Sitting down to work on a jigsaw puzzle can be an exciting yet slightly daunting experience. Most puzzle enthusiasts begin with the edges, but after that, individuality takes hold. Whether you obsessively group colors and textures, or prefer focusing on the subtle differences in shapes and hues of sky pieces, one fact is indisputable—although each piece has a different appearance, every single one is equally important to the completion of the final picture. (Just think of the times you might have searched under the sofa, the table, or even someone’s hand for that Last. Missing. Piece.)
Gardeners play a similar role. When we think beyond our own property edge, we realize that there are millions of gardeners caring for countless acres of land, each with the ability to make decisions about their pieces of the puzzle that directly affect our ecosystem.
Our gardens have the capacity to support life, manage water, feed pollinators, and yes, be endlessly entertaining and beautiful. Whether you have a two-acre habitat or back patio of potted plants, each is a valuable piece of a larger puzzle. When we start connecting these habitats with one another, the picture expands.
But where do you start? You start with your piece of the puzzle.
Author: Pam Ford
Graphic: Gordon Johnson
The ancient art of floriography, or the ‘language of flowers’, has been practiced for centuries, and enjoyed a surge in popularity in Victorian times. Using flowers and their symbolic meanings as a code allowed suitors to express their true feelings in a socially acceptable way. But devotees of the method had to be careful to do their research, lest the wrong idea be conveyed! For example, a red rose symbolized ‘love’, while a yellow rose denoted ‘jealousy’ or ‘infidelity’.
We’re much more inclined to be open about our emotions today. Nevertheless, floriography can be a fun way to communicate with your Valentine. A quick search on the internet will produce a variety of floral ‘dictionaries’ for your perusal.
And don’t neglect our pollinator favorites! Blooms such as Aster (patience), Rudbeckia (justice), Echinacea (strength and health) or Coreopsis (always cheerful) would surely be flattering additions to your loved one’s Valentine bouquet.
Author: Lisa Schneider
Image: Graphics Fairy
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, you may be preparing to woo a special someone with flowers, jewelry, or delicious treats. While we won’t observe a butterfly gifting roses to a love interest, pollinators do use their own special tricks to signal to others that they are looking for love.
The first step to mating for pollinators is to locate and recognize potential mates, which is quite the endeavor for tiny creatures in a big world. The most common way for pollinators to find mates is by emitting pheromones, or chemicals that can be recognized by other members of the same species. Other methods used by pollinators and other insects include acoustic messages and flashes of light or color (think fireflies or brightly colored butterflies). As you may guess, species that rely on bright coloration and patterns to attract and identify mates typically search for mates during the daytime, while species that use pheromones, acoustics, or flashes of light often search for mates during the dark of night. Once potential mates have located each other, a variety of courtship rituals take place. Males may stroke females, flutter their wings, or perform flights or dances to try to impress females. If these courtship rituals are deemed suitable by females, mating will finally commence.
Here are two examples of these behaviors in pollinators found in Pennsylvania:
First is the ornately patterned Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes). During the mating season males establish territories on sites that are easily visible to females, such as hilltops, and then aggressively chase other males out of their territories. Females circle these areas observing the interactions between males, until finally choosing the most competitive males. The new pairs engage in courtship flights before finally mating.
Conversely, the Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) is a nocturnal species and therefore must rely on non-visual cues to locate mates. During the night females release pheromones, which males can sense using receptors in their antennae, legs, and palps (prongs coming from the mouth area). It is not known from how far away males can sense the females, but in some butterfly and moth species females can be found from up to 10 miles away!! Once males have located and been accepted by females, mating takes place on the undersides of leaves, where females will lay their eggs about 24 hours later.
Author: Amber Wiewel
Donald Hall, University of Florida (Eastern black swallowtail)
Emilio Concari/iNaturalist (Rosy maple moth)
While 70% of our solitary native bees are ground nesting, the other 30% are cavity nesting. They make their winter homes in old wood such as plant stems, or cracks, crevices or beetle tunnels in logs. Like ground nesting bees, cavity nesters build individual cells for their eggs and supply them with the necessary pollen balls. Once provisioned, each cell is sealed off with a partition constructed from mud. Then other cells are added until the cavity is full, and the end is capped with mud.
When laying eggs, the female bee makes use of an interesting super-power that some human parents might envy: She is able to decide whether to lay a male or a female egg. Usually, she will choose to lay female eggs first, and will place the males closest to the entrance. That way, when the new bees begin to emerge in the spring, any predators that are lurking will seize upon the males first-- hopefully allowing the females to escape unscathed! (Sorry, guys.)
How can you help these industrious insects to survive the winter? First, leave your pollinator garden clean-up for the spring. Allowing plant stems to stand through the winter provides important overwintering sites for cavity nesters. A brush pile or pile of logs in an inconspicuous spot also offers plenty of shelter. As you look out at the cold, snowy landscape, you can bask in the warm glow of the knowledge that you’ve provided snug winter homes for many pollinator friends!
Author: Lisa Schneider
Photo credit: Habitat Network
Do you know where bees spend the winter? If you picture a bee’s home, chances are that a bustling honey bee hive immediately springs to mind. But guess what: Most of our native bees are solitary bees—meaning that they live, work, and raise their young all by themselves, largely unseen by us.
70% of our hard-working native bees are ground nesting, constructing shallow tunnels in areas of bare ground or sand. For example, the nest of the mining bee (Andrenidae) contains individual chambers which she will stock with “bee bread”—a mixture of pollen, nectar, and saliva. Her saliva is an important ingredient, providing protection against bacterial and fungal infections (similar to the way in which ‘mother’s milk’ boosts human babies’ immune systems.) The egg is laid directly on this pollen ball. Mom will be long gone, but in each cell, she’s left behind
everything the larva will need for its growth. It will pupate and pass the winter in its snug underground home, emerging as an adult in the spring.
These super-efficient little pollinators may be out of sight in your pollinator garden—but do keep them in mind! Areas of bare soil or sand that aren’t prone to flooding are essential for their nest sites. And in the fall, hold the mulch ; bees need bare soil for digging, and an inch or two of mulch dumped on top of an existing nest site will suffocate any bees present. Instead, try shredded leaves or compost, which not only suppress weeds and enrich your soil—they are bee-friendly!
Author: Lisa Schneider
Illustration credit: Steve Buchanan
It seems almost unbelievable on a frigid winter’s day, but some butterflies in central PA endure the winter as adults. The Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) tucks itself away in crevices, underneath loose tree bark, or even in unheated buildings. For this reason, it is one of the earliest butterflies seen in the spring—and may even be seen flying during warm spells in January or February. (This allows the Mourning Cloak to be first in line at the buffet of its favorite food—tree sap—as it begins its seasonal rise.) The butterfly avoids freezing by manufacturing cryoprotectants, chemical compounds which supercool its bodily fluids and tissues.
And if you needed yet another reason to add an oak tree or two to your pollinator garden, the Mourning Cloak provides it: Oak sap is a particular favorite!
Author: Lisa Schneider
Photo credit: John Acorn