Dodder (too much) and Monarchs (too few)

This may be the year for fire management of the meadow. After a four year hiatus, Dodder is again ensnaring the Goldenrod and Joe pye weed in the wetland end of the meadow.

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Dodder in the field

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Dodder encircling its host

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Dodder on the Joe-pye weed

Dodder, to refresh your memory, is a parasitic plant that drops its own root once it has borrowed into the stem of its host. “Burn it,” is the instruction I remember for ridding an area of Dodder. Nic, now a college graduate who cleared dodder from the lower meadow before his freshman year at Vassar, built a funeral pyre of the infected branches that I planned to burn.But my fastidious neighbors, who did not like the looks of a heap of decomposing vegetation, suggested that they’d ask the tree men to haul the pile away. I explained my plan for a fire thinking that would convince them to leave my problems to me. I also cautioned that the tree men would not want to collect dodder given how hard it is to eradicate after it gets established. To my dismay, the site of the pyre is now the location of the most intense invasion of dodder!

The pile disappeared. I never asked whether the tree guys had knowingly taken away such a pervasive parasite.

As a concession to my neighbors and to spare the tree service further pollution, Jim and Emily, who have taken Nic’s place in the meadow, are bagging the dodder for delivery to the household waste collection chute at the transfer station. So far, they have carted away four contractor-sized garbage bags’ worth of the stuff.

The UC Davis website is not as clear that burning is the management tool as I remembered. It cautions to remove the host plant before the dodder sets seed. The seeds, as we have just witnessed, can stay in the soil for five to 10 years, maybe longer. Under my lax management, the dodder removal job has not been accomplished before the dodder set seed. At least, we’re throwing the host plant and the dodder in the trash, as recommended by the UC Davis site.

The website also recommends frequent mowing. I could ask Scott, the meadow path mower, to mow dodder-invaded spots or to keep plants from regrowing after Jim and Emily cut out the dodder.

I have not ruled out burning either. That area still has more Bittersweet than I’d like. A general fire could be beneficial.

Despite the dodder problem, management of the meadow to keep invasives and succession at bay has become a simpler task in recent years. I have not sprayed Triclopyr on anything in the meadow (save poison ivy and the persistent Black swallow wort that peeks out from under the folly) for about two years.

I (or Jim and Emily) dug Bittersweet as the meadow was beginning to regrow in the spring. I dug up a dozen Thistle plants as they emerged and Lonicera bushes — maybe its Latin name is Lonicera maackii —  and a couple of Japanese barberry bushes, known for its nasty thorns, deep yellow roots and invasive habits. I chopped back many a Wild cherry (Prunus serotina), a native but a successional plant. So far, I have left two sumacs, Rhus glabra, growing in the wetland section. They are also signs of succession and, like the cherry, loved by wildlife. The sumacs can’t stay beyond their setting seed, but I plan to collect — before the fire — the fruit that the birds leave for grinding on top of humus.

Most of my interaction with the meadow involves watching it from the paths, the folly and the porch. It is, to me, endlessly entertaining even when it is depressing. The butterfly count is not what it should be. Only 4 Monarchs, circling endlessly, have made the meadow their home. A few Cabbage whites have been above the meadow and the gardens beds all summer. One Eastern tiger swallow tail has visited the Buttonbushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis). I have not seen Painted ladies or Mourning cloaks. I need a butterfly/moth authority to report on the small browns (Satyrs, Frittilaries, Eyespots) of which there are a few. But the tally is way down from past years.

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Very long distance shot of a Monarch using my new Sony camera.

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Some of the plentiful Common milkweed on which the Monarch larva are laid. The insufficiency of Monarchs is not the result of a shortage of milkweed.

The Dragon and Damsel flies have not appeared in the numbers they should. I recently learned from an authority on those insects that their populations are drastically reduced state-wide. But, in June we had, to the delight of Henning, my German son-in-law, a meadow full of June bugs/ Fireflies. The calls of Tree frogs provided the sound for the Firefly light show.

My grandson, Owen, was disappointed that he visited so early in the season that he did not get to see Wild turkeys. They are around now.

Meadow management may include an element of fire this year but mostly its the practice of observation.

 

 

 

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