A while back I wrote a blog about Aldo Leopold and his love for the Silphium family, in particular the Compass Plant. With its square stem and unbelievable height of 12 feet, the Compass Plant tends to stop onlookers in their tracks. Within the same family is the Cup Plant, slightly shorter (but still reaching 10 feet at maturity) with the same square stem.
Being a native prairie plant and sun lover, I was surprised to find the Cup Plant in my messy, unkempt backyard that receives much more shade than sun. It was purely by coincidence that I spotted the first patch. It had just rained and I was out enjoying the fresh post-rain air when I saw a plant holding water. Stepping in to take a closer look, I saw that the opposite leaves were actually fused together around a square stem.
I was skeptical at first but soon found a few more patches and after doing a quick Google search, came to the conclusion that the leaves and stem were the right shape – it was indeed a Cup Plant: Silphium perfoliatum. A very young plant, standing only two feet from the ground.
And while this is all interesting and exciting, more than anything, the Cup Plants have given me a reason to visit the backyard more often (I’m waiting to see if they’ll bloom). This has lead to some pretty fantastic insect finds.
The first was a Narceus americanus, North America’s largest millipede. With the ability to grow up to 10cm, it’s nothing compared to those found in South America and other tropical regions but for North America’s non-tropical climate, 10cm is pretty impressive. And I love the way their legs create that rhythmic wave as they walk. See what I’m talking about in the video below.
They are excellent composters too, devouring rotting leaves, woody debris, and other organic material. What comes out is a nutrient-rich dream for plants: the nutrients and minerals are accessed much more readily once the material has been processed through the digestive system of the millipede.
Then I found this stunning moth in the genus Haploa. Possibly Haploa lecontei but I can’t be certain as this genus and that particular species is so variable. This moth, however, was sitting in the cedar bush at about 5:30 in the morning (I can’t believe I was up that early).
The moth itself isn’t anything special in terms of its ecosystem contributions but I’m sure it will be a tasty snack for a passing bat or hungry bird.
My third find is actually the reason I chose to write this blog. The candy-striped leafhopper (Graphocephala coccinea). Probably not a favourite of many gardeners, the leafhopper’s bright blue and red appearance makes it stand out. Variations of the candy-striped leafhopper are green and red with a similar pattern.
Like other leafhoppers, the candy-striped leafhopper has been identified as a vector for the bacteria that causes leaf scorch in several tree species and is known to cause leaf curl, discolouration, and premature leaf drop. In huge numbers, the candy-stripe leafhopper can be a bit of a nuisance but one sitting atop this Cup Plant is ok by me.
Take a closer look into your garden as the days start to get warmer. Think about what you’re seeing. What is its role in the food web? How it is contributing to the ecosystem?