Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths…

May 20th, 2012 § Comments Off on Moonlight Flight in the Garden: Attracting Lovely Luna Moths… § permalink

 Luna Moth (Actias luna) –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

One of the best parts about teaching is having the opportunity to further my own education. And when I am asked a great question that I can not answer, I get especially excited by the chance to do some research and learn something new! Yesterday morning, I presented a seminar, “Designing with Native Plants to Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds to the Garden”, at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. The attendees had a number of great, familiar questions about plants and plant care, pollinators and insects in general. But when I was asked how to attract Luna Moths (Actias luna) to the garden, I admit that I was stumped. I’m a horticulturalist, and while I have taken entomology classes —and continue to study and work with insects almost daily in my gardening career— I’m certainly no expert in the field. So, when I returned to my studio, I consulted Whitney Craneshaw’s comprehensive Garden Insects of North America. I was surprised by what I learned, and thought I’d share it here with all of you…

Moonlight Flight of the Luna Moth –  iPad Illustration by Michaela

Luna Moths (Actias luna) are members of the giant silkworm —or in adult phase, royal moth— family (Saturniidae). Approximately ten days after eggs are lain by an adult, the giant, green Luna Moth caterpillars emerge and begin feeding upon foliage of native trees and shrubs; including Black Walnut (Juglans nigra), American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Willow (Salix ssp), Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Sumac (Rhus), Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), White Oak (Quercus alba), Hickory (Carya), American chestnut (Castanea dentata), as well as the leaves of other nut and fruit bearing shrubs, trees and shade trees. In spite of their voracious appetites, Luna Moth caterpillars pose little threat to trees and shrubs, due to their modest numbers. Predators of the large —2.5″— caterpillars are numerous; including wasps and many other insects, as well as birds and rodents. Once the adult Luna Moth emerges from its chrysalis, it only has about one week to live, and during this time, its sole mission is reproduction. Such a large moth —with a wingspan of 4.5-5″— must dodge many predators, and slow flight makes the Luna Moth easy prey for nocturnal creatures like bats and owls. Of course, the adult Luna Moths still has plenty of free time to find a mate, as it doesn’t need to spend the week seeking food. Luna Moths emerge from their cocoons without mouths, and never need to eat! The females attract males by emitting a chemical into the night air (Luna-fume?), and lay their eggs beneath the leaves of trees; preferably those of Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). Usually, there are two cycles per year with moths taking flight in late spring and again in mid-late summer.

So how to attract Luna Moths? Try planting trees and shrubs preferred by the Luna during it’s larval stage —all listed above— and be mindful about protecting natural habitat for wildlife. Once plentiful, the Luna Moth is now considered endangered in some areas of the United States. Avoid use of insecticides and herbicides (even organic methods such as Btk and insecticidal soap can kill Luna Moth caterpillars if sprayed indiscriminately) and unnecessary clearing of understory trees and shrubs in their environment. They may be rare, but keep your eyes open at night: if you head outside at dusk, or just before dawn during the early summer, you may get lucky and spot a moonlight flight of the Luna Moth!

Illustrations and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

February 24th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Salix discolor. Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela at TGE

Welcome, oh welcome sweet, silver-tipped harbinger of springtime. Is there anything that makes a heart race faster than the sight of the first pussy willow catkins? I love the beautiful, soft texture and the sculptural quality of pussy willow branches artfully arranged in a vase. Now is the time to pull on your knee-high boots and gather these beautiful branches by the armful. Just look at those softly luminous, shimmering beauties!

Salix discolor (as our North American native pussywillow is formally called) is a North American native shrub or small, understory tree, (5-15′ tall and perhaps 8′ wide). Often found beside brooks, forest streams, low-lying thickets or swamps from Canada to Georgia, the pussy willow is hardy to USDA zones 4-7. Stands of Salix discolor form important wetland habitat for nesting birds and other creatures. Mindful of this, I carefully harvest where shrubs are plentiful, and make clean cuts with my Felco pruners.

Salix discolor: North American native pussy willow pollen (the greenish bloom comes after the silver) is an important source of early spring pollen for native bees and honey bees  © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow – Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela TGE

If you harvest pussy willow for arrangements —and would like the catkins to remain in their silvery, bud-like state— place them in a vase without water to halt development. The preserved twigs and branches can be used in wreaths or other decorations, and will remain beautiful throughout the year. If placed in water, the catkins will slowly develop a greenish cast or “bloom” and eventually, alternate, oval-shaped leaves will spout along the branches. The pollen from blooming pussy willow catkins is an important source of food for bees in the earliest weeks spring (thanks to Deb reminding me to note this!). Like the idea of growing your own stand of pussy willow?

Pussy willow are easy to propagate from late winter/springtime cuttings (this is a good project to try with kids!). Simply harvest pliant, year-old branches, (approximately 18-24″ long), and keep stems in a vase of water in a sunny spot. Plant whips outside when roots have formed, right after the last frost date in your area (rooting hormone is not necessary). Be sure to keep the root-zone moist with a mulch around the base and check on them regularly. Willow naturally prefer moist garden environments (like their native wetlands), so position your young Salix discolor in a garden low spot, where it will catch spring run-off and moisture throughout the seasons.This year I harvested some branches to use in everlasting arrangements, and some to propagate for my garden. Pussy willow make wonderful, textural-interst shrubs for wetland transition areas in the naturalized landscape. I hope to propagate enough for future cutting as well as for enjoying in the permanent landscape. As well as supporting native and honeybee populations and other wildlife as an important, early source of food, these native shrubs are fantastic cover for small birds in the garden too. And I just love watching wild birds in my yard.

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow © Michaela at TGE

Pitcher/Vase by Aletha Soulé. Images © Michaela at TGE

Photographs and cultural information in this article were originally published on this blog in 2010.

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent.

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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Welcome, Soft Harbinger of Spring: Oh Come to Me, My Sweet Willow…

March 19th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Salix discolor: North American native pussy willow © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow – Pitcher by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela TGE

Welcome! Oh welcome sweet, silver-tipped harbinger of springtime. Is there anything that makes a heart race faster than the sight of the first pussy willow catkins in March? I should probably install a blinking sign on the back of my vehicle; “Warning: I break for pussy willow”. Yes, it’s true. I am quite the springtime roadside hazard. Fortunately, the mud-slicked trails I travel in search of Salix discolor, (as our North American native pussywillow is formally called), are usually avoided by traffic at this time of year. Yesterday afternoon, after a bit of swampy adventure, I returned home with a flush in my cheeks and armfuls of downy-budded branches. I love the beautiful, soft texture and the sculptural quality of pussy willow arrangements.

Salix discolor is a North American native shrub or small, understory tree, (5-15′ tall and perhaps 8′ wide). Often found beside brooks and forest streams, or in low-lying thickets and swamps from Canada to Georgia, the pussy willow is hardy to USDA zones 4-7. Stands of Salix discolor form important wetland habitat for nesting birds and other creatures. Mindful of this, I have been carefully harvesting where shrubs are plentiful, and making clean cuts with my Felco pruners.

Pussy willow are easy to propagate from springtime cuttings, (this is a good project to try with kids!). Simply harvest pliant, year-old branches, (approximately 18-24″ long), and keep stems in a vase of water in a sunny spot. Plant whips outside when roots have formed, right after the last frost date in your area. This year I harvested some branches to use in everlasting arrangements, and some to propagate for my garden. Pussy willow make wonderful, textural-interst shrubs for wetland transition areas in the naturalized landscape. I hope to propagate enough for future cutting as well as for enjoying in the permanent landscape. Remember, these native shrubs are fantastic cover for small birds in the garden too. If you harvest pussy willow for arrangements, and would like the catkins to remain in their silvery, bud-like state, place them in a vase without water to halt development. The preserved twigs and branches can be used in wreaths or other decorations, and will remain beautiful throughout the year. If placed in water, the catkins will slowly develop a greenish cast or “bloom” and eventually, alternate, oval-shaped leaves will spout along the branches. Plant Salix discolor in a garden low spot, where it will catch spring run-off and moisture throughout the seasons…

Salix discolor, North American native pussy willow © Michaela at TGE

Salix discolor – vase by Aletha Soulé. Photo © Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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