Wings

Wings are things year-round in my garden. Even in winter, there are, minimally, honeybees and Red Admiral butterflies zooming and flitting during those shorter days. But late summer and into autumn, winged insects are a constant source of activity, adding an “experientially rich” dynamic that is always present in a garden, but heightened in the latter months of the growing season.

As the days grow noticeably shorter (though not cooler) I’ve been out and about in the garden, and some of those times, remembered to bring the camera along.

The Southern Pink Moths are familiar in the garden, very often resting on plants in the salvia genus like this White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.

Southern Pink Moth, Pyrausta inornatalis

It’s nearly always sometime in July that I spy my first Bumble bees in the garden. They zoom in, buzzing like miniature planes, intent on working a set of blooms before departing for new territory and fresh flowers. This one worked the blue blooms of Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ for several minutes. The bee was never still enough for me to capture a good shot, but it did its pollination duty, its proboscis stuck deep in the bloom for maximum slurping.

American Bumble Bee, Bombus pennsylvanicus

Zexmenia, Wedelia texana, is a pollinator magnet and attracts a wide variety of native flies and bees. This bee is probably a bee in the “hairy legged” category like a minor or digger bee. My best guess is that it’s a longhorn bee, but in this photo that’s hard to confirm, as its antennae are hidden, bee head buried deep in the bloom.

Native Apidae bee

There’s a whole crew of yellow and white butterflies that become very active in July and downright ubiquitous in the following months and they are all fast flyers. This Little Yellow cooperated with me while dining on another Zexmenia bloom. Have I mentioned that Zexmenia flowers are pollinator favorites?

Little Yellow, Pyrisitia lisa

Late summer is also when the hummingbirds are most active. Males, females, and juveniles are ramping up for migration southward and feeding on the abundance of flowering plants. This cutey fussed at me as I bumbled around, initially unaware that she was feeding nearby. She dashed to a branch and scolded me; I snapped a few shots. After moving to a more remote spot, I waited until she’d rested and felt comfortable enough to return to the Turk’s cap that she’d been feeding on before I rudely disturbed her.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris

The Monarchs are coming through! It seems like the migration is early, but I welcome visits from these iconic butterflies. Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, is a preferred source of nectar for many butterflies and bloom in time for the autumn Monarch migration.

Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus

Not pollinators, but predators, damsel and dragon flies got a late start this year, probably due to the winter storm in February. They’re everywhere now! A number of species visit my garden, mostly, though not exclusively, hanging around the pond. Their flight patterns are similar to those of bees rather than butterflies: less flitting, more zooming. They also rest for periods, like this one perched on a leaf of Pickerel Rush, Pontederia cordata.

Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis

And this one, sitting pretty atop unopened blooms of Texas craglily, Echeandia texensis.

A Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, nectars on a Gregg’s mistflower–just like its cousin the Monarch. I have Queens in my gardens on and off throughout the year. Smaller and more polka-dotty than Monarch, they do look similar enough that they’re often confused with Monarchs.

Queen Butterfly, Danaus gilippus

Another winged summer thing is the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. A colorful butterfly–cheery orange with white and black spots–this is a bright adornment in the garden. These feed on a variety of flowers, though I think this one had hatched from its chrysalis shortly before I found it on the spent blooms of a Lyre-leaf sage. The green in the background of this photo is the host plant for Gulf Fritillaries, passionflower vine, specifically Passiflora incarnata. This particular vine grows messily in a pebbled negative space with a surrounding garden. I leave the “weeds” in the space because…butterflies!!

Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae

I do have one “official” passionflower vine, purposely planted and growing on a trellis–a set of three seedling Passiflora caerulea which I transplanted a few weeks before the snow/ice storm in February. The seedlings weathered the storm, grew, and have produced several generations of fritillaries. Currently, those three vines are nought but stems, the foliage having been eaten away by ravenous caterpillars. I’m not worried about losing the plants; the vines should survive and with some autumn rain, flush out fully for further fritillaries.

While I was photographing the first fritillary, a butterfly buddy (also newly hatched?) joined in the fun, wings spread wide to dry–and maybe show off?

The Mexican orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana, attracts lots of bees and big swallowtail butterflies. As I watched, this Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, fed at the flowers, lumbered off, came back to the tree, flew off again–but returned to the luscious offering of the blooms.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio cresphontes

I grow White-veined pipevine, Aristilochia fimbriata, a lovely shade tolerant ground cover and a host plant for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Battus philenor. This year, there has been a bumper crop of butterflies, chrysalises seemingly attached everywhere in the back garden. I’ve been fortunate to observe a couple of these beauties as they emerged from their cocoon and entered the world as winged adults. Pipevine Swallowtails are fast flyers and, while I observe their nectaring everyday, I’ve been missing to opportunity for a photograph until I found this one enjoying a Basket flower, Centaurea americana, and had my camera ready to shoot.

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor

I’m fortunate to live in a place with a long growing season, so watching winged wonders is almost a year-round adventure. I hope you have some winged things in your garden, too! If not, maybe it’s time to get cracking and plant some nectar and host plants for butterflies and moths and a variety of blooming things for bees and hummingbirds.

22 thoughts on “Wings

  1. I loved seeing all your winged visitors, Tina, am and a bit envious you have such a great variety. I love that you grow host plants specifically for them, something I hope more gardeners start doing. It’s important work! 🙂

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  2. Great post Tina, loved seeing the variety you get several thousand miles away!
    Interesting you do not get Bumblebees ’till July, over here we see them from early spring or even earlier if there is a mild spell and several species are still busy pollinating.
    An up-date on the Mist flowers I planted. They have grown well, probably about 18″ tall now but no sign of flowers, perhaps it’s just not been warm or sunny enough for them? Everything else we have planted in our new (and rather small) beds have flourished. The best for pollinators are the several varieties of Salvias and Scabious.

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    • Thanks, Brian! I’d love to see bumbles earlier in the season! I suspect that living in a large city has something to do with the late arrivals and fewer bumbles (they’re not as common as some other native bees). Lots of cement and that’s not so great for ground nesting bees. 😦

      As for your mistflower, it’s generally a fall bloomer, but if it’s not getting enough sun, it’ll produce foliage, no flowers. Mine are just beginning their bloom time and it’ll last through November. Let me know if yours bloom up. Glad your flower beds are doing well!

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  3. I still haven’t encountered that glorious little Southern Pink Moth. I’d love to see one. Someday! The giant swallowtail is new to me, too. I’m going to have to spend a bit of time researching that one, lest I confuse it with another of the yellow swallowtails.

    I really enjoyed your photos of the Gulf Fritillaries. I think they’re among our prettiest, and they certainly are the ones I see most often. It was interesting that you mentioned an early Monarch migration. I said to someone (you?) that I’ve been seeing a lot of small yellow butterflies cruising through, and I do mean a lot. I wondered if their migration might have begun, too.

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    • I wonder if those pink moths are more Central Texas? I’ll have to look at their range again, but I thought they were fairly wide-spread. They are really cute!
      I’m with you on the fritillaries–so pretty! It’s funny, because in early summer, I’d yanked up the wayward passion vine that pops up in that area. Sometimes my neat-freak wins! Well, it showed me and popped right back! And I’m glad it did, as it’s now the main source of fritillary production! Just goes to show: don’t be too tidy in the garden!

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    • I’m surprised your plants haven’t’ rebounded. I’ve been astonished at flower production this year. I really thought it would be late fall or even next year before things came back in blooming form, but except for my poor Arizona ash tree, my garden hasn’t missed a beat because of the freeze.

      Those hummers, so fun to watch them chase one another!

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      • That’s too bad. Can you grow Turk’s cap? My parents in Corpus grew gorgeous giant Turk’s cap and while you’re area might be a bit wetter, I would imagine Turk’s might work for you. Hummers–and everyone else, it seems–love it!

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  4. Wonderful to see the insects enjoying your plants Tina and I especially enjoyed your butterflies! The Southern Pink Moth is pretty. I’m not familiar with the Queen butterfly (like Julia Roberts dress in Pretty Women).

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