Catching the frit eater

Jane McGary
Thu, 22 Apr 2010 09:20:29 PDT
For the past two years my bulb collection has been ravaged by an 
animal that crops off the flowering stems of Fritillaria, 
Ornithogalum, Calochortus, and a few other genera, resulting in a 
loss of seed crops, not to mention extreme anger and frustration on 
the part of the gardener. I didn't know what was doing it. I 
suspected rabbits, which have invaded the frames and eaten the 
foliage of Crocus; but it seemed to me that rabbits would also eat 
the frit foliage, and this animal was ignoring nonflowering plants. I 
knew it wasn't mice, because the stems were bitten off higher than a 
mouse could reach when the stems extended above the netting with 
which I was trying to protect them. It wasn't deer, because it was 
happening when the frame lights were lowered. Gophers are rare here, 
and there was no sign of their excavations, nor were bulbs being dug 
up. I considered the mountain beaver (Oplodonta), a genus and indeed 
family endemic to the Pacific Northwest and present in my woods, but 
it's a big animal (about the size of a groundhog) that would have 
trampled plants as well as eating them.

Finally, yesterday evening, I spotted it: a chipmunk. I immediately 
baited and placed a live trap near where I had seen it exit the 
frame, and this morning it was there in the cage. Today it's going on 
a very long ride, and it won't have fun doing it, because I'm 
combining the chipmunk relocation with my collie's vet appointment, 
and Winnie the collie gets to stare at the little devil for a few miles.

I had begin to suspect chipmunks after noticing one biting the 
emerging foliage off a potted Japanese maple near the house. Possibly 
they are attracted to plant material that's unusually sweet in 
spring, and the nectar-rich liliaceous flowers and their succulent 
stems would qualify. Interestingly, they did not take some of the 
California Fritillaria species (section Liliorrhiza) or species in 
the Imperiales section (F. imperialis, F. eduardii, etc.); perhaps 
these contain some compound that is offensive to predators. Nor have 
they taken many tulips in the frame, though deer bite off the stems 
of those in the garden.

I'm told that chipmunks are not common in urban areas, but if you're 
seeing this kind of damage to flowering stems, watch for them. They 
are easy to trap in squirrel-size Havahart live traps baited with 
sunflower seeds (I stick the seeds to the trigger platform with 
honey). Because they're a native mammal I hesitate to kill them; I 
will have no such reservations once I move nearer the city and have 
to protect my bulbs from the introduced eastern gray squirrel, or 
worse yet from rats.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

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