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.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Near-Term Threats To Forest Health

spotted lantern flyIf you’re tired of hearing about new invasive forest pests, I’m right there with you. Seems they arrive at an ever-increasing pace, and the harm potential ratchets up with each newcomer. At this rate maybe we’ll get a wood-boring beetle whose larvae explode, which would put things in perspective. As distasteful as it is to peer at the cast of ugly new characters, it’s better to know what we’re up against.

Novel pests put everyone on a steep learning curve. For the species below, key questions remain unanswered, and some of what we “know” will undoubtedly be proven wrong. Still, it’s worth the effort to take stock of the near-term threats to our woodlands. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Give Guiltless Goldenrod A Break

common goldenrod and a pollinating Cerceris waspWhile most plants respond to the shorter days of late summer by starting to wind down their business for the season, goldenrod is a “short-day” plant, the kind that is stimulated to bloom by dwindling daylight. It’s a perennial in the aster family, and is widespread across North America. Continent-wide, we have something on the order of 130 species of goldenrod in the genus Solidago.

As one of the most abundant blooms of late summer and autumn, this native wildflower is for many pollinators, including numerous bee species, a vital source of nectar as well as of nutritious pollen. Unfortunately, this latter item has given goldenrod a black eye among many allergy sufferers. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Harmful Algae Blooms in Context

algal bloom on Lake Erie in 2009 courtesy NASANot only does it form the basis of the aquatic food web, algae can put a lid on bovine burps. It is also made into a substitute for fossil fuels, and is a heathy and tasty food supplement for humans.

But in late summer and early fall, some algae can spread toxins through freshwater lakes and rivers, posing a risk to people, pets, fish, and more. Be on the lookout in northern NY State this season for outbreaks of algae. » Continue Reading.


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.