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Archive for August, 2015

Ragweed blooms amongst the goldenrod.

If you look carefully, you can see ragweed with its red stems and spikes of greenish flowers blooming in front of the goldenrod. No wonder goldenrod often gets the blame for our allergies!

It’s late summer and your eyes have become itchy and watery. Your nose is running and stuffy because you’ve been sneezing like crazy. There must be some pollen in the air wreaking havoc with your respiratory system! You look around and see many bright yellow goldenrods in the fields and along the roadside so naturally you assume these are the culprits. WRONG!

Goldenrod often gets a bad rap because it blooms (very conspicuously) at the same time as ragweed – the real pollen factory at this time of year.

A ragweed flower

The male ragweed flower produces a lot of pollen in a season!

Ragweed is a common weed that blooms in August and September with spikes of inconspicuous greenish flowers. If you look around where colorful yellow goldenrods are blooming, you will probably also see large stands of ragweed – they are just not as noticeable because they don’t have showy flowers.

Ragweed is a wind pollinated species and, like all plants that rely on wind as a means of pollen dispersal, it produces copious amounts of pollen in the hopes that some of it will eventually make it to a female ragweed flower. Unfortunately, a lot of it makes it into your eyes and nose resulting in those annoying allergies!

The ragweed flower is built for wind pollination. There are no showy flowers. Instead, the spikes of male flowers that form at the tips of the stems lack petals so that nothing gets in the way of the blowing pollen grains – billions of pollen grains! They billow unimpeded from the flowers into the air where they can remain for several days riding on air currents and traveling long distances!

Honey bees love goldenrod and the flowers will often be covered with these busy pollinators.

Honey bees love goldenrod and the flowers will often be covered with these busy pollinators.

Goldenrod on the other hand is insect pollinated and doesn’t produce the great quantities of pollen that ragweed does. And, goldenrod pollen is relatively large and too heavy to travel very far on the wind, so unless you stick your nose in a flower and inhale the pollen, it is unlikely to cause hay fever.

The goldenrods have showy flowers built to attract the insects that pollinate them. Insect pollination is a much more efficient way for plants to get their pollen where it needs to go – to another flower. But this efficiency does come with a cost – after all, you have to pay the “delivery man”! Plants that rely on insect pollinators usually produce sweet treats of nectar and/or protein-packed pollen as a reward for visits to their flowers.

A colorful moth pollinates goldenrod flowers.

This colorful moth is a frequent visitor to goldenrod flowers at the nursery.

In their travels collecting these “treats”, the insects transfer some of the pollen to other flowers resulting in pollination. The plants have to spend extra energy to produce the nectar and higher protein pollen but it pays off in the end because they get successful pollination with the production of much less pollen.

So when your allergies are really bothering you this fall, DON’T blame the goldenrod!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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Tortoise beetle and larvae

Containers of Coleus, geranium, and herbs along the railing.

Containers of Coleus and geranium,
with herbs in pots along the railing.

We share our deck with lots of containers filled with beautiful plants. They add color and make it a more interesting place to sit and relax! Some of the pots are planted with flowers and foliage plants including some very colorful Coleus and others are planted with herbs that we snip fresh for cooking.

Two of the larger containers are planted with Juliet tomatoes. These miniature “Roma-type” tomatoes are our new favorite small tomato to grow instead of the cherry tomatoes we used to plant. In addition to the two on the deck, we also have two Juliet tomato plants growing in our vegetable garden. A tasty treat to munch on while working in the garden!

Juliet tomato

Juliet tomato

These delicious tomatoes are larger than a typical cherry tomato but bear just as prolifically. Their shape is oblong like a Roma tomato but they are smaller; growing up to 2¼” long and about 1¼” wide. They are meaty little guys and delicious straight off the vine (my favorite way to eat them), in salads, or for use in cooking. Yum!

Juliet is very crack resistant and stays fresh and firm on the vine longer than most cherry tomatoes. They also keep very well once picked but they always produce way more than we can eat fresh.

Juliet tomatoes are deliciously prolific!

Juliet tomatoes are deliciously prolific!

Last year in order to preserve the excess, we simply put them straight into freezer bags and froze them. Just straight off the vine – no processing required. Easy!

Whenever Eric made chili or soup or vegetable stew, he just pulled out a bunch of the frozen Juliet tomatoes, chopped them in thirds, and dropped them right in the pot. The skins can be fished out afterwards (or not) or you can thaw them a bit and slip the skins off before you cut them up. Simple and delicious!

Anyway …

Tomato leaf damage from the tortoise beetle

Tomato leaf damage from
the tortoise beetle

The other day when I went to pick some tomatoes off the plants on the deck, I noticed that several of the leaves were riddled with pretty large, very round holes. I’d never seen damage like this before. I’ve seen holes in leaves but never holes that were quite so uniformly round.

On further inspection, I found a few round, hard-shelled insects on the leaves. At first I thought they were some type of scale insect but when I poked one, it flew a short distance away and landed on another leaf – definitely NOT scale! Then there were some funky stationary ones that I assumed were either larvae or pupae.

Clavate tortoise beetle adult

Clavate tortoise beetle adult

This was a critter I was not familiar with. They didn’t seem to be doing much damage to the plant, just chewing lots of holes in a few of the leaves.

As it turns out, these were clavate tortoise beetles, Plagiometriona clavata. They do look a little like a turtle with a hard shell that covers not only their wings but their head as well. This particular species has a distinctive “teddy bear” shape on the shell.

Apparently these beetles are commonly found on plants in the solenaceous family which includes jimsonweed, nightshade, and also vegetable crops like tomato, pepper, and eggplant. We have four eggplants in a large container on the deck and I also noticed that a few of those leaves had these characteristic, round holes chewed in them. Tortoise beetles are also fond of morning glories which we happen to have planted in containers right beside our pots of Juliet tomatoes. Not surprisingly, many of the morning glory leaves are riddled with little round holes!

Tortoise beetle larva with fecal mass "shield"

Tortoise beetle larva with
fecal mass “shield”

The larvae of this beetle are unusual, too. They have an oval shaped, segmented body that is fringed with white spiny projections. The last segment of their body is modified with a forked projection which collects fecal material. This forked segment with the attached dried fecal mass is held over the body of the larva like a shield. It is thought that this may provide the larvae with some form of protection from predators through either camouflage or possibly as a type of repellent.

All-in-all, this is a very interesting and unique visitor to our plants and definitely not one that I had encountered before.

Always something new to learn in the garden!

Until next time – Happy Gardening!

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