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.

True Beauty

Passed on to me by my gardening buddy, TexasDeb, who blogs at the beautiful austinagrodolce, was this recent article from The New York Times concerning the importance of the home landscape as a  partial fix for the serious decline in natural habitat and the resulting calamity facing native flora and fauna in the United States.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/garden/at-plant-o-rama-in-brooklyn-the-message-was-that-beauty-is-no-longer-enough.html?action=click&contentCollection=N.Y. / Region&module=MostEmailed&version=Full®ion=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article#

 

The article is well worth a few minutes of reading, but I especially like this quote by speaker Douglas Tallamy, professor and chair of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware:

Landscape ecologists estimate that only 3 to 5 percent of the lower 48 states is undisturbed habitat for plants and animals. Farmland now covers more than half of the country. Most of the rest is taken up by suburban sprawl and about 40 million acres of lawns (“eight New Jerseys,” as Mr. Tallamy put it), along with highways, malls and growing cities. A world with half those lawns, he said, might have 20 million acres of habitat, or more than 13 national parks, including Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Adirondacks, if you added up the acreage.

Instead, thanks to vanishing habitats, Mr. Tallamy said, “We have 50 percent fewer birds than 40 years ago,” referring to results of yearly bird-banding studies that track those numbers. And some 230 species of North American birds are at risk of extinction, he added, citing the 2014 State of the Birds Report (stateofthebirds.org).

“But we can do something about this,” he said. “We can bring nature back to our yards.” 

We can indeed do something.  It is in virtually every homeowner’s ability to add native plants to the garden which provide sustenance and cover for native birds and insects.   Also, those native plants are lovely and require little effort.  Additionally, reducing or eliminating wasteful lawn will not only save water and lower maintenance, but will be less reliant upon harmful and expensive chemicals (fertilizers, herbicides) that many homeowners believe is necessary for “gardening.”

Start with a small garden of easy native flowers and shrubs, then expand as time and money allow.

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The paradigm of garden beauty is changing–join in and produce real, positive, and lasting environmental change.