Posts tagged Midwest

Dragonflies and Damselflies

My all-time favorite insect, the dragonfly, is finally getting the attention it deserves. This came out today from the University of Iowa:

Dragonflies and Damselflies cover

Dragonflies and Damselflies cover

“Dragonflies and Damselflies in Your Pocket: A Guide to the Odonates of the Upper Midwest,” the new addition to the Bur Oak Guides Series, will become available from the University of Iowa Press May 1.

The pocket guidebook with text and photos by Ann Johnson will be available at bookstores or directly from the UI Press by phone at 800-621-2736 or online at http://www.uiowapress.org. Customers in the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East or Africa may order from the Eurospan Group online at http://www.eurospangroup.com/bookstore.

Just as more and more people enjoy watching birds and butterflies, watching the many shimmering dragonflies and damselflies — collectively called “odonates,” from Odonata, the name of this order of aquatic insects — has become a popular outdoor pastime. With their extremely large eyes, elongated transparent wings, long and slender abdomens, and prehensile extendible jaws, dragonflies and damselflies are efficient hunters and quick, darting fliers. Their beauty and their behavior make them delightful subjects for birdwatchers and other nature lovers.

“Dragonflies and Damselflies in Your Pocket” introduces 50 of the showiest odonates of the Upper Midwest. In addition to providing useful general information about broad-winged damsels, spreadwings, pond damsels, darners, clubtails, cruisers, emeralds and skimmers, Johnson includes common and scientific names, sizes, general flight seasons and the best habitats in which to find each species.

Dennis Paulson, author of “Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West,” wrote, “With beautiful photos backed up by concise text, this little guide is simple and easy to use as it introduces birders and general naturalists to a wonderful group of insects, the Odonata. It should be in every glove compartment and backpack.”

Johnson is a management analyst for the Iowa Department of Human Services, a founding member of the Iowa Odonata Survey, and the owner of AJ Endeavors, which specializes in natural history Web development. A self-described birder gone bad, she now spends summers chasing more bugs than birds near her home in south central Iowa.

Named after the state tree of Iowa, the Bur Oak Guides are published to assist the exploration and enjoyment of the natural environment of the Midwest.

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Letting milkweed grow

A monarch caterpillar makes its way along a milkweed plant in late July in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

A monarch caterpillar makes its way along a milkweed plant in late July in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

  

 

This monarch caterpillar was munching on common milkweed at my garden this weekend. As noted below, habitat destruction has reduced the amount of milkweed growing in the Midwest, which is the only food source for the graceful Monarch butterfly. That’s one of the reasons I don’t kill off all the milkweed in my gardens. Another reason: the scent of milkweed flowers, as another gardener once described it to me, is intoxicating. Unfortunately, my nemesis, the Japanese beetle, has managed to suck all the milkweed flowers to brown this year. More plants are springing up, and hopefully will bloom after the destructive beetle has gone underground. Though the caterpillars look a bit ominous, they won’t bother your tomatoes or other plants, so don’t poison or otherwise kill them off, as Monarchs already face a number of obstacles to survival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

   For more information on milkweed, the following came from the Monarch Watch Web site at www.monarchwatch.org

    Monarch larvae appear to feed exclusively on milkweeds in the genus Asclepias and several other genera of viny milkweeds in North America. Milkweeds are perennial plants, which means an individual plant lives for more than one year, growing each spring from rootstock and seeds rather than seeds alone. In the Midwest, milkweeds were historically common and widespread on prairies, but habitat destruction has reduced their range and numbers.

    Milkweeds belong to the family Asclepiadaceae, derived from Asklepios, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Though most members of the genus Asclepias are tropical, there are approximately 110 species in North America known for their milky sap or latex contained in the leaves. Most species are toxic to vertebrate herbivores if ingested due to the cardenolide alkaloids contained in the leaves and stems.

    When Monarch larvae ingest milkweed, they also ingest the plants’ toxins, called cardiac glycosides. They sequester these compounds in their wings and exoskeletons, making the larvae and adults toxic to many potential predators. Vertebrate predators may avoid Monarchs because they learn that the larvae and adults taste bad and/or make them vomit. There is considerable variation in the amount of toxins in different species of plants. Some northern species of milkweed contain almost no toxins while others seem to contain so much of the toxins that they are lethal even to monarch caterpillars.

 

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Why aren’t you outside??

 

Another cold weekend has come and gone, but this week holds promise of spring warmth (finally!) 

The following information from Horticulturist Richard Jauron of Iowa State University Extension offers tips on spring gardening chores, now that the weather might finally cooperate:

It’s hard to beat springtime in the Midwest.  Soon the browns and grays of winter will be replaced by the greens, reds and yellows of spring. While spring is an enjoyable time, there are a number of outdoor chores that need to be done to enhance our yards and gardens. Important springtime chores include applying preemergence herbicides to lawns, dividing perennials, removing mulch from strawberries, pruning roses and many others. 

Applying Preemergence Herbicide to Lawn
The key to successful control of crabgrass in lawns is the correct timing of the preemergence herbicide application. Crabgrass seeds begin to germinate when soil temperatures reach 55 to 60 F and continue to germinate over several weeks from spring into summer. If the material is applied too early, crabgrass seeds that germinate late in the season will not be controlled. Normally, preemergence herbicides should be applied in early to mid-April in southern Iowa, mid-April to May 1 in central Iowa and late April to early May in the northern portion of the state.  The timing of the preemergence herbicide application will vary somewhat from year to year because of weather conditions. However, events in nature generally occur in a natural sequence. Preemergence herbicides should be applied when the forsythia blossoms start dropping or when redbud trees reach full bloom. Crabgrass seed germination typically begins after these events. 

Dividing Perennials
Early spring is an excellent time to divide asters, mums, hostas, daylilies, garden phlox and many other perennials. Dig up the perennials in early spring just as new growth begins to appear. Divide each plant clump into sections with a sharp knife. Each division should contain several shoots and a portion of the root system. Replant the divisions immediately. Keep the newly divided perennials well watered through spring and summer. Most newly divided perennials do not bloom well until their second growing season. 

Removing Mulch from Strawberries
To reduce the chances of frost or freeze damage, leave the mulch on as long as possible. Removing the mulch in March may encourage the plants to bloom before the danger of frost is past. Temperatures of 32 F or lower may severely damage or destroy open flowers. Since the first flowers produce the largest berries, a late spring frost or freeze can drastically reduce yields.

To determine when to remove the mulch, periodically examine the strawberry plants in spring. Remove the mulch from the strawberry planting when approximately 25 percent of the plants are producing new growth. New growth will be white or yellow in color. (If possible, the winter mulch on strawberries should remain until mid-April in central Iowa.) When removing the mulch, rake the material to the aisles between rows. If there is a threat of a frost or freeze later in spring during bloom, lightly rake the mulch over the strawberry plants.

Pruning Roses
The upper portions of modern roses, such as hybrid teas, floribundas and grandilfloras, typically winterkill due to exposure to low winter temperatures and drastic temperature changes. When the winter protection is removed from these roses in early to mid-April, gardeners should prune out the dead wood. 

Pruning roses is relatively easy. Live wood is green and has plump, healthy buds. When pruned, the center of the stem (pith) should be white. Dead wood is brown, has no live buds and has a brown or gray pith. When pruning roses, make the cuts at least 1 inch below the dead, brown-colored areas. Make slanting cuts about 1/4 inch above healthy, plump, outward facing buds; the slant being in the same direction as the bud. Remove the entire cane if there is no sign of life.  Also, remove any diseased wood. 

Because of our severe winter weather, modern roses often suffer a great deal of winter injury. Normally, the primary objective is to remove all dead and diseased wood and to save as much of the live tissue as possible. If the roses overwinter well, gardeners can prune out weak, spindly canes in the center. 

After a seemingly endless winter of shoveling snow and removing ice from sidewalks and driveways, working in the garden over the next several weeks is going to be a lot of fun.

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