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Rabbit Damage Revealed on Trees and Shrubs

M.Grabowski, UMN Extension

Photo 1: Rose bush with extensive rabbit damage

As gardeners inspect their landscapes this spring, many trees and shrubs have been found with extensive rabbit damage. Rabbits are one of the most commonly seen mammals in the urban environment. In Minnesota, our most common rabbit is the Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridans.

Rabbits will spend much of their time eating grasses and other herbs but they will also chew on the bark of trees and shrubs and eat the buds of shrubs in the winter and spring. If left unprotected, rabbits will sometimes eat the bark from around the base of a tree or shrub. This is called "girdling" and can kill the plant.

Read Rabbits and Trees and Shrubs by wildlife expert Jennifer Menken of the Bell Museum to learn more about protecting landscape plants from rabbit damage.

Native Grasses for Wildlife

Mary Meyer, Extension Horticulturist and Professor

Grasses, especially native grasses, can attract a wide range of wildlife and insects. While you might first think of the cover grasses provide in summer and winter, they also supply food for many grassland birds and are critical for butterfly larva food. Planting a prairie gives you the best environment for wildlife habitat; however, you can still make an impact with grouping 2-4 kinds of grass and using 3-5 plants of each kind. You could even try a stylized prairie by grouping the grasses in drifts similar to a traditional border. Diversity in a garden not only looks good, but can attract a wider variety of insects and birds. Leaving the grasses standing in winter can provide cover and winter shelter to wildlife. We rarely think of grasses being attractive, let alone critical for butterflies, but many species of skippers, satyrs, pearly eyes, wood nymphs, and browns, REQUIRE grasses and sedges as larval food, so these plants attract a number of butterflies as sites to lay their eggs.

Mary Meyer

Photo 1: A skipper butterfly rests on feather reedgrass. Skippers are a large group of butterflies whose larvae feed on grasses.

Grasslands, which not surprisingly, are predominately grasses, have lost 1,000s of acres to development and agriculture, resulting in drastic declines in grassland birds. Of the 37 species of grassland birds that appear to be reasonably well monitored by the North American Breeding Bird Survey, 32 are demonstrating some form of decline, while only 5 are experiencing some form of increase (Sauer, 2005). Habitat loss is the main reason cited for decline in these grassland species. Adding native grasses in your garden can increase the diversity of your garden and provide a home for native butterflies and birds.

Inviting wildlife into your garden is great especially if it's birds, butterflies, honey bees and other pollinators. What about mice, ticks, snakes and mosquitoes? Yes, this 'less desirable' wildlife lives in grasslands and is all part of nature! Making sure your home is properly sealed from openings for wildlife, wearing protective clothing when walking in tall grass, eliminating standing water for breeding mosquitoes, and mowing paths through areas you want to keep natural are precautions and means for living with the less favorite forms of wildlife.

Click the link below to see table 1 which lists common native grasses and the range of wildlife these plants can attract.

Grasses for Wildlif1.pdf

Species Fact Sheets:
BirdLife International. 2004. Grassland birds are declining in North America. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from:
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines & J. Fallon, 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 - 2004. Version 2005.2. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Centre, Laurel, MD

Pollinator Blues - Part I

Karl Foord, UMN Extension Educator

The Native Wild Pollinator's Perspective


Photo 1: Bumblebee on Cosmos. Karl Foord.

Most everything we do cuts into their territory. We make roads, houses, cities, and factories. We plant grass athletic fields, home owner lawns, double flower sterile plants, and we plant large agricultural fields of corn and beans all of which are in essence deserts for them. We use insecticides targeted for other critters and sometimes damage them in the process. We even mulch our gardens making it difficult for them to find ground based nesting sites. I can hear them singing the Jim Croce song 'Car Wash Blues' and changing some of the lyrics. "I got them steadily depressing low down mind messing 'I can't find no pollen' blues".

Short History of Insect Pollinators

Most animals and birds depend on flowering plants for food or shelter. Most plants depend on pollinators to complete their reproduction cycles. This makes pollinators key players in the ecosystem. It should be emphasized that the flowering plant pollinator relationship is kf2.jpg

Photo 2:Bumblebee on Golden Rod. Karl Foord.

one of long standing. Insects were around long before flowering plants. The oldest insect fossils date back to the Carboniferous (360 - 300 million years ago) and exhibit wings and other advanced features which suggests millions of years of evolution before the Carboniferous. There is still discussion about the timing of the origin of flowering plants. The ancestors of flowering plants diverged from gymnosperms in the early Triassic (245-202 million years ago), and fossils of flowering plants are dated to the early Cretaceous (145 - 65 million years ago). Flowering plants diversified during this time and became the dominant plant form in the late Cretaceous (100 - 65 million years ago). Suffice it to say that flowering plants and insects have been interacting intimately for at least 100 million years and have become quite codependent. So pollination is central to the life cycle of flowering plants and more than 80% of plant species rely on animal pollinators and 99% of those pollinators are insects.

Photo 3: Bumblebee on Golden Rod. Karl Foord.

The Pollinator-phile's Perspective

Pollinators are needed for the successful production of as much as 25% of everything we eat and drink, and we are rapidly depleting their habitats. Granted much of this pollination is done by the non-native honeybee. But as we shall see in next month's article by Marla Spivak these pollinators are facing their own set of problems. We need these native pollinators if for no other reason than help pollinate some of our important crop species as the honeybees face challenges. We are finding that bumble bees are much better pollinators of tomatoes in greenhouse and high tunnel settings than honeybees. This is true for many crops if you remember the pumpkin and its specifically adapted pollinators mentioned in the last issue.

All things considered I would like to join the ranks of the native pollinator friendly assembly,kf4.jpg

Photo 4: Bumblebee on Golden Rod.Karl Foord.

but what is one to do? Before becoming an advocate I would like to explore what I could do on my own without having to persuade some government entity that they should create pollinator plant refuges on the highway right of ways. This requires some consideration. The native pollinators are adapted to native plants but will glean pollen and nectar from cultivated species. All of our cultivated plants were adapted from wild ancestors. This leads me to consider two steps. First, take an inventory of the plants I those closely adjoined to my property, and access how pollinator friendly my homestead might be. Second, consider the array of pollinator friendly species and see what might fit within the existing landscape. I will address each in turn.

As far as the home inventory is concerned, I love dwarf evergreens so nothing there for the pollinators. But I have apples strawberries willows as well as significant patches of sedum and thyme. There is a buffer area on my property that is undeveloped and features phlox in kf5.jpg

Photo 5: Bumblebee. Karl Foord.

the spring and goldenrod in the fall. An adjoining school grassy area is mowed but does not control any weeds so the dandelions do quite well. I have some other plants but I will need to consider when they flower and how many there are to determine their impact.

As to plants attractive to native pollinators, I looked at lists of the plants and found I had my work cut out for me. When do they flower and for how long? What are their growing requirements and will they be bullies or gentlepersons in their interaction with the other plants in the landscape. So my next assignment is to work on this and see if the plant lists can be assembled in a way that the information can be applied to anyone's landscape; this for next time. In the meanwhile please enjoy some pictures of bumble bees showing their long tongues, choice of pretty flowers, and flying capabilities.

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