Native Season

This week, Texas gardeners recognize the value of native plants in our gardens during Native Texas Plant Week.  Native Texas plants belong here, where they’ve evolved alongside endemic wildlife, enduring capricious weather patterns, varied soils, and wide-ranging topography.  While not indestructible, native plants (once established) tend to withstand drought and periodic flooding better than most introduced plants.  There are exceptions of course, but when a garden is primarily natives, it reflects a strength of purpose which translates to less fuss and work for the gardener, as well as unique, regional loveliness in both flower and foliage  all year round.   

Spring flower cluster, with Black Swallowtail butterfly attached, of the Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora). The foliage is evergreen and attractive year-round.

The native plants thriving in my modest, urban garden array from those which bloom nearly year-round, to those that show-off seasonal glory.  When I evaluate my garden, I reflect that most of my native plants (and some of my non-natives) were gifted to me, either as seedlings or seeds.   Yes, I’ve purchased plants, mostly trees and a few shrubs, but gardening with natives doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor if you connect with local native plant enthusiasts, native/wildlife gardening organizations, or the wacky gardening neighbor down the street.  Increasingly, local urban nurseries offer an assortment of native plants for affordable prices.

Golden groundsel (Packera obovata), spring flowers feeding Texan Crescent butterfly.

It takes time and requires more knowledge and creative energy to plant with natives, rather than simply sodding your “yard” with mono-culture turf.  But the rewards in enjoying seasonal interest, in providing a respite for wildlife, and lessening regular maintenance (especially in the heat of summer) makes the effort worthwhile for home and commercial landscapes.

Gulf Coast Penstemon (Penstemon tenuis), blooming in spring.

Gulf Coast Penstemon with seed heads in late summer.

In this post you’ll see a few of the plants that grow happily in my garden, most of which I’ve profiled previously.  Some are spring-only actors, while some blaze the garden stage primarily in autumn.  Many bloom repeatedly throughout the long growing season, or morph from beautiful spring-summer blooms to spectacular fall-winter seedheads–alluring for the gardener, sustaining for wildlife.

This spring bloomer is a hybrid between my Yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) and my Eastern red columbine (Aquilegia canadensis).  Check out my ‘Seasonal Look’ for Columbine.

In all cases, these plants are easy to grow–with the right light and soil requirements– and are appealing throughout the year.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) flowers in late spring and summer; rests during the heat of mid-to-late summer, then enjoys a second flowering again in autumn.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) is a small perennial, dormant in winter if there is a hard freeze. It emerges in spring and blooms through autumn, until winter, in earnest,  arrives.

White tropical sage is a natural hybrid of the red tropical sage. Some of my tropical sage are red, most are white–all are gorgeous!

For information about North American native plants, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.   Even better, if you live in or near Austin, go for a visit–it’s a stunning native garden dedicated to the education and preservation of native plants in North America.  Additionally for those in or near Austin, the LBJWC will hold its fall plant sale this Friday and Saturday, October 20-21–check out the website for more information.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) is a long-blooming perennial shrub and a huge favorite of the pollinator crowd.

When someone visits my garden, a common comment is: You have such a green thumb.  My reply is always the same:  I don’t really have a green thumb, other than that I pick great plants that don’t need much care.  

Sunny Engelmann’s daisy (Engelmannia peristenia),  paired with Henry Duelberg sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’).  Buzzily nectaring native Carpenter bee–bonus treat!

And it’s absolutely true, since native plants are hardy enough to thrive, even for the most black-thumbed amongst us.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora) hosting a Long-Tailed Skipper.  This West Texas native blooms repeatedly throughout the growing season.

The same sage photobombing a containerized American century plant (Agave americana)

 

Native plants are necessary for the health of wildlife and are vital sources of food for migrating insects and birds.  With native plants in the ground, your garden will be alive with wildlife, and after all, isn’t that what plants are for?

Male Monarch butterfly nectaring on Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), another long-flowering perennial native.

 

Some native plants are endemic to a specific area, like this Big red sageSalvia penstemonoides.  The Big red sage was believed extinct, but in the 1980’s several groups were found in the Austin area, its only native habitat (as I recall, under one of the MoPac overpasses).  Since then, the seeds collected have been nurtured and plants are grown for nursery trade.  This stunning summer bloomer (and great hummingbird flower) is found in some locally owned nurseries.  I purchased mine at Barton Springs Nursery.

I’ve planted four of these perennials in my back garden; this one overlooks the pond and receives the most sunlight. Recently, with the downing of part of a non-native tree in my front garden, I’ve transplanted the three remaining to that garden, with hopes that they will get more sun and the pollinators (and the gardener!) will enjoy more of these deep, crimson flowers.

Other native plants are found in a larger geographical area, some spanning the whole of North America.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) has a native range from Virginia to Arkansas, Texas and Florida.

 

Natives are lovely planted together.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata), Turkscap, and in the bottom, right corner, the subdued, pink-blossomed Barbados Cherry (Malpighia glabra)

 

While blooms are boss (at least, I think so!), don’t forget about our native grasses, appropriate for shade and sun situations, lending softness and grace to the garden.

Big muhly (Lindheimer’s muhly) in autumn plume

 

Plant natives.

Pipevine Swallowtail, feeding on Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

Painted Lady butterfly on Frostweed

Migrating Monarch on White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)

Big muhly, Shrubby blue sage, Turkscap, non-native, containerized bougainvillea

Texas craglily (Echeandia texensis)–blooming in fall

Wild blue aster, Fall aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), turning happy, autumn-aster faces. imploring you to plant natives!

You’ll be amazed at the transformation of your once-boring swath of grass as it becomes enlivened with blooms-n-berries, foliage-n-flowers, and critters galore–all with less effort from you.

Go native plants!

Happy Texas Native Plant Week!

Native Texans

In this post you won’t find any cowboy boots or hats, nor plates of barbecue and bowls of salsa, and certainly no funny, twangy accents, but you will see plenty of beauty and Texan toughness.  What is this you’ve stumbled across?  It’s an homage to Texas native plants and to the celebration thereof:  Texas Native Plant Week marked annually during the week of October 16-22.

Nectaring Gray Hairstreak (Strymon melinus) on Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida).  Twistleaf yucca (Yucca rupicola) serves as a backdrop

Established to educate and encourage Texans to recognize and utilize our lovely, valuable native plants in personal and public gardens, many communities in Texas sponsor events promoting the use of native plants during this week of native plant love.

Plateau goldeneye (Viguiera dentata)

 

Native plants are valuable for many reasons:  they’re easy to grow and maintain, and require less irrigation; they feed and protect native fauna; they’re key to biological diversity, and vital for a healthy environment.

Shrubby blue sage (Salvia ballotiflora)

 

Plants can be native to a wide geographical area–like the whole of North America–or specific to a small, confined eco-system–like the area in which you live.

Texas Craglily (Echeandia texensis)

 

Natives belong where you live, whether you’re in Texas or some other fabulous place.

Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) and White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

 

Do we need to practice purity in our gardening aesthetics and utilize only natives in our gardens? Well, it would be nice if we planted all natives, all the time, but for many gardeners, that’s simply not possible because native plants aren’t always as commercially available as non-native plants.  And it’s true that there are many non-native, well-adapted plants which enrich our gardens and beautify our world; it’s perfectly fine to garden with both natives and non-natives.

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea) paired with non-native, potted Yucca filamentosa ‘Golden Sword’

But when you plant natives in your garden, you help define the place you live. What grows for me here in urban Austin, Texas doesn’t work–or may not fit–for gardeners in Chicago, Illinois,  Eugene, Oregon, or Bangor, Maine.  What grows here, doesn’t necessarily grow there; plant diversity makes the world go ’round.  All regions enjoy unique botanical flavor and that should be appreciated–and practiced–by those who’re driven to create gardens.

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

 

Plant natives in your garden for ease and practicality.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala)

 

Plant natives to protect and nurture wildlife.

Migrating Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Turkscap

 

Plant natives for seasonal interest and to elicit a sense of place.

White mistflower (Ageratina havanensis)

 

Especially in urban areas, the use of native plants helps restore wildlife habitat and regional character.

Migrating Monarch on Plateau goldeneye

 

Flowers in the city are like lipstick on a woman–it just makes you look better to have a little color.  Lady Bird Johnson

Plateau goldeneye

 

For more information about Texas Native Plant Week, check out these links:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Native Plants of Texas

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica)

 

Today I’m also linking with Carol of May Dreams Gardens for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Check out flowers from all over the world, honoring all things blooming–native or otherwise.

Wild blue aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium)

Transitions: Wildlife Wednesday

Summer wanes, but heat persists.  The days grow shorter, nights are longer; all are cooler.   Rain falls, gently, but also in sheets and deluges. Here in Central Texas, September weather conditions tend to the transitional and this past month certainly bolstered that weather paradigm. Summer 2017 is now in the history books and autumn will write its own story.  But no matter the conditions, garden wildlife continue their activities:  eating, dying, growing, defending, migrating.  Today is the first Wednesday of the month and time to appreciate those with whom we share space in the wilds of our gardens and neighborhoods.

I’ve been watching this beauty,

…a Green Lynx SpiderPeucetia viridans, for a couple of weeks.  She perched atop a White tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, successfully hunting various pollinators who happen her way while going about their own feeding business. She snagged a Horsefly-like Carpenter beeXylocopa tabaniformis, and while I angled for a photo, the startled spider dropped the bee onto a leaf below the spider’s lair. 

Not willing to lose out on a juicy bee, Ms. Spider makes her way along the stem to her repast.

Sniff–the X. tabaniformis bees are my favorite bee species and I hate to see one of them become someone’s meal.  But everyone must eat, including garden spiders, and that’s the way of wildlife–and wildlife gardening.

This little bee, perhaps a Sweat bee, Halictus tripartitus, and another common native bee in my garden, also fell victim to the spider’s appetite and hunting skills.

Another sniff by me.  Well, it can’t always be bad insects that are eaten.  I had words with Ms. Spider about expanding her food repertoire, but she remains on the Tropical sage, hunting and eating her fill.

On this Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, a Milkweed Assasin Bug,  Zelus longipes, demonstrates its hunting prowess. The snared snack is yet another Horsefly-like Carpenter bee.  There are lots of these bees in my garden, so it makes sense that some are going to become prey for hunters.

I wish I could warn the bees about the impending danger lurking amongst the flowers, but they’re on their own in the big, bad, dangerous garden-world.

FrostweedV. virginica is the best, THE BEST,  pollinator plant in my garden.   When it blooms each autumn, I’m always amazed at the variety of insects partaking of its bounty. Each blooming season I see and learn about new-to-me pollinators by watching what visits the Frostweed flowers.

I observed this handsome critter on some Frostweed blooms:

He/she is a Soldier flyOdontomyia cincta. No doubt my garden has benefitted from this insect before, but I’ve never seen one.  Turns out that the larval form of this insect is aquatic; the adults feed on nectar, the larvae feed on algae.  I have a pond, as do several neighbors, so it’s a wonder that I’ve never seen this gorgeous insect before.

I can’t decide if its coloring is akin to the loud clothing combos of a golfer or the eye-popping garb of a disco dancer, but I’m sure glad this one came by for a sip so that I could admire its kelly green-and-black striped costume and deep maroon eyes.

 

This Largus BugLargus succcinctus, may not be as beautiful as a butterfly or as industrious as a bee, but it dines on the Barbie-doll pink blossoms of the Coral Vine, Antigonon leptopus, pollinating with the best of them 

Another stellar autumn pollinator plant, the Coral Vine is beloved by honeybees.  The vine is currently in motion with the buzzing activity of huge numbers of honeybees working these sweet blooms.

 

I haven’t posted recently about the resident Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis, lizards in my garden, but there are plenty of them around, eating anything smaller than themselves.

Hanging out on the front wall of the house, neither green nor brown is particularly effective camouflage.

This one was in brown-to-green transition as he looked warily at me, assuming some invasion of his territory. He has nothing to fear from me–I love these little ones and am happy they like my gardens.

This very little one is obviously a juvenile, at only about 2.5 inches in length, compared to the 6 or 7 inches for adults.  In late summer and early fall, it’s common to spot these teenage anoles.  They’re even cuter than the adults.

 

Bird migration was a big win in my garden during spring, but there has been little migratory movement through my garden this past month.  I spotted what I think was an Eastern Phoebe and another bird who was yellow with wing bars–that describes quite a few migratory birds, but that’s the extent of bird migration action. This juvenile (?) Wilson WarblerCardenllina pusilla, enjoyed the pond and also picked insects from the Yellow bells, Tacoma stans and the Autumn sage, Salvia greggii.

I hope the migrating song birds are simply finding more amenable conditions west or east of my garden.

Hummingbirds were a constant this summer and there are still a couple of them around, chasing one another and fueling up for migration to Mexico and Central America on their favorite nectar plants.

She can’t decide which Turk’s cap blooms (Malvaviscus arboreus) to feed from.

Female Black-chinned HummingbirdsArchilochus alexandri are the most common hummers that I see.   I’ll miss their zooming antics, territorial squabbles, and annoyed, bossy chirps when they finally decide it’s time head south–which will be any day now.

Transitioning from summer to autumn provides interesting viewing of common and uncommon critters, while enjoying more pleasant temperatures.  I hope your garden is full of wildlife happenings and ready for autumn color. Please share your wildlife stories for this past month and remember to leave your link when you comment.  Good wildlife gardening to you!