Sunday, June 26, 2022

Annual Thoughts on Pollinator Week


Another Pollinator Week finishes up today and—in a week of seeing very few pollinators—I wonder if we're just going through the motions. Those of us pledging to support pollinators, plant native plants, avoid pesticides … we’re the same people each year. Of course a few new people get the message each year but it seems like we’re wiping up a flood with a tissue.

The big contributors to pollinator decline are apparently not the ones we’re reaching:

  • Homeowners who sign up for mosquito treatments, affecting neighbors all around.
  • Businesses who sign up for chemically-soaked landscape services, also affecting others.
  • Cities and counties who approve mosquito-spraying licenses, implement large spraying programs, approve development without conservation, and fail to promote native plants for development.
  • And all of the above that plant non-native plants without a thought to what that means for supporting our native insects and birds.

In my suburban area, I have watched the growing use of pesticides, the increase in lawn-scaped residential properties, and the reduction in native plants that have transformed this area into a fraction of what is needed for a healthy pollinator population. Non-native honeybees have taken up some of the slack, but they do so while the diversity of our own bee populations decline.

  1. What you do in your landscape, what you spray, it doesn’t stay there. A reduction in insects today may be the result of spraying 1-2 years ago.
  2. What you plant matters. Insects can’t reproduce if the native host plants they need are not available.
  3. Convincing other people works. Talk to your family, your friends, your neighbors, your legislators and representatives. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Grow this movement and educate others about why it matters.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

June 2022 Moment in Nature


I have not seen a lot of bugs this year, but there is one that is strangely in abundance: the ebony jewelwing, a type of large damselfly. I have so many this year that I was able to take some time and really look at them and even photograph them. While I was observing one, she came out towards me to inspect a bit of spiderweb hanging in the air to see if it contained a bug but I think it was just a bit of leaf. #amomentinnature

They are fairly skittish, often flying up from shady corners of the yard before I even have a chance to realize they are there. They usually just fly a short distance and then come back to near where they were. They hunt for mosquitoes and gnats and small insects.

Male jewelwing
Female jewelwing

This website is a great resource to learn more about them. Both males and females have an iridescent green body but the wings are slightly different. The wings on the female are a dark bronze and there is a small white spot at the top (on the forewing). The males overall seem a bit brighter, perhaps slightly more blue-green than green.

Similar to dragonflies, they lay their eggs in water, usually slow moving streams and I have one of those. If you spot one of these near you, be sure to take a moment to appreciate them.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

White Oak Leaf Damage


Questions abound this spring about visible damage to oak leaves, particularly to white oaks, one of our most abundant species in north Georgia. Some trees are so damaged they look like they’ve been sprayed with herbicide. Facebook groups and local extension offices have fielded numerous inquiries about what is happening to the trees and what homeowners should do about it. My trees are similarly infected so I decided to look more closely at what was happening.

White oak (Quercus alba) in my yard showing damage

I won’t take credit for determining that the source of the damage is the solitary oak leafminer. Other folks had already provided links to articles and photos of this moth’s lifecycle. My goal was to confirm that it was this moth’s larvae inside the leaves. I had heard that the insect was feeding inside the layers of the leaf, so I used a pair of sharp sewing scissors and my 10x hand lens to get a look.

The small oak leafminer caterpillar

It was clear, for the most part, that the damage only affects the upper tissue layer; the back of the leaf was fully intact. The tiny caterpillar, no bigger than a grain of rice, was feeding on the leaf’s tissue amidst a collection of frass (its own poop). Several of them had formed clear enclosures; these are the cocoons in which the larvae will transform to the tiny moth (microlepidoptera) it becomes.

Forming cocoon
Cocoon completed

The bottom line is that this damage is perfectly natural, doesn’t hurt the trees, is mostly likely short-term, and certainly doesn’t require any chemical responses. While some folks recommend discarding the fallen leaves (to remove the unhatched cocoons), keep in mind that trees all around you will still contribute to the next generation. These kinds of irruptions are normal in nature and will balance themselves.

Sunday, June 5, 2022



The elderberry shrubs near me are having a great year – big growth, loaded with flowers, and apparently spared from the utility contractors’ plans for 2022. Elderberry reminds me of that aunt you’d visit who dressed in a comfortable, eclectic caftan with oversized jewelry, who was always happy to see you and had a great selection of sweet treats. It is a comfortable, welcoming, and rewarding large native shrub for insects, birds, and humans.

Tiny flowers in a cluster (cyme)
Elderberries fill up a space!

Using the latest Flora of the Southeastern United States, I am glad to see our native species is back to being Sambucus canadensis; it was briefly treated as S. nigra ssp. canadensis. The Flora authors have it classified as part of the Viburnaceae family which it shares with Viburnum. It was previously classified as part of the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). The Flora suggests that species canadensis may one day be further divided into two varieties, with var. canadensis in most of the state and var. laciniata in south Georgia.

Both Sambucus and Viburnum have oppositely arranged leaves but elderberry is distinguished by having compound leaves. Both genera also have cymose inflorescences composed of numerous tiny white flowers that can each turn into a berry, thus creating a large amount of fruit (either for humans or birds).

Plate-sized inflorescences and compound leaves

Elderberries need a large space but I have seen people prune them to a narrower, more upright form. The deer keep mine, which were here when I moved in, from ever getting above knee height unfortunately. I hope one day to have a place for them to thrive. On roadsides, they thrive in moist low areas like ditches. These photos are from a roadside near me; you can see they are under powerlines so every few years the utility contractors knock them back. Thankfully, they always return.

Low, damp roadsides are perfect (and much better with native shrubs)