By Boak Wiesner
It’s hard for me grasp that there may be frost later this very week on such a warm and sunny day. School’s back in session and, since I’m a Gopher myself (’83), I wander the prairie parcels of the Arb in search of gopher activity. The U’s mascot doesn’t depict a gopher very accurately, but I hope that seeing it on the sidelines gets folks thinking about the animals of our state. Real ones aren’t above ground very much.
Gophers can move a lot of soil in a year – just one can bring up over a ton! – and so provide a mechanism for aerating the soil of open areas. In fact, an archaeologist pal of mine was alerted to artifacts in a nearby state park because gophers were bringing them to the surface.
Down here at the gopher’s eye view, one of the prettiest plants in Bottle Gentian. The corolla, that is, its ring of petals, never really opens up, so it looks like a bottle, hence its name. It takes a big beefy bumblebee to muscle its way in for pollination to occur.
Here at the end of summer, Goldenrod is one of the showiest common flowers. Many kinds of insects including Soldier Beetles and various kinds of wasps hide in the inflorescences and prey on insects coming in for a meal.
Goldenrod stems are host to the larvae and pupae of the small Goldenrod Gall Fly – not very aptly named as it doesn’t fly very well and instead crawls up and down the stems. Come winter, the larvae’s metabolism begins to produce glycerol (a small, soluble sugar) which acts as an antifreeze. Larvae carefully removed from galls can be used as bait for ice fishing.
Watching these critters eat brought thoughts of my own diet to mind and what should find almost was some rose hips. Their wine-red color stands out in stark contrast to the greens, yellows, and purples of a prairie in late summer. Rose hips contain lots of vitamin C and A, calcium and iron. A medicinal tea can be steeped from them and I’ve eaten them raw. Not overly tasty but better than having one’s teeth fall out from scurvy!