Sunday, July 20, 2014

Syracuse Peregrine Eyass and Figuring Out the Milkweed Mysteries

 Just in from longtime raptor watcher Mitch Nusbaum...

  Barb, the first Peregrine eyass in Syracuse, NY in 4 years!

Asclepias syriaca, Common Milkweed

When I realized that NONE of the hundreds of milkweed seeds that had overwintered naturally and I had collected and planted had come up... none, zero, ziltch, and weren't going to come up, ( I thought), I put the word out that I was looking for milkweed plants.  A local farm wife who digs out mature milkweed from between the rows of her garden plot every year said, if I'd come dig them out they were mine.

The first mystery, if she dug the mature plants out every year, why were mature plants appearing every Spring instead of  seedlings?

  I stuck that question in the "For Investigation" section of my brain,  threw a spade and and a square camp shovel in the car and took off for the farm.

And indeed Mrs. Albright, in her late 80's, had a garden full of mature Common Milkweed. Facinating.  (By the way, she never digs all of them out she likes Monarchs too, but does want to have room for her tomato plants as well.)

Her husband showed up with an ancient tiling shovel, and we all went to work.

The answer to the mature plant mystery became clear before long.  A milkweed plant has a long vertical stem/root underground which connects to a horizontal root which is connected to numerous other vertical stem/roots to any number of what looks like individual plants above ground.  And that vertical stem appears to be evolutionarily built to very easily break off the major horizontal root which leaves the major root deep in the ground for mature plants to grow out of next year.

Therefore I had many plants with vertical roots and only a few with a piece of the horizontal root connected to it.

I went home immediately but by the time I got there, the milkweed had lost their turger pressure and had turned into very limp things.  CRAP!

I put them into the ground immediately and drenched the ground with water.  They came back but I had to water them religiously for days and many leaves turned yellow first. 

The plants with a portion of horizontal root did better at the beginning than those with only a vertical root but the plants that did best were those in which a portion of the horizontal root had two or three connecting vertical roots.  I should have realized then  that Milkweed loves company.

Another mystery, though the milkweed seeds that were planted outside had come to zilch, or I thought they had, using seeds I had striated, put into damp sand in baggies in the refrigerator did germinate and come up in in seedling flats.  Shrug.

But the stems were so slight, and scrawny, (above, these seedlings planted in groups outside), they couldn't really stand up as a single plant but if more than one seed germinated in each of their  little dirt cubicles they did a little better.  Shrug. (At least at the time.) 

Betty Jo of California has been contributing to the blog for nigh on ten years.  She makes her living with plants, is an aficionado of Monarch Butterflies  and she has stepped up after reading last evenings Milkweed Musings to help us with the Growing Milkweed Mysteries.


 I am sitting at my computer bawling--can't stop-- started
when I saw the 15% return of the Monarchs.  I already felt very
sentimental when I saw the painting on Stella's ceiling.  What a
wonderful brother. and she takes great pics with a cell phone!

Re the Monarch's--the terrible conditions in Texas are a big
factor--that is their first place to breed after migration.  I heard
last year that horrible winds stalled them in Texas as they were heading to Mexico  There was also no milkweed when they returned--terrible drought--fires and verge mowing (which they been doing since I was a child at least) and of course the war on milkweed by cattle ranchers.

Re: seeding--seed bombs!  I have had now 3 years of experience growing various kinds of milkweed and have come to several conclusions--don't know what Chip Taylor's people say but here's my experience:

Planted 5 different kinds of native seed--had to sratify -frig was half filled with bags of peat moss for months. The seeds which
germinated--some damped off (green house conditions not right?/. 

The "Showy Davis" a California native had great germination--but when the cotyledons appeared, (The cotyledon is a significant portion of the embryo in the seed of a plant.  When the seed germinates, the cotyledon usually becomes the embryonic first leaves of a seedling. DB) I looked under the trays which were on a wire table and the roots were already 4 inches long--difficult to transplant!
Many of the transplants lived but never grew. 

Tuberosa did grow but slowly--the seeds which blew around my yard and the Botanic garden where
I planted lots of purchased ones have germinated like crazy--but almost always under other plants!.  My neighbor planted seeds--didn't grow--but where my seeds blew into the protected entry way to her house they germinated and grew under gardenias and begonias!  They are huge and
beautiful. At the Botanic garden they are growing in the children's vegetable  garden under tomatoes and kale--everywhere!

But the important thing people need to know  if purchasing Milkweed plants is this:  Many big growers sell to big box stores--Home Depot and Lowes out here.  Here the main grower is a company  called Hines--the plants are poisoned!  I recently planted one and put 3 caterpillars on it because they were running out of food.  They were killed horribly! Hines swears they don't poison!  The key is, if the plant is perfect--no aphids, beetles or gnawed leaves it probably is poisoned! 

Locally we are working on this problem.

Did you hear about the woman who had a late female Monarch butterfly in her garden in the NorthEast--She knew it was too cold for "her" to migrate so she got SouthWest to fly her and the butterfly to San Antonio. Chip Taylor had to get permission from some branch of government for
her to do this!  Good publicity for South West!

Happy hawking--and yes for me anyway--Happy Monarching.  First thing I do everyday is look for caterpillars.
And I admit, I talk to them--they do not understand any English--whereas you talk to a creature who does! bjo

Betty Jo,

You have confirmed a suspicion I had about milkweed!  The milkweed I started in the house had such spindly stems they were nearly limp.  They'd been grown in full sun....hmm.  It got me thinking.  In a prairie or natural setting, seldom do seeds have a patch of totally open ground.  They germinate between other plants which may support them in some way or ways, at least in the case  of some milkweeds.  

The area in which I had broadcast the seeds I'd collected while doing prairie burns had been rotor-tilled first because I certainly wouldn't consider using Round Up which many prairie landscape people use for convenience.  And and also because some at least may actually believe that it always  becomes harmless by binding  with clay molecules.  Not always the case but that is a rant for another day.

Nothing came up....nothing came up for months. Well nothing in the "good" category anyway. At which point I stopped weeding the area.  
 Yesterday I discovered milkweed amongst the crabgrass. 

                    Can you see the milkweed seedling?

                                     See it now?
 But as crabgrass has those runners which crowd out everything else...or strangle or smother out other plants making a mono culture, I picked through the crabgrass and when I found more  milkweed, I cleared a small area of crabgrass which was beginning to smother it and I also put sticks in near the milkweed.  Partially to keep myself from walking on them, but also as a stand-in for the other plants which would normally be there in a natural area..  It may need some shading to keep from drying out or other symbiotic interaction as well, we'll see.                                         
                 And another one center.  To the right are tiny elm seedlings.
So when I came in and read your email, I was delighted.  In your experience milkweed seeds did the best in conjunction with other plants!  I was heading in the right direction.  Yes!

                                        A milkweed  hunt in progress.
Stay tuned!

Happy Hawking!
Donegal Browne

P.S. I have seen a single little brown bat out hunting my yard as the sun goes down for five days running.  I think our little buddy is just fine.


Linda Maslin said...

Had a bumper crop of common milkweed this year with beautiful plentiful flowers. Not only have i not had any monarchs but the milkweed keeps getting covered by aphids so i have to keep hosing them off. Even the seed pods that formed are continually covered by aphids. No Monarchs, no caterpillars and it's July 20. I'm in SE PA.

lmarylin Sperling said...

Not adept at computer, I am 74 years old and on WSP bird chat as Marylinks! Have had snails,butterflies,tortoise praying mantises in my Pre Kn class in Queens for which I won several Impact @ grants from the nyc Bd of Ed! Have had my own tadpoles,African Water Frogs, parakeets,grasshoppers,cats,cterpillars slugs, in short I am a wildlife enthusiast and an amatuer photograper! E mail at Love Siver stories from DB

lmarylin Sperling said...

I am 74 yrs old{!} and love the Silver stories! I have grown 4 tall milkweed plants in my Queens ,ny yardThey sprung up from flying seeds I planted last years. Now the white milk has seeped from stems,if disturbed and I have about 8 pods that are on the stems,size of golf balls and bumps all over and bursting! What do I do now1 I am a chatter on WSP site and thats how I became familiar with your site!Taugt natre in NYS pre-K for 30 years am a birder,photograper and active animal lover! RSVP re: my milkweeds are thriving,do butterflies this year save a single ainted lady once.

lmarylin Sperling said...

I planted milkwood seeds last year that have spouted into 4 tall plants bearing many full prickly pods the size of golf balls.A WHITE STICKY MILK FLOWS FROM ANY STEM i TOUCH AND THE PODS SEEM READY TO BURST OPEN. Whatever SHALL I DO IMMEDIATELY?I AM A CHATTER ON wsp BIRD SITE AND A GREAT ADMIRER OF db AND HER SILVER TALES! I AM A BIRDER,PHOTOGRAPHER,