invasive species · leaves · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · plants

Oriental Bittersweet

Oriental Bittersweet berries

Now that the leaves are falling from the trees you will start seeing patches of pretty yellow and orange berries climbing the sides of trees. These are the berries of Oriental Bittersweet, scientific name, Celastrus orbiculatus. These beauties are invasive being introduced in the 1860’s from Eastern Asia, Korea, China and Japan. The plant is considered an ornamental in gardening.

But because it is not native it grows OUT OF CONTROL. It can take down shrubs and trees. And I mean literally “take down” as in strangle the tree and cause it to die and fall. You can see this happening is many places in Berkshire county along the roads. This plant likes disturbed soil, so it can grow along the road side, in your driveway, along your porch, all of the parks and state forests have this vine invading the native habitat.

Oriental Bittersweet vines strangling a tree

What can you do?

  • Don’t gather the berries and make a wreath or decorations for your home.
  • Don’t buy it (yes it is still available in garden centers).
  • DO buy native American Bittersweet that has rounder leaves and will not destroy local habitat.
  • DO tell your friends and family that this plant is bad for Berkshire County.
  • DO dig it up if you have some in your yard, although it comes back year after year and you have to keep digging it up.
backyard bugs · leaves · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · plants

Box Elder Bugs

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Box Elder bugs are “true bugs”–in the order hemiptera, not beetles which are the order coleoptera.

They are black in color with a red orange banding around the margins front wings and red eyes. They are approximately 1/2″ in length as adults.

These bugs use their piercing-sucking mouth parts to eat young foliage of Box Elder trees in the spring but do not damage to the trees, mostly they eat the seeds of the Box Elder Tree, which although it doesn’t look like it, it is a maple tree. They also eat the seeds of silver maple trees. (You can too, they are quite tasty. Just a fun fact in case there is an zombie apocalypse.) You probably noticed Box Elder and Norway Maple and Silver Maple grow like weeds. They grow in hedges, lawns, you gutters. They are nuisance trees. The Box Elder bug is doing good work eating the seeds.

Its been a great year for these bugs here in the Berkshires! That means there are lots of them around. Even the larva are hibernating this year. Usually I get calls from north and south county with concerns of infestations, this year its the whole county.

They like to congregate on the south sides of house in the fall sometimes in the thousands.  Also they congregate in trees where they naturally hibernate under the bark and cracks. In insects this state of hibernation is called  “diapause”. Its not a true hibernation, they will come out on warm days and walk around. But they don’t eat, or mate or lay eggs. They just wander around, maybe drink some water, then go back to sleep. They sleep a lot to conserve energy.

They will NOT harm your house. They will not make piles of frass (insect poop) in your house as Orkin might try and tell you. They pretty much disappear in the cracks and crevices until spring, then they come out with the young leaves and seeds and start the life cycle again.

If these insects do become a nuisance in your house year after year, the solution is to cut down the tree.

leaves · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · plants

North American Beech

The North American beech tree,  scientific name: Fagus grandifolia, is a shade-tolerant tree, that is commonly found in the Berkshire forests that are in the final stage of ecological succession. These trees are often found with sugar maple, yellow birch, and Eastern hemlock. They are slow growing trees that tend to grow straight and reach up to 70-80 feet tall.

The bark is usually light gray, thin with a smooth texture that has grit in some places.

The leaves are alternate, single bladed with coarsely saw toothed edges with in-curving teeth and grow 3-5 inches long. They are broadly oblong in shape dark green on the top and a lighter green on the underside. The leaves are deeply ridged on the back and have trichomes while unfolding. These woolly hairs protect the young epidermis of the leaves from the sunlight until they are fully formed and toughened.

Although it is a deciduous tree, the young trees usually hold their leaves through the winter, making a yellow canopy that can be heard rustling through out the winter.



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The scientific name for Hawkweed is Hieracium. It is a member of the  sunflower family. There are more than 10,000 species and subspecies of Hawkweeds. They, like their cousins the dandilions, reproduce asexually. The seeds are genetically identical to their mother, meaning they have no father since there are only female hawkweeds. Yes, they are clones, in your backyard.

A close up of the hawkweed leaves is what attracted me to them this fall. The leaves are covered with tiny hair-like appendages called trichomes. The function of these trichomes is probably to trap moisture, although some plants use them to secrete sticky substances (think honey-dew and fly catchers) to catch prey or use the trichomes protect the leaf from predation. Think prickly bean leaves.

Hawkweed is an introduced species to the U.S., it is native to northern, central, and eastern Europe and was believed to be introduced to the United States in 1800s as an ornamental. It is an early succession plant, so its mostly found in empty lots, disturbed areas or meadows. Around here it is not considered a pest plant, but in meadows, fields and pastures used for feeding animals it may reduce forage quality since its not highly nutritious.

backyard bugs

Where do the Mosquitoes go?

mosquitoI saw this old lady hanging out on the side of the house. It made me think, the cool weather is coming, winter will be upon us soon. And what is the best part of winter? No mosquitoes! They go away. But where is away? You would think being insects they all freeze to death and die. What they do is hide or hibernate. With insects we call this time of inactivity: diapause. Adult mosquitoes like to hide in logs, deep tree bark, but there are even better places they’ve discovered. They hide in your HOUSE. Yup, you are sharing your house with a fleet of adult mosquitoes. Most overwintering insects like it cool so they can hibernate, but not freeze. So they seek out cracks in your attics, crawl spaces, protected under the siding of your house. If you think an exterminator will rid us of these pests, nope. Because before they bunk down for the winter the females lay eggs. Rafts and rafts of eggs. Some of these eggs turn to larva, some to pupa. These also overwinter. So when the warmer days of spring arrive, so will these highly evolved winter surviving mosquitoes.It sucks.