Wings are things year-round in my garden. Even in winter, there are, minimally, honeybees and Red Admiral butterflies zooming and flitting during those shorter days. But late summer and into autumn, winged insects are a constant source of activity, adding an “experientially rich” dynamic that is always present in a garden, but heightened in the latter months of the growing season.
As the days grow noticeably shorter (though not cooler) I’ve been out and about in the garden, and some of those times, remembered to bring the camera along.
The Southern Pink Moths are familiar in the garden, very often resting on plants in the salvia genus like this White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.
It’s nearly always sometime in July that I spy my first Bumble bees in the garden. They zoom in, buzzing like miniature planes, intent on working a set of blooms before departing for new territory and fresh flowers. This one worked the blue blooms of Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’ for several minutes. The bee was never still enough for me to capture a good shot, but it did its pollination duty, its proboscis stuck deep in the bloom for maximum slurping.
Zexmenia, Wedelia texana, is a pollinator magnet and attracts a wide variety of native flies and bees. This bee is probably a bee in the “hairy legged” category like a minor or digger bee. My best guess is that it’s a longhorn bee, but in this photo that’s hard to confirm, as its antennae are hidden, bee head buried deep in the bloom.
There’s a whole crew of yellow and white butterflies that become very active in July and downright ubiquitous in the following months and they are all fast flyers. This Little Yellow cooperated with me while dining on another Zexmenia bloom. Have I mentioned that Zexmenia flowers are pollinator favorites?
Late summer is also when the hummingbirds are most active. Males, females, and juveniles are ramping up for migration southward and feeding on the abundance of flowering plants. This cutey fussed at me as I bumbled around, initially unaware that she was feeding nearby. She dashed to a branch and scolded me; I snapped a few shots. After moving to a more remote spot, I waited until she’d rested and felt comfortable enough to return to the Turk’s cap that she’d been feeding on before I rudely disturbed her.
The Monarchs are coming through! It seems like the migration is early, but I welcome visits from these iconic butterflies. Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, is a preferred source of nectar for many butterflies and bloom in time for the autumn Monarch migration.
Not pollinators, but predators, damsel and dragon flies got a late start this year, probably due to the winter storm in February. They’re everywhere now! A number of species visit my garden, mostly, though not exclusively, hanging around the pond. Their flight patterns are similar to those of bees rather than butterflies: less flitting, more zooming. They also rest for periods, like this one perched on a leaf of Pickerel Rush, Pontederia cordata.
And this one, sitting pretty atop unopened blooms of Texas craglily, Echeandia texensis.
A Queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus, nectars on a Gregg’s mistflower–just like its cousin the Monarch. I have Queens in my gardens on and off throughout the year. Smaller and more polka-dotty than Monarch, they do look similar enough that they’re often confused with Monarchs.
Another winged summer thing is the Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae. A colorful butterfly–cheery orange with white and black spots–this is a bright adornment in the garden. These feed on a variety of flowers, though I think this one had hatched from its chrysalis shortly before I found it on the spent blooms of a Lyre-leaf sage. The green in the background of this photo is the host plant for Gulf Fritillaries, passionflower vine, specifically Passiflora incarnata. This particular vine grows messily in a pebbled negative space with a surrounding garden. I leave the “weeds” in the space because…butterflies!!
I do have one “official” passionflower vine, purposely planted and growing on a trellis–a set of three seedling Passiflora caerulea which I transplanted a few weeks before the snow/ice storm in February. The seedlings weathered the storm, grew, and have produced several generations of fritillaries. Currently, those three vines are nought but stems, the foliage having been eaten away by ravenous caterpillars. I’m not worried about losing the plants; the vines should survive and with some autumn rain, flush out fully for further fritillaries.
While I was photographing the first fritillary, a butterfly buddy (also newly hatched?) joined in the fun, wings spread wide to dry–and maybe show off?
The Mexican orchid tree, Bauhinia mexicana, attracts lots of bees and big swallowtail butterflies. As I watched, this Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, fed at the flowers, lumbered off, came back to the tree, flew off again–but returned to the luscious offering of the blooms.
I grow White-veined pipevine, Aristilochia fimbriata, a lovely shade tolerant ground cover and a host plant for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Battus philenor. This year, there has been a bumper crop of butterflies, chrysalises seemingly attached everywhere in the back garden. I’ve been fortunate to observe a couple of these beauties as they emerged from their cocoon and entered the world as winged adults. Pipevine Swallowtails are fast flyers and, while I observe their nectaring everyday, I’ve been missing to opportunity for a photograph until I found this one enjoying a Basket flower, Centaurea americana, and had my camera ready to shoot.
I’m fortunate to live in a place with a long growing season, so watching winged wonders is almost a year-round adventure. I hope you have some winged things in your garden, too! If not, maybe it’s time to get cracking and plant some nectar and host plants for butterflies and moths and a variety of blooming things for bees and hummingbirds.