Summer Surprise

I’ve grown an unknown crinum lily for a number of years, but rarely has it bloomed.  No matter, as I’ve contented myself with appreciating its abundant foliage and the lush tropical feel that the plants  lend my decidedly non-tropical garden.

This summer, one of my crinum bunches bloomed.

It wasn’t a prolific bloom show, but it was enough that I swooned for several days over the beauty of the blooms.

Softly pink and gloriously fragrant, these July flowers were a real gift–and surprise–during the hottest time of the year.

These bulbs came from my parents’ garden in South Texas.  My mother grew them, though I don’t know where she got them nor when she planted them.  In her garden, with the full, blasting South Texas sun and the loose, sandy soil, the crinums always flowered with abandon during summer, their seemingly delicate, but tough-as-nails pink lily faces open to the sky.   In my clayey soil and dappled shade garden, the blooms are a rare and reticent offering.

Both of my beloved parents are gone now–my mother in 2002, my father last summer. But I grow their flowers, evoking their love of gardening and appreciation of the natural world.  When my crinums bloomed, I checked my daughter, Shoshana’s, grave where I planted crinums, to see if her crinums were blooming.  Alas, none were open. Those have bloomed in past summers, but the bulbs that my father gave to me after she died are quiet this year.

This year, the granted blooms were for me.

“…you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

It’s not fear of ballistic missiles from North Korea, nor passage of bathroom laws directly impacting the transgender population.  It’s not about police brutality or the exit from the Paris Climate Accord.  It is about the destruction of a unique habitat–found nowhere else in the world–and it is important.  It’s not making headlines, nor inspiring Facebook likes, but if it’s lost, it won’t return; you can’t repeal the destruction of an extraordinary ecosystem.

I’m referring to the Trump administration’s building of the border wall between the United States and Mexico and how those plans are taking shape.  In the past months, work has begun–silently and without public input–to destroy many miles and acres of land, both federally owned and privately owned, to build a wall between us and our southern neighbors.

The plans, as best we know them, will involve destruction of some of the most biologically diverse habitat in the United States. It will negatively impact the flyways of hundreds of species of migratory birds, as well as the migration pathway for the threatened Monarch butterfly. This landscape also provides a home for the endangered Ocelot and Jaguarundi, as well as multitudes of species of mammals, insects, and reptiles.

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and the National Butterfly Center are in the crosshairs of this controversial wall.

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, about Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge:

Established in 1943 for the protection of migratory birds, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge happens to be positioned along an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory routes for many species of birds. It is also at the northern-most point for many species whose range extends south into Central and South America. The refuge is right in the middle of all this biological diversity, which is what makes this 2,088 acre parcel the ‘jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System.’ Though small in size, Santa Ana offers visitors an opportunity to see birds, butterflies and many other species not found anywhere else in the United States beyond deep South Texas.

The good folks at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and those working at the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge CANNOT speak on behalf of the biological diversity they are charged with protecting because they are federal employees and subject to dismissal if they speak out about this abomination against the last remaining natural habitat in South Texas.

From the Texas Butterfly Ranch blog:  ‘Border wall at National Butterfly Center violates property rights and worse’:

Known as one of the top birding destinations in the world, Santa Ana is being sacrificed precisely because of its federally protected status. Since the U.S. government owns it, they won’t be subjected to pesky lawsuits from private landowners like Marianna Wright and the National Butterfly Center. As another story in the Texas Observer noted in June, a third or more of 320 condemnation suits filed against private landowners to build a wall in 2007 are still unresolved.

Not only is Santa Ana in danger, but the border wall work will also destroy land belonging to the National Butterfly Center, which is privately owned.

From the home page of the National Butterfly Center:

‘Bugs vs. Americans. Bugs lose.’

One short-sighted commentator’s glib response to the situation summarizes part of the ignorance surrounding everything at stake here. This isn’t all about the butterflies.

No permission was requested to enter the property or begin cutting down trees. The center was not notified of any roadwork, nor given the opportunity to review, negotiate or deny the workplan.  Same goes for the core sampling of soils on the property, and the surveying and staking of a “clear zone” that will bulldoze 200,000 square feet of habitat for protected species like the Texas Tortoise and Texas Indigo, not to mention about 400 species of birds.  The federal government had decided it will do as it pleases with our property, swiftly and secretly, in spite of our property rights and right to due process under the law.

Why should you care?

  1. If you own property or value your Constitutional right to due process, you should be very concerned about the government doing entering property without permission or due process. Altering it. Destroying it. Coming onto it and killing creatures that live there with reckless indifference. Your home or property could be next.
  2. If you think the “Border Fence” will stop illegal immigration, you are mistaken. The fence has gates and gaps every mile or so where people can pass through; so the fence is actually a FUNNEL, designed to direct those crossing into our country to areas where Border Patrol agents may more easily monitor and intercept traffic—that is, unless people use ladders or scale the fence on their own, which they do.
  3. If you pay taxes, you should understand the Border Fence is not a solution to the problem of illegal immigration. It is a waste of tax dollars.

The feds have shelved a variety of environmental and property rights laws in order to build a border wall that most experts believe will do nothing to stop illegal immigration and that many Americans don’t want.  Further, the feds are doing this with no public discourse or input.  If you don’t care about wildlife, remember that folks from all over the world visit both Santa Ana and the Butterfly Center, and that has a positive and enormous economic impact on this region and that will be permanently lost if these plans go through.

If you want a say in this matter, please download, print, sign  and mail this letter to Colonel Paul E. Owens of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Southwestern Division.

If the Trump administration has its way, this unique and valuable habitat will be forever destroyed–at the taxpayers’ expense.  As well, this wall will do nothing to protect Americans.  Below is more information about what is happening at the border.

From Texas Monthly:  ‘Butterflies Versus Border Patrol’: 

Mission, Texas was well on its way to establishing itself as the butterfly capital of America. In 2002, the North American Butterfly Association founded the National Butterfly Center on a former onion farm near Mission. The one-hundred-acre nature preserve features one of the largest native plant botanical gardens in the country, including hundreds of host plants that attract butterflies. The town embraced its new attraction. Every fall, during the annual Monarch migration, the center hosts the Texas Butterfly Festival, which draws thousands of butterfly lovers from around the world to South Texas.

From Texas Observer: ‘National Butterfly Center Founder: Trump’s Border Wall Prep ‘Trampling on Private Property Rights”

“This is a much bigger issue than the National Butterfly Center,” Glassberg told the Observer. “There’s a procedure the government could follow with due process. But they’ve decided — like with so much else — to just ignore the law, trampling on private property rights. The complete disrespect for the legalities of this country is something that ought to concern every American regardless of how they feel about a border wall.”

From the Los Angeles Times:  ‘This ‘crown jewel’ of wildlife refuges is one of the world’s top bird destinations. Trump’s wall would end public access’

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, a Democrat from Brownsville who represents the area of the border including Santa Ana, said he requested a briefing about the wall from Customs and Border Protection officials.

“Clearly, it’s all being done in secret and it’s not transparent at all,” he said. “I can tell you we’re going to fight like hell to stop it.”

“These refuges are national treasures and sacred places, and we have to do everything we can to stop the Trump administration from putting this wall into place,” said Vela, who opposes all border walls in his district, famously telling Trump in an open letter last year: “Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

Hot Plot, Cool Critters: Wildlife Wednesday, August

Despite summer’s heat as daily fixture of life,  the garden and its critters go about their business of growing and blooming, nectaring and seed-eating.  I swelter in the garden, but revel in observing the abundance of wild activity.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, marked on the first Wednesday of each month and celebrating the wild things in our gardens and wherever we meet them.

The garden currently enjoys no shortage of Horsefly-like Carpenter beesXylocopa tabaniformis.  They are the most numerous, and active, of the native bees that I see; they are earliest at work in the morning and the last to clock-out in the evening.

This one demonstrates nectar-stealing, so no pollination here, but she’s slurping up the good stuff for her larvae and herself.

While taking my elderly dog for his outdoor breaks, I’ve noticed the popularity for blooming oregano among pollinators.  The petite, clustered blooms attract a variety of pollinators–huge and tiny, colorful and plain.  I was especially pleased to witness visits from both a male and female Eastern Carpenter BeeXylocopa virginica, a relative of X. tabaniformis.


The white face indicates a male bee.

Considered common here in Central Texas, I haven’t seen this species often and am happy to welcome this new-to-my-garden visitor.

His lovely back side, wings aloft.

The sun was spot-on as I photographed mid-afternoon–normally a problematic time of day for photos–but I think the bright light beautifully illuminates his subtle coloring.

He and his female friend also visited Turk’s cap and Shrubby Blue sage blooms as well, but both favored the oregano flowers.

I grow two oregano plants (and also, two basil plants) in my herb garden:  one of each for me to snip from and not allowed to flower, the others left to bloom for the bees and butterflies.

Another spectacular pollinator who works the oregano blooms is this stunning green metallic bee, which I believe is a Sweat beeAugochloropsis metallica.

I saw this bee (these bees?) several different times, and like the Eastern Carpenter, she nectars at several plants. But her favorite meal is found at the little oregano flowers.

The Texas July sunshine highlights her stunning coloring and glittery presence.

A two-fer in this shot with the sweat bee sharing space and food with a honeybee. The honeybees are regular customers of the oregano flower buffet and are always buzzing around the oregano.

Ms. Metallica plays peek-a-boo, while Ms. Honeybee gets to it!

These scalloped leaves show cutter bee activity, though I haven’t actually seen them munching away.  The females carve round holes, or partial holes, in leaves, then mix the leaf component with pollen and mud.  The bees use the mixture in their nurseries as a stuffing to protect eggs and feed larvae.

I spied this Leaf-footed bugAcanthocephala terminalis,  along the beam of a blackberry vine-enveloped trellis.  I thought he might strike a manly pose for me; instead, he skittered behind a leaf, glancing once to check if I was still there.

I was.

Later, he flopped down onto a sunflower leaf, which looks worse for wear, either from the doings of a sucking insect (maybe our leaf-footed friend?), or perhaps, just the heat. I like to watch these insects.  They’re shy and avoid confrontation, but can apparently deliver a wallop of a sting if need-be.  I maintain a respectful distance and hope they don’t damage too many leaves.

They don’t.

Dragons and damsels are back and it’s murder and mayhem in the garden, carried out with swift efficiency by these predatory beauties. This sparkly jewel of a Neon Skimmer, Libellula croceipennis, is a fixture in the garden when resting and an aerial acrobat as he hunts mosquitoes.  And I’m just fine with that.

His bright coloring indicates a male. His mate wears a muted orange, not quite as dazzling.

Resident birds while away the summer months, munching seeds and insects, and cooling off in bird baths and at the pond.  This female (or juvenile?) Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,  contemplates a dip in the waterfall. Grackles and Blue Jays are consummate bird bathers.

Before they plop into the water to bathe or sip from its flow, many birds perch on the rocks and take advantage of the cover provided by the Ruby Red-runner plant which accompanies the flowing water into the pond.

This Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis,  steadfastly refused to look my way as it perched just above the waterfall.

After winter, I didn’t prune the  Yellow BellsTacoma stans entirely so that the birds could enjoy a safe place in which to perch and watch their surroundings.

Still, he could have given me a thrill and glanced my way.  I was able to catch a slightly better look at his cute face only after he flew to a different location.

The Chickadees are year-round residents in Central Texas and regular visitors in my garden.  We placed nest boxes for them, the Carolina Wrens, and the Black-crested Titmice, but had no takers–the nest boxes sit abject and empty.  All summer I’ve watched as each of these parents showed their offspring the avian ropes: sipping from the baths and pond, noshing from the feeder and plants, and teaching the how-tos of safely traversing the trees. They’re content to visit my garden, but not move in. I have no idea where they nest, I just know it’s not in my garden.

While pruning early one morning, I spied this resting moth, a Melipotis perpendicularis.

I know that I’ve seen this kind of moth before, though Austin Bug Collection says that this moth is not common.  Perhaps I grow its host plant, though I didn’t find information about that.

Whatever you grow and whomever visits or resides in your garden, please post your wildlife happenings for this past month. If you don’t have wildlife in your garden, it’s easy to plant for them and provide a welcoming home: they’re entertaining, beautiful, and necessary for a well-rounded garden. 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.

Happy wildlife gardening!