San Antonio Express News
Sunday, July 31, 2005
The Harmless Wasp and The Thorny Beauty
Last week I was reminded of the movie, “The Green Mile,” which is about a huge, but gentle man who was falsely convicted of murdering two children just because he was trying to save their lives. Claude Townsend, the cactus and succulents expert for PLANTanswers.com (send all cactus and succulent questions directly to Claude at: firstname.lastname@example.org) telephoned that his business site at C&E Cactus & Things has been invaded by GIANT WASPS! I told Claude that these giant wasps are Cicada killers (Sphecius speciosus) and are related to mud daubers or dirt daubers on the wasp family tree. They average greater than one inch in length and are recognized by their amber colored wings and yellow/orange/black bodies. Cicada killers’ size leads one to believe that they are aggressive and dangerous. They are frequently seen zooming around just above the grass or soil and sometimes they are observed crashing into windows. These patrolling behaviors are exhibited by the male cicada killer. Males patrol territories for females and will chase other males away; hence the window crashing behavior when they see their reflection. Above all of this, male cicada killers do not possess a stinger and, therefore, cannot sting.
All of this educational information was obtained from a column written by Nathan Riggs and found at: http://bexar tx.tamu.edu/HomeHort/F1Column/2004Articles/AUG22.htm yet I could not convince Claude or his lady customers who were being dive-bombed by the GIANT WASPS that these creatures are not violent and are not dangerous. They had to die – and die within 12 hours – or his cactus sales would suffer. Such was the fate of the gentle giant on “The Green Mile.” I knew these wasps were innocent and harmless but their size, family reputation and constant patrolling made them a detriment to cactus sales.
There are two ways to deal with cicada killers. The first is a non chemical option that uses weed blocking landscape fabric to deter any further digging in the area. Unfortunately, if the area is already planted, it is difficult to put a weed-blocking fabric in place. So that means one must use the second option of applying a insecticidal dust. I told him to find the active tunnels and apply a small amount (one or two teaspoons) of any dust insecticide such as Orthene to the tunnel opening, but DO NOT close the tunnel. This will allow the cicada killer to track the dust into the tunnel. Sprays or granules will provide some benefit, but not as well as dust insecticides.
After Claude insisted I take part in the elimination of this gentle, wasp giant, I convinced him to make amends for this unnecessary killing by providing us with beautiful images and a description of one of the most beautiful succulents in the world-the Desert Rose. He agreed, so you can enjoy 25 spectacular images taken by Claude of this beautiful plant at: http://www.plantanswers.com/garden_columns.htm in the first column in the August section entitled: “The Harmless Wasp and the Thorny Beauty”.
The ‘Desert Rose’ (‘Mock Azalea’, ‘Impala Lily’, ‘Sabi Star’) originated in Eastern Africa to southern Arabia. It has a short stubby top with a large hour glass base, sometimes as large as 3 feet thick. This plant is noted for its natural bonsai look. Flowering of these plants begin when they are six inches tall. The flowers range in color from bright red to purple to white with many variations as seen in the images on PLANTanswers. These plants are only cold-hardy to 35 degrees F. so they will be killed in the winter without protection. Even extended periods of time when temperatures are below 45 degrees F. can cause damage to tender roots and small branches. During the winter, the plants should be kept above 50 degrees F.
As with most blooming plants, the ‘Desert Rose’ flowers best in a full sun exposure. Propagation of the plants is from cuttings or seeds. When watering potted plants, water often, keeping the soil damp in the major growing season. During the winter, keep the soil on the dry side, but never allow it to get completely dry. With that said, over-watering will kill the plant because it will get root rot. To keep the plant moist, but not too wet, use a well-draining cactus potting media.
This plant, like the Euphorbia, secrets a white, milky and usually poisonous latex sap which should be avoided when handling.
So there you have the story of The Harmless Wasp and the Thorny Beauty-the two which could not co-exist.
Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to www.plantanswers.com and our County Extension website at https://bexar-tx.tamu.edu.