Saturday, December 6, 2008

Red Shumard Oak

One of my goals on my smallholding is to plant native species whenever possible. A Kentucky Division of Forestry Agent was passing out Red Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii) seedlings several years ago at a local Master Gardner's plant sale. This one made its way onto my property and appears to be doing well. What struck me today was how late it is retaining its fall color. All of the other oaks in my area have had their leaves turn completely brown a fortnight ago, but this little Red Shumard Oak is still a vibrant red at the top of the tree.

Shumard Oaks are supposed to be drought resistant. That has been important the last two years since we have been on the edge of the severe drought centered in the southeast.

I was a little worried about whether it would survive as it had a bad case of powdery mildew its first and second year. But this year, it seemed to establish itself and thrive. I have found that it is often that case that the 3rd year is when bare-root deciduous trees really take hold or continue to languish until finally perishing. Now that I can confirm that it is well suited to my soil, I may order some seedlings next spring to sprinkle throughout my wood.

If you plant these on your property, be sure that you have enough space as they will grow to be well over 100 feet tall, with crowns as large as 60 feet in diameter.

Cicadas and Their Killers

The Eastern cicada killer wasps (genus Sphecius) were in full force this fall. Here is the common annual cicada (genus Tibicen) along with its foe collected on our smallholding.

The cicada killer females build nest cells within tunnels which they burrow in the soil often working with other females. The females are often seen flitting about in search for their prey. Once located, they sting the cidada and paralyze it so that they can laboriously lug it back to their nest. Once in the nest cell, which is a branch off of the main tunnel, the female cidada killer will place an egg on the cidada and close off the nest cell with surrounding soil. In a few days, the egg will hatch a grub which will feed off of the cicada as it develops. In about two weeks, the larvae will come to maturity and will spend the winter in a cozy cocoon within the nest cell. In the spring, they pupate. Alas, the adults do not survive the winter.

What is quite intriguing is that an egg that contains a female cicada killer will receive 2 or 3 cicadas in its nest cell for feeding whilst an egg that contains a male cicada killer will receive only one cicada in its nest cell. This is because the female cicada killer is nearly twice as large as the male and thus requires more food whilst developing. Only God knows how the female can tell a male containing egg from a female containing egg.

I particularly enjoy the mellow background buzz of the morning cicada especially whilst working in the garden or elsewhere around the homestead.

P.S. My intent is to keep the journal entries relevant to the season at hand, however, I will occasionally make an exception.