True to Form: Wildlife Wednesday, August 2019

As summer muddles along here in Central Texas with fairly typical heat and humidity, this gardener slows down. Even so, I can’t resist the daily pull of the garden, even in mid-afternoon heat: too much action, life, and beauty greet my visits and I don’t want to miss it any of it.  Local wildlife isn’t bothered one bit by the long, sunny days–if water is available.  True to form, my mid-to-late summer garden provides good wildlife watching.

During spring and autumn bird migration, I’ll slice fruit and affix the pieces to a fence for the weary, hungry and thirsty birds.   While spring migratory season is over and fall migration has yet to begin, some extra oranges found their way to my kitchen and I wanted to share them with, ahem, the birds.

This rascal isn’t a bird, but I’ll bet you knew that already.

This Fan of the Orange is an Eastern Fox SquirrelSciurus niger.  Many types of birds and mammals enjoy fruit, and if you grow–or attempt to grow–fruit trees, this won’t be news to you.  While my orange offers were targeted for birds, I don’t mind (too much) that the squirrel devoured the juicy fruit.

Green anoles, Anolis carolinensis, are active for most of the year, except for the deep of winter.  In summer, it’s rare that I’m in my garden that I don’t see at least one of these garden cuties.  I like the way this one drapes its claw over the leaf edge of the Twist-leaf yucca, Yucca rupicola. The lizard looks like it’s in total command of the situation.  I  expect the anole to don a pair of shades or a hip hat, and sip from an adult-lizard beverage of choice.

 

Nature’s life and death dramas play all the time in my garden.  Oregano blooms, favored by a variety of pollinators, make good perches for garden predators and Milkweed Assasin bugsZelus longipes, commonly hang out on the oregano and hunt.   This assasin had the poor honeybee firmly vised.

A closer look at the assassination.

Excepting a surfeit of predators (which I’ve never seen), I let pollinators and predators go about their business–no matter the outcome.   In nature, it’s all about balance.

This has been the Summer of the Bordered Patch butterfly, Chlosyne lacinia.  Several generations hatched, morphed in caterpillar stages, and then flitted through the garden as adults.  I grow plenty of sunflower types and those plants have nurtured a boon of butterflies, which have been pops of moving color in both larval and adult stages.

To encourage butterflies in your garden, tolerance for munched leaves is a must.

Butterflies and moths lay their eggs on host plants.  Then larvae hatch and eat the foliage of those plants.  The foliage isn’t pristine during the caterpillar progressive meals, but once the eating frenzy is finished and the cats are sequestered in their cocoons, the foliage recovers. A common fallacy is that there is something wrong with foliage that has been eaten, and that the offending insects must be destroyed.  But insects and plants evolved together and share synchronistic relationships:  plants are required for healthy insect populations and insects utilizing their host plants for food eat only what they need for their next stage of development and generally won’t eat foliage to the detriment of plants–nature just doesn’t work that way.  Plants usually rebound to provide for the next generation of pollinators.   As for problematic, invasive insects (for example, aphids and red spider mites), a few blasts of water will usually take care of them.

 

Big, beautiful Southern Carpenter beesXylocopa micans, usually show up in mid-summer and this year a couple arrived on cue.  I like this bum-shot of the bodacious bee.

No, it doesn’t have a red tail issuing from its backside, but instead, the bee is perched over the flower, its proboscis (unseen) thrust into the base of the plant, slurping nectar.  This activity is known as nectar stealing or robbing and, at first glance, doesn’t appear to aid pollination.  The thief either eats a hole into the tissue of the flower, or exploits a hole already in existence, then–proboscis engaged–sips away, bypassing the more typical pollination process.

When pollinators land on flowers and drink from the center of the flower where the reproductive parts are located, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship:  the pollinator gets nectar, the plant is pollinated and reproduction happens.  So is nectar robbing actually theft and is pollination averted?  Maybe not, as the insect (or other pollinator), land on the bloom in such a way that its various body parts make contact with the reproductive parts of the flower.  After nectar robbing from one flower while lying all over that flower, the bee then flies to other flowers.  With pollen grains attached to the bee’s abdomen, legs, and parts unknown, grains are deposited on the following flowers and pollination is achieved.

These gorgeous bees are so large that when one buzzes by me, I feel a slight whoosh in the air!  I’ve seen them at different plants, but in my garden they prefer Turkscap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Addendum:  I thought this bee was probably a Southern Carpenter, but for good measure, before I published, I sent an identification request to BugGuide.net.  The first response I received was, I believe, incorrect as it suggested the bee was a species from California.  That would be hard as the bee and I reside in Texas.  However, I’ve since received a second identification (Friday August 9) suggesting that this bee is a Large Carpenter bee,  Xylocopa mexicanorum. 

 So…welcome to the wonderful world of insect identification!

So what’s in your garden as summer plods along?  Please post about your garden critters and leave a link  to your post when you comment here and happy wildlife gardening!

If Wishes Were Fishes

In this particular instance, I think Astrud’s wish is for an Green Anole lizard, Anolis carolinensis, rather than fishes, but I’m confident she’d accept fishes, if available.

Taken through a window with questionable clarity and a screen which wants cleaning, this photo didn’t prevent Astrud from wishing she was out and the lizard’s appreciation that she wasn’t.  I watched these two as they eyed one another through the protection of and limit by glass and screen, grateful that Astrud was in the house and the lizard safe in his environment.

I guess we all want fishes of one sort or another:  gardens which weed and mulch themselves, windows and screens which never dirty,  cats who don’t catch wildlife–the list is endless.  Still, there’s value in wishing, and then working, toward a goal.   I would prefer the eating of lizards remain off the list, but in these fraught times, maintaining hopes and wishes–augmented by action–is vital.

Just leave the lizards alone.

I’m pleased to join again with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

 

Hot July

Clear blue skies dotted with drifts of puffy clouds, warm south breezes creating shadow puppetry underneath leafy trees, and the onslaught of truly toasty temperatures are all reminders that summer has settled in.  This is a relatively mild summer compared to some of recent years and one benefiting from plenty of rain in May and June.  The humidity is high and skin is sticky, hats are worn, sunscreen applied, mosquitoes are slapped, water taken, and air conditioning is always appreciated:  it’s hot July in Central Texas.

As well, the garden is lush, with blooming action to satisfy pollinators and gardeners.

My Retama treeParkinsonia aculeata, has bloomed non-stop since May.   The flowers are borne in clusters and bees buzz all around.

Petals are sunny summer yellow, except for one with a honey gland which turns the petal orange-red.

Retama are native to the southern and western states of the U.S., but have proven invasive in other parts of the world.  My tree is about 15 years old and beginning to decline.  It’s only produced a couple of viable seedlings in my garden, one of which is now about 3 feet tall.

I’m quite fond of Tasmanian flax lily, Dianella tasmanica, ‘Variegata’.  I originally planted several individuals for their fun foliage and brightening impact in my shady back garden.  My garden also wanted some structural detail and I’m not a fan of spiky plants,  so softer grasses and grass-like plants appeal.   Plus, flax lily stands strong against our hot, typically dry summers.

While Flax lily are noted for foliage they do produce blooms.  The slender, slightly arching bloom stalks are graceful and the petite flowers are shooting-star enchanting.  They last for quite a long while.

I recall seeing some small native bees and flies around the blooms last summer, but haven’t spied such things this year.   This flower looks like it’s ready for a pollinator pal.

 

Some years ago, I was given a tiny seedling of a Mexican orchid treeBauhina mexicana.  It was early autumn and I dutifully planted, watered, and mulched  the baby tree.  After a cold winter with a number of hard freezes, I assumed that the seedling orchid tree was probably a goner.  However, it returned and now, a decade (or so) later, it returns each spring after winter freezes, and in mild winters, remains evergreen.  This little tree blossoms on and off through the long growing season.

With a rangy, shrub-like growing habit, my original specimen sports pure white flowers.  A favorite flower among the pollinator crowd, the larger swallowtail butterflies are enamored with the gorgeous orchid-like blooms.

The original has bequeathed several seedlings, some of which I’ve given to gardening buddies, but one I kept and planted in my front garden and it’s flourished.  The blooms on this tree are tinged pink, rather than the pure white of its parent.  In the photo below, check out the smeary green metallic bee (left side) heading with determination for a taste of Mexican orchid nectar.

 

Nothing says summer like sunflowers!  I feed my urban bird visitors black-oiled sunflower seed year-round and each spring dozens of individual sunflowers germinate from those very seeds.  I cull most of the seedlings, but allow some to stay.   They always grow tall, but with this year’s rain, they’ve grown Jack-in-the-beanstalk giant.

It’s not a difficult task to find someone feeding on these happy flowers almost anytime of the day.

As the flowers fade and seeds replace blooms, House and Lesser goldfinches (and other birds, too) become feeders-in-residence on the tall annuals.

 

My pond gurgles and flows in increasing shade each year.  The water isn’t impacted by the shady situation, but the pond flowers bloom less, though still manage some lovely and welcome flowers.  These pink pretties are waterlily Nymphaea ‘Colorado’.  Soft pink petals paired with golden centers, the flowers float among fish and fins and lily-pad foliage.

A pond colleague, Pickerel rush, Pontederia cordata, sits in the bog section of the pond.

In contrast with the lily flower floaters and their spider-like spread of leaves, Pickerel rush is upright in both floral and foliage form.

 

If this were March rather than July, the Yellow columbineAquilegia chrysantha,  would be a resounding choice as a main garden bloomer.  But this is the first year EVER that I’ve seen columbine bloom in my garden through June and into July.  These summer columbine blooms came from one particular columbine plant and the blooms certainly weren’t as prolific as they are in the spring, but the individual columbine shrub flowered until about a week ago.  Of course I’m not complaining about the summer appearance of a typical spring bloom, I’m just baffled at this bit of serendipity and have assigned credit for the bonus blooms to our rainy June.

Sweet flower mug shot, face forward,

…and side view.

The columbines are done for the year, I believe, but I enjoyed their long bloom cycle in 2019.  I’d love it if this summer’s blooming business signals a trend, but I’ll be surprised if the summer columbines make an appearance next year.

 

My mother was a gardener who planted.  She didn’t particularly care about color or form or name of plant–she just like plants and especially flowering plants.  My parents gardened near the Gulf of Mexico and in their garden grew this crinum lily.

  

Long ago, before they both died, they gave me a number of bulbs which I planted in my own back garden.  I don’t know the crinum’s name, nor do I know from where it originally hails.  Blooms from this lovely lily have been rare treats in my garden; usually, it’s one stalk per year in mid-summer and that’s it.  Most years, no blooms appear and I’ve long contented myself with the crinum serving as a nice foliage perennial, rather than anything of a floral nature.  This summer–again, it’s the rain–all of my established crinum plants have bloomed and each with several bloom stalks.  What a treat it’s been!

 

Conversely, the Texas native TurkscapMalvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii, is normally a powerhouse bloomer in the summer. Not so this summer.  Thanks, rain!

Turks are wonderfully drought tolerant and prefer to live and bloom in dry, shady conditions and my garden supplies plenty of that.  The summer started wet and lots of foliage grew, but not as many blooms popped on the plants–including Turkscap–which prefer arid conditions.  As we’re now in a more normal dry summer pattern, the crimson hibiscus-like flowers are making up for lost time.

The little honeybee accommodated my photo by flying in and nectaring at just the right moment.

 

Another summer bloomer grown in Central Texas is the Pride of BarbadosCaesalpinia pulcherrima.  It’s an eye-popping plant with shocking orange and yellow flowers, along with dramatic red stamens.  It’s hard to ignore and why would you want to?

A popular landscape plant,  this prolific bloomer is root hardy here in Austin, but evergreen in the southern parts of the state.  Pride of Barbados is also a pollinator magnet; bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds all spend time working the blooms’ bounties.

I only have one spot that comes near to providing enough light for this sun lover and even there, my specimen is, quite frankly, a little lame.   In the right conditions–full, blasting sun–these herbaceous perennials can easily grow 5 feet wide and 6-8 feet tall.  They are drama queen plants!

July in Austin is a mixed-bag:  blue skies are full of cheer and hope, but hot temperatures wear thin over the long days.  There’s plenty in the garden worth celebrating though and I hope your July garden is providing a good flower and foliage show too.