Thanksgiving Turkeys at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Scores of turkeys will be brought onto Lathrop land for Thanksgiving–all trussed up for cooking.  Their lives are over, devoted to helping us and our families give thanks.

But the wild turkeys already on our land are very much alive, and they have much to be thankful for.

One cause for thanks is the survival of their species. Turkeys have been around for more than 11 million years. Native Americans hunted them for food and feathers, and some tribes considered them sacred or linked them to the “trickster” figure. Columbus noted their presence, and Ben  Franklin wanted the turkey, not the eagle, as the national bird.

The European settlers were not good news for turkeys, however. Overhunting and deforestation drove them nearly to extinction by the late 1800’s.  Thankfully, however, conservation measures have brought them up to about a million in the U.S.  Some of them live right here at Lathrop. Continue reading Thanksgiving Turkeys at Lathrop


New Arrivals at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

August 11, 2016

Lathrop has more than 30 new arrivals–full-grown native meadow wildflowers, some of them 5 feet tall.  They came from a unique restored native meadow in Housatonic that had to be dismantled.  So native plant lovers came from all over last Saturday  to dig up and take home these valuable plants for a small amount of money.


About 100 people showed up–mostly strong young folks with pickup trucks and big tubs and carts.  Adele and Jim Dowell, Sharon Grace, and I were clearly the oldest people there.  The plants bound for Lathrop were dug up with the size root ball that we Lathrop residents could dig, heaved into whatever pots we had scrounged up, bent into cars not made for nursery transportation,  and dropped into holes that were only as deep as we could dig.

But native plants are tough.  Our new Culver’s root, New York ironweed, obedient plants, oxeye sunflowers, big bluestem, and others are now settled into the Cranberry meadow or behind the Huckleberry houses.  Within minutes of the planting, butterflies arrived.

Adele Dowell admires the new native plants from Helia now finding a new home in the Cranberrhy Meadow

Why is this so important?  Here’s the key statistic: 96% of birds needs insects, not just seeds and nectar, to raise their young.  90% of insects eat only native plants (Douglas Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home).

Lathrop’s meadows contain many native plants, but species diversity is narrow.  These new plants will add diversity, support our birds and butterflies, astonish us with their beauty, and make us proud to have taken our shovels and pots and our little cars, and saved those plants and their seeds to enrich our Lathrop land.

Butterflies and Trees

by Barbara Walvoord

This Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)  was gathering nectar and pollen from native Joe Pye flowers in the beautiful east campus Mulberry Meadow recently.  The path has been mowed, though the ground is rough underfoot.  Get a trail map in the lobby of each campus, or at

A tiger swallowtail begins as a single green egg laid on a tree leaf. The egg hatches into a caterpillar that eats the tree leaves and changes from brown (looks like bird poop)  to green (blends in with a leaf).  Next, it sits on a leaf and spins a mat of silk threads to cover the top of the leaf. When the silk dries, it shrinks, and folds the leaf into a hiding place.  Later, the caterpillar attaches itself by a silk Continue reading Butterflies and Trees

Lathrop’s Amazing Red Maples

by Barbara Walvoord

Red maples (Acer rubrum) are so common we might take them for granted.  But in fact, they are amazing, as the US Forest Service reports (

Their range is the eastern U.S. and part of Canada, from Nova Scotia to Florida–some 1600 miles.

Red maples grow in locations from  dry ridges to swamps. “They can probably thrive on a wider range of soil types, textures, moisture, pH, and elevation than any other forest species in North America,” says the U.S. Forest Service. Red maple seedlings can develop different root systems: in wet soils, a short tap root with many lateral roots; in dry soils, a long taproot with less lateral growth.

Red maple seeds have a germination rate as high as 91%, and the seedlings are shade tolerant. Thus a maple forest has a huge reserve of small seedlings growing in the shade of the larger trees.  These seedlings will eventually die from lack of sunlight, to be replaced by other seedlings, until one of the large trees falls, so the lucky youngsters in the path of new sunlight can shoot up fast.

And get this: In southeastern Ohio, an 8-acre mature oak-hickory stand, with no red maples, was clearcut. Six years later, the same ground contained more than 900 red maple seedlings per acre. They had winged their way from the few red maples in the nearby forest.

Red maples support the larvae (caterpillars) of  285 species of butterflies and  moths–a banquet for nesting chickadees or bluebirds, which need mostly caterpillars to raise their young (

Red maples are wonderful shade trees, with beautiful spring blossoms and brilliant autumn leaves–and they grow fast. If you live in an east campus cottage, look in your mailbox soon for a chance to plant a native red maple to shade your porch or patio and reduce your summer air conditioning.

Lathrop’s Busy Bees

by Barbara Walvoord

There are more than 200 different bee species in New England, 4,000 in the U.S., and 20,000 worldwide.  Their names often reflect how busy they are: You’ve got the miner bee, the carpenter bee, the digger bee, the wool cutter bee, the plasterer bee, the leaf-cutter bee, and the mason bee.

So what are our busy bees doing this time of year?

One thing they’re doing is finding flowers, which provide all their food. Honey bees and bumblebees  live in colonies, so the foragers have to bring back enough food for themselves, for all the bees who perform other tasks in the hive, for  the queen, who only lays eggs, for the larvae who hatch from those eggs, and for whatever humans, bears, or other thieves help themselves to the honey along the way. Once brought to the hive, the pollen has to be chewed, mixed with a bit of honey and bee secretions, stored in cells, then chewed again and fed to the larvae.  Whew. Continue reading Lathrop’s Busy Bees

Why Did Our Turtle Cross the Road?

by Barbara Walvoord

 After hibernating in the mud of our ponds and streams all winter, Lathrop’s turtles have emerged, found a mate, enjoyed sex (underwater sex for some species), and now the females are full of eggs.

To heck with water; these babies will need dry ground at first.  So mama turtle leaves the water and crawls to an upland spot to dig her nest and lay her eggs. Sometimes, that means crossing a road.

A car hit a painted turtle on Mulberry Lane the other day and killed it. Here’s what you can do to help our turtles cross our roads: Continue reading Why Did Our Turtle Cross the Road?

Be a Steward for our Land

by Barbara Walvoord

We now have 50 acres of forested land, on both campuses, that is either  free of invasive plants or part way through a 3-year invasives-removal process.  Yeah!!!

But we don’t want just “once and done.” We want to see with new eyes the beauty of our restored land, catch new invasives as they arise, and learn more about our amazing ecosystem.

So the Land Conservation Committee is inviting residents to become “stewards” of a plot of land of their own choosing–a plot that is not landscaped.  The plot can be ten feet square, lying along a road/path accessible to a walker or electric wheelchair, or it may be a plot that is more remote. It can be forest, stream bank, wetland, meadow, or the unlandscaped land right behind your house. Continue reading Be a Steward for our Land