Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Interesting yellow grasshopper

A thick growth of Partridge-pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) lines my front walkway. There are many other native plants in this bed, but few of them can match the Partridge-pea for pollinator allure. Dozens of bumblebees (genus Bombus) are on the plants at any time, and the high-pitched collective buzz as they buzz-pollinate the flowers is awesome. Partridge-pea also has extrafloral nectaries - I once wrote about those HERE - and myriad bees and wasps are always visiting those. There is always something interesting to see in this patch.

This, however, was completely new! I've seen a lot of Differential Grasshoppers (Melanoplus differentialis) in my time, but never one like this. This large species is one of our most common grasshoppers, but they are usually a drab olive color.

Back on July 18, my brother Mike came over to shoot pool - I LOVE shooting pool and have a table in the basement - and I was showing him all the action in the Partridge-pea. He peered into the plants and spotted the grasshopper, sitting just as it is on the fruit of Wild Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis). Fortunately, my macro rig with flash and diffuser was sitting inside on the kitchen counter. I did not pose the grasshopper, although I confess the bug looks good on the fruit. I'm not saying I wouldn't have perhaps posed it there, but you try "posing" a grasshopper sometime. Not easy to impossible.

Anyway, orthopterans routinely but rarely have pink or yellow variations, but I've never seen nor heard of yellow forms with this species. A bit of a scan around the Internet for images produced only one or two, so I imagine lemony-colored Differential Grasshoppers are pretty rare.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Nature: Local couple has created an ecologically-friendly yardscape rich in native flora

Josh McElhaney's yard, thick with a diversity of wildflowers/Jim McCormac

Nature: Local couple has created an ecologically-friendly yardscape rich in native flora

August 7, 2022

Jim McCormac

Trick question: What is the largest irrigated crop in the United States? Answer: Your yard, and all the rest of them. Lawns cover 40 million acres of the U.S., which is more than the 11 largest national parks combined and three times the acreage of corn crops. About 10% of Ohio is in lawn.

People dump billions of gallons of water on the ground daily to keep the turfgrass emerald-green. Can’t have “weeds” encroaching or unwanted insects attacking the grass, so over 100 million pounds of herbicides and pesticides drench lawns annually. These toxic chemicals make their way into waterways and cause various environmental and human health issues.

I won’t even go into the gas use and pollution generated by lawn mowers, and that noisy scourge of suburbia, the gas-powered leaf blower.

Lawn management is a multi-billion-dollar industry, so there is plenty of seductive spin aimed at convincing people that a manicured lawn is good and healthy. Don’t want the Joneses to leave you behind! The truth is that all of this non-native grass and its attendant management has laid waste to native plants and wildlife.

It doesn’t have to be like this. And increasing numbers of homeowners are eschewing traditional high maintenance turfgrass wastelands in favor of hardy and beautiful native flora. And just last week, The Dispatch garden writer offered suggestions for alternatives to turfgrass.

When I moved to Worthington a few years ago, I immediately set out to vanquish lawn in favor of native plants.

Today, my yardscape is floristically diverse and full of interesting low-/no-maintenance plants. Numerous butterflies provide fluttering proof of increased eco-friendliness. In the last few weeks, I’ve seen American snout, cloudless sulphur, hackberry emperor, monarch, and summer azure laying eggs on appropriate host plants (none of which are turfgrass).

Last year, my brother Mike introduced me to one of the kings of lawn-to-native conversion, Josh McElhaney. Josh and his wife Abby live in the epitome of urbanized suburbia: the corner of Karl and Cooke roads in northeast Columbus. I visited their “yard” again on July 13 and was blown away by its diversity.

Josh began his mission to diversify an acre of lawn in 2015. Seven years later, it bears beautiful fruit. At least half the grass is gone, replaced with a rich palette of native flora. Various coneflowers, cup-plant, several goldenrod species, prairie-dock and sunflowers provided lemony highlights and sent the local goldfinches atwitter in anticipation of the coming seed crop.

A discerning botanist would have fun searching the McElhaney yard. Curiosities such as queen-of-the-prairie, pawpaw, persimmon, rattlesnake-master, royal catchfly, and wild honeysuckle dot the grounds. Five species of milkweeds are in the gardens, a boon for monarch butterflies. One is Sullivant’s milkweed, which was first discovered in Ohio in the 1830s. Its finder was William Starling Sullivant, the botanist son of Lucas Sullivant, the founder of Franklinton, which would evolve into Columbus.

Splashes of color come courtesy of easily grown native standards such as blue false indigo, mountain mint, redbud, and wild bergamot. A daring gardener, Josh has also planted two species of sumac: ecological heavy lifters, but they occasionally need to be reined in. In all, about 100 native plant species now flourish in the McElhaney yard and it in no way resembles its grassy predecessor.

I asked Josh why he started down the native path, and he gave a wonderful answer. The McElhaneys have two girls, ages 8 and 10, and wanted them to be able to experience nature and all that comes with it at fingertip range. That they can; just a step or two out the door and this easy opportunity has sparked an interest in flora and fauna in the girls.

Josh likes showing off his homegrown wildlife refuge and sharing what he’s learned about establishing native flora.

If you would like to visit, send me a note at and I will put you in touch.

Naturalist Jim McCormac writes a column for The Dispatch on the first, third and fifth Sundays of the month. He also writes about nature at

Friday, August 5, 2022

Purple Fringeless Orchid

A stunning Purple Fringeless Orchid (Platanthera peramoena) grows in a rich bottomland forest. It and others were along the margins of an irregularly inundated overflow channel of a nearby stream.

I made a trip into Zaleski State Forest (Vinton County, Ohio) on July 28 of this year, in large part to look for this amazing orchid. It is fairly easy to find in this region, and in places is along the roadsides. This plant and the following were off the beaten path, though - bit of a hike up a trail, then a bushwhack down to the bottomland and voila! There they were. As a bonus, I located a handful of Cranefly Orchids (Tipularia discolor) in flower.

A closer view of the ornately structured flowers. A nearby plant had a much more densely flowered spike, but I prefer these more open inflorescences if one may be choosy about their Purple Fringeless Orchids.

Various swallowtail butterflies and hummingbird moths in the genus Hemaris visit the flowers during the day, and next year (perhaps) I will return to an orchid patch and sit, wait, and try to photograph the pollinators in action. These are all diurnal pollinators, and I don't know if there is a night shift of moths that visits the flowers.

PHOTO NOTES: This is a big plant, up to three feet in height and sporting lengthy spikes of flowers. Thus, I used a big lens: my Canon 400mm f/2.8 II, on a tripod of course. I prefer telephotos for certain flower photography, as the beautifully blurred bokeh is very complementary to the subject. The second shot was made at f/8, 1/13, and ISO 320. My only real job was to choose an angle that didn't have other vegetation immediately behind the subject. Stopping down three stops brought more depth of field to the flowers, but still did not pull in background distractions. Because of the dim light and my desire to keep the ISO low, a SLOW shutter speed was required. But as there was mostly no wind, that wasn't a problem. No flash - that would have created a black background, not the look I was after. Also, flash can impart a harshness that I don't really care for with plants.

The first shot was made with Canon's 16-35mm f/2.8 II, a superb ultra-wide angle. The lens was dialed in to 22mm. By the way, both images were made with the Canon R5. Settings for the first image were f/11, 1/13, and ISO 320 - same as the second other than the aperture. Something really critical with the use of ultra-wide lenses is to get CLOSE to your subject. I probably had the lens six inches or so - maybe less - to that orchid. If an anchor subject isn't close enough, wide-angle shots can look unmoored and somewhat featureless. An obvious and interesting foreground subject sets a tone and draws the viewer's eye into the image.


Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Cedar Bog photography talk and walk - this Saturday

The meadows of Cedar Bog as seen from the air. White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) ring the margins of the fen meadows. This extraordinary glacial relict habitat is unique to Ohio, and as a writer, I generally despise the blatant misuse of "unique". But there is no other cedar swamp in the state. Cedar Bog harbors the richest diversity of plant life in its meadows, according to the Ohio Floristic Quality Assessment Index, and rare species are liberally spiced throughout the botanical ranks.

I am giving a PowerPoint talk on "Conservation Photography" this Saturday at 10 am. All are welcome. The talk is in the visitor's center, which is just off to the left and out of the picture in the image above. The address is 980 Woodburn Road, Urbana, OH 43078. It's a nominal $5.00 ($10.00 for nonmembers) to attend. Money goes to support the wonderful work of the Cedar Bog Association, the nonprofit that manages the preserve.

After the talk and lunch, we'll head on to the boardwalk to explore. There will be much flora and fauna to see, and photograph. We should get to view the newest mega-rare plant, an interesting carnivorous species that came to light in an unexpected way. There will be many other rare plants to see, North America's smallest dragonfly, a threatened species of dancer (damselfly), skinks and much more. Hope to see you there!