Paper wasps and daffs in May – can home gardeners help document climate change?

Jenny Nicholls is a Waiheke-based writer and columnist.

OPINION: An unruly star jasmine vine stretches across our patio, its tendrils twisting through the boards and around the legs of our old outdoor table. I occasionally hack it, but it’s greedy and looks like Triffid.

In summer, however, it fills the house with fragrance and tiny white flowers crown the old table like a botanical milky way. It made a perfect lazy centerpiece for our Christmas table, from the year it got quite big, 2017, until 2019. For the past two years, it has bloomed too early and the flowers have disappeared on Christmas day.

Although the world is getting warmer, it is difficult for most of us to point out anything tangible unless we are glacier guides or have family in India. There are things that can mean something or nothing – a whiff of early blooming wisteria, a sea warm like bathwater in March, a sunburn on my neck in May, the whine of mosquitoes in June.

Chris Mclean in his vegetable patch north of Taranaki.  She stands under a tamarillo with vegetables just picked from the garden.  Thousands of whiteflies feasted on his raspberries and tamarillo this summer.

John Mcclean

Chris Mclean in his vegetable patch north of Taranaki. She stands under a tamarillo with vegetables just picked from the garden. Thousands of whiteflies feasted on his raspberries and tamarillo this summer.

New Zealand researchers are doing their best to monitor the effects of climate change on native flora and fauna. But there are also other observers, who have been conducting their own backyard experiments for years, though few of them can put it that way.

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As Zach St. George wrote in The New York Times, “Gardening is fundamentally a local enterprise, an experiment in adapting plants to a specific soil and climate.”

Home gardeners tend their private estates through pests, crops, plagues, downpours and droughts. Some have plowed the same land for decades of triumphs and disasters known mostly to them alone.

Until recently, long-term records of climate change were kept by accident, in sailors’ logbooks, old journals and harvest records. I can’t help but think that if someone combed through Instagram posts of “strange” bugs, cherry blossoms, and giant carrots, a map of the moving barriers of plants and insects might be drawn. , a slowly accumulating library of changes.

Not being a big gardener myself, I asked around, gathering some of the best impressions I could find.

Chris Mclean has tended the same plot on the north coast of Taranaki for 44 years, growing a cornucopia of fruits, herbs and vegetables.

Other northern delicacies from Taranaki's coastal garden Chris Mclean has been tending to for 44 years.

Jenny Nichols

Other northern delicacies from Taranaki’s coastal garden Chris Mclean has been tending to for 44 years.

Her garden endured a long, hot summer this year, and white butterflies fluttered there for much longer than usual. Thousands of whiteflies, she tells me, have feasted on her raspberries and tamarillo. The invaders could account for a bumper crop of birds, which fed on plums, apples, pears and persimmons.

Since Psyllid appeared three years ago, she says, it is impossible to grow potatoes from the start of summer.

Last year, his apple trees bloomed out of season. And paper wasps arrived four or five years ago – Chris thinks it is Asian paper wasps, which reached Aotearoa in the 1970s. In 1995 they were common during the summer in the part Upper North Island.

Understanding how invasive species like European or Asian paper wasps spread is a challenge best left to entomologists, although it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled. Milder winters, especially in the South Island, are helping the European paper wasp (which probably reached Aotearoa in 2011).

Dr. Mike Dickison, who lives in Hokitika, says monarch butterflies are disappearing from their favorite places – and paper wasps are eating monarch caterpillars. European paper wasps have reached Dunedin, but not the west coast yet, he says, as far as he knows. “I’m starting a community watch program in the summer.”

I wondered if climate change could have helped paper wasps reach Chris’ garden in Taranaki, so I asked University of Victoria wasp expert Dr Phil Lester.

“Climate change will have various effects on insects such as wasps – including common or German wasps,” he tells me. Wasps do well in dry, dry conditions.

“The warm conditions we experienced in the fall with no frosts prevent the wasp colonies from dying. They can survive for up to a second year when they become “monsters” or very large colonies of wasps. Since the effects of climate change are different in different regions, the effects on populations will be different in different regions.

Chris Mclean's garden contains sculptures of her husband, John.

Jenny Nichols

Chris Mclean’s garden contains sculptures of her husband, John.

“In areas that become prone to more extreme wet weather events, we are likely to see fewer wasps. But for areas with nice warm, dry wasp growing conditions…” (I take the professor’s ellipsis to mean “insert Jaws soundtrack here.”)

“The Australian paper wasp has a more limited distribution in the north – it is likely to be able to come to many areas at lower latitudes. The European paper wasp has only recently arrived in New Zealand, and we believe it continues to spread. I’m guessing he’ll enjoy Hawke’s Bay, for example, a lot when he finally gets there. And he will.

Gardening writer Gareth Winter, who lives in Masterton, doesn’t like to jump to conclusions. “With diseases (like daylily rust or myrtle rust), it’s hard to know if they’re spreading south. [due to warmer temperatures] or if they are just new to the country.

But he points out that many commercial berry growers have left Wairarapa because the winter there is no longer cold enough for a reliable harvest.

“Some flower bulbs definitely bloom earlier in the spring,” he tells me. “My snakehead iris is blooming about three weeks earlier than in the past.” He also noticed the arrival of the harlequin ladybug and paper wasps.

Jenny Nichols:

Provided

Jenny Nicholls: “I can’t help but think that if someone were to scroll through Instagram posts of ‘strange’ insects, cherry blossoms and giant carrots, a map of the moving barriers of plants and insects might be drawn , a slowly accumulating library of change.”

I started bookmarking tweets like this, from naturalist writer Alison Ballance; she posted photographs of daffodils, kōwhai and kākābeak, images of a stereotypical New Zealand spring. The post is dated May 31.

“So tomorrow is the official first day of winter in New Zealand. In Ōtautahi/Christchurch, flowers say ‘yeah no’.

Jenny Nicholls at [email protected] would love to hear from anyone who has seen paper wasps where they don’t belong, or strange early bloom samples!

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