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Restoration Ecology: Bad Signs, Good Books, and Henry Cowles

I am not a biologist nor a botanist, merely an interested gardener, but our trip to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore did offer a few “head scratchers”. For example, why is it that so often I notice signs like this…

P1080969 do not mow

…which are then surrounded by non-native plants (in this case, coreopsis and agastache)? In our town, the “Restoration Area: Do Not Mow” signs posted on the publicly-owned Lake Michigan bluff are apparently markers for inviting rampant noxious weeds to invade the hillside.

I wonder if Henry Chandler Cowles (1869-1939)would laugh and shake his head in bewilderment that so often we still “miss the mark”. Do you know Mr. Cowles, the Chicago botanist who was a pioneer of “ecology” and discovered the phenomenon of “plant succession” in large part from his observations of the Indiana Dunes and its hinterland? It was Cowles, along with Thomas W. Allison (can someone provide biographical information on him to me?) and landscape architect Jens Jensen, who formed the Prairie Club of Chicago in 1908 and began to propose the preservation of the dunes via a “National Park for the Middle West”. That was before the National Park Service itself was established in 1916. The group’s promotional efforts were very successful, but regrettably, World War I intervened as a national priority.

There is a most interesting book, Henry Cowles: Pioneer Ecologist written in 2007 by Victor Cassidy. I learned a lot, particularly since Cassidy incorporated Cowles’ own writing about various local-to-Chicago ecologies. Right now, I am trying to learn about what grows within Lake Michigan’s ravines, which are an ecology which Gerould Wilhelm calls, “unique among the world’s ecologies”.

Speaking of good Chicago ecology books, here are some of the intriguing titles for sale at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore:

 Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History, edited by Helen Hornbeck Tanner

The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas, by Jerry Dennis

Talking Landscapes: Indiana Dunes Poems, by Paula McHugh

Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, by William Ratigan

Calumet Beginnings: Ancient Shorelines and Settlements at the South End of Lake Michigan, by Kenneth J. Schoon

Roadside Geology of Indiana, by Mark Camp and Graham Richardson

Nature Walks in Northern Indiana, by Alan McPherson

The Nature Conservancy’s Guide to the Indiana Preserves

60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Chicago, by Ted Villaire

Birds of the Indiana Dunes, by Kenneth Brock

A 1,000 Mile Walk on the Beach: One Woman’s Trek of the Perimeter of Lake Michigan, by Loreen Niewenhuis (I heard her lecture on her trek: very very interesting!)

Thanks to all these authors, beginning with Professor Henry Cowles, for writing down all this wonderful research for us. An amazing commitment of time and energy!##

It’s waayyyy past time to outlaw Buckthorn!

The first two emails in my inbox today concern Buckthorn–the scourge of the Chicago region. First, my husband John sent me a photo of the black berries produced by female Buckthorn trees. He suggested that for readers who might be unsure how to identify this weed, the berries are a surefire sign:

Buckthorn's black berries, full of seeds that birds eat and excrete, thus spreading the tree everywhere.

Buckthorn’s black berries, full of seeds that birds eat and excrete, thus spreading the tree everywhere.

The second email was sent by fisherman Paul Bergmann. It appears we now know what’s ruining the ecosystem for amphibians. Buckthorn! (PS I live in Lake Forest, which I think has more buckthorn per square inch than any town on earth. It’s embarrassing and shameful.)

Thorny-Situation

 

Thanks, gentlemen. Now get out there with your chainsaws and cut down this vicious weed! AND call your elected officials and demand that buckthorn be illegal (this is not a joke. In Lake Forest, buckthorn is not illegal but barberry is. Go figure.)##

Save the Raptors, Savor the White (But Don’t Drink the Milk)

A small blurb in the Lake County, IL Audubon Society‘s fall newsletter caught my eye…and as a result I visited a website called, barnswallow.net. What a wonderful thing that Wauconda resident Linda Breuer is doing to care for and raise owls, hawks and other raptors. Don’t you just LOVE LOVE LOVE people who are so devoted to animals? And don’t you just LOVE LOVE LOVE “Boopie”, the owl? He needs your money to care for his amputated foot.

Boopie-the-Owl

Autumn is the time to savor orange and red and yellow, but this year I particularly noticed a white flower growing prolifically in a local park and also volunteering in my garden. And it’s not just me: bees and insects noticed the White Snakeroot [Eupatorium rugosum] too. Turns out that this native plant is NOT one that you should encourage in your landscape if you are anywhere near cows. This plant’s flowers may be beloved of bees and pollinators, but its leaves and stems contain a toxic oil that can cause cattle to get tremors, especially in the flank and hind legs, and a fatal lethargy. Horses prefer grass and goats seem pretty immune, but cattle eat everything, so this is how cow’s milk becomes poisoned. And you all know the story of Abraham Lincoln’s mother dying of…milksickness. The settlers were drinking raw cow’s milk poisoned by Eupatorium rugosum.

White snakeroot with bee Eupatorium 9-24-2013 10-40-23 AM 480x640

CIMG1191 snakeroot

CIMG1241 white snakerootA slope full of White Snakeroot

What you may not know is that an Illinois woman was the person who figured out the connection between the fatal illness and this pretty white-flowered plant. Her name was Anna Pierce Hobbs Bixby (1812–1873) and she was a physician: that is, as much a physician as a woman could officially be in 1830: midwife, dentist, nurse. She was alarmed by the quick (1 day to 3 weeks) death of her mother, sister-in-law, and serious illness of her father, along with other people in the region around her small town on the IL/OH border. She realized it was seasonal and affected people who drank milk and ate butter, but it was an old Shawnee woman who told Dr. Bixby the connection to the White Snakeroot. It wasn’t until 50 years after Dr. Bixby’s death, however, that she was given credit for discovering that a plant was causing a fatal illness. Moral of the story: do not drink raw milk from cows AND make sure the seeds from your plant are staying put–away from cows, horses, and foraging humans. Speaking of milk, there is a version of this plant named, ‘Chocolate’. Death from Chocolate Milksickness?!

One more white feature in our Midwest landscape. This GREAT EGRET (the black legs tell you it’s an egret), cavorting yesterday in the mist with his friends at Mellody Farm Nature Preserve…

P1080872 great egret

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Buy a Hosta, Build a Future

Saturday, August 24, 9am-4pm Hosta Sale. 

Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery in Woodstock, IL, will have several hundred varieties of hostas for sale to benefit Heifer International. All hostas are $5.00 and up. Heifer International (HI) is a non-profit, humanitarian organization dedicated to ending world hunger and poverty and caring for the earth. HI provides livestock, trees, training, and other resources to help struggling families build sustainable futures. The recipients of the animals must ‘pass on the gift’ of the first female offspring and training in environmentally sound agriculture to another family in need. In this manner, an endless cycle of transformation is set in motion as recipients become equal partners in ending poverty and hunger. Heifer International has provided food and income producing animals to more than 8.5 million impoverished families in 125 countries in the last 67 years. Rich Eyre worked with Heifer while in the Peace Corps 44 years ago in Bolivia and he can give testimony to its positive effects in those communities. Rich and Susan Eyre served 6 years on the Board of Trustees of the Heifer Foundation.

Rich and Susan just appeared on one of my favorite radio shows, WBEZ World View with Jerome McDonnell, because they were nominated as outstanding volunteers for a worldwide cause. Congratulations to them! Here’s their interview: http://www.wbez.org/series/global-activism/global-activism-philplanthropy-108432.

Ed Slomski and Mike Krause coordinate volunteers to help divide and sell the hostas. Volunteers will be available to answer any questions about Heifer International on the day of the sale. On the day’s program:

  • 10am-noon Hosta Leaf Identification Tom Micheletti, former President of the American Hosta Society and Midwest Regional Hosta Society, and founder and first President of the Northern Illinois Hosta Society, will be available to identify hostas for people who bring the leaves of unknown hostas.
  • 1pm Hostas in the Landscape Tom Micheletti will do a short presentation about hostas.
  • 9am-4pmBolivian Arts & Crafts Fundraiser for Mano a Mano International Partnerswill raise money to build hospitals, schools, roads, and irrigation projects in rural Bolivia. There will be a variety of items for sale. Mano a Mano was originated by a fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Joan Velasquez, and her husband Segundo. In 2008 she won the Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service awarded to a Returning Peace Corps Volunteer. Rich & Susan Eyre want to help Mano a Mano build 100 hospitals in Bolivia.

Refreshments will be served. Cash or check only! Rich’s Foxwillow Pines Nursery, 11618 McConnell Road Woodstock IL 60098. 815-338-7442. coniflora@richsfoxwillowpines.com.##

BELOW ARE THE HOSTAS IN ROMMY’S GARDEN THAT NEED IDENTIFICATION. CAN ANYONE IDENTIFY ANY OF THESE HOSTAS? THE PERSON WHO CORRECTLY ANSWERS THE MOST HOSTA WILL HAVE A DONATION MADE IN THEIR NAME BY THE WEEDPATCH GAZETTE TO HEIFER PROJECT. GOOD LUCK AND THANKS!

 

 

Do Deer Like Milkweed?

“Do Deer Like Milkweed”?

Do Deer Like Milkweed?

Do Deer Like Milkweed?

This is a query received from a Weedpatch reader named Patti S. I LOVE questions from readers because finding answers is my way of avoiding working on any essential tasks (like earning money or calling the health insurance company). Very oddly, the question reminded me that I had recently bought a used book, The Hidden Life of Deer, by naturalist/anthropologist, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, but had not yet read it. So, now’s the time, right? Honest to God, I randomly opened the book to page 186 and immediately saw the word, “Monarch”. Could I really have an answer so quickly? Well, no, but I did read four riveting pages of Thomas’ observations of a Monarch caterpillar on a Milkweed leaf. Which left me with the question, “Do caterpillars shit only on leaves they don’t nibble”?

But I digress. Next, I googled. Whereupon I came upon a lot of other people looking to answer the same question, but also found my new favorite website, homesteadingtoday.com, which appears to be about as blue state/red state in its opinions as Americans can be. There I read comments claiming that Milkweed is “a noxious weed, just like kudzu” and how best to eradicate it with 2-4D but followed by polite suggestions from obvious blue staters like, “couldn’t you leave just a little bit for the butterflies?”. I also read how Grandpa considered Milkweed to be his cash crop during WWII cuz he sold the waterproof and buoyant floss for stuffing in life jackets and flight suits (methinks Grandpa did not get rich but this CSM article about its WWII uses is REALLY interesting). Then I read that Milkweed “never bothered the cattle”. And that Milkweed should be planted by the front door because it draws bees but the bees “keep the door knockers away”. The same commentator, “Alleyyooper”, answered Patti’s question this way: “Deer like it like a horse eats oats”. H’mmm…

But methinks that Alleyyooper is wrong about the grazing deer. “Milkweed” is MILKweed for a reason (actually, let’s rename it “Silkweed”, much more attractive name). Milkweed refers to its “white juice, which is a kind of rubber”. (Recall that Thomas Edison tried to use it to replace rubber in making car tires. True.). Here’s more from a 1911 book, Handbook of Nature Study, (buy it!) recommended to me by botanist Jerry Wilhelm:

“The most striking peculiarity of the milkweed plant is its white juice. Let a drop of it dry on the back of the hand, and when we try to remove it we find it quite elastic and possessed of all the qualities of crude rubber. We can see that the hollow of the center of the stem has around it a dark green ring, and that outside this is a light green ring. It is from the dark green ring that the milk exudes. The juice will soon fill and heal the wound we made. This milk is not the sap of the pine; it is a special secretion, and is very acrid to the taste. Milkweed is seldom eaten by grazing animals…”.

P1060681

I tested the Milkweed myself, including trying to sniff for its “strong odor” which I thought might deter the deer. I couldn’t smell any odor, although I thought I detected a soft vanilla scent. Deer cookies? Anyhoo, this is what I think. If you were a deer grazing in a salad bowl of vegetation, you might bite off a Milkweed occasionally, but if you got a mouthful of white sticky latex on your tongue every time you would definitely prefer to eat something else. Like a hosta. So, dear Patti, plant the milkweed and watch to see what the deer do to it. Get back to us, okay?

And to alleyyooper–if a horse eats too many oats, a horse gets sick. Same with Milkweed and deer. Please plant milkweed. Make a butterfly come alive.##

monarch-on-milkweed