Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lady Bug, Lady Bug... Fly to Someone Else’s Home!

Good week for encounters with lady bugs… the Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis , to be exact. On Tuesday, I noticed them as they flew to my arms near a sunny orchard. On Wednesday, the local TV station called to get the story on “swarming” lady beetles invading homes. Sure enough, a Perkasie home had thousands of beetles on the sunny south side of the house. Warm days, following cool nights, (light frost in Perkasie Monday)seems to inspire them to seek overwintering quarters.

Most of us are familiar with the native, red beetle with black spots that probably inspired that children’s ditty. I can’t locate the literary reference. (Help someone!). Almost everyone looks fondly on the red lady bug and gardeners know that they are beneficial in the garden. They eat aphids and other destructive insects.

But the bug of the week is a relatively recent introduction. Literally. The multi-colored Asian Lady Beetle was purposely introduced to the USA as a beneficial insect, designed to apply some biological pressure to destructive, introduced pests. In Pennsylvania, introductions were made in the 1970s and 80’s. They’re good bugs…. tell that to folks who have thousands in their homes.

I feel bad for entomophobic (insect fearing) people. There are so many insects in the world. More than a million species. Books say that there are more species of insects than all other animal species, combined. Most of them are pretty and interesting. A few are not appreciated by people because they destroy crops, sting or carry disease. A few are appreciated for their beauty (butterflies) or utility (honey bees). But insects are just “bugs” to most people and for some reason are not loved. All have a role to play in the grand scheme of things, I suppose. So give a bug a break. Play a game of finding their names and then see what they are all about. (How about it, Amy?) You might be pleasantly surprised.

So, back to the bug of the week. Good bug… eats aphids and scale insects that harm plants. Bad bug,… gets in the house because it is seeking overwintering quarters in you warm home. In their native habitat (Asia) they use warm cliff faces as overwintering quarters. The sunny south side of our houses must seem similar.

The good news is that they are not harmful to people (minor exceptions) or our structures; they do not reproduce inside our homes. Seal up cracks and crevices to prevent their entry, just as you would do to prevent invasions of Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs or Box Elder Bugs. Insecticides are not usually effective. Once inside, a vacuum cleaner, fitted with a stocking to collect them works well. Some folks are so bug loving they save them and release them next spring. See this for details. Now that’s loving a bug!

Thanks to Iowa State University for the bug pic. There are loads of articles on this insect if you want to search the web. Stick to .edu sites for the best info.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Morris Arboretum… A Horticultural Gem in our Backyard

This week I joined the Philadelphia Branch of the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) for a visit to Morris Arboretum. PGMS is the professional home for the people who manage grounds at schools, universities, public and private gardens, municipal parks and other such places. Did you ever stop to wonder who was making those places look so nice? Visiting interesting sites is part of the professional development this group enjoys and twenty-five of us took part in the visit to Morris. Past PGMS National President and pal Kevin O’Donnell, Superintendent of Grounds at Villanova University, arranged this event.

We had a real treat when Jan McFarland, Education Director at Morris and her colleagues gave us a behind the scenes tour. Morris Arboretum is associated with the University of Pennsylvania and is the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. After learning about the educational programs that Morris offers to professional horticulturists and the public we took off to the tree tops. Perhaps you’ve heard about “Out on Limb”, the unique feature at Morris Arboretum where visitors can scramble around like a squirrel in at tree-top height, securely of course. Indeed, a whole new way of looking at trees.

Jason Lubar, Director of Urban Forestry, lead the group I was in. Jason took us to a fantastic grove of Dawn Redwoods, (Metasequoia glyptostroboides… why is it that I can spell this but not squirel?) which appear to be ancient. Tree people know that this species was not known in the western world until the 1940’s so these trees are actually only about 60 years old. Hard to believe, but true. These trees are some of the first to be planted outside of China, its recent, native habitat. References say it was on our continent 15 million years ago and has been on earth for more than 100 million years.

Morris Arboretum is renowned for introducing interesting new plants to the West. We also stood beneath one of the largest Katsuratrees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum, native to Japan and China) I’ve ever seen and took in the unique fragrance of its fall foliage. Believe it or not, most folks agree it smells like cotton candy!

One thing that makes an arboretum different from a walk in the woods is that the plants are labeled… a great thing if you want to learn plant names. At Morris, the origin and age of plants is also displayed. There are more than 13,000 labeled plants in all so you may need more than one visit to take it all in. Fortunately, members of the Arboretum have unlimited admission year round. Membership also provides reciprocal admission to more than 200 gardens nationwide and invitation to special events. I think I heard Jason say they had a beer tasting recently. Hmmm. I know that I only scratched the surface of this wonderful horticultural gem. I’ll be back.

Morris Arboretum is located in the farthest northwest territory of Philadelphia County and is open seven days a week. Check it out!