Friday, September 20, 2013

What's Your Peaceful Place?

September 21 is an International Day of Peace observed by the United Nations. Of course, in the world of the UN, this is more about non-violence and ceasefire. But it got me of the reasons people love to be in nature is for the sense of inner peace it brings them.

So, what's your most peaceful natural place? The place you go to recharge and reconnect...that place you think of when someone says, "imagine yourself in a totally tranquil environment"?

I'll tell you about two: one inside and one outside the beltway.

Honestly, the one that most often comes to mind when someone says "imagine your peaceful place" is way outside the beltway: Cumberland Island, off the coast of Georgia. I went camping there every winter in middle school and high school and I'm overdue for a trip back. You can walk for miles on the beach and not see another person, and the huge live oaks draped in Spanish moss make you feel like you could be in a world before people. I imagine myself sitting in the crook of one of those stately trees, looking out at the ocean.

Near the beach
The path to the beach. Photo credit: Linda N.

The other is a spot in Rock Creek Park, on the Pinehurst Branch. It's a little-used trail and once you're a little ways off Beach Drive you can't hear the traffic. You're in the middle of DC but you could be in the middle of nowhere. At one of the stream crossings we almost always just stop and sit a little while to enjoy the peace and quiet until some noisy chatty group comes along. Sometimes that can take quite a while.

Pinehurst streambed in Rock Creek Park
Photo credit: Steve/PhilaSilva

What's your peaceful place?

Friday, September 6, 2013

LOOK FOR: Boogie-Woogie Aphids

We often see them this time of year: small tree branches covered in fuzzy aphids that all seem to dance and sway when we walk by.

They're the beech blight aphid (Grylloprociphilus imbricator), also known as the boogie-woogie aphid. That dance is a defensive mechanism. When disturbed, the aphids raise their abdomens and wave their waxy white butt fluff in the air. The signal spreads through the colony, and soon the whole tree looks like it's covered in wriggling fur. Here's a closer look at what's going on:

The aphids feed on the sap of the beech tree. (If they're feeding when you disturb them, they'll stay in one place and keep drinking while they do their dance.) But even though they're stealing sap, these aphid colonies don't seem to do much lasting damage to the tree.

Photo credit: Dan Molter
They will attract another noticeable adornment, though. A perfect contrast to the woolly white aphids, the sooty mold Scorias spongiosa feeds on aphid poop (also known as honeydew) and covers the tree branches in black fungus.

I'm fascinated by this interconnected chain: the fungus grows exclusively on the honeydew of this particular aphid, which feeds exclusively on beech trees. And this is only scratching the surface of the world that relies on beeches...Doug Tallamy reports that beeches also support at least 100 other species of insects.

But for now we'll just enjoy the boogie-woogie aphids!