Fatal Attraction

Sultry and steamy are the norm for July summer mornings in Austin, but the open blooms of Jimsonweed, Datura wrightii, deliver a dose of cooling bloom to the garden.

Large and glowing, Jimsonweed flowers open at night and close by mid-day.

These two petulantly refused to greet me as I trundled along the path for closer look and a breath of their intoxicating fragrance.

What is this?

A Green Lynx spider, Peucetia viridans rested on the creamy expanse, clutching what looked like a breakfast tidbit.  As I leaned in for a look, Ms Lynx skittered to the underside of the petal, prey in hand.   We briefly played photographer/spider hide-n-seek, but I succeeded in snagging a couple of photos of her–and her intended meal.

The wings of the victim are visible and I suspect the spider’s snack is some sort of small fly.

I didn’t figure out what she captured; it was probably a small bee, gnat, or fly, but she certainly wasn’t going to share with me, nor did she want to dine while I was loitering around her choice of dining establishment.

The spider proved lethal for its winged prey, but Jimsonweed (also known as Sacred Thorn Apple, Thorn Apple, Angel Trumpet, and Sacred Datura) has always been recognized for its toxic properties–all parts of this tough native are poisonous. Southwestern Native Americans utilized the narcotic qualities of Jimsonweed for religious ceremonies, but if prepared improperly (I don’t know what improperly means in this context), the dosage is fatal.

Reveling in the heat of arid summer, my one shrub blooms from July until September, typically with 5-10 flowers each week.  If Jimsonweed grows in full, blasting sun, the plant flowers more, and for a longer period of time.

I’ll need to pop out at night during the next set of blooms and perhaps I’ll observe a pollinating moth.  Until then, I’ll stick with coffee and some fruit for my breakfast and leave the spiders to their own meals.

May Flowers

I wish I could say that April showers brought my May flowers, but here in Austin, Texas (zone 8b), it was a dry April and so far, May is in fine copycat form as the dry late spring segues into summer. Nonetheless, there are plenty of blooms in the garden because I’m a lazy gardener and choose tough plants that withstand the tricky Texas conditions while delivering valuable and pretty blooms–a win for pollinators and a delight for the gardener.

A stunning set of blooms, the always dramatic, royal-blue Majestic sageSalvia guaranitica,  currently reigns in certain spots of the garden.

I expect this crew to be the last of the Majestic blooms for a while, as this perennial’s blooms enjoy our gentler months of spring and autumn and then temporarily abdicates blooming during the toasty summer months.

 

Brightening a front garden is a reliable spring and autumn bloomer, the low growing shrub, DamianitaChrysactinia mexicana.

Handsome evergreen and aromatic foliage, plus perky daisy flowers, equals floral sunshine.

 

This nice combo sits nearby and includes some of my favorite flowers: Purple coneflowersEchinacea purpurea and ZexmeniaWedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.

Both are superb pollinator plants and almost always have insect visitors in, around, or on the blooms.

 

Red yuccaHesperaloe parviflora, are now in full, salmon-and-yellow glory.

The flower stalks are 4-5 feet in height and bear multitudes of belled blooms during spring, summer, and through fall, nourishing insect and avian pollinators alike.

 

A spray of Heartleaf skullcapScutellaria ovata, dances in front of surrounding shrubs and grasses, its violet blooms a floral contrast to the other foliage-prominent perennials.

A closer look…

 

Nothing shouts summer!  like sunny sunflowers and this threesome nod approval for a fast track to the summer blooming season.

Some of this season’s sunflowers are already in seed production and the finches and sparrows are taking notice.

To enjoy more May blooming beauties, please pop over to Carol’s May Dreams Gardens and enjoy bloom-filled-blog posts celebrating blooming in May.

Spring Forward: Wildlife Wednesday, March 2017

Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, marked each first Wednesday of the month with the purpose of learning about and celebrating the diverse fauna with whom we share our world and gardens.  Fanciful or plain feathered birds, pollinators and their insect brethren of all stripes and dots, fluffy mammals, and scaly reptiles and amphibians bring our gardens to life.   Wildlife is intrinsic to the healthy operation of our environment, in both the macro of the wider world and the micro of our own garden plots.

All winter long and on a variety of plants, I’ve seen representatives of this handsome bug:

Sipping the bloom juices of Leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei)

Succinctly, this guy or gal is a Largus Bug, Largus succcinctus, and he is a true bug belonging to the Suborder Heteroptera and Family Largidae, also known as Bordered Plant Bugs.  I haven’t fretted at their mating on the entry board of the bee hives (well, if the bees don’t mind, who am I to judge??) or muddling about on stems and leaves:  I’m a live and let live sort of gardener–to a point.  Considering that these buggy sorts have been a constant presence this winter, I wonder if I should have administered, or will need to consider administering, a method of control.  If it proves necessary, I’ll probably opt for the soapy water bottle technique which entails picking off bugs and dropping them into a frothy concoction. I’ve heard of gardeners who hand vacuum for undesirable critters, cruising their garden spaces and vacuuming where necessary.  But my neighbors already think I’m a gardening oddity, so I’m likely stick to patrolling with a bug-death bath in hand.

Swim little bugs, swim!  (in basso) Bwahahahaha!

Last autumn, I’d observed and photographed some small black beetles on Frostweed and Turk’s cap which I couldn’t  identify; I wrote about them in my November Wildlife Wednesday post.  I now know that those beetles are an instar (phases of insect molt) of the Bordered Plant bugs.  These bugs have been in my garden for months and at some point, I might need to make a decision about their future endeavors as they crawl along plants and give the bees a peep show.  In a University of California ‘Green Blog’ article about these bugs, the author suggests that they don’t cause much damage and I haven’t observed any real problems like munched, crunched, or otherwise damaged flowers or foliage, but I’ll keep a keen eye on them, just in case.

This lovely bird resting on a utility cable behind my back garden is a Monk parakeet, and a member of one of several introduced colonies here in Austin.

I often see 2 or 3 fly over my house in spring–flashes of bright green against the blue Texas sky–screeching their screeches, but rarely do they land in or around my garden. Though not native to this area, they apparently haven’t displaced native fauna and aren’t considered a problem.  In spring they choose mates and build their nests high on utility poles and tree tops.

Green (Carolina) anolesAnolis carolinensis, are back!

I know, he’s not green and in fact, he never left.  Sightings of these tree-dwelling lizards are scarce during winter, but since spring sprung a few weeks early in February, I’ve spotted several. This guy isn’t green because he’s lounging on a wooden fence; he’s also giving me quite the stink-eye.   He skedaddled shortly after I took his photo; I’m sure we’ll see one another again.

Blue Orchard beesOsmia lignaria,  were the first native bees I observed this spring.

They’re mating:

Coupling,

RICOH IMAGING

…conscious uncoupling.

…and building their nests for their blue bee babies.

Blue orchard bees are important pollinators for commercial fruit growers, but are easy to attract to the home garden: they like to build their nest in holes.  Providing wood with drilled holes or bamboo pieces with ready-made holes is an easy way to  encourage these beauties to nest in and pollinate your garden.

My Blue Orchard bees also build their nests in the mortar of the outside of my house.

Like most Osmia bees, Blue Orchards are solitary in that they don’t build a hive or live communally.  However, they are comfortable building their nests alongside one another in a kind of condo/apartment living arrangement, if you will. The females mix plant pollen and nectar with their own saliva and then deposit the mixture for the larval food source in the brood chamber, where one egg per chamber is laid.  The mom bee then seals each one-egg brood chamber with mud, which is a combination of plant material and soil. Each female will lay 5-8 eggs, prepare and then seal the nest, and then, sadly, she dies.  The offspring created this year will emerge next year, ready to start the mating, pollinating, nesting cycle again.

Go Blue Orchard bees–see you again next spring!

No fruit trees in my garden, but the Blue Orchard bees thoroughly worked the blooms of Mountain laurel.

 

Another early bee who’s out-and-about-and-pollinating is this green metallic sweat bee working the blooms of a Dewberry bloom.

Identifying native bees is tricky (for me, that is).  My best guess is that this is an Augochloropsis metallica which is found in Central Texas.  I’ll see more of these, as well as many other native bees, during our long growing season.

 

Furry friends are also active as the weather warms.  This Eastern fox squirrelSciurus niger, played hide-n-seek with me one weekend afternoon.

Now you see me!

Now you don’t!

Scamper!

After his flirtation (no doubt attempting to distract me with charming antics), he landed where he intended: under the sunflower filled-n-spilled bird feeder for his share of seedy nosh.

In search of seeds.

 

Male Great-tailed GracklesQuiscalus mexicanus,  are in machismo, mating mode now. I wrote about a rather scraggly fellow last fall who had lost his tail in the annual molting rite common to many birds.  It’s entirely possible that this gorgeous avian hunk is the same bird as the seasonally sad specimen formerly profiled:

He is oh, so pretty as he bathes,

He’s downright sparkly.

…and preens in the tree.

What a poser!

Courting and posturing is underway and grackle exhibition will provide chuckles for this gardener and chicks for grackle moms to rear.

I continue to enjoy the visits from winter Texans, like this Yellow-rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata.  I  presume that they’re also enjoying their visits to my garden.

He positioned himself for a splash in the pond bog.  Various song birds rely on the winter-damaged limbs for  perching and because of that, I haven’t removed all of the limbs yet.

I will need to prune this Yellow bells, Tacoma stans, soon, but I can hold off a bit longer allowing the birds some cover and a safe place to observe their world.

Spring.  It’s here and preparing for the season’s work.  Birds-n-bees are active, pollinators are pollinating, and gardens are awakening to new possibilities and promise.

Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Whether your garden remains in winter’s deep, or is experiencing spring flush, or perhaps if you’re Down Under, ready for autumn, did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for March Wildlife Wednesday. Share photos and stories of your garden wildlife to promote and appreciate your region’s natural habitat and diversity. 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.

Happy wildlife gardening!