Early Days

Firmly ensconced in the early days of spring,  the garden is flush with new foliage and floral growth, birds (and bees!) are building nests, and gardeners are keen for emerging possibilities.  Here in Central Texas, we’ve forgotten that winter was a bust, with only two hard freezes for gardens and gardeners to endure.  Now in March, it’s all flourish and blooming, hope and planning.

Central Texans love to talk weather and this year many are commenting that everything is early!   But in my garden, things are mostly prompt in their materialization and that’s especially true of the native plants I grow.  Evolved along with the capriciousness of Texas weather patterns, these hardy ones are right on schedule. Yes, the Mountain laurels bloomed somewhat early, in Austin anyhow.  Those purple, drooping clusters are fading rapidly, their nectar and pollen contributions to bees and butterflies, and their gift of beauty and fragrance to human admirers, now concluded.  It’s time for other spring flowers to enjoy their time in the sun.

The first  columbines have opened in my garden. This is a hybrid between the native Yellow columbineAquilegia chrysantha and its cousin the Wild red columbineA. canadensis.

When these two columbine kinds are planted in close proximity over a few years and with thanks to pollinators and probably, the wind, yellow flowers with a blush of red, results.

I don’t mind.

 

Blasts of sunny glee define these clusters of cheery Golden groundselPackera obovata.

My little stand has grown and expanded from two small plants to a nice carpet of evergreen, topped with spring-bright sunshine.

In autumn, I’ll pull some of these up and deliver them to a new home.

A garden is always better for more of these hardy native Texas perennials and the tiny native bees are also enthralled at their bounty.

Possibly a Ceratina sp., a small carpenter bee

 

Giant spiderwort, Tradescantia giganteapose in a  range of purples.

A prolific bloomer, as well as re-seeder, I cull some of these (okay, lots of these) each spring, as well as gift as many as I can manage to unsuspecting, spiderwort-neophyte gardeners.

 

Astrud the Cat, seemingly unimpressed with the photographer,  also  contributes to spring color as she wears her lively collared accessory–her Birds be safe collar.

She’s mostly an indoor kitty, but likes to hang out with me and supervise my work in the garden.  The theory behind these silly collars is that cats, who are efficient predators, are better seen by their prey–those birds we want in our gardens–if the cats have a spot of brilliant color to them.  Cats’ fur doesn’t provide that bright coloration, but the patterned collars certainly oblige.  Apparently, birds see colors well, even in dim light, so the collar (which fits easily over a regular bell collar) is an ideal warning that there is something hinky and possibly dangerous in the verge.  We do want to protect the little foraging warblers and  finches, don’t we?  Of course, the best thing to do–for the safety of cats and their potential prey–is to keep cats indoors.  Neither of my cats are birders, though they’ve both been guilty of catching the occasional lizard, for which they are verbally admonished, accompanied with wagging finger.  Naughty kitties!

The collars flash brightness, they seem to work (insofar as the birds are concerned), and it’s also fun to laugh at the kitty wearing the clown collar.

Be it collar color or flower color, enjoy your garden: its birds, bees, and pets–and spring joy!

 

Pollinators Galore: Wildlife Wednesday, November 2016

Having  traveled for half of October and with a general lack of time for critter photo-ops when I was home, there isn’t a portfolio of day-to-day proof of the masses of buzzers and flutterers who’ve been in my gardens this past month.  You’ll just have to take my word for it–this past month was epic on the pollinator front in the garden!  Not only in sheer numbers, but the variety of butterflies and native bees has been a delight.  Today is Wildlife Wednesday and I hope you’re set to celebrate the wild things in our gardens.  Whether winged, scaled, feathered, or furred, wildlife is what makes a garden a truly living space–wildlife is what makes a garden.

It’s been quite a few years since my garden has enjoyed and benefited from  the numbers of butterflies who visited in these past couple of months.  The wet year, coupled with relatively mild summer temperatures, allowed for the right breeding conditions to occur and for blooming plants to thrive.  Plenty of host and nectar plants are available for feeding this year and pollinators are taking advantage of the bounty.   There are always more butterflies in late summer and fall, but this year I notice some that I’d never seen before.

I saw many of these pretties,

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…mostly hanging out around the Blue mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum.   I knew that I’d seen a photo of this kind of butterfly–somewhere–but couldn’t recall where. After some sleuthing, I identified this species as a Common mestra, Mestra amymone. Eventually, I remembered that I’d seen photos of the mestra on the FB page of The National Butterfly Center, which is located in Mission, Texas. Primarily a butterfly of South Texas, Mexico and  South America, they will stray northward–and so they did, right into my little garden!   They favored the Blue mistflower, but I also saw them nectaring at the Plateau goldeneye and Turk’s cap, too.

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White-Striped Longtail butterfliesChioides albofasciatus,  are a new butterfly in my garden.

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They proved difficult to get clear photos of because they nectared at Yellow bell blooms which are located high on the tall shrubs and subject to every puff or blast of breeze–not conducive to great photography,  Also, this critter doesn’t sit still for long.

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Lucky for this gardener though, one spent casual time at a lower-to-the ground West Texas native, the Shrubby blue sage, Salvia ballotiflora and I opportunistically snagged some shots.

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Yet another butterfly more common in South Texas and regions further a-field, it’s interesting that there were “tropical” butterflies in my Central Texas garden this past month.

Along with the southern visitors, the usual garden suspects were active. For example,  Fiery SkippersHylephila phyleus,  decked out in autumn colors,  have been all over the Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, sharing nicely that pollinator favorite with many other winged things. .

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A tiny native minor bee is blurry just above the Fiery Skipper.

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Other fans of the Gregg’s mistflower are the many Clouded SkipperLerema accius butterflies  which regularly tour the garden.  These skippers have been active throughout the warm season this year.

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Monarch butterfliesDanaus plexippus, continued their march through Texas.

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Male Monarch demonstrates his  scent glands (the two black dots on the hind wings).

It was a pleasure hosting them this autumn–I hope they safely arrive in Mexico and winter well there.

 

Black SwallowtailPapilio polyxenes, butterflies visited daily.

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Black Swallowtail on Turk’s cap.

 

Honeybees (from my three hives) busily worked at the bloom-heavy Plateau goldeneye, Viguiera dentata, as well as everything else, preparing their honey stores for winter.

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There are still scads of the charming Southern Pink MothsPyrausta inornatalis, like this one resting on a White tropical sage.  The Pinks are another species in abundance this year.

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Native bees of all kinds are still working in the garden.  This leaf-cutter, Megachile, was not the only native bee around, but fun to watch as she worked Plateau goldeneye blooms.

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Additionally, this past month saw a boon in the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, population.

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The foliage decimation wrought on my Passion vine by caterpillars eating and eating and eating,

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…and then pupating into their adult form wherever they could,

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…is all the proof I need to suggest that they’re quite at home in the garden.

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I don’t fret about butterfly and moth caterpillars munching on host plants because they generally don’t kill the host, munching away only to some level of plant un-attractiveness. Usually, the plants–like the Passion vine–spring back to full-leafed health quickly and in preparation for the next generation of caterpillars.  Biology dictates that for the most part, the symbiotic relationship between a host plant and its insect is a healthy one, and a plant is rarely, if ever, eaten to death.  From an evolutionary standpoint, it wouldn’t make sense for a host plant to die every time its insect requires reproduction.

Ain’t nature grand?!

Texan CrescentsAnthanassa texana, 

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….are eating  their native host plants–the Branched foldwing, Dicliptera brachiata,

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…as can be seen by the green sticks left from the last crop of caterpillars.  No worries about the recover of the plant though, the munched Branched foldwing is already leafing out.  For the remainder of autumn, more of the butterflies will nectar in the garden in clouds of fluttering brown and gold. I missed the opportunity to catch a photo of the nondescript caterpillars, though I’m always happy to get photos of a pretty face–and lovely set of wings.

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Not only did butterflies and moths grace my garden, but plenty of Syrphid, or Flower flies, appeared too.    For the most part, Syrphid flies haven’t been as numerous in the garden this year.  But recently I’ve seen many of this particular kind, the Distinctive SyrphidOcyptamus fascipennis.

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Syrphid on the bloom clusters of the Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)

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As for what attracts all of these garden gifts, If there was an award for Pollinator Plant of the Month, it would have to go to Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.

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There are four individual pollinators on this particular flower cluster–and it’s not unusual to see that many pollinators simultaneously feeding on  Frostweed bloom clusters. Where Frostweed grow, insect–especially pollinator–activity is abundant.  Both small and large butterflies, honey and native bees, and eventually, after the blooms are spent,  little finches and warblers choose this plant as a favorite food source.  It, along with the Plateau goldeneye, are amazing plants for attracting and feeding wildlife.  Both plants are easy to grow (Texas natives!) and attractive; both fit especially well in a woodland garden or at the back of a perennial bed.

These beetles enjoyed one particular group of Frostweed.  I never quite figured out what kind of beetle they are, but I’m leaning toward an identification as some kind of blister beetle.

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The adults were definitely nectaring on the flowers,

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…though the nymphs congregated along fruit or foliage, just hanging out it seemed.  Typical teenagers, I guess.

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At any rate, the beetles didn’t appear to damage the plants, so I left them alone.

A few beetles visited the Mexican honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera.

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Like the beetles on the Frostweed, these didn’t appear to harm the honeysuckle foliage or flowers.

This month wasn’t all about pollinators though–this predator Crab spider was clearly waiting to snatch something smaller than herself for a meal.

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And this Hydrophilidae, a Water scavenger beetle, was loitering on a spent Garlic chives bloom.

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Not quite sure what this one was up to, but I think he’s a little menacing looking.  He neither spit nor lunged at me, so I suppose he’s okay and we can be friends, or at the very least, co-workers in the garden.

Did wildlife visit your garden this past month? Please post for November Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. 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.

 

Bits of Blooms

Celebrating a bit of bloomin’ for April and I’m loving my back garden’s bloomin’ bits.

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The fuchsia bloom spike of Hill Country penstemon (Penstemon triflorus) is almost drowned out by the loud red of the Martha Gonzales roses.

I was attempting shots of busy native and honey bees–no joy there– but the shrubs and flowers posed beautifully and smiled winningly for the camera. The yellow Engelmann’s or Cutleaf Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia began blooming in full force during the past couple of weeks.

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It’s a good perennial  to accompany the pond path with its sparkly daisies that flower from April to July and its year-round, attractive evergreen foliage.

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Nearby, Gulf Coast Penstemon,  Penstemon tenuis are also at full-bloom speed.

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Honeybees are particularly fond of this native penstemon and I’ve also seen a variety of native bees working the blooms as well.

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This small area of the large back garden receives decent sunshine for much of the growing season.  The potted American century plant, American agave oversees  blooming perennials and shrubs during spring, summer and fall.

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Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), grey foliaged, not-yet-in-bloom Heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata), and Gulf Coast penstemon front the potted agave, while a stand of autumn blooming Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) serve as its backdrop.

 

These unknown variety of Amaryllis came from my mother’s garden.

My mother’s Amaryllis grows with Gulf Coast penstemon, Knock-out roses, and poppies.

The Amaryllis don’t attract pollinators (that I’ve noticed) but they evoke fond memories of my mother, who was an avid gardener and who loved flowers of all kinds.

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In her last garden, she mixed her amaryllis with blue-bloomed PlumbagoPlumbago auriculata  and it was a stunning combination.

In searching for a small tree to add some height to a narrow part of my garden, I chose Goldenball leadtree,  Leucaena retusa.  I think it was a good decision!

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The yellow-puff balls charm the gardener while feeding bees and butterflies throughout April.  Goldenball leadtree is an airy, open little tree and thrives in part-shade.

I’m pleased with my April garden and thank Carol at May Dreams Garden for hosting this monthly bloom frenzy known as Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Join in and share your garden pretties, then click over to her lovely blog to see and learn about blooms from many places.