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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Wild pollinators move into their new bee habitat wall

Get up close and personal with solitary bees as they begin to inhabit the 24’ earthen wall and interactive cabinet at College Park’s Arboretum Outreach Center, a tranquil garden next to Byrd Stadium. Guest artisans and I designed and built the structure this summer with the help of many hard-working volunteers. Funding for the project came from Mike Raupp ‘The Bug Guy’ as part of UMD’s nationally acclaimed outreach program. The main purpose of the bee wall is to raise public awareness of wild pollinators and to facilitate monitoring of campus bee populations.

Earthen pollinator wall with the Audio Bee Cabinet at UMD's Arboretum Outreach Center. Photo by Lisa Kuder.

.Aptly named Dwelling: Paint Branch Creek homage to the 17 mile long Paint Branch stream that flows through Prince George's County, the habitat wall mirrors the curves and layered soil horizon of a meandering river bank. Vertical earthen surfaces such as these are prime real estate for many ground nesting insects. If you look carefully, you will find premade holes of various sizes in each band of clay to attract different types of pollinators. Embedded in the wall is a beautiful pollinator cabinet that enables visitors to observe and listen as cavity or wood nesters provision their nests. Within just 1 week of completion, multiple species of bees and wasps had already started to move in.

Chopsticks were used to poke holes of various sizes in the contrasting colors of clay to attract multiple species of solitary bees and wasps. Photo credit: Sarah Peebles

Illustration of the solitary bee life cycle depicted on the Audio Bee Cabinet by Sarah Peebles with pyrography by Mary-Ann Alberga, assisted by Rob Cruichshank (electronics) and Jennifer Rong (cabinetry). Photo by Lisa Kuder.

But wait a minute . . . won’t I get stung? Solitary bees and wasps are non-aggressive unlike their pesky cousins the yellow jackets. Plus, they don’t defend their nests like social bees (honey bees and bumble bees). In MD alone we’ve over 400 species, most all of which are solitary, meaning each female provides for her own offspring. Don’t be fooled by the word solitary though as many species are gregarious preferring to live in large groups. It will be exciting to see who occupies the wall and how their populations fluctuate over time. Beginning next spring, regular updates will be posted to this blog documenting colonization rates.

What kind of bees do we expect to move into the earthen wall? Our target genus is Anthophora. According to the USDA ground nesting species make up at least 70% of the bee population. Yet bee expert Sam Droege estimates that the actual number might be as high as 95%. While it is more common for bees to nest in horizontal sites, some genera such as Anthophora prefer dry perpendicular surfaces. They tend to form large nesting aggregations on the face of steep cliffs, upturned tree roots, creek beds and, yes, cob structures. Maryland is home to 6 species of Anthophora, 2 of which are fairly common, native A. abrupta and naturalized A. plumipes. In a modern landscape, undisturbed nesting sites for Anthphora and many other bees can be lacking.

A nest aggregate of Anthophora abrupta  in a local cob wall. This is one of the few species in the region that builds turrets or chimneys. Biologists believe that these additions regulate the temps of their nests. Interestingly, it has been noted that dry seasons result in shorter chimneys. Photo by Charley Eiseman.

Anthohora abrupta entering a turreted nest. These fast-flying bees resemble small bumble bees and are excellent pollinators of several valuable food crops. Males don mustaches for collecting parsnip oil to woo the females.  Photo credit: USDA Scott Bauer.

Wood nesting bees make up the other 5 - 30% of the population. Rather than nesting in the ground they are drawn to soft-pithed twigs and beetle tunnels in dead trees. They will also readily use blocks of wood with man-made tunnels like those found in the wall's bee cabinet. Thanks to Plexiglass sheets, visitors can observe mason bees and blue orchard bees (Genus: Osmia), yellow-faced plaster bees (Genus: Hylaeus), Megachile spp. and beneficial predatory wasps line and cap natal cells with their preferred nesting materials (leaves, mud or resin). Bring a pair of earbuds so you can plug in to the solar powered amplifier and hear the fascinating noises these small, amazing creatures make while at work. 

An interior shot of the bee booth.Plug in your personal headphones or earbuds to listen and observe as solitary bees and wasps build their nests. When you're finished, please remember to shut the door so the residents don't bake in the sun. Photo credit: Rob Cruichshank.

A peek at some of the nesting activities taking place within the bee cabinet. Isodontia spp. commonly called grass nesting wasps are utilizing the top 2 tunnels. They are a gardener's best friend, as they help control insect pests. Each cell, comprised of a stunned cricket and an egg, is partitioned with grass. Finally, the solitary wasp caps her brood with a tuft of grass that resembles a broom. The 3rd tunnel from the top is filled with cells from a resin bee belonging to the genus Megachile.  Look closely and you will see bees in the various stages of  development (egg, larva, pupa and adult). Photo by Lisa Kuder.

Also of interest is the cob construction of the wall. Cob or cobb is a natural building material made of clay, sand and a fibrous organic material (typically straw). This ancient building technique is still used throughout the world and has recently experienced a revival in the U.S. as the demand for sustainable, green architecture grows. Approximately 7 tons of locally sourced materials were used to build the habitat wall. From the bottom up nearly all of the materials are repurposed; including urbanite (broken concrete) and subsoil from a campus construction project, cedar from an old playset and the corrugated roof panels made from 50% recycled fibers. River rocks salvaged from earlier construction work were used to protect the upper surface of the wall from the elements.

Local green builder  Zak Kahn with a fresh batch of cob. The basic 'recipe' for cob is one part clay to one part sand. As these ingredients are mixed with a gas powered tiller, water is added until the consistency is thick but sticky. The final ingredient chopped straw increases the tensile strength of this earthen building material. Photo by Lisa Kuder.

Undergrads from Dennis vanEngelsdorp's Bee Lab embed river rocks into the top surface of the wall to slow the natural erosion process by reflecting water from the cob. Photo by Sarah Peebles. 

A bit more about the human resources: Sarah Peebles a Toronto based sound and installation artist is the originator of the audio bee cabinet part of a media outreach program called Resonating Bodies. Engaging all of the senses enables the user to experience the secret lives of bees in a fuller more intimate way. Incorporating the cabinet into cob was a way of expanding opportunities to explore the meaning of biodiversity.  Ed Raduazo, a local cob expert, was instrumental in this process by teaching the crew how to mix and build with cob using a gas powered tiller and hand tools. His passion for keeping this important building technology alive for future generations inspired all during the physically intensive work.

Ed Raduazo showing the crew how to layer cob so it doesn't sag. In the Mid-Atlantic region where humidity levels are high, only 12" or so can be added per day. Photo by Sarah Peebles.

Sarah Peebles and volunteer Monette Bailey from UMD's Center for Leadership & Organizational Change shape the wall with wooden floaters. Photo by Lisa Kuder

Additional acknowledgements . . . a thousand thanks not only to Mike, Sarah and Ed but also to student helpers from Dennis vanEngelsdorp's Bee Lab: Adam Kellermann, Byron Mariani, Mike Gladchuk, Marina Peterson and Sidharth Ganesan, and to Eric Kuder for designing and constructing the weather guard, the entire staff at the Arboretum Outreach Center especially Carin Celebuski and Michael Carmichael for their patience and support throughout the whole process, Zak Kahn for his expertise with cob construction, Capital Projects for donating urbanite and clay, LCI Recycling for donating and delivering masonry sand and to Sam Droege for introducing me to Ed and Sarah, providing occasional cob advice and creating a buzz about wild bees.

Please stay tuned for future updates on UMD's new habitat bee wall. In the meantime, please send any questions/comments about this project to:

Lisa Kuder
PhD student
Dennis vanEngelsdorp Bee Lab
University of Maryland
Entomology Department
4112 Plant Sciences Building
College Park, MD 20742

Monday, May 18, 2015

Thinking "West": A Prairie-Themed Garden

Last summer, as I was working around campus with Sam Bahr, horticulturalist for the University of Maryland, I was shown various different gardens and landscapes around campus, varying in size and theme. We checked out different landscapes from Architecture and Van Munching, to Mayer Mall and Prince Frederick Hall. Along these walks, we discussed the different plants installed in landscapes as well as the concepts behind them.

My favorite garden we viewed was a very simple, yet incredibly naturalistic garden, a small planting bed behind Architecture. This garden, which is situated around a pyramid-like art piece, is intended to be prairie-themed with plants that are either native or "nativars," native plants which have been enhanced or changed in one way or another. Sam Bahr, the designer of the garden, is originally from eastern Kansas. He intended for this garden to mimic the tall grass prairies and grasslands that he was familiar with as he grew up.

In the bed, there is a mixture of prairie grass and different flowers. The grass, which was originally purple love grass, is now broom-sedge. The garden is intended to consist of a minimum of 70% grasses, and the remainder forbs. The forbs include aromatic aster(Aster oblongifolius), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), lyre-leaf sage (Salvia lyrata), smallhead blazing star (Liatris microcephala), New York ironweed(Vernonia noveboracensis), gaura(Gaura lindheimeri), narrow-leaved sundrops(Oenothera fruticosa) and whorled coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata).
Gaura blooming in early June

This landscape instantly captured my heart for a multitude of reasons. Prior to even working in this garden, I noticed the way the planter didn't have any true "pattern" to how it was designed and I enjoyed this. As an urban forestry major, I enjoy naturalistic settings. When I am in a landscape, I enjoy having it be more organic and sporadic rather than being in patterns and straight lines, as that isn't how nature works. In this garden, even with the small space and architectural structure in the center, the plants themselves don't feel like they are being manipulated in one way or another to look "human made."

When I learned that Bahr had intended to make the garden to resemble the native prairies of his youth, it only made the planting that much more significant. While most planters are designed with the "thoughts" of the designer in mind, this planter went a bit further. Instead of simply putting out solely his "personal design preferences" Bahr designed the garden to be something that many people in this part of the US haven't had the opportunity to experience. It was designed with home in mind and the planting itself intends to show passersby the beauty that is the West.

Then, once I began helping maintain the planting, I actually found the maintenance not only easy, but in fact enjoyable (which is something I never thought I'd say about "weeding" and "pruning"). While there weren't a whole lot of "weeds" in the planter, as the grasses mostly shaded them out, there were hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little seedlings from the other plants in the garden. What we were doing in the garden was not necessarily clearing out all the seedlings, but picking and choosing which ones we believed should stay and go. I found this quite enjoyable as it felt like a form of art and not even work itself.

This planter, in addition to having deep sentimental value, also has multi-season features. While not much happens in the early spring, as the seasons begin to warm up, the different plants in this garden flower in varying colors and times. The lyre-leaf sage, one of the first plants to flower, has soft purple flowers. It flowers in Mid-May, as it is blooming now, and then develops lots of seeds which the goldfinches love to eat later in the season.

Picture of lyre-leaf sage in bloom May 15
After the sage, each of the other plants bloom in turn. The purple coneflower is one of the first to start blooming; however, it is quickly succeeded by the white gaura flowers, and the vibrant yellow flowers of common sundrop. The gaura will continue to bloom all through the summer into the fall, which is when the blazing star begin to bloom.

When the weather begins to cool, the blazing star and aromatic aster bloom. These continue to bloom well past when the other plants have started to go dormant and add bright color contrast to the fall color of the broomsedge.

Even after everything has gone dormant, the garden still holds interest for people passing by as the broomsedge will stay somewhat upright even after snow collects on the flower heads. This adds a combination of simultaneous fall and winter color. 

In addition to this garden having multi-season interest, it is also low maintenance and ecologically beneficial. Due to the native plants in the garden, native birds, such as goldfinches, will utilize the seeds produced by the plants and not only disperse the seeds within the planting , but also spread the plants outside of the garden. The garden is also great habitat for other native plants. Just the other week, when looking over the garden, there was a new plant, a species of milkweed growing in the garden.
Milkweed plant 5/15
This garden helps attract wildlife and people alike. It includes multi-season interest and benefits wildlife in the area, two thing that I find very important. These drought tolerant plants only need water when first installed, and afterwards hardly ever need to be watered. The plants bring a new type of landscape to campus and show that a landscape can be both beautiful and low maintenance. 

While I won't be able to enjoy the garden for much longer, as I will be graduating this Friday, May 22, I hope that others will be able to see this beautiful landscape grow and evolve in the years to come. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Coleus; A Plant to Brighten Up Shaded Gardens

Last year, I began interning on campus with the University of Maryland Arboretum/Horticultural Services and was assigned to random locations on campus. In these locations I would either help maintain plants, by watering or weeding, or manage plants, by putting them into the campus plant inventory. For the primary amount of time during the summer, I worked with inputting woody plants into the plant inventory database (which can be accessed under the Arboretum and Botanical Garden folder in the layers tab).

However, for a short period of time, I was assigned to work with Jeff Weiser, horticulturalist, and his crew at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. While there I completed various tasks including watering, feeding, weeding and pruning of plants in and around the center. One of the tasks I quickly grew to like was the maintenance of several raised planter beds in front of the center.

Planter beds at the main entrance to Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

These plant beds contained three different plants; Amur maple, sweet potato vines, and coleus. On a routine basis, I would go to this location and water the plants or prune the flowers off of the coleus in order to keep uniformity. The reason I enjoyed this task so much was due to the coleus which I was taking care of. I've always been a fan of shade gardens and cooling off from the summer heat under a large shade tree, but one problem I've always run into is finding something with nice bright vibrant colors that can tolerate the shade which I so love.

When I discovered coleus, I couldn't have been more excited. Coleus, known by the scientific name of Solenostemon scutellarioides, is a partial shade to full shade tropical plant commonly used in this area as a summer annual. It's greatest feature is the diverse variety of colors and shapes of the leaves in different cultivars which have been bred over the years. Coleus can vary in color from deep red and green to bright yellow and orange.

Coleus 'Kingswood Torch' behind 'Margarita' sweet potato vine
Coleus 'Pineapple'
'Kingswood Torch' Coleus, the plant that I was working with, is one of the new cultivars of coleus that can withstand sun and prefers full sun-partial shade. The beautiful pink, red and green foliage in the planters provided a nice colorful view for people sitting on the nearby benches. The coleus also benefits from being placed under the Amur maple, as they can tolerate shade.While the sweet potato vine, Ipomoea batatas 'Margarita,' flowing over the edge of the planter, benefits from being placed near the edge, as it needs a lot of sun.
Amur maple, 'Kingswood Torch' coleus and 'Margarita' sweet potato vine

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Contact Information for the University of Maryland Arboretum and Botanical Garden

Mailing and Shipping address (This is the location of our partner, UMD Landscape Services, and the office of our Assistant Director, Karen Petroff):
University of Maryland
Wye Oak Building (428)
4201 Landscape Ln.
College Park, MD 20742-7215
phone: 301-405-3320
fax: 301-314-9943
hours: 6 am to 2:30 pm, M-F

Horticulturist's Offices and Meeting Room (No mail delivery or shipping to this location):
University of Maryland
Arboretum Outreach Center (156)
3921 Stadium Dr.
College Park, MD 20742
phone: 301-405-3320
fax: 301-314-9943
hours: 7 am to 3:30 pm, M-F, by appointment or prescheduled times only, as sometimes everyone is out on campus and the building will be locked

Click on the below link to a campus map, click on the address search tab and then enter the campus locations to find out where buildings are located. As of September 10, 2015, Google does not have the correct locations, while this map does. There is a second, more complex, interactive campus map that has much more information on it such as parking locations, public transportation etc. when you use the red 'layers' tab. The red 'directions' tab will allow you to get directions from one building to another.

blog administrator, Sam Bahr, 301-405-7926

updated 10/6/2015


Our gardens are free and open to the public. There are some parking lots (read the signs for that parking lot carefully) that are free to park in after 4 pm and before 7 am and on weekends, except on game days and during other special events. There is public parking in four large parking garages at the rate of $3 per hour with a daily maximum of $15. On weekends in the garages, the rate is $3 per hour with a daily maximum rate of $5 per hour. There is a small amount of additional pay parking along some streets. Navigation around campus is much easier with these interactive campus maps: You can look up parking locations and building locations using this map. Use the search tab to bring up the page to search for campus building names, locations and addresses.

updated 10/6/2015

Butterfly feeding on the nectar of Russian Sage blossoms

UMD Arboretum and Botanical Garden

The University of Maryland, the state’s flagship campus, is located in the Baltimore-Washington corridor. The American Association of Public Gardens, by designating the university as an arboretum and botanical garden in 2008, recognized former President C.D. Mote, Jr.’s commitment to becoming a green campus. Maryland is also the first university in the state to be honored as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

The Arboretum and Botanical Garden consists of our entire 1,250 acre College Park, Maryland campus. The Campus collection of over 8,000 trees, garden plantings and nearly 400 acres of undeveloped urban forest is a beautiful reminder of Maryland’s history and a harbinger of Maryland’s future. The university looks at the campus’ green space as a major resource for its educational, research and service missions.

Hornbake Plaza

Hornbake Plaza
Honeylocust fall foliage color

UMD Arboretum and Botanical Garden Plant Inventory

You can look up the identity of many trees and a few other plant materials using this interactive campus map: Click on proceed to map. Then click on the dark red 'layers' tab in the upper left corner. Next select 'Arboretum and Botanical Garden' and then click on the box in front of 'campus plant inventory.' Wait for green dots to slowly fill up the map, then click on the green dots on the campus map to identify the plant materials.

Tawes Plaza

Tawes Plaza
Kim's Knee High Purple Coneflower, Russian Sage, White Out Rose and Dwarf Pampas Grass are featured in this planting.