January 2014 Volume 1, Issue 1

Seed Ball News

The Endangered Karner Blue

Seed balls help struggling butterfly populations

In our central Pennsylvania shop, we've been busy making milkweed seed balls. Milkweed has been our best seller recently, as the grassroots movement to provide food for the Monarch Butterflies' long migration gains steam.

Butterfly fans in the North Central and North Eastern US, don't forget to plant wild lupine, which is the only host plant for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly. Our lupin seeds just about leapt from the seed balls in gemination tests, even without stratification. If you plant lupine, make certain to nick the seed coat to assist in the uptake of water. We nick each seed before we make our lupine seed balls. Lupine Seed Balls

New Seed Balls: Prairie Grasses

No prairie is complete without a diverse population of grasses. We are introducing several native grasses to our seed ball line: Big Bluestem, Canada Wild Rye, Blue Grama Grass, Side-Oats Grama Grass, Prairie Brome, and Common Hop Sedge.
Grasses at Seed-Ball.com

The Mudslinger

Congratulations to Bill Fatula of Howard, Pennsylvania for submitting the winning name for our newsletter. Bill, you've got 50 seed balls coming your way! Everyone loves the title. Thanks to everyone who submitted their ideas.

Plant Physiologist
Dr. Gro Torsethaugen

Dr. Gro Torsethaugen on a fjord in Norway. What a beautiful day in a beautiful place!
Dr. Gro Torsethaugen is a Norwegian plant physiologist. She earned her PhD from the University of Oslo, where she also taught. Currently, she teaches at both Penn State University and University of Maryland University College and resides in Howard, Pennsylvania, with her husband, Bill Fatula (of Mudslinger fame), and son Anton.  

Far from just being a plant geek, Dr. Torsethaugen also is an outstanding trumpet player and soccer coach. 


Is the preservation of native ecosystems a large issue in Norway?

Gro: Yes. Although Norway is one of the least densely populated countries in Europe there is still a concern about destruction of natural ecosystems, as well as cultural landscapes. (more info: http://www.environment.no/Topics/Biological-diversity/Land/) Norway is a beautiful country with mountains, forests and a long, rugged coastline that include the famous fjords. Most Norwegians appreciate nature and enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, cross country skiing, fishing and berry picking. Environmental protection is therefore a relatively high priority in Norway.

(The well house, left, sports a traditional Norwegian sod roof and native Norwegian wildflowers.)

Do you have a favorite native plant from Norway? 

Gro: Blåveis (Hepatica nobilis) is a plant native to both Europe and North America that I am especially fond off. It is not that common in Norway but it grows in relatively large amounts in the area around the farm where my Mom grew up in Snåsa, a place I have visited grandparents and other relatives throughout my life. The blåveis, with its beautiful blue petals, is a sure sign of spring there.  

(Gro's father, Dr. Knut Torsethaugen from Trondheim kindly supplied the blåveis photograph.)

Are any plants from North America invasive in Norway? 

Gro:Yes, one of my favorite flowers, the blue lupine, is actually an invasive species in Norway! I believe it was introduced from the United States to Europe in the early 1800s as a decorative plant. It was also intentionally planted along roads to prevent erosion. The blue lupine is listed on the Norwegian Black List in the high risk category for invasive species.

(More info: http://www.environment.no/Topics/Biological-diversity/Alien-species/)

What led you to study plants?

Gro: An excellent high school biology teacher, Marianne Sletbakk, inspired me to become a biologist. Then being required to dissect frogs in a college physiology course inspired me to become a plant biologists. I found it easier to work with plants than animals, and ended up torturing plants with the air pollutant ozone in my graduate and post graduate research projects.

What kind of environmental topics come up in your classes at PSU and UMUC?

: One of the topics we discuss is how to reduce the environmental impact of gardening and landscaping. Using native plants and gardening for native wildlife is an excellent way to do so. Some non-native species become invasive species, which is a major concern in terms of ecosystem disruption and the extinction of native species. Invasive species is the “I” in HIPPCO, the acronym introduced by E.O. Wilson to help us remember the most significant factors that is causing species extinction today; Habitat destruction, Invasive species, Pollution, (the increasing human) Population, Climate change and Over-harvesting.

Please tell us about your garden!

Gro: We grow many different vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, spinach, radishes, green beans, sugar snap peas, potatoes and asparagus) and some fruits (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, grapes, apples and plums) in our garden. This is a good source for locally produced food in the summer/fall. Within the past few years I have become more passionate about planting native perennials, bushes and trees that benefit native butterflies, birds and other animals. This spring I am looking forward to expanding our garden with seed balls, including the blue lupine, which seems to grow much easier in my hometown Trondheim than here in central PA! This summer I would also like to get our “Backyard Habitat” certification from the National Wildlife Foundation: http://www.nwf.org/How-to-Help/Garden-for-Wildlife.aspx

The recent dramatic decline in the Monarch butterfly population is a major concern so I am planning to sling some milk weed seed balls in the surrounding area this spring. As you may know, milkweed is both habitat and food for the endangered Monarch butterfly. This is a fun way to do some guerilla gardening and help the Monarch butterfly .

Plant of the Month
Big Bluestem

Andropogon gerardii

Big Bluestem. Photo by Dr. Forest Isbell.
Big Bluestem is the tallest grass in tall grass prairie ecosystems. This perennial grass is native to US and Canadian Prairies and the Great Plains region. Characterized by deep purple flower heads and nodes, this grass can reach more than 9 feet tall in ideal conditions.  As a prairie grass, it has deep fine roots (up to 10 feet deep!) that stabilize the soil and protect the plant and soil from strong winds that can be common in the plains. It also grows horizontal rhizomes that enable it form tall dense clumps.

Big Bluestem is an important forage grass for bison, and has high protein content compared to other native grasses.

The Chippewa Indians used the root of this plant to treat stomach ailments. Extracts from the leaves were used to relieve fevers, aches, and pains.
Free Big Bluestem Seed Balls
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Photo Credit: The photograph that so effectively captures the understated beauty of A. gerardii was graciously provided by Dr. Forest Isbell. He has more images and information on his website, sustainingnature.org. 

Animal of the Month
Snow Fleas

Hypogastrura nivicola

The tiny snow flea is a common, however overlooked, member of the soil life community.
Snow fleas are commonly seen as dark hopping specks on on the snow surface on the warmer, sunnier winter days, usually at the base of a tree. They are dark blue and about 1/16" long. Although they are called fleas, the snow flea isn't a flea at all. It's a springtail (Collembola). These creatures are small soil animals that feed on fungi, algae, decaying bits of plants, and some even smaller soil animals like nematodes, rotifers, and protozoa.

The snow flea is unique among springtails for its ability to function in cold conditions. Scientists are studying its anti-freeze-like proteins, hoping to find a way to make refrigerated tissue last longer for transplants.

When the snow flea isn't hopping about in the snow, it busies itself by cycling organic matter in the soils  and, if it is springtime, making more snow fleas. It can jump remarkably far, which helps it escape the many predators that make a meal of it: salamanders, the harvestman, centipedes, beetles, mites, and ants.
Ecological Society of America
on Snow Fleas

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