A Visual Illustration of Plant Diversity’s Importance

Jim in IA:

Some views by our neighbor to the west.

Originally posted on The Prairie Ecologist:

Last week, I took some photos that powerfully demonstrate the importance of plant diversity.

DCIM100GOPROG0080136. Research plots at The Nature Conservancy’s Platte River Prairies.

Several years ago, we created some research plots to help us learn more about how plant diversity interacts with ecosystem function.  As you can see above, the plots include a grid of squares (3/4 acre in size), each planted with one of three seed mixtures: monoculture (big bluestem), low diversity (grasses and a few forbs harvested in the fall), and high diversity (100 species).  Working with academic partners, we have several research projects underway, including a couple that demonstrate the influence plant diversity has on the spread of invasive plant species.

Other researchers have found similar relationships between plant diversity and resistance to invasive species, but that is only one of many benefits from having a wide variety of plants in a prairie.  Both herbivores and pollinators benefit…

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Garlic Mustard — The Monster in the Woods

There’s a monster in the woods, a monster of threatening force, prodigiously reproducing, covering all in its path. Some monsters like Bigfoot are hidden, undercover, and hard enough to find that some don’t believe they exist. This monster is easy to find, so easy in fact, it may be right in front of you.

The monster is garlic mustard.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive species, brought to this continent in the 1860s (wiki). Native to Europe, parts of Asia, and Africa, it was used as an herb or green in Europe, where dozens of insect species and several fungi use the plant as food. Those species do not share habitat with it here. With no natural enemies, it outreproduces competitors, and within a few years can take over the underbrush.

According to EarthCaretaker, the plant has infested 29 states and southern Ontario. Experts are not sure how it spreads across broad ranges, as seeds fall close to the parent plant. However, without intervention, it easily spreads within limited areas, crowding out other low plants. Deer do not eat it, and when garlic mustard has taken hold, the remaining plants deer do eat are cleared even more.

Some butterfly species may become threatened because it resembles a plant on which they would lay eggs, but the garlic mustard has chemical compounds that don’t make a friendly environment for butterfly reproduction.

It grows for two years. The first year, it has green leaves close to the ground, and in the second year it grows up to 3 feet high. You can see what happens when the plants take the margins of the woods. This photo actually shows a pretty minor infestation. We’ve seen areas substantially more invaded than this.

One challenge is that when the plants are flowering, they may appear to be an attractive wildflower, leading property owners to hesitate to clear it. But cleared it must be. Over approximately a five year period, the plants should be cleared, optimally before flowering. To do so, clear early in the season before seeds develop. Pull out the whole plant including the root. If you do this early enough, you can leave the plants in the woods. If you are late, after seed formation, the plants must be bagged and tied, to go to the landfill, not composting. (My city has a separate disposal site for the plants, to ensure they don’t get mixed with yard waste.) Download a pdf on garlic mustard control. This is published by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, so your mileage may vary based on your own climate conditions.


One way to solve the problem of garlic mustard is to eat it. Garlic mustard IS edible, and apparently tastes like garlic. In addition, it’s high in vitamins A and C.

There are a variety of sources for recipes, none of which I will attest to. However, it apparently can be used as a salad green, in wilted greens, pesto recipes, cream sauce, or in many other ways I would never have considered! See this cook book with things for you to try.

Do you have monstrous garlic mustard weed in your yard or nearby public spaces? Does your community have an organized effort to eradicate it? Do you participate?

Fresnel Lenses | How They Work

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

In a recent post about Maine lighthouses, I included two photos of the Fresnel lenses used to project the bright light beam across the water. One of the readers is a man I’ve enjoyed working with before in the blog world. He suggested I add a post with some description of how the Fresnel lens works. Here it is.

Basics of Converging Lenses

The converging, or convex lens, is able to bring parallel rays of light toward a focal point. As a child, I played with a magnifying glass lens to burn leaves, grass, and other things.


The lens can also be used in a different way to project light rays parallel to each other in a beam. Simple projectors work on this basic principle. A lighthouse is designed to do this.

ConvergeLens2Large Lens Applications

A problem arises when the optical instrument using a convex lens becomes very large. The…

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Drought 2015 | Several Things To Know

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

The Sierra Nevada mountains provide California with about 30% of its water supply. On April 1st 2015, the Department of Water Resources did its annual analysis of the snowpack. It was declared ‘virtually gone‘…lowest since 1950. It was only about 6% of normal.

snowpack California Data Exchange Center (CDEC) | http://bit.ly/1FwfmjQ 

  • The recent 2014-2015 winter was not the driest on record, but close.
  • Temperatures this winter for California and the western states have been the warmest on record.
  • Reservoirs in California are running well below average levels. They will drop quickly because of the lack of snow melt and rain.

reser1 California Data Exchange Center (CDEC) | http://bit.ly/1FwfmjQ

  • The dry winter conditions and heat are setting the stage for high-elevation fires this summer.
  • The agriculture industry is facing unprecedented low levels of groundwater. Continued pumping is lowering ground and water levels which may never be regained even with possible future wet seasons.
  • Power…

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Government Nutrition Information Posters

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

This poster was created in 1919. The government thought this constituted a healthy meal. A lot has changed about our dietary needs. We have had years of carb loading as an official government policy. The USDA has again changed its guidelines. The food pyramid asking us to eat six to eleven servings a day of bread, cereal, rice and pasta has been replaced. Since 2011, we have a simpler graphic of a plate divided into sections for vegetables, fruit, protein and grains. You can have a little dairy on the side.

What have been the past recommendations by the government for nutrition? What other posters have been issued? Do you think we are now making the best recommendations?

The U.S. government early on recommended few fruits and vegetables. The focus was on having enough protein. Workers needed protein for energy to do a hard day’s work. Vitamins were discovered in the early…

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Lunar Eclipse | 4 Apr 2015 | Tetrad Part 3

Melanie McNeil:

Get up early Saturday for the lunar eclipse.

Originally posted on JAR Blog:

Previous Tetrad Posts:

Tetrad Part 1 Explanation and what to expect

My images of Part 1

Tetrad Part 2 My images of part 2

What To Expect

The third part of the Lunar Eclipse Tetrad takes place just before sunrise on April 4, 2015, low in the western sky. For observers in the eastern time zone of the U.S., they will not see the total eclipse phase. The Moon will set before it begins. They will see some of the partial eclipse phase. Those of us in the central time zone will see the total eclipse phase just as the Moon sets in the west. Observers farther to the west will be able to witness more of totality before it sets. The best location is Hawaii except that you need to observe in the middle of the night.

I prepared a video with my desktop planetarium software of the view to…

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