Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fall garden time!


According to the fine, knowledgeable folks at Wilson's Garden Store here in Columbia, fall gardening "hasn't really caught on" in this part of the state. The tanned gardener told this to me after I told him about fall gardening in New Orleans, a litany of food I could grow in a tiny patch of land until December. The list included okra, cilantro, fennel, black eyed peas, just about anything but tomatoes. So the Wilson's gardener doled my seeds into little brown paper bags and labeled them by weight (as though I had more than a 50x50 plot of sunny ground). I probably now have enough seeds for an actual farm.

Those of you who set out your summer garden as late as I did (on account of my dog's health), you're only now seeing large yields: cucumbers hiding beneath the stippled leaves, green tomatoes weighing down your plants, green jalapenos galore. I harvested a single green bean yesterday.

But now is the time to set out pumpkins (for baking, not ready for Halloween), lima beans, spinach, lettuces, squash, green beans, Swiss chard, and probably countless other plants whose growing season in Missouri I'm only now learning about. More warm weather to come, and enough sun to produce at least a few things to eat before the first killing frost. For those of you who regularly plant food crops in the fall, feel free to add to my woefully small list.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chinese Mystery Snail


Oh, great, another aquatic exotic species is finding Ozark streams to be a perfectly fine place to take up residence these days. Known from the pet trade, the "Chinese mystery snail" has been identified from the Niangua River recently. Significantly larger than the gilled snails that traditionally inhabit our rivers, this population may have been dumped from an aquarium into the river. No one really knows exactly the impact populations of this snail will have on native species, but, like those crummy little bait clams of the genus Curbicula, they're not supposed to be here. If you find them in the Niangua or other Missouri river, MDC suggests removing them. I guess that means throw them into your red mesh Stream Team trash bag and toss them into the Dumpster after your float....

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

In honor of milkweeds, corrected

It's a little bittersweet, no, downright sad (to two people who have always lived around the natural world) to hear exclaimed from my backyard in Columbia, "oh my god! We actually have a butterfly in the yard!"

I don't live in or near those fancy neighborhoods full of showy pollinator gardens and unmanaged green spaces all covered in rangy common wildflowers, but sweet little bees like my yard, and the nighttime chorus of katydids and cicadas can be deafening. I won't whine about how many butterflies flock to my mother's yard, to DeLaSoil, my community garden in New Orleans, or even to the 50x50 plot of random favored-by-me Missouri prairie wildflowers I crammed into the gumbo soils of southeast Missouri....strictly for the purpose of attracting pollinators for me to look at. But I haven't seen a butterfly in my yard all year, so seeing the single monarch nectaring on my now 12 foot tall blooming Silphium reminded me that the annual monarch migration must be underway these days. I counted 4, 8, upwards of 15 flitting past my driver's side window during my hot and sticky 43.5 minute commute to work today. More monarchs on Hwy. 63 than in my quiet and neglected little neighborhood full of blooming annual "weeds."

I don't know if the rich, varied landscapes within the Ozark Highlands support thriving populations of monarchs, but within the glades, woodlands and unmanaged anthropogenic old fields, several species of milkweeds, the sole host plant to monarch butterflies, thrive from April through September. I've been fortunate to catch several milkweeds in bloom this year, though I haven't seen a single monarch nectaring on the vibrant and curiously shaped flowers. And, moreover, out of the hundreds of milkweed plants I've seen this year, I haven't seen leaves decimated by big, fat monarch caterpillars.

Nevertheless, a brief guide to some of the more common milkweeds in Missouri's Ozark Highlands, beginning in spring in the woodlands:
Asclepias quadrifolia, pale pink blooms droop from the delicate stalks in mid-May, sharing the space with Jack-in-the-pulpits and mayapples. The four leaves are arranged in a whorl near the bloom. This one is similar in color to A. perennis, restricted in Missouri to the wet-mesic bottomland woodlands of southeast Missouri, a plant so elegant I swoon when I see it.

Around early June, the sturdy blooms of A. viridis open up on limestone and some dolomite glades. Possibly the most rugged of the milkweeds, the blooms of this one are persistent, lasting well into early July. I don't know my ants, but someone out there does: this photo was taken at Valley View Glades, if that helps with provenance.

Rather common in Missouri, A. purpurascens appears in open woodlands, in old fields, and in woodland edges. Down in the Elk River Hills, this milkweed was mobbed by Great spangled fritillaries and Hesperidii. Populations of A. purpurascens are declining throughout the range, though populations in Missouri seem to be stable. Like the rest of the milkweeds, and, well, plants in general, this one needs light to grow. Many of our woodlands in Missouri receive at least enough light for this plant to live.

The hallmark plant of butterfly gardens, A. tuberosa, also known from old fields, roadsides, prairies, glades and woodland edges. The brilliant orange flowers last almost all summer, providing a nectar source for countless species of pollinators.

Another glade species, A. verticillata has fine, stiff leaves and blooms that can be found today in shady regions of limestone woodlands. Similar in appearance to A. stenophylla, this one is more commonly encountered throughout the Ozarks.

And finally, found on glades and in moist woodlands in White River-Elk River Hillls country (and Shannon Co.), climbing milkweed (Matelea baldwyniana), not an Asclepias, but in the same family. A special thanks to the nice young man who corrected me gently this morning, in a manner most unlike my mean colleague.