Environment & Conservation
Why Native Plants Are So Important
In past articles, I have talked about invasive plants and insects. With many native plant sales in full swing here in June, I want to tell you why native plants are so important to the ecological system we live in. But before I do, a little background on how I arrived at this opinion.
Douglas W. Tallamy published a book entitled, “Bringing Nature Home” in 2007. My wife, Michele, purchased and read the ninth edition in 2015 and suggested that I might be interested in the subject matter. Six years later, I finally read Mr. Tallamy’s book and immediately became entralled with his message of bringing nature home. If you haven’t read this book, please obtain a copy and get ready to be awed by his message.
The book describes the interdependent relationship that exists between native plants, insects, birds, pollinators, trees, and small mammals. So let’s start with the basic building block – native plants. Native plants have been around for hundreds of years and have developed relationships with native insects and animals. Most importantly, native plants are the food supply for these many creatures!
As Mr. Tallamy points out, alien plants including autumn olives, oriental bittersweets, Japanese honeysuckles, Bradford pears, Norway maples, and many more typically provide no food source for native insects and animals. This is apparent because you typically find no leaf damage on these plants. Simple said, our native insects and animals do not eat these plants! The consequence of more alien plants is less native insects and animals. Remember, native plants and native herbivores have spent a very long time building their interdependent relationship.
When alien plants take over a habitat, there are less native insects and animals in that region. You know what that means to the birds we all love to watch that migrate to our landscapes in the spring. Birds eat berries, plants, and insects. However, when it comes to feeding their young, approximately 96 percent of bird species only consume insects as hatchlings. If the number of native insects is in decline, so to will be the number of young birds that depend on these insects.
Next is the issue of biodiversity. When I talk about native insects eating native plants, do realize that not every native insect eats every native plant it comes upon. Through time, native insects have become specialists when it comes to plants. In other words, certain insects look for certain plants to eat.
By having more divesity of native plants in our gardens, that enhances the number of insects that can be found nourishing themselves when they visit. Having large numbers of different insects provides more choices for parent birds to select from.
And although I am showing the connection that exists between native plants, native insects, and birds, there is much more to the story. Native plants also bring pollinators, mammals, and reptiles back to our areas. When common milkweed is planted, Monarch butterflies are sure to visit.
In summary, think about a landscape with native plants as a habitat that is alive and well. With this thought in mind, Michele and I are currently planning on replacing a section of lawn in our backyard and expanding our native garden.
I hope you read Mr. Tallamy’s book and become energized to create your own garden with native plants. Do know that the birds you love to see will applaud your efforts and return to the area year after year?
And lastly, visit https://www.audubon.org/native-plants to better understand which native plants will attract which birds. https://www.wildflower.org/ is another good web site where you can obtain information about native plants.
Written by: Greg Petrosky
Date: June, 2021
The Dreaded Garlic Mustard Plant
When crushed, garlic mustard exhibits a garlic odor. Once established, garlic mustard will completely dominate the ground layer and eliminate any native plants that used to grow there. Garlic mustard roots also release chemicals that destroy mycorrihizal fungi needed by trees for regeneration, thereby inhibiting their growth.
As the Oakland Audubon Society membership knows from my recent volunteer activity emails, Spring is the time for garlic mustard removal events. Garlic mustard (Alliari petiolata) is an invasive herb which originated from Eurasia. It was brought to the United States from
Europe back in the mid-1800’s for its herbal and medicinal qualities as well as erosion control according to The Nature Conservancy.
As Stan Tekiela, author of Wildflowers of Michigan Field Guide, states “It was once commonly grown in gardens, where its flavorful leaves were cultivated for salad. Its leaves, stems, and seedpods have a strong taste of garlic, and its tiny black seeds can be used as a substitute for
pepper.” However, if leaves are harvested when they are older, they are much more bitter, become toxic, and contain traces of cyanide.
Garlic mustard is a biennial plant. It produces a basil rosette in the first year.
In the second year, the plant is easily identified by its triangular, heart-shaped leaves with toothed edges. In Spring, garlic mustard produces clusters of four,
white petaled flowers.
Hand pulling is the best way to get rid of garlic mustard. Make sure you pull the plant and roots before they seed. The action of grabbing and pulling a plant that has already seeded only drops more seeds into the soil creating a no-win scenario for the gardener! Plants are more easily pulled after it rains. Once pulled, put the plants in a black, plastic bag and dispose of with your other garbage. Never put garlic mustard plants in compost piles!
Do not forget to clean your boots and clothes after a garlic mustard removal event. You do not want to take garlic mustard seeds home because they are always looking to find new areas to establish. And lastly, know that your efforts to remove garlic mustard help bring back our native plants and contribute to the growth of our native trees!
Written by: Greg Petrosky
Date: April, 2021
What makes this plant so difficult to eradicate from an area? Each plant can produce up to 3,000 seeds which are spread via the wind. The seeds can also be spread by humans or animals walking through garlic mustard patches. Garlic mustard establishes a foothold in fields and forests by emerging earlier in spring than many of our native plants. When the native plants are ready to grow, garlic mustard blocks the sunlight and outcompetes them for moisture and vital soil nutrients.
Garlic mustard seeds are produced within a few days of the plant flowering and are instantly viable. Unfortunately, the seeds are viable for up to five years once produced. So even if you pull all garlic mustard plants that you see in a given year, seeds from prior years will still grow in subsequent years. However, with persistence (and a little bit of luck), garlic mustard can be controlled and eradicated from an area.
Alcona Elementary Fourth Graders Take on
Reducing Marine Debris
What makes this project so noteworthy is that instead of promoting recycling, a good thing in itself, this project will challenge fourth grade students (working with two teachers) to reduce land-based litter before it ever starts! This in turn reduces litter that could make its way via our watersheds into Lake Huron. Can you think of a better way to get the next generation of children involved in helping keep our environment clean. The Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) is a network of education and community partners who promote educational opportunities for youth, community, and environment in northeast Michigan. MSU-Extension, a member of this network, will work with the teachers and students around three objectives. Objective one is to learn about Marine debris. Objective two is to collect and analyze lunch trash data. Objective three is to investigate, research, and write a plan to implement reduction or prevention of their targeted trash item. Information collected from this project will then be added to the “Taking a Bite Out of Lunchroom Waste” educator tool kit. The toolkit will then serve as a starting point for future students to also engage in reducing marine debris. Another benefit of this project is that it will train ten additional teachers on how to use the toolkit thereby spreading good environmental practices.
To read more details about this project, click on the link below:
If you want to know more about Michigan State University Extension,
Written by: Greg Petrosky
Date: March, 2021
I saw this article in the Lakes, Streams, and Watersheds - MSU Extension News and knew I had to share it on our Oakland Audubon Society Conservation/Environment webpage. Via a two-year $50,000 “Food for Thought” Marine Debris Prevention Grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alcona Elementary fourth graders ( Alcona is located in Michigan’s northeast lower peninsula between Alpena and Oscoda) are partnering with MSU Extension to study and reduce trash generated from their school lunchrooms. This grant was awarded to the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative (NEMIGLSI) working in partnership with Michigan State University Extension.
Lake Huron marine debris. Photo by Rick Houchin Photography
Outstanding Work Being Done
by Six Rivers Land Conservancy
Six Rivers Land Conservancy is a private, non-profit land conservation organization that is currently working with three local
communities to add natural areas and park lands here in southeast Michigan. I received the information below from a Six Rivers email and absolutely applaud their efforts! If you would like to know more about this organization, please visit them at www.sixriverslc.org
Six Rivers Land Conservancy has helped three local communities secure funding to add 275 acres of additional natural areas and
park lands in the region. On Wednesday, Dec 2 the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) awarded grants totaling
$4.7 million to Chesterfield Township, St. Clair County Parks and Oakland Township to help fund their purchases of properties from Six Rivers. Six Rivers acquired the properties for the communities and is holding them on their behalf while they complete the MNRTF process.
Six Rivers acquired property on the Salt River in Chesterfield Township with a loan from First State Bank. Once Chesterfield
Township receives their grant funds they will purchase the property from Six Rivers to become the Salt River Nature Center.
In the interim period the Township is leasing the property from Six Rivers to begin utilizing it. Six Rivers’ acquisition of the property was funded by First State Bank with a newly established line of credit. Once the MNRTF funds come through, the Township will complete the purchase from Six Rivers and Six Rivers will pay off the loan. This is a priority acquisition for the township as well as a priority in the Macomb County Blueway and SEMCOG Green Infrastructure plans, adding additional access upstream from the Webber Paddle Park and adding to public access and protected acreage along the Salt River.
Six Rivers also acquired a 10-acre parcel for St. Clair County Parks bordering Algonac and adjoining the DNR boat launch on the North Channel of the St. Clair River. Once the County has received their funds from the MNRTF they will complete the purchase from Six Rivers and turn the property into a public park with beach area, kayak launch and other recreational amenities. It will be the southernmost park in St. Clair County and will add badly needed recreational access to the St. Clair River. The initial acquisition by Six Rivers was funded with a loan from The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit that specializes in loaning funds for conservation acquisitions. Oakland Township was awarded a grant to add 235 acres to their existing Lost Lake Nature Park. When the grant funds are received the Township will complete the purchase from Six Rivers. The property is a mix of rare, high quality natural features and adds significant habitat value and connectivity to nearby Bald Mountain State Recreation Area and Oakland County’s Addison Oaks Park.
Six Rivers has the property under contract and will close on their acquisition before year-end, and then transfer the property to
Oakland Township once the MNRTF grant funds are provided. One of the ways Six Rivers achieves its mission is to assist local
communities in acquiring land for parks and nature preserves. One way Six Rivers does this is by pre-acquiring and holding a property on behalf of the local government while they go through the process of seeking and securing grants and other funding sources to ultimately purchase the property. This is often necessary because in many cases sellers do not have the ability to hold on to the property during the process, which can take many months or more. Six Rivers funds the acquisitions through its partnership with the Conservation Fund and First State Bank as well as other sources. The local community covers all the acquisition and holding costs and pays Six Rivers a facilitation fee for its assistance. Grant funds typically pay up to 75% of the property purchase price, so the additional costs that arise through the partnership are offset by the grant funds, and securing the property is critical to the success of the project.
Submitted by: Greg Petrosky
Date: February, 2021
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Public Lands Strategy
DNR seeks input on comprehensive strategy for more than 4 million acres of public lands
Complete draft of DNR land strategy now available for review and feedback
The power of public lands. That simple but meaningful idea has been at the heart of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ efforts, over the past year, to update its strategy for nearly 4.6 million acres of state forests, parks, trails, game and wildlife areas, and other public lands.
The result of those efforts – a complete, comprehensive draft of the DNR’s updated strategy to tap into the power of public lands for the benefit of Michigan’s residents, natural resources and economy – is now available for review at Michigan.gov/PublicLands.
The DNR invites the public and stakeholders to provide input on the draft land strategy through an online survey or via email to DNR- LandStrategy@Michigan.gov. Feedback will be accepted through Feb. 12.
“Through thoughtful, careful planning, public lands can – and already do – have a powerful effect on our quality of life as Michiganders,” said Scott Whitcomb, DNR senior adviser for wildlife and public lands. “Taking good care of the lands the
DNR manages creates ample opportunities for residents and visitors to hunt, camp, fish, hike, ride the trails, and connect with nature and history in ways that are uniquely Michigan. It contributes significantly to the health of our families, our
environment and our economy.”
To provide a framework for conserving and managing public lands to ensure their best use for Michigan residents and visitors and the state’s natural resources, the DNR created a land strategy in 2013.
During the process of updating this strategy for 2021, the DNR has gathered input from people around the state. The comprehensive draft strategy now available for review incorporates input from the public and stakeholders received in the
fall of 2020.
Feedback on the draft will be incorporated, as appropriate, in the development of a final land strategy, which will be submitted to the Legislature by July 1.
The updated public land strategy will guide the DNR in accomplishing goals of:
Protecting and preserving Michigan’s natural and cultural resources.
Providing spaces for quality outdoor recreation opportunities.
Performing responsible natural resources management.
When Should You Prune That Oak Tree?
Some of the lower limbs on my Red Oak trees prevented me from perfectly viewing the birds at my bird feeder this past summer. Although my first impulse was to trim those branches so I could better see my fine feathered friends, I remembered what a naturalist for Oakland County Parks and Recreation told me during a Trailblazer Walk at Springfield Oaks this past summer. He said NEVER prune Red Oaks in the summer. This will help prevent the spread of oak wilt.
Oak wilt is a lethal disease caused by the fungus Bretziella Fagacearum (formerly called Ceratocystis Fagacearum). This fungus invades and quickly disables the vascular (water conducting) system in Red Oaks and White Oaks. For Red Oaks (Northern Red Oak, Northern Pin Oak, Scarlet Oak, and Black Oak), oak wilt is so deadly that it can kill a tree within three weeks of being infected! White Oaks (White Oak, Swamp White Oak, Bur Oak, and Chinquapin Oak) are also affected by oak wilt, but have a much better chance of recovering from the disease.
The origin of oak wilt is not known, but this invasive fungal disease was first seen in Wisconsin in 1944. Since then, the disease has spread to oak trees throughout the midwest and also into many counties of Texas. See USDA Forest Services 2016 U.S. Counties with Oak Wilt map below.
Here in Michigan, oak wilt has been gaining significant momentum in recent years. See Michigan DNR 2016 Michigan Oak Wilt Map below.
So how does a Red Oak tree get oak wilt? Initially, oak wilt obtains entry into the tree via either root grafts or through wounds. Wounds come from tree trimming or damaged limbs during storms. Within weeks of the infection, the tree loses leaves and dies. The following year, “pressure pads” with spore (fungal) mats grow, rupture the bark, and emerge. The spore mats exhibit a fruity odor which attracts sap beetles (see photo below). During feeding, the sap beetles pick up spores and mycelium (fungal body stands) on their bodies. If a nearby oak tree has a fresh wound, the sap beetle is lured to that tree for more nourishment. It is during this feeding that the diseased spores on its body are transferred to the healthy tree, thereby infecting it.
According to David L. Roberts, Ph. D., Michigan State University, “it is estimated that approximately 90% of oak wilt transmission is via the underground root graft mode. However, all new geographical locations of oak wilt outbreaks are due to the overland spread of the fungus to wounds by insects”. Interestingly, fresh tree wounds are only attractive to sap beetles for 5-7 days after the wound occurs. If an oak tree is wounded when sap beetles are active, immediate application of a sealant is recommended. And lastly, it is also important to know that the spread of oak wilt can also be caused by transporting diseased logs and firewood from one place to another.
So, back to my original question. When should you prune your oak trees? Well the time is now. The safest time to prune oaks is from November 1st to March 14th. See Michigan Oak Wilt Coalition Oak Wilt Risk Meter chart below. It is during this time that the tree is dormant and there are no active sap beetles. And yes I know it is cold out there, but your trees will thank you in the spring when they come back to life healthy and well!
Written by: Greg Petrosky
Date: January, 2021
Spotted Lanternfly Invasive Species Alert
The Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is an invasive species that was first discovered in 2014 in Pennsylvania. It has since been found in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia. This plant hopper is a native insect of China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam. See images below.
To date, no established populations have been found in Michigan. However, dead spotted lanternfly adults were found in two areas of southern Michigan this fall! In one instance, a citizen found the dead insects hitchhiking on material that had been shipped to Michigan, photographed them, and sent their photos to Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) for identification. The concern with this invasive pest is the damage they do by feeding on as many as (70) different tree species (i.e. American Basswood, American Beech, Bigtooth Aspen, Black Cherry, Black-gum, Dogwoods, Maples, Oaks, Paper Birch, Pignut Hickory, Pines, Sassafras, Slippery Elm, Tulip-tree, White Ash, Willows, etc.), numerous fruit trees (i.e. Apple, Apricot, Cherry, Peach, Plum, etc.), grape vines, and hops vines. When they feed, spotted lanternflies pierce the bark of the host plant and suck the sap from stems and trunks. These wounds can allow pathogens into the plant thereby infecting it. In addition to tree damage, spotted lanternflies excrete a sugary substance know as "honeydew” that encourages the growth of black sooty mold. The mold can kill plants and foul surfaces. The honeydew also attracts hornets, wasps, and ants to the site.
To identify this pest, see pictures A-E and life cycle image below.
Spotted lanternflies live for only one year and must lays eggs for future generations to survive. Once the eggs hatch, the spotted lanternfly will be black with bright white spots on them for the first three instar stages of their life (Picture B above). During the fourth instar stage, the spotted lanternfly is vibrant red with distinct patches of black and equally distinct white spots (Picture C above). The adult is approximately 1” long. The forewing is grey with black spots and the wing tips have reticulated black blocks outlined in grey. The hind wings have contrasting patches of red and black with a white band. The legs and head are black. The abdomen is yellow with broad black bands (Pictures D & E above). Adult female spotted lanternflies lay eggs in masses in late fall on trees, under bark, posts, lawn furniture, cars, trailers, outdoor grills, and many
other surfaces. Each female lays 30-50 eggs! See images below.
So what do you do if you suspect you have seen a spotted lanternfly or egg patch? Kill it by smashing it. Spotted lanternflies are not harmful to humans in that they will not sting or bite you. If you can, take pictures and then contact one of the following and report what you have found:
Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development:
Email MDA-Info@michigan.gov or call the MDARD Customer Service Center at 800-292-3939.
MSU Plant and Pest Diagnostics: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 517-432-0988.
Use the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network’s (MISIN) online reporting tool or download the MISIN smartphone app and report from your phone: http://www.misin.msu.edu/tools/apps/#home.
Written by: Greg Petrosky
Date: December, 2020
Ways You Can Help Birds
Top 10 Ways You Can Help Birds
1. Protect birds from glass collisions
2. Say “No” to pesticides
3. Donate to a reliable bird conservation group
4. Be a responsible cat owner, keep your pet inside.
5. Take action for birds - become a conservation advocate. Promote Chimney Swift, and Purple Martin conservation.
6. Create a native bird habitat
7. Reduce, reuse, recycle
8. Buy bird-friendly coffee
9. Turn out lights; Safe Passage Great Lakes
10. Plant bird friendly plants
Resources for this list: www.abcbirds.org (American Bird Conservancy)
This article is on Recycling in Michigan, and was inspired by a spot on “Live in the “D”” about battery recycling in Michigan.
I am sure if you are like me you are always looking for new ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle. I will start with batteries; remember when you could take your batteries to Radio Shack and recycle them? After their bankruptcy, a search of my
i-phone shows that there are only two stores left in Michigan, some Michigan residents may have a long drive to use that service. A call to Lowe’s and a few other recyclers turned up empty. With these results, we are going to have to be a little more creative in our recycling efforts.
The recycling solution that was covered on the morning TV show turned out to be a pay to recycle solution, with “kits” ranging in price from $50 - $300 depending on the amount of batteries recycled. This is probably not a viable solution for most individuals trying to be good environmentalists.
I tried searching for why battery recycling wasn’t much of an option anymore. I found an article titled, Recycling that typical household battery is not as easy as you think (www.michiganradio.org). Basically most recyclers; since mercury was removed from lithium batteries in 1990 feel that it is not profitable enough to recycle most batteries, and recommend throwing them in the trash. It all comes down to money.
We are not going to succumb to profit. Last year after collecting many containers of batteries (lithium, alkaline, button, etc.), I finally started calling everyone a search of the internet said recycled batteries near me. I decided on Discount Battery stores, because they were near me, and they took my batteries. I am sure there are places near you who will recycle your batteries,
you just have to be consistent.
Another piece of information from the show, is that Michigan only recycles 15% of its recyclables; lowest in the Great Lakes region, and among the lowest in the U.S.. EGLE (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy) was started in 1995. They have an educational program called “Know it Before You Throw it”, www.michigan.gov/mienvironment, which utilizes RecyclingRacoons.org, to teach about proper way to use your community recycling. You might ask how does recycling save birds, recycling reduces the plastic that goes into our oceans which chokes and traps seabirds. The landfills poison, birds and take up space, destroying the habitat for land birds.
- Jerry Rogers