This is a blog about the pursuits of Naturalist Alan Russo to incorporate all things Natural, especially Plants, into his daily life. Living close to Nature has always been a passion of mine and I try, with natures help, to live a Healthy lifestyle for myself and for the Earth.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Whats going on? or Where have all the Butterflies gone?

This has been a crazy year on the Homestead. So many things have happened that I can't explain, it's on the verge of being spookie!
 First, we had a longer and colder Winter than normal, and to make things worse we had a late unexpected frost that did a lot of damage. A few years ago I got a Mulberry Tree ( stick) from the Arbor Day Foundation and it started to grow well once planted, and turned into a nice small tree. I couldn't wait till I started to get Mulberries form it. Well, this year it was finally going to happen! Early Spring tiny leaves started to grow and hundreds of flower spikes filled the tree. I was very excited. Than came the frost. One night after some nice warm weather, we had a hard frost. Didn't think much about the Mulberry Tree as Mulberry's grow in NY and I figured if they can handle a NY winter they can surely handle this freak frost. Well I was wrong. I went out a couple of days later and all the leaves and all the flowers were dead! Brown and shriveled. I hoped they would regrow but only the leaves came back. Looks like I will have to wait another year.
 One of the greatest disappointments of this cold winter was that all my Edible Canna Died. If you have followed this Blog you know how excited I was at finding and growing this new Canna and how beautiful and lush they grew. ( http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2013/08/edible-canna.html ) and ( http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2013/12/edible-canna-part-2.html ) Not one came back this year and many of my other Canna died off also.
 Another tragedy was the death of my huge and bountiful Prickly Pear Cactus ( http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2010/10/tunas.html ). This Cactus has been part of my life since I bought this house, but after this winter, it ended up as a large gelatinous mass of dead pads. There is a silver lining though, I have seen some small pads growing out of the heap of dead ones that I hope will continue to grow and eventually flower and fruit some day.
 Another great tragedy was the loss of one of my Magnificent Mimosa Trees. ( http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2011/06/mimosa-water.html ) For some reason it never made it through the Winter. True I still have 5 left, but to see this brown dead tree amongst the others that are in flower right now is just sad.
 Other things that didn't make it through the Winter are 3 large Butterfly Bushes. Many people consider these plants invasive, but they are a godsend to the pollinators in my area as I live amongst a bunch of toxic sterile farms with no color. God forbid a flower grows in their GMO fields! Quick, get the poison and pollute the water supply, there is a natural flower on my land!
 Another unexplained phenomenon is the lack of Butterflies on my property. This makes me so sad you can't imagine. I love Butterflies, I dream of one day of having a Butterfly house close to my house so I can raise and release all kinds of native Butterflies into the wild.  Every year I cant wait for my Echinacia patch to bloom as it attracts Butterflies from miles around to this little oasis of nectar. I have spent hours at my Echinacia patch photographing Butterflies and it was not uncommon to have 20-30 Butterflies at one time flying from flower to flower. This year there are none! Going out to my Echinacia patch is what sparked me to write this post. It just blows my mind that the only Butterflies I have seen there are a couple of Cabbage Butterflies resting amongst the leaves when I water in the morning before work. The Mimosa trees I spoke of before are incredible Butterfly magnets. Last year there were so many butterflies around just one Mimosa tree it prompted me to get my video camera to document the amazing sight. There were literally hundreds of Butterflies swarming my trees. I would just sit on my porch, drenched in the sweet perfume of the Mimosa Flowers and watch the Butterflies for hours at a time. Most were Tiger Swallowtails ( http://ethnobotanist128.blogspot.com/2011/06/mimosa-water.html ) but there were many other species also. Besides that, here were Hummingbird Moths, Bees, Hummingbirds, Wasps, Beetles and Flies just to name a few. This year there are NONE! Even around my Milkweed plants where I have counted 12 Fritillary's, including some Gulf Fritillary's ( a new species for me), at one time just on one plant. There are None!
 So, whats going on? Where have all the Butterflies gone? Is it a Natural cycle that I have never noticed before? Was it the cold winter? Is it the roundup ready corn and all the sprays my "neighbors" use on their property? Maybe all of the above. Maybe this year was just the perfect storm of Natural and man made assaults on the environment, I don't know. I do know it is sad to see and I hope this isn't the new norm around here.
PS If anyone has any incites on this and has noticed this in their area, I would be interested to hear from you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A New Plant!

I always get excited when I discover a new plant.
 In an area that I have an old overgrown garden, a new plant has emerged that I have never seen before. I haven't been in that area of the yard much this year and when I went to take a look the other day I saw a very beautiful plant, in flower, that I did not recognize. It was definitely some king of Mint. It had a square stem and the flowers were obviously Mint like. It was unique as the flowers were in whorls around the stem and there were four clusters per stem. The flowers were a beautiful pink color. As soon as I realized it was a mint, I squeezed a leaf between my fingers to see if it was aromatic and the smell was very strong... and familiar. It smelled a lot like Bee Balm, Monarda didyama., yet it was surely not, as Bee Balm has only one whorl of flowers on the end of the stem. So, I hit the books. No luck. Than I hit the web, still no luck. I uploaded a couple of photos to a website to see if anyone had ever seen it before. Two folks got back to me with the same answer, Monarda citrodora. Once I had a name, I went back on the web and the photos I found matched my new plant!
 Once I knew what it was I could start experimenting with this new plant. The first thing, after taking photos that is, was to taste one of the flowers. Definitely tasted just like Bee Balm, I guess it runs in the family!
 I plan to save some leaves to dry so I can taste the tea made from them. I would like to take a whole flower stalk to dry to make a leaf/flower tea but I am hesitant as there are only two plants and one is rather small. I really want to save as many seeds as I can to plant this beautiful flower in my herb garden for next year so I want all the seeds I can get. Maybe this is the year of discovery and next year will be the year of experimentation. I'll decide the next time I go to admire it.

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