Left by Leafhoppers

I’m a tolerant sort towards insects in the garden. Insects get a bad rap, but many are good guys-n-gals and fulfill important roles in the ecosystem. Other insects are meh–not necessarily anyone’s favorites, but not problematic, either. A very few insects are monsters and no gardener wants to see the beasts messing up their slice of paradise. I’ll squish aphids if they’re covering foliage but I don’t use insecticides at all. When I garden for vegetables (a rare thing these days), I’ll spray water on plants to knock off aphids or other sucking insects, but most of my veggie garden problems come from birds and squirrels; they like their veggies, too, one bite at a time.

Because I prefer native perennials and shrubs, as well as non-native plants who’ve proven their worth in the challenging conditions of Central Texas, I don’t have many malevolent insects wreaking havoc on beloved plants. That is until this spring.

Along with all the other weird things that 2021 has delivered to my garden, it’s finally also experienced damage due to some naughty bugs and the bad germs they carry and spread.

I love Purple Coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea. I don’t grow quite as many as I once did, due to shady conditions because these cheery aster plants are sun lovers! But I still have some and enjoy the beauty they bring to the garden.

Coneflowers are a favorite among the pollinators and frequently have one in attendance.

Grey Hairstreak, Strymon melinus nectaring on a Purple Coneflower

My native coneflowers bloom from April until July, turning crispy and dropping seed during the hot summer months. Once they’re tired and worn out, I prune the plants to their base foliage and await the fall bloom, which is less dramatic, but very welcome.

Recently, I was observing some pollinator action and taking photos of this charming group of coneflowers, when I noticed an oddity.

Some of my coneflower sported leafy green hats!

Other mini-leaves covered the whole of the central globe, hiding the bracts where coneflower seeds develop. Also, the lavender rays were weird, short and misshapen.

As I looked at groups of coneflowers in other parts of the garden, I found more crazy coneflowers. Some had no purple or pink to them, they were all green: green centers, green rays, and a few green, strangely shaped leaves. The diseased plants were all shorter than the healthy coneflowers.

This discovery of individual bizarre coneflowers rang a botanical bell for me, though I’d never seen this kind of growth before in my garden. I recognized (from some reading, sometime in the past) that the deformed coneflowers were victims of a disease process and recalled that it is one brought on by an insect.

As I researched the problem, I came across the term Aster Yellows, and remembered reading other gardeners who’d removed their aster plants (not necessarily coneflowers) because of this disease. Removing the diseased plant is the only recourse and those plants shouldn’t be placed in compost, but disguarded from the garden completely.

Leafhoppers are common in my garden and I would normally place them in the meh category of insects; they’re around, but don’t present much of a problem. It seems that leafhoppers survived our February snowpocalypse and in early spring, at least a few of those leafhoppers carrying a mycoplasma engaged in some munching on the emerging coneflower plants. The mycoplasma which causes the unusual growth is spread by the leafhoppers feeding on the plants. Fortunately, only a few individual plants were impacted. You can see one in this photo at the base of a gloriously healthy plant.

Coneflowers are in the Asteraceae or Aster family, but many kinds of plants are affected by this mycoplasma disease process. According to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, Texas Plant Disease Handbook, Aster Yellows impacts 300 different species of plants, from over 40 different families of plants.

I haven’t seen any more obvious problems with my remaining coneflowers (or any other plants), but it’s likely that next spring this issue may appear again. I’ll be quicker at diagnosing and removing the sick plants now that I’m aware that my garden could be hosting the insects and their germs.

Because of the devastating February freeze, a large shade tree died in my front garden and it will be removed in late fall. As well, my Red Oak trees in the back garden have also suffered some freeze damage; less foliage means more sun in my back garden. I’m sorry about the trees–trees are life giving entities–but more sun will mean more coneflowers in the garden. I just hope they’re all healthy next year and will continue to provide for food pollinators and joy for the gardener.

Coyote Cloudywing, Achalarus toxeus, resting on the rays of a Coneflower

May Flowers

Early spring blooms are a thing of the past, and summer, with its accompanying hot-tempered blooms, is knocking at the door.  May brings rains–typically our wettest month here in Central Texas, zone 8b–but also the warm breath of summer breezes.  With added humidity, summer’s sauna is about to begin.  Even so, the days are pleasant and blooms that love the heat will soon be stars of the garden.

Purple coneflowerEchinacea purpurea, are in their prime and open for pollinators to sip from and gardeners to delight in.  I spotted this Crab Spider waiting for a meal on an open coneflower bloom.  The honeybees are fond of coneflowers, but I imagine it was a fly, syrphid fly, or small native bee that the crab was hoping for.  Honeybees are a tad big for this little thing, though crab spiders are successful predators.

It skedaddled as I was shooting the photo.  Notice the bit of webbing attached to the central disk of the flower:  no doubt, some meal will become ensnared in that.

Sun shines in the sky, coneflowers sparkle in the garden.  

Little coneflowers, all in a row, though it’s not the straightest of rows.

 

Another late spring/early summer native that has hit its stride, is the perennial Heartleaf skullcapScuttelaria ovata.  The small, violet blue blooms are borne along flower spikes.  They complement the grey-green, fuzzy foliage.  

A step back reveals a contrast between the bright green foliage of a neighbor plant, Drummond’s ruellia, Ruellia drummondiana, and the subdued tinge of the Heartleaf’s foliage. The tiny blooms are charming accents.

In late autumn, Heartleaf skullcap emerges in drifts in my garden, filling spaces and buddying up to other perennials and evergreen plants.  It acts as an evergreen during winter, keeping the garden full and lush.  Once blooming commences in April, the summer perennials are up and running, preparing to take over the garden show.  Heartleaf skullcap pairs well with all the plants in my garden.

Heartleaf foliage is fetching and in a wide shot of the garden, they’re the primary attraction of the plant.  But the flowers are visible–dots of lavender blue setting off the foliage–and the bees, native and honey, take notice.  The blooms are popular among that crowd.

 

White flowers are refreshing and none more than those of YarrowAchillea millefolium. Feathery foliage pairs with these flat-topped clusters of tiny florets, just right for the smaller pollinators to work around.  On this day, at this time, a fly works the blooms.

I transplanted this group of yarrow last autumn from a different part of my garden.  They adjusted well and haven’t missed a beat in their blooming!

 

Red yuccaHesperaloe parviflora, a member of the Agave family, sends up graceful stalks in spring, loaded with salmon-n-butter blooms, to the delight of of hummingbirds, native bees, and butterflies. 

Oh yeah, this gardener loves Red yuccas, too!

The stalks grow 4-5 feet tall, seemingly overnight, emerging in March/early April from an evergreen base of succulent-like leaves.  The flowers that blossom along the stalk strut their blooming stuff all summer and through autumn, making this plant a must-have for gardeners, especially those who plant for pollinators.

Do you see the webbing toward the top of this bloom stalk?  Looks like our friend the crab spider (or one of its friends) set up shop for a go-to meal.   I prefer not to witness an entangle bee or butterfly, but that’s part of a balanced garden life.

On another, shorter bloom stalk of a different individual Red yucca, the stalk divided itself into three distinct sections, each allowing for the open blooms to face a different direction.

Soon, I expect that the hummingbirds will find these luscious blooms.  I’ll enjoy observing their meals and the territorial battles that will ensue. 

 

May blooms: no longer quite spring, but also, not yet summer.   May is a nice bridge of blooming from cool season flowers to hot Texas summer blooms.

Joining with Carol in celebration of all things blooming, please pop over to her May Dreams Garden to see blooms from many places for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. 

Winter(?) Blooms

While it flies in the face of garden normalcy, it’s been a good winter for many of the flowering perennials in my garden.  Few plants were sent deep into dormancy, so flowering florals have been a constant.

This cheery cool season bloomer has brightened the edge of a garden for months.  Four-nerve DaisyTetraneuris scaposa, is a tidy little thing.  Evergreen slender leaves serve as a base for sprightly yellow daisies.  Even after a hard freeze, this is a typical winter bloomer.

 

Owing to the mild winter, there are a couple of Purple coneflowerEchinacea purpurea, eager for spring to begin.  Interestingly, the established plants, some of which are years old, haven’t bloomed up yet.

This group volunteered themselves for a pathway decoration.   I’ll leave them be–who am I to yank them up when they’re so charming?

 

Another beneficiary of our lack of freezes this winter are the Tropical sageSalvia coccinea.  This particular one is red, but the white ones have bloomed all winter too.  They’re a little lanky now, but I’m still enjoying the accents of red, so they’ll remain until the new growth catches up with the old-growth blooms.

 

A cousin of the S. coccinea is this salmon-colored Autumn sageSalvia greggi.  It’s not a bountiful bloomer, but only because it grows in too much shade.  Still, the blooms are beginning and will grace the garden for the next couple of months, taking a break during our hot summer, resuming flowering in fall.

 

Another “victim” of the mild winter is the Mexican honeysuckleJusticia spicigera.  This is a funny plant as it doesn’t have a specific bloom time. In mild winters like the one this year, it blooms all winter, well into spring.  In a “normal” winter (whatever that is), it’ll be knocked to the ground, requiring several months to flush out before flowering ensues.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these winter-orange blooms and so have the honeybees.  Most of the native bees are dormant for now.

Mexican honeysuckle is also a great plant for part shade–yay for me as I have plenty of that!

 

My two red roses have produced luscious blooms all winter, non-stop.  This, the Martha Gonzales rose,

…and its botanical doppelgänger, the Old Gay Hill rose.  Easy to grow, disease-free, and gorgeous against the blue Texas sky, both roses are head-turners.  I’m not going to prune them just yet, against common gardening wisdom;  there will be time later for that.

 

In the last week or so, the Southern dewberry, Rubus trivialis has burst out in blooms.

The sweet, snowy flowers attract skippers and honeybees, and dot the back of the garden, clambering up a fence and creeping along the ground.

The buds are a pure pink, so provides a bit of a color two-fer.  Alas, it’s more than likely that the birds will pick off the berries before I get to them.

 

I finally found the one spot in my garden for Desert mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua.  Native to regions west of Texas, this lovely requires full sun and excellent drainage.  It’s a high elevation shrub, but the best I could do was pop it into a raised bed.  I love it, blooms or not, and the tangerine flowers paired with that grey-green ruffle of foliage is a winning combination.

The native Blue Orchard bees, recently awakened from their own year-long dormancy, have enjoyed the pollen provided by this mallow.

 

A passalong plant,  Giant spiderwort, Tradescantia gigantea, delivers blasts of purple for this gardener and loads of nectar and pollen for the pollinators.  Honeybees are in a frenzy gathering the pollen as they gear up for spring.

I have quite a few clumps of this spiderwort and they seed out prolifically.  They’re easily pulled up and tossed into the compost, or even better, gifted to unsuspecting gardeners.

I like that the insect (a fly or native bee?) is also interested in the plant.  I wonder if he/she is responsible for the hole in the leaf?

Purple power rules the garden with these spring pretties.

Most of these perennials and shrubs bloom at least some during a colder winter, but this year, that floral show has been richer.  Of course, as we enter March, the month of spring, an overnight light freeze or two is predicted in the next few days.

Typical.

The native plants will be fine, the irises, reaching to the sky and starting their blooms, might be damaged.  Time–and actual temperature–will tell.  Regardless, spring is now knocking at the garden gate and winter is mostly done.

How has your winter garden fared?