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Laying the groundwork for new plantings

Perfect weather and a sturdy group of six volunteers made the morning at the Bagaduce Music Lending Library (BMLL) very productive. Two sections of the drainage swale, between the Performance hall and the new Library building, needed to be cleared of small brush, weeds, and debris; much of the morning was devoted to readying these locations for new plantings.

The unexpected number and depth of rocks encountered will make some alterations in the planned design for the area. We’ll take advantage of the large-leaved wood-aster (Eurybia macrophylla) already scrambling through parts of the swale, and create planting pockets for plants that need room for their roots. This aster is a wonderful groundcover when not in bloom and its long-lasting early-autumn flowers are a boon for bumblebees and other pollinators.

In the brush and slash removed from the far end of the swale, a beautiful sphinx moth was discovered. The blinded sphinx (Paeonias excaecata) has a large horned green caterpillar, as do many of the sphinx and hummingbird moths we commonly see. Not every horned caterpillar is a tomato hornworm; most moth larvae are plant specialists, and the blinded sphinx caterpillar eats birch and poplar leaves.

Another discovery in the collected brush was an oak twig with a leaf that contained a succulent, green oak apple gall. Galls are plant responses to the herbivorous invertebrates. Oaks “host” numerous gall-inducing insects, mostly small wasps in the Cynipid family, as well as aphids and midges. The insect in this case, a wasp (Amphibolips confluenta) inserts an egg into the oak’s stem or leaf tissue in spring. The oak responds by sequestering the egg within abnormal growth, the gall. Gall and larva, or larvae, grow together. The gall becomes both shelter and food, doing no particular harm to the tree.

Oaks, asters, willows, and roses all attract large numbers of gall-producing insects. Many of the galls’ larvae are, in turn, parasitized by other invertebrates, or eaten by birds— particularly chickadees and woodpeckers. Oak apple galls turn light brown and stiffen later in the season, matching the oak leaf’s changing color and increasing paperiness.

Friday’s crew planted small trees and two shrubs and a quantity of ferns before the morning was finished. Volunteers are going to be needed for weekly watering as more gets planted.

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