Archive | October 2022
GEORGIA MINT MAKES A MAGICAL CHANGE
I am sure you are familiar with the fairy tale that tells the story of how an ugly duckling magically turned into a beautiful swan. While my wife and I don’t have any swans swimming around the Johnson Homestead, each year we witness the similar transformation of a native plant known as Georgia mint from what many would call a nondescript weed into a beautiful wild flower. Let me explain.
If you visited our yard in early summer, you might wonder why we would find room for what some folks might think is an ugly weed to grow in our yard. However if you returned anytime from late summer well into October you would discover the reason why we are so fond of it.
At this time of the year, countless pale lavender-white flowers literally blanket our stand of Georgia mint. Admittedly these blossoms are small, however, what they lack in size they more than make in delicate beauty.
In our neck of the woods, the blooming period for Georgia mint extends for weeks. In fact, the plants are still in full bloom as I write this blog. In comparison, most of our most valued pollinator plants have either ceased blooming or will soon do so. As a result, with each passing day bees (particularly small bumblebees), and butterflies are faced with an increasing shortage of flowers. Fortunately, for them, in our yard, Georgia mint serves as a life preserver.
Currently, our Georgia mint is in high demand. Small bumblebees, cloudless sulphurs, sleepy oranges, a wide variety of skippers (e.g. ocolas, fierys, whirlabouts, cloudeds and duns), gulf fritillaries and buckeyes make daily trips to forage on the petite flowers. Although In past years, monarchs have also joined the assemblage of pollinators, we have not seen any this year.
Each year, when Georgia mint becomes the most visited pollinator plant in our yard, we are reminded that anyone that has the desire to help bees, butterflies and other pollinators should make the effort to provide a parade of plants that supplies these flying gems food throughout as much of the year as possible. For us, Georgia mint is one of our most important late season nectar plants.
BUCKEYES—HANDSOME, SHUNNED BY WILDLIFE, AND STEEPED IN FOLKLORE
In the fall, the seeds of countless plants are more abundant than at any other time of the year. Some argue that none is more pleasing to the eye than the buckeye. While it is largely shunned by wildlife, it is coveted my many Georgians.
I have a red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) growing in my yard. Each year this small deciduous tree produces a crop of large reddish brown seeds called buckeyes. Each plum-sized buckeye appears to be hand-polished. The seeds get their name from the round grayish scar (hilum) found on one side of each seed. To many, this area (where the seed connects to the husk that covers the nut while it is developing) resembles the pupil of a deer’s eye.
When you gaze at a buckeye, it looks like it should be a great wildlife food. In truth, the vast majority of wildlife species don’t eat buckeyes. In fact, squirrels are the only native species known to dine on buckeyes on a regular basis. White-tailed deer, for example rarely do more than nibble on them. However, feral hogs are said to eat them.
Why isn’t it a wildlife favorite? The answer is the buckeye contains a chemical known as glycoside; a derivative of glycoside is known to be poisonous. For some reason, this poison does not affect gray squirrels. However, it is poisonous to livestock and humans. Deer will usually avoid buckeyes but will occasionally nibble on them.
On the other hand, many people covet buckeyes.
According to a number of folktales, buckeyes can do amazing things such as bring good luck and even cure diseases.
Consequently, some say that carrying a buckeye will a person good luck only if it is carried in the right pants pocket.
According to folklore, rubbing a buckeye will cure asthma, headaches, arthritis and rheumatism. However, if you want a buckeye to cure your rheumatism, you must carry it in your left pocket of your pants.
If you have a buckeye tree that produces a bounty of buckeyes, don’t sell them as good luck charms. If you do, technically speaking, you might be charged with false advertising. This is because supposedly, if you sell a one of these magical seeds, it loses its power to provide the buyer with good luck.
BACKYARD SECRET: THE FOX SQUIRREL HAS A TRAIT NOT SHARED BY ANY OTHER NORTH AMERICAN SQUIRREL
THE RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD POPULATION IS DECLINING
According to a recently published report entitled 2022 State of the Birds, the rufous hummingbird population is in decline. The rufous hummingbird has lost half its total population during the past 50 years. In addition, there is a very real chance that it will plummet another 50 percent during the next half century.
The rufous hummingbird nests primarily in Washington and Oregon, north through Canada’s western provinces all the way to southeastern Alaska.
The vast majority of rufous hummingbirds’ winter in Mexico, however, for decades many have annually wintered in the Southeast. In fact, it is the most commonly seen hummingbird during the winter in Georgia.
BACKYARD SECRET – DIET AFFECTS COLOR OF MALE HOUSE FINCHES
I am sure you have noticed that the amount of red on adult male house finches is highly variable. Throughout most of the year, what a bird eats affects amount of red it displays. Specifically, the birds that consume foods containing large amounts of carotenoid pigments (e.g. fruits and berries) have plumages that are redder than those birds that eat foods containing little, if any, carotenoid.
In addition, when a male house finch is developing new feathers, the fresh feathers are brighter tha those they replace.
BACKYARD SECRET—YELLOW JACKETS ARE MOST APT TO STING IN FALL
Yellow jackets are common backyard residents. Throughout the warmer months of the year, they actively hunt for food throughout our yards. If we leave them alone, they rarely sting us. However, if we are going to have a bad encounter with them it will most likely be in the fall.
One reason that you are more likely to incur a painful yellow jacket sting in autumn is there are simply far more yellow jackets around at that time of the year. All summer long yellow jacket numbers increase to the point that by the time autumn rolls around a colony may number anywhere from 2,000-4,000+ individuals.
Another cause is during the fall yellow jackets change their diet. During the spring and summer, their diet consists, in large part, of spiders, caterpillars, flies, and other invertebrates. Remarkably, yellow jackets are capable of capturing more than 2 pounds of insects and other invertebrates from a 2,000 square-foot garden plot. The protein that they bring back to their nest benefits the young that continually hatch throughout the summer.
However, as they days get shorter, yellow jackets begin switching to a diet rich in carbohydrates. Yellow jackets locate these sweet foods in tree sap, nectar, and the juice of fruits and berries. Much to our chagrin, they are also attracted to foods and beverages served at picnics and other outside gatherings.
At this time of the year yellow jackets, become more aggressive toward one another as well as people and pets. Consequently, they are more prone to sting without provocation. Since this behavioral change coincides with a switching from a predominantly protein diet to one rich in carbohydrates, some researchers suggest this may be the main reason for their aggressive fall attitude.
With that in mind, don’t go near yellow jacket nests in the fall. In addition, if one does sting you, just remember that a painful sting might be a small price to pay for an insect that helps control insects pests that prey on the food an ornamental plant growing in your yard.
I tried do take my own advice recently when I was the victim of an unprovoked yellow jacket that zeroed in on my arm. I must admit immediately after I was stung, I was not harboring kind thoughts regarding yellow jackets. However, as is often the case with many things, over time I got over it.
BUMBLEBEES HAVE BEEN FLYING ON COOL MORNINGS
I am sure you have recently been enjoying waking up to temperatures in the low 50s as much as I have. On these special early fall mornings, I love stepping out on the deck and take in the sights and sounds that surround me.
One thing that I have noticed is no butterflies are visiting the globe amaranth, zinnias, garden balsam, and scarlet sage growing in pots on the deck. However, each day I have spotted small bumblebees visiting scarlet sage blossoms.
Being able to begin feeding before butterflies and other pollinators arrive is a definite advantage to the hard-working bumblebees.
Remarkably, bumblebees can fly when it dips down as low as 40º F. As such, since the temperatures in my neck of woods should not drop below 40º F for a few weeks, I will be able to enjoy a cup of coffee while watching bumblebees are hard at work for some time to come.