Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wasps in Southeast Texas

We find two common wasps in The Woodlands and other locations in the Southeast USA. Many of us who have lived here for decades have been stung at least one time by one of these species. We know them as the Red or Paper Wasp and the Southern Yellow jacket. The two species are quite different but both will sting when their nest is threatened. The insect is beneficial to the garden and has a positive role in the environment. It eats insects and particularly tough on caterpillars. One will typically find the Red Wasp near water.  The Yellow Jacket is found about everywhere.

Popularly known as the Red Wasp and also Paper Wasp. This nest was attached under the eave of a house in The Woodlands Texas.

Yellow Jacket nest found on a plant in the forest, near the shore of a lake in The Woodlands Texas. As you will note, the nest of a yellow jacket is similar to one of a Red Wasp. There is one notable difference. The Red Wasp covers the tube to protect its offspring, where the Yellow Jacket does not. Also, the yellow jacket nest can grow to be a huge nest where the paper Wasp will not.

Some people have an allergic reaction to the stings of these insects. They can die from one sting, so if you know someone who is allergic and they get stung, hopefully, he has medicine to combat the reaction. If not, he needs to be taken to the hospital as soon as feasible. If not allergic, the person will have a few small whelps which will go away soon. The stings are very painful, so when a child is stung, the wounds should be treated. Pain can persist for hours.

Nests can be removed from a dwelling by high pressure spray, of course at a sufficient distance to not get stung. The removal will likely require more than one application, but they will relocate with a little persistence.

1. Texas A&amp.M Agrilife Extension - Southern Yellow jacket
2. Texas A&M Agrilife Extension - Paper Wasp

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Anole - some people call them lizards

"A little Anole is just a lizard, right?", someone asks in the tour group of Woodlands residents at Mercer Botanical gardens. Well, a lizard is generic for a number of creatures. We prefer to use the generic familiar names. This one is an Anole.  This term comes from the scientific genus name "anolis". Yes, this is what people generally refer to as a "lizard" and some are even called "chameleons", which is incorrect because they do not have the facility to actually change colors. Instead, the process is comprised of using three layers of pigmentation in the Green Anole.   It is a matter of turning "on" or "off" a layer. Many of them can change apparent coloration using this method and adapt to their surroundings. This one does so also, on a minor scale. It is not as adaptive as the Green Anole which can change from full brown to a full green. 

Among these flowers, there is plenty to eat. His long tongue can reach out  a couple of inches to grab its prey, usually an insect such as a butterfly or grasshopper. This species in an invasive one, generally spreading from south Florida where it first appeared, and displacing the Green Anole through the "survival of the fittest" competitive concept.   It his called the Brown Anole and does not change apparent colors as dramatically or completely as the Green Anole does. It as been in the USA for about 120 years.

The part under its chin is called a dewlap. It is colorful and expands as a courtship tool. Anoles lay one egg every couple of months. There are hundreds of varieties all over the warm world. They thrive in warm climates.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Pokeberry Plant - a weed to some, food to others

Although it's mature (black) berries are not very attractive for enhancing the beauty of a garden, the Pokeberry (also known as Pokeweed) in Southeast Texas  produces an ornamental red berry  and red stem that is quite functional, attracting some important birds in to the garden. It's leaves are ornamental to some degree, especially if you like the look of thick large leafed vegetation or reddish stems. It grows quickly and can reach heights of up to 10 feet. Bluebirds, Cardinals, and Mockingbirds will enjoy this berry. Availability during migrating season also helps it to play a role in attracting birds to the back yard in the late summer or early fall.
The plant's leaves are food to humans, but it is very debatable whether they are harmful or not. To prepare "Poke Salad", one picks the leaves and stems when in the early  spring, when the leaves are tender and developing. They have to be boiled and the water thrown away. Some say the leaves taste like Broccoli and other say Collard Greens.2 In the East Texas forests,  this low cost food source  has been around for centuries. The Indians used it for medicine but I apparently not for food. The roots have really bad toxins. Gradually those toxins make it into the leaves of the plant. The berries are poisonous to humans.  One university professor states "Do not eat this plant. It is poisonous." 1 There are actual recipes3 for using the leaves.  I am conservative on this. Why eat a poisonous food  if you have so many other choices? If I were in dire need, I  know I can use this plant as food. Otherwise, it a no no for me and my family! 

1 Don't Eat Poke Salad
2 Preparing Poke Salad in 1939 in Marshall Texas
3History and recipe for Poke Salad

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

American Beautyberry - perfect native plant for The Woodlands

This is a plant recommended for your garden. It is a small natural East Texas Forest understory bush that produces colorful berries for birds. It's leaf is savored by deer. 1 You will see it on about any casual walk along the paths of The Woodlands or in the forest, especially near water. This photo was taken at  Mercer Arboretum. The plant is tolerant to drought, but will thrive in moist soils. It blooms and produces berries all summer into the fall.  Its berries  can be used for food as well, but it is not recommended for anything but jelly. The flowers are ornamental and add beauty to the gardens as much as the berries do. Native Americans  used this plant for medicinal purposes including malarial diseases, fevers, dysentery, and colic. 2   One of the nice qualities of this plant is that it is also considered a wildflower, propagating  by seed as well as cuttings.  It is not too tolerant of extreme cold however.

1 Texas Parks and Wildlife
2 Easy Wildflowers

Broad Banded Water Snake

The Broad Banded Water Snake is one of seven nonpoisonous water snakes found in Texas. 1 It is readily identifiable as this one (sorry for the poor quality. Will try to replace the photo later with a better one) was at Mercer Arboretum, near The Woodlands Texas. They live in trees, on the ground and in the water, searching for food. When small, they eat small fish by roaming the water with their mouth open. As they get larger, they move on to frogs and small shore creatures. This snake is harmless except it will bite like all snakes. In its mouth it excretes an anticoagulant, so a bite can take a few minutes to stop bleeding. It is not a poisonous venom. This species is sometimes considered to be a pet growing up to about 3 feet. It can be handled with care. However, it belongs to the wild and should stay there. It matures in three years and produces live babies. One will often find a banded snake within 50 feet from the shore of a lake, river or creek, or swimming in the water. Remember though that all snakes can and will swim. Not all snakes climb. Rarely does a poisonous snake climb into trees. The Banded Water Snake will oftentimes be found in limbs of trees overhanging a body of water.