Picture Credit: Sonia Demiray

This Monarch butterfly is feasting on a Zinnia bloom in Western Frederick County.

Summer is abuzz!

Plants are blooming, birds and bees are buzzing. Monarch caterpillars have been munching on milkweed, their host plant, and are now emerging as butterflies. Blackberries are out. Wine berries will be coming in a few weeks.

Hummingbirds are enjoying the opening of monarda (bee balm), a dark maroon or deep pink plant well over 3 feet tall. The birds whiz in from adjacent nests and sip the nectar. Hummingbirds are attracted to red, and some birdwatchers recommend tying red ribbons in the garden to attract them early in the season but they mostly love a diverse garden of native plants. Tadpoles have emerged as small baby toads ... they are everywhere!

Sumacs are native shrubs that are now developing reddish berry clusters. These turn dark in the winter and provide emergency food for birds and other wildlife. Sumacs become a showy red in the fall. The leaves of the sumac are similar to the Asian invasive tree of heaven (ailanthus altissima), that has become one of the most common trees to self-generate along highways and in other disturbed areas. Ailanthus lacks native competitors in our area and releases toxins in the soil that retard competition. Ailanthus has large yellow flowers and develops reddish seed bunches that hang down. To remove an ailanthus tree, it must be chemically treated. If it is cut down, dozens more will sprout from the roots.

The normal leaf color for most trees at this time of year is a deep shade of green. When foliage deviates from this it could be the result of an insect, disease, or an environmental condition that is affecting the tree. If acid-loving plants, like pin oak, have yellowish leaves, it is usually the result of soil with a basic pH, so the essential element iron is not available. Iron is necessary for the green chlorophyll that leaves need to get their energy from the sun. To remedy this, lower the soil pH with amendments like alum (aluminum sulfate) or sulfur, or add an iron source to the soil. The best advice is to check the pH of the soil before selecting a tree or shrub to plant. You may also notice that some trees have “lost” their leaves – this is probably due to gypsy moth defoliation. Gypsy moths emerged from their egg masses in early May as larvae and have been feeding on tree leaves ever since. Thousands of acres of forest were sprayed to control this destructive insect, but it hasn’t prevented local populations from stripping trees of their leaves.

Frederick County Forestry Board

Nature Note for 08/05/2022