Bloom Day, September 2014

September heralds a change from the blisteringly hot to the merely hot in Austin, Texas. This gardener welcomes that subtle, but fundamental change:  the shorter days, the approaching autumn cool and if we’re lucky, some rainy days ahead.  Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this lovely blogging meme celebrating all that flower.

It’s somewhat about the Ruellia this time of year in my gardens.  I grow both a native, Drummond’s Wild PetuniaRuellia drummondiana, like these cuties peeking out through foliage,

…and these that aren’t  quite so shy.

I also grow a well-behaved cultivar, the Katie’s Dwarf Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana, ‘Katie’s Dwarf’,  blossoming beautifully during the late summer and autumn months.

Additionally, a less mannerly variety, the Chi-Chi Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana ‘Chi-Chi’, makes its home in my gardens.  Here is it nicely co-mingling with the blooming and berrying PigeonberryRivina humilis,

…and flowering alone.

I love the first two Ruellia species and have a complicated relationship with the third.

The various Salvia in my gardens, like this red Autumn SageSalvia greggii,

…really strut their stuff in the fall. Flowers that appear on and off during our hot summer, the blossoms on these woody, native shrubs will consistently impress–both pollinators and gardeners, throughout our productive autumn months.

A different salvia, the white Tropical SageSalvia coccinea, was knocked back this past winter with our  late freezes,

…but are lush with snowy, bee-friendly blooms now and will bee that way until there is a killing frost.

Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, opens its Barbie Doll Pink blooms each morning, remaining open longer as the days get shorter.

Another perennial with pretty-in-pink blossoms, is the Purple Heart, Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’.

I grew up with Purple Heart rampant in my mother’s garden–I have warm memories of playing near stands of this naturalized ground cover with its dramatic purple foliage and charming blossoms.

Sweet Basil produces tiny flowers for pollinators,

… and the native, wildlife perennial, Lindheimer’s Senna, Senna lindheimeriana, blooms from August into September for the pollinators, then sets seeds for the birds later in fall.


I always forget that I planted these Red Spider Lily bulbs,  Lycoris radiata,

…. until they pop up, overnight it seems.

These are such gorgeous flowers! I don’t know why I can’t remember that the bulbs are in the ground, waiting for the first of the September rains, to grace the gardens with their exotic beauty. The strappy foliage (which emerges after blooming) disappears in the late winter/early spring.  The memory of those exquisite blossoms should stay with me, but I’m always surprised to welcome them again, each September.

Finally, a monarch butterfly is now visiting my gardens, sipping on his preferred blooms of the Tropical MilkweedAsclepias curassavica.

My heart lifted to see this North American beauty after all I’ve read about the very serious decline in the monarch butterfly population.

Go monarchs!

Here in Austin we enjoy a second, spectacular blooming season, beginning just about now.  Fall blooms abound and there’s more to come!  For today though, check out blooms from everywhere at May Dreams Gardens.


In my last post, I wrote about  the steep decline in the population of monarch butterflies.  I mentioned that I hadn’t seen any monarchs in my gardens here in Austin so far this September. Yesterday afternoon as I was in the garden planting more fennel and milkweed ahead of our first, bona fide autumn cool front with impending rain–there she was!

Flying fast and high, this lone monarch flitted onto the Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, which is ready and waiting, just for her–and any other interested Lepidoptera.

Only one monarch, but she made my heart sing!

I took photos.  Partly because I don’t know if there will soon be a time that there won’t be any monarchs to take photos of and also because I regretted not taking photos last spring when one monarch visit for a day or two.  I remember thinking at that time: There will be more–it’s that time of year.

With serious threats to the survival of this indigenous North American butterfly species, there is no guarantee that monarchs will visit my gardens in the future.  I sincerely hope that my generation’s children and grandchildren will see monarchs in their gardens.

Wishing you safe travels to Mexico and a good winter there, beautiful one.  And for many, many generations to follow you.

The Monarch

I’m not kidding, the monarch.

One. Just one.

During the monarchs’ (Danaus plexippus) spring 2014 migration from Mexico north to Canada, I spied only one monarch butterfly flitting in my gardens.  Do I subscribe to the canary-in-the-coal-mine scary scenario of doom-n-gloom as to why the monarch is rarer than it used to be? Or do I assume that the visitation of only one monarch, one particular spring, is just a fluke and it’ll never happen again?  That there will be plenty of monarchs, wafting their way through my gardens this autumn (now!) as they migrate through Texas on their way to their Mexican wintering grounds?

I know some Austin gardeners have already spotted monarchs in their gardens.

I have not.

The milkweed that grew in my gardens during the fall 2013 migration did not survive our chilly winter–I lost the last of my plants in the hard freeze in early March.   I couldn’t find any milkweed replacements during, what should have been, the spring monarch migration.  As it turned out, it didn’t matter.  There were no monarchs in my gardens, save that one.

About a month ago, I planted these five lovely specimens,

…of Tropical Milkweed,  Asclepias curassavica, in preparation for the onslaught of monarchs through Texas: primarily as a nectar source during the fall migration, hopefully as a larval food source in the spring migration.

The Tropical Milkweed is not native to Central Texas, but to southern North America into South America. Asclepias, or milkweed, are the host plants to the monarchs

Our native milkweed varieties are not easy to find in nurseries and can be fussy to grow.  If you want to know more about the milkweed choices for Central Texas, check out this great blog, Texas Butterfly Ranch, by Monika Maeckle.  She profiles beautifully the various milkweed species for this area.  Being a native plant enthusiast (though not a purist–I have plenty of non-natives happily ensconced in my gardens), I’ve always felt a little guilty about planting the Tropical Milkweed, rather than growing the true Texas native milkweed varieties.  However, Monika puts my uneasy shame at rest: she states that in her experience, the monarchs prefer the A. curassavica. She quotes Dr. Chip Taylor, founder of Monarch Watch, who suggests that Tropical Milkweed is the plant that monarchs evolved on.  That’s good enough for me!

There are in fact many different species of milkweed (Asclepias).  According to a blog post on there are 73 species of Asclepias native to the United States; I counted 46 species listed in the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s plant database.  Milkweed plants are short-lived perennials, difficult to propagate, and don’t necessarily seed out readily. When they do, they might produce many seeds, but it could be years before mature plants are ready for migrating/breeding monarchs and their munching caterpillars. Milkweed plants have “specialized requirements,” meaning that they’re hard to grow and therefore, vulnerable because of that.

That milkweed species are the hosts for the monarch butterfly means that monarchs require these plants for their survival.  Along its migration route, the monarch female lays her eggs on available milkweed leaves.  The eggs hatch and the voracious caterpillars eat the leaves of the milkweed plants.  And eat. And eat. They eat the leaves during the course of their caterpillar growth cycle.  After gorging on milkweed for just over a week, they morph into their transformational chrysalis and later emerge, as adult monarch butterflies with wings, prepared to continue their remarkable migration. There are several generations of monarchs participating in this migration, from Mexico to Canada and back again–all within a year. The first generation flies from the Mexican wintering grounds to Central Texas, where they eat, mate and lay eggs.  Those eggs hatch, eat milkweed leaves, transform to the adult butterfly, and continue migrating to the grasslands of the Midwest. Females lay more eggs, those eggs hatch, caterpillars eat the milkweed species available there, morph into adults and continue the migration to Canada and repeat the process there.  There are three to four generations through the summer, all requiring the milkweed host plants to continue the development of the next generation. The last leg of their life cycle, the migration south to Mexico, is important because even though the monarch isn’t breeding at that point, it is drinking nectar that will sustain it through its 2000-mile migration and its winter in Mexico.

Even without outside encroachment, the thriving of monarchs and their milkweed plant hosts, hangs, just a little, in the balance of everything working out, just right.

In the last 20 years, there has been a 90% decline of this iconic and beautiful insect, which is the butterfly that most of us know. Even if we don’t know the name of any other butterfly, we know the monarch.

Essentially, there are three main threats to the survival of this North American butterfly. The first is the rapid deforestation of the mountain forest habitats that the monarchs hang out (literally) in for the winter.  The Mexican government has stepped in to reduce illegal logging, but the damage is done and it will be hard to recover the forest habitat that provides cover and sanctuary for the monarchs.

The second is the occurrence of severe weather patterns, in Mexico, and all along the migration routes in the U.S., which deliver extreme cold and/or severe drought conditions hampering the growth of host plants or killing caterpillars or emerging butterflies. Obviously, if there is a wet and hard freeze in the mountains where the monarchs rest for winter, many will die.  And that has happened.  As well, if there are no milkweed plants for caterpillars or nectar producing flowers for adults along the migration routes because of drought or extreme freezes, there won’t be food sources for the totality of the butterfly life cycle–egg, larva, adult.  That has happened too.  The severe drought in Texas in these past couple of years is a good example of this problem.  Since the extreme drought of 2011 and the continuing moderate drought since,  there are fewer nectar sources to strengthen the adult monarchs on their way to Mexico for the winter. Scientists believe that whatever monarchs that made it to Mexico in the last couple of years, many probably weren’t strong enough to survive the winter there.

By far though, according to most sources, the chief reason that there is such a steep decline in monarch numbers has to do with the methods of agriculture production in the United States.  The monarchs’ migration and breeding path is along the grasslands of the central part of the U.S., the Midwest.   That is also where industrial agriculture is planting genetically modified crops, like corn and soybean, in huge, wide areas.  Those genetically modified crops are developed to resist the herbicide Roundup. Therefore, the use of Roundup has increased, because the agricultural crops can withstand the chemical used to kill unwanted plants/weeds.

You know, like “milk”weeds.

A herbicide is a chemical designed to “kill” plants. (Herb (plant) + cide (murder) = dead plant.)

Herbicides don’t discriminate.  The chemicals kill “weeds” that the agriculture business doesn’t want, but also kills any other plants, including milkweed and other pollinator plants that it comes in contact with.  Roundup kills plants–all emergent plants, except for those genetically modified to resist it.   It’s as simple as that.

So there we are.  Because of the overuse of a herbicide, there’s not enough milkweed to sustain the several generations of monarchs as they migrate, mate and lay eggs, chow on milkweed leaves, then become adult butterflies ready to continue their incredible migration, from Mexico to Canada and back again.

Not enough milkweed.  Or for that matter, any other flowering plants for other pollinators like bees and other butterflies.

Better living through chemistry?  Certainly not in this case.  Even Monsanto, who produces Roundup, is finally realizing there’s a problem, but considering that they produce the genetically modified seeds, as well as the Roundup, I’m left cold with their concern.

Conservation groups have recently filed a petition to list the monarch butterfly as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. To list the monarch as a threatened species will take time, continuing research, lots of data, and political will.  But the ball is rolling and there is hope. There are organizations, some listed below, but there are many more, that exist to educate about and promote for the survival of the monarch butterfly, as well as other species of pollinators, birds, and well, so many other critters in the natural world which are getting squeezed out of existence.

Please support them–both the organizations and the wildlife.

There are usually simple, effective, and organic remedies to address many garden problems caused by insect damage and diseases.  Please don’t purchase and use chemicals, like herbicides and pesticides, in your gardens: you’ll not only save money, but maybe a species or two.

Plant for pollinators, birds, and other wildlife–their survival depends upon us and the plants they like are pretty–you’ll like them too. I promise.  Wildlife appropriate plants are great to grow: they are very easy, don’t require as much water as traditional “landscape” plants, and are beautiful in the garden. I promise.

I haven’t seen a monarch yet and it’s about time for them to make their appearance as they migrate to Mexico.  My milkweed is planted, for the monarchs’ dining needs, and my gardens host many other blooming perennials as well.

This queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) enjoyed the milkweed,

…but there are no monarchs yet.


Check out these sites.  There are many other articles about this issue.

Requiem For A Rosemallow

A while ago, I wrote about a favorite plant in my gardens, the Lemon Rosemallow, Hibiscus calyphyllus.

The Rosemallow is still one of my favorite summer bloomers, but sadly, my original plant appears to be dying.  One-by-one, in this past month or so, the leaves have turned yellow and wilted.

Within two weeks of the first looking-like-it-needs-water symptoms,

…the entire branch, with leaves, has turned crispy and died.

Even as the stems die off, the remaining dwindling-in-number healthy stems have continued to produce blooms.  Such a stalwart, stoic little hibiscus.

I don’t know why the plant is dying–it may simply be that Rosemallow is not long-lived here in Central Texas. Rosemallow is not native, though it’s considered an appropriate landscape perennial for many places, including Central Texas.   It was one of the best bloomers during the hellish 2011 summer of record heat and drought and it returned vigorously after our hard winter this past year.  In between,  I’ve been impressed with this lovely, but tough perennial because of its graceful form and constant blooming, coupled with its ability to shrug off drought conditions.

I’m trimming off the afflicted stems as they die,

….and  have only three left stems left.  Those stems will be gone soon–I can see the necrosis of the leaves beginning.

I’m sorry that this plant is at the end of its days, but I’m philosophical about my gardens and the plants I grow, even when an adored plant dies:  it’s not the end of the world, there are way bigger problems than silly garden issues and the death of one plant is an opportunity to try something new.  Or not.  But I think in this case, as much as I’ve enjoyed the Rosemallow in that spot, I’m going with something different.

Just because.

A gardening friend is gifting to me some Garlic Chives, Allium tuberosum.  I know that Garlic Chives are aggressive in the garden, but bees relish the blossoms and that mitigates any negative issues I might have with the plants.  I’ll be a good  gardener parent and practice tough love;  I’ll  make sure that the Chives don’t get out of hand and annex more than their assigned garden spaces.

Remember that statement when I’m complaining in four years that the Garlic Chives are everywhere.

I planted a new Rosemallow earlier this summer in a different part of my gardens,

…and it’s doing well.  It’s grown, bloomed several times, and is filling out beautifully.  I’ll  let the idea of planting another Rosemallow somewhere else rumble around in my head for a while and maybe figure out another spot for some future planting date.

For now though, I’ll say a fond goodbye to a beloved perennial and its beautiful flowers.


Arid Climate Joy

For those who live in places where regular summer rain showers occur, it may seem silly to grab a camera and take photos of wet plants.

But for Central Texans, crawling through our last days of the dry, hot Texas summer, a pop-up thunderstorm is nothing short of miraculous.  Excitement builds as the dark clouds gather and the wind whooshes through the trees; thunder rolls…and then rain falls. Those first late summer/early autumn showers don’t do much more than wash the dust off, but rain drops on the foliage and blossoms of this Coral Vine, Antigonon leptopus,

…or the straps of this Soft-leaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia,

…elicit hope of softer days ahead.

Everyone is gratified and energized with rain.