Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Clematis, Fall-Blooming

Fall-blooming Clematis across top of fence
Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora) differs from most of the species in this family in that it is a fall bloomer of small flowers rather than a spring bloomer of conspicuously large flowers. It is also an aggressively fast climber of arbors, fences and other plants to a height of 10 to 25 feet in a single season. In late August and early September it displays a mass of white flowers suggesting, if anything, a covering of snow.

A couple of months later the plant is visually transformed. The flowers are gone. In their place are the maturing seed clusters. Against a background of green leaves, the seeds appear in starfish-like arrangements of five or six reddish seeds, each attached at one end to a central node, and with a white filament/tail extending from the outer end. En masse, this display could be taken for some under water coral- or anemone-like growth. For whatever reasons, the maturing seeds do not appear to be attractive to birds or other seed eaters, as the display remains intact as time proceeds into fall.

Clematis seed clusters in October.
Click on photos to enlarge
In fact, it is possible that the red coloration is protective. When berries, grapes and fruit first appear on plants the coloration is green. And the sugar content is low. As these seed delivery systems mature, carbohydrates are replaced by sugars and the surface skin takes on a distinct color - think blueberries, cranberries, blackberries. Most of the color is due to the creation of a family of chemical compounds called anthocyanins. These are a fraction of a larger family of compounds called polyphenols - all known to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial activity. In effect, the dark coloration taken on by maturing fruits and berries (and clematis seeds) is a natural protection against rot.

The second function of coloring up, for grapes and berries called "verison," is a signal to animals that the plants' creations are now ready to be eaten. On the face of it, this feels counterproductive - why go to a season-long effort to create packaging around seeds only to see the end product hijacked by some hungry herbivore? However, the point of being eaten is that  the seeds will pass through the animal's digestive system intact, and because defecation will likely take place distant from the starting point, help distribute seeds to new locations.

Autumn Clematis seed cluster, October
See heads are red, and tails are
beginning to change.
Autumn Clematis seed cluster, November
Seed heads have lost color and
tails have become 'feathery'
This distribution story does not apply to Autumn Clematis. Come late October to early November the clematis seed clusters undergo a gradual transformation. The red fades. The white tail of each seed develops a 'feathery' look. There is no tasty outer fruit to shout "Eat me." Instead, the individual seeds, now too dry to allow bacterial or fungal infection, will in time detach from the core and be borne away on the winds of chance.   

Autumn Clematis is native to Japan; introduced in the United States in the late 1800s. Here, it has no serious insect or disease problems, and in some southern states is being designated as a category II invasive species. Individual plants can get out of hand, for example growing up through a hedge and then completely covering the top with a blanket of white flowers.  Gardeners can control size by cutting a plant to within a couple feet from the ground; the next year it will start its rampant growth all over again. Flowering is on new growth, so there is no loss of a year's flowering after aggressively pruning in the fall.

Pronunciation: Accent on first syllable or second? KLEM-uh-tis or Klem-AH-tis? Various expert sources favor the first, but enough of them acknowledge that the second is valid, too.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Winter Moths - Act Now to Save Your Trees

December 3rd update: Male winter moths are seen flying after sunset. Our birch tree is trapping far more males than females. This indicates that after four years of tree banding our local infestation of females is lessened, but the pheromones the trapped females release are attracting males from a larger distance. In effect, we are doing the neighborhood a favor. It is not necessary to band every tree every year.

November 15, 2017: Winter moths, previously written up (Nov 2014 and May 2016) as an invasive species, will soon be starting to emerge from their pupal state, triggered by the first few frosts. If you start seeing large numbers of moths flying around in the evening, it’s time. And if you intend to protect your trees, act now. Garden supply stores, including Russell's Garden Center (Wayland), carry Tree Tanglefoot in 15-ounce containers. One container should be enough for a few trees. The product can also be ordered on line in that size or five-pound pails.

White birch tree with plastic wrap covered with Tree Tanglefoot. Females
get stuck at the bottom edge. Males, attracted to their pheromones, get
stuck higher up. Click on photo to enlarge.
The procedure for using this sticky stuff is to wrap the trunk of the tree two or three feet off the ground with clinging plastic wrap. Optionally, secure this with a band of duct tape on the top and bottom edges of the plastic wrap (not touching the tree). Then, open a container of the product and use a 1.0 to 1.5 inch wide spatula to smear the stuff on the plastic. Do not apply directly to tree. Wearing disposable plastic gloves while working with this stuff is a good idea, as it is hard to wash off bare hands. The wrap should be left on until late December.

Garden supply stores also sell a roll of a paper product that has the sticky stuff pre-applied. All you have to do is unroll it around the tree trunk. Negatives with this version of the product are that it's expensive, moths may be able to pass under the band if the tree bark has deep fissures, and the sticky band is so narrow that it can become completely filled with moths within days. This means you will have to remove it and repeat the process, else the next wave of females just climbs over the dead bodies of the early ones.    

Female winter moths climbing up a birch tree trunk.
The reason this works is that winter moths have an interesting dimorphism. Males have strong flight muscles, with an ability to pre-warm these muscles through shivering before cold weather flight. In contrast, females have only vestigial wings. Sacrificing flight capacity allows more than fifty percent of their adult body weight to be given over to eggs. Mating is achieved after the females climb up tree trunks and then release scent pheromones into the air. Males fly to them. Both sexes get stuck in the sticky stuff.  

Winter moths, native to northern Europe, reached Canada in the 1930s. The introduction was accidental, the problem monumental.  The "winter" part of the name refers to an evolutionary strategy used to avoid predation. Most insect eaters are active during warmer months. By not emerging until after late November frosts, there perils are avoided. This plague appeared in eastern Massachusetts around 1990 and to date has slowly spread to affect land east of Interstate I-495 and down into Cape Cod, but not farther west. Yet.

Female winter moth, with vestigial wings.
The trees to protect are birch, maple, and any type of fruit trees. Winter moth eggs hatched in early April. The tiny, tiny hatchlings climb inside beginning-to-open leaf and flower buds and nibble from the inside. By early June the full-sized, green, inch-worm-like caterpillars will descend to the ground where they will transform into pupae, not to emerge as adults until next winter.

Help is on the way. Canada successfully introduced parasitic flies and wasps from Europe. Both prey specifically on winter moth caterpillars, with eggs hatching inside, and larvae consuming the caterpillars from the inside out. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been experimenting with this approach. The net result is a downgrade from traumatic damage to minor damage, with occasional bad years. However, until these bio-controls are introduced locally, best advice is to sticky-band your favorite trees in the fall as being much less expensive than spraying in early spring.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hidden History of Maynard


128 pages. 54 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.62619.541.7
Price: $19.99 (e-book $9.99)

The book is available in Maynard at The Paper Store, ordered on line, as an e-book, or directly from the author. If from the author, the author makes a $10 profit and you get a signed book. Any other venue and the author (me) gets 70 cents.

Maynard resident David A. Mark brings his years of experience as a writer to create this fact-populated collection of fifty short essays gathered into seven theme-linked chapters. The contents were originally published 2012-14 as Mark’s column in Maynard’s newspaper, the Beacon-Villager.

I continue to write for the newspaper.
My more recent columns are posted at

Also at Instagram: #maynardlifeoutdoors

In this, his second book, the content is 100% history. Chapters again cover the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, plus a focus on the unusual people and unusual businesses that prospered here. So, from the question as to why there was a mink ranch in Maynard, to whether Babe Ruth came a-drinking here when he lived in Sudbury, here is David Mark with his well-researched and entertaining answers to those questions.  

Only in Maynard
Meet the Maynard Family
19th Century
20th Century
Unusual Businesses
Unusual People
21st Century
Click on photo to enlarge


MAYNARD: History and Life Outdoors (2011)
128 pages. 53 illustrations 
Publisher: The History Press
ISBN: 978.1.60949.303.5
Price: $19.99

Maynard: History and Life Outdoors mixes 2/3 local history with 1/3 observations on nature and local recreational activities as a means of exploring what Maynard, Massachusetts offers to anyone willing to get away from too much time looking at screens and not enough time spent seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the life going on outside. History starts with eighteenth century stone walls, then carries forward to twenty-first century river clean-ups and farmers’ markets. Nature spans skunks to skunk cabbage, deer to deer ticks, and birds to bird food. Recreational sports essays range from describing the slow-motion, nightmarish feel of snow shoeing to how to avoid overhydration – the potentially deadly opposite of dehydration.

Author selfie, one fine cold morning (5º F, 45% humidity)
Maynard – Why “Outdoors”
Eighteenth Century
Birds and Bugs
Nineteenth Century
Assabet River 
Twentieth Century
Marble/Whitney/Parmenter Farm
Twenty-first Century

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Six Mile Road Race - 1946

Kanto Athletic Club (1920) "Voittajat" = The Victors. Click on photo to enlarge
What with all the 5Ks and 10Ks and half-marathons and marathons and ironman triathlons, we might think that distance running as an amateur sport did not exist until the last years of the twentieth century. We would be wrong. The Olympics as a bastion of amateur sports was resurrected in 1896, the Boston Marathon in 1897. The Maynard Historical Society has in its collection a program dated 1946 for the 18th Annual Six Miles Road Race, to go from Memorial Park, Maynard, to the Knights of Kaleva camp ground at Fort Pond, Littleton. The event was sponsored by the Kanto Athletic Club of the Finnish-American Athletic League.

Some of the program sponsor names that still might ring a bell: Erikson’s Dairy, Fowler Funeral Service, Hawes Florist, Gruber Bros Furniture, Maydale Beverages, Parker Hardware, Russo’s Restaurant and Twin Tree Café. Others, perhaps not: Rink Alleys (bowling), Erkkinen Service Station, C. Wainio Barber Shop. Reporters from Boston Globe, Boston Post and Boston Herald were in attendance.

Program for 1946 Road Race, with
image of John A. Kelley on the cover.
Runners (all male) were from athletic clubs as far away as New York. Forty-nine were listed as starting the six mile race, with another twenty-eight for a two-mile cross country race. Jersey #1 among the longer distance runners went to John A. Kelley. The Society does not have any mention of the race results, but it is a fair guess that Kelley won. In his lifetime, John A. Kelley ran 61 Boston Marathons starting in 1928, winning twice (1935 and 1945) and coming in second seven times. He was on the U.S. Olympic team for the marathon in 1936 (Berlin) and 1948 (London). Did not medal. He completed his last Boston Marathon in 1992 at age 84, finishing in just under six hours.

There is a bit of Kelley confusion about marathons. John J. Kelley (no relation to John A.) ran his first Boston Marathon in 1953, while an undergraduate at Boston College. He went on to start that race 31 more times, winning once, coming in second five times, and like John A., was on the Olympic team twice (1956 Melbourne, 1960 Rome). Did not medal. To avoid confusion whenever both were running in the same event, John A. came be referred to as Johnny (the Elder) Kelley while John J. was Johnny (the Younger) Kelley.    

Finnish immigrants were big on athletics. Early on, temperance groups promoted sports as part of a healthy, alcohol-free lifestyle. Political groups also fostered sports – about one-fourth of Finnish Socialist Federation chapters sponsored teams. The favorites were track & field, wrestling and gymnastics.

Political schisms impacted sports. In Maynard, the Kanto Athletic Club was under the auspices of the Finnish Temperance Society, but the Socialist Society group started the Tarmo [“Energy”] Athletic Club. Socialist teams stopped competing with non-Socialist teams. Then, the Labor movement further split into Socialists and Communists. All this was so stifling that in time the groups gave up political purity and opened to wider extramural competition again.

Women were also members of athletic clubs.
This Tarmo Athletic Club photo is from 1926.
Internationally, Finns and Finnish-Americans became associated with long distance running. Stars of the 1920s included Ville Ritola and the brothers William and Hannes Kolehmainen. Paavo Nurmi, nicknamed the “Flying Finn,” won a total of 12 Olympic medals and set numerous world records. Endurance running matched up well with the Finnish concept described as Sisu – a stoic determination to persevere, bravely, often against odds of success. The Finns think of Sisu as uniquely theirs. The closest equivalent in English might be describing a person as having grit. To continue to strive despite repeated failures, despite the knowledge that in the end one might still fail, is Sisu.

In time the waves of immigration slowed, and the Finnish-American population assimilated. Finnish was no longer spoken at home. People became less of sports participants and more of sports fans. We have this program for the eighteenth Annual Six Miles Road Race, but no information of whether there was a nineteenth or a twentieth.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fall Leaf Color Fail

Naming this season "fall" came about in Britain in the sixteenth century, and refers to the observation that this is the time of year that leaves fall off trees. Really. Prior to that the season was autumn, borrowed from France (automne) and stemming from the Latin, autumus. Or else just referred to as "harvest." Of the season names, summer and winter go back more than 1,000 years, whereas spring and fall date to half that.

New England is renowned for great leaf peeping – driving about on weekends to see the leaves turn colors. This year, however, is a particularly bad year for fall color for a number of reasons. Firstly, the very wet spring and early summer that led to the end of drought status across much of eastern Massachusetts also promoted tar leaf spot disease. This fungal disease affects all species of maple trees, but is most damaging to Norway maples (an invasive species) which is prominent in urban and suburban neighborhoods. 

Maple leaf showing browning and tar leaf spot fungus
Tar leaf spot infection begins in early spring. Long periods of moist to wet weather conditions promote growth. By summer, leaves are showing yellow spots that over time enlarge and turn black in the center. Severely afflicted leaves will wither and turn brown from the edges inward and then prematurely fall from the trees.

The good news is that tree health is not compromised. The following spring the trees will bud new leaves, and if weather patterns are closer to our norm, be entirely healthy. Homeowners may want to consider either having the fallen leaves hauled away, or if composting on the property, add a layer of soil over the bins or piles of leaves. This will reduce the risk of the fungus spreading next spring. 
A second reason for our poor leaf color season is unseasonably warm weather. Sunny days followed by crisp nights helps maximize color. Instead it has been so warm that in some parts of the country people were calling for renaming October as “Hotober.” Our normal late October weather for this area – ignoring for the moment any thoughts of global warming – should have been averaging highs of 61 degrees and lows of 40 degrees. Instead what we had was September temperatures – averaging highs of 72 degrees and lows of 52 degrees. With only one night of frost. Combined this warm weather with the late summer and early fall drought was the last nail in the coffin for leaf peeping season this year. It was both late and mediocre.

Two maple leaves from a better year
As to why leaves fall off, it’s a matter of winterizing and recycling. By shedding leaves, trees avoid the branch-breaking burden of heavy snow accumulation. And, as the leaves were tattered and hole-ridden by fall, combined with photosynthesis being diminished by cold temperatures and closer-to-the-horizon sunlight, no great loss. The fallen leaves create an insulating layer on the ground that protects roots from freezing. And in time, the leaves will decay, returning nutrients to the soil.

Shedding leaves is an active process. As days become shorter, the tree grows a specialized type of cell between the stem of the leaf and the twig to which it is attached. These cells weaken the connection. In time, the stems detach, leaving behind a dry leaf scar. If, instead, a branch is almost entirely broken in mid-summer, the leaves will die and turn brown, but in winter, when the leaves have fallen off the live branches, those leaves on the dead branch will still be attached.

Beech tree leaves in winter. Click on photos to enlarge.
As to the business with the color changes, chlorophyll is responsible for the green color. All spring and summer, chlorophyll is continually being metabolized and replaced. Come fall, replacement stops. Families of molecules called carotenoids and anthocyanins, which were present all summer but are less susceptible to metabolic breakdown, provide a wide range of yellows, oranges and reds once the green is gone. As to why these other molecules are there, one theory is that they protect leaf cells from ultraviolet light damage, in effect, anti-sunburn. A second is that they (not always successfully) make the leaves taste bad to insects and herbivores.  

For reasons not entirely clear, a few trees retain dead leaves until spring. These include several species of oak trees, and also American beech trees. The latter appear a very light brown in color, easily seen during a winter walk when all other trees are naked to the world.