Last weekend was a bit of a bust weatherwise and things haven’t improved lately. Plants and insects are struggling to start the growing season, but they need more encouraging sun and warmth than has been on offer so far. The weevil being courted off on its last ride by an ant is the same species pictured in the previous post. I guess it gave up waiting for spring (or more likely did its bit for the future of weevildom and then hit the ground not walking).
A few other interesting insects were about, including our first fulgoroid planthopper, possibly Stenocranus dorsalis (Delphacidae). We suspect that it is feeding on our ‘native’ rushes in the pond, and that is okay with us. Additionally, an elegant little fly made an appearance, a species of Lonchoptera, the only extant genus in the Lonchopteridae. John Klymko and Steve Marshall recently reviewed* the family. Only about 85 species are known in this genus, about 1/3rd of which are undescribed. Adults feed on nectar, pollen, fungi, and dead insects in moist, grassy areas. The larvae (aka maggots) feed on microbes and decaying vegetation, so again our pond is probably the reason these interesting little flies are around.
*John Klymko and Steve Marshall 2008. Review of the Nearctic Lonchopteridae (Diptera), including descriptions of three new species. Canadian Entomologist 140: 649–673.
One of the earliest plants to break bud in the Home Bug Garden is the False Spirea Sorbaria sorbifolia 'Sem'. This plant in the rose family is attractive in all of its stages, blushing new growth, feathery mature foliages, handsome plumes of white flowers that insects love, bronzy fall colour, and attractive dried flower spikes that last all winter. The species is supposedly not so attractive as the Sem variety, and has another questionable feature – this Asian plant is now naturalized across most of northern North America.
We purchased our False Spirea when a ‘native’ shrub, a highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum ‘Wentworth’) succumbed to a ‘native’ insect, the Viburnum Crown Borer (Synanthedon fatifera). This animal looks like a wasp, but is actually a clearwing moth in the family Sesiidae. The adults are attractive insects in their metallic blue scales, but since we planted 8 susceptible viburna (including one Sargent’s cranberry bush V. sargentii), none of which were cheap, and already have lost two of the highbush cranberries to their larvae burrowing through the crown cambium, we definitely feel ambiguous about this Home Bug Garden resident.
According to the Morton Arboretum, Viburnum Crown Borers are attracted to stressed plants, and the hail storms that greeted these shrubs in their first year was definitely a stress. Also not helping, but again native, was an outbreak of the Hummingbird Sphinx Moth (Hemaris thysbe) hornworms the next year. We had noticed the large yellow and brown sphingid (which looks like a giant bumblebee, but can hover like a hummingbird) feeding at a Golden Currant earlier, but missed the large, well camouflaged hornworms until they had eaten quite a bit of leaf area. Oh well, things don’t look to good for the viburna with the European Viburnum Leaf Beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) now spreading across Canada, although according to the University of Guelph fact sheet on the beetle, American Highbush Cranberry is only lightly damaged.
Well, that’s enough gloom and doom. The False Spirea makes an excellent addition to the garden and its wild relatives don’t seem to have made it on to any noxious weed list. I think we can live with the viburnum borers now. We’ll keep what they leave us, and hope their parasites catch up with them while there are still a few left.
Below are a few of the plants that managed to brave the cold last weekend, although the Red Orache needed the help of a pink water jacket (aka Granny Skirt) to get that big so early. And to end on a positive note, the Paeonia anomala seedling came from seed first set out in the Fall of 2007 to overwinter in pots. With nothing showing by the Fall of 2008, I assumed the seeds had rotted, and dumped the pots into a raised bed. Last weekend as I was weeding the bed of what I thought were lovage seedlings (Levisticum officinale – does very well in this climate and the umbels attract lots of pollinators), I noticed big, black seed coats dangling from the roots and realized my error. Now with any luck, it will only be a couple more years before I am enjoying a species peony in bloom.