Invasive Duo – Chinese Lanternfly and Tree of Heaven

Bright! Beautiful! Ominous!

As we walked across a New Jersey parking lot last summer an amazingly colorful, and new-to-us, insect fluttered in front of us. It had a gorgeous creamy white and bright red body covered with black spots.

Identifying it was easy and ominous. It was a Spotted Lanternfly. First found in Pennsylvania in 2014 it likely came to the United States from its native China as a hitchhiker in a crate or box.

It may be a pretty bug but its presence is ominous. It feeds on at least 172 different plant species and is spreading rapidly westward from its start close to the Atlantic Ocean.

Feeding off Another Invasive

What’s somewhat ironic about the lanternfly is the insect’s affinity for another Chinese invasive, the Tree of Heaven or Ailanthus. Although the inch-long insect will eat many different plants it prefers this highly aggressive and fast-growing tree.

Important Contact Information

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship is on the lookout for the Spotted Lanternfly. They ask anyone spotting one in Iowa to report it by calling:

l (515)725-1470 or logging onto their website at

How To Reduce the Invasion

A key to reducing this insect’s abundance may be reducing Ailanthus tree numbers. This invasive tree thrives in urban and rural areas, often forming large groves. It displaces native trees, has little commercial value, and now harbors an introduced insect pest.

Winding Pathways encourages anyone with an Ailanthus in their yard to remove it, convert it to firewood if you can, and replace it with a native tree species.  Remember, report any Spotted Lanternflies you spot.

Knot Just Lumber

Knot Just Lumber

Sign Knot Just Lumber

A local store

When driving through Hiawatha, Iowa, recently, a nondescript sign caught our eye. Posted on what looked like a warehouse the sign said, KNOT JUST LUMBER.  We had to check it out and soon entered the ultimate wood candy store.

Leaning upright were immense slabs of white and red oak, walnut, cherry, and mulberry destined to become gorgeous tables. Nearby were smaller boards of at least a dozen tree species. Most were cut from native Iowa trees, but some racks held exotic wood from foreign lands. Purpleheart caught our eyes. It comes from trees that grow in Central and South America. When first cut the wood is dull grayish but within a few days, it transforms into an eggplant purple color.


Local Connections

We returned to visit Nic Carter, who co-owns the store with his sister, Caris. The family is from Alburnett and Nic was an active 4-H member dabbling in woods making jewelry boxes for art shows. After stints as a woodworker and home builder Nic, and his family opened Knot Just Lumber in September 2022. He and his sister decided to open the store because, “The area has no local woodworking place, so, I started one here,” he explained.

His father and son help run this family-owned and operated business located just north of Cedar Rapids. We enjoyed an in-person tour, which is augmented by their website and includes a virtual walk-through.

Knot Just Lumber caters to hobbyists, commercial customers, and families. We have visited several times and enjoyed chatting with individual customers and couples, and watched kids touch and smell the smooth, fragrant wood. The company buys trees from wood brokers. Most originate from trees in southern Iowa. The company mills wood into various-sized boards and turning rounds, dries it in an onsite kiln, surface planes, and sands most boards.

Wood is Special

Wood is special. We’ve noticed that in many brand-new houses doors, window frames, and floors are crafted from composite materials and plastic.

Nothing seems natural. In contrast, our 1947-era house has floors of Douglas Fir and White Oak with our furniture crafted from solid oak, pine, walnut, and cedar. Different woods make our home feel closer to nature while gracing us with the individual vibrant colors, textures, and grain patterns of each species. The woods connect us to woodworkers, friends, and craftspeople from bygone and current eras.

Commercial Lumber

Commercial lumber is usually cut from the straightest and most uniform trees. Buy it from a large commercial outlet and it’s attractive and easy to work but lacks the character implanted in wood by knots and irregular growth. In contrast, every wood slab we saw at Knot Just Lumber showed the individuality and character of the tree that created it. “Some of the most interesting wood comes from trees that grew in urban areas where their branches spread widely. It helps give the wood wonderful character and beautiful grain,” said Nic.

Unfortunately, every year millions of trees, many growing in towns, are felled after they die. Beautiful wood inside the bark is frequently hauled to a landfill, ground into shavings, or cut for firewood. Knot Just Lumber converts old veteran trees into lumber destined to be crafted into furniture that endures for generations. The company even saves sawdust and compresses it into briquettes to feed a wood stove or campfire. We bought some and found that they work wonderfully. We appreciated Nic’s caution that they do burn hot, so we use them sparingly. We are excited to use them with our occasional campfires out back.

A Way to Add Character to a Room

The materials from our recent downstairs bathroom renovation are mostly manmade. That’s understandable, as the surfaces need to be easily cleaned and resist moisture. But the room needed the character of wood. So, we bought an oak board from Knot Just Lumber to cover a small area of plaster. It adds the warmth of nature to an otherwise utilitarian space.

Hidden Gems

Owner, Nic, with an epoxied slab ready to be an end table.

Fusing old and new technology.

Knot Just Lumber is a local store we found by accident. The staff consult, have working spaces and classes for customers and specialize in epoxy with the wood to create gorgeous pieces for homes. Their prices are reasonable, especially compared to national stores or online sources. Similar local stores are scattered across the country. Finding them can be tricky but hobbyist woodworkers know where they are and anyone can Google hardwood lumber and they might learn of a nearby place to buy gorgeous local wood.


One of our favorite resources to learn the diverse characteristics of dozens of different species of native and exotic woods is the book WOOD!  Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide, by Eric Meier.

What is a Magnet Oak?

Magnet bur oak

Magnet bur oak in front yard

We didn’t intend to create a magnet when we planted a skinny bur oak in our front yard 13 years ago.

It created a startling experience one October evening when Marion went to the porch to check the weather. A large furry form dropped from the nearby tree and scurried away in the gathering darkness. A woodchuck? Not likely. They work the day shift. Later we caught the mystery animal in the bean of a flashlight as it returned to the magnet tree. A husky raccoon that again retreated in haste when it saw us.

Over the next several days we watched squirrels and woodchucks forage on the acorns. At dusk bucks and does with yearlings eagerly, yet watchfully, gobbled up acorns. In between, turkeys wandered by to forage. Blue jays dropped out of the tree onto the ground and carried off husky acorns to store for winter.

Why Oaks Attract Wildlife

Our October oak was a perfect magnet. While most area oaks were acorn-bare, our youthful front yard tree was loaded with them. They were huge, sweet, and free of the weevils that often consume acorns before exiting through tiny holes.

Blue jays, wild turkeys, woodchucks, raccoons, squirrels, and deer consider October acorns prime carbohydrate-loaded food. When few oaks, scattered around, bear a heavy crop, wild animals beeline to those loaded with nuts. That’s why our tree was a magnet drawing in a stream of wildlife until every acorn was consumed.

General Types of Oaks

White oak types have leaves with rounded lobes. These include white, bur, and swamp white oaks. Their big acorns are low in tannic acid and are a prized animal and human food. Most trees only bear a heavy crop every few years with acorns that sprout almost as soon as they hit the ground. If not eaten soon weevils find them.

Black oak types have leaves with pointed lobes. Their acorns are loaded with bitter tannin. Often wild animals only feast on them after nearby sweeter white oak-type acorns have all been eaten. Black oak-type acorns wait until next spring to sprout. Perhaps their tannic acid helps them remain uneaten until they sprout months after falling from the tree.

Optimal Places to Plant Oaks

When planted in an ideal location with full sun and rich soil, an oak will begin producing acorns when it’s seven to ten years old. Our front yard tree had a light crop the past few years, but when it reached its 13th year it was loaded with nuts. It was a true magnet that lured wildlife in from far and wide. We enjoyed watching many animals dine on acorns produced by a tree we planted.

Lewelling Quaker Museum

Always Something New To Learn

Although we’ve lived in Iowa for over 40 years, we never knew so much history crowded into a small town in the mid-1800s not long after settlement. Our visit to the Lewelling Quaker Museum in Salem, Iowa, brought us up to speed on history. The small museum tells a fascinating, little-known history that impacted people far beyond Iowa’s borders. They focus on three significant areas.


The Museum’s formal name is the Lewelling Quaker Museum. These peaceful people moved to the area during the decades prior to the Civil War. Among their many beliefs was a strong aversion to slavery. Neighboring Missouri settlers owned slaves just 20 miles south of Salem.

The Underground Railroad

Salem area Quakers, joined by others of various faiths, were a significant part of the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves move north to legal safety in Canada. In the museum, located in an old home, we were able to enter the tiny crawl space beneath the kitchen where slaves hid from slave catchers. The process must have been scary for both slaves and those who helped them. Captured slaves were returned to their owner for likely punishment and continued to live in bondage. Whites who helped risked arrest and incarceration. Yet, the Underground railroad persisted and helped many people gain freedom. 


The Lewelling Family were nursery people who cultivated and sold fruit trees. They developed several productive varieties of cherries and apples. In the early days of the Oregon Trail travel fever infected the Lewellings. They modified a wagon to hold tiny fruit tree slips and made the arduous trek over the Great Plains and mountains all the way to the Willamette Valley. Most of the baby trees survived the trip and were used to start the Pacific Northwest’s famed fruit industry. People enjoy different fruits and apple varieties to this day in part because of the families that carried the tiny fruit slips west.

Lewelling stone home from the side.

18″ thick walls.

The volunteer-operated Lewelling Quaker Museum is open for tours Sunday afternoons from 1-4 pm May through September and by appointment at other times and dates.  We found our visit fascinating and encourage others to go. Salem is located a few miles south of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in the SE corner of the state. For information check

Smokes Gets In Our Eyes!

Just what impact did the heavy wildfire smoke that blanketed vast regions of Canada and the United States have on plants?  We wondered. The news media warned of smoke’s impact on people and pets and cautioned us to stay indoors and limit physical activity. But what about plants?

For many June days smoke from Canadian fires settled over Winding Pathways and a vast area of North America. With the Western United States likely to ignite later in the summer, it’s time for Smokey Bear to get ready for more action these growing-season days.

Impact on Photovoltaics

We watched the real-time production monitor on our photovoltaic system during smokey days. It indicated that smoke was reducing our collector’s ability to turn solar energy into electricity. Was something similar happening with crops, trees, and lawns?

We turned to wildfire and smoke experts at our alma mater, the University of Idaho’s College of Natural Resources, for answers.

Blood red sun rising through smoke.

Smokes filters light.

Dr. Charles Goebel, Professor of Forest Ecosystem Restoration, explained, “Yes, smoke can impede photosynthesis. There is some research that indicates that short-term smoke exposure can reduce photosynthesis by as much as 50%. This is, in part, due to the reduced light intensity, destruction of chlorophyll, and reducing the flow of carbon dioxide through stomata.”  He added that lower levels of smoke can help plants by increasing the carbon dioxide level and diffusing the light that some plants use better than direct sunlight.

How Plants React to Smoke

Dr. Goebel added fascinating aspects about plants and smoke. “Plants can filter out some smoke particles but probably not enough to make much difference during heavy smoke events.  Smoke particles that settle to the ground may have some beneficial impact on plants. Smoke contains calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which are essential plant nutrients,” he added.

Wait…There Is More!

Sun peering through smoke.

Wildfires are common in the West.

Dr. Lena N. Kobziar, Associate Professor of Wildland Fire Science, added: “We know that fires emit microbes (fungi, bacteria, archaea) along with other gaseous and particulate matter. Smoke transmits these living microbes that can colonize damaged soil and begin to grow and multiply. This can help the soil,” she said.

Want to learn more?  Dr. Kobziar’s Fire Ecology Lab website has an enormous amount of current information on wildfires and their impact on forests and people.

The University of Idaho

 We’re Vandals……meaning graduates of the University of Idaho. Our immediate family earned four degrees there. We’ve joke that the “real” U of I is not in Iowa City but in Moscow, Idaho. The Vandals are its mascot.

We enjoyed our academic careers at the U of I.  Knowledge gained there helped our lives and careers and we humbly thank its faculty for continuing to answer our nature-related questions, like about smoke, years after graduation.

It’s a great institution. Take a look at the University of Idaho’s website. Go, Vandals!

Disappearing Ash Trees

Disappearing Ash Trees

Ash trees are fast disappearing from American forests and towns. It’s tragic.

There are several ash species, including white, green, blue, and black. A Chinese native insect, the Emerald Ash Borer, is killing them all quickly. It’s awful.

Years ago, Dutch Elm Disease cleared cities of American elms, and many homeowners and towns planted green and white ash trees to replace them. Ashes, in general, thrive in the woods and towns. They grow relatively quickly, resist storm damage, and are beautiful. They seemed like an ideal urban tree.

That was true until Emerald Ash Borers were found in Michigan in 2002, although they may have been around at least a decade earlier. Since then, the insect has spread like crazy, killing ashes radiating outward from Michigan.

They reached Iowa years later and have since killed most of the trees in Cedar Rapids, area woodlands, and many other towns.

Salvaging Ash trees

Rich salvages wood from a scrap pile of used pallets. Pallets are made from cheap wood, like cottonwood, poplar, and hackberry, but now he’s finding ones made of ash.

Loggers are salvaging dead and dying ash trees, and the wood is cheap, at least for now. Soon ash lumber will no longer exist.

A Versatile Wood

Sports fans will miss ash wood. It makes the best baseball bats and has been used for gymnastic bars.

Ash also is crafted into gorgeous furniture.

We lost our big ash tree in the August 2020 derecho, but it was already infested with borers with its days numbered. Sadly, we cut the tree up but gave it a second task. It harvested solar energy and used it to make wood. That wood is now being fed, piece by piece, into our woodstove. It’s keeping our home warm, but we’d rather have our tree.