Butterfly Conclave

With the sun’s penchant for playing hide-n-seek in recent weeks, it’s been a slow-go for butterfly watching.  If it’s not vomiting rain, it’s cloudy, and neither scenario is conducive for butterfly activity.   But during the increasingly common moments of sunshine, the winged jewels are out and about, nectaring, mating and laying eggs–and posing for garden paparazzi.

This Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, enjoyed a treat at the flowers of my Mexican Orchid Tree.


Black Swallowtail,  Papilio polyxenes, like this gorgeous specimen,


…are common visitors.  I’ve invited them by having their host plant, fennel, in my gardens.  They lay their eggs on it for the hatched caterpillars to eat.  This adult  is nectaring on a Henry Duelberg Sage,  Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’. He fluttered still long enough for the wildlife gardener to snap a couple of shots.

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There was one, ONE, Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, who visited my gardens this spring, but she was a late-comer.IMGP7970.new

Given her good condition, I’m sure she was one that hatched from a parent who overwintered in Mexico, migrated north, mated, laid eggs and died here in Austin, or nearby.

IMGP7971_cropped_2170x2783..new I’m certain that she’s on her way north now, ready to continue the generations that will eventually summer in Canada, before the autumn migration south to Mexico.

In this post I’m going for the big, gorgeous, cheap-thrill butterflies that alight on flowers, remain relatively still and that anyone can take photos of.  There have been plenty fast-flying skippers and smaller butterflies/moths that I haven’t captured in digital form for posterity, but there are some nice shots of this little moth.IMGP8177.new

The Small Pink MothPyrausta inornatalis, is another regular in my garden and so pretty in its pink scales.

IMGP8178_cropped_2710x2728..new The generous rainfall and soft spring have encouraged an abundance of life in the garden and after years of moderate to severe drought here in Central Texas, that life is welcome.  I hope the insects in your garden are enjoying spring and playing their important pollinator roles–ensuring the balance that is challenged on so many fronts.

Mexican Orchid Tree Blooms–Finally!

The Mexican Orchid Tree (Bauhinia mexicana),  I planted as a tiny seedling in October 2010  bloomed recently.

Yeah, I think it was worth the wait.

A friend  gave me a 4 inch seedling while I was helping with her garden.  I knew a little about the plant and that the Mexican Orchid Tree grows well in shade, though it doesn’t get as  large, nor blooms as prolifically as in full sun.  I dutifully planted the seedling in a dappled shade spot and waited.

The seedling died back during winter.  I didn’t expect it to survive because of two very hard freezes and the seedling, while well-mulched, hadn’t much time to establish.  The Mexican Orchid Tree reemerged in late spring of 2011.  It survived the Summer from Hell (2011) and grew throughout last year, only to die to the ground again during  winter, 2012.

Planted in a shady spot, my Mexican Orchid Tree will never become a “tree” for me.  It’s  an open and airy shrub, with (for now) two main branches.  Planted  in a garden with Turk’s Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus), Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior), Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and assorted shade-tolerant plants,

it adds interesting foliage,

and lovely white blooms which brighten the shady area.

If planted in full sun, the Mexican Orchid Tree grows to 8-12 feet in height with a 6-8 foot spread. Reportedly deer resistant, it’s known as a great butterfly attracting plant, although.  I haven’t observed any butterflies on my blooms. I would consider it a xeric plant.  I haven’t  given any extra water other than the two times/month that is my norm and it’s grown well.

The flowers are beautiful,

and fragrant, too.

Here in Austin, the only two nurseries which regularly carry the Mexican Orchid Tree in stock are Barton Springs Nursery and The Natural Gardener.

Patience is a virtue (so I’m told) and I’m glad that I waited for this lovely addition to my garden.

I’ve Got A Crush On You

It’s Valentine’s Day and I’m gushing about my love for a red, red…tubular shaped flower which blooms on a Texas tough vine.

I’m aflutter over Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens).  A vine to please wildlife and people alike, this lovely and hardy plant is native to Texas, but is found in other parts of the United States.

The vine is generally evergreen in the Austin area, although can become thin in a very cold winter.  My experience is that the vine blooms mostly during springtime, but I’ve seen it bloom well into summer with rain and/or irrigation.  I’ve also seen occasional blooms in the fall and winter. With our mild winter this year, it’s blooming earlier than usual.

The leaves are rounded or oblong, with a point at the end and are paired and opposite from one another.

I find the new leaves attractive because of their rich bronze color and during the main bloom time, the combination of the bronze leaves and new blooms is especially beautiful.

The flowers are grouped in clusters and are red with yellow interiors.  So pretty!

In spring, the well-behaved climbing vine is loaded with these gorgeous clusters of blooms.

If the timing is right and there are hummingbirds around, they’ll be courting these flowers.  Coral Honeysuckle is an excellent wildlife plant.  It provides nectar (for hummers, bees and butterflies) and a fruit that many birds love.  I’ve had fruits develop on my vine, but they never remain long because the birds snatch them up as soon as they ripen.  The mature fruit is an iridescent coral color.   It’s a little too soon after the beginning of the bloom season for mature fruit, but there are some nascent fruits developing on my vine.

Coral Honeysuckle is also the larval host for the Spring Azure butterfly and the Snowberry Clearwing Moth.  (Check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center page on Coral Honeysuckle.)

As with many vines which bloom prolifically, Coral Honeysuckle blooms best in full sun, but it will bloom in part shade, but probably not deep shade.  I planted this one three years ago this month.

It grows moderately quickly–I stapled a large wire mesh to the fence to assist the vine with its climbing needs and away it went.  Coral Honeysuckle is beautiful planted over an arch as an entry to a garden space.  I clip off any dead undergrowth (or at least, I should…) and any errant branches.  As the new growth reaches skyward, I’ll bend the branches into the existing vine or I’ll prune them, depending upon whether there’s room for the vine to spread.

I don’t have any irrigation on this vine, so this past hot and dry year, I only watered it when I noticed it looking sad and dejected.  In fact, according to the The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, it’s a plant that doesn’t particularly like being in heavy or wet soils.  I’ve never experienced any disease or insect problems with the vine, but the ones I’ve grown or gardened around have all received full sun.

I’ll enjoy the luscious blooms of Coral Honeysuckle and appreciate its steadfast and reliable presence in my gardens.  It’s no wonder I have a crush on this plant.