Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Beach in November

Yesterday afternoon, I took advantage of the 70+ degree weather to visit the beach.

It’s actually a beach along the Great Miami River, in Shawnee Lookout Park, part of the Hamilton County, Ohio park district. The warm weather notwithstanding, the beach can be a pretty barren place, at least at first glance.

But the butterflies of summer – really late summer that is, or even fall – were still present. We have had quite an influx of southern butterflies this year, and a couple have obviously lingered into November. Despite several sub-freezing nights, this Common Buckeye, Junonia coenia, was still active, and looking not terribly worn.

Much rarer in Ohio, at least in normal years, is this poorly-photographed Dainty Sulphur, Nathalis iole. There were at least five individuals on the beach yesterday, and over 20 were here in September. They normally aren’t able to overwinter in Ohio, even as eggs. But they’ve been here in numbers long enough to deposit eggs, and if global warming gives an extraordinarily mild winter, then just maybe . . .

Except for the willows, there wasn’t much green on the beach. Most of the plants, including these Jimsonweeds, Datura stramonium, were just dried husks. Jimsonweed, while not native, is an interesting, and interesting-looking, plant. In the right quantities, various parts of the plants are hallucinogenic. In slightly smaller quantities, it is deadly.

As they dry, the seed heads split open to reveal masses of black seeds.

These stink bugs, quite possibly Brown Stink Bug, Euschistus servus, either knew the right dosage or, more likely, aren’t affected by the chemicals in the Jimsonweed. More importantly, I just liked the photograph.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bald-faced Hornet

We found this Hornet's nest in Shawnee State Forest yesterday while hiking with Janet Creamer. It was just a few feet off the ground. Since there appeared to be little or no activity, we ventured closer for a picture. Janet said that most of the time, these Hornet's will leave people alone unless they feel threatened. If a Bald-faced Hornet, Dolichovespula maculata, would happen to land on you, DO NOT swat at it or kill it. That individual will send out a chemical that alerts the rest of the hive, to go into attack mode. Generally, they are not as aggressive as the Yellowjacket and if you leave it alone, it will most likely just fly away.

Their nests are works of art. The location is selected by the Queen. Worker's chew up bits of wood mixed with saliva to form a paste that is spread with their mandibles and legs to form a football shaped paper nest. As winter approaches, the wasps die – except any just-fertilized queens. The nest itself is generally abandoned by winter, and not reused. In the Spring, Queen's will begin the cycle again.

A Major Award

A few weeks ago, our chair for the Midwest Native Plant Conference, Jim McCormac, won a major award.

"A Major Award" from A Christmas Story

No, not that kind of major award...but a very important one, nonetheless. Jim, along with photographer Gary Meszaros, won the Ohioana Book Award for Books about Ohio or an Ohioan. The awards are given each year by the Ohioana Library for fiction, nonfiction, juvenile books, poetry, and books about Ohio or Ohioans with a copyright date within the last two calendar years. The talented authors must be native Ohioans or have lived in Ohio for at least five years.

They won the award for the book Wild Ohio, The Best of Our Natural Heritage. If anyone takes a look at this gorgeous book, they can easily understand why the pair won this award. Filled with Jim's beautiful prose and accompanied with Gary's breathtaking photography, the book belongs on any Ohioan's bookshelf.

Photo by Mara Gruber

Major congrats, Jim and Gary!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stiff Gentian

Today I visited my friends, Kathy McDonald and Ned Keller. We went to their 20 acre spread in Adams County. What a treat, wandering around on the hilly terrain, checking out a number of cool flowers and other plants. I look forward to going back and checking it out another time to see what other great plant finds are waiting to be discovered.

One of my favorites from today was a real beauty. Stiff Gentian, Gentianella quinquefolia, was still gorgeous despite a few frosts. I loved the light blue blossoms with the dark nectar guides. Quite striking!

Above is a white variety that we found along their drive. In the bottom corner of the pic you can see the blue and white blossoms together on the same stalk.

We also found lots of Shale Barren Aster. Unfortunately, my pics from today did not turn out, but you can see what this flower looks like in a previous post. And for those who may be wondering what the crushed leaves smell like? Not chocolate, but a fresh scent somewhat like Patchouli. :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shale Barren Asters

This time of year it is rare to see a flower in full bloom, fresh and not withered by frost. So I was really excited when we found these beauties along the road in Adams County, OH. These are Shale Barren Asters, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, and are threatened in Ohio.

Another name for it is Aromatic Aster for its aromatic scent when the leaves are crushed. I did not sniff it, but hopefully I will have another chance this upcoming weekend to see what it smells like. Hopefully, it will smell like chocolate. :)

There are only four counties at this time in Ohio that are known to have this aster. They are Adams, Belmont, Brown and Hocking. It grows on calcareous slopes, prairies and dry open ground in full sun.

A few of the differentiating characteristics of this aster are oblong entire (not toothed) leaves that can be up to four inches long. These leaves are sessile, meaning they do not have a petiole where the leaf attaches to the plant's stem. Also, the upper stem of the plant is glandular and hairy.

Here is a closeup of one of the flowers. Such a lovely shade of lavender. The flower heads can have between 15 to 40 petals. So happy to share this gorgeous rarity with you!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

What's New, Buckaroo?

Today, I met John Howard for a fall foray in Adams and Scioto counties. We met up with Jim McCormac and went searching for a short list of targets. One from the list was this beauty-the Buck Moth, Hemileuca maia.

Buck Moths can be found in October and November here in Ohio. The caterpillars feed on oak leaves, so Shawnee State Forest was the destination to look for them. While there, we ran into Dave Riepenhoff, who was also looking for the moths.

Male Buck Moth

We spotted one flying across the road. John Howard leapt into action. He quickly sprinted across the road, launching himself into the air like Michael Jordan for a slam dunk. With a tornadic whirl of his net, he captured the cunning beast. Then, with lightning fast reflexes, he whipped out three throwing stars and killed the trio of ninjas that were hiding nearby, saving us all from impending doom. Or maybe I just imagined that part. :)

John had caught a gorgeous male. The Buck Moth has beautiful black wings with a white band across the middle. This male also had red hair tufts on the abdomen and on its legs. We were all gathered around, admiring it for a bit, when a big female floated by. John easily caught her, as well. The female Buck Moth is quite a bit bigger than the male.

Female Buck Moth

The female was equally pretty. The scientific name "maia" is in reference to Greek mythology. Atlas's daughter, Maia, was considered to be exceptionally beautiful. This was my first time to see these moths in person and I was definitely in awe. She will lay eggs on an oak twig, encircling the twig with her eggs. These eggs will overwinter and the young caterpillars will hatch out in the spring.

One of my favorite things was the male's furry red booties. They reminded me of bright red Ugg Boots. Perhaps that is why the boots were made. Their creator saw a Buck Moth and thought how warm and furry its leggings must be. Yes, I am sure that is what happened. I was also intrigued with its antennae. They were super long and feathered. The males use these to sense the presence of the giant chick detectors. I know some guys that would like these, but would never wear them, because they wouldn't look cool.

Ugg Boots-inspired by Buck Moths. Another question answered by nature.

I hope you, too, will have an opportunity to see this amazing moth. They should be flying until mid-November.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Some Reading for the Botany Fans

The blog carnival Berry-Go-Round #31 is up at A Blog Around the Clock. For those that are not familiar with a blog carnival, it is a grouping of interesting posts on a similar topic. Berry-Go-Round is a blog carnival that features plants.

So check it out and learn about apples, peat moss, jewelweed, pollination, sugar beets, cleft phlox and more!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Luna Moth Caterpillar and Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar

At Cave Lake, we not only were able to see loads of cool flora, we also viewed some pretty cool beasties, as well. It isn't a secret that I really like caterpillars, so when we found some truly interesting ones, I was stoked!

We found a patch of Prickly Ash, Zanthoxylum americanum, and I wondered out loud if we could find a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio cresphontes, on the leaves. Not more than a few seconds later, sharp-eyed Diana Boyd from Keystone Flora found one, right under my nose.

Like a bizarre Tickle Me Elmo for science geeks, you tickle the little caterpillar bird poo mimic and teeee-heeee!...

out pops its osmeterium and a not so pleasant smell. It protects the little caterpillar from nosy birds looking for a snack by scaring the feathers off of them.

A little later, John Howard was flipping over leaves and found this lime green beauty, a Luna Moth caterpillar, Actias luna.

Such a cool caterpillar and one I rarely get to see. It will become one of the most beautiful moths out there.

Here is one we raised from a caterpillar a few years ago. I love how the edges of the wings blend right in with the branch, with tiny leaf bud detailing. While hanging high up in a tree, it would go unnoticed by most. So amazing!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bottle Gentian and the Bumblebee

Saturday, the Ohio Heritage Naturalist group descended upon Cave Lake YMCA Park to check out the flora and fauna. Right inside the gate, we were greeted with the tiny tin horn call of four to five Red-breasted Nuthatches, Sitta canandensis. "Ank, ank, ank" they called as they flitted among the evergreens, plucking seeds from the cones.

Photo from Wikipedia

We decided on a side trip to neighboring Pike State Forest. There was a nice wetland area with White Turtlehead, Chelone glabra, Closed Bottle Gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, and many asters and sedges.

John Howard spotted a bumblebee on a gentian. This was something I really wanted to see! Bumblebees are pretty much the only pollinator for Closed Bottle Gentian.

The petals of this flower never open, but remain closed, causing the flower to look like it is always in bud. Bumblebees are the only insects strong enough to force their way into the flower to devour the nectar and collect the pollen. The gentian relies on this symbiotic relationship to produce seed and more little gentians.

Bottoms Up!

The group gathered around and witnessed the bee shoving itself down into the blossom. It wrestled around in there for a long time, throwing out pens, pencils, erasers and other items as it searched for the nectar. Oh, wait. I am confused. That was me earlier today looking for a battery. But in my defense, Bumble was in there an awfully long time...
I think it wrote an entire script for a B movie while it was in there. It was probably distracted by the inside of the flower. There are nectar guides to help the bumblebee find the pollen and nectar. This one seemed to be having some trouble finding it...
The blue and white stripes from the nectar guides of the gentian
Maybe it was in there making a beeaded handbag? Those can take a long time.
Or possibly cooking some Bee-f Bourguignon? It takes six hours to make that.

Finally, it made its way out of the blossom to... DIVE RIGHT INTO ANOTHER BLOSSOM.

Un-bee-lievable ! :)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Amazing Amorpha Adventure

I love adventures. Yeppers. Going out exploring is a favorite pastime, made even better in the company of good friends. Such was the outing this past Sunday, when some of the Midwest Native Plant Conference board and a few others were in search of an uncommon beetle, the Amorpha Borer, Megacyllene decora. Our group likes more than just plants!

The Amorpha Borer is an uncommon beetle in Ohio. It is dependent on its host plant False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, which has a limited range in Ohio. The adult beetle will deposit eggs on the plant and the larvae with bore into the plants' stems feeding on the Amorpha tissue. Above is a map of where Amorpha fruticosa is found in Ohio.

This is the group. Missing is Jim McCormac, who is behind the camera. This is his photo that I blatantly stole from his blog. :) It was Jim's idea to go looking for this beetle after finding one last year in the same location at Shawnee State Park marina. Thanks Jim, for including us on your quest!

The group found the beetle in two different locations. Such a stunning brilliant yellow and black beetle. Its species name, decora, means elegant. There is no arguing with that! This living treasure is as pretty as any jewel. Here it is feeding on Thoroughwort, Eupatorium serotinum.
Above is my photo.

This photo is a better shot from my friend John Howard. I am just amazed at the color on this animal! And look at its crazy antennae! The Amorpha Borer is a type of Long-horned Beetle, named so for their extra long segmented antennae.

Here is a closeup shot of the beetle in hand. Such a vicious beast, ripping open my flesh with its huge mandibles. The doctors were able to save the hand and I have recovered quite nicely from my injury. ;) Photo stolen once again from Jim McCormac's blog.

This quest brought up some questions about the beetle and just how common is it? So far, we haven't found much information on it, just snippets here and there.

And, another burning question was finally answered for me that day. I have always wondered why the eighties band Stryper wore those bright yellow and black jumpsuits. It is now quite obvious to me they were smitten by this beetle and wanted to pay tribute. Yes, it is all starting to make sense now... :)

Stryper, giant Amorpha Borer fans

Friday, July 16, 2010

2nd Annual Midwest Native Plant Conference 2010 Aug 6,7 & 8

You won't want to miss the 2nd Annual MWNP Conference! ~ And, it's not too late to register. Conference Mission: Connecting People and Nature.

Learn about the important role of native plants in supporting our natural environment by attending the 2nd Annual Midwest Native Plant Conference, August 6, 7 & 8, 2010, at the Bergamo Center in Dayton, Ohio. Bergamo Center is located on the campus of Mount St. John, a beautiful 150-acre campus property. The Mount St. John Nature Preserve was named an Ohio Natural Landmark by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1988, recognizing it as "an outstanding environmental education area possessing exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting the natural heritage of Ohio." Download a nature trail guide of the MSJ Preserve. The land is managed by the Marianist Environmental and Education Center (MEEC). Through Meec's "research and restoration of six ecosystems on 100 acres of land at Mount St. John and scientific team provides opportunities for learning about land management and participating in ecological research".You will learn from experts about native landscaping, forests, wetlands, and prairies, together with the diverse wildlife that lives in these native habitats, through lectures, field trips and workshops. A Keynote speaker will be featured each day of the conference. There will be a variety of breakout sessions on various topics, such as native plant basics and propagation, summer wildflowers, butterflies and native goldenrods.

Our vendors will offer native plants, books, artwork and other items that will help you in understanding and enjoying the benefits of going native. Vendors will be open to the public on Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. Each day of the conference we will offer informative tours and field trips to a wide variety of habitats to identify native plants, birds, butterflies, insects and other wildlife within easy driving distance of the Dayton area.

Our Saturday night banquet keynote, Julie Zickefoose, is a widely published natural history writer and artist. Julie provides monthly commentary for National Public Radio and brings the natural world to almost 14,000 readers monthly with her daily blog. Julie never tires of roaming her 80-acre wildlife sanctuary in Whipple, OH. She has a deep relationship with the land that is the wellspring for her writing and art.

On Friday evening, Wil Hershberger, author of “The Songs of Insects” will take us on a journey to learn more about the sounds of summer. Learn more about the natural history of insects, the importance to our world, ID tips and an appreciation of insect song. An evening field trip will be offered after the talk to look and listen for insects and other creatures of the night.

Sunday morning speaker will be Judy Semroc, a Conservation Specialist for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (Natural Areas Division). Utilizing macrophotography and the incredible natural palette that is exhibited by animals and plants, Judy will convey the important relationships between pollinators and the plants they require.

In addition, scholarships are available for young naturalists (and special rates for college students) between the ages of 9-19. For details, contact Kathy McDonald at 513.941.6497. Visit the conference website at:

We hope to see you there!

Midwest Native Plant Conference- August 6th-8th

The 2nd Annual Midwest Native Plant Conference will take place August 6, 7 & 8, 2010, at the Bergamo Center in Dayton, Ohio. Attendees will enjoy learning from experts on a wide array of topics associated with native plants.

Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis

A different keynote speaker will be featured each day of the conference. Friday evening’s speaker is Wil Hershberger, co-author of “The Songs of Insects”. Wil will open a door to the fascinating world of insects and their songs. One will definitely come away with an appreciation of insects and their importance to our world after hearing Wil’s talk. Afterwards, an evening field trip will be offered to look and listen for insects and other nocturnal animals. You can also visit his blog, here.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea Purpurea

The Saturday evening banquet will feature artist and writer Julie Zickefoose. Julie is a widely published natural history writer and artist. She is a monthly commentator for National Public Radio and has a popular blog with almost 14,000 readers each month. Julie lives with her family on an 80-acre wildlife sanctuary near Whipple, OH. Her daily walks on the property bring inspiration for her artwork and writings.

Judy Semroc, a Conservation Specialist for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (Natural Areas Division), will be the Sunday morning speaker. Judy will use macrophotography to demonstrate the unique botanical structures and feeding adaptations found within the important relationships between native plants and their pollinators. Tips on how to enhance the garden to attract pollinators will also be covered.

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa

Saturday morning will provide breakout sessions on a large variety of native plant topics. Native plant propagation, native woody plants, summer wildflowers, survival strategies of plants, butterfly gardening, rain gardens and goldenrods are just a few of the subjects.

Field trips and tours will be offered each day. Early arrivals will be treated to a session by Macy Reynolds on using Newcomb’s field guide to identify plants. Friday and Saturday evening will have a guided tour on the grounds to identify singing insects and other nocturnal life. On Saturday, there will be an early morning bird walk. Sunday, after the keynote speech, attendees will depart for field trips in the Dayton/Springfield area. There are twelve different field trips from which to choose. Cedar Bog, Possum Creek MetroPark, Prairie Road Fen, Gallagher Fen, Germantown MetroPark and Beaver Creek Wetlands are just a few of the destinations.

Vendors will be on hand with native plants, books, artwork and other items that will help one appreciate the benefits of going native. Vendors will also be open to the general public on Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm

Master Gardeners and Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalists may use these events for accredited hours and educational requirements. Also, there will be a limited number of scholarships for young naturalists and to Ohio Young Birders, aged 10-18. These scholarships are to help young people connect with nature. If you are interested in getting more information about scholarships, or in donating to the scholarship fund, please contact Kathy McDonald at or call 513.941.6497

The conference is held at the Bergamo Center, located on the campus of Mount St. John, a beautiful 150-acre property. The Mount St. John Nature Preserve was named an Ohio Natural Landmark by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 1988, recognizing it as "an outstanding environmental education area possessing exceptional value in illustrating and interpreting the natural heritage of Ohio." The land is managed by the Marianist Environmental and Education Center(MEEC).

For more information and to register for the Midwest Native Plant Conference, please visit our website at Proceeds from the 2010 conference will Beaver Creek Wetlands Association, The Sunshine Corridor Project and MEEC .

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pipevine Swallowtail

Kathy McDonald was checking her Pipevine, Aristolochia tomentosa, she had planted in her garden. Low and behold, she found this critter chowing down on the leaves. This is a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar, Battus philenor.

(You may be wondering what the little balls to the left of the caterpillar might be. They look like eggs, but are not. They are frass, otherwise known as caterpillar poo.)

This crazy looking caterpillar, dressed in black and covered with red spines and horns, looks pretty formidable. From everything I have read, the spines are not dangerous and are mostly for show. However, the caterpillar will develop toxins from eating the Pipevine plant, so if you were thinking about snacking on one, I would suggest you choose something else. The main toxin, Aristolochic acid, wards off predators, like hungry birds and mammals, and a good enough dose can cause kidney failure in humans.

This caterpillar will turn into a beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor. Simply gorgeous black butterfly with one row of bright crimson dots on the hind wing. This is one we found that had just emerged earlier this spring. You can read that post, on my Indy Parks blog here.