Autumn Grasses

Along with a bevy of flowery blooms, late summer and autumn showcases the graceful good looks of native grasses. Native grasses are attractive year-round but really strut their stuff in autumn. I’ve grown the shade-loving Inland Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium for years and love them, but grasses requiring the intense Texas sun I could only admire in other gardens. Now that my front garden is sun-drenched, native grasses have a place and they have shined.

I’m besotted with Gulf Muhly, Muhlenbergia capillaris. I was never successful in growing these pink, frothy pretties, until appropriate, sunny conditions developed. I now have plenty of sun-baked spots and four new Gulf Muhly have nestled in nicely.

Two older Gulf Muhlies have grown well in another spot for a couple of years, but in my re-vamped sunshiny space, there are an additional four individuals. These muhlies are slender, shapely green throughout spring and summer, but in October, their pink-purple plumes add gauzy elegance and a swath of color in the last days of the growing season.

A closer view of this purple-pink magic.

I planted an arc of four muhlies, though only one has powered up the color in full. These have been in the ground less than a year and since this photo was taken, the other three, while still behind in the fluff, have filled out well. Gorgeous whether in sunny or cloudy conditions, they add softness and movement in the garden.

I have successfully grown a couple of Lindheimer’s or Big Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, for a few years. Another beautiful plant year round, the lacelike plumes develop in autumn, catching the sun’s rays and swaying with the wind.

These three fit well together in the garden!

The halo of bright green behind the middle Big Muhly is a Bamboo Muhly, Muhlenbergia dumosa. Native to Arizona, it’s a large grass that grows well in sun and shade. The even-taller yellow flowers belong to Plateau Goldeneye

This is my oldest Big Muhly and it’s always a stunner.

Spring and summer silvery Mexican Feather Grass, Nassella tenuissima, have switched their colors to autumn toasty, with a hint of sage. These small grasses fit well in a variety of settings and like all the native grasses, are tough, hardy plants. I’ve had more luck with this grass in part-shade, but am pleased with how they’ve fared in full sun.

In the new sun garden I’ve added three Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium. I like this little grass, tidy and dainty, though confess some disappointment that its autumn color hasn’t yet materialized as advertised.

The photo is busy. The two Bluestems are overtaken by some pushy Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala.

You can see the green clumps and the stems that shoot upwards in fall. There are even some cottony seed heads already formed on one of the plants.

This spot actually gets a little bit of fall shade as the angle of the sun is lower, so I’m in the process of moving the trio to a nearby spot which I think will get full sun in summer and fall. In fact, the third of the trio I’ve already moved:

This one has some nice burgundy/rusty foliage action, not fully in fall garb, but more in line with the typical autumn colors of Little Bluestem. This individual never developed its vertical stems because when I allow my younger cat, Lena, in the garden (supervised and only for a few minutes!) she loves to munch this particular grass.

Maybe Little Bluestem needs something eating it to get fall color??

This post completes a short series highlighting the autumn Texas garden delights of birds, blooms, pollinators, and grasses. Our summers are hot, but the payoff in utilizing native plants in our wonderfully long growing season is an autumn filled with color, movement, texture, and life. And isn’t that what’s a garden should be?

Autumn Pollinators

Autumn weather has finally arrived. Clouds and rain, with chilly temperatures (upper 30s and 40s), it’s unseasonably cool. I’m not minding it though, as we have more than our share of balmy days. Just before the wet and cool set in, the pollinators were everywhere, all day long: flitting, flying, nectaring and gifting their unique grace to the garden.

The Monarch butterfly migration didn’t nearly match last autumn’s magnificence, but these seasonal visitors drifted through, and for about 6 weeks, there was always some Monarch action in the garden. Once we warm up again, it’s likely I’ll still see a few lingerers, but it’ll be next March before they make their way back through Central Texas from Mexico.

Monarch butterflies are heading to their winter digs in Mexico. Here’s hoping the weather cooperates, whisking them south safely and protecting them in their roosts.

Late summer and autumn bring a number of yellow butterflies in the garden. One of the more common of the numerous yellows are the Southern Dogface, Zerene cesonia. This one enjoys what Mexican Honeysuckle offers.

American Lady, Vanessa virginiensis, are also regulars in Central Texas. This one nectared on the prolific blooms of a Henry Duelberg, Salvia farinacea.

Another familiar autumn butterfly is the American Snout, Libytheana carinenta. These are perhaps not the most beautiful of butterflies, but they’re charming with that extended “snout” as well as their petite form. In some years, they migrate in large numbers, but this autumn, only a few fluttered.

Not outdone by the butterflies, bees are still active, too. One of my favorite native perennials is the Texas Craglily, Echeandia texensis. It’s also favored by a variety of pollinator types, including honeybees.

This isn’t a particularly good photo, but I like how it captured the full-to-bursting corbicula or pollen basket. I like to call honeybees’ corbiculae pollinator pantaloons.

Also buzzing through the garden are a variety of syrphid, or flower flies. This little one is working on its pollinating skills! In fact, there were all kinds of flies around the flowers and they’re excellent pollinators.

A diminutive butterfly that I’m sure I’ve seen in my garden in past seasons, but I know I’ve seen when perusing through insect resources, is this Reakirt’s Blue, Echinargus isola. I enjoyed the flitty antics of several individuals before the rainy period set in.

While attractive enough to the human eye when their wings are up, when open wide, a whole new look emerges. I love the blue in the wings.

One interesting fact about Reakirt’s butterflies is that females lay a single egg on a flower bud and the caterpillar eats the flower, seed pods, and only sometimes, the foliage. Additionally, the caterpillars are accompanied by ants, who slurp up the cats’ “sugary secretions” left behind.

This little cutey was a super fast flyer, but I did nab one or two shots. Called a Dainty Sulpher, Nathalis iole, I’ve seen this specie before in the garden, though had never taken a decent photograph. This dainty lives in a wide range of places, but doesn’t survive cold winters. Host plants include those in the aster family and I grow plenty of them. I didn’t see any obvious eggs or caterpillars, but I plan to keep a keen eye out for them next fall.

Common Checkered-Skipper, Burnsius communis, is a butterfly that lives in most of the continental United States. A large skipper, it’s also a skipper that cooperates with its human admirers–look at that lovely wingspan. These skippers use plants in the mallow family as their hosts and I grow several: Turk’s Caps, Globe Mallow, and Rock Rose. It’s no wonder that these butterflies are in my garden for late summer and fall.

A cousin to the Monarchs, the Queen Butterfly, Danaus gilippus, rivals in beauty! This handsome male nectars on the bloom of a Gregg’s Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii

And this one? It’s all about the almost-spent-blooms of a Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata. Queens don’t migrate like the Monarchs, so I’m likely to see them in summer.

It really has been a glorious October and November and I fully expect that once the chill passes and before our first freeze, some of that glory will return. Central Texas enjoys a long growing season and therefore, a long pollinator season. Some pollinators have gone to rest, like many of the native bees, but others will over-winter and be active during our sunny days. They’re welcome anytime!

Autumn Flowers

As my last post indicated, fall is a great time for flowers here in Central Texas. Though we enjoy a long growing season and a short dormant season (some flowers persisting even during winter) I think of the fall floral show a last hurrah before winter’s chill sets in.

One perennial growing in my formerly shady front garden/now full sun front garden that’s rocking the change is Pigeonberry, Rivina humilis.

A small ground cover, about four inches tall with a spread of maybe two feet, Pigeonberry is often touted as a shade/part-shade plant. Leftover from its time in the shade, the Pigeonberry has proved itself worthy as a full sun plant. Dainty flowers bloomed all summer, continuing that streak into October. Beginning sometime in September, luscious berries appeared, adding to the mix. It’s a pretty combination, the sweet pink of the petite flowers and the rich crimson, yummy looking berries!

By the end of October, it was all about the berries. As we’ve experienced a couple of chilly nights, the diminutive flower clusters are gone, some berries are left, foliage is burgundy–and there are about a million seedlings poking up from the ground! In case you’re wondering, I don’t often see pigeons at the pigeonberry, but doves and blue jays partake regularly.

Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, are also reliable participants in our second spring. They bloom tall and stately in spring, grow toasty and seed-producing by mid-summer, are pruned to green rosettes in August, and once September rolls around and after some rain, about one-third of my cones bloom up again for fall. The flowers never grow as tall as in spring, but I appreciate whatever blooms they want to deliver.

Another pink pretty are the mallow flowers of Rock Rose, Pavonia lasiopetala. These shrubs have blooms all summer, but in fall the pink really pops!

Here are a few more Rock Rose, paired with Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata. These two make a lovely couple!

The Goldeneye are towards the end of their golden glory, but the has-been flowers segue to seed heads and they’re also cute. Flocks of tiny Lesser Goldfinch, as well as sparrows and wrens, nibble on the seeds, spreading them far and wide.

Fall Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, is great year round: attractive foliage, a sprinkling of happy aster flowers in spring and summer, and withstanding the hottest days and brightest sunshine. In fall, the explosion of purple always makes me smile.

I like it partnered with another plant in the Aster family, Four-nerve daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa and the not-yet-in-bloom Gulf Muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris. It’s hard to beat those cheerful aster faces.

This little bit of Fall Aster is blooming only after being in the ground since August.

It’s at the base of a large Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, (with the large, heart-shaped leaves) and the winter rosette of an up-and-coming, spring blooming native Texas wildflower, Blue Curls, Phacelia congesta. The flowers of the Blue Curls are almost the same color as the Fall Aster, though in a bluer hue.

In a mild year, Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera, will flower its orange, pollinator attracting blooms constantly. A hard freeze will knock it back to the ground, but it rallies and by mid-summer is back to its blooming ways. This autumn, it looks good with a young Goldeneye,

…and some (left to right, bottom of photo) White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, a Purple Coneflower, and another Texas native perennial, a Texas Craglily, Echeandia texensis.

This Texas Craglily sits in my back garden and is blooming well, even with more shade than it likes.

Last fall, after the tree was cut down, I transplanted four other individual Texas Craglilies from the back to the front garden and they’ve flourished in the heat and sun. They’re delicate looking, with fleshy foliage, but don’t let that fool you: they’re hale and hardy in a sunny space. They die to the ground in winter, return rather late in spring; the foliage looks nearly identical to that of Spiderwort. Lush and neat all summer, bloom stalks develop in September (usually), then orchid-like, orange/yellow blooms sprout all up and down the stalks. Honeybees and a variety of native bees are constant visitors.

The red flowers in the background are blooms on two Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii.

Turk’s Caps have a prolific, long blooming season, but are nearing the end of their flowering cycle. The swirled hibiscus blooms are still bright decorations in the garden. Fruits for the birds are developing, green at first, then red.

Cenizo shrub, Leucophyllum frutescens, sometime referred to as Texas barometer-bush, is blooming, signifying an increase in humidity and the possibility of welcomed rain. A honeybee was busy on the morning of this photo, but wouldn’t cooperate with my photographic efforts.

Finally, my roses stood up to the heat of summer, sometimes blooming, sometimes resting. With cooler temperatures, constant flowering will be the norm until a hard freeze. This Caldwell Pink looks like a bridal bouquet and its fragrance is a dream.

Flowers in fall–it’s a cheerful and hopeful way to end the growing season!