Category Archives: lamp post

The Birds and the Bees–Or, How to Get Pollinated

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for June 29-July 5, 2019

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), blooming now at Lathrop, has some very clever devices for getting itself pollinated.

First, produce an enticing white flower that advertises to bees—“Nectar and pollen here!  Get yours today!”

Then make that flower tubular so the bees have to crawl inside to get the pollen and nectar.  Put purple lines inside the tube to guide the bees to your goodies.

Then practice gender fluidity:  first you’re a male flower, then you’re a female flower.

When you’re a male, you have 4 stamens sticking up at the top of the tube, each loaded with pollen.  When the bee comes in to get the nectar and pollen, the pollen brushes onto the top parts of its body—parts that are not easily groomed off.  So now the bee has eaten some of your pollen and carried some to its nest, but there’s probably some left on its body.

In its male phase, the foxglove beardtongue’s purple stripes, protruding stamens, and long yellow hairy “tongue” cleverly help it get pollinated by bees.

As a backup, a fifth male stigma sticks out at the bottom.  It’s shaped like a tongue and covered with hairs like a beard (hence, “beard tongue”).  It’s sterile, but its hairs are ready to catch any pollen that falls on it, and deposit that pollen on the body of any bee crawling around inside the blossom.  (Your scientific name, Penstemon, reflects your five stamens.)

Now–oh so clever–you become a female.  The stamens dry up and in their place you put your female organs, nice and sticky, to catch the pollen.  Then when a not-so-cleaned-up bee, with pollen still on its body from some male plant, comes to get some of your nectar, the pollen brushes off onto your female organs, and voila!  Pollinated!

You have ensured that more foxglove beardtongues will delight us humans with their beauty, feed  pollen and nectar to bees, and offer their leaves to eight species of butterfly and moth caterpillars, which our birds need to raise their babies.  That’s only a tiny part of the wonderful story of the birds and the bees at Lathrop.


South American Migrants Cross the Border to Get to Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for June 15-21, 2019

The Baltimore Orioles we’ve seen on both campuses these days have crossed the border from their winter homes in Central and South America to get here.  They apparently flew right over the wall, barbed wire, and check points.  Mexico didn’t try to stop them.

Their trip was not without its dangers, however, and their populations are declining.  Deforestation destroys the trees where they find food. Insecticides poison their insect food, and spraying into trees may kill the birds and their nestlings.  Traveling at night, they can become disoriented by lights or crash into tall skyscrapers and radio towers.

But the hardy survivors have arrived at Lathrop, where they will build their homes and raise their “Dreamer” kids. Continue reading South American Migrants Cross the Border to Get to Lathrop

A Miracle on the North Campus

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for June 8-14, 2019.

Lathrop’s north campus woodland is a miracle—14 acres of Lathrop conservation land, linked to several hundred acres of the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation area. For the past five years, the Land Conservation Committee, which represents both campuses, has raised money from grants and from resident donations to hire a contractor for invasives removal.  Resident volunteers have gone out themselves to pull garlic mustard, cut down bittersweet vines
from our trees, and remove invasive burning bush and honeysuckle that would reduce the wildlife our land can support.  So it’s rare now to see invasive plants in our 14 acres.  That’s a miracle, so close to Bridge Road with all the development of the city, and the choking, crowding invasive plants all around.  North campus residents have also made major improvements to the trails, building on the work of much earlier residents who laid down those trails, and the original bridge.
After a recent spring morning walk on the north campus, Judy Hyde wrote me this wonderful list of what she had seen: Continue reading A Miracle on the North Campus

Within Striking Distance: Great Blue Herons at Lathrop

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for June 1-7, 2019

Great blue herons are all around at Lathrop.  May bird walkers on the north campus saw a nest,   I’ve seen one fishing on Bassett Brook.  East campus gardeners often see a heron flying overhead.

The stereotypical blue heron image shows the heron in shallow water, stalking very slowly, and then suddenly striking a fish or frog Continue reading Within Striking Distance: Great Blue Herons at Lathrop

Soap Opera in the Bluebird House

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for May 18-24, 2019

We might think of the bluebirds in our nesting boxes as happy couples singing beautiful songs while cheerily bringing food to their little babies. But life in a bluebird house may more resemble a cross between a soap opera and a war zone.

That beautiful bluebird song means “This is my territory, so get the hell out!”  A bluebird couple needs not only a nesting cavity but a nearby territory with lots of food.  So both parents patrol their territory aggressively.  House sparrows or house wrens may drive them out as refugees. Continue reading Soap Opera in the Bluebird House

Low-Down Birds on the North Campus

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of  May 11-17, 2019

The stereotypical photo of birders has them looking way up in the trees.  But some birds stay low.

Judy Hyde, north campus resident, has lots of experience observing birds and leading bird walks, including those for Lathrop residents.  Last week, for the first time since moving to Lathrop several years ago, she heard a wood wren.  So she brought her group of 19 Monday morning birders to see it, and they did!

The Audubon guide tells us the winter wren is a secretive bird, mostly staying low, creeping about among fallen logs and dense thickets, behaving  “more like a mouse than a bird.”   It eats mostly Continue reading Low-Down Birds on the North Campus

A Truly Formidable Enemy

By Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post of May 4-10, 2019

Invasive species are “one of today’s most pressing global environmental problems,” and a “leading cause of extinction and biodiversity loss.”  They are “permanently altering natural communities and their ecological characteristics.”*

And garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is “one of the worst”**  It is now the most prominent ground cover in many forests, and is spreading at the rate of 2500 square miles a year, significantly reducing other Continue reading A Truly Formidable Enemy