Most of our avian migrants have returned, and the flush of spring ephemeral wildflowers is beginning to fade. However, new life abounds in June! Find out more in this month's Field Guide.
By Julia Pupko
One of my favorite June flowers is the Pink Lady Slipper (Cypripedium acaule). These lovely wildflowers are in the orchid family. They have two large basal leaves, with a single stem and flower resembling (you guessed it) a slipper emerging from the center of the plant. The flower emits a sweet scent, which combined with its bright color, attracts hopeful bees looking for nectar. The bees are lured into a slit that leads into a pouch within the flower. Once inside, they discover there is no nectar (not producing nectar saves the plant a lot of energy)–and they also find that they cannot leave the way they came in. From here, there is only one way out, which is up and under the plant’s stigma, causing the bee to deposit pollen from any previous Pink Lady Slippers it visited, and then over the stamen (thereby collecting a new pollen load) on its way out the door. Pink Lady Slippers must rely on a constant stream of young, naïve bees that will be fooled by this trick, since most bees learn quickly that these enticing flowers do not yield a prize.
If you thought that this pollination process was intricate, just wait until you read this next part about germination. Unlike your generic, nectar-producing Dandelion, which begins life as a small seed that is still large enough to include energy stores for the young sprout before its roots become established (like most plant seeds), Pink Lady Slippers do not produce seeds with their own built-in energy starter. Each seed is composed of only a few cells, so tiny that they require a fungus in the Rhizoctonia genus to get the germination process started. The fungus invades the seed, feeding the young lady slipper nutrients. It slowly begins to grow a corm, from which leaves and roots will later grow. Once the Pink Lady Slipper has reached adulthood and has established roots, the fungus is able to siphon nutrients from the plant, bringing the relationship full circle. It may take a Pink Lady Slipper well over a decade to first bloom after germinating.
You can find these gorgeous flowers in mixed forests (containing coniferous and deciduous trees) growing in acidic, well-drained soils. Report your sightings to iNaturalist!
By Spencer Hardy
In the bee world, we talk a lot about “specialists”–those species that only collect pollen from a narrow range of plants, and sometimes only one species. Many of these species likely have long histories of adaptation to their host flowers; examples include a long face to reach inside blueberry flowers or a narrowly-timed flight period to overlap with blooming spring ephemerals. But as we know, humans have done a pretty good job moving plants all over the world. It turns out we have also moved a lot of bees, including some that are specialists on widely introduced plants. Several of the roughly eleven non-native bee species known from Vermont have relatively limited food preferences, including at least two likely to be found in June:
Wilke’s Mining Bee (Andrena wilkella) is one of the most common summer Mining Bees and is usually associated with non-native legumes. Clovers (Genus Melilotus and Trifolium), lupins (genus Lupinus) and vetches (Securigera and Vicia) are some of its favorites.
Much less common and well-known is the Viper’s Bugloss Small-Mason (Hoplitis anthocopoides). It was first found in Vermont in 2020, but its host plants, Viper’s-Buglosses (Genus Echium), are scattered throughout the state. This bee species is known to attach its nests to rocks and may be transported through quarrying activities.
Since both of these bees can at least occasionally be identified from photos, they are good ones for community scientists to look for and add to the Vermont Wild Bee Survey on iNaturalist.
By Julia Pupko
If you have spent any time in the woods, I’m sure you have seen at least one fungus that appears almost woody growing on a tree. If you have seen a number of the aforementioned fungi, it’s likely that you have seen a Ganoderma species at some point, and maybe even a Reishi mushroom. Ganoderma, the genus that Reishis are in, contains over 300 different species (and maybe more!) of fungi that are shelf-like or knobby in appearance. Some are annual, while others are perennial. Reishi mushrooms are a subgenus (the Ganoderma Lucidum Complex) within the genus Ganoderma. It is important to note that this is a relatively young genus, which is still poorly understood, even being described as a “taxonomic chaos” (which I was unamused, yet unsurprised by, after spending over an hour trying to write this one paragraph because nothing I was reading made a lick of sense).
So why do we care about this disheveled taxonomic soup anyway? First, Ganoderma (the genus and Reishi subgenus) are widely-distributed fungi found across the world that either feed on dead trees (saprophytic mushrooms), contributing to nutrient cycling, or feed on and kill live trees (parasitic mushrooms). From what I can gather, most (maybe all?) of the Ganoderma in the Ganoderma Lucidum Complex (Reishi) can be found growing on trees that are already dead. Additionally, the Reishi species that have been studied all seem to have similar properties—although they are tough, they can be powdered, boiled, or tinctured and consumed, and have been used across their range as medicinal mushrooms. They are used for their immune-boosting properties, and laboratory studies have shown that Reishis have the very promising ability to kill cancer cells.
In Vermont, fresh Reishi mushrooms are produced May through July. There are at least four Reishi species in Vermont alone! You can find them erupting from dead trees, especially after periods of rain. They will be relatively soft at first, easily bruising on the underside when lightly squeezed. The top of most Reishis has a lacquered look, and is often a reddish-brown color. Some can be hard to tell apart, but can be identified by their host tree. For example, the Hemlock Varnish Shelf (Ganoderma tsugae) is nearly always found growing on dead Eastern Hemlocks.
Remember not to eat anything that you cannot positively identify (always forage with a mushroom expert if you are unsure!), but please do upload any finds to iNaturalist, whether you can identify them or not!
By Kent McFarland
Little Brown and Big Brown bats are frequently found in buildings, and sometimes in tree hollows or under peeling bark, and are often referred to as “house bats.” These two species are common visitors to residences from about mid-April to October, although the Big Brown Bat may overwinter in attics.
During the summer months, females of both species form colonies, sometimes in large numbers, in attics, barns, sheds, or under shingles. This is where they give birth and raise their young. Males also frequent buildings, either alone or in small groups. The females give birth to a single pup in late June or July. At birth each weighs less than an ounce with flesh colored skin covered with fine silky hair. They open their eyes for the first time within 24 hours. The pups in the colony will sometimes huddle close together for warmth while their mothers go out to forage for insects during the night. They won’t be able to fly for 21 to 28 days.
The Little Brown Bat used to be one of the most common tenants in some buildings and bat houses, but due to the devastating effects of a fungal disease known as White-Nose Syndrome, this species has suffered a 95 percent population decline in recent years. By putting up a bat house, you can provide critical roosting sites for bats in your area and benefit from their insect eating abilities.
Learn more about bat houses from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Listen to Outdoor Radio as they visit a colony and learn more.
By Julia Pupko
By June, many of Vermont’s nesting birds should be well on their way to nestling town. Individuals of some species, such as Canada Geese and American Robins, may already have young that are hatched and rapidly maturing. Many other species, such as Bobolink and Yellow Warblers, have already found their nest site, their mate, and have built their nest and started incubating eggs. Still others, such as the American Goldfinch, have barely started their nesting process, and will not finish until much later in the season.
Following patterns of behavior that were either embedded in their way of knowing before they hatched, behaviors they learned and adapted from their parents, or a combination of the two, different species of birds have several different strategies when it comes to mating and caring for their young. First, birds can either be monogamous (have a single partner), have multiple different partners (polygymous) if males mate with multiple females, polyandrous if the females mate with multiple males, or promiscuous–both males and females have other mates. Like everything, mating strategies manifest differently across various species and across individual pairs of a species. For example, American Redstarts are typically monogamous. However, the male may attract another female and start a second nest nearby after his first mate has finished laying eggs. While he helps provide food for both nests, he will spend more effort feeding the young in his first nest than he will feeding those in his second. Additionally, parents typically divide up the young, each selecting specific young to feed to maturity.
Here are some fun breeding bird facts:
Our family guards a patch of yellow lady slippers in Morrisville that my father transplanted years ago. I did not know about how pink lady slippers germinated and about the helpful fungus. I assume that the same is true for the yellow slipper.