Killer wasps and common weeds

THE EASTERN CICADA killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus), can be intimidating at about an inch and a half in length and resembles a gigantic yellow jacket. The females have stingers which they use to paralyze cicadas, and each female has a hole in the ground about a half inch in diameter to which they drag the cicadas to use as hosts for their eggs.

The females are not aggressive and sting only when pressed, such as when stepped on or when accidently caught in clothing. The males have no stingers, but they are more aggressive and territorial. These wasps are considered beneficial for cicada control and dwell singly in their ground burrow. They are active in late summer in Frederick County. Goldenrod and ragweed.

Male and female Eastern Cicada Killer Wasp

Two late summer blooming native plants, goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) and ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), are often associated with allergy sufferers. Goldenrod gets a bad rap, since it blooms at the same time as common ragweed, although ragweed is the culprit. The showy yellow blooms of goldenrod attract numerous insects, which help pollinate by spreading its relatively large pollen grains, although this annual also propagates well through its spreading root system.

Ragweed flowers, not needing to attract insects for propagation, are an inconspicuous green. As it is wind-pollinated, Ragweed produces large quantities of smaller-grained pollen, which are the principal autumn antagonist of allergy sufferers. The small ragweed seed contained in a burr covering is a winter food for many species of birds.

Asters (Symphyotichum species)

Why not consider asters for fall color in the garden? Heath (ericoides), smooth blue (laeve), New York (novae-belgii) and New England (novae-angliae) asters are all native to our area. You can find cultivars, especially of the New England asters, at nurseries. These plants are grown in sun to part shade and attract butterflies.

Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana)

You have probably found this native perennial “weed” invading your gardens — birds relish the fruit and spread the seeds from woods’ edges and roadsides where it is quite common. The deep taproot makes it difficult to remove. Pokeberry’s attractive fruit turns from green to red to deep purple. The entire plant is quite harmful to mammals, so wear gloves when touching it. Correction

A recent Nature Notes article about migrating monarch butterflies contained an error. The monarchs that make it to Central America in the winter are the second or third generation of monarchs that left that wintering area the year before.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 8/23/2009