Saturday, March 26, 2016

Flora-Quest is All Wet in 2016

Swamp, marsh and bog are seldom epithets for locations considered travel worthy.  However, there are a myriad of interesting and little-known plants in these habitats.  Wetlands provide important filtering eco-services to our state’s water, not unlike the way kidneys function in a human body.  Much of that filtration is provided by emergent wetland flora, grasses and those little-known aquatic plants.  Flora-Quest is bringing the botanical experts to Lake Erie to provide a crash course workshop on “Wetlands.”

 Marblehead's Meadowbrook Marsh awash with fall color.
Lakeside, Ohio will be the hub for this adventure to be held Friday, September 30, 2016.  Featured speakers will include experts Jim McCormac from Ohio Division of Wildlife and Mark Dilley of M.A.D. Scientists.  They will help us learn some favorite wetland species and better understand the biological richness of life in our wetlands.

Field trips to botanical hot-spots and general flora tours of local wetlands are available.  Our forays are varied to meet every level of interest and ability.  Whether you are hoping for those gorgeous Fringed Gentians and Nodding Ladies’-tresses orchids, or rarities like Inland Sea-rocket our guides know the way.  Featured locations will include Meadowbrook Marsh, Lakeside Daisy Preserve, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, East Harbor State Park, and trips further afield for rarities at Sheldon Marsh or Castalia Rest Haven Wildlife Area.

Fringed Gentian is a "must-see" fall bloomer. 
Evening offerings will be a friendly meal, loads of comradery and special guest speaker, Jason Lewis.  As Manager at the Ottawa National WildlifeRefuge, Jason will help us understand the importance of Ohio’s only National Wildlife Refuge and the conservation and economic benefits it provides to us.

For those interested in extending the fun to a second day, Ohio Ornithological Society will be hosting their “Rally for Rails” on Saturday Oct 1st.  This not-to-be-missed event will bring in bird experts from across Ohio and beyond to peak into the secretive lives of these wetland specific birds.

To learn more about our Flora-Quest Wetland Workshop

Registration opening soon!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

LEAP into Spring

Spring is bursting forth on Ohio's landscape. 

A vernal wetland provided ample sight and sound.
 Yesterday I enjoyed blue skies and the raucous amphibian calls at several locations, including the Bath Nature Preserve in Bath, Ohio.  This particular frog pond offered a deafening cacophony of croaks, clucks and peeps.

 I had traveled to Bath for a Lake Erie and Allegheny Partnership (LEAP) meeting.  LEAP is a consortium of land trusts, parks, and educational organizations dedicated to protecting and restoring biodiversity.  It is supported by the  Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where there is an active staff who provides leadership for LEAP.  (Thanks Renee!)

Akron U. has a field Study center at  Bath Nature Preserve.
We met at the University of Akron's Field Study and Environmental Education center.  These traveling meetings give LEAP members a excellent opportunity to see other organization's outpost. We have visited numerous park districts in Ohio and even a few in Pennsylvania.

Cornus mas, (Cornelian cherry) in full flower. 
The attractive yellow buds on a nearby tree beckoned to me from across the parking lot.  We now know them to be the four petaled flowers of a tree in the Dogwood family. This is the non-native Cornelian cherry or Cornus mas.

Cornelian cherry trees
 These small trees had me fooled!  I thought they were our native Spicebush, but they are Cornelian Cherry, or Cornus mas.  It would be fairly easy to successfully ID a Spicebuch vs this non-native dogwood, had the leaves been present.  But I am happy to have learned the difference between the two species, by the blossoms' petal count.  (Thanks to Sarah who wrote in to set me on the correct path!)

This brings me to the annual "Native Plants of the Year" cards LEAP produces.  They are an excellent mini-guide to three native Ohio plants you can incorporate into your landscape.  Look for the Flora-Quest display at up coming events, and I will be glad to share these free cards with you.

 The 2016 plants are Spicebush, Swamp Candles and Little Bluestem.  To learn more about our native plants and the pollinators attracted to them, or find local native plant nurseries, you need look no further than the LEAP website. 

Don't you think Ohio otter offer a license like this?

 Native plants also benefit native animals, just like this handsome River Otter pictured on a LEAP member's Pennsylvania license plate.  This special plate promotes the need to  "Conserve Wild Resources."

That is a message we can really get behind.  HONK, HONK!!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Unfortunate Winter Update on our Monarchs

Our migration Monarch are hardly out the woods, so to speak.  Although this year's wintering Monarch count in January showed great improvement over recent years, winter has taken an ugly turn. A late season snow has fallen in Mexico's Butterfly Reserves.  

Weather disruptions brought on by climate change, both winter storms and off-season droughts, have contributed to low population numbers.  Add a shortage of Milkweed for host plants, and the continued bombardment of herbicides and pesticides, and you will see our conservation work is far from done.

Read the full news release from MEXICONEWSDAILY.COM below:

Snow and cold takes toll on monarchs

As many as 11 million butterflies might have died

Mexico News Daily | Saturday, March 12, 2016
The beleaguered monarch butterflies can’t get a break. The numbers that arrived in Mexico for the winter were up, but cold weather has killed as many as 11 million in the last few days, according to one report.
Rosario spokesman Homero Gómez González was able to see the monarch deaths in a positive light. He pointed out that the majority had survived despite snowfall levels that hadn’t been seen in 40 years.At the El Rosario sanctuary in Michoacán, where winter storm No. 11 brought 35 centimeters of snow and temperatures that plunged to -12 C, they say about 1.5 million butterflies have died.
However, the National Protected Areas Commission said its inspection of the monarchs’ reserve revealed that the butterflies had resisted the effects of cold, snow and wind.
Conflicting reports should not be surprising considering the conflicts that evidently exist between the local stewards of the butterfly reserve and government agencies.
Gómez González said government representatives show up to have their photos taken and to justify their salaries, “yet in reality we receive nothing in the way of support. Proof of that is that we ourselves have reforested the areas [affected by logging].”
For government functionaries, he charged, “it’s pure bureaucracy.”
The butterflies, which migrate annually from the United States and Canada, were up in numbers this year after steady declines for several years. Numbers are estimated by the area they cover, which this year is about four hectares, up from 1.13 last year.
But two decades ago they covered as much as 20 hectares.
This year’s coverage of four hectares has been estimated to represent at least 100 million butterflies. Loss of habitat in the U.S. and Mexico has been blamed for the declining population.
Source: El Universal (sp)
- See more at:

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Spring's Hope- Ephemeral.

You might read that title twice.  Spring's Hope- Ephemeral.  Usually you hear  Alexander Pope's old line "Hope springs eternal (in the human breast.)" But I suggest, nothing is eternal in this natural world and one best admire the ephemeral hope of spring flowers while we can.

Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale
The photo of this flower is larger than life, literally.  This is the tiny Snow trillium, one of the earliest of our spring flowers.  We often find it peeking up through snow banks in March.

Snow Trillium with a little perspective.
Snow Trillium is generally quite small, but the first of this year's crop seem to be Lilliputian! The nickle puts it all in perspective.

As much as I wish you could walk on your local woodlot and find these specialty flowers, it is not likely to happen.  They are few and far between.  Ohio's botanically savvy make pilgrimages across many miles to visit known sites each year.  This location in Adams County. There are a few in Columbus and others, near Clifton Gorge.  Just stumbling across them is nearly impossible, as they also present a challenge to find due to their size alone.

 There are at least eight mini-trilliums growing on this dolomite rock outcropping. Without the nickle to point the way, they are easily over-looked.  Too often properties are developed or destroyed, with no accounting for the rarities which might have been on them.

Land preservation and stewardship carried out by organizations like Ohio Natural Areas and Preserve Association, Ohio Department of Natural Areas and Preserves, The Nature Conservancy, and Arc of Appalachia is more important than ever.

Please help us protect the smallest of our woodland wonders for future wild flower enthusiasts.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Monarch Update

Let's all take a moment for some good news!  

Too often environmental work is all gloom and doom.  Today we thank everyone for all the hard work, milkweed planting, caterpillar rearing, fall tagging and public education efforts on behalf of America's best known butterfly, the Monarch. A little congratulations is due.

Monarch in Richland County, Ohio
When it was first reported in the 1990's that the migratory Monarch was headed for trouble, we hardly believed it.  After all, they were so... common.  Sixteen years later, there was an entire summer in which I did not see one Monarch. Didn't we all wish we had taken more photos of them when they were abundant?

We stopped taking them for granted. In fact, many organizations rallied around the Monarch, calling for change.
Monarchs headed to Mexico roost at Whiskey Island, Cleveland Ohio.
Photo by Chuck Slusarczyk, Jr.
Keeping tabs on a butterfly population is difficult work. Winter is the best time to assess Monarch populations,  The winged ones gather in the Oyamel firs in the mountains of Mexico, where the entire migratory population can be counted as they rest.

This year's news from Mexico is finally good.  The numbers of wintering monarchs is at a five year high. But one good year means very little in insect biology.  We can't afford to stop now,  the job is not done.

A full report can be found at

These striped caterpillars are the larva form of the Monarch butterfly.
Monarch conservation is rather complicated. They have four distinct life stages ( egg, larva, pupa, adult) and each stage has its own hazards. They are impacted by insecticides and herbicides.  Lawn care chemicals and mosquito sprays also put the smack down on them. They are subject to winds and weather.  These critters cross two international borders, in spite of walls and guards.

The effort across the borders to protect wintering habitats, and plant milkweed has certainly been key to their rebound.

A native bee pollinates this Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa.
Our efforts on behalf of the Monarch are likely to pay off for all pollinators. Increasing milkweed and other native plants along roadside corridors and in natural areas could benefit all types of insects. As we continue to improve conditions for Monarchs, let's also remember to limit the other activities which endanger them.  Lawn chemicals and excess mowing have become a way of life for suburbanites, but they are not compatible with our natural world.  We have seen the true cost.

We need to turn the pages of time back only to the fifties, where ditches were filled with flowers and milkweed reigned.  Children still played outside and bees buzzed as the butterflies bounced from flower to flower.  We chased lightening bugs at night.

Technology is great, but we need to decide if our chemically enhanced lifestyle is compatible to the health of the world in which we need to live.  The insects have been trying to tell us something.