Yes, it does sound like a medieval incantation of doom. This is one for you from Nature’s Book of Bad Dreams.
have among us a fungus that infects periodic cicadas in a most bizarre and
ghoulishly effective way. So if you find said insect with its back half white,
it is a flying salt-shaker of death to others of its kind. It will not turn you
into anything more or less than what you have been. OTOH…
pustule is a teeming mass of fungal spores, that, when germinated in the
tissues of a passing cicada, turn it into a living zombie, roaming the world
for weeks with its hind-most parts replaced by the fungus that has eaten it
alive. Note that the fungus, too, has periodicity so to be timed to
“bloom” along with the emergence of its meal and meal ticket.
zombification, the chances of spores finding other victims are increased by the
fact that chemicals are released by the spores (including a couple of known
human hallucinogens, but you’d have to eat a bucket full of insects to get a,
er, buzz.) These drugs induce male cicadas to produce sounds typical of females
to lure in other males not yet infected. And also infected males respond by
seeking out calls of both sexes, thereby increasing the odds of contact and
We rounded the bend on Griffith Creek last week to find a hundred yards of creekside lined thickly with a flat-topped pink-flowered shrub I recognized as Spirea, a member of the rose family.
But the members of the genus I was familiar with are knee-high wildflowers, not shrubs. And seeing the extent of this population, I suspected it was spreading without threat of disease or predators, because it was “not from these parts.”
I sometimes wish I did not notice the invasives that are taking over Floyd County; that are changing the visual space; that are outcompeting or otherwise damaging what used to be endemic North American natives. There are so many forms of “kudzu” these days, and it makes me heart-sick.
At one point, I spent a lot of energy hand-picking the garlic mustard, coltsfoot and Japanese stilt grass; clipping back the multiflora rose, autumn olive and oriental bittersweet from anywhere I came across it within our boundaries.
Now I have acquiesced. I surrender. The bittersweet reaches the tops of young trees under the powerline clearing, having dropped so many seeds already that clipping back the mature vines will have no impact on future infestation. I suppose I have no options but to harden my shell.
I wish I didn’t care. I wish that this out-of-balance state felt okay; that knowing my grandchildren would experience the consequences of biological homogenization–the opposite of biological diversity–in their world and beyond.
It is the price we will pay as a species for the speed and ease with which we travel and ship and transplant from all around the living world. Their native plants and animals are now our pests, nuisances and invaders. And the average person thinks “so what?”
“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” Aldo Leopold
simple enough. On the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way back from an oil change
yesterday, and in no particular hurry. I pulled off to the shoulder of the road
and grabbed my camera (which you can also use as a phone! Really!) and walked
back a hundred yards to a nicely-lit display of surrealistically-orange
Butterfly milkweed. I grabbed a couple of shots and brought them home.
But as so often happens, looking and thinking back to this ordinary moment with this common roadside wildflower, I considered the story contained in this and every living creature’s “natural history.”
How does this plant make a living in ways it shares with other milkweeds? And in what ways is this plant or group of plants different in structure or “behavior”, and what role does it play in the larger ecology of this place?
considerations are complicated, and to me, incredibly interesting and
intriguing, posing at least as many questions as answers.
If you care to see deeper into the living world, dig into its stories, one insect, salamander or fern at a time. What you’ll learn will make you a more engaged and committed resident of your neighborhood, community and planet.
We are in desperate need of nature and science literacy that exceeds the eroding average in America in our precarious times.
Trust me: watch this video, and then find the nearest milkweed (probably the pink, sweet-smelling common milkweed) and dissect a single flower and find the pollinia.
What are pollinia, you ask? Honk if you watched this short video.
One of my favorite features on the trip to town along 221 this time of year is the wildflower assortment, the “unplanted garden” in which yellow is disproportionately well represented.
Much less familiar than the yellow-rayed Black Eyed Susans or the soon-to-come goldenrod y is this yellow (or lady’s) bedstraw. The flowers can only be seen individually if you stop your car (near Ray’s Rest for instance) and look carefully. The leaves remind me of the thready foliage of dill.
plant, Wikipedia has this to say:
verum (lady’s bedstraw or yellow bedstraw) is a herbaceous perennial plant
of the family Rubiaceae. It is widespread across most of Europe, North Africa,
and temperate Asia from Israel and Turkey to Japan and Kamchatka. It is
naturalized in Tasmania, New Zealand, Canada, and the northern half of the
United States. It is considered a noxious weed in some places.
In the past,
the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses, as the coumarin scent of the
plants acts as a flea repellant. The flowers were also used to coagulate milk
in cheese manufacture and, in Gloucestershire, to colour the cheese double
Gloucester. The plant is also used to make red madder-like and yellow dyes.
In Denmark, the plant (known locally as gul snerre) is traditionally used to
infuse spirits, making the uniquely Danish drink bjæsk [da].”