2014-12-21

The Sun stands still

This season's solstice occurs at 11:03 UTC, 6:03 Eastern Time. It's winter in the northern hemipshere, summer in the southern.

Illumination of Earth by Sun at the southern solstice.
Etymology: Latin solstitium (sol "sun" + stitium, from sistere "to stand still")
The name is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because at the solstices, the Sun stands still in declination; that is, its apparent movement north or south comes to a standstill.
- Solstice, Wikipedia
It's clearly winter here. The past few days the high temperature has hovered around freezing, and skies have been overcast. Gray, cold days. There seems to be little light in the world at large, these days. Sometimes it's enough to just hold out for warmer, greener days.

A Single Candle

Dona nobis pacem / Let there be peace

This page has a little MIDI file which bangs out the tune so you can follow the score.

Related Content

2010: From Dark to Dark: Eclipse-Solstice Astro Combo
2009: Standing Still, Looking Ahead
2008: Stand Still / Dona Nobis Pacem
2007: Solstice (the sun stands still)

Links

Wikipedia: Solstice

2014-11-30

Extinct Plants of northern North America

Updated 2014-12-22: Added years of extinction, where known. Started section for Extinct in the Wild (IUCN Red List code EW).

I'm limiting this list for two reasons:
  1. Restricting this list geographically is in keeping with my specialization in plants native to northeastern North America.
  2. There are many more tropical plants, and plant extinctions, than I can manage; for example, Cuba alone has lost more plant species than I've listed on this blog post. 
If you have additions to this list, please let me know, and provide a link which I can research.
  • Astilbe crenatiloba, Roan Mountain false goat's beard, Roan Mountain, Tennessee, 1885
  • Narthecium montanum, Appalachian Yellow Asphodel, East Flat Rock Bog, Henderson County, North Carolina, before 2004?
  • Neomacounia nitida, Macoun's shining moss, Belleville, Ontario, 1864
  • Orbexilum macrophyllum, bigleaf scurfpea, Polk County, North Carolina, 1899
  • Orbexilum stipulatum, large-stipule leather-root, Falls-of-the-Ohio scurfpea, Rock Island, Falls of the Ohio, KY, 1881
  • Thismia americana, banded trinity, Lake Calumet, IL, 1916

Extinct in the wild

Extinct versus Extirpated

I often come across misuse of the word "extinct," as in: native plant extinct in New York City. "Extinct" means globally extinct. No living specimens exist anywhere in the world, not even in cultivation. "Extirpated" means locally extinct, while the species persists in other populations outside of the study area. To correct the above example: extirpated in New York City. Any regional Flora lists many extirpated species. When a species is known only from one original or remaining population, as those listed above were, loss of that population means extinction for the species. In this case, extirpation and extinction are the same thing. Another category might be "extinct in the wild" when the species still exists under cultivation, like an animal in a zoo. A famous example of this is Franklinia alatamaha.

Related Content

Links

Wikipedia: List of extinct plants: Americas IUCN Red List: List of species extinct in the wild, The Sixth Extinction: Recent Plant Extinctions Extinct and Extirpated Plants from Oregon (PDF, 5 pp)

2014-11-08

Shrubberies

Update 2014-11-23:

  • Completed Step #4 today, nearly injuring myself in the exertion. Did I mention that established grasses have deep and extensive roots?
  • Also completed Step #5, replacing the Panicum.
  • Added Step #9. I'd overlooked this shrub, and need to find a place where it can featured, while still kept in bounds with the garden. I think where the Aronia once stood, a transplant I did in the Spring of this year.

Update 2014-11-10:
  • I'm taking photos as the work progresses. See Before and After below.
  • Reordered based on the progress I'm making. Because the Rhododendron is shallow-rooted, I decided to leave that until the last weekend before Thanksgiving, when I'll visit my sister and deliver her plants.

It's a long weekend for me. The weather favors gardening.

I've got seven shrubs - and one or two mature perennials - to plant, transplant, and move out. Here's the plan.

2014-08-10

Megachile, Leaf-Cutter Bees

A leaf-cutter bee removes a segment from a leaf of Rhododendron viscosum, swamp azalea, in my urban backyard native plant garden and wildlife habitat (National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat #141,173). You can see other segments - both completed and interrupted - on the same and adjacent leaves.


Like carpenter bees, Leaf-cutters are solitary bees that outfit their nests in tunnels in wood. Unlike carpenter bees, they're unable to chew out their own tunnels, and so rely on existing ones. This year, I've observed a large leaf-cutter - yet to be identified - reusing a tunnel bored in previous years by the large Eastern carpenter bee, Xylocopa virginica.

They use the leaf segments to line the tunnels. The leaves of every native woody plant in my garden has many of these arcs cut from the leaves. The sizes of the arcs range widely, from dine-sized down to pencil-points, reflecting the different sizes of the bee species responsible.

Tiny arcs cut from the leaves of Wisteria frutescens in my backyard.


I speculate that different species of bees associate with different species of plants in my gardens. The thickness and texture of the leaves, their moisture content, and their chemical composition must all play a part. I've yet to locate any research on this; research, that is, that's not locked up behind a paywall by the scam that passes for most of scientific publishing.

Although I've observed the "damage" on leaves in my garden for years, this was the first time I witnessed the behavior. Even standing in the full sun, I got chills all over my body. I recognize now that the "bees with big green butts" I've seen flying around, but unable to observe closely, let alone capture in a photograph, have been leaf-cutter bees.

As a group, they're most easily identified by another difference: they carry pollen on the underside of their abdomen. A bee that has pollen, or fuzzy hairs, there will be a leaf-cutter bee.

An unidentified Megachile, leaf-cutter bee, I found in my garden.


Another behavior I observe among the leaf-cutters in my garden is that they tend to hold their abdomens above the line of their body, rather than below, as with other bees. Perhaps this is a behavioral adaptation to protect the pollen they collect. In any case, when I see a "bee with a perky butt," I know it's a leaf-cutter bee.

When they're not collecting leaves, they're collecting pollen. Having patches of different plant species that bloom at different times of the year is crucial to providing a continuous supply of food for both the adults and their young.

An individual bee will visit different plant species (yes, I follow them to see what they're doing). And different leaf-cutter species prefer different flowers. All the plants I've observed them visit share a common trait: they have tight clusters of flowers holding many small flowers; large, showy flowers hold no interest for the leaf-cutter bees.

Related Content

Links

BugGuide: Genus Megachile

2014-07-26

Synanthedon exitiosa, Peachtree Borer/Clearwing Moth

CORRECTION 2014-07-27: ID'd by William H. Taft on BugGuide as a male S. exitiosa, not S. fatifera, Arrowwood Borer, as I thought.

A lifer for me. I never even knew such a thing existed.

Synanthedon exitiosa, Peachtree Borer/Clearwing Moth, male, on Pycnanthemum muticum, Clustered Mountain Mint, in my garden yesterday afternoon.


I was showing a visitor all the pollinator activity on the Pycnanthemum. I identified 8 different bee species in less than a minute. Then I saw ... THAT.

Synanthedon fatifera, Lesser Viburnum Clearwing Moth, on Pycnanthemum muticum, Clustered Mountain Mint, Flatbush, Brooklyn, July 2014

In my peripheral vision I thought it might be a wasp from the general shape and glossiness. Once I focussed on it, I recognized it as a moth.

How did I get "moth" from that?!
  • Body shape: It doesn't have any narrowing along the body, which wasps and bees have.
  • Eyes: Large round eyes on the sides of the head, unlike the "wraparounds" of bees and wasps.
  • Antenna: They just looked "mothy" to me.
It was nectaring on Pycnanthemum muticum, Clustered Mountain Mint, in my garden. This patch of Pycnanthemum is just a few feet from the large Viburnum dentatum, Arrowwood, in my garden.

I've seen other Clearwing Moths, Sesiidae, so that gave me something to search on. The slender body was something I'd never seen before. Comparing with other images of Clearwing Moths, I was able to narrow it down to the genus Synanthedon. Then I used BugGuide and other authoritative sources to compare the coloration of the body and legs, and the markings on the wings, to key it out to species.

2014-07-24: But my original specific identification was incorrect! William H. Taft commented on one of my photos (the first in this blog post) on BugGuide that the amber color of the wings is a key to distinguishing S. exitiosa from S. fatifera. The BugGuide species page notes the yellow bands of "hairs" at the joints between the body segments. But the comparison species are other Peachtree Borers, not Arrowwood Borer, so I missed the comparison.

Looking at other photos of male Peachtree Borers, they look more like my find than Arrowwood Borer. Markings on the wings appear to be variable, not as diagnostic as I'd assumed. This is a lesson for me to be more conservative in my identification, and rely more on diagnostic keys than naive visual comparisons.

Oblique shot, showing the wing markings and venation.


Another common name for this species is Arrowwood Borer. It seems likely that this adult either just emerged from my shrub, or was attracted to it. I'll look to see if I can find any borers still in the shrub.

Related Content

Links

2014-06-14

Event: Saturday 6/21 NYCWW Pollinator Safari of my Gardens

On Saturday, June 21, in partnership with NYC Wildflower Week, in observation of Pollinator Week, I'm opening my gardens for a guided tour, what I'm calling a "Pollinator Safari." This is only the third time, and the first time in three years, I've opened my gardens for a tour.

This Hylaeus modestus, Modest Masked Bee, 1/4" long, was visiting the blooms of Viburnum dentatum, Arrowwood, in my garden just two weeks ago. I've documented scores of insect pollinators in my gardens over the years, including bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, and beetles.
Hylaeus modestus modestus, Modest Masked Bee sensu stricto

Here's the information from the Evite page, with a couple of extra links thrown in:
NYC Wildflower WeekPollinator Week in Flatbush, Brooklyn

Date & Time: Saturday, June 21 from 11:00 am - 12:30 pm (rain date Sunday, June 22)
Location: Stratford Road at Matthews Court in Flatbush, Brooklyn

Guides:
Event Description:
  • Since 2005, Chris has transformed a dusty, weedy backyard into a garden oasis. His gardens now incorporate over 80 species of native trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses and wildflowers. He's documented the process on his gardening blog, Flatbush Gardener. In honor of National Pollinator Week, Chris will give us a behind-the-scenes tour!
  • Our bee expert will help us identify some of the gardens' winged visitors, and review tips for creating an insect-friendly sustainable garden in urban settings.
A view of my urban backyard native plant garden, as it looked in 2011, six years in.
The View North in my urban backyard native plant garden, May 2011
The same view as above, when we bought the house, in May 2005
Backyard, view away from garage, May 2005

Related Content

On the blog
My Photography on Flickr

Links

NYC Wildflower Week
Pollinator Week

2014-05-19

Off-Topic: Vows

Two years ago, on May 19, 2012, I married my husband, John. These were my vows:
John:

I don’t know what I can say to you that I’ve not already said.

In front of family, friends, neighbors, and community, I can say this:

Today is not a beginning – We began many years ago.

Today is not an ending – There is much more for us to explore together.

I am grateful, that having moved apart, our separate journeys prepared us to come together again, and see each other with new eyes.

I love you, more than I could have imagined I would ever love anyone.

Today is a milestone on the path.

I want always to travel that path with you.
"We began many years ago"
John and I first met nearly 30 years ago at one of the then-many, now long-gone, gay bars in the East Village.
"having moved apart"
Somewhere explained in an earlier blog post. I moved from the East Village to Brooklyn
"our separate journeys"
Both John and I have spoken publicly about being in recovery. Speaking for myself, I needed a lot of work.
We've been "together" for 17 years or so. (John keeps track of these things.) We've been living together for 14 years. A few years ago, as the possibility of legal marriage in New York state seemed increasingly likely, I "pre-proposed" to John. I told him that, if and when it became legal in our home state, I would propose to him. He initially objected, "What if I want to propose to you?!"

In the Summer of 2011, marriage equality became law in New York state. The next day, we had a voice message from a couple of our straight neighbors: "When's the wedding?!" All the pressure to marry came from straight friends and neighbors.

In the Fall of 2011, I ambushed John with a "surprise engagement." I secretly gathered family and friends, and proposed to John on our second floor porch. We shared dinner after at a nearby restaurant.

Many years ago, when our partnership had not yet been secured, I vowed to John: "I commit to exploring relationship with you." I maintain that vow.

Related Content

Bees, a Mockingbird, and Marriage Equality, 2009-05-22
David Joseph Wilcox, 1957-1996, 2008-01-22

Links

Wikipedia: Marriage Equality Act (New York)

2014-05-10

What's Blooming

Updated 2014-05-11: At the request of one of my readers, I started adding photos of the flowers.
Retracted Erythronium; I checked, and its petals have fallen. Hoping for seedset; I have plenty of ants to disperse them!

My backyard native plant garden is bursting with blooms right now. This is probably the peak bloom for the year. It happens to coincide with NYC Wildflower Week, which started today and runs through Sunday, May 18.

I will double-check this list tomorrow, but I think this is what I've got blooming:
  1. Anemonella thalictroides
  2. Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine, Canadian Columbine
  3. Asarum canadense, Wild Ginger
  4. Carex, Sedge
  5. Claytonia virginica, Spring Beauty
  6. Cornus sericea 'Cardinal', Red-Twig Dogwood
  7. Dicentra eximia
  8. Fothergilla gardenii
  9. Fragaria virginiana, Wild Strawberry
  10. Geranium maculatum, Spotted Geranium
  11. Mertensia virginiana, Virginia Bluebells
  12. Phlox stolonifera, Creeping Phlox
  13. Photinia pyrifolia (Aronia arbutifolia) 'Brilliantissima', Red Chokeberry
  14. Polemonium reptans, Jacob's Ladder
  15. Polygonatum biflorum, Solomon's Seal
  16. Podophyllum peltatum, Mayapple
  17. Stylophorum diphyllum, Celandine Poppy
  18. Vaccinium angustifolium, Lowbush Blueberry
  19. Vaccinium corymbosum, Highbush Blueberry
  20. Viola, white-flowering and "vigorously" self-seeding, either V. canadensis or V. striata
  21. Viola sororia, Dooryard Violet, the common "weed" of gardens
  22. Trillium, unsure of species
  23. Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower
Not all of these photos were taken this weekend, but here are some of the flowers appearing in my backyard.

Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern red columbineAsarum canadense, Wild GingerClaytonia virginica blooming in my urban backyard native plant gardenDicentra eximia 'Aurora'Phlox stolonifera

2014-01-20

Brooklyn Botanic Garden removes science from its mission

After all their protests that eliminating their research staff in August 2013 was not "the end of science" at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, BBG's Board of Trustees quietly voted at the end of September to change their mission. In contrast to their earlier spin machine, BBG has issued no press release, nor any Message from the President, Scot Medbury, to announce this.