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.