Friday, April 15, 2011

Habitats in a Dying Tree

Caterpillar of Dainty Swallowtail Butterfly


Although the caterpillar, of a Dainty Swallowtail Butterfly, may give you the idea the mandarin tree it is eating, is still a verdant tree going strong, this is not the case. 

The tree began to die long before last year, but I read up the problem and decided to try and extend its productive years by giving it a 'skeleton cut' -- where all the foliage is cut off and only the main branches are left, the ends painted white with acrylic paint.

The friend helping me with the cutting was full of doubts but I insisted. It was, as I said, beginning to die and the orchardist I consulted said he did it all the time ... to get a couple more years out of a tree at the end of its life.

Apparently mandarin trees live about forty years and this one had well and truly passed those years. It's another tree I will miss. Its crop was tremendous in the last five or so years before it wilted.
White Insects and Moss on Mandarin Tree

Amazingly though, it has been putting out twigs and leaves all summer. We had all that rain and I thought it might recover. Might do the magic. But now, going into Autumn, there's trouble. Large areas of dead bark curling off the dead wood underneath. Though there are still the leaves.

But also a burden of a great many insects. Probably an orchardist would have sprayed the tree to prevent insects even settling on it. The photos alongside shows moss growing in a crack in the bark and a vast cloud of miniscule white bugs.

I can't imagine them getting any sustenance through the bark, surely their mouthparts would be too small and too weak to pierce the bark?

These are only three of the many species living on the tree. I've collected two types of fungi. The usual complement of bronze stink bugs and orchard butterfly caterpillars.

At least four different mosses. Lichens. A bug (sap sucking insect) looking like Zorro, with white eyes and a black cape, that never sat still enough to have its photo taken and that doesn't feature in my field guides, and an epiphytic fern.

There's a foam bark sapling already a metre and half tall wanting to take its place in the sun. I'm going to have to cut that down. Foam barks grow far too fast and too big for a small back yard. I've planted a blue tongue, a native tibouchina, a much more manageable size.

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