Coneflower: A Butterfly’s View

by Barbara Walvoord

First published in Lathrop Lamp Post, June 9-15, 2018

Compare these two coneflowers: the one above, and this one:

Now here’s a story about them.

Suppose you wanted to provide food for pollinators and birds.  So you decide to plant some native plants.   You research the native wildflowers that are high in value to wildlife and that fit your garden in terms of color, bloom time, and soil/sun preferences.  You find that purple coneflower pictured at the top of this article (Echinacea purpurea)  provides pollen and nectar many butterflies: American lady, giant swallowtail, great spangled fritillary, painted lady, pearl crescent, red admiral, silvery checkerspot, spicebush swallowtail, eastern tiger swallowtail, variegated fritillary, viceroy, fiery skipper, gulf fritillary, sachem, tawny-edged skipper, and more.  Wow!  It supports the larvae of the silvery checkerspot butterfly. Its seeds are loved by birds, especially goldfinches.

You go to the nursery, and they show you a variety called Echinacea purpurea ‘Razzmatazz’.  It looks different from the “straight” native coneflowers you’ve seen in your research. It has huge double blooms instead of single blooms, and a deep lavender color.  Gorgeous!


You buy it and plant it.  But one morning you find a little note tacked to the plant: “I came to this coneflower for pollen, but these are double blooms, so I can’t get in.  Signed, Burt the Bee.”   Later in the fall, you find another note: “I came to this coneflower for seeds, but Continue reading Coneflower: A Butterfly’s View


Lathrop Turtles are Traveling

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, June 2-8, 2018

It’s time to be watching for turtles at Lathrop.  The females are leaving their streams to find nesting sites—loose, unvegetated soil such as gardens.  But they may turn up on porches, sidewalks, or roads. A painted turtle was killed by a car on Mulberry Lane two years ago.

If you see a turtle, let it alone, unless it’s in immediate danger of being hit by a car.  In that case, it’s okay to pick it up by the back of its Continue reading Lathrop Turtles are Traveling

Welcome Back, Warblers!

By Barbara Walvoord

Our warblers are back at Lathrop!   Cornell’s website lists 38 birds whose common names end with “warbler” (versus 32 named “sparrow”).  These include the hooded warbler, the orange-crowned warbler, the unspellable and unpronouncable prothonotary warbler, and the worm-eating warbler.  One of the largest bird families, warblers  (Parulidae) also include birds with other names such as ovenbird, yellowthroat, and redstart.

Warblers vary a lot.  Some live in forests, some in shrubby areas, some in marshes, and Lucy’s warbler lives in the mesquite deserts.  Some warblers are brightly-colored, some not.  Some sing beautifully, but the blue-winged warbler’s song sounds to humans like an insect buzz. Continue reading Welcome Back, Warblers!

Surprise–A Cooper’s Hawk

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 19-25, 2018

Several dozen residents joined resident leaders Judy Hyde and Susan Smith for birdwalks on both campuses earlier this month.  They saw 38 different species on the north campus, and 29 on the east.

A pleasant surprise on the north campus was a Cooper’s hawk—described as a secretive, inconspicuous species, particularly in the breeding season.

So who was Cooper?  Surprise!  William C. Cooper was a 19th century scientist who collected specimens of all kinds of animals including birds, and was one of the founders of the New York Academy of Sciences. Cooper’s friend Charles Lucien Bonaparte (nephew of Napoleon) relied on one of Cooper’s specimens in 1825-33, while compiling his four-volume  American ornithology, or, The natural history of birds inhabiting the United States, not given by Wilson : with figures drawn, engraved, and coloured, from nature.  In honor of his friend, Bonaparte named “Cooper’s hawk.” Continue reading Surprise–A Cooper’s Hawk

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

by Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, May 12-18, 2018

Walking along Mulberry Lane on the east campus this week, the unexpected patch of green (right side of the photo) might warm our hearts, when other shrubs are still brown, or just beginning to leaf out (left side of the photo).  In a few weeks, the green shrubs on the right will burst into fragrant white blooms.  Later, the red berries will attract many birds.

But in fact, the thicket of green shrubs on the right is very wrong.   The shrubs are invasive honeysuckle from  Asia—so invasive that it is now illegal to import, propagate, or sell them in Massachusetts.  The Indiana DNR reports, “Asian bush honeysuckles grow so densely they shade out everything on the forest floor, often leaving nothing but bare soil. This means a great reduction in the food and cover available for birds and other animals. Serious infestations can inhibit tree regeneration, essentially stopping forest succession. Higher rates of nest predation have been found in Amur honeysuckle than Continue reading What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Lathrop’s Water and Land: Perfect!

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post April 28-May 4, 2018

By Barbara Walvoord

Our Lathrop architects, trying to find places to put new cottages, scratch their heads over all the wetlands, pools, and streams that lace our east campus land, but the American toad that Sharon and I found behind our cottage the other day is thrilled. She (we’ll call her a she) needs water to lay her eggs, and nearby land to live as an adult.

Unlike our salamanders and wood frogs, which need vernal pools free of fish, our American toad tadpoles can survive in any body of water, because they secrete a poison that fish learn to avoid.

Our toad mom will recently have heard the irresistible trill of a male, gone to meet him in the slow-moving water in the wetland behind our cottage, and let him jump on her back.  She will have released up to 20,000 eggs in long, jellied strings, as he released his sperm to fertilize them. Continue reading Lathrop’s Water and Land: Perfect!

It Was a Warm and Rainy Night . . .

By Barbara Walvoord

Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for April 21-27, 2018

Snoopy thinks a “dark and stormy night” is the best setting for drama.  But a warm, rainy spring night is the setting for an amazing drama in Lathrop’s vernal pools.

On one such spring night, hordes of 7-inch spotted salamanders emerge from underground hibernation in the forest. They begin a dangerous, life-or-death march to a vernal pool to mate and lay their eggs.  Vernal pools dry up periodically, so they have no fish, which would otherwise eat all the salamander eggs. So it’s vernal pool or bust.

Predators’ talons, claws, and jaws snatch many of the marchers, but the rest keep going. Continue reading It Was a Warm and Rainy Night . . .

Nurturing Lathrop’s native plants and wildlife.