First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post, March 23-29, 2019
The Indie/Alternative Rock group of Carly Gibson and Hannah Zale advertise their “Pussywillow” duo as “not just a flowering plant.”
But the native pussywillows at Lathrop ARE a flowering plant, and many Lathrop residents depend on them. The plant itself depends on those silky catkins we bring indoors in spring. The buds of the plant have been protected by a hard shell all winter. About now, however, the shell splits and the bud is ready to open. But it’s still pretty cold. So the silky hairs trap heat to warm the flower’s reproductive parts at the center of the catkin.
We humans depend on pussy willows as a welcome sign of spring. They’re so popular you can buy the branches at your local nursery, or you can buy the shrubs for your garden. Chinese relatives of our Continue reading Depending on Pussy Willows→
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post of Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2018
Our monarch butterflies have left for Mexico, but many butterflies will stay all winter. They survive in an astonishing variety of life stages—as caterpillars, as adults, or in cocoons–tucked into crevices, resting on the ground, rolled up in leaves, or attached to twigs.
The pearl crescent caterpillar stops eating its usual aster plants and spends the winter resting at the base of the plant until spring. The adult arctic skipper crawls into a crevice or tree bark and goes into a dormant state.
At Lathrop, we save our overwintering butterflies by mowing only 1/3 of our meadows and fields each year, so that 2/3 of the overwintering butterflies survive.
Originally published in the Lathrop Lamp Post for July 28-Aug. 3, 2018
When you humans see us butterflies flitting from flower to flower, you may think we’re playful and carefree. But actually we’re frantic. As a butterfly, there’s a lot to do before you die, and for most of us, 2-3 weeks is it.
First, ya gotta eat. Flowers are your only food. And not all flowers. Those tubular flowers?—you have to be one of the species of butterfly with a long tongue. And some of us males, like the tiger Continue reading A Butterfly Reveals All→
First published in Lathrop Lamp Post, June 23-29, 2018
Well, finally, something native is blooming in the native plant landscaped area near the Inn.
Last year, with money from the Residents’ Council and the Land Conservation Committee, and help from Facilities, we planted native shrubs and wildflowers that will nourish butterflies and birds better than the alien plants they replaced. We used plugs instead of larger plants to save money, so they looked pretty puny earlier this spring.
To our embarrassment, however, there WERE robust plants and lovely early-spring blooms in our supposedly all-native garden—the Continue reading Finally!→
(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→
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 https://lathropland.wordpress.com/trail-map-easthampton/
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→