Monday, September 24, 2018

Ragweed Season Reaching a Zenith


With the rains, our country side has once again greened and in spite of extremely hot and humid afternoons, the morning has contributed balmy conditions.  Everyone has emerged from summer heat-hibernation and gardening, walking, and morning coffee or tea on the patio are once again pleasurable. Unfortunately the rains have allowed production of unprecedented pollen... as though the trees and grasses are determined to make up for the former drought years by ensuring their reproductive place on the planet. I noted an overlooked plant near my chicken house... it is 8 feet tall with a 14 foot circumference!

Most flowers have heavy pollen, thus the necessity for pollination by bees or birds. The pollen of most trees, shrubs, and grasses is lighter than the pollen of flowers so it may be carried by the wind. Since our winds may go from a gentle breeze to a driving force in seconds this light pollen may travel hundreds of miles.

Over half of all allergy symptoms may be traced to ragweed and this year it is in disproportionate cultivation, appearing everywhere and ranging up to ten feet tall. It is supposedly a member of the aster family, although it is hard to believe such an illustrious family produced such an unlikable child. In the opinion of many scientists ragweed is the most infamous weed on Earth, producing some of the lightest pollen of all plants. A single plant may produce about a billion grains of pollen per season which may remain airborne for days and travel great distances. It has been noted up to 300 miles high and 400 to 500 miles out to sea.

Ragweed was originally native only to our hemisphere however they were introduced to Europe during World War II, traveling discreetly on the clothing of our soldiers. Since then it has spread rapidly and now Europeans suffer as we do with seasonal allergies. Ragweed is truly a nuisance this time of year as it is the source of itchy eyes, scratchy throats, runny noses, sneezing, headaches, dizziness, and the ensuing confusion that arrives with these symptoms.

It should be noted the ‘Pollen Report’ on the daily news channels is not an exact science, rather it is pitifully antiquated. Particles of pollen are collected in a box on the roof of the Oklahoma Allergy Clinic and counted… that is how the daily information is obtained. It is impossible to imagine how much pollen is traveling about outside the confines of the City, however it is an easy guess that it is considerably more than what is produced in a concrete jungle!

Since it is impossible to avoid pollen, we can simply take an allergy pill, press on, and enjoy this lovely season… Kleenex in hand just in case. And remember to change your pillowcase daily.
Photo is of the Ragweed tree outside my chicken house!

Wasp World

For most of the summer we have indulged in candid observation of the paper wasps who decided to make colonies on the underside of the awnings. They are called paper wasps for the paper-like construction of their nests which consists of small cubicles (or nursery rooms) wherein the infant wasp grows into an adult. A Queen will lay the eggs in the open cells while other females help build future nests. Once a queen dies, a new egg-laying female will take her place while the ladies in waiting care for her.

In our observations, the young wasp slowly emerges from a cubicle and then gently dries its body with a leg or two until all has expanded and fluffed out. Once dry it will fly away for a meal or take its place among the others who gather over the nest, guarding the growing infants.

The Paper wasps usually build their comb nests to hang from objects like twigs or tree branches, shrubs, porch ceilings, the tops of doorframes, eaves, or attic rafters…  imagine our luck in discovering three nests under the awnings where could easily view their antics from behind the safety of glass.

There are about 22 known paper wasp species in North America, and hundreds in the world. Similar relatives to paper wasps include the dreadful yellow jackets and hornets… both of which need little provocation to attack.  Paper wasps generally have a thin “waist,” with six long legs and an almost triangular side view as well as two wings and antennae. They are mostly brown or black with possibly some yellow coloration. The known paper wasp species share these colorations, but may also have different bands of colors and markings that separate them from one another. Some species of paper wasp may even have hints of bolder colors like red, or even brighter colored lines compared to others.

In early summer wasps, like bees, pollinate plants and flowers as they feed on nectar thus if we were to eradicate all wasps it could cause a substantial problem in the global ecology… with this purpose alone wasps prove they are a very beneficial insect. When you add other items to their menu which includes flies, garden pests, and destructive web worms, their value increases.

In the autumn, future queens will seek places to spend the winter and find their way indoors, possibly to a shed or garage where they will spend the winter.  In springtime they will emerge to build their signature umbrella-shaped nests and others will gather to them and begin the project of raising progeny.

To avoid being noticed by Wasps keep food covered when dining outdoors and since all wasps are exceedingly thirsty make sure children stay away from fountains and small bodies of water. Since flowers nectar is a favorite food source, avoid wearing strong flowery fragrances and when hiking opt for shoes that cover and protect feet from rogue wasps lurking in the grasses. From a safe distance, observing wasps is a perfect summer time pastime.  

Of Trivial Interest: During my research I discovered a little known tropical species, the Jewel Wasp, who is a true hero since her prey is cockroaches. With her special venom she renders the roaches mindless and fearless taking away their will to escape as she feeds the living roach to her babies Hannibal Lecter style.  (*Good for her…Never feel sorry for roaches!)
Photo is outside my west window!