Today’s Back Porch Nature: a surprise Swallowtail! It was fluttering inside the Southwest corner of our screened porch, trying to get out. I have no idea where the chrysalis was hidden all winter, but it was somewhere among my Show ‘n’ Tell twigs and leaves and seeds and nests and other treasures. If the porch was tidier, I’d probably find the telltale meconium stain from when the butterfly eclosed this morning.
Black Swallowtail, male. If he was female, he’d have less yellow on top, but more blue. I put him in a butterfly cage just long enough to show him to my family, and to get a picture for ID.
People volunteer at a WeedWrangle® for countless reasons, but one reason, I propose, is the Weed Wrench. It is more than just the Tool of Choice. It is the tool we covet; the tool that—thanks to the magic of leverage—offers the most gratification for the least effort; and the tool that gives us mild-mannered nature-lovers the rare and oh-so-welcome frisson of AUTHORIZED DESTRUCTION.
At a WeedWrangle®, we wield a Weed Wrench as AGENTS OF DEMOLITION, as ANGELS OF DOOM. We bite, rip, and kill any exotic, invasive plant that can fit inside the metal jaws of a Weed Wrench.
And we do this in the service of a higher purpose: to bring back the birds, butterflies, and lightning bugs.
While recovering from migraine during freakishly warm February days, I pull weeds. Slowly, gently, quietly, and in the shade. So far, I have filled an entire 30 gallon Leaf Bag with nothing but one kind of weed. My worst weed. The weed I wish would die in a supernova: the Star of Bethlehem.
I’ve ranted about this plant before (here), but I rant again because on every public occasion when I point to the foliage or the flowers and proclaim the thuggery of this twinkling plant, I am met with disbelief. “Oh, but it’s so sweet!” gush the disbelievers. Sweet, pretty, adorable, etc.
All true. I used to make sweet, pretty, adorable bouquets of the flowers—all the flowers—in hopes that plucking them would prevent seed-formation, and perhaps reduce the number of new Stars next Spring.
But plucking did not work. Digging did not work. Smothering with cardboard did not work. Repeated removal of leaves did not work. Nothing works. New constellations continue to spread across the yard.
Mosquito season is here! Instead of spraying pesticides onto our entire yards—and onto fireflies, ladybugs, bumblebees, and butterflies—why not just kill mosquitoes?
But wait, first: let’s PREVENT mosquitos from breeding in our yards. Here’s an infographic (link) from the CDC to remind us of the free and easy common-sense ways to do this, like removing standing water in toys, saucers and gutters.
And then, why not try a Mosquito Bucket of Doom? It’s cheap, it’s safe, it works.
“Are you home now??” texted my neighbor. ”I think there’s hundreds or thousands of bees making a nest in our pine tree as we speak. It’s crazy!!”
To me, it wasn’t crazy: it was perfect. Two friends had already witnessed this very thing in their yards recently, and I was jealous. So I texted back: “It’s swarm time!”
By the time I got to my neighbor’s yard, all the bees had gathered in one spot, AS one spot: one big blob of buzzing, crawling, and flying creatures, at about 30 feet up the tree. They looked like a giant dollop of bubbling goo about to drip from a branch.
A honeybee swarm!
I am grateful my neighbor knew what to do: call me, and I am grateful I knew what to tell her: call a swarm-catcher.
Today’s Front Yard Nature: an inchworm on a Black Cherry seedling. This is how nature is supposed to work: native plants = caterpillar food. No one was eating the equally tiny seedlings of exotic bush honeysuckle in the same porch crack.
My nearest mature Black Cherry tree is blocks away, but every summer, birds poop the purple-painted seeds onto the driveway, the yard and the cracks in the porch. This too, is how nature is supposed to work. I toss the exotic weeds to shrivel in the sun, but I plant some of the natives in cups to grow, or to give away, or to plant somewhere else when nobody’s watching.
Black Cherry / Prunus serotina is one of the Prunus species on the National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder for my zipcode. The list states that it can feed 320 species of caterpillar, but right now, this particular Black Cherry is only big enough to support *one.*
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Bio: Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world. She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss, and her essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, Stonecrop Review, The Fourth River and other journals. Her forthcoming book is Paradise in a Parking Lot: Unlikely Stories from Urban Nature.
My short, personal essay “What White Tree is Blooming Now” from 2018 has just been archived online, thanks to The Hopper, an environmental literary magazine. And the timing could not be more perfect…
Here’s the first bit, to test if you’d like to read more:
It started. The procession of trees. The trees don’t move, but the white does: white tree blossoms, from species to species. First, in late February and if not charred by sleet, come white flowers of star magnolia. Stinky Bradford pears are next, trees so ubiquitous in corporate landscapes (and invasive in natural ones) that when they froth white, even people who don’t notice trees notice. Then, dogwood. Everyone loves dogwood. Serviceberry, hawthorn, black cherry, yellowwood, black locust, and so on, week by week of the rolling spring, one white tree bloom after the other. It won’t stop till summer, and by then, who is watching? By then, Nashville is a weedy jungle and we stay inside to escape the chiggers.
But I’ll be watching. The procession is important. There are rules: only white, only trees, and only where I can see them while I go about my business.