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Midwest Native Plant Conference recap

The 6th annual Midwest Native Plant Conference took place this weekend, and what a great time it was. For the fifth year in a row, we centered the event at Bergamo Center on the sprawling grounds of Mount St. John, just outside of Dayton. CLICK HERE for the conference website and all of the details.

As has been the case every year, the conference filled to capacity, which is about 170 people. I think we could make it larger, but bigger is not always better and none of us involved in its planning wishes to move it. The venue is perfect. A big thanks to everyone who works hard, and more or less all year, to make this thing come together. Keynote speakers, numerous concurrent breakout sessions, field trips, multiple vendors of native plants, numerous other exhibitors, meals - all of the things that make for LOTS of work and planning.

As is often the case at these conferences, I get so busy with this, that, and the other thing that I never pull out the camera to photo-document the event. So all I come away with, photo-wise, are some images from field trips that I was on. At least I can share some of those.

We always do night trips on Friday and Saturday night. Thanks to Don Geiger's efforts, the grounds of Mount St. John (150 acres!) are rich in native plants, and we always find lots of interesting things. The last several years, I have been fortunate to co-lead these forays with Lisa Rainsong, Wendy Partridge, and at least one of the two trips, Judy Semroc. Little escapes their notice. Following are some photos from our two evening trips.

This is a subadult Wheelbug, Arilus cristatus - death in the flowers. These assassin bugs are always crowd-pleasers; all the more so when people learn of their gruesome killing tactics. Wheelbugs stalk their victims - usually lesser insects - pounce, and stab the prey with that powerful hypodermic needle of a proboscis that is folded beneath its head. Chemicals are injected which liquefy the prey's innards, which are then sucked back out through the same proboscis.

Caution is required when alighting on a flower, if you are a small pollinating insect. These are the disk flowers of a False Sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides, and a small ambush bug in the genus Phymata awaits a victim. Its orange eyes lend a rather ominous appearance to the animal, as do those powerful Popeye forelegs. When a moth or some other insect lands, the ambush bug will lunge, and dispatch it in much the same way as described above under the Wheelbug.

Lisa Rainsong is one of the foremost experts on "singing insects" - the Orthopterans. It is always a delight, and a robust learning experience, to spend time afield with her. Visit her blog, RIGHT HERE.

The conference grounds are rich in singing insects, and we always focus on them on our nighttime trips. We want to help people tune in to the sounds of the night and the insects that create the symphony. The conehead katydids are always popular, and I suspect that some of the uninitiated think that we are pulling their legs when we talk about them. So, we always do our best to go into the meadows and capture one, and that's what we've done here. This is a Sword-bearing Conehead, Neoconocephalus ensiger.

Last evening, as we investigated a night light, lo and behold, there sat a huge and very fresh Polyphemus Moth, Antheraea polyphemus.These giant silk moths are stunning, and so large that they can be mistaken for bats when they fly. Some sort of millipede has photo-bombed the picture - far right side.

The Polyphemus was a male, and here is a close-up of one of its antenna. A majestic work of art and much resembling a fern, this sensory organ can detect the female's pheromones from perhaps a half-mile, maybe farther.

As I was leaving the conference this morning to head to Cedar Bog to lead a post-conference field trip, someone tipped me to these moths. I was delighted to see that they were Honey Locust Moths, Sphingicampa bicolor. Not only that, it was a mating pair, and the female was somehow already dumping eggs. Perhaps one of my moth ranching friends can explain this.

There are numerous Honey Locust trees close at hand; in fact, some of them were overshadowing the native plant vendors where the moths appeared. It's in those trees where the caterpillars were probably feeding. The moths were found on one of the plants that was for sale at a vendor's booth.

When our group arrived at Cedar Bog, we were shown this beautiful chrysalis. I think it was found by Jill Michaels at her property, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it is that of a Question Mark butterfly, Polygonia interrogationis.Note the beautiful silvery splashes on the side, as if a welder slopped some molten silver onto the structure.

We soon headed into the bog via its boardwalk, where we spent an all too quick four hours finding scores of interesting plants and animals. This Tawny Emperor, Asterocampa clyton, was exceptionally cooperative.

I suspect that one could easily heap 100 or more of these flowers on a quarter. It is the bloom of the Virginia Stickseed, Hackelia virginiana, and the blossom is so tiny that it would go unnoticed by the vast majority of passersby. When seen well, it proves to be an interesting and ornate flower worthy of our inspection.

The Ground-nut, Apios americana, was in full flower and this one bowled people over. The strange pinkish flowers are fascinating in shape and color. It's worth a visit to Cedar Bog in the next few weeks just to see them, but if you go you will see scads of other stuff.

Thanks again to all of the speakers, organizers, field trips leaders, and attendees who made for another great Midwest Native Plant Conference. And big thanks, as always, to everyone at Bergamo Center for the great hospitality and flawless service.

Planning has already begun for the 2015 conference, and I hope that you can make it.


Donald Comis said…
Great story and photos, makes me wish I was there. Next year maybe. And I'm glad to learn from this and an earlier blog of yours that those antennae mark the male moths.

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