October 11, 2020

Biodiversity in parking lots

Biodiversity is everywhere. Today I ended up with some time to kill in a parking lot, because my car broke down and I had to wait for a ride. Sitting under a tree, I looked at my arm and saw a few minute pirate bugs. These little critters are good for controlling garden pests, but sometimes in the fall they get out of control themselves and end up everywhere. They don't feed on blood (except insect blood), but for some reason tend to bite a lot, and can drive you crazy.

Dwarf mallow is a common weed across the world, but they have cute little pink flowers that remind me of a miniature hollyhock. In fact they are in the same family, the mallow family (so is hibiscus). They also share a common pest fungus: the hollyhock rust fungus. Rust fungi are fascinating plant parasites with a complicated life cycle. Upon infection, the fungus grows into a plant leaf, then erupts into pustules, swellings, or projections full of rust-colored spores ready to spread to new hosts. Look for other kinds of rust fungi nearby, like these.

Dwarf mallow is widely reported to be edible and nutritious. One common name is cheeseweed, because the fruits form a round shape similar to the wheel-shaped cheeses. Like many other kids through the decades, I tried eating these "cheesies" when I was a kid. Fun fact: the original marshmallow treat was made from the roots of a related plant, the marsh mallow.

Posted on October 11, 2020 07:37 PM by isaacwinkler isaacwinkler | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 08, 2020

Fall Flowers in the Meadow

On a sunny, windy Monday afternoon (Sept. 28) I spent an hour at the Nature Park and took a look at the meadow area between the dog park and the highway. I like this spot because there is a lot of goldenrod and aster blooming in the fall, and there are always insects visiting the flowers. I found I had missed the main bloom of goldenrod, and many of the flowers had already faded and begun to form seeds.

The bumblebee wouldn't hold still for a good photo, but I managed a few photos of a pale green beetle on thistle flowers, which I recognized as a member genus Diabrotica. It turned out to be the Eastern Corn rootworm, which makes sense because of the cornfields nearby across the highway. Because of the weather, a grasshopper posed a little longer than usual, as well.

There are many insects that form galls and mines on goldenrod. I found several familiar ones here again, but also one that was new to me - small hairy flower bud galls that some quick research identified as caused by the gall midge Rhopalomyia anthophila. In the same small bunch of plants I also saw galls of the goldenrod bunch gall midge, the goldenrod stem gall fly, and the goldenrod cushion gall midge, which I had all photographed earlier in the season.

Three weedy species of Solanaceae were hiding among the grasses. The puffy husks of groundcherry are always interesting to see, but I hadn't noticed them in this park before. It turned out that the fruits inside were still barely develeped. Another plant I didn't recognize had broad, soft, fuzzy leaves, but seems to be in the same family, also.

I had seen a few leaves of wild parsnip here before, but here was a dried stem that had already dispersed its seeds. This plant has been spreading through the midwest during the last decade, especially along roadsides. It seems this nasty plant will be spreading more in the park in the coming years. Wild parsnip stems can be separated from their relative, wild carrot, because the stems are angular, as compared to the round stems of wild carrot. The juices of wild parsnip can cause extremely nasty rashes, so be careful around them!

Posted on October 08, 2020 03:33 AM by isaacwinkler isaacwinkler | 12 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment