Category Archives: Biodiversity

Native Bromeliads in Florida

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Spent some time with Dr.Teresa M. Cooper at the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary in Titusville Florida, where she graciously invited a group of Master Naturalists to learn about  the experimental efforts to save the native bromeliads (of the genus Tillandsia), in Florida.  An epiphytic plant, it survives by attaching itself on tree surfaces and extracting water and nutrients from the atmosphere. The Mexican Weevil  Metamasius callizona , introduced in 1989  in a shipment of bromeliads to Fort Lauderdale from Veracruz, Mexico, has been  decimating all twelve species of the florida native wild population. Since then, scientists have been studying and experimenting with  various methods to control the weevil without much success.  The weevil continues to encroach on the natural wilderness.  The goal is to stop it. It is believed the weevil has spread to 22 counties in the State of Florida.

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Dr. Teresa M. Cooper

At the Enchanted Forest, the work happens in the thick of a hammock.  Growing under the canopy are hundreds of bromeliad shoots or “pups” in protected baskets suspended from trees. Hanging from marked trees, specimens of beautiful larger plants are being grown in their natural environment. When the plants start blooming, they are moved to a protected screened room where the seeds can be collected and used to grow more plants in the forest.  This is a long term process as it takes up to seven years for the plants to produce seed. Learn more about the wonderful efforts of Dr. Teresa Cooper and her volunteers  here.

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One of the sites where small plants are grown.

So the race is on.  Volunteers water the plants, keep them clean and document the ecosystems around them. In their natural habitat, the plants populate the the branches of large and small trees providing an important ecosystem that is both aquatic and terrestrial, therefore providing a rich habitat for invertebrates and larvae.  Many species of spiders, salamanders and tree frogs lay their eggs in and around the pools. Young tadpoles feed on insects and larvae. There is more than meets the eye. When we see a colony of bromeliads, including the large showy Mexican bromeliads in most of our gardens, we must remember the rich diverse habitat that they provide.

Wildness is the preservation of the World.
― Henry David Thoreau

 

 

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A Goodbye to a Much Loved Garden

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When you have to move and have to relinquish a garden that you have nurtured for twenty eight years, every moment you have left becomes precious.  As spring approaches, I spend as much time as possible walking the grounds and basking in the memories of each small vignette:  The twenty eight foot Weeping Spruce growing in the secret garden that my son brought home one day from school after an Earth day program his kindergarten year. He proudly presented it to me in a small paper cup. The Beautiful Cherry that dear friends gave us in a gallon pot when our daughter was born. The Hostas I dug up and transplanted from my first house.  The stand of Brunnera a girlfriend shared from her own garden and the different varieties of Pulmonaria I collected through the years now in glorious bloom, just as I am getting ready to leave. As gardeners, we all know that a gift of a plant will always have meaningful memories attached to it and long lasting  life. As such, I walk away with an ache in my heart but with the realization that the plants will endure and hopefully will give joy for many years to come.

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My wish is that the new lucky owners of this piece of land, home to nesting birds that return from migration to this patch year after year, home also to the bunnies who eat non stop and the deer who make their morning and evening rounds,  home to frogs and garter snakes that keep pests in check and the woodchucks who eat the dandelion flowers as they are fresh each morning . The squirrels nesting in its trees and the chipmunks who dig tunnels in the most inconspicuous places. They all belong here more than us.  My message to these lucky new owners (as of this point, unknown) is that they can draw peace and inspiration from its beauty, bask in the shade of its mature trees and receive joy from the song of its many resident birds as we did for so many decades.

I face a new beginning in my gardening journey, moving South to zone 9 in Central Florida, fauna and flora quite different from Pennsylvania which affords me the opportunity of learning new plant families and create gardens that require less water and more sun. I will explore the rich world of Cacti and Succulents and experiment with some tropical plants and fruit trees. I am eager to explore and share my journey with you and hope you continue to join me in the adventures to come!

“A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space — a place not just set apart but reverberant — and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.”
Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

Sharp insights on Native Pollinators

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Hillary Sardiñas will reveal to you amazing facts of the hidden world and habits of our native pollinator bees.  She has a PhD from UC Berkely in Pollination Ecology and specialties in Restoration Ecology, Agrobiodiversity, Habitat Restoration and Bee Conservation. With an easy pleasant manner and in great detail, she describes the habits and challenges that our native bees face in today’s agricultural world and what we can do to protect them.  I came across this insightful podcast in Delicious Revolution, a podcast about food, where it comes from, and the many specialists involved in getting it to us. It is reassuring to me to know that so many brilliant young people are actively advocating for our environment and food safety.

“We think we can make honey without sharing in the fate of bees, but we are in truth nothing but poor bees, destined to accomplish our task and then die.”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

 

Trees of the Northern Forests

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Stepping out into the vast forests of Southern Ontario invokes a sense of the magnificence and resilience of the Northern forest trees. Here, on this island in Algonquin Park, where a fire cleared out all vegetation in the mid 1930’s, towering shapes of White Pine or Pinus strobus, form the most striking feature in the landscape. These trees can grow up to 80′ in height towering over the forest canopy and can live over 300 years.

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Kayaking along the shore of these glacial lakes, one of the most prevalent tree is the Eastern White Cedar or Thuja occidentalis. They favor impossible sites at the water’s edge, practically growing out of huge boulders in all sorts of contorted areal configurations.

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This example is by no means unusual on lakes all over Ontario.  some trunks extend twenty to thirty feet out to hold their canopies over the water and providing a very unique habitat for fish and other aquatic life who seek out the shade and refuge the massive fronds provide.

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I spotted this Hemlock or Tsuga canadensis, about fifty feet in height, growing out of this boulder in one of my hikes.  That entire root system covered and area approximately twenty feet around.  The oldest living Hemlock in Algonquin Park has been documented to be 454 years old!

When traveling to these Northern woods I am awed by the power of the natural world.  To see these giant trees surviving against all odds though harsh winters, scalding summers, fending off the onslaught of insect armies and then, providing wildlife with food and shelter!  They are rooted in place like giant sentinels towering over the forest. Then one day, inevitably, they will relinquish their story and riches to start anew upon the forest floor.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir

 

The Deadliest Product in your Shed

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It appears the science is in and in all recent studies the reality of the toxicity of Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide is coming to light. The results are downright terrifying. If you read the findings of scientists studying its effects, the story that develops is one that belongs in a science fiction plot except it is real and we are uncovering the truth more fully every day.  It is now linked to the majority of chronic modern diseases in Western society.

Glyphosate, developed by Monsanto and billed as a “safe, biodegradable and environmentally friendly” is anything but.  In combination with other additives that Monsanto is not required to disclose, this herbicide becomes systemic in the plants it is sprayed on.  It is now known that it will persist in our soils up to twenty years after the last application. Originally designed to be used with GMO crops, like corn, sugar,soybean and wheat in order to control weeds in the fields, it started getting our of control when the weeds became resistant and farmers applied more and more product to compensate.  It is estimated that in the last couple of decades 2.6 billion pounds of Roundup has been dumped in our fields. As we are finding out, not only does it not biodegrade, but because it is systemic, it is not just in the plant, but also in the fruit the plants produce, in the soil, in our water, and as a result in our bodies now as well.  According to Dr. Stephanie Seneff, research scientist at MIT, glyphosate residues “enhance the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and toxins in the environment to disrupt normal body functions and induce disease.”  She has linked it to diseases like Cancer, Autism, Allergies, Parkinson’s  just to name a few.  I urge you to take the time to read the study and and watch the video “The Horrific Truth about Monsanto’s Roundup” were Dr. Seneff  gives the specifics of how this insidious, poisonous herbicide affects our bodies.

As gardeners we are in close contact with our individual environments.  Every decision we take affects the natural world and our own health and that of our families and pets. Let’s go out and garden in a responsible and natural way. Happy organic gardening!

Related reading:

Widely used herbicide linked to Cancer. Scientific American.

Study finds Monsanto’s glyphosate in 100% of wines tested -even organic ones.

Glyphosate fact sheet

“We have some very suggestive evidence that the use of pesticides and herbicides affects our mental function and brain physiology, including increasing the incidence of Parkinson’s disease up to seven times in those most heavily exposed to them. This is not exactly a surprise when we realize that pesticides are designed to be neurotoxic to the pests.”
Gabriel Cousens M.D., Conscious Parenting: The Holistic Guide to Raising and Nourishing Healthy, Happy Children

 

 

Beautifully Done Documentary

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Brilliant documentary produced by Disneynature, directed by Louie Schwartzberg and narrated by Meryl Streep.  Totally worth an hour and twenty minutes of my time.  It focuses on our hardworking pollinators: Bees, Hummingbirds, bats and butterflies. Showing us impossibly close shots of the beauty of the flowers and the specialty pollinators they depend on, and yes that includes us as well! The photography is breathtaking, The message worth promoting. Enjoy!

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Gardening and Nature

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Amazing the transformation that happens in spring! not just in nature, but in our own consciousness. After decades of gardening, an understanding naturally engulfs us from the practice of caring for our landscape plants and spending time outside.   As gardeners, we hold in our hands the health of everything around us. The health of the soil that feeds our plants.  The health of the insects that, by the millions, work indefatigable to make a living on our plot of land. The web starts there.  But we have to understand our ecosystem.  I have visited beautiful gardens that are dead.  Not a living insect or bird can survive in a land laden with pesticides and fertilizers. As I wrote in my post “Why Organic?” synthetic substances in the soil break the web of life. In our search for perfection we sometimes forget the delicate balance of the natural world around us. So, as the new gardening season begins, lets agree to be more conscientious of the world that surrounds us and weigh our actions against the impact we may have on the wild creatures that share our habitat.

Happy Spring!

“Plants are not optional on this planet.  With a few exceptions, neither we, nor anything else can live without them.  We invariably take plants and the benefits they provide for granted”   Douglas W. Tallamy