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Earth Day

APRIL 7 | BY IRVINE NATURALIST VALERIE BARBARE

Earth Day is Tuesday, April 22, 2014. Looking to celebrate it differently this year? Instead of celebrating April 22nd, celebrate the week of April 20-26th, or celebrate April 22nd and also on May 22nd and June 22nd, and so on. Celebrate in your community, at home and at work. Organize a community book swap or school uniform swap. At home, plant native plants in your garden and install a rain barrel. At work, organize and implement no waste lunch days or set up a ride share program.

Whatever you choose, the important thing to remember is that the Earth needs help beyond Earth Day. So while you’re thinking about it, grab your calendar and add a couple (or a bunch!) of extra Earth Days. Earth Day is celebrated by over 1 billion people worldwide every year. Imagine the impact we could have on the Earth if we all celebrated it just a little more often.

Sugar Shift

March 7 | By Irvine Naturalist Steven Mickletz

Maple sugar season is wrapping up in Maryland and it’s time to shift our focus to another source for sugar...sort of.

Soon, trees will be in full bloom and rather than people tapping them for sap, bees will be drinking up sweet nectar. Already, honeybees have been leaving the hive on warm days and gathering as much pollen and nectar as possible from plants like witch-hazel.

So what have the honeybees been doing this frigid and snowy winter? While the snow and ice may have been rough for commuting, it has likely been good for the bees. Heavy snow insulates the hive where thousands of bees are clustered for warmth. The bees cycle from outside to inside the cluster and back. The movement helps keep the entire colony warm, including the queen, and allows bees that begin to get too cold to move to the center. The hive is maintained year-round at the same temperature entirely by its residents.

When the weather allows, bees will fly out of the colony in search of water, pollen and nectar – but mostly to relieve themselves and clean out any dead bees from the hive. By late February and early March, the queen should have started laying eggs. The pollen collected in late-winter will be essential for making “bee bread” to nourish these new members of the colony. If all goes well, by the time spring arrives, a healthy honeybee colony will begin to produce the year’s honey supply!

Spring Stinks!

FEBRUARY 7 | BY IRVINE NATURALIST LAURA SODER

With the extreme cold and heavier than usual snow fall this winter, most of us are probably longing for the return of spring and the warmer temperatures that come with it. But while we fend off the last six weeks of winter bundled up or tucked away in our cozy homes, a unique plant will already be growing quite comfortably out in the icy chill. Skunk cabbage, most frequently known for its stinky smell, is one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. The green and red buds can be seen popping up from under ice and snow as early as late February!

While the flower of this plant may not be high on any list for beauty, it has another unique feature that attracts pollinators – it creates heat! The flower buds of the skunk cabbage chemically produce heat, which warms the frozen ground around the plant up to temperatures as high as 70 degrees F. This provides a warm haven for some early spring insects while encouraging pollination so that the plant can reproduce. That unpleasant smell for which the plant is so appropriately named is meant to mimic the smell of rotting meat, attracting insects like flies and carrion beetles which are active much sooner than your typical bees and butterflies.

Skunk cabbage is most often found in low-lying wet areas, spreading out very large, green leaves once spring and summer officially arrive. While the smell alone seems to deter most wildlife from bothering it, this plant also produces a bitter, burning sensation when eaten. Native Americans are said to have used the early shoots for different medicinal purposes, treating coughs, headaches and other ailments. It’s fascinating that a plant with such a seemingly unattractive name and odor can actually invite the attention of many insect and human alike!

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