News

May 2017

Weeding during the weekly work party gave way to celebration on May 5 when the berm volunteers looked at the debris pile and saw that a glorious sunflower had sprung up!  

 

After pictures the volunteers got back to work and had another photo-op when Dawn Cordo
climbed the wax myrtle to pull pesky vines out of the crown. Dawn, with the help of Dotty Kirkland, Diane Gustafson and Shirley Brown, pulled the vines to open up the thicket in the area near where the gazebo will be installed. 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2017

Our awesome volunteers are getting the pollinator Berm garden ready for another season with new plantings and nurturing of the returning perennials. Trellises are ready for vining plants, compost has been spread, and pine straw applied. We couldn’t help but add some annuals for immediate gratification.

 

 

 

 

 

Many thanks to these loyal volunteers who have worked so hard to get the garden in shape: Pat Barry, Shirley Brown, Karen Burroughs, Hannah Burtnik, Fitz Clarke, Dawn Cordo and Vince (the amazing carpenter), Angela Devore, Linda Elliott, Diane Gustafson, Sue Hamlet, Sandy Hunter, Dottie Kirkland, Peggy Miller, Al Mullins (Champion butterfly netter), Jayne Rogers, Michael Robertson, and Elaine Witbeck.

The Monarch Larvae Monitoring Project and the Monarch Health activities will continue as the milkweed attracts the northern migration to the field. The garden contains host plants for many other species of butterflies as well as monarchs. Come check them out!

For example, a common “weed” is host to the beautiful American Lady butterfly. See the larva in its cudweed nest:

American Lady (Vanessa Virginiensis) nectaring Clasping heliotrope (Heliotropium amplexicaule)

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) larva within host plant Purple Cudweed (Gamochaeta purpurea)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 2017

There’s been more building this month as Dawn and Vince Cordo built an obelisk structure near the pine tree that will give the pipevine a place to twine and climb.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pipevine (Aristolochia tormentosa), sometimes called Dutchman’s pipevine because of the shape of its flower, is a host plant for an incredibly beautiful blue butterfly known as the pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor). They have an interesting life cycle overwintering as a pupa sometimes for more than 1 year. Below is the life cycle of this spectacular creature. Note the different pattern on the dorsal and ventral wings.

See these sources of more information about the pipevine swallowtail:

http://www.vox.com/2016/7/6/12098122/california-pipevine-swallowtail-butterfly-population

http://www.gardenswithwings.com/butterfly/Pipevine%20Swallowtail/index.html

 

January 2017

SPRING IN JANUARY

The warm weather has brought some spring to the berm in January.  There are little white flowers among the red berries of the holly tree and the oxalis is blooming!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trellises for the passion vines are works in progress thanks to the action of Dawn and Vince Cordo.  Here the frames are being installed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here is a finished trellis:

The gulf fritillary butterfly will benefit from the three trellises as the passion vines that will climb on them are the host plant for the butterfly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 2016

FALL WRAP-UP AT THE SPARROW FIELD POLLINATOR BERM

The Pollinator Berm Garden at Sparrow Field escaped the wrath of Tropical Storm Hermine and Hurricane Matthew. In fact, the rain from those systems stimulated a burst of growth and blossoms from the fall season flora. The weekly work parties continue on Friday mornings. Everyone is welcome.

Following the suggestion from the monarch butterfly researchers who discourage late season breeding, the garden volunteers cut back the milkweed the first week of November and have ended the larvae counts for the season. Lingering larvae of monarchs and the queens who also breed on milkweed are persistently feeding on stalks and the tenacious new shoots of the tropical milkweed and the giant milkweed. In the interest of monarch health, those plants will be pruned again.

Monarch Health recently sent these reports from the monarch samples collected and submitted in June and in September.  Of the 30 samples analyzed for the protozoan parasite OE, 12 (40%) were free of disease and 9 (30%) were heavily infected. Fourteen more samples were sent to the Odum School of Ecology at UGA on November 10th

Dara Satterfield, PhD, our Monarch Health mentor, is continuing her work with monarchs in her position as a Fellow at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Knowing that Calitropis gigantea (giant milkweed) is growing at the berm, she asked for assistance in collecting data about cardenolide toxins in monarchs that feed on that species of milkweed. Cardenolide toxins from milkweed are concentrated in the caterpillars and butterflies and make them distasteful to their predators. In asking for our participation in this project, Dara Satterfield, PhD, explained, “We have already done this for numerous milkweed species, but we don’t yet have any monarchs representing C. gigantea. This information is being used to help us determine which monarchs (in TX) are resident and which are migrant, for a project examining whether migratory monarchs use tropical milkweed gardens and what happens to them if they do (we are monitoring for disease and reproduction).”

To provide the butterflies, several late stage larvae eating giant milkweed were collected, put into a container and were fed exclusively giant milkweed. An additional larva was a tiny stage 2 when collected and ate only the giant milkweed.  All the larvae pupated, but only three eclosed, including the one fed exclusively giant milkweed. The chrysalises of the others turned black after several days, an indication of disease. The healthy monarchs were sent to Odum School of Ecology for analysis. We will likely repeat this activity next year with more controls, starting with the eggs oviposited on the giant milkweed.

This is an interesting article on the cardenolide toxins in milkweed that will be posted on the web site and linked to the description of our participation in this study of the cardenolide toxins: http://monarchlab.org/biology-and-research/biology-and-natural-history/breeding-life-cycle/interactions-with-milkweed/

Many other species of butterflies are flying at the field, where there are abundant sources of nectar. The cloudless sulfurs are utilizing their host plant, the Christmas senna (Senna bicapsularis). The larvae that eat the bright yellow blossoms are yellow, and those on the green leaves are green. Nature at work to protect her babies! Fitz Clarke has some stunning pictures. See them on the Skidaway Audubon web site.

 

September 2016

Despite the heat, volunteers at the Pollinator Berm at Sparrow Field have been busy this summer maintaining an inviting habitat for insects and birds.  Even with the excellent new automated irrigation system, many of the plants have suffered stress from the heat with shorter bloom cycles. By cutting back these spent plants we intend to encourage new growth for what we hope will be a long, mild fall season. While Hermine created some real messes on the island, the Pollinator Berm garden benefited from the soaking rain that encouraged renewed flowering.

The sweltering weather has impacted the pollinators as well, especially the number of butterflies of all species. This is an issue that is more widespread than just our area. This article addresses some possible explanations for the decrease in these garden beauties: http://www.kansas.com/living/home-garden/article91041272.html. Fortunately, going into September, there has been an increase at the Pollinator Berm at Sparrow Field in the number and type of butterflies utilizing the host plants and nectar sources in place for them. The passion vines are being defoliated by the spiky orange and black caterpillars of the gulf fritillary while the adults are making the beds of clasping heliotrope look alive as they sip nectar. The orange of these butterflies against the lavender and green of these spreading plants is a beautiful sight.

The Monarch Larva Monitoring project is continuing its second year at the Pollinator Berm garden. This citizen scientist initiative sponsored by the University of Minnesota obligates its participants to count monarch larvae on milkweed plants throughout the growing season. In Savannah, that is a long time. This year the garden supported 9 species of milkweed, 7 of them native.  Monarchs continue to prefer Asclepias curassavica, the non-native tropical milkweed, which flourishes in our hot, humid climate. A recent count yielded 194 tiny eggs on 25 tropical milkweed plants, as well as 42 caterpillars in various stages. The next two species that seem attractive for egg-laying are A. incarnata (swamp milkweed) and A. syriaca (common milkweed). The highly touted butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) has not been a good attractor of ovipositing monarchs in our garden.  For more the monarch decline see this article: http://texasbutterflyranch.com/2016/08/27/monarch-butterflies-heading-our-way-but-not-as-many-as-we-hoped/

Tropical milkweed is readily obtainable at the garden centers, and is an important host plant for the monarch. However, it must be cut back by the end of October to discourage breeding by any monarchs that may have decided to over-winter rather than continue the migration to Mexico. Last winter as a control in the Monarch Health research being done by University of Georgia doctoral students, the tropical milkweed in our garden was not cut back. The butterflies collected and tested showed a high rate of infection with the protozoan parasite Ophryocystis elektroscirrha (OE) that sickens the adults, interfering with their ability to fly. If you have milkweed of any species in your gardens that continues to grow into the late fall, cut it back.

dsc_0060To learn more about these citizen scientist projects, download a free app on your smart phone and scan the QR code near the butterfly section of the sign at the Sparrow Field.

Berm work parties are held every Friday morning starting about 8 a.m. while it is still so hot. Volunteers are needed to weed, trim, count monarch eggs, turn compost or just enjoy the pollinators and each other.

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