Friday, May 7, 2010
Biodiversity Corner: Spring quartet
My spring quartet for this year includes the Morel mushroom, a good citizen in the eco-system; Garlic Mustard, an unwelcome invader; Wood Anemone, a welcome spring wildflower; and a Bibio fly.
Morel: Fungal foragers, who content themselves through the winter with the reconstituted dried mushrooms they harvested in the fall, are rewarded in spring when Morels start showing up. This year it was a shorter wait. I found my first morels on April 26, the earliest I have ever found them. Mid-May is a more usual time, but you can’t use the calendar. You need to use other signs in the environment. Some people say the time is right when white oak leaves are as big as a mouse ear. I find that if apple blossoms are out, Morels will probably be up. The mushroom is unmistakeable. Typical ones are three to five inches tall, the caps are deeply pitted, and both stalk and cap are hollow. In other parts of the country they sometimes reach a foot tall. In Michigan, one of the premier Morel habitats, one town has an annual morel hunting festival. The record holder found 900 in 90 minutes. My total take for this year – so far – is four. One of their favorite habitats around here is in apple orchards – the older the trees, the better.
Garlic Mustard: This is a plant everyone should learn so they can eradicate it. It moves aggressively through habitats and can tolerate sun or shade. There used to be none in Carlisle
and now it turns up from one side of town to the other. There is a large colony, for example, at the entrance to Two Rod Road at the corner of Stearns Street. The more we pull up now, while it is flowering, the fewer seeds there will be to spread further. It is a biennial plant that reaches about three feet in height. The leaves are roughly heart-shaped with toothed edges. The white flowers, each with four petals, appear in clusters at the top of the plant. If you crush the stems or leaves, you will smell garlic. It is fairly easy to pull up, especially if the ground is damp. Part of its success as an aggressor is due to its ability to put an anti-fungal chemical into the soil. This weakens native trees that depend on soil fungi for good health. Garlic mustard is edible – there are a lot of recipes on the web.
Wood Anemone: This spring wildflower is Anemone
quinquefolia. It is in bloom now in the Towle woods, and along the trails in Estabrook – and probably many other places. I have some in the lower, moister parts of my back yard. The plant is under one foot tall. It has three leaves but each is divided in a way that looks like five, hence the quinquefolia name which means five leaves. The flowers are white with no petals. The five things that look like petals are technically sepals. It is a native and a member of the buttercup family.
Bibio fly: The photo below shows a pair of Bibio femoratus, members of the March fly family. There are more than 50 species in North America. These were identified for me online by the wonderful people at Bug Guide. The flies show up, sometimes in swarms in early spring or late fall. The males are distinctly different from the females and like other swarming insects have very large eyes which appear to take up most of the head. The females have darker bodies and much smaller eyes. The flies meet, and greet and mate on the wing and then fly together to a resting place where they remain attached to each other for
quite a long time. The male is acting as a virtual chastity belt preventing other males from mating with his female. (The so called “Lovebug” of Florida and other southern states is a member of the March fly family and can stay attached to its mate for days.) After mating, the female burrows into the soil to lay her eggs. The larvae feed on roots and other organic material they find in the soil. Some species have gregarious larvae that move en masse and can be destructive to turf or crops. I found this pair on a native grass plant in my yard.
Sources: National Audubon Field Guide to Mushrooms, Gary H. Lincoff; Guide to Invasive Plants in Massachusetts, Paul Somers, Rachel Kramer, Karen Lombard and Bill Brumback; Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, Lawrence Newcomb; www.bugguide.net.
Submissions, ideas, topics: The woods and fields are alive with spring renewal. What are you seeing in your yard or on trail walks? Feel free to write up your findings and share them in this column. ∆
(All photos by Kay Fairweather.)
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