Friday, July 24, 2015

Insects and Stick-tights

Stick insect
I have to admit I've become a "wuss" in my old age (63).  My vegetable garden is an unsightly sea of weeds encroaching on six sad tomato plants, all corralled behind a deer- and groundhog-proof fence.  It looks like a green cage in a botanic zoo adjacent to my front lawn.

The foundation plantings around the house are all overrun with weeds and vines, and the gutters are sprouting miniature aerial gardens.

When summer comes, I no longer have any motivation to go outside in the heat and humidity to beat back the green hordes.  I didn't used to be this way; I don't know what happened to me.

Anyway, last evening, Kali had to work late.  She didn't know when she would be able to leave work, so I didn't want to go off on a walk or a bike ride, only to have her call me 10 minutes after I departed to tell me she'd be home in a half-hour.  So, instead, I decided to tackle the very modest green spot immediately outside our back door which has been invaded by a plant that generates stick-tight burs.  Last year, I cleared out this mess, but I waited too long so the stick-tights were ripe and they clung to everything, as they are wont (and "designed") to do.  This, year, I decided to make a preemptive strike, and the still-green burs only got a few holds on my arm hairs.  By the way, I don't know the identity of the plant I was clearing out.  Because the plant is no longer flowering and has nondescript leaves, it's almost impossible to identify.
Ripening stick-tight burs
[Update:  Since I published this post a few hours ago, I went back to the weed patch and found some of the plants still had a few flowers on them.  With the help of my wildflower book, I've identified the plant as a woodland native with a great name, Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana candadensis) - a common and completely unassuming denizen of the forest during its growing (i.e., pre-bur-producing) stage.  I also learned that the species is rhizomatous and perennial, which means that it'll grow back next year from the pieces of root I leave in the soil when I pull-up the above ground parts.  I can't wait...] 

In the course of clearing out the weeds, I exposed a stick insect (image above).  These insects are not common in the northern Piedmont, so it was a treat to see one skulking in the vegetation.  Stick insects are herbivores, so this one wasn't stalking prey despite its similarity to the carnivorous mantids.
Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar
I also uncovered the caterpillar of an Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenus) clinging tightly to a plant that I was not removing from the garden.  It never moved and was fairly small.  It may have been ready to pupate, but I'm not sure.  One Internet reference said that the last instars of this caterpillar have no dorsal spines, but this one did sport a few black spines.

I did manage to clean out all the stick-tight plants in the area I targeted, then noticed that an adjacent bed had even more than the area I had just cleared.  I guess I know what I'll be doing at least part of this weekend...


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

I'm always amazed at how many insects lurk, largely unseen and unconsidered, amongst what I optimistically refer to as my garden. When you finish weeding your plot you might like to come over to England and tackle mine!

Scott said...

John: As I indicated, I've still got more than enough work in my "garden" to keep me busy for the rest of the summer. However, I can't think of a better reason to come to England than to meet, talk and walk with you--but I'll pass on the garden maintenance!

packrat said...

When Kali got home from work did she have to wake you from your deep sleep, finding you curled in the fetal position on the porch, stick-tights all over your body?:)

Whenever I tackle a "gardening" project such as the one you describe all the excess energy I've stored over the past week is usually gone in an hour or two and I'm spent. I believe this is what's called getting old.

Eileen McDonnell said...

I can always remember our botany walk leader saying, "it is neither enchanting nor a nightshade".

Scott said...

Packrat: No, I actually only had a few stick-tights on my t-shirt. They're not as "sticky" when they're not ripe. Did I ever relate my story about getting stung by dozens of fire ants in Florida and almost going into anaphalactic shock--and not telling Kali about it? If not, I'll post about that one.

By the way, after I cleared out the modest little garden spot near my back door, I looked at the other gardens around the house and found that they were all completely infested with enchanter's-nightshade. I spent several hours over the weekend pulling out all the plants. But, as I wrote in my post, it was a holding action; they'll be back next year.

Scott said...

Eileen: I do love the plant's name, and I'm aware that it is, as you wrote, neither a nightshade or enchanting--at least not when it's covered with its burs; otherwise, it's pretty nondescript. I'd love to know where the name came from, though.

packrat said...

Scott: I, for one, have never heard the fire ant story. Sounds horrific.