Asian Jumping Worm

This article by Pat Foley first appeared our publication WildforaRI, Spring 2022

What are they? 

Adult Jumping worm, Photo Revell Sandberg-Diment.

Members of the species Amynthas agrestis, Amynthas tokioensis, and Metophire hilgendorfi have been colloquially called Asian Jumping Worms. Other common references are: Georgia or Alabama Jumper, Jersey Wriggler, Crazy Snake-Worm and Wood Eel. 

They range in size based on age and environment but four to five inches long seems a typical adult size, so within the size range of other species referred to as “earthworms.” The so-called “jumping worms” are primarily distinguishable by their very vigorous flailing when disturbed. Undisturbed, they move side-to-side, with a snakelike motion. 

Why are they a concern? 

Earthworms, generally, have been considered beneficial to gardens because they break down decaying organic matter and make it available as plant nutrition. However, there have been no earthworms native to northeastern forests since the last ice age, according to studies. Since current northeastern forest biology evolved without earthworms, all present species cause some damage, by consuming the duff layer of the forest floor. 

The jumping worms are particularly destructive because of their high reproduction rates, ability to live in very dense clusters, voracious appetites, and large dry castings that are inhospitable to plants and soil organisms. 

How did they get to Rhode Island? 

Worms of these Asian species originated in Japan and Korea. Documented sightings in American nurseries and arboreta date to the late 19th century and available studies speculate their introduction dates to the earliest shipments of ornamental plants from those countries in the latter 1800s. 

Despite their prolific reproduction, no definitive scientific evidence accounts for their relatively recent emergence as an invasive of concern. Speculation suggests a warming climate, continued trade in ornamental plants from host countries, internet shipping of the worms for use as bait in sport fishing, and the very portable nature of the tiny cocoons that overwinter through extremely cold temperatures. 

Approximately half the United States has identified or is soon likely to identify infestations. Early infestations, particularly in southeastern states have spread northward and westward. 

How to locate and control them? 

The RI Department of Environmental Management has no policy concerning the control of jumping worms. “Unfortunately, it’s not one of the priority pests we look for, and we have no authority to do anything about them,” said Cynthia Kwolek, a senior environmental planner in the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey (CAPS), which monitors introduced pests in the state. 

“They do seem pretty destructive,” she said. “People are calling to say they have jumping worms in mulch that they’ve purchased.” 

So, gardeners need to practice their own diligence in identifying them. Jumping worms, once established— which might only require a season or two—give strong evidence of their presence: 

• They appear to not burrow like other earthworms, but live in leaf litter, compost, and under stones and plant pots 

• They are often found in large groups 

• Their vigorous movements easily distinguish them from other earthworms 

• Close examination reveals several distinctive physical characteristics related to color and the placement and appearance of the clitellum band 

• Soil in infested areas is very grainy and coarse, described as ground taco meat or Grape Nuts cereal in appearance. 

• Affected forests lose native flowers and young saplings and are dominated by Jack-in-the-pulpit, ferns and grasses, plants not harmed by jumping worm activity. 

Can we stop them? 

Jumping worms are subject to predator control in their native range, but introducing those organisms here likely would entail other risks and outcomes 

Currently, no definitive prevention or management program exists, but there are steps we can take to reduce damage and delay the worms’ spread. A Cornell University Extension program offers this advice: 

• Do not buy or use jumping worms for bait, vermicomposting, or gardening. 

• When purchasing bulk mulch or compost, use a reputable producer that has heat-treated the material to a temperature of 130°F for at least three days to destroy the cocoons or purchase bagged mulch. 

• Check your property for jumping earthworms using a mustard pour (it won’t harm your plants). Mix a gallon of water with 1/3 cup of ground yellow mustard seed and pour slowly into the soil. This will drive any worms to the surface where you can easily remove them. 

• Cocoons are sensitive to heat and can be destroyed with clear plastic solarization; in late spring or summer, cover moistened soil with a sheet of transparent polyethylene for two to three weeks or until the soil temperature exceeds 104°F for at least three days. 

• Be careful when sharing and moving plants; always check for worms and know where your plantings come from; buy bare root stock when possible. 

• If you have a small population of jumping worms, handpick and destroy them by bagging them and throwing them in the trash, or place them in a bag and leave out in the sun for at least 10 minutes; then throw the bag away. 

• Research is currently being conducted on invasive worms at the University of Wisconsin and several practices do show some promise of control. Abrasive materials such as biochar (ground up charcoal) and diatomaceous earth (fossilized diatoms) may kill adult jumping worms. Incorporate one of these products into the infested soil to a depth where the worms are located. 

What else should I know? 

RIWPS is developing a policy and procedures for safeguarding the plants we sell. Volunteers will be educated about the worms—their appearance and life cycle. Any plants dug from the ground will have their roots cleaned and be potted in sterile potting soil. These practices should minimize the chance of spread. 

Resources

There is very useful information online from federal, state and local government sources; partnerships; and councils or task forces. Some are cited below: 

USDA National Invasive Species Information Center: https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/terrestrial/invertebrates/asian-jumping-worm 

National Park Service Northeast Temperate Network Inventory & Monitoring Program: https://irma.nps.gov/DataStore/DownloadFile/603161 

Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station: https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/CAES/DOCUMENTS/Publications/Fact_Sheets/Entomology/Jumping-worms-in-Connecticut.pdf 

UMass Extension Landscape, Nursery and Urban Forestry Program: https://ag.umass.edu/landscape/fact-sheets/jumpingcrazysnake-worms-amynthas-spp 

Cornell Cooperative Extension: http://warren.cce.cornell.edu/gardening-landscape/warren-county-master-gardener-articles/invasive-asian-jumping-earthworms 

Jumping Worm Outreach, Research & Management Working Group: https://www.wnyprism.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/JWORM-Homeowner-Guide-Jumping-Worms-Accessible-Version-2021.pdf 

Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management: https://www.wnyprism.org/invasive_species/jumping-worms/ 

Native Bees vs. Honey Bees: Which Ones Do We Really Need to Save?

This article by Ann Brouillette first appeared in Wildflora RI, Spring 2022.

Honey bees are everywhere. You sometimes see their hives on conservation land, at nature centers, and even in people’s backyards. They are not native but agriculture in North America is dependent on them for pollinating crops. This is because our native bee populations are simply too small to adequately pollinate crops raised using today’s farming methods. There are an estimated 2.8 million honey bee colonies with about 30,000 bees per colony in the United States, according to entomologist Alison McAfee. What effect do all these honey bees have on our native bees?

I posed this question to Dr. Robert Gegear, professor of Biology at UMass Dartmouth who studies pollinators, especially bumble bees, and runs Beecology, a citizen science project to gather data about pollinators so that we can “effectively develop conservation and restoration strategies for threatened species.” He said, “Honey bees do have negative effects by passing diseases and depleting floral resources (competition).”

Research shows that the effect of honey bees on native bees, though hard to quantify, is generally negative. McAfee, in a Scientific American article, explains, “Honey bees are extreme generalist foragers and monopolize floral resources, thus leading to exploitative competition— that is, where one species uses up a resource, not leaving enough to go around.”

Competition doesn’t just reduce pollen and nectar. In one study, scientists James Cane and Vincent Tepedino found that it also forces native bees to travel farther and forage over a larger area. This weakens them and leads to fewer and smaller offspring. They produce fewer daughters and more sons, further reducing their population. Weakened bees are less likely to live over the winter and are more susceptible to diseases and parasites carried by honey bees and other managed bees.

Another problem is that honey bees sometimes prefer to forage on non- native invasive plants, pollinating them as they feed, encouraging them to proliferate, crowding out the native flora so necessary to native bees. Where invasive plants take over native habitat, we “risk a mass simplification and homogenization of … flora and fauna,” which would lead to the extinction of numerous native species, Dave Goulson points out in Silent Earth. He goes on to say that studies of crop pollination have found that “pollination is more reliable and more resilient over time when more species are present.” In other words, reliance on one pollinator, such as honey bees, is not a good strategy even for big agriculture. Farmers are learning that native bees increase the overall pollination of crops by working in cold wet weather and in other conditions where honey bees don’t function as well.

The Xerces Society acknowledges that honey bees are critical for agriculture, but it has also found that planting strips of native plants along agricultural fields to support native bees can increase crop yields significantly. In addition, having mostly honey bees on the fields can actually reduce the rate of pollination for some crops, which in turn reduces fruit set. This is because the honey bees out-forage the wild bees and expose them to pathogens, reducing their numbers. Dr. Gegear pointed out in a recent email that honey bees “should be restricted to agricultural lands and only present if they are absolutely needed for crop pollination.”

In 2007 honey bees started dying in large numbers, and the term ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’ was coined to identify what was happening. Efforts meant to “Save the Bees” were directed at honey bees. Bee keeping became very popular. But in fact, “honey bees are not in decline; they are probably the most numerous bee on the planet,” says Andrew Whitehouse of Buglife. org. As Scott Black of the Xerces Society puts it, “Keeping honey bees to ‘save the bees’ is like raising chickens to save the birds.”

Another problem? Our lawns. Since honey bees are not native and do harm to native pollinators, and since we have 40 million acres of lawn in the United States, which has eliminated much of the habitat our native bees rely on, keeping bees “might not be the most responsible thing to do,” says Heather Swan, entomologist at the University of Wisconsin. Her advice? “Plant organic native flowers, shrubs, and trees; quit using toxins on your lawn; and become a watcher of native insects.” To attract the greatest number of wild bees it’s best to plant a variety of native plants with bloom times ranging from spring through fall, so sources of nectar and pollen are available from early spring to late fall.

To effectively make a difference beyond our own gardens, we can encourage our neighbors to grow native plants. In addition, we can support green initiatives in our states and towns and encourage the use of native plants as part of these initiatives. School gardens are a great way to start children thinking about preserving the natural world, and plantings for pollinators on community properties can help educate the general public. Most people do not know the difference between native and non-native bees or plants. The key to saving our native bees and the native plants that sustain them will be educating our children, neighbors, and politicians about best practices for stewarding our yards and public spaces.

References

Angelella, G. M., C. T. McCullough, and M. E. O’Rourke, “Honey bee hives decrease wild bee abundance, species richness, and fruit count on farms regardless of wildflower strips.” www.nature.com/scientificreports

Cane, James H., and Vincent J. Tepedino, “Gauging the Effects of Honey Bee Pollen Collection on Native Bee Communities. Conservation Letters, Vol. 10, Issue 2, 2016. https://conbio.onlinelibrary.wiley.com

Goulson, Dave. Silent Earth–Averting the Insect Apocalypse. HarperCollins, 2021.

Hatfield, R. G., S. Jepsen, M. Vaughan, S. Black, and E. Lee-Mäder. 2018. An Overview of the Potential Impacts of Honey Bees to Native Bees, Plant Communities, and Ecosystems in Wild Landscapes: Recommendations for Land Managers. 12 pp. Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

McAfee, Alison. “The Problem with Honey Bees.” November 4, 2020. Scientificamerican.com

Vance, Erik. “Native Bees often better pollinators than honey bee.” November 14, 2011. Vcresearch.berkeley.edu/news

Whitehouse, Andrew, quoted from an article in The Guardian by Alexander Turner, “Honey bees are voracious: Is it time to put the brakes on the boom in beekeeping?” https://www.theguardian.com/ environment/2021

Healing Gardens

This article by Summer Gonsalves  first appeared in our WildfloraRI, Fall 2021

Framing the garden (photo SGonsalves)

In the heart of Westerly, 150 acres of farmable land intermingles with a rare white cedar swamp. This is home to the Narragansett Tribal Farm. A short walk from the main entrance leads to the tribal apiary and pollinator garden, covering one-fifth of an acre. Though still in its early stages, the ground is prepared to be planted with sunflowers, milkweed, bee balm, hyssop, oregano, tickseed and other native plants in the spring.

As a member of the Narragansett Tribe, I was raised to honor the Earth for all the gifts and beauty she gives. The tribal farm is more than a space to grow crops and to garden; it offers auke sonkunaunk, or land to grow, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

To serve my desire to maintain health and the land, I earned a bachelor’s degree in health studies from the University of Rhode Island and a master’s degree in public health at Brown University. Now, I am back at URI working towards a bachelor’s degree in biology, with a minor in writing. I also work at Brown as co-leader of the Superfund Research Program’s Community Engagement Core, which allows me to work directly with communities, including the tribe, impacted by environmental contamination.

My childhood days with the Tribe shaped my love of the land. Every August, the tribe hosted its Annual Crandall Powwow, welcoming visitors from all over the East Coast, who came to drum, sing, dance, and take in the whole experience. Here we ran in the fields as children, free and spirited. The drumbeat poured into the soil and cleansed the air of the junkyard just beyond the bushes. For more than 60 years, Irving Crandall, the last direct descendant of the family that purchased the land from the Narragansetts in the 1600s and named it Crandall Farm, maintained a working junkyard adjacent to where the powwow took place. Just beyond the tree line where we danced to the beat of the drum, hundreds of scrap cars, tires, appliances, and junk lay strewn about.

As a teenager, Irving was almost like a family member. My paternal grandparents, Robin and Jean Spears, welcomed him to many meals at their home, and in exchange he allowed them to plant a vegetable garden on his farm. The 40 by 120-foot garden allowed me and my 24 cousins the chance to revisit the farm, where we climbed trees, picked wild grapes and apples, and tended the vegetables, flowers, and herbs. In the evenings, we would climb atop a scrap trailer and watch the sunset over the cedar swamp.

My love of honeybees began when my grandfather, Robin, acquired a hive, and tucked it high on a hill in his yard. It quickly evolved to over a dozen hives. As a child there was no greater treat than to see a frame of capped honey sitting on his kitchen counter.

Through these memories and moments, mixing my love of plants and bees came naturally. In the spring of 2019 and 2020, with permission from the Tribe, I established four hives on the farm.

In the fall of 2020, the Tribe approved the creation of a pollinator garden on the farm. Having seen the dire impact a few months of COVID-19 had on the tribal community, and the world, the notion of health and well-being was a focal point of my life. Having grown up in the outdoors, lockdown had a severe impact on my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. So, I decided to design the pollinator garden around the four directions, with each direction dedicated to a different realm of health.

I chose a spot that offered a tranquil feeling. Tribal members donated funds for a split rail fence. That same fall, Elizabeth Malloy, Co-Director of TerraCorps RI, which works with other organizations to support land conservation, sustainable farming, community justice, and food resilience, offered to collaborate. Liz oversees service-learning work, mentoring individuals from various organizations, including Aquidneck Land Table, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council, and Southside Community Land Trust. Together, we gathered about 15 volunteers who cleared brush and invasive plants, cleaned the high tunnel hoop houses, and installed the fencing around the pollinator garden.

It took an intense eight hours on a chilly overcast day to build the cedar pergola that is the centerpiece of the garden. Bundled in coats and gloves, we took turns reading directions, using drills and rubber mallets to assemble the parts. Just as we set the pergola in place, a hard rain pounded the farm.

I was happy to receive the RIWPS grant early this year, as the money has funded the purchase of project materials, including signs, compost, trellises, gravel for the walkway, and butterfly boxes. A small bit has been saved to purchase plants in the spring. Melissa Guillet, URI Master Gardener and Director of 15 Minute Field Trips, designed the garden and its planting schematic, based on my rough sketch on a torn scrap of paper.

In the spring, a soil analysis indicated that our garden soil had a pH of 5.7, and was very low in calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Melissa’s scaled planting schematic included the species and number of plants fitting my design idea. Southside Community Land Trust’s Community Growers Coordinator, Andrew Cook, was a mentor to the project, assisting with a soil remediation plan and planting timeline. Planting would go on hold while we improved the soil.

The work was healing, too. (photo SGonsalves)

With help from the tribal farm workers, Steven Smith, Lee Fry, Ralph Stanton, Kaheki Northup, and Lonny Brown Jr, we purchased and installed crushed stone for walkways and six inches of compost in each section of the garden. Ralph delivered load after load of stone and compost from Richmond Sand and Gravel. Steve manned the tractor, digging and moving soil. Lee, Lonny, and Kaheki shoveled and raked, laughed and sweated as they spread the gravel and soil. I had my hands in every aspect of work, fussing over site lines and laying pavers for the bee boxes to sit on, spending hours each day under the warm sun, watching a dream come to life. With the compost laid, the six of us spread clover seed while listening to music on the radio and talking about individual plans for the upcoming weekend. All this laughter and hard work helped me channel my energy into my own health while making sure that the guys had plenty to eat and drink as they worked in the hot sun.

In April 2021, TerraCorps returned with a new group of volunteers, along with students from Brown and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These students worked with farm staff to assemble plastic trellises to separate the beehives from the walkways and flowering plants so that a wall of plants keeps people from getting too close to the bee boxes. I planted butterfly bushes (Buddleia davidii) and took pictures of many of the visiting bees and butterflies including a tagged monarch and several bumblebee moths. However, I recently learned that butterfly bushes are not native and are harmful to monarchs. Monarchs lay their eggs on the leaves, which caterpillars are not able to eat, leading to their death. So now we will replace this nonnative species with another species that supports not only honeybees, but also native insects.

As spring turned to summer this year, two small gardens of naturally growing clasping milkweed (Asclepias amplexicaulis) and butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) have bloomed and will nurture monarch butterflies and other wild species. (Soon signage will welcome visitors and provide information about the garden, explaining its importance for pollinators and people, and thanking supporters.)

While the garden was made to honor our health and house the bees, it has been a space for me to grieve and heal. Seventeen months ago, my father, Macheece Spears Sr., died unexpectedly. For the last several months, I have worked to honor his memory by donating to organizations around the world, including funds for planting a tree in Sri Lanka (Save Simacik) to purchasing access to water for a family in Sudan (Water for Sudan). And I poured my heart and soul into making the pollinator garden. When I was sad, my tears watered the soil; when I was angry, I dug deeper; and when I was happy, the sun radiated off my back and the butterflies floated around me. Through this energy I choose to dedicate the pergola and the space beneath it to my father.

My dad was a stone mason. The Spears family is known for stone masonry throughout New England and the country, though most notably in Rhode Island. To honor my father in this space, I installed a concrete paver patio, laying each stone individually and fussing over them being level and near perfect. I spoke to each stone with a memory of moments I spent with my father: walking in the woods, observing luna moths or praying mantises, or sitting in silence watching the sun set.

For me, this space will welcome folks from all walks of life, and when I stand here alone and watch the sunset, I know my dad is standing beside me, and this is where I heal.

Paradigm of Change

By Anne Raver

This article first appeared in our WildfloraRI Fall 2021

One hot, humid day in September 2020, the team of volunteers at the Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge in South Kingstown were awaiting a backhoe to dig the swales for the demonstration gardens they were building around the rustic cabin that serves as the refuge’s contact center. The backhoe never showed up, so they took up their shovels and moved the dirt by hand.  “With masks on, it was brutal,” recalled Mark Cordle, a RIWPS member and URI Master Gardener, who co-leads the project with Nick Ernst, USFWS wildlife biologist. Nick manages Trustom as well as the four other refuges within the RI National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

The volunteers laid down corrugated cardboard, soaked it, then shaped the mounds of soil — 15 cubic yards delivered from nearby Highland Farms. Janis Nepshinsky, who manages visitor services and outreach for the complex, purchased the weed-free soil and contributed earthmoving equipment. “Then we planted about 250 plants of 30 species in two days,” said Mark.

Group touring the restoration sites at Trustom Pond (photo ARaver)

A year later, a group of us from RIWPS were walking around the garden. Bumblebees nuzzled the yellow sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) and white boneset thoroughwort (Eupatorium perfoliatum) still blooming in the rain garden. The garden now features close to 40 native species, including the sassafras and witch hazel already there and a beautiful old shadbush transplanted from nearby. Most of the plants were grown from seed collected from Kettle Pond.

That September afternoon, Dave Vissoe, who helped create this garden, leaned over a wavy-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum undulatum) eaten down to a nub by deer and nodded toward the white wood asters (Eurybia divaricata) next to the shadbush (Amelanchier sp.). “We’re hoping the wood asters will spread into the woods,” he said, gesturing to the trees to the north. But deer love asters of all kinds, so the team sprays them regularly with nontoxic repellents. On the other hand, broadleaved mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) and the goldenrods are unpalatable to deer, so these were flourishing.

The plants are labeled, so as I watched a bumblebee on a goldenrod, I could identify the species — wreath goldenrod (Solidago caesia) — and remember how its tiny yellow flowers cluster in the leaf axils of the arching stems. I also studied how rocks were laid in a lined trench beneath the downspout that directs water off the cabin roof into the swales of the rain garden, where cardinal-flower (Lobelia cardinalis), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), bushy bluestem (Andropogon glomeratus), and other moisture-loving species were planted.

Dave had learned a bit about collecting seeds and propagating native plants from Hope Leeson, when she ran Rhody Native, an initiative of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey. He picked up the art of winter sowing from Peggy Buttenbaum, who has taught us how to turn plastic containers into mini-greenhouses. By the fall of 2018 the gardens at Kettle Pond were producing a bonanza of seeds — so volunteers collected them for winter sowing.  “We laid out a tarp in one of the classrooms, so we didn’t get potting soil everywhere,” said Dave. The volunteers poked holes in the plastic containers, planted the seeds, and took them home to sprout outdoors.  They then re-potted the thousands of resulting seedlings in Dave’s backyard and set them in an old dog pen no longer used his Jack Russells.  “We grew 500 to 1,000 plants the first year,” said Dave. “This year, we had a bumper crop of 5,000 plants.”

As the Kettle Pond gardens flourished, Dave set his sights on Trustom Pond, submitting a proposal to the URI Master Gardener program, which funded the project in March 2020. “Trustom is a special place to me,” Dave said. “When I was a kid, my parents and I would go to Moonstone Beach to swim and crab in Trustom Pond.” His parents ashes are scattered here. After launching the project, Dave and other early leaders stepped aside.

Mark and Nick are expanding the project into the grasslands behind the contact station. “Our mission is really to create awareness of the benefits of planting native species for habitat restoration,” said Mark. “The demo garden is a classroom where you can see all the species with labels. But it’s unnatural.” It’s also a gateway for 60,000 annual visitors, half of them birders. “There needs to be a paradigm change in our yards and landscapes,” said Nick. “These manicured lawns and nonnative shrubs are ecological deserts. But a lot of people think native plants are messy. The goal of the demo garden is to show folks how great it looks.”

Visitors might remember a few labelled plants – then recognize that same native species in one of four restoration sites along the trails. “People can see these plants spreading out in the natural environment,” said Nick, who paused by the tall grasses turning shades of purple, mahogany and orange.  He showed us how to tell the difference between big bluestem, whose flowering stalk resembles a turkey foot, and Indian grass, which is more of a feather. “Indian grass is rare in Rhode Island,” he said. “But most of the seed came from the Midwest.”

He explained why a seed isn’t just a seed: “The plants in New England have evolved for thousands of years with local growing conditions,” said Nick. “So if you use seed from the Midwest, the plants might not grow as well here, they might have differences in bloom times that might affect their pollinators.”

Restoring native species (photo MCordle)

In 1995 USFWS seeded the 15-acre field we were standing in with warm-season grasses intended to provide habitat for ground-nesting birds. However, “there are no songbirds nesting here, because it’s so dense,” said Nick. “It’s not really meeting our objectives.” It’s also too small an area for many bird species to reproduce. So Nick is shifting the goal here to creating  a diversity of native plant species that are larval hosts and nectar sources for insects, including moths and more than 38 species of native bees.

But where to get enough local genotype plants is the challenge. “We were getting plants from Hope Lesson, but the Rhode Island Natural History Survey is no longer doing Rhody Native,” Nick said. “The Master Gardener partnership has really filled that hole, by collecting seed from local plants and putting them back on the refuges. Early last year, Mark and Nick chose four restoration sites with different topography and soil and light conditions. Then, the crew of volunteers and USFWS interns started clearing the invasives. A Bobcat Skid Steer grinding up a tangle of multiflora rose and bush honeysuckle hit a wall, literally.

The low stone wall was a remnant of the farm that once belonged to Ann Kenyon Morse, a sheep breeder and keen horsewoman who also flew fighter planes as a WASP during World War II. In 1974, she donated 365 acres of land to USFWS, which was the start of the 787-acre Trustom Pond Refuge.

As the team pulled out grapevine and honeysuckle, they found black cherry and shadbush. Clethra, spirea, and swamp azaleas were blooming in the wetlands. One morning, Nick spotted a hummingbird clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe, sipping nectar from a swamp azalea flower. They were puzzled by a large treelike shrub with mottled bark on the edge of the swamp. “I thought it was a viburnum at first,” said Mark, who snapped a few pictures for PictureThis. “It was a poison sumac. With a trunk 18” in diameter.”Its old limbs were leaning out from the edge of the boggy woods toward the sun, its leaves turning apricot-red.

The crew started planting in mid-August and worked through September, putting in about 5,000 plants sourced from Kettle Pond. Nick contributed 2,000 more, from Planter’s Choice Nursery in Connecticut. “I tried to get a variety of species the MG’s didn’t have, so they could use them for future seeds,” said Nick. “But I also got some of the same species, to increase genetic diversity. We don’t want to collect seeds from the same garden over and over.”

Nick and Dave had recently toured one of the Connecticut farms that are growing native plants for the Ecotype Project. Botanists collect seed from wild plants in ecoregion 59; organic farmers then grow out the seeds in ‘Founder Plots’; tens of thousands of seeds are then harvested from the plots and sent to nurseries. That basic model is exciting to restoration ecologists. “Maybe East Farm or organic farmers in Rhode Island could grow Founder Plots,” said Nick. I would love to see infrastructure in the Northeast to produce seeds in volume like they do in the Midwest.”

At some point, “if we wanted to transform the field at Trustom, we could plow up strips, then do no-till or broadcast seeds.” And this time the seed would be from this ecoregion, not the middle of the country.In the meantime, he and Mark will be interested to see how well the native species in the restoration areas establish. “Considering the bluestem and the thatch, it’s unlikely that they would without any kind of disturbance,” he said. “Maybe a prescribed burn or light tilling of soil would open up an avenue for those plants to spread.” But just having them flower and set seed in the restoration sites will increase the seed bank of local genotypes.

Mark took a break near a site where yellow thistle (Cirsium horridulum), rare to Rhode Island, was flourishing.  “To me, it’s like restoring an old historic house,” he said. “Only we’re restoring the plants that have been here for thousands of years.”

 

native plant sales

A History of the Plant Sale

By Sue Theriault

This article first appeared in our publications WildfloraRI, Fall 2021

Sandra Thompson (photo ARaver)

The loss of our dear colleague and long-time plant sale coordinator Sandra Thompson prompted me to reflect on the evolution of RIWPS’ plant sale through the years. Sandra was passionate about the propagation and sale of native plants and has left her mark on both Seed Starters East and what has become known as the “Best Native Plant Sale in Rhode Island.” With her loss, it feels like Seed Starters East and the plant sale are beginning a new chapter.

But to look ahead, it helps to first look back. And who better to help do this than board member Dorothy Swift, a founding member of both RIWPS and Seed Starters East. Dorothy was the first program chair when the organization began in 1987, and soon after Lisa Gould, the society’s first president, accepted an invitation by the URI Cooperative Extension to host an information booth at their Spring and Fall Festivals. They saw it as a chance to promote the fledgling organization, to hand out information on native plants, and to sell a few plants that RIWPS’ volunteers shared from their gardens — some plants were native to RI, some native to other places, and some cultivated perennials. Thus, the plant sale was born!

Early on, Dorothy had an idea for a seed propagation program. Dorothy was no stranger to propagation; she had grown rhododendrons through tissue culture and cuttings with Mike Medeiros at Plane View Nursery. But she wanted to try seeds and hoped some members would also be interested. In 1991, she and Joan Pilson, then program chair, held their first propagation meeting, which attracted about 14 people. “We planted cardinal flower seeds. When we met two weeks later and saw they had germinated, we were hooked!” Seed Starters East was born.

Dorothy Swift (photo ARaver)

“In the early years it was a struggle — we were a bit like the blind leading the blind,” Dorothy said. Only about three to five volunteers would show up for each work session. “Often the seeds would get too cold, too dry or too wet to sprout.”

Since those early days the annual sale has grown beyond a few plants at an information booth. RIWPS moved its sale to a larger space on the URI campus and became independent of the Cooperative Extension festivals. Over the years its inventory has grown to a few thousand plants, some grown by Seed Starters East and West, some dug, some grown from cuttings, some grown by volunteers, and some purchased from commercial nurseries.

When URI began construction on its new Coastal Building, the sale moved to URI’s East Farm. The larger space allowed RIWPS to supplement its inventory of perennials with native shrubs and small trees. “We got ever more organized as we created sections for shade and sun plants, groundcovers, grasses, shrubs and trees.” An ‘Ask the Experts’ table was set up where a few knowledgeable members answered questions and offered tips to the attendees.

By 2013, Sandra Thompson had taken over as plant sale chair of “The Best Native Plant Sale in RI.” (Certainly, no other RI organization couldbeat the variety and quantity of native plants that RIWPS offered!) To increase inventory even further, Sandra emphasized digging, because, as Dorothy put it, “if you have a wild plant at all you probably have plenty of it!” Sandra organized digs, on private land with the owner’s permission, and sheltered the newly potted plants in her driveway until the sale. Sandra had a knack for sharing her passion and knowledge with new volunteers. I, myself, was fortunate enough to work with her for a year at Seed Starters East and to accompany her on a dig. I remember nervously handling the shovel under her watchful to dig and, as a novice, I hoped I was doing it properly.

The early struggles of growing plants from seed have given way to even more successful approaches. RIWPS volunteer Peggy Buttenbaum tweaked the winter sowing method used by the growing group of volunteers. Seedlings that emerge in the spring are potted up and usually grown on for another year before being sold.

Today’s inventory reflects RIWPS’ evolution from the days of offering an eclectic mix of plants from all over the world to selling only those native to the eastern US and primarily to Rhode Island. The group is also using seed sourced locally as much as possible to capture the local ecotypes. Each plant label indicates if a plant is native to RI with the initials RIN or native to New England with NEN or native to eastern North America with ENA.

Why include non-Rhode Island natives? “A good example of a non-native we include is the flame azalea, whose range is a little farther south, because its bloom is yellow through orange to red,” says Dorothy. “All the rhododendrons native to RI (the rosebay, pinxterbloom, early, and swamp azaleas) are white, pink or purple.” The same is true for wildflowers. The color orange is rare in the native RI palette, except for a few species like butterfly weed. Including information on a plant’s origin on labels was one of the many contributions made by Linda McDaniel, who followed Sandra as plant sale chair. Linda led the plant sale through two ‘normal’ years and then two pandemic years and continues to be one of the leaders of Seed Starters East.

As Sandra was her mentor, Linda has been mine as I take on the role of plant sale chair. We worked together on the June 2021 online sale and

Sue Theriault (photo PLacouture)

built on the work done by so many in the previous year to get the sale on line. About 170 RIWPS members made purchases in June for total revenues of around $22,000. The fall sale at the end of August at the Pawtuxet Farmers Market — our first in-person sale in two years —brought in more than $9,000 in sales.

But the sales are not just about raising funds for RIWPS, they are also about education. I overheard Linda, as she stood behind a table filled with milkweed offerings, explain that the plant is the sole food source for the monarch caterpillar, but that the adult butterfly can obtain nectar from a variety of plants. It’s these personal interactions that make in-person sales so valuable. I look forward to 2022 being a year where we are back to our open-to-all, in-person sales in May, June, and August.

When I asked Dorothy how she saw the future of the plant sales her response focused on propagation. “I’d like to see us growing some of the more difficult plants from seed, like the native blazing star, Canada lily, and maybe even fringed gentian. And to increase our use of locally sourced seeds.”

I congratulate her — and all of us — on the group’s 30th anniversary. She offers us a bridge to the past as we move into the future, with people like Sandra Thompson in our hearts.

Further resources for Ecotypes, Ecoregions & Ecological Restoration from Sefra Alexandra

RIWPS March 5 Annual Meeting featured Sefra Alexandra’s talk on Ecotypes, Ecoregions & Ecological Restoration. She underscored the pressing need to preserve the genetic diversity of native seed populations whether through seeds banks, which can supply seeds to recreate or amplify these populations in case of need, or other efforts to increase the availability of locally sourced seeds such as the  Ecotype Project of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CT NOFAR) which she leads.

Under this project, organic farmers establish founders plots large enough to maintain the genetic diversity of plants grown directly from seeds of wild plants native to their ecoregion (Northeast Coastal Zone).  Seeds from these founder plot plants are harvested and become the basis for future generations of plants.

As you know from the meeting, we are very excited about our new multi-year initiative, Reseeding Rhode Island. Our goal is to increase the availability of seeds and plants from our local wild plant populations. This initiative builds on the incredible work of the Rhody Native Initiative started by the Rhode Island Native Plant Survey in 2010. We have already started to work with a botanist to collect seeds. Our next phases will be to grow these seeds to plugs for founders plots and then to work with our founder plot partners to make the seeds and plants grown from these seeds available in the course of the next few years.

While we were not able to record the talk itself, we encourage you to explore the list of resources connected to the talk that Sefra Alexandra has sent us.


• In response to the question about  genetic diversity in founder plots, see current research: “Seeding the Future: Evolutionary Perspective on Seed-Based Restoration” Data on genetic diversity of founder plots compared with wild populations. Unpublished: Please do not distribute widely. https://northwestern.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=29c885fb-88ce-4e9b-
abfa-ae2401656897

• Links related to topics in the talk

For questions/staying involved with the formation of this network

Sefra@ctnofa.org / www.ctnofa.org/ecotypeproject

 

RIWPS Vice President Sally Johnson affirms the value meadows over lawns

In a recent article in EcoRI that championed the merits of planting meadows vs lawns in the home landscape, Sally Johnson noted the increasing tendency by the public to consider the ecological value of the plants in their gardens.  Read Transforming Lawn into Meadow Benefits Everyone: ‘Your Garden Comes to Life by Cynthia Drummond, EcoRI news, February 21, 2022

In Memory – Cheryl Cadwell

Cheryl was a very active member of RIWPS before moving out of state.  In 2008-2009 she became the  president of RIWPS after serving as a vice president the year before. She was known for her passion for all things gardening and in particular for her advocacy of the use of native plants. She generously shared her energy, determination and extensive knowledge of plants and cultivation. In addition to writing some of RIWPS Cultivation Notes, she contributed articles about gardening to a variety of local newspapers. She was active in a number of projects and walks. Always reading, traveling, full of ideas and new gardening undertakings, she was as one of our members said fondly “dedicated top to bottom” to being a good a steward of the landscape.

 

In Memory – Sidney “Sid” Morgan

RIWPS member, Sid Morgan was a faithful member of Seed Starters West for a number of years. Before we transitioned to machine printed labels they were handwritten and included latin and common name, sun or shade, bloom color, and season of bloom–a lot to fit on those small labels–and the RIWPS information printed on the back. Sid cheerfully wrote hundreds of these labels. She is fondly remembered by those who worked with her for her thoughtfulness, dry humor and the energy she brought to the group.

Obituary Notice

Life on a Dogwood

—This article by Dick Fisher first appeared in our WildforaRI, Spring 2021

We are by now aware of the importance of pollinators in our ecosystem to promote diversity, fertilize native and food crop plants, and take their place in the food web. Pollinator gardens are the rage and for good reason. But the story does go deeper, so let’s start with a nice summer day last August.

Passing by an actively growing red-twig dogwood, aka red osier dogwood (Swida sericea), it was obvious some leaves were missing and stems were wiggling. Indeed the leaves of several small branches had been stripped and were being devoured by a large number of gray, striped, clamoring caterpillars. Although the shrub was small, less than one percent of it seemed affected. The caterpillars remained bunched together and confined themselves to the several adjacent twigs. Over the next few days their numbers decreased, and then they were gone; the red-twig dogwood did fine.

R

This was a red-humped caterpillar (Schizura concinna) and is just one of 113 species listed in the National Wildlife Federation database that feed on the dogwoods in our area.1 Several species are limited to dogwoods only but most, like Schizura, feed on a multitude of native trees and shrubs.2

Lifecycle

The red-humped caterpillar is the larval stage of a small brown inconspicuous moth. The adult moth emerges from the pupa in the spring or early summer and lives only seven or so days during which the female deposits small yellow eggs on the underside of the host plant’s leaves. The eggs hatch in about two weeks to begin the larval stage as caterpillars and begin eating, perhaps increasing their mass one thousandfold over one and a half months until they are mature.2

As they grow they molt, shedding the outer cuticle and forming a new covering. Between molts they are known as “instars.” There are multiple instar stages as the caterpillar grows. The first instar is the larval form that hatches from the egg, and the final instar forms the pupation cell. Most butterflies spin a cocoon in which the pupa develops while moths usually develop an unprotected pupa cell. The red- humped caterpillar’s final instar drops into leaf litter and soft ground beneath the host plant and spends the winter in a pre-pupa stage. Pupation begins after the winter and ends with the emergence of the adult moth. In our area there is usually just one or perhaps two cycles per year.2

The red-humped caterpillars were not alone last summer. The dogwoods here hosted at least three other dependent species including the rusty tussock moth (Orgyia antiqua), the dogwood sawfly (Macremphytus tarsatus), and the yellow sawfly (Macremphytus lovetti). Sawfly larvae look and behave much like caterpillars but differ in some fundamental anatomical features such as the number of appendages or eyespots.3 True caterpillars belong just to butterflies and moths, but the life cycles of both the true caterpillars and sawfly larvae mentioned in this article are similar as is their dependence on the dogwood.

Diversity

We see these caterpillars and larvae for just a short time, but it is the time when they are most vulnerable. Schizura concinna, like the others, is a food source for something at every stage of its life cycle. The eggs are attractive to other insects, the adult moth is not a beautiful butterfly but is food for birds, and the pre-pupa and pupa stages are prey for soil organisms. The larvae, being highly visible, are at high risk, so much so that they have developed several defensive strategies. When disturbed these particular caterpillars show a collective warning display by thrashing about in unison, and they excrete an offensive fluid containing formic acid.3 Despite that behavior, they slowly disappeared over the next week or so, and I am not sure where they went. Perhaps some dropped into the leaf litter to begin their next stage, but many were still small and I suspect became part of the food chain for local birds.

In addition to our red-twig dogwood, two other dogwood species grow here: alternate-leaved dogwood (Swida alternifolia) and gray dogwood (S. racemosa). They flower and require pollination to produce seed. If not the red-humped moth then maybe another adult stage from the 113 species they host will help out. But they also have many non-lepidoptera pollinators including bees, wasps, and, yes, sawflies. The sawfly adults look like a cross between a fly and a wasp, they do not sting, and they can pollinate many crop and flowering plants.4

As the dogwood seeds ripen in mid and late summer, we can watch the birds clear them from the branches and disperse the seeds to begin the dogwood life cycle anew. The dogwood and its predators require interaction with the soil microbiome and the vast ecosystem it supports. It is all a fragile system, which we should take care to respect and support.

References
1  https://www.nwf.org/nativeplantfinder
2  Wagner, David L. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press, Princeton/Oxford. 2005.
3  https://breedingbutterflies.com
4. https://www.whatsthatbug.com