bloom report 2020

The coronavirus lockdown that began in March 2020 provided the perfect excuse for me to start on a project I had been mulling over for some time. I had always wondered how many blooming species were present in my yard, and when they were blooming throughout the year. This could serve as an indicator of nectar & pollen resources for pollinators.

Well, there’s only one way to find out. Count them! Over and over and over again…

Starting March 15, I have been going out every Sunday during midday to find & identify every blooming wildflower species on my little 0.4 ac suburban homestead. Each Sunday, I will mark every species as either 1) new for the season, 2) disappeared (I saw it last week, but not this week), or 3) reappeared (it was here, gone, then back this week).

I counted all species, whether they were wild, cultivated, native, or non-native. I did not make notes on bloom abundance. That is, even a single Tulip (bulb) flower counts that species as present, the same as the White Clover with many thousands of blooms across my lawn.

Up high or down low, each one counts (photo credit: my 8-year-old)

Preliminary Results:

I provided results last month in a mid-season update to residents of Maria Center, our independent living center. Sorry, no photos from that! But, a lively discussion on flowers & pollinators.

I’ve got too many iron(weeds) in the fire right now for a full report… I’ll save that analysis for the winter months. But here are some basic plant metrics, and two collages with blooms of all sorts.

Total Species: 132

Native / Non-Native: 62 / 70

Cultivated / Wild: 53 / 79

Weeks counted (so far): 23

Weekly metrics:

Bloom diversity seems to be peaking the last 4 weeks, as I’m consistently seeing over 50 species per Sunday count! I will expect this to drop pretty soon, and sharply. As the numbers above show, I’m averaging about 6 new blooming species each week.

The longest blooming species goes to the humble dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), which I have found every week but 3. The average species blooms for about 5 weeks.

There have been several species that I had not seen before. It was a good opportunity to use keys and apps to learn some new species.

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news round up, late summer edition

A magical solution’: Solar developers planting flowers that could help save butterflies and bees (IndyStar)

Grassland bird decline tied to neonicotinoids (BirdWatching) The increasing use of neonicotinoid insecticides is a major factor in the decline of grassland birds in the United States, according to a new study published in Nature Sustainability

Beetles And Wasps Vie For Title of Most Diverse Critter (NPR)

Bumble bees damage plant leaves and accelerate flower production when pollen is scarce (Science)

How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly (Vox) The US has everything it needs to decarbonize by 2035.

Greta Thunberg to donate $1.2M from humanitarian prize money to environmental groups

What is solar for? AIRE’s new plan for cooperative, sustainable communities solar

Building a prairie and watching for bees (U of Illinois) It’s early evening as I follow the researchers to their work site on the Phillips Tract, just east of Urbana. When we get there, I immediately notice two things: We are standing in a vast grid of prairie plots with neatly mowed paths between them, and there are tents – dozens of dollhouse-sized tents.

Ball State report finds renewables will stabilize energy prices, benefit consumers in Indiana

Construction Begins on I&M Solar Farm (Inside Indiana Business) Contractors have begun moving dirt on a planned 20-megawatt solar farm in St. Joseph County to help provide power to thousands of homes and businesses in northern Indiana, more than doubling the utility’s current output.

Tesla Gigafactory Austin is going to be ‘ecological paradise’ open to the public (Electrek)

The scariest thing about global warming (and Covid-19) (Vox) “Shifting baselines syndrome” means we could quickly get used to climate chaos.

How Oak Trees Evolved to Rule the Forests of the Northern Hemisphere (Scientific American) Genomes and fossils reveal their remarkable evolutionary history (subscription required, e-mail me if you would like to read)

A Few Notable Trees on Our Campus

This piece appeared in the Aug. 2020 edition of Ripples, our internal newsletter.

People have very emotional relationships with trees, and for good reasons. Trees bear witness to the decades and centuries. They create shade, water,
timber, and food from thin air; store carbon and culture; serve as history books for fires, insect outbreaks, and atmospheric composition. As we mortals pass through our own decades, we often find a tree to journey with, their seeming stability an anchor for our frenetic wanderings.

A couple years ago we watched a giant black oak begin cracking in front of the Motherhouse. After felling, we cut out a “tree cookie” and counted all 109 rings, dating back to 1909 or so. This predates the Motherhouse by more than a decade. The first European settlers born in Marshall County were only in their 60’s when it sprouted and might have passed by this tree. Some perhaps even remembered from childhood the removal of the Potawatomi in 1838.

Former Ancilla College student Sister Lucia Tran views the “tree cookie” from the felled black oak during Earth Week 2018.

Another giant of unknown age stands in the horseshoe drive. This Tulip Popular (Liriodendron tulipifera) is Indiana’s state tree and the tallest-growing hardwood species of the eastern U.S. Its leaves feed the caterpillar of the gorgeous Eastern Swallowtail butterfly. Sister Mary measures this tree at 3’6” at breast height. You may have seen a few parking spaces temporarily blocked off next to this Tulip. That’s the work of aphids, raining down sticky “honeydew” from their abdomens as they suck moisture from the leaves. The bounty produced a sugary windfall for all manner of hymenopterans (ants, wasps, and bees). The forest community evolved to handle this, and the aphids’ many predators and parasites will ensure that the Tulip species will persist. The ecological value produced by this single living being – whose life is interwoven with ours and so many others – far exceeds the trivial inconvenience of moving our motor vehicles.

You may have noticed the tree that was felled in the employee parking lot nearby. This was a Basswood or Linden Tree. It grew at a severe tilt to the ground, making it the best candidate to be transformed into beautiful woodwork of the new organ planned in Ancilla Domini Chapel. Even for trees, there is life after death!

Contractor James Harrell stands before the Linden Tree
that will be used in the pipe organ renovation in AD Chapel.

Lastly, there are three American Chestnuts hidden on the property, planted by Sister Mary. This species once comprised one in every five trees in Appalachia. A blight (fungus) was introduced from East Asia in 1904, leading to the loss of some 3-4 billion trees and near eradication of the species. Thanks to Sr. Mary’s diligence, foresight, and patient care, we are now stewards of the small genetic remnant that may be used to restore this species over the 21st and 22nd centuries.

Being stewards of these slow and patient beings requires that we not act out of ignorance. Ecologists call this the “precautionary principle.” If we don’t know what we are doing, we hold off on action until we gain wisdom. The fool in a hurry is likely to cause harm, damage that may take centuries to undo.

On this subject, Aldo Leopold wrote:

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

Beyond the Panel: Solar and Land Use webinar (recording & slides available)

Last week we had a great virtual webinar that was hosted by the Indiana chapter of the American Planning Association. The topic at hand was considering land use implications of large scale solar farms. Of particular interest was the concept of pollinator-friendly solar, something we are experimenting with here on two of our solar installations (and have blogged about previously).

Click here to see the slide deck for each of the presenters. A recording of the event is also available.

I shared our experience with pollinator-friendly solar for about 40 minutes, and the presentation starts at 1:49:25 on the recording.

Please share with any community leaders who are considering the impacts of large-scale solar farms in their regions.