Almanack Contributor Paul Hetzler

Paul Hetzler

A Canton, NY-based arborist, educator and writer, Paul Hetzler had intended to be a bear when he grew up, but failed the audition. He settled for an educator position instead, and serves as Horticulture and Natural Resources Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

His work has appeared in the medical journal The Lancet, as well as Highlights for Children Magazine. He is the author of Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World.

You can reach Paul at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Canton at (315) 379-9192.


Saturday, July 20, 2019

Locals Beat Lily Leaf Beetle

Scarlet or red lily beetle courtesy wikimedia user CharlesjsharpThe lily, native around the world in the temperate parts of the northern hemisphere, has been an important cultural icon for millennia. Depending where you stand on the globe, it can represent humility, purity, unbridled sexuality, the Province of Québec, wealth, or a thriving garden, to name but a few possibilities.

The flower is mentioned in The New Testament, such as in Matthew 6:26: “Behold the lilies of the field: They toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” The message, as I understand it, is that one should not waste energy worrying how to clothe oneself, because even wild lilies are garbed well. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Oak Wilt And Invasive Species Vigilance

leaf and whole tree symptoms of oak wilt in a red oak tree It’s hard to be cheerful in a job where I am expected to keep up on each newly arrived or imminent threat from invasive insects, novel plant diseases, and worrisome trends in the environment. Although I typically deflate everyone’s happy-bubble when I give a talk, I’ve discovered we need not fret that the sky is going to fall.

The National Atmospheric Deposition Program (NADP) is a joint effort of research institutions, government agencies and nonprofit groups; their mission is to monitor stuff which falls to Earth that is not some form of water. Since one of the NADP’s tasks is to study tiny particles of pollutants in the air, they will certainly notice if the sky starts to fall, and give us ample time to take cover. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, June 30, 2019

Rare Plants Inhabit Adirondack Ice Meadows

Now that the weather has finally warmed up, we can appreciate ice a little more. Among other things, ice greatly improves summertime drinks, and an icy watermelon is hands-down better than a warm one. And in this part of the world, ice also provides us with unique wildflower meadows.

Along stretches of riverbank in the Southern Adirondacks, rare Arctic-type flowers are blooming now in the fragile slices of native grasslands that are meticulously groomed each year by the scouring action of ice and melt-water. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Short History of the Tire Dump

Assorted new automotive road tiresOne of the mantras for waste reduction and energy efficiency is the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” slogan, which indicates the order of preference for resource conservation: It’s best to use fewer things in the first place, but once you got ‘em you may as well reuse them. In the end, though, it’s better they get recycled than chucked in a landfill. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Welcome Infestations: Dragonflies and Damselflies

dragonfly anatomy courtesy Wikimedia user M A BroussardIt is not too often one hears about a good-news infestation. I’d like to come across a bulletin on a new invasive money-tree that was poised to spread through the region. Granted it would produce in foreign currency, but we could make peace with that situation, I imagine.

A money-tree invasion is unlikely, but some areas will soon be overrun by hordes of insects programmed to eat black flies, mosquitoes and deer flies. Dragonflies and damselflies, carnivorous insects in the order Odonata, date back more than 300 million years. Both kinds of insects are beneficial in that they eat plenty of nasties. Of the estimated 6,000 Odonata species on Earth, about 200 have been identified in our part of the globe. I’ve been told it’s good fortune if one lands on you, but the luck is probably that they terrify biting insects. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How Flood Waters Impact Trees

floodplain of the Lynches River in South CarolinaAs a teenager, my son had a saying, whether original or borrowed I don’t know (the saying, that is), which went something like “All things in moderation. Especially moderation.” It would seem Mother Nature took that to heart, and dispensed with moderate rainfall and snow melt this spring. If not her, then maybe it was Creepy Uncle Climate Change. At any rate, the resultant flooding has been heartbreaking to observe.

While I am of course sensitive to the anguish of those people affected by the record-high waters, as an arborist I cannot help but think about the suffering trees as well. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, May 5, 2019

A New Tick in Town

female longhorned tick Black flies bite, but ticks really suck. Enough complaining – that never helps.

After such a long winter, we are all grateful that spring has finally sprung, even though the price of warm weather seems to be the advent of biting insects. Swarms of mosquitoes can drain the fun from an evening on the deck, but a single black-legged or deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) can take the shine off an entire summer if it infects you with Lyme disease and/or another serious illness. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Paul Hetzler: Mountains of Molehills

mole hills in a pasture Just as we began to doubt the existence of soil, snow began to give way in early April to reveal, well in many cases, a brown mess. As backyard glaciers recede, some homeowners may find an outbreak of mole-volcanoes in the lawn as if an army of subterranean rodents spent the winter detonating explosives.

The star-nosed mole and the hairy-tail mole are the two species that live in our area, and as their soil mounds indicate, they’re active all winter. If they’ve turned your once-flat lawn into a relief map of the Badlands, don’t panic – it’s not as bad as it seems. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Race to the Bottom: Water Bears and Moss Piglets

water bear under microscopePint-size pets were practical, once upon a time. A hunter using a wolf-like dog to ferret out game would bring home less bacon than one who used a terrier for the same tracking services.

Presumably, small hunting dogs mating with dust-mops is what gave rise to Shih Tzus and other foofy mini-dogs, which sadly are no longer in high demand now that Roombas can do the same job for cheaper. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, March 31, 2019

Paul Hetzler: Let Them Eat Trees

Nearly all historians agree Marie Antoinette probably never coined the phrase “let them eat cake,” a saying already in popular culture before her time. The saying was ascribed to her by opponents to bolster her reputation as a callous and arrogant aristocrat. She would have seemed far more benevolent if she had said “let them eat trees.”

From remote villages to five-star urban restaurants, people around the world consume all manner of delectable dishes featuring second-hand wood. Although that is not generally how it is featured on the menu. Mushrooms such as inky cap, oyster and shiitake have a voracious appetite for wood, a substance that very few organisms eat because it is so hard to digest. Anyone who has tried to dine on lumber can attest to that. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Understanding This Winter’s Polar Vortex

A strong polar vortex configuration in November 2013I’d love to explain exactly what a polar vortex is, but I’ll spare you the details, mainly because I don’t know them.

Apparently, the definition of a polar vortex has been changed by the American Meteorological Society three times in the last 20 years — even the experts are still trying to nail down what it is. Besides freaking cold, I mean. » Continue Reading.


Monday, February 4, 2019

Paul Hetzler: Playing Your Brains Out

common ravensBody-surfing monster waves in Australia; snowboarding down rooftops in Alaska on improvised boards; tobogganing into deliberate pileups at the bottom of steep hills — the range of unsupervised play that youngsters can get into is jaw-dropping. That’s not to mention the dangerous romping and horseplay, as well as rude games like spit-soccer in the pool. Honestly, they are such animals.

Biologists have long pondered why so many animal species evolved to play, occasionally at their peril. And to some extent, they are still wondering. Juvenile play in primates such as humans and apes is well-documented, and other mammals such as dogs and cats clearly play as well, but it turns out a surprising array of animals engage in frivolous games. » Continue Reading.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Paul Hetzler: Please Don’t Hum Along

frequency range of human voicesIn the ninth grade I was in chorus for a few months until the instructor offered me an “A” for the rest of the year if I dropped her class. True story. You would think a guy who likes music but can’t sing would at least enjoy humming, but that depends. Research has shown that humming can cause anxiety, depression, insomnia, and in some cases, ghosts. Also true — though of course I left out a few details there.

Humming to a song because you don’t know (or can’t sing) the words is harmless, unless maybe it is incessant and happens to irritate your co-workers. But many industrial processes like blast furnaces, cooling towers, and giant compressors and vacuum pumps can emit low-frequency or infrasound hums able to travel tens of miles. Because human-caused hums have unusually long wavelengths — in some cases more than a mile — the hum can travel easily over mountains and through buildings. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Minimizing Salt Injury to Trees and Shrubs

Every winter brings its annual a-salt on roads and walkways. In icy conditions, salt may be necessary for safety, but too much of it is worse than a bad pun. Cars, equipment, and concrete suffer in obvious ways, but damage to trees and other woody plants is less visible. Salt injures trees and shrubs by several means.

When road-salt spray hits twigs, buds and, in the case of evergreens, foliage, such direct contact causes yellowing of needles, and subsequent death of evergreen twigs and limbs. It also leads to stunted or deformed growth, such as witches’ brooms, on hardwoods. Severe or repeated direct exposure, especially for sensitive species like white pine or cedar, can kill the whole tree. » Continue Reading.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Paul Hetzler: Dreaming Of A Local Christmas

Even Santa Claus himself cannot grant a wish for a white Christmas — it is a coin toss whether the holiday will be snow-covered or green this year. A verdant landscape is not our Christmas ideal, but we can keep more greenbacks in the hands of local people, and keep our Christmas trees and other accents fresh and green for longer, when we buy local trees and wreaths.

Not only are Christmas trees a renewable resource, they boost the regional economy. Even if you don’t have the time to cut your own at a tree farm, do yourself a favor this year and purchase a natural tree from a local vendor. She or he can help you choose the best kind for your preference, and also let you know how fresh they are. Some trees at large retail outlets are cut weeks, if not months, before they show up at stores. » Continue Reading.