Sunday, March 1, 2015

Iced in again

Yep, those are all wrecks
On friday I drove home through some of the gnarliest traffic the metroplex has seen this winter. It was bad enough to make the national news. By the time I was on the roads, most of the wrecks had already happened but had not been cleared. Abandoned cars facing the wrong direction lined the interstates. It looked apocalyptic. The few of us out trying to get somewhere were hitting top speeds of 20 mph. I wouldn't have tried it, but I was heading home from a meeting in Austin so I could pick up my dog from daycare and return a rental car. I knew all these tasks would be much harder the next day.

I tried to get out again on Saturday, and I made it a block before I slipped into a skid on a downhill and came to a gentle stop wedged against the curb. I was totally unharmed and rather lucky to be within an easy walk of my house, but I felt foolish for letting my cabin fever get the better of me. It was so slippery I couldn't even walk-- one of my neighbors came out to offer me a hand leaving the ice patch. I was slowly sliding downhill in my snow boots. He seemed skeptical when I said I was fine and could make it home on my own. I guess I was so fired up to get out because I haven't really gone walking in a couple weeks and it's been wet and cold. I appreciate the snow and ice for recharging the aquifer, but I miss going outside.
View of my backyard
I did get to see a little nature in Austin, however. I went to an amazing nursery called "East Austin Succulents" to peruse their collection of weird plants. I ended up taking two home, a split rock plant and a rattlesnake tail Crassula columella, both native to the South African Karoo. So cool. I'd love to tour the Karoo someday.  I adore botanical oddities.
Two new friends. 
I also saw some diminutive native wildlife. A moth sheltered from the cold under a blade of agave in the outdoor portion of the nursery. Thanks to the "Mothing and Moth Watching" Facebook group, this fluffy little guy was ID'd as a Hyphantria cunea, or Fall Webworm Moth. He looks quite stylish to my eyes-- I admire his fuzzy stole and leopard-spotted wings.
A male fall webworm moth
Fashionable as he may be, the fall webworm moth is a pest to many horticulturalists. They are called "webworms" because their caterpillars graze socially within a silk tent on branches. The netting lessens predation. Their caterpillars tend to prefer broadleaf trees, and in Texas they favor pecans. Like many other pests, their damage is mostly cosmetic. Even complete defoliation by webworms is unlikely to seriously harm a tree. It's just unsightly. Though it was certainly too cold for this moth to fly (many insects are unable to fly at temperatures below 55F), late february is not excessively early for these fellas to emerge.  

Fall webworm moths are native to most of North America, and they have invaded eastern europe and asia. Apparently they were accidentally introduced in Yugoslavia in the 40s, and they expanded from there. I feel a little vindicated, because there are few other non-native insect pests you hear about colonizing in that direction. While they are not a major problem in the States, I'd be interested to hear whether they are harder on the ecosystem outside their native range.  Considering that we live in a world with truly catastrophic invasive pests, I have trouble taking a little aesthetic damage seriously. I hope that's something horticulturalists consider when creating a management plan for this little moth. 


  1. If you put Yaktraxs on your shoes then you will be able to go running on slick ice.

    If you like South African plants then you should read Panayoti’s blog.

    1. Thanks James! I'll have to invest. And thanks for the link!