A Cheer for Pollinators!

This week, June 18-24, marks National Pollinator Week, so proclaimed by the U. S. Senate in 2007.  The week’s educational activities focus on the importance of pollinators and on the pressing need to prevent further decline of this importance source of much of our food supply and their role in healthy ecosystems.  The devastating decline of pollinators is worldwide and bad– really bad–but today, I find it hard to post about pretty plants and home gardens while my own government is cruelly and nauseatingly separating families seeking a better life–which all of our own ancestors did–as they arrive at our southern border seeking asylum.

America is supposed to be better than this.

Clearly, we are not.  Please, please, if you are sickened by this current policy, contact your Senators, your Congress Representatives and the White House to express your outrage and to demand an immediate halt to these abhorrent family separations and offensive incarcerations of children.


The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone….
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto. 
-Pavel Friedmann, June 4, 1942, Theresienstadt concentration camp


The policy of criminalizing these families and setting them aside as “others” is a dangerous and slippery slope to be traveling upon and Americans should join together to end this abomination.

We should see butterflies–and bees, bats, moths, hummingbirds and a host of other critters–freely in our midst and forever, as they contribute their pollinating gifts to the world.  They might seem small and insignificant, but they are vital to our survival and deserve a place to exist and do their work.  Like people who are attempting to find a new home and contribute to our community, pollinators are part of the fabric of a healthy society.

In my garden work-horse pollinators are common and an integral part the garden.

Small leaf-cutter bee flying from bloom to bloom.

Possibly the same species of native bee, maybe a Melittidae or Striped Abdomen (oil-collecting bee), this one works diligently on a Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.


A Small Carpenter Bee, Ceratina spp. Apidae, enjoying the bounty of a Shrubby skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii.


Resting from the hard work of pollinating is this unknown butterfly.  I think it’s some sort of checkerspot, but I can’t positively identify.  Regardless, its beauty and form enhance the garden; its pollination work restores the Earth.


A diminutive Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, likes the petite blooms of an oregano.

Another fan of oregano is this Bordered Plant bug. Not well-known as a pollinator, it pollinates as it moves from bloom to bloom and plant to plant.


Ah, now there’s a pollinator we all know, the busy, buzzy Honeybee.


It’s rare that I get a decent shot of a hummingbird, but this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, complied with my photographic wishes while sipping from a Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora.  She’s a regular visitor to this plant, sharing the flowers with another female hummer.  Sharing, that is, when they aren’t chasing one another away from the plant!

It’s not a great shot, but check out her beak as she zoomed away from the flowers.  Is that yellow pollen coating her nose?


Another leaf-cutting bee, Megachile, rests on a leaf.  She’s got a load of pollen on her pollen pantaloons (my term!), also known as corbiculae (scientific term!), but I couldn’t tell if she was nibbling on the leaf.  Megachile bees pack their nests with leaf material mixed with soil and pollen.


Another native bee (Megachile?), works oregano blooms.

Oregano is a huge attractor of pollinating insects. I share my oregano with many kinds of pollinating insects.  Or, maybe it’s the other way around?

An autumn visitor and Mexican migrant, a Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectars from the flowers of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.  


Most of these insects require more than just pretty flowers to feed from.  This Black Swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, feeds fennel foliage.  It will feed until it’s ready to morph into the adult butterfly.  Yes, caterpillars of moths and butterflies munch on plants, but rarely do they munch to the plants’ deaths.  The key is to practice gardening patience and understand that munched foliage is often a sign of a vibrant ecosystem.

Aside from allowing larval insects to feed on foliage, what are other practices which encourage healthy pollinator gardens?  Well, avoiding the use of pesticides is an excellent beginning.  Instead, to limit insect damage, spritz unwanted critters from your plants with water.  Or, if you’re inclined, pick off beetles and slower bugs and pop them into soapy water.  It doesn’t take long to limit damage to the garden if you’re aware of who’s there and take action immediately.

Leave some part of your property a little bit messy.  Let leaves lie;  have some bare ground available for ground nesting bees and leave some wood out for those who prefer to raise their families in wood.  Build insect hotels; there are many plans available on the Internet and in gardening books and they’re easy to build.  Use native plants whenever and wherever you can!

If you plant ‘them’ or build ‘them’ or leave ‘it’ be–pollinators will come!

We have a beautiful country.  Let’s take care of it in all its varying forms.  Let’s encourage and work toward diversity in our natural landscapes and kindness and humanity in our human communities

Native Texans

In this post you won’t find any cowboy boots or hats, nor plates of barbecue and bowls of salsa, and certainly no funny, twangy accents, but you will see plenty of beauty and Texan toughness.  What is this you’ve stumbled across?  It’s an homage to Texas native plants and to the celebration thereof:  Texas Native Plant Week marked annually during the week of October 16-22.

Nectaring Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).  Twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) serves as a backdrop

Established to educate and encourage Texans to recognize and utilize our lovely, valuable native plants in personal and public gardens, many communities in Texas sponsor events promoting the use of native plants during this week of native plant love.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)


Native plants are valuable for many reasons:  they’re easy to grow and maintain, and require less irrigation; they feed and protect native fauna; they’re key to biological diversity, and vital for a healthy environment.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora)


Plants can be native to a wide geographical area–like the whole of North America–or specific to a small, confined eco-system–like the area in which you live.

Texas Craglily (Echeandia texensis)


Natives belong where you live, whether you’re in Texas or some other fabulous place.

Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)


Do we need to practice purity in our gardening aesthetics and utilize only natives in our gardens? Well, it would be nice if we planted all natives, all the time, but for many gardeners, that’s simply not possible because native plants aren’t always as commercially available as non-native plants.  And it’s true that there are many non-native, well-adapted plants which enrich our gardens and beautify our world; it’s perfectly fine to garden with both natives and non-natives.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) paired with non-native, potted Yucca filamentosa ‘Golden Sword’

But when you plant natives in your garden, you help define the place you live. What grows for me here in urban Austin, Texas doesn’t work–or may not fit–for gardeners in Chicago, Illinois,  Eugene, Oregon, or Bangor, Maine.  What grows here, doesn’t necessarily grow there; plant diversity makes the world go ’round.  All regions enjoy unique botanical flavor and that should be appreciated–and practiced–by those who’re driven to create gardens.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)


Plant natives in your garden for ease and practicality.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)


Plant natives to protect and nurture wildlife.

Migrating Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Turkscap


Plant natives for seasonal interest and to elicit a sense of place.

White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)


Especially in urban areas, the use of native plants helps restore wildlife habitat and regional character.

Migrating Monarch on Plateau goldeneye


Flowers in the city are like lipstick on a woman–it just makes you look better to have a little color.  Lady Bird Johnson

Plateau goldeneye


For more information about Texas Native Plant Week, check out these links:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Native Plants of Texas

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)


Today I’m also linking with Carol of May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Check out flowers from all over the world, honoring all things blooming–native or otherwise.

Wild blue aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

Wildlife Wednesday, May 2016: Plenty

It’s been an odd and distracted month for me and one where events out of my control took time away from following the plentiful goings-on of wildlife in the garden.  I won’t bore you with the details, but sometimes life really does get in the way of watching wildlife, photographing wildlife, and the blogging about it all.  Sheesh!

Ah well.   My various difficulties didn’t deter the nesting activities of a Horsefly-like Carpenter Bee,  Xylocopa tabaniformis, as she packed in material to nourish her young in a decaying log.


Nor did the big problems of the world (or the relatively small problems of mine) prevent this Syrphid, or Hover fly from pollinating a Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.


On a different Zexmenia flower, a Small carpenter bee, Ceratina, sp., went about her business, too.


Other native pollinators, like this Sweat beeAugochloropsis metallica, worked a Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea,


…while a Mason beeOsmia subfasciata, favored a Blackeyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima.



After pollination, this little bee is covered in pollen grains.

April has seen plenty of butterfly action, as well.  Texas Crescents, Anthanassa texana,      are flitting all over the garden, enjoying the bounty of flowers like the Zexmenia.




It seems that Zexmenia is a good plant for pollinators.

I don’t have a single photo of the few Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus who’ve wafted through my garden, but I do have photos of their offspring.


I love the book-ending mode of these two monarch cats.

Those few winged visitors managed to lay eggs and the 5 Monarchs  caterpillars that hatched devoured my Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica plants.   The cats completely obliterated the foliage, but I transferred 2 cats to a neighbor with milkweed-a-plenty to offer the voracious larvae.


This caterpillar lost his way and ended up on the strand of a Lindheimer’s muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri).


Peeking over the  edge, wondering where all the milkweed is, this cat landed on the underside of a culinary sage leaf.


I didn’t catch this Grey Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, nectaring on anything, but she did pose for me, opening and closing her wings coquettishly,





…while she lounged on Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala foliage.

I’ve allowed rogue Passion Vine, Passiflora incarnata to pop up here-n-there in my gardens because it’s the host plant for this pretty pollinator, the Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae.  Whether in its adult form,


…or its larval form,


… it’s a beautiful winged jewel and a great pollinator partner.

And yes, there were birds this month and plenty of them!  The Red-bellied Woodpecker, Melanerpes carolinus, remains a consistent, if not daily, visitor.



I’m not sure where this guy nests, though I’ll bet he has a family holed away somewhere nearby , because he’s always on the lookout for a full bird feeder.  There are plenty of older trees in my neighborhood, which, thankfully, the owners have kept rather than removing.  In many those trees are definite woodpecker holes and if the Starlings haven’t bullied the Woodpeckers away, one of those holes is where this handsome guy and his family reside.

I never was able to capture a clear photo of this sweet little thing, but I found the coloring and markings elegant.


He’s a Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii, and one of those birds that I noticed… because I’m noticing birds.  This species winters here in Central Texas, breeding far north into Canada during summer.  I don’t recall seeing any during winter,  but he bopped along the ground hunting and pecking for seeds this past month.

A fairly common visitor is the Red-winged Blackbird,  Agelaius phoeniceus.


I’ve only see a few individuals this year.

Aside from “my” Eastern Screech Owls–which I wrote about here and here, I’m most excited about sightings of a pair of Painted Buntings,  Passerina ciris in my garden.
The mature male Painted Bunting is a showstopper bird of the New World.



This guy knows he’s totally a gorgeous dude.

I love the description on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds page on Painted Buntings, specifically regarding the males’ coloring:  With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book.



Yeah, that’s about right.    One can’t miss this splash of feathered color as he flutters from one seed-bearing plant to another.  I’ve noticed that both the male and the female in my garden favor the seeds of the native-to-Texas Lyre-leaf Sage, Salvia lyrata.




Buddy, you’re really good-looking, but you might want to wipe your chin….

The female is not as flashy as her mate, but certainly fetching in her green and yellow swag.




Long ago there were a couple of consecutive years during spring migrations when small flocks of these gorgeous passerine birds visited my garden, each time for a few days. They nibbled on the seeds of a cool season non-native grass that sometimes appeared when I grew mostly grass, rather than a real garden.  I’m glad that I can now offer them  something nutritious, native, and not-grass on their migratory pathway.

One of a nesting pair of Carolina Wrens,Thryothorus ludovicianus,  posed for me the other evening as I was watching for owlets.


These charmers are a favorite bird of mine.  They seem playful and cheeky as they hop around the ground and pop through the shrubs, snatching up insects for themselves and their babies.  Carolina wrens have the loudest songs and calls–and for such a wee bird!  They are my usual wake-up call, singing just outside my bedroom window.  Loudly.  The couple in my garden have a nest somewhere nearby and are always singing and chittering.  After I took the above shot, this wren gleefully (or so it seemed to me) shook out his feathers.



And maybe next month, I’ll know what these are….


Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for May Wildlife Wednesday Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.