Searching so long

I like the trend of asking a question of search engines, like “Why are my teeth falling out?” or “What is this bug?”. A couple of recent search terms to find Vox Hortus:

show me how to prune a pittosporum tenui


are american boxwoods gymnosperms or ang


why do wasps fly with their legs hanging


spider pointy

Pruning Pittosporum tenuifolium: cake walk. I wouldn’t shear the top horizontally, but you could if you must. It’s forgiving, and winter shears mine back to about 3 feet. This year, it grew about 6 feet, but some years it shoots up to 10. If you’re in a place it’s hardy, I would prune from the inside to open it up.

Boxwoods are angiosperms.

Lots of looks at the hobo spider post.

Some wasps fly with their legs hanging down because they are undignified. I don’t know why, really, but it’s always grossed me out.

Spider pointy: at this time of year, I’ll bet orb weaver.

vox hortus


coral-colored trumpet flowers


Spirea thunbergii ‘Mt. Fuji’


ohsu school of entomology


ohsu spider study


Coral colored trumpet flowers, maybe Campsis radicans.

More spider interest.

OHSU is the medical university, no entomology department there. Here’s the link to their spider bite study.

Silkworms’ favorite tree is Mulberry, Morus alba, to be exact.


10.2 megapixels of Nikon Goodness

It’s true: you take 100 pictures, and one of them is what you hoped for.

This peeling bark of Prunus serrula was captured with my lovely new Nikon D40x. It’s been difficult to blog about plants and not be able to photograph them; my 3.2 megapixel point and shoot did not cut it. For two years I’ve pined for a digital SLR.

The Pacific Northwest being what it is, the arrival of rain perfectly coincided with my picking up the camera. I took advantage of this beautiful cherry and the brief sunbreak today on a field trip.

NIMG Challenge: Not in my Garden

This is a meme from Kim over at A Study in Contrasts; what things do you like in a garden but wouldn’t have in your own?

Here are the “rules”: Think about 5 (or 10, or 3, or however many come to mind) things that you really like but would never put into your own yard. Make a post that explains each thing and also tells why, much as you like each one, it will never appear in your garden.

• Koi ponds. The raccoons and miscellaneous raptors would have a field day.

• Cordyline. Okay, I don’t really like them in anyone’s gardens.

I really like rose arbors and pergolas, particularly with the climbing rose Cecile Brunner, but sitting underneath them – isn’t there always a bistro table with a tea pot and crustless sandwiches underneath? – is just creepy. Things drop out of the roses and down your shirt, make tiny webs in your tea strainer, buzz you just as you’re dropping off to sleep. Yes I love insects, but I don’t want them in my mouth or down my pants.

Need I even mention or explain: undignified statuary.

• Cottage gardens. They can be beautifully executed, but not by gardeners such as myself. One day I’ll tell you about the time I installed a butterfly friendly cottage garden for a client and the first generation butterfly larvae mowed it to the ground in a weekend.

• Prunus laurocerasus. I love that it draws bees and sometimes, it’s even slightly attractive. Usually, it’s redundant, neglected, and fugly.

• Kniphofia. Now, normally I am a friend to plants that hail from South Africa. Torch Lily looks like Beeker from the Muppets to me, and I can’t fathom the appeal of its slap-dash goofiness.

• Vinca. Love it! Don’t want to chase it.

• Windchimes. Sometimes people will choose just the right chime for their yard: the style matches their home and landscape, the tone complements the whole feel of their garden. I had a windchine too, but every time it tolled I cringed, waiting for the neighbors to yell at me. I grew up in tight city quarters where windchimes started feuds and were subject to vandalism. I can’t quite enjoy them.

• Lawn. Other people do it well and I want to shed my shoes and go scooting across their temples of turf. At home, I could care less about the grass, and sadly, it shows.

• Annuals. I don’t know why exactly; they seem disposable or too temporary to throw money at year after year. I’d rather collect perennials.

Yellow foliage or varigated green and yellow foliage. It screams chlorosis to me, even when I know better.

•  Perfection.  Ever since I got involved in entomology, I’ve lost interest in arthropod genocide.   I certainly appreciate pristine roses, I just don’t grow any that could be described that way.


Goodness. I have a few garden rules.

Eight-Legged Beasties of the Hobo Persuasion, or not

This week, we were called out three times to retrieve a Possible Hobo Spider on campus. I’ve emphasized the name, because that’s how the callers invariably sound: frantic and hunted and ready to jump out of their skin.

I had the honor of going on retrieval runs with a trained entomologist who ID’d and handled the suspects.  Onlookers, including yours truly, were aghast. When she later opened the containers to study them while standing 6″ away from me in a closed elevator, I tried to be subtle in my writhing discomfort, but she noticed and I was duly ridiculed.

Back in the lab, we had a lengthy discussion about the nuances of Tegenaria identification, and then our professor arrived and we had a spontaneous workshop on handling them safely and differentiating species.

Here are eight legs of basics on ID, with an emphasis on ruling out Tegenaria agrestis, the Hobo Spider:

  • There is a lot of variability even within a species. Not every Tegenaria agrestis, the Hobo Spider, looks like every other Hobo Spider. Their sizes are widely variable, as are the patterns of their markings. Also, the different sexes of the same species often look unrelated.
  • A close relative and frequent doppleganger is the Giant House Spider, Tegenaria duellica. There’s a third spidery stooge, Tegenaria domestica, the Barn Funnel Weaver. Note that they are in the same genus and they are very similar in appearance. All three are from Europe in case you were wondering. You weren’t, were you?
  • People decide quickly that what they have found in their bathroom is a Hobo, but it’s often the House Spider. There’s no compelling reason to kill House Spiders; they are excellent predators and eat many of the other insects that are wont to wander your halls.
  • The males are generally much less aggressive than the females. It was a male that my associate casually picked up and flipped over. He clearly wasn’t happy, but he didn’t bite. Males are easily identified by the presence of large palps – short, leg-like appendages that extend from the front of the spider.
  • Hobo Spiders have a lighter colored stripe in the center of their sternum. This is the middle, underside portion of the spider, the section the legs attach to. In this same region, lighter colored spots mean it is not a Hobo Spider.
  • On the top of the spider, there are two main sections: the cephalothorax which is the head and “chest”, if you will, of the spider, and the abdomen, which is the back end of the spider. An obviously striped cephalothorax is not a Hobo Spider.
  • If there is a lighter patterning of color around the joints of the legs, that is also not a Hobo Spider.
  • Male Hobo Spiders have bluntish palps, whereas the male House Spider has very pointy tipped palps.

Here are the basics on safe handling:

  • Move faster than they do.

There is an excellent guide, with pictures, to use to convince yourself you do not have a Hobo Spider in your house, bathrobe, garden shed, or shoe. It’s here [PDF]. If after you’ve read it, you think you have a Hobo Spider, you can check in with your local extension service who likely has an entomologist or zoologist who can help you. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, OHSU wants your spider for their study.


Note: I’m not including pictures in this post, because they do not represent a reliable way to identify Tegenaria agrestis.

Paper Wasps and Facial Markings

Every spring and summer, I’ve given the wasps that build their little paper nests around the house very wide berth. My father had a violent run in with a yellow jacket while on a ladder, and I couldn’t differentiate between my yellow and black hovering beasties and the ones he described. Incidentally, my father does a hilarious “something is stinging me” dance to which I have been an audience several times. He’s got moves.

When I started working in the entomology department, I took a keen interest in my wasps and did a little research. It turns out they are paper wasps, Polistes dominulus, and they are a more relaxed social wasp than the dreaded yellow jacket. They tolerate human proximity of about 8 inches with interest but no apparent alarm. This was driven home one day when I opened the passenger door of the car we use for ferrying dogs around and right below the hinge was a perfect little nest with a perfect little queen. Sometimes she was there when we pulled out of the drive, so presumably she is well traveled. She’s never wandered into the passenger compartment or been concerned by the door slamming or dogs nearby.

The paper wasp can be somewhat easily differentiated from yellow jackets by their orange antennae; they also fly with their legs hanging down and out, but there are other wasps who do this as well.

In the course of finding out more about them, I came across a study done by Elizabeth Tibbetts and James Dale of the University of Michigan. They’ve looked at facial markings and their role in individual recognition in a colony. After reading one of Tibbetts’ articles, I went out and observed the nest that hangs from the window ledge right above a shrub rose. That time and every time thereafter, the wasps that were at the outside of the nest and apparently standing guard were those with the heaviest facial markings.

With the judicious use of a long bamboo stake, I discovered they are also the ones most prepared to give chase if threatened. They are less shy than the wasps with the solid yellow faces who usually fly off when you touch the flower they are in or brush against foliage they are on. The wasps with the black markings on their face turn to face you when disturbed and notably, they do not back down. I haven’t tested their tolerance much, but it’s interesting to see how the markings so seem to rather obviously correlate with certain behaviors and roles in the colony.

Now that I’ve identified and made peace with them, I’m sorry that they’ll be gone soon as temperatures drop and the populations of the insects they eat drop steadily.

Horticulture Booming in Oregon

Oregonians spend almost 1 billion dollars on their gardens

COTTAGE GROVE – More and more Oregonians are looking no further than their own backyard for a favorite hobby. The state’s horticulture industry climbed ten percent last year alone, making it Oregon’s largest agricultural commodity.

At the 5th annual “Gathering of Gardeners” event, the Village Green Resort in Cottage was all in bloom. Cindee Eichengreen, the Moonstones Director of Horticulture says, “Our theme here is to motivate, educate and inspire gardeners of all ages and all stages including gardeners who have never gardened before.”

Events like these are drawing more and more people each year all throughout Oregon making our state one of the best for horticulture. Here in Lane County, Eichengreen says, “It hasn’t been too hot or too cold. We’ve had just the right amount of rain.”

Gardening in the Northwest is so popular nearly one billion dollars was spent on the hobby in 2006 alone. That’s record breaking sales for the 16th consecutive year.

Organizers say you don’t need to have a green thumb to make a successful garden. “Some of the best gardeners on my team are people who have never gardened before,” says Eichengreen.

The gardening industry is a rising star in Oregon. Industries like cattle, grass seed and hay used to be market leaders but now the gardening industry has grabbed 21 percent of the agriculture market.

Oregon’s top areas for horticulture production are Marion, Washington, Clackamas, and Yamhill counties. They account for 81 percent of all sales statewide.


Oregon is #3 in nursery stock production nationwide, after California and Florida.