Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What's Your Poison?


When we started clearing the woods of garlic mustard this May, it didn't take long before I began to spot small shrubs that looked like poison ivy, but may or may not have been. I have long been aware of the morphological nature of poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. In the blazing sunshine of New York beach dunes it shows as a glorious shining-leaf shrub thicket or in the dry woods of Long Island it appears as a vining, often shiny but not always, plant growing up trees or just as often a three-leafed low shrub colony at the edges of woods and fields. In the deep, wet woods of Maine it often took the appearance of fresh, pale greenery growing low to the ground. 

Rex always said poison ivy was not growing on the property, but I knew it grew across the road in the sunshine, in front of and under the Alders. Because my possible sightings took place in dappled sunlight or on slopes recently made sunny by fallen oaks along with what I consider a cohabitant, wild grapes, I began mentally bookmarking each specimen as a potential rash. I posted on FB and the results were nearly fifty fifty split between poison and not poison, yet no one could provide a possible alternative to poison ivy.


Leaves of three, let in be -so the saying goes.


But what of this? Sometimes PI looks just like trees.


Another clue is the short branches on side leaves, long on front leaf. 


Surely that is poison ivy. Alternate veining on the leaves.


You say, no way -not this one? But see here


Mitten-shaped leaves, leaves of three, alternate veining? 


Reddened stems, alternate veins, short side stems, three leaflets, perfect habitat?


If this isn't poison ivy, then what is it?


Turns out that's not poison ivy growing about our dappled clearings. This one clue deciphered it: opposite branching on our plants. Poison ivy has alternate branching. How did I figure it out?

While Betsy and I were clearing the area around the mailbox at the road, I saw a small tree, but definitely a tree, that had leaves just like our little specimens around the yard. I googled tree that looks like poison ivy (why didn't I think of that first?). It's an Ash Maple, Acer negundo, also known as Boxelder. After two weeks of surveying, each had grown enough to reveal their true identity. Then I found this definitive guide that goes beyond all the hooey about leaves of three you'll find on the Internet. Keep the pdf on your phone when your hiking and all your identification problems will be solved.




Saturday, June 27, 2015

Brave New Habitat

I could hardly believe the words coming out of my mouth -mosquito h a b i t a t. Yet that's what I said to the young lady in hot pink sweat jacket (ahem, hoodie) that loped out of the north (formerly little) wetland after I announced myself with a stern good morning.


The Metropolitan Mosquito Control District makes regular, unannounced visits to our wetlands. I have yet to be unsurprised by their presence or put in other words: they do not knock, call, or in any way let you know they are there (unless you see their truck; in this case it was parked on the road). I asked her to let us know that they would be present by simply knocking on the door, that the woods are dangerous (I hope that didn't sound like a threat :-\) and the mosquito surveyors need to be careful of falling trees, and by all means -please use the trails instead of trouncing the understory. 

This was the second time this spring that I've asked them not to spray because things need to eat and they eat mosquitoes, and even more so -the spray kills indiscriminately. When I ask why they are spraying, this is mosquito habitat (there it is) after all, they toss up the usual suspect -West Nile Virus. To which I've got a handful of retorts, and they then see that I am less than hospitable to this "public service." 

What we have here is a major home to countless frogs and toads, dragonflies that we love, bats, birds, and so much more. Mosquitoes bother the humans, don't get me wrong -I am thoroughly annoyed by them, but there is maybe 20 humans around these wetlands. West Nile Virus is not deeply concerning to me (maybe you, I can't say) but it is to me a "worrying tactic" used to nudge people into being agreeable to spraying. The truth is, or rather my truth is, that I believe they are spraying because mosquitoes are a nuisance and people just wish they were gone. 

Great. Now I am a proponent of mosquito habitat. I probably just broke the Fox News whacko meter. 

The helicopters fly just over the tree line in order to dump BTI, Bacillus thuringiensis subspecies israelensis, into the wetlands. I accept this practice as a compromise measure between myself and the mosquito-agitated public, although it seems an exorbitant use of funds for such spotty coverage. I can't say I've noticed a difference between post-BTI spread periods and untreated periods (but then, I'm biased -science please!).

The spraying of adult pesticides is done via backpack by day and likely by truck fogger at night (you may have seen this in NYC). I've continually asked surveyors to report back to their managers that we do not accept spraying on this land, even if our neighbors do. Apparently we need to get onto some sort of "do not spray" list. I have yet to find out how to do that, but I will, eventually.


O wonder!
How many godly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in't.

 —William Shakespeare, The Tempest

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I've begun posting on Facebook, at MOUND, and if you click the link at the upper left it will take you to my new page. Consider following me there, too, because I have begun using it for all the short form pictures and posts that never make it into this journal.