Focus on Flora - Evening Primrose & The Primrose Moth

Pollinators love evening primrose ( Oenothera biennis ), like the one pictured above with a Primrose Moth ( Schinia florida ).

Pollinators love evening primrose (Oenothera biennis), like the one pictured above with a Primrose Moth (Schinia florida).

Flora and fauna interactions are fascinating. Hummingbirds and nectar. Ospreys and fish. And now, evening primrose and the primrose moth. A common roadside wildflower and an uncommon pink moth. Their lives are interwoven, all while we go about our usual business. Here’s a more in-depth look at their relationship.

~Natural History of Evening Primrose~
Evening primrose has a lifespan of two years. The first year the basal leaves establish followed by blooms and seeds the next. Like the name suggests, this primrose blooms in the evening and starts to close by noon the next day. Sometimes the flower will stay open throughout the day if it is overcast. The blooms are extremely showy, lasting up to six weeks per bloom. The plant will bloom all summer long and into the fall.

Evening primrose relies on pollinators like the primrose moth to spread its genetic information.

~Natural History of Primrose Moth~
The Primrose Moth (Schinia florida) relies on evening primrose to complete its lifecycle. Adults lay the eggs on the outside of the bud, along a leaf, on the stem, or at the base of a flower. The larvae feed on unopened buds primarily, and the seed capsules to a lesser extent. They then bore a hole in the unopened bud to snack on the innards. Once they have their head inside, they will consume the unopened flower, stamen, and pistil.

Adults emerge irregularly from early July to mid-August. During this time you could potentially see several life stages of the primrose moth (eggs, larvae, and adults) on a single plant. After three days, the larvae will hatch and begin to feed on the buds. It takes about a month for the larvae to mature. At that time, they migrate to the base of the plant and burrow into the ground where they will remain until the following season.

The adults are mainly active at night (when evening primrose blooms). So, during the daytime you can often find them resting inside the delicately folded flowers.

~Pollinator Relationship~
A study released from Tel Aviv University researcher Lilach Hedany discovered that evening primrose flowers respond to bee wing vibrations. Because the flower has a bowl shape, the vibrations are amplified. This amplification leads to an increase in nectar sugar concentration. The sugar concentration is raised from between 12-17% to 20%. “A sweeter treat for pollinators, their theory goes, may draw in more insects, potentially increasing the chances of successful cross-pollination. Indeed, in field observations, researchers found that pollinators were more than nine times more common around plants another pollinator had visited within the previous six minutes.”

~Herbalist Use~
Evening primrose has a long history of herbalist use. Before it was introduced to Europeans in the 17th century, Native Americans used it as a poultice, which is a soft, moist plant material mass used to reduce inflammation and relieve soreness that is then covered with a cloth, and as an astringent and sedative additive.

Europeans used various plant parts to treat a wide array of ailments, including asthma, psoriasis, eczema, whooping cough, premenstrual syndrome, Raynaud’s Disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and mastalgia earning it the name, “King’s Cure All.”

The oil of evening primrose is used regularly today to treat ailments ranging from arthritis to multiple sclerosis, skin disorders, premenstrual syndrome, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, cancer, allergies, and depression. New research suggests that the plants can help recovering alcoholics by helping normal liver function resume quicker and lessen withdrawal symptoms.

~ Finding Wild Orchids at Snake Den State Park ~

On a recent hike through Snake Den State Park in Johnston, Rhode Island, we observed an amazing number of lady slippers throughout the park. Usually on hikes, we see one or two in dry, sandy, upland areas. However, we were overwhelmed with the shear number we found here. It was absolutely gorgeous and a real treat to see how well they were flourishing here!

~ Things That Are and Aren't Poison Ivy ~

Every year we get flooded with questions about plant ID. Specifically poison ivy. We’ve put together common plants you would see in Rhode Island this time of year that are NOT poison ivy. Here’s to successful backyard plant ID!

~ Spring Has Sprung ~

The sounds and sights of spring are a welcomed respite from winter. Magnolia and cherry trees are blossoming, forsythia is in bloom, and bulbs are pushing through the ground. Daffodils, crocuses, snowdrops, and blue grape hyacinths are all opening their petals to the warming weather.

We love our spring weeds, too. Dandelions, dead nettles, and stinging nettle are all opening up. At a time of year where not much is flowering, these so called ‘weeds’ provide a pollen source for bees and other insects. Another reason not to use round up and pesticides.

Frogs are awake and have made their way to vernal pools. Listen to the chorus of spring peepers and wood frogs in the video below.

~ Twig Travels: Florida Wilderness in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park ~

As many of you know, Matt "Twig" Largess just returned from a four-month tree consulting trip in Florida. On the rare occasion he had some downtime, he explored Florida's wilderness areas. He took airboat rides in the Everglades, hiked through old-growth cypress swamps, communed with wildlife (including alligators!), and discovered that there are more preserved wild areas in Florida than he had imagined. 

One of the preserves Twig stopped by was the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. This is the largest preserved park in Florida, and is home to the nation's largest native orchid population. While he was there, he met with Park Biologist Mike Owen. Mike has been observing and preserving the park for over 24 years. 

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park Biologist Mike Own has been protecting the park for over 24 years.  Photo credit: FloridaHikes.com

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park Biologist Mike Own has been protecting the park for over 24 years. 
Photo credit: FloridaHikes.com

Fakahatchee has an incredible amount of other native biodiversity including Florida panthers, white-tailed deer, black bears, Eastern indigo snakes, diamondback terrapins, the threatened Everglades mink, and flocks of resident and migratory birds. 

It's also an incredibly rare forest ecosystem. This is the only place in the world where you'll find bald cypress trees sharing the canopy with royal palm trees. 

~ Twig Travels: Wildlife Conservation on Florida Golf Courses ~

Matt "Twig" Largess just returned from a four-month tree-consulting trip in Florida. During this time, Matt surveyed green assets on golf courses and other properties that had varying degrees of damage from Hurricane Irma. This was his longest consulting trip to date!

During his trip, he discovered that some of the golf courses he surveyed were allied with Audubon International. Audubon International (separate from the National Audubon Society) has a mission to "deliver high-quality environmental education to facilitate the sustainable management of land, water, wildlife, and other natural resources in all places people live, work, and play."

Golf courses around the world support Audubon International's mission by taking part in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf. The program works with courses to protect the environment while simultaneously preserving the natural heritage of the game of golf. Valuable natural areas and wildlife habitats are enhanced, and potentially harmful golf course operations are minimized.

This is all accomplished by courses following the Standard Environmental Management Practices that Audubon International developed. The practices cover environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, water quality management, and outreach and education. 

Check out some of the courses that Twig visited and partake in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf.

~ The Winter Forest ~

Ever wonder what songbirds, deer, raccoons, mice, and more eat in the wintertime? Not every species hibernates, so they need consistent food sources to get them through the season. Here are some common berries and plants that are vital to their wintertime diet. You may even consider planting some of these (except Asiatic Bittersweet and Japanese Barberry because they are non-native, invasive species) to attract wildlife in your backyard!

Rare Forest Sighting - Great Island Trail, Wellfleet

Continuing our exploration of Cape Cod National Seashore, we stopped by Great Island Trail in Wellfleet, MA. It is one of three forest areas part of the Atlantic coastal pine barrens, making it another rare forest to visit and study.

The Atlantic coastal pine barrens only comprise forests along the coastal plain of New Jersey, southern Long Island, NY, and Cape Cod and the islands, MA. These forests are characterized by nutrient-poor, sandy soils that are prone to drought and frequent fires. 

The original forests in Cape Cod were predominantly composed of hardwoods and white pines, which were chopped down by European settlers for agriculture and fuel. This deforestation led to topsoil erosion by wind and rain. It exposed the nutrient-depleted, dry, infertile soil and sand beneath, which caused the land to become barren.

In the 1830s, pitch pines were planted to stabilize the soil. Pitch pines are uniquely suited to this type of dry, nutrient-poor environment. They also create cool and shady habitat, perfect for oaks to reestablish. Oaks eventually outgrow the pioneer species (pitch pine), and the future forest will be oak and and white pine, just as it was before colonization.

Forest blessings to all

~ Unveiling of a Food Forest ~

The unveiling of Crossman Park in Central Falls is here! Largess Forestry and Voice of the Forest Alliance teamed up with the City of Central Falls, RI to create a healthful green space at the park this past spring. 

The park was recently renovated to include a walking track, outdoor fitness equipment and a brand new playground. Largess Forestry planted 22 fruit trees and 12 blueberry bushes in the park for anyone in the city to enjoy. 

This is part of a larger by effort by Mayor Diossa to reforest Central Falls and build a healthier community. Since reforesting cities is a huge part of Largess Forestry and Voice of the Forest's mission, this was a perfect collaboration.

We are so thrilled to be a part of this ongoing project.