance may confuse some to be an Emerald Ash Borer, but it is far from it. This beetle consumes plant tissue of Dogbanes, and mates on it being totally depending on this plant. Where the beetles have recently fed, you will notice the tissue bleeds a white substance like the Asclepias genus does, both being poisonous.
While walking through the herbaceous field you may brush past a minty smelling plant called Canadian Germander (Teucrium canadens). Pollinated commonly by Bumble Bees, reproducing through aggressive rhizome spread, and seed. It can be dominant for periods of time in very moist disturbed areas. It by no means is rare, but is always pleasant to irritate a leaf releasing the aroma. Let's move on to what happens in the explosive months of July and August.
The edges of the Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum), American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) dominated riparian woods feature several plants thriving on the northern and eastern exposed sides, this phlox species being one.
False Sunflower (Heliopsis occidentalis) makes the openings in the honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii along the edge of the woods beam with spots of gold from a distance. Native to edges of woods, and woodland openings, False Sunflower can also grow in moist prairie soil in full sun. The bloom period varies throughout the months of June through August.
Orange Jewelweed pictured above, (Impatients capensis) grows in small thick reseeding annual patches in partial shade along the northern side of the wood edge. This plant is a childhood favorite because of it's exploding seed pods. It's often seen along woodland streams in mucky or seasonally wet soil usually in partial shade. This plant is a childhood favorite because of it's exploding seed pods. Often seen along woodland streams in mucky or seasonally wet soil usually in partial shade. It's not uncommon to see Great Blue Lobelia (right) growing along side Orange Jewel Weed contrasting in color beautifully.
Another plant typically of partial shade, and moist soil environments is one of the largest Rudbeckia species, Wild Golden Glow or Cutleaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia lacinata). Look for it along stream banks, in vegetated swales, edges of wetlands, and if searching for it full sun, it's restricted to soils that maintain moderately high soil moisture throughout the summer months. P.S. bumble bees adore this plant, one of the only rudbeckias that bumble bees forage on.
Pink Turtlehead is just starting bloom along the moist wood edges Mid August into Early September. Pictured above in the droughty year of 2012, it prospers best in rainy years along wood edges, but if within a more wetlandish soil with high moisture through the year it will form large rhizomatus colonies pollinated by bumble bees strong enough to open the closed flowers.
Now transitioning from the edge of the woods into the open field Wingstem (Pictured Above) (Verbesina alternifolia) occupies both the open habitat and the partially shaded habitat, both moist. This as many of the native species in the field is another pollinator favorite attracting a wide number of insects, while hosting a few also. Of similar height, structure, and habitat preference is Tall Ironweed (Vernonia altissima) pictured to the right. The purple and yellow contrast is attractive on moist road sides from mid to late July through August. On extreme drought years they may not bloom until September.
Medium size Grasshopper species were highly abundant in the rainy year of 2011, less so in 2012. I don't know exactly what their diet consists of but the grass species are represented as so: Broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus)-the only native, Tall fesuce (Festuca arundinacea), Annual Foxtail (Setaria sp.), and agressively spreading invasive Johnson Grass (Sorghum halepense) colonies. The Johnson Grass colonies spread far by seed and wide by long rhizomes aesexually. Without control this species will compete with crown vetch and tall natives like Ironweed, turning the field into a low diversity, monoculture with greatly reduced insect and wildlife diversity. Look for Johnson Grass in heavy moist well drained soils.
Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) is the last native plant I'll show you before I show of the Butterfly Fireworks that happens over the summer months. This plant is typical of Wet to Wet-Mesic soils, here in the Mesic moist alluvial soil it will never become dominant but will exist at a smaller stature than typical. It attracts a wide variety of insects, especially migrating butterflies with its September bloom.
I'm weak on my butterfly and insect identification skills, so I'm going to list the pictures without species labels below, but I will label the plant species. These binsects frequent the field through the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) blooming months of June through August.
These next few pictures are all insects using Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
The next butterflies are all pictured consuming nectar on Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).