Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Tuesday: 28 September 2004

wheelbugs  -  @ 11:13:21
Speaking of insect predators, we ran across a wheelbug (Arilus cristatus) the other day. I'd seen these more frequently in the past and none in the last couple of years so I'm pleased to see they're back.

They're called wheelbugs because of the raised toothed ridge on the back. They're conenoses (bedbugs are in the conenose group) and have a formidable stabbing proboscis which can stab you if you provoke them (and they are testy).

They eat caterpillars, japanese beetle larvae, and I've seen them pacing the ridgeline of the roof grabbing paper wasps out of the air. They lay eggs on foliage, so are even more susceptible to insecticide applied for other purposes.

Very handsome fellow.

Wednesday: 22 September 2004

drought or rain surplus?  -  @ 08:11:49
In the last two months (since July 22) we have had 16" rain, which by our standards is twice the average at 4" per month. But 13.2" of this was from three tropical storms; Bonnie, Frances, and Ivan. The residue is 2.8" over two months, which is less than half the rain we'd expect to get from non-tropical rain sources.

Believe me, I'm not ungrateful for the rain. But we had definite drought conditions from Sep 2003 through May 2004 (a total of 25.2" over 9 months or 2.8" per month during what should be our wettest season). So are we still in a drought despite the rain surplus?

(Parenthetically our plantings of numerous natives have done extremely well without any additional watering this year.)

Tuesday: 21 September 2004

last sip of summer  -  @ 15:36:03
A couple of weeks ago it became apparent that summer was winding to a close here in the piedmont of northeast Georgia. The goldenrods and fall asters started flowering. They're the last chance for butterflies and bees and wasps to get some goodies before it gets cold. I took a drive on a windy day along Blacksnake Road just a little west of here and it was wonderful: clouds of windblown seeds drifting across the road and myriads of happy insects being exploited by the clever plants.

Goldenrods by the way are not responsible for late summer allergies. They just happen to be most visible and flowering at the same time as ragweed, which is responsible and practically invisible because of its insignificant flowers. So goldenrods and asters are important natives to have planted in patches here and there, especially if you're taken by butterflies and bees.

On the pics below to the right we have Solidago speciosa (showy goldenrod) which has a plume consisting of flowers that shoot out all over the stem. For some reason the bees were especially taken by S. speciosa - lots of metallic green bees and several interesting little wasps (I'm not talking nasty paper wasps here, but really nice guys like thread-waisted wasps). On the right we have Solidago nemoralis (gray goldenrod). The flowers all come off one side of the stem. The bees for some reason weren't so excited over this one except much earlier in the day so maybe S. nemoralis has a volatile odor or something.

I have a number of species that I've just put in the ground, and they aren't flowering yet, but this year the Solidago rigida (stiff goldenrod), Solidago erecta (erect goldenrod), Solidago altissima (tall goldenrod), and the above two are flowering nicely. A very pleasant colorful end to the summer.

Anyway, enjoy, and treat your goldenrods right.

Sunday: 19 September 2004

after the wet  -  @ 13:12:25
In the midst of taking out yet another sections of lawn (just down to some grassy paths now) we took a walk in the woods yesterday. Found the delights pictured below. On the left we have a Ravenel's stinkhorn Phallus ravenelli. You never know where one of these guys is going to crop up to embarrass you. The slimy cap is exuding spores; "odor fetid", according to my Audubon. This is my first Ravenel; usually I see Elegant stinkhorns (yes, really) Mutinus elegans.

On the right we have a welcome sight - seems like we usually see these in late summer or fall. They're Indian pipes, Monotropa uniflora, and by some classifications members of the Ericaceae family, which includes azaleas and rhododendrons (and yes! Sparkleberries too.) This is one of several groups of unrelated plants that have lost their photosynthesis ability and steal sugar from the roots of nearby trees. You don't see them until they put out their flowers, which like the rest of the plant are white or pinkish. The leaves are extremely reduced (who needs 'em?) and they've lost at least half of their chloroplast DNA. Very cool plants.

Friday: 17 September 2004

post-Ivan  -  @ 21:32:39
The last of Ivan's winds and rains have left us here in Athens. It was fairly benign - spawned several tornados in the area, left us with a welcome 4" rain, and didn't knock down any trees. Just spoke to my parents in Fairhope, AL, about 10 miles from the eye on early Thursday morning, and their house was just fine other than a hole in the roof punched in by a fallen pecan branch. Their neighbor Chris, just about the best guy in the world, and another neighbor patched the roof over until my parents could make it back from middle Georgia.

Anyway, my mother told a great story - when the eye passed over, Chris walked out and there were dozens? hundreds? anyway, a huge number of seagulls flying around, as well as a lot of other birds. I suppose they picked up and flew on with the eye as it moved north. I'd never heard of this, but it does make some sense - birds get caught in the winds and funnelled to the center, presumably end up in north Alabama once the hurricane disorganizes (or killed when the eye breaks down and all there are are 100 mph winds).

I've put together another composite of satellite photos of Ivan as it made its way from the Caribbean - absolutely lovely. It's quite large so I won't post even a small version but there is this, which is my favorite photo. Ivan about 18 hours before landfall moving into the foreground. Lake Pontrain and New Orleans on the coast in the foreground, slightly to the right of middle; Mobile Bay slight to the left of middle. You can probably see my parents' house just up the hill from the pier on the east coast of Mobile Bay. Satellite photo downloaded from NOAA (

Friday: 10 September 2004

El Nino Winter this year  -  @ 10:29:00
According to NOAA NEWS ONLINE, NOAA has declared that El Nino has returned, albeit in a weak condition, and will probably last through early 2005. Among other things El Nino causes the jet stream to move southwards, bringing cold fronts and stormier weather patterns in the southeast US.

El Nino causes droughts in the West Pacific land masses (Australia, Indonesia, etc.), warmer winters in the Northwest US, and for us in the Southeast US, often colder, stormier, wetter winters. Given that we're kind of in a neutral Pacific Decadal Oscillation period the El Nino will not be suppressed overly.

Thursday: 9 September 2004

Ms. Mantis  -  @ 16:28:45
Just an irresistible opportunity here. Another reason why not to use insecticides. Praying mantises are absolutely the greatest things. Even if you're careful in applying an insecticide, the mantis will be consuming things that consumed things that you did apply the insecticide to. It will receive 100x the dose the varmints got. That will surely kill it. Insect predators are to be encouraged, much as you would a hawk or eagle.

This one faced me down with a camera poised one inch away from her.

Wednesday: 8 September 2004

Farewell Frances  -  @ 18:01:06
The remnants of Frances have just about left us now. We got 6" rain in the last 36 hours, which is a welcome relief from an under par summer and will go a long way to restoring the groundwater levels. It was cool and breezy but never vicious; didn't even get lawn chairs turned over. I know of course that it was a misery for Floridians.

I put together a composite of rainfall activity maps from Intellicast and though the pic is a little larger than I'd put here, I'm going to do it anyway.

Now waiting for Ivan!

Monday: 6 September 2004

sudden weather change  -  @ 16:26:39
Whew! After three dry windy days, suddenly within an hour the humidity has gone way up. Frances is swirling around Tallahassee right now, probably just above Sister Susan's house, with remnants of outer feeder bands moving through our area. It should only get more interesting now.

Frances on the way  -  @ 09:51:32
Not that we're going to get it bad, at least not so much wind. We're expecting 4-8" rain, which will certainly be welcome if you have the soil conditions to withstand it.

The last few days have been lovely. Warm dry air has been breezing through as it moves toward Frances' lows. Today is cloudy and windy, Frances is in the eastern Gulf of Mexico having pummelled the Florida peninsula yesterday and we're expecting the remnants tomorrow and Wednesday.

So we've been covering things with mulch, I pretty much finished the Microstegium eradication, and today it's been harvesting seeds. Lots of seeds.

I've put links on the sidebar to climate and analysis pages. I've spent several weeks recovering rainfall and temperature data for the last 85 years for Athens. They've been plotted and superficially analyzed. Only those as wonky as myself will be interested, probably, but it is instructive to look at decade-long periods of droughts and rainfall excess. It's also dramatic to see the high temperatures of the 1930s; we may have just ended a three-year-long drought as severe as they come but there's been nothing since the 1930s with temperatures that high.

The other page, climate indices, isn't complete yet, but I've installed the figure. I'm in the process of correlating climate indices such as ENSO, PDO, NAO, and solar flux with observed rainfall and temperatures in Athens; when that's done it will be made into a proper page. The hope is that people in the area can use this to make predictions about the season(s) to come, insofar as that is possible.

I'm attaching two photographs - one is of Hibiscus coccineus, rose mallow. This is a great plant with lovely large red flowers. The other I'm not sure of - is it an amaryllis? It's a Parkseed acquisition from years ago (only started prospering after the deerproofing electric fence went up), and the records aren't clear.

I'm only placing five posts on the front page.
Go to the archives on the right sidebar for past posts, or use the search routine at the top of the page.

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