The Dyck Arboretum of the Plains staff and board of trustees send warm wishes this Thanksgiving holiday. The following is a list of things we are grateful for this year.
1. The opportunity to help others. That simple truth powers all of us when things get tough.
2. Volunteers who give their time. People don’t HAVE to volunteer. People who donate their time regularly don’t get the recognition they deserve. Thanks to all who serve the Arboretum.
3. The chance to be creative. Working at the Arboretum isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to figure out how to do a lot with a little, and find new options for getting the job done.
4. Unexpected kindness. You never know when someone will do something that takes your breath away or motivates you to keep working for our mission.
5. Generosity. There are always people who amaze me with their generosity. Each gift is not taken lightly and is always appreciated. It is an investment in the mission of the Arboretum.
6. Miracles. Sometimes, you get to see something astounding happen. Like that lightbulb moment with a child closely looking at a flower. To watch them discover beauty is a total miracle and amazing to witness first-hand.
7. Dedicated staff. And last but certainly not least, I am blessed to work with a team who love the Arboretum. During this pandemic, I have been encouraged by their can do attitude. They are always looking at the things we can do rather than the things we can’t do. Janelle, Brad, and Katie strive daily to champion the mission of the Arboretum and provide you with excellent programs and events. I wish you could see their diligence, hard work and passion as they work behind the scenes. I am blessed to serve with them. Thanks so much Janelle, Brad, and Katie!
Enjoy this reflection as you celebrate Thanksgiving in your own unique way in 2020.
In my life, I am given spectacular skies and meadows that teach me to appreciate nature, challenges and obstacles that teach me creative problem solving, failures that help me build strength, accomplishments to teach me the value in perseverance, relationships that teach me about friendships and love, acts of kindness that inspire me to see and be the good in my world.
I am grateful for all of these gifts life has given me.
Dyck Arboretum of the Plains cultivates transformative relationships between people and the land.
It is that time of year again! Volunteers and staff are preparing for our annual Winter Luminary Walk event. This means stringing hundreds of extension cords and thousands of Christmas lights throughout the Arboretum. It may seem ridiculously early, but we often start this process the day after Halloween. (Do you think a Monster Mash/White Christmas remix would ever be a radio hit?)
Where to Start?
Many folks wonder how we begin when there is so much area to cover. I like to start every year by stringing lights around the pond. This is an easy job that gets me mentally warmed up to spend the next few weeks working with lights and wires. Because we have been doing this for so many years, we have a pretty good idea of how many strands it takes to get around the pond (31) or tied onto the leaf house (3) or draped in the small prairie near the Visitor Center (18). We have some lights labeled for specific areas. Others are stored on spools so they can easily be unrolled and installed.
Many public gardens throughout the US put on holiday light shows, and each is dazzling in their own way. Here at Dyck Arboretum we have a unique approach: we aim to highlight the natural landscape rather than cover it with colorful, flashy displays. We keep our style simple and classic. For example, we use only warm white Christmas lights, under-mounted spotlights, and thematically relevant features. Foregoing busy, strobe-like displays or loud music, we invite visitors to appreciate the forms and shapes of native trees in the quiet of a prairie night. You may hear an owl hooting as you stroll, or the sound of water trickling into the stream.
Over the years we have trialed many new features to keep Luminary Walk feeling fresh, even to repeat visitors. Some years we have lighted ‘swans’ floating on the pond and ‘bison’ grazing in our prairie. Other years we installed shooting stars high above our lawns and have created arbors, tunnels, and pendulous hanging ornaments. The only way to know what we are up to this year? Come and see for yourself!
We hope this event can be a fun and festive time to meet with family and friends at a socially distant, outdoor venue. Visit the event page for ticketing and for information about how this event will be COVID-conscious, specifically:
adding event hours to reduce crowding
capping ticket sales per half hour
closing our facilities to indoor traffic
reducing the need for volunteer set up and take down
Buffalograss gets its name from the “buffalo” that once roamed the Great Plains and foraged on this dense native turf. As a component of the shortgrass prairie, early settlers used sod, held together by buffalograss, to construct their sod houses. Prairies were woven together with buffalograss and that’s why it makes such a nice lawn option.
Buffalograss is dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. The male flowers held above the foliage are on small, comb-like spikes. Female flowers cluster on short stems down in the leaves closer to the ground. From seed, you get both male and female flowers. Like blue grama, I find the male flowers attractive enough that I leave them when I can. They can be mowed off for a look that’s more formal, manicured turf grass.
Typically, we seed buffalograss in the summer when soil temperatures are above 60 degrees. In South central Kansas, it is recommended that seeding of buffalograss be completed no later than August 15. Later seeding is not very successful because the newly germinated seedlings do not get fully rooted before winter. That has been a good rule of thumb, but requires so much water in the summer to get the seeds to germinate.
This winter we will be trying a new seeding technique with buffalograss. We have our area prepared and ready for planting. This November, we will seed annual ryegrass with buffalograss seed. The ryegrass is a cool season grass that prefers cooler weather. Once germinated, it will hold the soil through the winter while the buffalograss seed is naturally planted with the freezing and thawing of the soil. The round seeds will not germinate because soil temperatures are below 60 degrees.
In the spring, the buffalograss seed will germinate as the soil temperatures warm. By May, the new seedlings will benefit from spring rains and the buffalograss will begin to spread under the canopy of the ryegrass. As the temperatures warm into the summer, the annual ryegrass will begin to fade and the buffalograss will become more prominent. By the end of the summer, a new thick buffalograss planting will be fully established, spreading and healthy.
This is an experiment. We will keep you posted on the progress of this planting. I believe it has real potential because it uses natural processes to plant the buffalograss seed. We will use less water compared to germinating the seed in the summer and the ryegrass holds the soil to prevent erosion. It sounds good in theory but it has yet to be tried.
Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides) fun facts
It is a larval host for green skipper butterflies.
The genus was named for Claudio and Esteban Boutelou, 19th-century Spanish botanists.
The specific epithet, dactyloides, means fingerlike, which refers to the inflorescences.
The praying mantis is a medieval-looking predator of the garden that could just as well be a source of a horror film. Females are known to bite the head of their male partner during copulation to prevent his premature flight and then proceed to eat him after his job is done. If newly-hatched nymphs don’t find enough insects to eat shortly after leaving the nest, they start cannibalizing their own siblings. After watching my grasshopper-eating video at the end of this post, even some meat-eaters may swear off KFC for a very, long, time.
Praying mantises or mantids have compound eyes in freely moving heads on a pronounced neck and are the only insect that can “look over their shoulder.” Their front legs are muscular viselike appendages with spines held in front of them. They lie in wait, ambush their prey, and then hold and eat them alive.
Kansas has five different species of mantids. There are three native species and two introduced. Of our native species, two are small, uncommon, typically found in prairies, and described in Insects in Kansas (Salsbury and White) as follows:
For the remaining more common three species in Kansas (Carolina mantis, Chinese mantis, and European mantis), the following is a description of each provided courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation (mantids) with bugguide.net links to photos of each individual species:
The combined length of the head and thorax is about as long as the abdomen.
The middle pair of legs are about twice as long as the antennae.
Females are essentially flightless, as their wings are relatively small — when folded, they do not extend as far as the abdomen tip; usually only about three-fourths of the way down the body.
Males may have the wings extend beyond the abdomen tip and may fly to lights at night.
There is a black patch on the outer pair of wings.
Examine the facial shield (the part of the face in front of the antennae and between the eyes: in this and other Stagomantis species, it is long and narrow (in the Chinese mantis, it is fairly square and has vertical stripes).
Egg cases are somewhat flattened, elongated, teardrop-shaped structures.
Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis). Nonnative. Very commonly encountered.
Tan to pale green; tan individuals often show a stripe of pale green on the side (it’s the borders of the green front wings)
Adult length 2¼–4 inches or more
Examine the facial shield (the part of the face in front of the antennae and between the eyes): in the Chinese mantis, it is fairly square and has vertical stripes (in our native Carolina mantis, it is long and narrow and lacks stripes).
Flies well, often attracted to lights at night.
Egg cases resemble tan toasted marshmallows. They are fairly round, about as long as wide, Ping-Pong-ball size; usually attached to twigs of bushes and small trees.
Native to east Asia. Introduced to North America accidentally in 1896. Later, imported on purpose in hopes of combatting insect pests. Among the many insects it consumes are our smaller native mantids, and it may be playing a role, in some regions, in the declining populations of the Carolina mantis. Because the Chinese mantis has been widespread in our country for so long, it is difficult to determine what its ecological impact has been on native ecosystems. Because of the females’ large size, they have occasionally been recorded eating small vertebrates, including small reptiles and amphibians and even hummingbirds, but these seem to be relatively rare occurrences that do not have a significant impact on populations of those species.
European mantis or praying mantis (Mantis religiosa). Nonnative; probably the least encountered of these three.
Yellowish green, cream-colored, or tan.
Adult length 2–3 inches
Diagnostic feature is a round black dot on the underside of the basal joint (coxa) of the forelegs. Sometimes this black dot has a white center. This spot can be hard to see when their “arms” are held together.
Egg cases are rather egg-shaped, distinctly layered structures.
Native to Europe. Introduced to North America accidentally in 1899. Later, imported on purpose in hopes of combatting insect pests. People may still introduce them occasionally.
For a visual comparison of the ootheca for these three species, HERE is an article with photos.
Once the female has been fertilized and consumes the male as a “last supper” of sorts, she develops and deposits her eggs to complete the life cycle before dying herself.
The female mixes the eggs with a frothy, protein-based material called spumaline and extrudes them onto a stem or building. This mass hardens to form a strong Styrofoam-like casing or ootheca that helps keep up to 200 eggs from drying out over the winter.
The nymphs that emerge from the ootheca in spring do not have different-looking larval stages like many other insects. They resemble adult forms throughout their entire juvenile development.
It would seem just as appropriate to name this creature the “preying” mantis. I have seen many instances of mantids munching on moths, butterflies, bees and more and recently captured video of a Chinese mantis eating a grasshopper (see end of blog).
Mantids are touted as biological control agents to get rid of pest insects in gardens and greenhouses. However, the effectiveness of this approach is questionable. While they efficiently prey on insects, a small release of mantids cannot possibly control all the insects that humans consider to be crop pests. Complicating their effectiveness, mantids also indiscriminately consume insects that we consider to be beneficial pollinators as well. And since nonnative mantid species are those most commonly distributed for biological control, some rightfully worry about the impact their continued introductions may have on smaller native mantid populations.
However you find and observe mantids in gardens and natural areas around you, observe and enjoy the habits of these fascinating creatures.