Writing in the time of COVID-19: Day Forty Eight

There’s a male pheasant strutting across the yard as I write this. I’ve never sighted one on our property before. I wonder if there’s a female on a nest nearby?

And here I wasn’t going to write about birds today.

So, let me start over.

This morning when I greeted Kalalea, the mountain across the street, her top third was sheared off to view the way Eric likes to trim the hibiscus hedge in front of the house—as if he took a level to them. It’s been rainy during the overnights this week with gray cloudy mornings burning off to beautiful days. I like it. The hibiscus starts I planted to fill in the leggy older bushes like it, too. The young ‘ōhi’a is throwing our new liko, new leaves, a beautiful burgundy, at that.

It’s time to plant another ‘ōhi‘a that’s overgrowing its pot. I’ve got a few pots of ground cover—’ākia and ‘ūlei—to plant alongside it, too.

Eric and I are both getting to know our yard again during COVID-19. Last year, Eric was re-painting the house, so the yard went neglected. Truth is, with the painting project complete, Eric would be doing yard work right now, COVID restrictions or no COVID restrictions. I’m another story. I typically spend more time tending to wildlife elsewhere than the plants in my yard. Because I’m working from home, I’m seeing more of my home, inside and out. I’m seeing less of the forest and more of the trees. That is, things right in front of me.

And beside me.

There’s a banana spider centered in a web spun between my chair and the one next to me on the lanai. We’ve been co-existing for a couple weeks now. I sometimes forget about her (him?), but just a second ago, she darted to one end of her web and snagged a gnat that got ensnared. She’s reminding me of the good service she provides us—eating annoying insects. If it weren’t for the white spots of spider poop that she (and her relatives) leaves behind on the table, I wouldn’t mind her at all. For now, I leave her alone.

If it hadn’t rained overnight, I’d be standing with the garden hose in one hand, my tea in the other and watering the hibiscus. I’ve come to learn that watering is a lovely morning routine, a time to check in with the immediate world around me and the mountain across the street. A kind of meditation.

psyllid gallsOne thing I noticed recently is a few of our ‘ōhi‘a leaves have pimply like spots on them. I’m told they’re galls, supposedly native. In fact, they’re called ‘ōhi‘a psyllid galls. I see it on the trees in the forest all the time. From a little bit of internet research, I learn more. Like they’re an insect, commonly called jumping plant lice. Ugh. But they’re super tiny and host specific, meaning they won’t jump on me. In fact, they’re vegan—plant-eating, winged bugs.

Here’s how they work: Adult female psyllids lay their eggs halfway inside the ‘ōhi’a leaves. When the eggs hatch, the immature psyllids—called nymphs—feed on the substance inside the leaf.

When I think of nymphs, I typically think of the mythological spirit maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, or other mysterious locations.

Anyway, these nymphs secret a substance that stimulates abnormal plant growth, forming a protective cone-shaped home around itself. Eventually, nymphs vacate their galls, molting into mature, winged adults—pysllids. Psyllids are super tiny and rarely observed. But their galls are easily seen.

So, birds are not the only critters hatching around here. Apparently, like Hawaii’s famed family of birds known as honeycreepers that radiated into more than 50 different species from the one that arrived in Hawaii millions of years ago, Hawaiian psyllids have a similar story. They claim a remarkable radiation of more than 35 known species.

Insuppose because these psyllids are native and have co-evolved with ‘ōhi’a, I’ve found little information in the way of treatment. One paper suggests a bio-control. That is, find something that eats psyllids. A little more research leads me to a 222-page document published in 1948 titled Insects of Hawaii. It looks like I’ll have to do a little reading.

Right as I finish writing this, I hear a familiar sound and watch the sky for what I know is coming. It’s four nēnē flying over the house. Well, I tried to keep the birds out of this. Really, I did.

 

Our COVID-19 cases in Hawaii rose by three today to a new total of 629. Kauai is still at 21. Visitor counts are ticking back up. A total of 233 travelers identified as visitors at the airport today; 27 landed in Lihue.

Be well.

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