Category Archives: Observing Our Land

Lathrop’s Deer: A Complex Society

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post August 17, 2017

This fawn, recently photographed by resident Doris Atkinson on the east campus, is moving about with its mother, still nursing, but learning, among other things, the communication skills it will need as an adult.

Communication began at birth in May.  A loud bleat meant “Mom, where are you?” and a soft nursing murmur meant, “Mmm, this is good.”  By lying perfectly still, and having almost no body odor, our spotted fawn communicated to our coyotes and bobcats, “Fawn? What fawn?  There’s nobody here–just dappled shade.”

But now that our fawn is up and about, it must learn to communicate within a complex social unit consisting of related females, their fawns and yearlings, and adult males, all of which have contiguous or Continue reading Lathrop’s Deer: A Complex Society

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A Banquet of Goldenrod at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally publish in Lathrop Lamp Post August 10, 2017

We have banquets for humans at Lathrop–the 4th of July picnic, the lobster feast, the Thanksgiving day meal.  But we also have banquets for our non-human residents.  Right now, goldenrod is on the menu.  The most numerous native wild flower in Lathrop east campus meadows, goldenrod is turning our land into a rich yellow banquet for our wild residents.

ACHOO! you may be saying.  However, goldenrod is not the culprit; instead, it’s ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Resident Alice Richardson, a landscape architect who knows a TON about native plants, explained the general rule to me in an e-mail: “As a general rule, most pollen allergens are produced by visually insignificant flowers which are typically wind pollinated – e.g. some trees, most grasses, ragweed.  Showy flowers have evolved to attract pollinators Continue reading A Banquet of Goldenrod at Lathrop

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

Illegal Aliens at Lathrop

by Barbara Walvoord

(Originally published in Lathrop Lamp Post, June 10-16, 2017)

I’m not talking about humans.  In fact, Lathrop has recently joined with other Valley residents to help welcome immigrants fleeing danger and oppression in other countries.

But  illegal alien PLANTS are a different story.  Some alien plants, having left behind the enemies and competitors that control them in their native lands, have overtaken woods and fields throughout the U.S., and have shoved out our native plants.  This is bad because these aliens did not co-evolve with our native wildlife, so they do not as fully provide the food and cover that our native birds and other wildlife need. Because these plants threaten our native plants and wildlife, many states, including Massachusetts, have declared certain alien invasive plants illegal to sell or propagate.

For example, Lathrop’s landscaping has many (now illegal) burning bushes, also called winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus). Their seeds are sprouting in our woods on both campuses. This internet photo shows a woods taken over by winged  euonymus.  The second photo shows winged euonymus coming into our Lathrop woods in 2014.  Since then, the Land Conservation Committee, with grants, resident donations, and thousands of hours by resident volunteers and by our Continue reading Illegal Aliens at Lathrop