Picky Eaters at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 20, 2017)

Butterflies are not as numerous as we remember from our childhoods, but numbers of them still visit our Lathrop gardens and meadows.  This eastern black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) was sipping nectar from a native blazing star (Liatris spicata) in Sharon’s and my front cottage garden.

Black swallowtail butterfly on blazing star in Sharon’s and my garden, July, 2017

Butterflies may sip nectar from a variety of flowers, both native and alien.  This eastern black swallowtail,  says my butterfly  book, will even sip from purple loosestrife, a horrible invasive that has made thousands of acres of wetland inhospitable to most wildlife. Continue reading Picky Eaters at Lathrop


Hosts at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 27, 2017)

If you walk our meadows these days, it might look as though a host of different butterflies–fritillaries, monarchs, swallowtails, blues, crescents–are flitting around a host of different flowers–black-eyed susans, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, purple coneflower, blue vervain, and daisy fleabane–all in a whirling riot of color and flight.

But these butterflies and plants will pair up when it comes time for the butterflies to lay the eggs that will hatch into caterpillars. Then “host” will have a very specific meaning.

A plant is said to “host” a butterfly not merely when the butterfly sips its nectar, but when the butterfly can lay its eggs on the plant, and the hatching larvae (caterpillars) can eat the plant.  Plants develop chemicals that repel eaters, and co-evolving caterpillars develop ways to overcome the defenses, usually only the defenses of Continue reading Hosts at Lathrop

Consider the Lilies of the Field

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 13, 2017)

“Consider the lilies of the field,” Jesus said  (Mathew 6: 28-29. King James version).  And now is a good time for us at Lathrop to do so, because an especially beautiful native lily is blooming now in the mid-woods meadow on the east campus.  It’s the Canada lily (Lilium canadense) which is native not just in Canada but throughout  the northeastern U.S.

If you walk from the blue shed down the wide woods path to the meadow, look to the right, and you’ll see these brilliant yellow lilies standing up above the other vegetation.   I’ve never seen them so numerous.  They like wet meadows, so our wet spring has favored them.

Jesus said about the lilies, “They toil not, neither do they spin.” But that doesn’t mean our lilies don’t WORK.   In order to stand up this Continue reading Consider the Lilies of the Field

Eating Black Raspberries at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post July 8, 2017)

Sharon and I saw native wild black raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) along the east campus Wide Woods Path recently, and we ate the few that had ripened–delicious!  We’ll be back for more, unless the rest of you have gotten there first.

Black raspberries are generally sweeter than blackberries, and when you pick them, they have a hollow core, like red raspberries, whereas blackberries have a white core and are usually longer in shape.

Humans have been eating raspberries and blackberries for a very long time. Fossil seeds of the genus (Rubus) have been found in the Czech Republic, dating back to the Miocene period more than 5 million years ago, when apes were plentiful in the Old World, and human ancestors were splitting off from Chimpanzee ancestors.  I imagine some pre-human finding raspberries along a forest edge and Continue reading Eating Black Raspberries at Lathrop

What We’ve Achieved

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in Lathrop Lamp Post, June 22, 2017)

Lathrop’s “Free Fifty” is 50 acres of forest from which, in the past 3 years, we’ve been removing invasive plants in order to increase native plants and the wildlife that depends on them.

Our achievement is visible as we compare two sections of our forest–one where we have removed invasives with one area where we have not (Photos June 19, 2017).

The contrast is stunning.  On the north side of the Farmer’s Field,  where we have not worked,  huge invasive multiflora rose bushes, now in bloom,  “exclude most native shrubs and herbs…and may be detrimental to nesting of native birds”  In the background,invasive Oriental  bittersweet vines are strangling the trees.


On the south side where we’ve worked for three years to remove invasives, you’ll see piles of dead multiflora rose and bittersweet vines. Among them, native plants are arising, like the native gray dogwood pictured above.  It delights us with its lacy white blossoms, and it hosts the larvae of 115 species of native butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera).  These caterpillars are a large part of the diet of many baby birds. (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/data/hostplants/.)  Continue reading What We’ve Achieved

The Super-Adaptable Garter Snake

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally printed in the Lathrop Lamp Post, June 15, 2017)

At Lathrop, we find common garter snakes in lots of places–in our gardens, by our ponds and streams, under rocks or brush piles, and, like this one, in the grass along our walking paths. These little, non-poisonous snakes are super adaptable.

They adapt to life in very different climes, from southeast Alaska down through most of the U.S.  Their range extends farther north than any other snake in the western hemisphere.

They eat lots of different foods–mostly frogs (swallowed whole!) and worms, but also tadpoles, newts, fish, leeches, insects, slugs, crayfish, small mammals, birds, and occasionally carrion. Continue reading The Super-Adaptable Garter Snake