Friday, October 30, 2009

Trick or Treat

Although many think that this fall has been rather tricky, I think it has been nothing but a treat. The fall colors have been beautiful. Perhaps that is because Habitat Home has so many native plantings that really show off in the fall. Such as the Prairie Drop seed in this photo of the walk up to our front door. We no longer get many trick-or-treaters now that our kids are grown and since it is a long drive to our house from just about anywhere. That is a shame for I wonder if even the trick-or-treaters might not enjoy the treat that the native Midwest plants are providing this Halloween at Hbitat Home.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Smoke Tree

native smoke tree (Cotinus obovatus) I was lucky one year to find a nursery that had the native smoke tree Cotinus obovatus. I purchased two trees and promptly planted them. They were very small when I planted them and unfortunately they have been severely bothered by the deer. But not this year. So far the deer have left them alone and surprisingly the trees have recovered nicely and grown this summer. They had beautiful misty flower sprays this spring and now they have amazing fall color. The trees are dioecious so each plant is either male or female. Male trees have larger showier flower clusters.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


over cup oak (Quercus lyrata)
What at wonderful surprise it was to come across these sprouting acorns at a park in Urbana. My friend and I gathered up as many as we could. Yesterday, I went about the property and planted about 25 of these acorns. I planted them mostly in the fence rows where there are no oaks growing just a lot of mulberries and choke cherries. I do not know if they will make it but the rain today should really help to settle them in.

This is the acorn of the over cup oak (Quercus lyrata). So named because the cap of the acorn almost completely covers the nut. You cannot see that in these germinated acorns as the cap is gone. However, the leaves turn a beautiful shade of brown in the fall and are somewhat leathery. One might expect to find this tree in a park setting because it is tolerant of a lot of poor soils. But I was most impressed by the abundant crop of acorns that the tree had produced. Acorns are a wonderful food source for so many of the creatures and birds at Habitat Home. Here's hoping that these little acorns grow into mighty oaks.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ginkgo biloba

We planted this tree this past weekend. I know, I know, it is not a native. Why is Habitat Home planting this tree? What about our native oaks and hickories and walnuts? Well, blame it on Blog Day and climate change. My mind was on such things - plants surviving climate change - when I saw a wonderful example of this, a Gingko tree at FS and on sale! The Ginkgo tree is the oldest living seed plant. It has existed unchanged for 150 million years. Individual trees can live thousands of years. So perhaps if nothing else survives the changing climate, this tree will. Of course it first has to survive the deer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change and Wildlife Habitat

This post is part of an October 15, 2009 Blog Action Day exercise in which thousands of bloggers are writing about a single topic, climate change, within the context of their site’s focus area. Our message here is simple: Individuals need to consider their local environment as wildlife habitat and take action to protect and improve it, thereby reducing the stresses on plant and animal populations that will come with climate change.

We at Habitat Home find the prospect of the gradual warming of the global environment over the next century to be sufficiently likely to justify careful study and consideration. But the hysteria or “crisis” promoted by the global warming “movement” is disturbing. The focus needs to shift from one of promulgating fear and guilt over climate change, or demanding ever more control (with cost a relatively unimportant criterion) to reduce or stop it, to a focus of how we can manage or even adapt to that change as it occurs. Yes, we need to consider and invest in alternate energy sources, and yes, we may need to adjust our lifestyles. But these things are likely to happen anyway as the fossil fuels are depleted, the economics of energy shift, the global economy becomes more real, and the growth of the human population stabilizes. There will be “change we can believe in.” But unlike the euphoria of the 2008 U.S. presidential election and its instant gratification, changes in global environments and the behavior of populations, societies and economies are not going to change overnight, and certainly not by some local or even multi-national sets of legislation or treaties. No matter how good we may feel about ourselves for short term “accomplishments” in the form of promises or even actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, atmospheric carbon dioxide will continue to increase and climate changes will continue to loom on the long term calendar. Perhaps we can delay the effects by a few years over the next century, but such a delay may not be very significant.

Instead, or at least in tandem to the hysteria, what is needed is some long range thinking, research, and action to prepare our environments in all aspects (natural, societal, economic) for the likely climate changes that are going to occur. While we may not be able to reduce those changes very much, we can significantly reduce the stresses that those changes bring.

Habitat Home is all about the natural environment and a very local ecosystem of twenty acres. But those twenty acres are part of a larger collection of plant and animal habitat pockets, corridors and reserves scattered within the U.S. Midwest and the state of Illinois. With the expansion of the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, the spread of the population westward, the acquisition and distribution of land ownership, and the development of industry, agriculture and urban areas, the natural areas of Illinois have already experienced tremendous and (certainly to plants and animals) very stressful change over the past 200 years. Over the next 100 years, climate change may well replace direct human activity as the greatest threat to plant and animal species and their habitats. In fact, effects of climate change are already being observed. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) issued an extensive report in June, 2009 – “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” – which summarizes results of current research and predicted impacts for the U.S. Of particular interest to this blog are the sections on the U.S. Midwest region and on Ecosystems. The report notes examples of regional and ecosystem changes that have already been occurring over the past few decades, such as “large-scale shifts have occurred in the ranges of species and the timing of the seasons and animal migration, and are very likely to continue.”

It behooves us, both collectively and individually, to do what we can to anticipate and reduce the stresses brought by these changes in ecosystems by conserving, protecting, and nurturing the natural features of any areas that we control or affect.

What can we do? Any more, we seem to first look to the government. But the list of common or “public” issues for which control is given to (or taken by?) various levels of government is growing, seemingly exponentially. Even before the recent economic downturn governments have reduced their commitments to the acquisition, development and maintenance of natural areas. Indeed, the looming dreams and resulting costs of the growing entitlement state will likely swamp any ability to support natural areas at the levels we became accustomed to in the 20th century. State and local parks and preserves are less able to maintain the areas they already have as funding is cut and managers are given other priorities. Another type of government action, and one that all governments love, is to enact legislation and regulation, especially when there are no direct costs or where costs can be passed along to someone else. Such efforts are often counterproductive and are rife with unintended consequences. We saw this first-hand four years ago when Champaign County tried to institute new zoning regulations aimed specifically at reducing rural residential development, and purportedly protecting natural resources. As we pointed out in public hearings, these regulations would have exactly the opposite effect as that intended with respect to conserving natural areas. Not only did the proposals specifically exempt agricultural uses from any of the so-called conservation measures, they reduced the ability of individual landowners to implement well-intentioned management practices they might undertake. Two multi-year efforts to enact such regulations fortunately were defeated by the County Board.

So where can we turn for help? The most effective answer is for us - residential and corporate landowners, farmers, etc. - to educate ourselves about the natural characteristics of our properties, and how those characteristics provide habitat for plants, insects and animals. Look around and notice the plants, insects, birds, mammals and fish with which you are sharing the land and water. Pick up and read some of the books listed in the right sidebar, or any of numerous other publications on the nature and preservation of habitats. You can easily learn to intentionally design and implement conservation, restoration and protection practices that will enhance habitats. The added cost is often zero! Plant native species, landscape with an eye toward beneficial shrubs, trees and plant communities, avoid chemicals or use them only sparingly for specific targets, consider the effects of your pets. Not only will such activity benefit your property immediately, it will increase the amount and quality of habitats thereby reducing the stresses on plant and animal populations that will inevitably occur as climates gradually change through the century.

Join Habitat Home in celebrating the natural world we experience all around us, and in finding joy in working toward being good stewards and doing the right thing!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

American Bladdernut

American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifoliata) When walking along the river the other day I came upon this tree. What a great surprise! American Bladdernut Staphylea trifoliata is a small tree or shrub. It has attractive white flowers in the spring and then it forms these dropping clusters of pods after fruiting. The pods are interesting because they have several small seeds rattling around in them. The tree reportedly grows in suckering colonies but this tree seems to be all alone. So, I intend to plant some of the seeds this fall. The seeds apparently have a double dormancy of three months warm and moist followed by three months at 40 degrees. I hope that by planting the seeds outside now, they will germinate this spring. Habitat Home needs more Bladdernuts. It is reported that deer are not likely to browse Bladdernut shrubs.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Carolina Mantid

Carolina Mantid (Stagmomantis carolina)This male Carolina mantid (a version of praying mantis), almost three inches long, was found this afternoon on the tomato plants. Perhaps he was waiting for the small wasps to emerge from their cocoons on the dead tomato hornworms nearby. He turned his head over a wide range left and right to keep an eye on me while I was watching him. Although probably common in Illinois, we do not remember seeing these particular mantids before. We will keep an eye out for a mate and/or egg case, since it's that time of year.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Prickly Pear Cactus Fruits

prickly pear cactus (Opuntia macroorhiza) The beautiful yellow blossoms of the prickly pear plant have turned into these lovely red fruits. This year they seem to be very abundant and are really a pretty sight. The red and green combination reminds me that Christmas will soon be here, but I am sure that is only my impression. The other inhabitants of Habitat Home view these fruits as food. Various birds, squirrels, ground squirrels and even deer will browse the fruit. Even humans gather the fruit which can be cooked in a pot of boiling water, mashed and then the juice used in various recipes of jelly, jams and candy making. Christmas Candy!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


The annual fall mowing has begun. Several areas of Habitat Home are mowed once a year. The savanna was mowed today. This area could be burned but there are many trees growing in the savanna and it borders a nursery. Just too much risk. We mow to control the invasive species Autumn Olive and the mowed grass is left on the ground. I have thought it would be good to rake it up but who wants to rake several acres? This is also a good time to scatter seeds of various forbs that have been collected earlier. So today, seeds of purple cone flower and blackeyed Susuans were sown in this area.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Bald Cypress with galls Several years ago I planted a Bald Cypress tree along the creek. It was doing great until the deer discovered it. It was destroyed that season by the bucks rubbing the small trunk with their antlers. I thought it was gone. So you can imagine my surprise to find it growing this season. It is doing quite well. Like so many plants this season the deer have left it alone. But it has another problem, Taxodiomyia cupressiananassa, cypress twig gall midge. The larvae of this tiny fly produce the galls. A gall is just abnormal plant material production, the bluish brown clumps in the photo. These galls will not harm the tree but they are not very attractive and the galls cause the branches to droop making the tree look rather sad.

Monday, October 5, 2009


skunkAll summer long we have been finding small holes in our lawn. We wondered who was doing this. Was it the turkeys, was it the squirrels, was it Canadian geese, was it raccoons, was it opossums?

Well, it was the skunks. We saw several this morning digging in the lawn. We never see skunks in the morning but this morning we saw two. One in the front yard and one in the back yard. Actually the one in the back yard was also on the back patio looking into my potted tomatoes. And what do you suppose they are searching for? This post now comes with a warning for those who are squeamish, J.grub Yes, this is what they are digging up and eating in our lawn. We must have a lot judging by the number of holes we have found this summer. These grubs will eventually develop into Japanese Beetles. So as long as the skunks don't get excited I can live with the holes in my yard.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Crab Apples

crab apple tree (Malus 'Prairie fire')
The crab apple tree Malus 'Prairie fire' produced an abundance of crab apples this year. The small red apples will stay on the tree all winter long. The birds do not seem to eat the apples until later in winter when not much else is available. A good reason to plant this tree. This particular variety is also resistant to many of the diseases that can plague crab apple trees.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Yesterday I spent the day working outside. One of the tasks that I have been working on is expanding the native plantings in the front yard. I decided to add to an existing area of native plantings. This would eliminate more grass to mow and mowing around yet another tree. Last week the area was sprayed with Roundup to kill the grass. Yesterday the mulch was applied and as luck would have it, it is raining today. When the rain stops sometime tomorrow, the ground will be ready to receive the plants. The plants were purchased a few weeks ago from Grand Prairie Friends' end of the season plant sale: 10 plants of Penstemon digitalus. In addition to the plants, seeds of River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) will be sown into the area. The mulch is from the Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana. It is a real bargain at $20 a truckload.