'Attention is the beginning of devotion' --Mary Oliver
This quote resonates this month, amidst a variety of environmental holidays and celebrations including World Environment Day, World Ocean Day, California Invasive Species Action Week, and finally National Pollinator Week (this week) and Month. It seems in this increasingly digitally connected world, one day, week, or month doesn't pass us by in the calendar year without an official opportunity to observe, act, or celebrate nature.
As these official observances pop up, we can also contemplate all the unofficial ways people celebrate, protect, and educate about nature in their daily lives. There are both small and incremental and heroic acts taken every day to make this a more livable world for all creatures. There is momentum behind a movement that says “we're paying attention and the environment is worth our time and energy and devotion despite all the other worthy competing causes.”
In celebration of National Pollinator Week, we want to highlight just a few of the many California Naturalists whose efforts benefit pollinators. Every UC California Naturalist completes a capstone project of their choice to receive certification. These final projects require at least eight hours of volunteer service, and are often built upon by subsequent naturalists in following cohorts. They always benefit nature, and often benefit the recipient communities and organizations. Most California Naturalists would tell you they benefit the individual, too. Capstone projects are a culmination of service, learning, and “paying it forward.” Our community celebrates both the projects and the creativity, labor, and intentions of these naturalists.
Inspired by the intersection of science and art, California Naturalist Rose from the Hopland Research and Extension Center created this gorgeous outreach poster in both English and Spanish from her original pollinator garden painting for the Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project. Her goal is to spread awareness of the important ecological roll our native pollinators play and to share Xerces Society resources. Animal pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles, ants, bats and hummingbirds. According to Xerces Society, the ecological services that pollinators provide is necessary for the reproduction of over 85% of the world's flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world's crop species. Honeybees get a lot of media attention, yet many other pollinator species like native bumblebees are in precipitous decline. The UC Berkeley Urban Bee Lab is another excellent source of native bee information.
California Naturalist Cynthia from the USC Sea Grant SEA LAB course made houses to support native mason bee population in Palos Verdes, CA. The bee houses were made from repurposed scrap wood and cardboard, paper coat hanger tubes, used toilet paper and paper towel rolls, and giftwrap rolls. She reached out to a local Girl Scout troop to help make three types of houses. The Girl Scouts leveraged the new learning opportunity and service work to receive an "Outdoor Journeys" badge. Then she met with four kindergarten classes of 24 students each and together built houses to take home. The houses in the picture aren't examples of her model but were ones she found online.
Mason bees are solitary bees named for their behavior of using mud in constructing their nests. Mason bees may defy some assumptions about bees. They don't sting, they don't live in a hive, and they don't make honey. They do, however pollinate flowers and fruits and vegetables and need a safe place to lay their eggs. When available, some species use hollow stems or holes in wood made by wood-boring insects which is where mason bee houses come into the picture. UC Davis Department of Entomology compiled this list of resources on where to find and how to make nesting sites for native bees.
Sue from the Tuleyome course built bat boxes for her local home owners association to hang in Arnold, Calaveras County. At least 45 species of bats inhabit the United States and Canada and there are at least 27 known species of bats in California. Bats are very important pollinators and seed dispersers, particularly in tropical and desert climates. In addition, they serve a very effective agricultural pest control purpose. Although they provide vital environmental services, bat populations are in decline globally. To make your own bat boxes, UC ANR offers a guide to build songbird, owl and bat boxes.
Size does matter. Have you ever wondered about sexual size dimorphism in the tropical spiders, the golden orbweavers? The females are sometimes 10...
A female Trichonephila clavipes (formerly Nephila clavipes) is a giant compared to her small male (below). The research covers a complex pattern of sexual size dimorphism in this group of spiders, family Nephilidae. (Image copyright by Chris Hamilton, University of Idaho)
Yeech! Who threw up in my front yard? A gooey flat yellow blob of something lay on the ground in front of my house. Hmm, it didn't seem to smell but what was it and who got sick? I scraped it up and immediately threw it in the garbage bin. But two days later another yellow mass appeared in a different area, and another and another. Okay I said to myself it's obviously not vomit so maybe it's something else and it's probably organic. The areas the yellow blobs appeared to be growing were on wood mulch chips. “Maybe it's a fungus that likes to digest wood chips,” I thought to myself because I had seen different mushrooms on the wood chips. Upon further detective work, I discovered it was the aethalium phase of a slime mold. A slime mold what's a slime mold? Slime mold, Fuligo septica is neither a plant nor an animal. It belongs to the kingdom of Protoctista (Protista). They are more closely related to Amoebas and certain seaweeds than fungi.
The slime mold was feeding off the fungus and bacteria in the soil which in turn were decomposing the copious amounts of wood chips. It was Nature's recycling project at work! They are relatively harmless and pose no threats to plants, pets, and people. It can appear anytime from late Spring to Fall. It thrives in moisture and heat environments. Slime mold can be in other colors, such as orange or blue but rarely green, than dog vomit yellow.
It lives in the soil as a single cell organism. When food is scarce It combines with other cells to look for food forming a plasmodium. It moves like a giant amoeba. For not having a brain, slime molds are extremely efficient in finding food. “Starving amoebas work in tandem, signaling to each other to join and form a multicellular mass, like a moving sausage,” says Frederick Spiegel, a biology professor at the University of Arkansas and an expert on slime molds. Type in: “slime mold moving” on Google to get fascinating videos of the plasmodium in action.
According to Susan Mahr of the University of Wisconsin- Master Gardener Program the plasmodium (a transparent egg white color) “changes into an aethalium, a thickened, cushion-like, irregularly shaped structure containing numerous spores.” The next morning the yellow dog vomit appears on the wood chips. The aethalium structure may last a day or two but then as it dries out it appears brown and crusty. Several days later the dried up aethalium broke up and upon touching and released its spores, thus completing the cycle of life: “Grow, thrive, reach maturity, reproduce, and die.”
Slime molds may look abhorrent but they are harmless. If you appreciate nature and the recycling of nutrients back into the soil, leave them alone. Slime molds are free you don't have to buy them. Save money by not buying extra fertilizer. Establish a healthy cycle of decomposers in your soil.
photos by Brenda Altman
slime mold 2 brenda altman 2019
It's National Pollinator Week. Do you know where your pollinators are? If you're thinking bees, butterflies, beetles, birds (hummingbirds) and bats,...
European paper wasps protecting the nest they're building on the lip of a recycling bin near the Mann lab, UC Davis campus. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
European paper wasp chowing down on food on the lip of a recycling bin near the Mann lab, UC Davis campus. Another wasp delivered it to the guard. Maybe it's the remains of a caterpillar? (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
I have long been a fan of Hot Poker, Kniphofia uvaria. I love their tall, dramatic structural presence in the garden. They are low maintenance, as well, which is a huge plus.
Because of their height, three to six feet tall, they are generally planted towards the back of the garden bed. Recently, some new hybrids are coming in at about 2 feet which allows a little more flexibility. Hybridization has also increased the color choices beyond the standard orangey-red. Now you can choose from yellow, or salmon, or peach colors.
Hot Pokers require sun and well-drained soil. They are hardy from USDA Zones 5-9. The experts disagree about their water needs; some stating regular water and others saying they are drought tolerant. I've grown mine with a mini-sprinkler 10 minutes three times a week. And they made it through the drought years. They attract hummingbirds and are deer resistant. They can be propagated by division or seed.
I was surprised to see their names pop up recently on a list of plants that did better with dead-heading (cutting off fading blossoms to spur further flowering). Somehow that had never occurred to me. Okay, I could do that. Next, I saw them on a list of plants that were good for cut flowers. What? So, I went out and cut some and put them in a vase. Up close, I could appreciate the delicate beauty of each tubular flower and watch as the bloom spike opened from the bottom up over a few days. Enchanting!
photo by Karen Metz