As naturalists and nature lovers we find ourselves drawn to all living things. We adore, and more importantly respect just about every organism in our natural world. So what happens when we are faced with the dilemma of protecting our native species who have become threatened by an invader. A similar outlook may come into play when the situation of overpopulation arises, and hunting or trapping becomes a necessity. Such as in the case of the nutria.
To some, the thought of destroying a beautiful plant or terminating the life of an animal is incomprehensible and heart wrenching. Why and how could anyone be so cruel, some might ask? That tree is magnificent, shady, and the birds and critters love it.... why would you want to cut it down? That cute, little pig is just minding its business... it has a heart and feelings. Why should it be euthanized? Some of us say, oh sure, if I were ever in the position I would be able to do what is best for the greater good of our natural flora and fauna.
So, say you happen upon this invasive or overpopulated species, and now the moment of truth. Do you really have the guts, or the heart, to do this???? Well guess what, it should be acceptable either way. We should not feel pressured by others and we should not judge those who are put in this predicament. But we
should take action and get a handle on things none the less. After all, we still have a job to do as naturalists, to help restore balance and order in our untamed environment. Some of the unbalance is due to humans in the first place. Should we have the need, there are professionals and probably acquaintances who would be willing to handle the situation knowledgeably and ethically. We should all be able to work together at any task, with respect and without conviction, when it comes to matters of the heart and personal morality. Don't be afraid to ask for help or lend a hand. We're all here to enjoy the extraordinary outdoors and keep it majestic!
Photographs (c) Erin Bryan, used with permission.
LMNGBR President, Katherine Gividen, was recently interviewed on the Baton Rouge Sierra Club's Environmental Update radio show on WHYR Community Radio 96.9 FM. They talk about various aspects of the Master Naturalist program, back yard nature, cool places to visit and more. Even Jane Seymour (A.K.A. Jane Patterson) gets a mention! :)
Ok, let’s talk truthfully about butterfly nets. When I first heard that I should buy one for a class, I had to laugh at myself. My mother always told me to be wary of people who have butterfly nets (maybe that was a warning to me personally) and now I was actually going to purchase one! I’ve worked in a couple of psychiatric wards over the years and we never used one on a human even when we went to pick someone up, but apparently in the early 1900’s it may have been part of the practice. Who knew!
I went ahead and ordered one, because I didn’t want to not fit in with the other people in my class who were also going to run around with a butterfly nets. After I received it in the mail, I was so excited to try it out. It felt good in my hand, to swing it around in the air, to sweep it from side to side and imagine that I could now catch unsuspecting Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths and skippers for you regular folks). I pictured myself swinging the net gracefully in the air and catching one, plucking it delicately out of the net, holding it lightly in my hand, and then eventually letting it go with the butterfly grateful that I allowed it’s release. The butterfly whisperer I would be called. This was going to be fun!
But wait, I had a better idea! I decided to bring it with me to visit my daughter who lives in a ritzy neighborhood. Instead of knocking on her door, I decided to run around in front of her living room window to show her all of my new butterfly netting techniques. There I was in an upscale residential area, in front of her living room window with my net, sweeping it from side to side, swinging it around in the air and even doing the moon walk with it! Eventually she came outside before the police showed up and asked me what the hell I was doing! I crack myself up sometimes!
So the big day came to use my new net. There was definitely an overabundance of butterflies at Allen Acres, a beautiful bed and breakfast planted with all varieties of native plants. I looked for the user manual to show me how to use my new net, but I couldn’t find one. I guess I will just have to “wing” it. I saw a beautiful gulf fritillary and ran after it. It saw me coming from 20 feet away and flew off. I ran after another one and it zipped off in 2 seconds. Do you know that the speed of a butterfly can be as fast as 12 miles an hour! I only run 4.2 miles per hour on my treadmill, so fat chance that I could catch one! They also seem to have super vision and seemed to know when I moved an eyelash in its direction. Hold on here, did I just read that butterflies have compound eyes with 6,000 miniature eyes in each eye! So that means they run 3 X’s faster than I do and have 11,998 more eyes than I have. I must be crazy to try and catch one. I give up.
Sadly, my butterfly net was eventually retired, never having had a butterfly to grace it. Months later, my young nephews came over to fish in my pond and asked me if I had a minnow net. Well, yes, I think I do, a white one. It did make a remarkable minnow net.
Signed the UnNaturalist
Who am I kidding; did I really think I can do this? Of course, I love being outside. There is swimming and boating and gazing at sunsets and watching birds and fireflies and cooking marshmallows in bonfires. But wait. There are no bonfires or marshmallows at my Master Naturalist meetings. I thought we were going to get together and have some outdoor fun, gaze at a sunset, peer into nests, drink a few beers and talk about our last hiking adventure. It looks like they are asking me to do work. I think I’m now certified to do work! They want me to weed the forest, pull up undesirable trees, plant some plants… this looks like work to me! And it’s so hot! The sweat is pouring down my back. I never used to sweat when I was having “fun”. I would even brag about not being a person who sweats. Even dirt gets stuck on the sweat on my face and it looks like I’m engaging in jungle warfare. I can’t even go to the bathroom because my clothes are wet with sweat and stuck on me. And where are the bathrooms? Maybe I can still be a naturalist from some place that has air conditioners and bathrooms. I will try and scope out those places.
And what about my hair? No one told me that my hair would be a hazard outdoors. It gets caught up in every low hanging branch that manages to yank you back to point zero . How do you look cool as you detangle your hair from an American Holly tree? Just smile and act like you meant to do that. Maybe no one will notice. After that you walk around with a small stick in your hair that no one tells you about. It might as well be a log or a bone like Pebble Flintstone wears in her hair. Sometimes I find things in my hair and I don’t even know what it is. I guess as long as it’s not moving, I’ll be ok. Maybe I’ll learn how to identify it in one of my classes.
And then there are the bug bites. A warning would have been nice or even a recommendation for a spray of some kind. The last time I went into the woods I brought back a souvenir of 17 red bug bites. You know that it’s a red bug bite because it NEVER stops itching. The ones in the crotch itch more than all the others and are more intense when you are at a board meeting or talking to the police. Maybe we should have been studying all the hazards in the woods in our first Master Naturalist class instead of talking about how much “fun” we were going to have. Don’t you start learning about hazardous situations even in kindergarten like don’t step on snakes and poke wasps with a stick? Well I think learning that you should wear panty hose in the woods to prevent red bugs should be the first thing they teach you. Yes, that prevents red bug bites but only up to the point where the panty hose ends. Those bugs are smart enough to know how to crawl right past the waist band and feast on your stomach. At least scratching there is a little more presentable than your crotch. I’m hoping I can find a set of pantyhose that reaches to my neck, then maybe I’ll be safe from at least one of the many hazards that they are not telling me about.
Signed the UnNaturalist
If you’re like many cajuns, your summertime foraging consists mainly of blackberries and honeysuckles.
But if that’s all your shopping for when you go into the woods, you’re missing out on some of the best produce that Louisiana has to offer. Next time you’re out on a summer hike, keep a keen eye for these native edibles:
Note about responsible foraging: Follow the rule of one-fourth. There's an old saying, possibly Native American in origin, about ethical foraging: take 1/4 for yourself, and leave 1/4 for your brother (the next person), 1/4 for wildlife, and 1/4 for the plant to reproduce.
Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius)
The perfect mushrooms for those who like earthy flavors but hate squishy textures, the firm chanterelle mushrooms can be found in abundance in summer months. For some southerners, chanterelle season is almost as exciting as crawfish season.
The mushroom's slightly leathery texture holds well when cooked. For this reason, chanterelles are often used in sauces, and also combines well with meats (chanterelle and ground beef burgers are amazing).
It’s easy to find the bright orange mushroom clusters if you can stand a hot and humid Louisiana summer hike. They usually grow underneath oak trees, where they emerge in damp ground after downpours. Since the mushrooms don’t have a long shelf life, they aren’t usually found in stores or restaurants, so getting out and picking your own may be your only way to taste them.
Maypops (Passiflora incarnata)
There’s much to appreciate about a plant that not only has beautiful flowers . . .
. . . but that also have a delicious nectar-like fruit. Maypop, also known as purple passion flower, ripens in late summer. The green outer rind, which tears easily, contains seeds that have a papery flesh soaked in a saccharine jelly.
To find maypops, look for the bright purple flower along the forest edges. The climbing plant will often frill woodlands with its ornamental flower and sweet berries.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
If you like gumbo made from scratch, then be on the lookout for Sassafras — the plant’s ground leaves are where filé powder comes from.
But the goodness doesn’t stop with the leaves — roots from young sassafras trees are heavy and earthy, and make for delicious teas. In fact, for many years, Sassafras was the main ingredient in root beer.
Sassafras can be found in fields, in woods, and along fences, typically where the soil is moist. The trees are evergreen, and so can be harvested year-round. But if you’re making tea or rootbeer, your best foraging will be in winter or early spring, when the roots of young trees are full of sweet sap.
Muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia)
The muscadine is like a grape but with a little more character.
Most people compare the fruit to grapes, but ripe muscadines have a plum-like skin and are sweeter. They also have a large seed within, and although many practiced foragers can practically inhale bunches of muscadines, newbies should practice wedging the fruit between the teeth and carefully biting down to release the juices. Of course, you could always opt to make a jelly instead.
Look for muscadines along fences and forest edges. You won’t be the only one looking — birds and mammals also love the sweet fruits, so sometimes wild muscadine can be hard to find.
By John Nettles
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