The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Tuesday, February 25, 2003


Photo by Mary Curry

Birds and Beyond
Flowers for Birds and Butterflies
Claire Curry, February 2003, Wise County Messenger, © 2003

It was hot out. Too hot to go walking. So, I just sat out in the yard, binoculars in hand. Most of the birds were a bit smarter than I, and only showed up in the heat occasionally or soared overhead. On the flower pots to either side of my log bench, though, butterflies flitted about on masses of color. A Giant Swallowtail and a Gulf Fritillary stopped at the pentas, while jumpy little skippers moved from flower to flower on the zinnias. A hummingbird sipped from magenta salvia blooms across the yard.

Plants are an important part of any yard, especially if you want to attract birds and butterflies. Not just any flowers will do, though. Native plants are generally the best for wildlife, non-invasive, and adapted to the climate here. Gayfeather and blazing-star are beautiful purple wildflowers that attract oodles of butterflies. When they bloom at my house, butterflies practically drip off of them. Milkweeds are the host plant for Monarchs and Queen butterflies, and some, such as butterfly weed, have lovely flowers. Sages (or salvia) are good flowers for both hummingbirds and butterflies. Other plants to consider include yaupon holly (produces berries for the birds), Mexican plum (both flowers and small plums), lantana (butterflies are love the native species), columbine, penstemons, Turk’s Cap, cardinal flower, cross vine, trumpet vine (good for hummers), standing cypress (a wildflower, not a tree), sunflowers (both nectar for butterflies and seeds for birds), verbena (nectar for birds and butterflies), bee balm, horsemint, Purple Coneflower (nectar when blooming, seeds when the flower dies), thistles, goldenrod (butterflies love this and it really isn’t a cause of allergies), daisies and asters, winecup, coral honeysuckle (pretty red tubular flowers that hummingbirds love, and it has red berries), passionflowers (the host plant for the stunning Gulf Fritillary), and sumac. Although you may be inclined to think of sumac as a nuisance, it produces berries for delightful birds such as bluebirds, robins, and mockingbirds, and has stunning red leaves in the fall. Also, if you find a caterpillar munching away on your passionflowers, let it be! It could be a future Gulf Fritillary. For more information on native plants, check out the Native Plant Society of Texas’s website: www.npsot.org.

Zinnias, pentas, marigolds, and butterfly bush, although non-native, are also great flowers for butterflies and hummers. Many of the butterflies I watched at my flower pots stopped by for a drink at the zinnias and pentas. In the winter, seeds from the zinnias and marigolds provide food for birds like goldfinches and sparrows, so consider leaving the dead flower heads on the plants.

Finally, if you are planning to get some native plants, the Trinity Forks-Denton chapter of the Native Plant Society is selling native plants at the Redbud Day Festival on March 8 from 8am to 3pm at the Denton Civic Center on McKinney Street and Bell Avenue.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Naturally Texas
Hog-nosed Skunks Are Subjects of Local Study
Terry Maxwell, February 23, 2003, San Angelo Standard Times

If you’ve driven Texas byways during the past month, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the delicate fragrance of mercapton wafting about the roadside. Mercapton is the stink agent in skunk spray. The question, whether it has occurred to you are not, is "What are we to make of this increase in flattened skunks?"

You might assume, as did one Brownwood journalist who recently contacted me, that we’re in an epidemic of skunks. Since rabies can be a problem in skunks, any increase in their population might alarm you. The evidence, however, points to another cause for the plethora of skunks. I recommend that you survey the sex of the next ten dead skunks you encounter. Stop the car and get out, pick up a stick and flip the animal over. A cursory examination of its anatomy will likely reveal it to be a male – as are most roadkill skunks in this season.

It’s the breeding season. Romance is in the air, so to speak, and bull skunks are notoriously poor at avoiding cars as they meander about in search of the fairer sex. Let me clarify just how slow they move. Naturalist Brush Freeman, recently having driven 170 miles from Utley (Bastrop County) to Port O’Connor on the coast, counted 42 dead on the road. My colleague in Biology at ASU, Dr. Robert Dowler, counted 30 between San Antonio and San Angelo. Ann and I observed a startling 46 on U.S. 277 between Abilene and San Angelo a little over a week ago.
In the San Angelo vicinity, there occur 3 species of skunks, but only two are regularly roadkill. The more common by far is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), but the one I want to introduce today is the more interesting – the western hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus mesoleucus).

In fact, the history of the Conepatus skunks in Texas is cause for some concern. Two species occur in our state. Our own western hog-nosed skunk occurs from Central Texas west to Arizona and south to Nicaragua – a widespread species. Vernon Bailey, the legendary student of Texas mammals at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, described a geographically separate race of this skunk in the Big Thicket of East Texas – an animal he called the "swamp conepatus." It was the most common skunk that Bailey and his field men trapped in that area. It was not seen again until a roadkill was found in 1961, but despite intense investigation none have been seen since. It’s likely that the swamp Conepatus is extinct.

The largest skunk in Texas is the eastern hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus), known only on the coastal plain from Corpus Christi south to Veracruz, Mexico. It has become very rare in the past half century and warrants concern.

Our own western hog-nosed skunk remains fairly common although fewer of it are seen than the commonplace striped skunk. Because it is encountered here about as frequently as anywhere in Texas and because ASU has a mammalogy graduate program of note, Dowler has received funding from Texas Parks and Wildlife for a two-year study of local skunks, concentrating on the hog-nosed.

There has developed in our Biology Department a veteran skunk corps of graduate students and undergraduates. And lest you worry about them, they’re all vaccinated against rabies. I’ve lost count of the number of skunk projects being conducted by these students, but I intend to get up to date and report back to you – it’s fascinating stuff.

We’re about out of space here today, so all I can do now is inspire you to catch the next installment. To learn some particular things about these animals you have to follow them around. But that’s hard to do with nocturnal skunks, so the trick is to attach radios to them and track them with antennas. The skunk corps, however, discovered a problem – isn’t that always the case? Hog-nosed skunks are hard to live trap. There is a solution, though - one that likely did not occur to you.

Hog-nosed skunk catching works as follows: (1) load up a pickup with eager skunk corps sprinters, (2) drive ranch roads (those with owner permission) at night and shine spotlights into the brush, (3) when a skunk is spotted, brake the truck, and (4) observe with wonder as two or three people jump from the truck and dash pell mell into the brush after a now thoroughly alarmed animal with a famous defense system.

One of three outcomes is usual in these rodeos: (1) the skunk gets away, (2) the skunk is caught by a sprayed sprinter, or, preferably (3) the skunk is snatched by the tail before spraying. In any of these cases, the evening is sure to be memorable.

Skunks play a major role in the ecology of our countryside, and an understanding of how things work out there includes coming to understand them. But I assume you have an intuitive grip on why most naturalists have avoided investigating these important animals.

Naturally Texas
Hog-nosed Skunks Are Subjects of Local Study
Terry Maxwell, February 23, 2003, San Angelo Standard Times

If you’ve driven Texas byways during the past month, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the delicate fragrance of mercapton wafting about the roadside. Mercapton is the stink agent in skunk spray. The question, whether it has occurred to you are not, is "What are we to make of this increase in flattened skunks?"

You might assume, as did one Brownwood journalist who recently contacted me, that we’re in an epidemic of skunks. Since rabies can be a problem in skunks, any increase in their population might alarm you. The evidence, however, points to another cause for the plethora of skunks. I recommend that you survey the sex of the next ten dead skunks you encounter. Stop the car and get out, pick up a stick and flip the animal over. A cursory examination of its anatomy will likely reveal it to be a male – as are most roadkill skunks in this season.

It’s the breeding season. Romance is in the air, so to speak, and bull skunks are notoriously poor at avoiding cars as they meander about in search of the fairer sex. Let me clarify just how slow they move. Naturalist Brush Freeman, recently having driven 170 miles from Utley (Bastrop County) to Port O’Connor on the coast, counted 42 dead on the road. My colleague in Biology at ASU, Dr. Robert Dowler, counted 30 between San Antonio and San Angelo. Ann and I observed a startling 46 on U.S. 277 between Abilene and San Angelo a little over a week ago.
In the San Angelo vicinity, there occur 3 species of skunks, but only two are regularly roadkill. The more common by far is the striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), but the one I want to introduce today is the more interesting – the western hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus mesoleucus).

In fact, the history of the Conepatus skunks in Texas is cause for some concern. Two species occur in our state. Our own western hog-nosed skunk occurs from Central Texas west to Arizona and south to Nicaragua – a widespread species. Vernon Bailey, the legendary student of Texas mammals at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, described a geographically separate race of this skunk in the Big Thicket of East Texas – an animal he called the "swamp conepatus." It was the most common skunk that Bailey and his field men trapped in that area. It was not seen again until a roadkill was found in 1961, but despite intense investigation none have been seen since. It’s likely that the swamp Conepatus is extinct.

The largest skunk in Texas is the eastern hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus), known only on the coastal plain from Corpus Christi south to Veracruz, Mexico. It has become very rare in the past half century and warrants concern.

Our own western hog-nosed skunk remains fairly common although fewer of it are seen than the commonplace striped skunk. Because it is encountered here about as frequently as anywhere in Texas and because ASU has a mammalogy graduate program of note, Dowler has received funding from Texas Parks and Wildlife for a two-year study of local skunks, concentrating on the hog-nosed.

There has developed in our Biology Department a veteran skunk corps of graduate students and undergraduates. And lest you worry about them, they’re all vaccinated against rabies. I’ve lost count of the number of skunk projects being conducted by these students, but I intend to get up to date and report back to you – it’s fascinating stuff.

We’re about out of space here today, so all I can do now is inspire you to catch the next installment. To learn some particular things about these animals you have to follow them around. But that’s hard to do with nocturnal skunks, so the trick is to attach radios to them and track them with antennas. The skunk corps, however, discovered a problem – isn’t that always the case? Hog-nosed skunks are hard to live trap. There is a solution, though - one that likely did not occur to you.

Hog-nosed skunk catching works as follows: (1) load up a pickup with eager skunk corps sprinters, (2) drive ranch roads (those with owner permission) at night and shine spotlights into the brush, (3) when a skunk is spotted, brake the truck, and (4) observe with wonder as two or three people jump from the truck and dash pell mell into the brush after a now thoroughly alarmed animal with a famous defense system.

One of three outcomes is usual in these rodeos: (1) the skunk gets away, (2) the skunk is caught by a sprayed sprinter, or, preferably (3) the skunk is snatched by the tail before spraying. In any of these cases, the evening is sure to be memorable.

Skunks play a major role in the ecology of our countryside, and an understanding of how things work out there includes coming to understand them. But I assume you have an intuitive grip on why most naturalists have avoided investigating these important animals.

Bird Songs are Increasing in Spring
Ro Wauer, Feb 23, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

Bird songs are all around during these spring mornings, a sure sign that warmer days are just ahead. Although a few bird species, such as cardinals, Carolina wrens, titmice, and mockingbirds, have been vocalizing almost since the first of the year, many other species are joining the bird chorus as springtime progresses. All our doves have begun their varied songs, red-shouldered hawks are screaming overhead, chickadees are singing aloud, and our welcome purple martins are brightening the dawn skies with their mellow songs.

Springtime solicits the greatest amount of bird song than any time of year. That is when birds are signaling their neighbors to stay away from their territories, attracting mates, and, once mated, to stay away from their nesting grounds. A bird's song also contains details about individual identity, allowing others to recognize the individual. Song length, frequency range, and the order and length of the song phrases provide the necessary clues. Experiments with several colonial birds, such as terns and gulls, show that individuals respond to the taped calls of their partners but not to the calls of nonmates. Vocal recognition between parents and offspring is especially important.

In closely related species, vocalization might be the only way individuals can make distinctions among themselves. Examples include several of the flycatchers that look so similar, such as Couch's and tropical kingbirds and willow and alder flycatchers.

Researchers have shown that unrelated species that live in the same habitats have songs that are more similar than closely related species that live in different habitats. Forest birds typically have songs or calls markedly different from species common to open country or grassland habitats. Deep forest birds, such as thrushes, generally produce pure tones with little modulation or harmonic structure and lower frequency than birds of open country. Grassland birds have evolved songs or calls that have high-frequency ranges and contain rapidly repeated buzzy trills and complex modulations. High-frequency notes travel more rapidly than notes of low frequency.

The question of whether the bird songs are inherited or learned is one that many researchers have studied. And the results vary. Many birds, such as meadowlarks and cardinals, learn their songs from other meadowlarks and cardinals. When raised by foster parents, they sing abnormal songs. Other birds, such as song sparrows, sing normal songs no matter where they were raised.

Researcher David Mizrahi suggests that young birds learn their songs in four stages. The first two are silent ones. The first lasts two to twelve months while the youngsters are learning structure and pitch variation. In the second step, lasting about eight months, the youngsters learn syllables or phrases. Once those two stages end, the young bird begins to practice, listening to themselves, matching what they hear with what they memorized during the earlier stages. The final "crystallization" stage is when the bird's songs are stabilized and transformed into one that others of the same species will recognize.

For some species, such as mockingbirds, learning new song phrases continue throughout life. The diversity of songs in their repertoires can change throughout and increase as they grow older. But how or why vocal mimics select the songs that they imitate is unknown.

Springtime is when we can hear an amazing assortment of bird songs. While the majority of the songs are typical songs that can be expected from whichever species is vocalizing, we can also hear bird songs from youngsters that are not yet fully prepared to defend a territory and mate.

Friday, February 21, 2003


Wonders of Nature
The Mockingbird's Song
Story by Gary Clark, Photograph by Kathy Adams Clark
A version of this piece was published Feb 21, 2003
“Wonders of Nature” column in The Houston Chronicle
© 2003 Gary Clark, Kathy Adams Clark


“Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to
enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens . . . they don't do one thing but sing
their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

---Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Get ready for the springtime song of the northern mockingbird. With the coming of wildflowers like bachelor buttons and red clover will come a variety of bird songs; but none will ring more exuberantly than the mockingbird's song.
No other North American songbird can match the northern mockingbird's vocal virtuosity nor compete with its singing stamina. Mockingbirds sing their hearts out in springtime from the break of day until the setting sun, and some sing all through the night.


Hardly a spring goes by without someone asking me what to do about the mockingbird that sings outside a bedroom window all night long.


“Well, don't kill it because that's a sin,” I say. “And keep in mind that the mocker is probably an unattached male trying to attract a female so that together they can make a nest and raise a family.”


Both male and female mockingbirds sing, although the males surely spend the most time singing. The birds sing from February to November, with males dominating the songfest in the spring as part of the mating ritual. In autumn, females join the males in vigorous song as the birds stake out winter-feeding grounds.


In whatever season mockingbirds sing, they sing with a powerful voice, a fulsome song, and an amazing repertoire of songs.


The extraordinary song repertoire of mockingbirds derives from their ability to incorporate other bird songs into a variety of complex harmonies. They can reproduce the song and call notes of at least 36 other bird species.


In fact, female mockers are attracted to the male that can replicate the most songs from the neighborhood birds. Apparently, the female chooses such a male because his song imitations are an indication of his fitness as a mate---if he knows all the bird songs, then he must also know where all the birds are finding food.


Multiple bird songs are not the only sounds that mockingbirds mimic. They can mock the sounds of crickets, frogs, and barking dogs. They can imitate the squeaky sound of a rusty door hinge, the bell tones of a wind chime, and the ringing notes of a cellular telephone.


By assimilating other bird sounds, other nature sounds, and human-made sounds into their own song, mockingbirds are able to produce up to 200 variant songs. Small wonder mockers have the scientific name of Mimus polyglottos, which translates as “many-tongued mimic.”


Several species of birds besides mockers are mimics. Many are in the same Mimidae family as mockingbirds such as the gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) and brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum), both being summer residents in Houston. Even the ever-present blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) is an accomplished mimic.


However, none is in the singing league with the mocker.


Though a master imitator of bird songs and other sounds, the mockingbird always reveals its identity when singing. It does so by repeating one of its musical phrases or notes two to six times in rapid succession, and it does this every time in every song no matter how varied the medley of sounds. Often, the repeated notes sound like an out-of-tune piano banging out churdee-churdee-churdee.


A remarkable singing aptitude and lively character made the mockingbird a popular caged bird in the 19th century. So great was the demand in those days for mockers as caged pets that the birds reached the brink of extinction in large U. S. cites from St. Louis to Philadelphia.


Had the bird remained quiet, it might have avoided cages. But then as now, mockers were far too audacious to remain quiet. They got their freedom back.


The mocker's aggressive song accompanies its aggressive antics. It is a tenacious and fearless defender of its territory, as many a cat will attest to. A mocker will dive bomb a cat encroaching on its territory, strike the feline with feet and beak, and force it to wander off weary from the incessant harassment.


Showy displays, aggressive or not, are part of the mockingbird's behavior. It flies back and forth from tree limb to tree limb or fence post to fence post all the while flashing its wings like semaphores. The flashing wings probably help to scare away predators and scare up insects.


Bugs are the mockingbird's preferred diet, whether it be grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies, or spiders. The birds will occasionally raid fruits and vegetables in gardens. However, the number of garden-destroying insects mockingbirds devour makes them more friend than foe to gardeners.


Whether in gardens are elsewhere, mockingbirds live year around from the northeastern United States down into to southern half of the lower 48 states and into Mexico. They occupy a wide assortment of ecological niches, from eastern forests to southwestern deserts.


The birds are as much at home in wildernesses as they are in cities or suburban neighborhoods or on farms. They adapt to whatever environment they find themselves in.


Hence, the mockingbird's song rings out all over Texas from the Gulf Coast shores to the West Texas Mountains. Texans could easily claim that the mockingbird's song is the song of Texas.


Appropriately, the mockingbird reigns as the Texas State bird. But it's also the state bird of Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The mighty songster seems to be symbolic of the might of all these states.


An old folk tale claims that when Texas legislators adopted the mockingbird as the state bird in 1927, they wrote a resolution describing the bird as “a fighter for the protection of his home, falling, if need be, in its defense, like any true Texan…”


That legend, more than anything else, may be why it would be a sin for a Texan to kill a mockingbird.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Dragonflies
Ron Smith, Valley Morning Star, February 8, 2003, © 2004

On the edge of the bog you watch through the mists for a promise of sun, and feel the chill in the air losing its hold on the dawn. Suddenly your eyes pick up a winged blur coming toward you, whirring rapidly through the fog. Certain doom to some living things, it is the ominous EBONY BOGHAUNTER!

No, this is not the mystical world of "The Lord of the Rings" or one of Harry Potter's monsters. Surprisingly, you are not in the least worried. It's only a dragonfly, and you are actually seeking this little treasure.

Remember when you were told as a child that these fearsome fliers would sew your lips together? And when they were given names like Devil's Darning Needle? Until you realized that these were old wives' tales made to tease and tantalize the young, you may have been somewhat alarmed when they were skimming around you. They are a tad scary. It is a different matter today. Now you look for them and check off their names in field guides just as birders and butterfyers do with their targets. And they have even more magical, poetic and amusing names! Jewelry in their image sparkles on the dresses of fashionable ladies. Harmless to humans, they do not even sting or bite, and they hunt for smaller prey. Basically friendly, they will often light on fishing poles or your hat.

If you want to know more about them, try a recent field guide by Sidney Dunkle titled "Dragonflies Through Binoculars," Oxford University Press, 2000. Good general guides for this family have been rare until now, but the sport of dragonfly watching is becoming popular. In this book, the subjects are displayed in photographs in their natural habitat. It is similar in its format to Jeffrey Glassberg's butterfly guide. Looking through the pages, you will learn their ranges, characteristics...and for me, a real pleasure, their creative and even lyrical names.

For example, wouldn't you have fun chasing the Zigzag Darner? Or be charmed by the Wandering Glider, named for its sustained flight. Perhaps the connotation of the Sinuous Snaketail might still cause you some apprehension about dragonflies. Then too, you have to appreciate the drama in the name Dragonhunter or Swarming Sundragon. There are also dragonlets and sanddragons. Regard these from the point of view of a small marsh bug! Just from the appellation, I would love to see a Ski-tailed Emerald. The pleasant aspect of the Cherry-faced Meadowhunter could make your day. Did the Frosted Whiteface run into some cold weather? And what happened to the Chalk-fronted Corporal? Did he pale at a reprimand for shirking his duty? Ah, why not anthropomorphize? (That's our human privilege, though unscientific.) The thorax and abdomen are white, of course. There is a Halloween Pennant, so named for its orange-splashed wings. Not so poetic is the Sooty Saddlebags, but you might like the humor in that one. Its dark bands give the impression of saddlebags.

The Rio Grande Valley has a huge and diverse population of the family. Rare species have been found here by experts, and we are pleased to have one of the most beautiful common ones, the Roseate Skimmer, a spectacular, large rosy specimen. I'm not so sure about the name of the Widow Skimmer but prefer the sound of Spangled Skimmer. The former gets its name from the drab colors, I would suppose.

These insects are hard to identify with binoculars unless they alight, and fortunately, they do that frequently, at times lingering on a twig or other perch. Close range binoculars with 6 or 7 power would be recommended. Dragonflies and their delighful, metallic cousins, the damselflies, are sure signs of the ecological health of a wetland. Their appetite for mosquitoes is another virtue we should appreciate. When the dragonflies disappear from an area, it is because something is terribly wrong. Habitat is diminishing at least; water is contaminated; or pesticides have been used without regard to harmless insect life. These creatures serve as an early warning system that we are mistreating the wetland environment. They are just another part of the world of wildlife for us to enjoy. In addition, their naming stretches our poetic talents. Wait until you hear the names of hummingbirds.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Ball Moss is a Fascinating Native Plant
Ro Wauer, February 2, 2003, The Victoria Advocate, © 2003

To most people, ball moss is little more than a blight on our landscape, something that must be eliminated in order to preserve our native vegetation. Although ball moss can threaten many of our trees, it often is only a minor problem and adds much to our natural arboreal environment.

Ball moss is most common on our live oak trees that usually grow in mottes or heavy stands. It is there, among the lower, heavily shaded branches, where ball moss finds the most appropriate environment. There is where there is low light intensity and high humidity, exactly what it likes best. Over time, colonies of ball moss can become so widespread in these places that it can kill its host branches.

In spite of its bad reputation, ball moss is truly a fascinating plant. Known to scientists as Tillandsia recurvata, it is an epiphyte of the family Bromeliaceae. It is not a moss, but a true plant with flowers and seeds. Other family members include pineapple, Spanish moss, and false agave, a plant that grows on limestone slopes in the Big Bend County. And in the Tropics, within 150 miles south of the Mexican border, there are dozens of bromeliads growing on trees as well as on the ground. Many of these tropical bromeliads grow in huge clusters and produce wonderful, brilliantly colored flowers. Many of those bromeliads provide communities for an amazing diversity of wildlife, from nectaring hummingbirds and insects to roosting and nesting sites for birds, reptiles, and small mammals.

Our epiphytes - ball moss and Spanish moss - are far less important to wildlife than the large tropical bromeliads. But they, nevertheless, do provide food and shelter for a few species of wildlife, such as various invertebrates and birds. In the United States, several bird species utilize our northern epiphytes during the nesting season. Tropical parula (warbler), found in deep South Texas, often builds it nest on ball moss. And the northern parula, a close cousin that nests in our general area, often builds its nest in Spanish moss. Several other bird species either lines their nest with Spanish moss fibers or builds the fibers into the nest during construction.

Epiphytes are plants that attach themselves to various trees and shrubs as well as fences, utility lines, and a wide assortment of other objects that might be handy. At first a falling seed, that is rather sticky to the touch, becomes coincidentally attached to a structure. But it then forms pseudo-roots that help it stay in place. These are not true roots that would absorb water and minerals. The resultant plant, therefore, is not a parasite, for it obtains all its nutrients from the air and falling debris.

Should ball moss be controlled? It depends upon the extent. Light infestations seldom cause a problem, but growing colonies can pose a long-term risk to your trees. A recent bulletin from the Texas Forest Service suggests three methods of control: picking, pruning or spraying. (1) Picking, a method that can be very effecting but extremely tedious and labor intensive, involves physically pulling each plant off the tree. (2) Pruning "consists of cutting and removing the dead, interior limbs from the tree and/or lightly thinning the canopy." Infestations decline once sunlight is able to reach the interior section.

(3) Spraying involves the use of an effective foliar spray. They recommend either "Kocide 101 or baking soda (1.2 pound of baking soda per 1 gallon of water + surfactant)." They also point out that "higher concentrations of chemical can actually damage the tree." And they recommend pruning out the deadwood as step one in the process.

Whether ball moss is a problem or not, it is a natural part of our environment. And this is the time if year when ball moss seeds begin to fly. Learn to live with it!