A Surprise Basket

I like early mornings.  I need the time to myself, to wake up, to think about the day ahead, to breathe the outdoors. The light is soft and even in the warm, humid Texas summer, the morning walk through the garden is calming, refreshing.  I love the sunrise, the sparkle of light through the trees, casting shadows, then not, across the garden.  I replenish the bird feeders and baths and notice the changes in the garden.  I feed the fish in the pond.  This morning ritual doesn’t take much time and is a good way to face each day.

While my eyes are bleary, at least until the caffeine kicks in with its magic, I’m often surprised, and usually pleased, by the bits of news the garden has for me.  Recently, I was in my front garden and was flabbergasted when I spied a bit of pink underneath a Mexican Orchid tree, whose flowers are decidedly white.

What ho, you frilly, pinky thing!  The anemone-like flower was low to the ground, highlighted by the rising sun to its east.  Its plant companions, a Purple Heart,  Tradescantia pallida and a low branch from the Mexican Orchid tree,  Bauhinia mexicana, are there, always, but made room for this new resident.  It reached out, made sure I noticed–an American Basket flowerCentaurea americana

Some time ago, my blogging buddy, Shoreacres of the beautiful Lagniappe and the thoroughly charming, The Task at Hand, mailed some basket flower seeds to me, which I happily spread out in autumn of 2018–and then, completely forgot about.  I never assume the seeds would germinate (because seeds will, or won’t, and I go with the flow) and particularly not in this shadier, rather than sunnier, spot.  I’d spread the seeds in the same garden, but primarily in the part of the garden where the west sun bakes, figuring that the sun-loving annual would be content to grow there.  I recall having extra seeds and tossing out those extras in this area;  here we are, nearly two years later, a single American Basket flower in bloom.

I’m tickled pink.

Thistle-like in structure, its filaments are soft, not prickly.  American Basket flowers are native to Texas and a number of other states, typically growing in prairie-type settings.  I checked that day and for the next few days, for interested pollinators.  I never saw any, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t visit, only that I didn’t see. Basket flowers attract butterflies and native bees and I hope that some found this specimen, though it was so low to the ground.  I would love for some pollination to have happened, so that I enjoy another surprise again next summer.

I’ll have to wait and that’s okay.  The basket flower find reinforces the commitment to my early morning strolls and especially, to the connections that gardeners and plant lovers share.   

With grateful appreciation for the many knowledgeable garden/nature bloggers who share their seeds (thanks, Linda!), tell stories, and express their love of the natural world.  Today, I’m linking with Anna and her lovely Flutter and Hum and Wednesday Vignette. 

They Have Arrived

They’re back.  The Monarch butterflies, Danaus plexippus, are now wafting through Central Texas, orange and black wings gracefully flit against the Texas sun before alighting at blooming plants for nourishment, sustaining their long flight, continuing their annual life cycle.

Like so many of us, Monarchs face an uncertain future:  climate change, deforestation in Mexico, overuse of pesticides and herbicides in urban gardening and commercial farming in the United States are just some of the challenges to a viable population of these insects.

I am joyful at the first Monarch sighting in spring and then again, in autumn.  Currently, my garden offers a diversity of flowering plants–native and nonnative–in which the butterflies nectar from before they move southward toward their winter home.  In autumn, it’s all about providing blooming flowers for these hungry, hungry butterflies.

In spring, the availability of milkweed (Monarchs’ host plant) is paramount for the hungry, hungry caterpillars.

Female Monarch on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

This generation of adults are those last born in the northern parts of the United States and Canada and are now headed to Mexico.

Female Monarch on Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

Once these remarkable insects arrive at their destination, they will gather in dramatic clusters by the millions, high up in the Oyamel fir forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. The unique situation offers cold temperatures and high humidity during the winter–the evolved perfect environment for Monarchs’ winter rest.

Male Monarch on Frostweed. The two black marks located on the hind wings, plus thinner black webbing indicate a male.

The adults who overwinter in Mexico are those who will return through Texas (the major migration pathway) next March, laying eggs on a variety of native milkweed plants.  That first (or is it the last?) generation begins the life cycle all over again: adults mate, females lay eggs, the adults then die.  Eggs hatch, caterpillars eat the milkweed, morph to the next generation, the flights resume.  The ancient rhythm continues in leap-frog fashion, northward through spring and into summer.

Female Monarch on Skyflower (Datura erecta)

At some point in August, six generations later, because of a change in light and through a magnetic pull that the Monarchs have responded to for eons, the last set of adults turn southward and begin their 2000 mile journey toward the Mexican mountain firs which await winged occupation.

Stopping briefly as they migrate to Mexico, Monarchs are enjoying a respite in my garden; the first of many arrived a couple of days ago.

I am an appreciative witness to this natural event.

I’m joining today with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

 

June Pollinator Blooms

Here in Austin, Texas, the weather has settled into the summer pattern of boringly bright days, warm-to-hot-temperatures, and plenty of humidity;  the solstice is now a memory.  There’s just no way around it–it’s summer, and as writer Al Bernstein said: Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

So what’s in the garden reflecting the shimmering June days?  In a word: Daylilies.  I say that, though I have only one type of daylily, planted in only one spot.  Their cheery orange is, for me, a June thing every summer.

My mother-in-law gave to me a couple of daylily leaves with attached root 20 some-odd years ago.  She wasn’t a gardener and I have no idea where she got hers, but they hadn’t bloomed alongside her driveway in many years.  She insisted that they were lovely.

And she was correct.

Full and ruffly, I look forward to the blooms every June, though sometimes they appear as early as May or as late as July.  I believe they’re a form of the Asian variety Hermerocallis fulva.

For years, I didn’t notice any pollinators at these blooms, but as I have paid more attention, I see a species of native bee who visits when these flowers open.  A small, iridescent blue-green bee, it’s probably a Sweat bee, Genus Halictidae.  The bees dive deep into the flower and it’s usually several minutes before they emerge;  I have to be quick with the camera button!

 

The Purple coneflowersEchinacea purpurea, opened for business in May, but have achieved their zenith of beauty in June.

An excellent pollinator plant, there’s always something working these happy flowers, like this Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor.  I wonder if Ms. White flower spider is sizing up the butterfly for a meal?

 

YarrowAchillea millefolium, is a pretty plant year-round, mostly due to its foliage.  But in May, it sends up flower stalks and by June, those stalks are topped off with white flower clusters, adding their particular charm to bright June days.

I’ve seen all sorts of pollinators at Yarrow, from common, everyday flies, (great pollinators!),

…to large, dramatic bees, like this Horsefly-like Carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis.

By mid-July, the snowy blooms will turn toasty, and will then attract little finches and sparrows who flit through the garden.

 

Barbados cherryMalpighia glabra, a hardy Texas native, serves as a privacy screen in my front garden.  It’s a large shrub which may be hedged, though I prefer its natural shape of arching branches.  After rains, the plant bursts full of sweet pink flowers, eventually producing, juicy, red fruits favored by birds and mammals.  The fruits are called acerola cherries and are used to make juice.  I’ve tasted the fruits and they are sweet, though it would take quite a few to squeeze into juice.

The pink flowers are small and dainty, borne in clusters along the branches.

Eastern Carpenter bees, Xylocopa virginica, visit whenever the blooms appear.  These bees are fast fliers–I was lucky to get this shot!

 

Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida, provides a sparkle of yellow in my garden.  A low growing, deciduous shrub, Zexmenia loves abusive heat and blooms best in the heat.  In fact, with our wet late spring, mine haven’t bloomed quite as well as usual, though the yellow still sparkles-up the garden.  The yellow flowers are companionable with many plants.

Another flower which attracts many types of pollinators, it’s also a host plant for three different butterfly species:  Bordered Patch, Sierran Metalmark, and Lacinia Patch.

Here a Ceratina bee sips nectar.  It looks like others before it have nibbled at the petals.

 

Pretty in pink are Rock rosePavonia lasiopetala.  Another shrub with twinkly flowers, I utilize Rock rose as a staple plant in my garden.  It grows and blooms in shade or sun (better in sun), and is a tough customer in our long, hot summers.  I prune it back a few times during the growing season as it blooms best on new wood and will seed out prolifically if allowed.  I like this little shrub planted in a mass to amplify the its pink power!

Small, hibiscus-like blooms are favored by pollinators like this Grey Hairstreak, Strymon melinus.  

 

Red yuccaHesperaloe parviflora, is no yucca, but in fact a gorgeous plant in the Agavaceae family.  From late April until late October, Salmon-pink, tubular flowers with creamy yellow interiors, adorn tall, arching bloom stalks.

The base of the plant is fleshy, dark foliage and a nice structural element, especially in winter; the showy blooms are a cherry on top.   Typically, I can’t look at these flower stalks without seeing some pollinator going about its business:  bees of several varieties, some smaller butterflies, and hummingbirds are all are drawn to Red yucca.  Alas, I seem to have missed catching any pollinator in my recent photos. Drat!

 

Late spring blues segue–just for a bit–into June with Heartleaf skullcap, Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata.   A perennial groundcover, which is low to the ground during late autumn and winter, the plant rockets upwards in spring, developing beautiful lavender-blue flowers, which make gardeners swoon,

…and bees work.

The foliage is a lovely blue-grey, soft and slightly sticky, but a perfect partner for the salvia blooms.

 

I like oregano–a lot.  Pollinators like oregano (and other herbs) blooms–a lot.  The teeny-tiny, frothy white flowers of oregano are in full bloom mode right now and pollinators are all over them.

My honeybees are especially fond of oregano flowers.   I wonder if their oregano-derived honey can be used on pizza?

 

Big red sageSalvia penstemonoides, started blooming this month and will bloom throughout summer.   My camera doesn’t quite catch the beauty of the magenta coloring of this salvia flower, but it’s a show-stopper.    Native only to the Edward Plateau of Central Texas, this plant was thought to be extinct, but was then discovered blooming in south Austin in the 1980s.  Fortunately for Austin gardeners, it’s easy to grow from seed and some local nurseries have made plants available.

During its summer blooming period, hummingbirds, mostly female Black-chinned and Ruby-throated, visit mine.

 

Happy June blooms and many thanks to Chloris of The Blooming Garden and her celebration of monthly blooms.  This ends National Pollinator Week  here in the United States.  Readers from elsewhere–you were probably wondering why I was beating the pollinator drum! Gardeners are usually close to and aware of their  environment, so I’m probably preaching to the choir, but if you don’t plant for pollinators–do!  You’ll be amazed at who shows up and pleased at how pollinators and all wildlife bring life to your garden.

From left to right: Red Yucca, Yarrow, Rock Rose, Big Red Sage.