Archive for the 'Botany' Category

ID and Dispatch the Cactus Moth

Thursday, August 17th, 2017
Photo credits: (top) Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org; (mid) Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org; (bottom) CMDMN

Photo credits: (top) Susan Ellis, USDA APHIS PPQ, Bugwood.org; (mid) Jeffrey W. Lotz, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bugwood.org; (bottom) CMDMN

This is Passport to Texas

Prickly pear cacti are economically important to Texas and Mexico. They’re also the larval food of the cactus moth, a voracious nonnative species that’s heading westward toward our state.

As of 2009 it’s south of New Orleans. So, it’s just over 200 miles from the Texas border.

Invertebrate biologist Michael Warriner says the larvae of this prolific South American moth species can decimate prickly pear populations. The adult insect is non-descript and difficult to identify, but the larvae is easier to recognize.

Looking for the larvae or evidence of feeding damage is the best thing to look for. The caterpillars themselves are a bright orange to red coloration with black bands or spots. The larvae spend most of their time inside of the prickly pear pad, and they basically hollow it out. So the pad, as the larvae feed on it, will become transparent and they’ll eventually just collapse.

Researchers are developing methods of managing the moth. Until then, if you see infested plants…

You can still control it by removing the infested pads and that would help. Disposing and burning them. Or simply enclosing them in some kind of plastic bag to heat up the larvae and kill them.

Find links to more information about the cactus moth at passporttotexas.org.

That’s our show for today… For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Cactus Moth: a Prickly Situation

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017
Map from presentation by Kristen Sauby, from her presentation to the  Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting.

Map from presentation by Kristen Sauby to the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting.

This is Passport to Texas

There’s a moth making its way to Texas from Florida whose larvae feed exclusively on prickly pear cactus.

The cactus moth has proven to be a really effective eradicator of prickly pear.

Invertebrate biologist, Michael Warriner, says Australian officials imported the cactus moth—native to South America—in the mid-1920s as a biological control against the invasive, nonnative coastal prickly pear.

And over a few years, it didn’t totally eliminate it, but it reduced it substantially. So, it’s proven to be one of the most successful biological control agents, as far as insects go.

The moth, discovered in the Florida Keys in 1989, may have arrived on imported prickly pears, and since then has spread up to South Carolina and as far west as Louisiana.

So, the concern is that if it makes it to the southwestern United States and Mexico that it could have a similar impact and eradicate or reduce prickly pear; and the fact is that—for Mexico especially—prickly pear is a major agricultural commodity in the tens of millions of dollars in terms of value. And it’s worth millions of dollars in the US, too: for agriculture and biodiversity and landscaping.

Tomorrow: How to identify and prevent the spread of the cactus moth.

That’s our show for today… For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti

Gardening with Natives

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017
Native plants attract pollinators.

Native plants attract pollinators.

This is Passport to Texas

Everyone loves instant color when planting flowers and shrubs, but plants provide more than visual appeal.

Usually they are producing fruits or nectar, some kind of food source that’s desirable.

Botanist, Dana Price, says our choice of plants can affect Texas wildlife that depends on them.

A lot of them are host plants for our native butterflies and monarchs; some of them are good hummingbird nectar sources. Many of them have berries that are good for birds. Native trees are hosts for all kinds of insects that are in turn food for our native birds.

Native plants also serve us by providing low-maintenance upkeep, even in the harshest conditions—such as last year’s heat wave and drought.

Our native plants are very well adapted to the climate in Texas, which yes is very extreme a lot of times.

Planting and maintaining native vegetation for wildlife is called Wildscaping. The goal is to provide places for birds, small mammals, and other wildlife to feed and drink, and escape from predators, as well as raise their young.

Find more information on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series, and funds conservation work in Texas.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

Wildflowers for Truth and Beauty

Friday, March 24th, 2017
Spring bluebonnets as far as the eye can see.

Spring bluebonnets as far as the eye can see.

This is Passport to Texas

Texas roadsides will soon  be awash in colorful wildflowers. Dr. Damon Waitt, director of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, formerly of the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, says these and other native plants have a place in the natural and built landscapes.

Natives provide really important ecosystem services for local wildlife, pollinators.

They filter storm water and rainwater, so they provide all these services to the ecosystem, and they can provide similar services in the built landscape, and reduce things like water use, pesticide use and fertilizer use.

In addition, they have the aesthetic qualities that we want people to learn to appreciate, so they’re not looking for that next exotic ornamental—that they ‘re more interested in finding that next native plant that looks great and functions perfectly in their environment.

There are a lot of people who might look at wildflowers and native plants and say, gosh, how do those fit into my idea of a formal landscape.

That’s something we’re really trying to fight—that concept that if you’re a native plant enthusiast, then your yard must look wild and unkempt. At the wildflower center, we model different design styles using native plants, and you can use native plants in very high designs and very formal designs if that’s the look you’re going for.

Find plants that are right for you at wildflower.org.

That’s our show for today… Funding provided in part by Ram Trucks. Guts. Glory. Ram

For Texas Parks and Wildlife…I’m Cecilia Nasti.

NOTE: Due to the rain and warm weather, spring wildflowers started popping out about a month earlier than usual. So get out there soon to enjoy them before they’re gone.

Plants for Pollinators

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017
Prairie Clover. Image: Russell Graves

Prairie Clover. Image: Russell Graves

This is Passport to Texas

It’s springtime, and a perfect time for planting a garden for pollinators like bees, butterflies and birds.

Even a few native flowering plants will draw a multitude of winged wildlife to your yard. Monarchs and other butterflies, bees, and even hummingbirds swarmed the few flowering plants I installed in my side yard last year.

What a thrill it was to come up the driveway each evening after work to a battalion of butterflies flitting through my garden.

This month I’m going install plants that will bloom from spring to fall, and thrive in the dry clay soil and sunny location I have in mind. These plants include: the Pasque flower, which is a perennial that gets about a foot tall, forms clumps, and blooms in April.

The Pale purple coneflower, which is a 2 to 3 foot tall perennial, and one of the earliest-blooming coneflower species.

Purple prairie clover is a care-free perennial I’m considering. A midsummer-bloomer, it attracts insects like mad. And it’s one to 2 feet tall and just as wide.

A species of Liatris, Tall Blazing Star, is a late-summer to early-fall bloomer that grows 1 foot wide and 3 to 4 feet tall. And, finally, the aromatic aster, a small shrub that blooms in September and October, will provide fuel for a few late season pollinators just passing through.

Pollinator gardens are fun and rewarding. Plant one.

That’s our show…For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti