Waking Up: The Exciting Life of Buds

The landscape may still be dominated by the browns and tans of winter, but inside the greenhouse is a different story -oodles of green buds bursting out of dormancy, waking up to warm, humid air! It’s refreshing to spend time around these green little beauties, and it is an indicator that plants outside will soon be doing the very same thing.

Buds excite us for many reasons. They portend flowers and color, and the lush greenness to come. But they also are a signal of life! Life after the cold winter months, life after dormancy – a breaking forth from a long sleep, part of the natural cycles of activity and inactivity that we all experience.

Beyond metaphor, their botany is just plain cool! Here are a few things to know about the buds emerging on your landscape plants at home.

Salix Mt. Asama is an early bloomer. It’s bright yellow and pink pollen clusters are showy, suspended on fuzzy, whimsical silks.

What is a Bud?

A pal? A friend? I certainly see them that way! But scientifically speaking, a bud is an embryonic shoot just above where the leaf will form, or at the tip of a stem. As I previously covered in my November post on pruning, there are lots of different types of buds: terminal buds (at top of stem), lateral buds (on sides of stem, producing leaves or flowers), dormant buds (asleep and waiting for spring), and many more.

Buds can be classified by looks or location.
By Mariana Ruiz Villarreal LadyofHats [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

‘Confetti Cake’ hellebore has a pure white flowerbud, but when it opens will be spotted with dark purple.

Bud Beasties

Inspecting your buds is important to stopping a potential problem. The first thing to inspect for is aphids. Buds are succulent little treats for these pests, and have less waxy protective coating than mature leaves, making them an easy target. Often the buds won’t show much damage until you have a nasty infestation, so inspecting buds early is key. Be sure to look on the inner folds of the bud if possible, as aphids are quite good at hiding themselves.

Ogon spirea blooms earlier than other spirea, long before it has fully leafed out. The flowers are white with yellow centers and closely clustered together, making a nice effect in the spring landscape.

Health Check

Even if you see buds on your trees, shrubs and outdoor plants, that may not be an indication that everything is A-OK. All too often I see lots of buds on my potted shrubs only to find out that they are dead – by pressing gently on them, they easily break off and reveal dead wood at the wound. If you have any doubt about the hardiness of a shrub or perhaps neglected your winter watering schedule, take a close look at the buds. Buds that are soft and mushy or dry and brittle are a bad sign, and may indicate dead wood that needs trimming back this year. Firm buds that don’t break off at a light touch, be they green or still brown, usually mean they are alive and waiting to spring open.

I’m dismayed that FloraKansas Plant Festival is still months away – so many early blooming plants are at their best right now, budding out and coming alive! Come visit the Arboretum and enjoy all the buds (and bulbs!) that are waking up!

Inspiring Landscapers

This Saturday, February 24 at our Native Plant Landscaping Symposium, 10 inspiring landscapers will share their native plant gardening stories.

 

A common thread of these landscapers/gardeners (I use these words interchangeably) is that they have each uniquely contributed to my approach and style of landscaping over the years. I have been drawn to their passion for gardening and landscaping. They are botanists, ecologists, master gardeners, landscape artists, and inquisitive students of gardening. Most of them have had successful careers in areas other than landscaping. Yet each considers landscaping a labor of love and finds great joy in working with plants that shape the landscapes around them. Their enthusiasm is infectious. I look forward to hearing their brief prepared stories with photos all being told in a one day symposium format where they can also answer questions. While it is difficult to fit these individuals into specific landscaping categories, I have generally ordered them in speaking sequence from wild and ecological to horticultural and manicured.

I won’t have time to give them each the full and flowery introduction that they deserve. But I will say a bit about their styles and approaches that have influenced me over the last 25+ years.

The Speakers

 

Dwight Platt was my major professor at Bethel College where I studied biology and environmental studies in the early 90s. He introduced me to Lorna Harder, then curator for natural history at the Kauffman Museum. The two of them were responsible for developing the oldest prairie reconstruction in Kansas on the museum grounds, and I was able to serve as a prairie intern with them before graduating. My appreciation for the diverse ecology of the prairie and how prairie plants can be incorporated into landscaping started with them. They inspired me to pursue further education in ecological restoration and landscape architecture.

Kauffman Museum Prairie

Dwight and Lorna’s home landscapes utilize many native plants with a focus on attracting biological diversity to those landscapes. Bob Simmons carries a similar approach. His intimate knowledge of host plants and what butterflies they attract guides his approach to landscaping as well. All three of these folks are passionate knowledge seekers of the birds and butterflies around them. They are regular attendees of annual bird and butterfly counts in Harvey County that contribute to citizen science.

Pipevine Swallowtail Caterpillar on Host Plant

My work at Dyck Arboretum with the Earth Partnership for School (EPS) Program has opened my eyes to the power that native landscaping can have inspiring children. Developing prairie gardens on school grounds offers fun learning opportunities through hands-on, project-based learning. High school science teachers Jay Super (Maize) and Denise Scribner (Goddard) are award-winning educators that have displayed how prairie gardening offers a useful learning tool for their students.

Goddard Eisenhower High School Prairie Garden

Locally grown food is important to our health and well-being and I have long been intrigued by the mixing of vegetables and native plant gardens in our landscapes. The Sand Creek Community Garden in N. Newton has been an example for me in recent years of how growing vegetables and tending native prairie gardens are mutually beneficial. Attracting pollinators and insect predators can only help food plots and they certainly add interest to gardening experience as well. Duane Friesen was the main organizer of this community garden seen as one of the best in Kansas. And as my father-in-law, Duane has also taught me much of what I know about growing vegetables. Joanna Fenton Friesen has a real eye for designing beautiful gardens with native plants and has been an organizer for the perennial flower beds at the community garden. They each have inspiring home landscapes with vegetables and native plants as well.

Sand Creek Community Garden

Pam Paulsen, Reno County Horticulture Extension Agent, is one of the top education resources in Kansas and she has immense knowledge about vegetable gardening, pollinators, and natural pest management. She is also an avid student of the prairie and a great photographer.

Aesthetically arranging native plants in organized assemblages adds enjoyment to landscaping. It also makes native plant gardening, often seen as unkept and weedy, more palatable to the general public. My colleague, Scott Vogt, has a horticulture degree and has helped influence me in this regard by encouraging plantings in groupings. Duane and Joanna with their eyes for aesthetics and surrounding native gardens with edging and mulched trails have also been influential.

A Clumped Planting at Dyck Arboretum.

Two gardens that I have enjoyed visiting in recent years have been the home landscapes designed and tended by Laura Knight (Wichita) and Lenora Larson (Paola). Their displays of not only native plants, but adaptable perennials and annuals too have expanded my understanding and appreciation for sustainable landscaping. They also have an appreciation for art in the garden, beautiful walking paths, water features, and weeding – all elements that enhance the garden aesthetic experience. Lenora also pays close attention to choosing plants that offer either nectar or food for insects.

Lenora Larson’s Garden

I hope you will join us Saturday and experience even a fraction of the inspiration that I have received from these gardeners and landscapers.

Do you Need a Prescription for Nature?

There is a growing field of study among doctors and researchers on the positive effects nature has on us both physically and mentally. Ecotherapy is the name given to a wide range of treatment programs that aim to improve your well-being by participating in outdoor activities in nature. Spending time outside on a walk or listening to the birds in the trees, taking in the grandeur of the mountains or the beauty of a flower in your garden or the scent of dewy petrichor after an afternoon rain have healing qualities.

As we have fewer and fewer encounters with nature and spend more and more time busily working or glued to our electronic devices, the world is passing us by. We are missing out on these connections that we know are important, but do not make time for in our busy schedules.  The need for time in nature is so great that some doctors are writing prescriptions for time outdoors. No really – THEY ARE!

Richard Louv in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder,” which describes what happens to people who don’t spend enough time outdoors. This book was one of the motivations to start the Arboretum’s Earth Partnership for Schools program that exposes school children to nature, particularly the prairie. According to Louv, children who have these regular up-close, hands-on encounters with nature are less likely to suffer childhood obesity, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and are more likely to improve academic performance.

Developing a connection with nature and environmental understanding are fundamental to the psychological and physical health of children. Like kids, adults also need to have these connections. Research shows that people are attracted to and feel restored by elements from nature such as running water, grasses moving with the gentlest breeze, open green spaces, forest trails, birds, butterflies, and other nature-based experiences.

I am not a doctor and I know that for many people with chronic mental and physical illnesses, much more than a stroll in the park is required for treatment. However, I know for me, on some days even a short walk during a stressful time can change my perspective and mood.  Try it!

In the New Year, let’s be more intentional about our outdoor experiences.  Intuitively, we know that it’s helpful to our well-being. What is holding you back? Here are some great ways to encounter nature:

  • Take your dog for a walk in a park or on a nature trail (please clean up after your dog!)
  • Find a quiet spot outdoors and spend some time in meditation and journaling.  The slower pace and time of reflection can reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Go feed the ducks, turtles or geese

  • Spend time outdoors doing exercise and stretches to improve flexibility and improve your sleep.
  • Design and plant a wildlife habitat garden. Be sure to plant a manageable space that you can enjoy.
  • Go fly a kite!

  • Sit around the fire pit and roast s’mores while visiting with friends.
  • Plant a vegetable garden.
  • Visit a National Park this year.

The bottom line: nature is good for what ails us. Time outdoors calms us, brings balance into our lives and connects us to the world around us. What better reasons could there be to intentionally spend more time outside this year?  Open the door and go for a walk!

The Great American Solar Eclipse: Staff Perspectives

All four Arboretum staff members traveled to Nebraska for Monday’s solar eclipse. I happened to be on a business errand up there to pick up plants for our upcoming sale, while my co-workers fanned out to different towns in the zone of totality. We had no idea how close in proximity we were to each other until we returned to work Tuesday! Here are some reflections from each of us about our “totality” experiences.

Janelle

Holmesville, NE

“I viewed the solar eclipse with family and friends, including a large group of young children. Watching the kids experience this amazing cosmic event, with such joy and wonder, made the whole day so much more meaningful.”
Janelle visited the home-church of her great-grandmother to get a look at the eclipse. Friends, family and church members shared lunch on the lawn while children enjoyed games and crafts related to the eclipse. Janelle took the video below at the moment of totality when the shadow of the moon fell over the area, creating a look of twilight. Listen for the enthusiastic young boy exclaiming “totality! totality!” in the background; a perfect soundtrack!

Brad

Geneva, NE

“One of the best memories of the moment we hit totality…screams of delight heard from the elementary school about a half mile away.”
Monday was a special father-son bonding experience for Brad and his father Leon. On a last minute whim the two zipped across the state line to witness the total eclipse first hand. Through an old coworker and with the help of serendipity, they ended up welcomed into the home of strangers and watched the event from their yard.

Brad safely watching the eclipse through his solar glasses.

Scott

York, NE

“Impossible to describe. Watching it with the 120 people on our trip in such a beautiful setting made it even better.”
The Arboretum received overwhelming interest in the Solar Eclipse viewing trip. Scott and our board chairwoman Lorna Harder led two buses full of Arboretum supporters, nature enthusiasts and umbraphiles  to Prairie Gold Nursery in York, just on the north side of the totality zone. We are so grateful that the nursery staff were willing to let the Arboretum commandeer their parking lot for this event. Our trip-goers were delighted with the opportunity to buy some beautiful plants while waiting for the eclipse to begin.

Only a sliver of the sun left showing. Photo by Jim Griggs, http://www.selective-focus.com/

Katie

Beatrice, NE

I watched the show from a friend’s family farm near Beatrice, very near the center of the totality zone. Out in the open country, I experienced the natural phenomena of the eclipse as the moon’s shadow draped over the land: sudden stillness of the wind, quieting of the birds, and a sunset-orange coloration encircling the entire horizon. I resisted the urge to take photos. Instead, I just soaked in the eerie feeling of darkness during the day and reflected on all the changes around me.  I had been very skeptical in past weeks about all the hullabaloo leading up to this eclipse. It can’t be as exciting as everyone was talking it up to be, right? I am glad to be proven wrong, and so happy that I happened to be in the zone of totality so I could view it for a few moments without the solar glasses.

Arboretum supporter and master photographer Jim Griggs agreed to let us use some of his amazing shots taken in far western Nebraska for this blog post. Find more of his photography at http://www.selective-focus.com/

Insectopia

With all the beautiful blooms around the Arboretum these days, the bugs are on a feeding frenzy! I have been having a blast snapping photos of all the active insects with my new camera gadget – a clip-on macro lens that attaches to a phone camera. My iphone can now get incredibly close and detailed shots of the tiniest insects. This handy tool is inexpensive and invaluable for bug-crazy individuals like me. I got mine courtesy of a Xerces Society pollinator workshop back in April.

Can you identify these Kansas insects? (without reading the captions first!)

Grey Hairstreak on Wild Quinine flowers (Strymon melinus on Parthenium integrifolium) with outstretched proboscis!

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle (Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus) dipping his head into the flower cup of Indian Hemp Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). Notice the long segmented antennae and claws on the feet for climbing.

Carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) on Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea Purpurea) with pollen on his hairy legs.

Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on the underside of a fuzzy Common Milkweed leaf (Asclepias syriaca)

Eastern Pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) resting on limestone near the greenhouse, probably on his way back to the pond.

 

The lens even allows me to take videos –
watch as a paper wasp forages on horsetail milkweed flowers and the pollen-covered bee in the picture above enjoys a snack on some purple prairie clover.

If you want to bee an insect expert, get one of of these lenses for yourself and snap away! They are useful as educational tools or for taking detailed pictures to help you and your extension agent identify particular garden friends or pests. When you visit our grounds to see these beauties for yourself, be sure to check the gift shop for a wide selection of children’s books and as well as adult field guides that focus on insects found in Kansas.
Find more goregous shots of Dyck Arboretum flora and fauna on our Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/explore/locations/255013257/dyck-arboretum-of-the-plains/

Sharing the Simple Beauty of Kansas

I will be travelling this week to the annual conference of the American Public Gardens Association, this year located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which is very far from my Kansas home. Representatives from public gardens across North America will gather to share information about their respective gardens and regions.

Kansas has a simple fundamental beauty that is unique to this state. The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains tries to capture that beauty in the development of our grounds, using plants that are native to the prairie. Contrary to popular belief, Kansas is a special place to live.  The vast open views, unobstructed for miles in every direction, are a hallmark of this state.  Amazing sunsets happen almost every night.  Dynamic thunderstorms and bright white clouds fill the afternoon skies.  Kansas has a beauty all it’s own.

I look forward to sharing with my colleagues why I love living in Kansas, and why the Arboretum’s mission of connecting people with the prairie is so important to our organization and to our community.

Thunderstorm at Chase Co. State Fishing Lake

Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills.

Indiangrass

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

Russell Springs-Logan County-Photo Courtesy of Craig Freeman

Rocktown Natural Area-Russell County-Photo courtesy of Craig Freeman

Ft. Riley near Manhattan-Photo courtesy of Craig Freeman

Chalk Formations-Gove County-Photo courtesy of Craig Freeman

Cimarron National Grassland, Morton County-Photo courtesy of Craig Freeman

Shortgrass Prairie near Holcomb, Finney County-Photo courtesy of Craig Freeman

 

Be A Good Host for Insects

Monarch ovipositing on common milkweed (April 9, 2017).

There are many positive things that can be said about insects. They are important to healthy ecosystems. If you have any appreciation for wildlife of any kind in Kansas, you have insects to thank. Aside from a handful of pests they are beneficial to humans as well. Click HERE to see an earlier blog post on why I am in awe of insects.

Many insect species require a specific host plant or group of plants to feed their young. Therefore, it should be no surprise that greater plant diversity leads to greater insect diversity and ultimately a greater abundance of wildlife. I like to see more biological diversity in urban landscapes and this is why my landscaping tendencies trend towards more plant diversity rather than less.

Butterfly enthusiast and master gardener Lenora Larson gave us this similar message last month at our March winter lecture. She highlighted more than two dozen species of butterflies and moths that folks can easily attract to their landscape with specific host plants. A summary of her presentation, host plant and butterfly species lists, and helpful references can be found HERE.

Monarch egg on common milkweed (April 10, 2017).

Monarch Update

A little over a week ago on April 9, I saw my first couple of northerly migrating monarchs of the season. There were many other reports of first of season monarchs reported that weekend as well. In the week since, newly emerged milkweed shoots more often than not are found hosting one to six monarch eggs each. Yesterday on April 18, nine days after the first monarch siting, I observed the first two hatched caterpillars. More on the plight of the monarch and why we are so carefully observing this progress can be found HERE in an earlier blog post.

Newly hatched monarch caterpillar on common milkweed (April 18).

We’ll be touting at our spring plant sale the many benefits of gardening with Kansas native plants. Attracting insects and biological diversity to your landscape is one of those many benefits.

A Land Ethic is Alive and Well in Kansas

On Saturday, March 18, we held our 11th annual spring education symposium entitled Living the Land Ethic in Kansas, and learned how much we have to celebrate in Kansas. This symposium was many months in the making and it went smoothly thanks to our four staff, help from a number of board members, the assistance of many volunteers, and underwriting support from Kansas Humanities Council.

The speakers were top-notch and their messages were filled with immense knowledge and passion. Those among the 85 registered attendees were literate, engaged, and full of great questions. The homemade baked goods for breakfast, Lorna Harder’s venison stew for lunch, and nice day outside to enjoy during breaks all helped round out a perfect day.

Rolfe Mandel

Craig Freeman

Michael Pearce

Jason Schmidt

Pete Ferrell

Brian Obermeyer

Erin Dowell

Wes Jackson

I gave a brief introduction of how this symposium developed as part of our year-long Dyck Arboretum 35th anniversary celebration with a focus on Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic chapter in his famous book A Sand County Almanac. We then heard presentations about the essential Kansas natural elements of “The Land” from educators and writers, Rolfe Mandel (soils), Craig Freeman (vegetation), and Michael Pearce (wildlife) and how these elements are foundational to our Kansas natural history, agriculture/ranching-based economy, food systems, and land-based enjoyment and recreation. Land stewards Jason Schmidt, Pete Ferrell, and Brian Obermeyer told their stories of how being a land caretaker is not only a way to make a living but that it is part of a cherished way of life through which one strives to sustainably pass along stewardship responsibilities to future generations. Elementary school teacher, Erin Dowell explained how critical it is to instill a land ethic in our children that will be our future land stewards. And visionary, Wes Jackson, rounded out the day with a presentation about how we as agricultural agents must steward the land as part of a living ecosphere.

The day was filled with dialog and rich with a variety of science as well as humanities topics about the important interplay between the land and people. Thank you to all participants!

Blackbird Ribbons

I’ve been fascinated if not mesmerized recently with this phenomenon of blackbird “ribbons” flying across the sky. While they’ve become familiar to me during the winter in recent years, I’ve noticed them with much greater regularity this year. While the photos and video taken with my iPhone don’t do the phenomenon justice, they will at least give you some idea of what these ribbons look like.

Since early January I’ve seen good examples of this phenomenon perhaps 15-20 times. When I’ve seen them, they have either been flying east around 8:00 a.m. or flying west around 5:00 p.m. They range in density, usually stay within 100 feet of the ground, and stretch for miles. I’ve tried to do some sampling counts while watching them, often for a duration of 5-10 minutes, and figure they number easily in the tens to hundreds of thousands of birds – if not more – in these formations.

Whenever I’ve see them, I have not had binoculars with me and have been unable to get any positive species IDs. They seem to all be red-winged blackbirds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if grackles and/or starlings were in the mix. Local birding expert from Newton, Gregg Friesen, has spent time identifying species in blackbird flocks and says they commonly consist of 90 percent red-winged blackbirds, 5 percent brown-headed cowbirds and a mixture of starlings and the occasional Brewer’s blackbird.

Look closely to see the tens of thousands of birds in this photo.

Some plausible reasons for flying en masse like this might include protection from predators, higher probability of finding food, aerodynamic efficiencies in flight and more. But why the consistency of “punching the clock” with regard to time of day and direction? Does it have something to do with photoperiod? Perhaps they do it throughout the day and I’m only seeing them during my commute.

Some searching for information via the Web, the Kansas Bird Listserv, and my bird books, has turned up very little on this phenomenon besides that red-winged blackbirds like to flock in winter. I posted my inquiry to the Kansas Bird Listserv (a very knowledge-rich resource of birding enthusiasts from around the state) and got some insightful responses.

There is some interesting footage and information on the Web regarding starling murmurations that resemble these blackbird ribbons. Here is one such article made available by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. University of Kansas science educator, Brad Williamson, describes that the behavior and spacing of birds in these formations can be explained by simple rules in mathematical models that most likely relate to competitive advantages in finding food and protection from predators.

Educator Eugene A. Young from Northern Oklahoma College responded to my inquiry with the following: “Certainly there is strength in numbers, aerodynamics helps, but it appears the birds are usually flying from the roost to forage areas.  Once they get to these areas, they disperse into smaller flocks (100-10,000).  These flocks, as the crow flies, can travel 50 miles.  Once they are done foraging, they begin to gather in larger concentrations, and eventually make their way back to the roost.  And different lineages begin to accumulate along the route, eventually forming these long meandering lines of birds.  I suspect they use visual cues to find their way back and forth, thus the low flights.  But upon reaching the roosting area, they accumulate in staging areas before they go to roost.  Often this is wires, trees, bushes or on the ground, and huge congregations form.”

Eugene also confirmed that the timing of movement from roost to forage and back happens right around the time I was seeing this happen and that it relates to photoperiod. A related and informative article (Young, E. A.  2002.  Blackbirds Singing.  Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Magazine, 59(2):2-6) can be found here.

This year at Dyck Arboretum of the Plains we are trying to be more in tune with phenology as we study the writings of Aldo Leopold. Observing this pretty amazing phenomenon has been just one of many ways I’ve been enjoying a connection with the natural world around me using phenology.

I’ll leave you with a fitting quote from the end of Eugene Young’s article…

“To appreciate the beauty of large blackbird roosts in Kansas is to recognize that large spectacles of animal life are becoming rare. Rather than to be deplored for their droppings and contentious odor, they should be applauded for their mere presence. Imagine what it would have been like to cross the Plains with the large bison herds, or never being out of sight of prairie dogs. What about the huge flocks of passenger pigeons that once flew across the Midwestern sky, with millions of pigeons from horizon to horizon? These moments are gone, lost forever, except for the thoughts and accounts left behind by those fortunate enough to bear them witness. Where can you see such phenomona today? Here in the Plains, but a few short months of the year!”

Symposium: Living the Land Ethic in Kansas

“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.” The Land Ethic, A Sand County Almanac.

When I think about what Kansas means to me, I think about the land. I think about the Kansas prairie; the soils that support it and the wildlife it supports. I think about the water that flows through it and I think about the sky above it. I think about the food it produces. You and I are important parts of this community too.

 

On Saturday, March 18, we will celebrate and learn more about these rich Kansas connections of the land including its soil, prairie, wildlife, and people, and how they all interact. An all-star cast of interpreters and stewards of Kansas (Rolfe Mandel, Craig Freeman, Michael Pearce, Jason Schmidt, Pete Ferrell, Brian Obermeyer, Erin Dowell, and Wes Jackson) will be assembled for our 11th annual spring education symposium.

 

 

 

We have an early bird discounted fee if you sign up by March 9. See the following link for more details. Come join us!

 

Symposium: Living the Land Ethic in Kansas