Gnats in the Pulpit

Gnats in the Pulpit

Linda W. Curtis

Wisconsinin Entomological Society 2018

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Three Sisters Springs Crystal River, Fl Sandhill cranes

Back to Florida with some Sandhill cranes

A pair of Sandhill Cranes

A pair of Sandhill Cranes

When Jim and Linda Curtis returned to Florida to resume their plant research at Three Sisters Springs, a pair of just migrated sandhill cranes met them at the entrance. Although successful nesting resulted in healthy young 2 years ago, last year a bobcat is believed to have raided the nest. Jim noted the male crane was taller than he, 6 feet, and could likely protect the nest with that enormous beak.

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Carex of Illinois Audubon Gremel Wildlife Sanctuary 2018

Carex search 2017- 2018

A total of twenty five Carex species were found during 2017-2018 by Linda Curtis, Specimens were kept fresh and digitally imaged with a camera-microscope.

GPS locations were recorded by photographer husband James Curtis.

Sedge meadows with many Carex species were preferred hay for early farmers as it was believed more nutritious than pasture hay because of the many seed heads which provide more protein. For wildlife, especially birds, the seed heads offer year around food, especially during the harsh winter months.


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Three Sisters Springs Crystal River Florida

The Three Sisters Springs

Linda Curtis, volunteer botanist

Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River Florida has lost most of its hydric forest trees and understory plants due to prepping for development and later a small pine plantation.

A plan to return some of the native trees and shrubs by the Citrus County chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society has some success, considering the difficulty in planting saplings and shrubs from pots into a bored hold in the limestone. Unless the plants can grow roots into fissures in the limestone, the roots grow around and around and eventually the upper plant perishes.

Linda Curtis, volunteer, assessed  plantings in 2017 & 3018 and has recommended signage with 3-4 inch font readable by the tourists on the plank walk. Another area needing signage is the trail to the east of the parking lot which takes sight-seers to the tidal restoration creeks that is now abundant in wetland plants that support invertebrates and birds.  The new inlet/outlets for the two  daily  high and low tides have been planted with native trees  including cypress, red maple, sweetgum, Carolina willow. Sedges and rushes dominate the wetland high tide zone.

Trees grown in large pots were planted in boreholes around the manatee lagoon. Some of the former large trees were removed for shoreline repair and rock stabilization.  Shrubs, ferns and other herbaceous plant were placed between the plank walk and the lagoon shore. The almost unseen Carex sedges appear as small grassy tufts.

Image below shows water oak, Quercus nigra on left, fronds of young Sable palms, Sabal palmetto, the evergreen red cedar, Junipers virginiana and a yucca. The goal was a no-mow zone as a barrier to prevent snorkelers, kayakers, and swimmers from  entering land side. Initiated by former U.S. F&W director Michael Lusk, he  placed flags for the new plants position. Some of the trees were run over by the manatee rescue truck during a dilemma, but most of the twenty-some trees remain. In 2017 and January-May 2018, and 4 years later, the planted trees from CCNPS were tape measured at one foot above soil line, height recorded and general condition noted. The most robust was red buckeye, Aesculus pavia,  nearest the end of the plank walk at the manatee entry/exit channel. A small tree with red-stemmed compound leaves and pretty red flowers, the tourists are certain to enjoy this small tree/shrub.

Image taken of the manatee lagoon near the trolley unloading area from the  plank walk.

Manatee Lagoon

Manatee Lagoon

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Harbinger Vol 33 No 4 Winter 2016


Do Bison eat Carex?

Bison at Nachsa

Bison at Nachsa with calves. Photo by Jim Curtis

Nachusa Grasslands are south and west of Rockford, Illinois. The bison herd eats an assortment of prairie plants including grasses and sedges. Linda & Jim Curtis recorded gps of sedges Carex at Nachusa Grasslands in 2016 and will investigate the preferred Carex as foods.

 Click here for Harbinger_Vol33_No4_Winter2016

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New Three Sisters Springs 2016 Report

The Vegetation of Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, Florida is an ongoing

research on a much disturbed property. The 2016 report covers the restoration trees, shrubs, palms, vines, and ferns. The 2017 report will cover the herbaceous plants and updates on any newly reported from 2016.


Email Linda at if you would like an 18 page

pdf file.

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Sedges: Wild Ones Journal Summer 2016

Sedges, what good are they? An article with images of Carex

Sedges, what good are they? An article with images of Carex

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Article for WES, Wisconsin Entomological Society Oct 2015 by Linda W. Curtis

One of my friends is an emergency room nurse at the local hospital. I asked her if she knew of any insect-cause problems and she answer, “Oh yes! Why, just this week…” and related an incident of someone sitting on a caterpillar with stinging hairs. Not life threatening, but certainly uncomfortable and embarrassing to explain why he preferred standing to sitting for a few days.

Turns out, I discover the culprit, a saddleback caterpillar, Acharia stimuli on a twig and carried it home to image under the digital microscope. Than an information search revealed that the stiff hairs were natural hypodermic needles with venom glands at the base. Stinging hairs are one thing, while poisonous hairs are another and a serious rash and nausea can follow.

Fig. 3 Buckeye cat Linda Curtis


Mimicry works for caterpillars with spines or brists even if they are not harmful because predators avoid them. For instance, the buckeye caterpillar, Junonia coenia, looks menacing, but is not. The adult butterfly stage also has a “startle effect” with eyespots on the wings.

On the other hand, the saddleback caterpillar has a rather ordinary gray-winged adult mouth the serves as camouflage, blending it into the tree trunk texture. That function is more “not seen, not eaten” instead of “watch out!”

Linda W. Curtis


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Lake County Forest Preserves Horizon

A recent article by Linda Curtis in the Lake County Forest Preserves May issue, 2016

has information on sedges worth reading.

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What good are sedges?

I was having my hair cut today and I told the hairdresser that I found a small rare plant. She asked, “What good is it?” A fair question from someone who couldn’t care less. Well, it was only discovered in 1991,” I said, hoping to elucidate, “so no research has been done yet to find its medicinal or food value.”

“Then what good is it?” she asked again. A fair question for someone like me who cares about rare and endangered plants and realizes she is one of a few who can or could understand.

So I went back to the place where I found the rare plant, a sedge. “OK, sedge,” I said, “Talk to me. Tell me what good you are.”

It gave me no mental insights, but it sure was cute. The tiny spikes were less than an inch long, in rows of two. While I was admiring its small form, a creature of the ground litter legged by, paused, turned its thick black head, and munched one of the spike’s seed-sacs, and moved on. Hmm, I thought, one point as food for an arthropod.

I was still looking at the plant when a swooping sound made me look at a bird that just snatched up the black leggy creature and flew up to a treetop. I could hear the “feed me, feed me” sounds of baby birds. Hmm, I thought, another point for being in a food chain of what-eats-what-eats-what.

I noticed its leaves grew in rows from the grassy tuft. I pulled on one, a rooted cord that I lifted from between other grassy plants. Hmm, I thought, it lives with other plants. If one dies, others cover the soil in its place.

A thunderclap overhead reminded me my time was limited. This area was known to flood from heavy rains and I wondered how the plants survived. Hmm, I remembered, some plants have enough air spaces in their underground stems and can survive for days underwater. That’s why they can survive on a floodplain as they hang on tight with intermeshed roots. That would help other plants “hang in there.” Plants don’t live in isolation, plants are part of an association. A little plant is just one part. It was good.

So, months later, I went back for another haircut. “I found a rare small plant.” And as before, she asked, “What good is it?” I would have liked to say I ate it and it was delicious, but I couldn’t. Or, it was pretty, and I picked it for a bouquet. No. So I said it was small, rare, and food for little creatures. “Well,” she said, “What good it that?”

So, I went back again to visit the plants. The seed-sacs were no longer there, eaten, I presumed, by birds and bugs. Only the leaves, dry and withering, were left on the tuft. As I sat and hoped it would talk to me, a bird hopped down and with quick jerking movements plucked some dried leaves and flew into the marsh. Hmm, I thought. That’s not the same bird I saw before, it’s some kind of wren.

I walked to the edge of the marsh and watched. Head up, head down, up and down, a perky sedge wren constructed a nest in the marsh in a clump of sedges. It wove the leaves in and out of the other leaves and made a domed roof over its nest. Hmm, I thought, nest and roof all in one. The bird sat on top of its nest and rested. Hmm, a nesting and resting place, I liked that.

A few months later, my hair needed another trim. “You know that rare plant I found?” I asked the hairdresser. “Yes,” she answered, did you ever find out what it was good for?”

“Well, yes,” I answered. “It was used to build the nest of a sedge wren. The plant was a sedge and has roughish leaves that cling together and hold the bird’s domed nest together in bad weather.” I showed her a photo that I took of the wee wren and its nest. “The bird is an artist like you,” I said, “but arranges sedge leaves instead of hair.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “That IS what it’s good for.”


Linda W. Curtis










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