Pipe(vine) Dream

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed observing many a Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor, drifting through my garden, blue-tipped wings highlighted by the brilliant Texas sun.

The winged wonders rest in trees and tall shrubs, basking in the sunshine; occasionally, one drifts to the garden, flitting through the plants with strong wing beats, adding its beauty to the local landscape.  The host plant for these gorgeous insects are pipevine plants, Aristolochia species; I’ve never grown any myself and I didn’t I know where pipevines resided that might be the nursery for the Pipevine Swallowtails visiting my garden.  But in the last couple of years, I noticed several White Veined Dutchman’s pipeAristolochia fimbriata  in a nearby neighbor’s garden and have assume that recent Pipevine Swallowtails wafting through my garden hail from her Dutchman’s Pipe.

This is one of my new plants, but you can see why a gardener might want this plant in the garden

Aside from its obvious attractive qualities in the garden,  A. fimbriata also a fab host plant for both the Pipevine Swallowtail and another butterfly, the Polydamas SwalllowtailBattus polydamas.

Last fall, dreaming of hosting my own crop of Pipevine Swallowtails, I planted three individual White-veined Dutchman’s pipe in a spot which has become increasingly shady.  I wanted something that would handle shade, be summer drought-hardy, and feed some sort of critter–or two.

I think I picked the right plants.

The three pipevines will spread, but I might plant a fourth in the middle to fill in. The small green plants shown here in the middle of the three pipevines are rosettes of Gulf penstemons, which I’ve recently transplanted to another spot.  A flock of ceramic birds fill the void.

Cheery green foliage, with spidery markings, the leaves are elegant and eye-catching.

White Veined Dutchman’s Pipe is hardy in zones 7-11;  I garden in zone 8b.  After our hard freezes this past winter, the pipevines died to their roots, but popped back in spring, ready for a full growing season.

I traveled during the first half of May and when I returned, the caterpillars (none of which I saw prior to the trip) had laid waste to all three plants.  Nothing remained but slender limbs of green.

Yum, yum–Dutchman Pipes taste good to Pipevine Swallowtail larvae!  Within a few weeks and assisted by some lovely, welcomed rain in June, all three plants have emerged–lush-n-leafy–after providing meals for that first batch of caterpillars.

Dutchman’s Pipe bloom, too!   They’re odd little aliens which are a bit shy.  You’ll have to peek under leaves to see them.

Despite the muted color scheme, Dutchman pipe flowers evoke the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.

Toward the end of the first round of larval lunching, there were still a couple of caterpillars, nibbling away.

There wasn’t much of the green stuff left for those last larvae and I don’t know if either ate enough to get to the morphing stage, but some time later, I found this chrysalis in a bucket on my back patio.

How do caterpillars decide where to place their chrysalises? I was about to fill the bucket with water when I saw the chrysalis. Yet another reminder that t’s always good to keep a sharp eye out for insects and the weird spots where they place their homes.

I kept watch for the adult’s emergence, but missed it.  However, the adult butterflies are back at it again;  the other day, I watched as a female oviposited the next generation.

There are several clusters of eggs on several slender branches. I imagine the larvae will eat most, if not all the leaves, so foliage will have to flush out again.

Despite the ravages that butterfly and moth larvae render leaves they feed upon, I’ve never lost a plant to caterpillar munching madness.  The various host plants that I grow always leaf out after a period of rest.

I prefer to use Texas natives when I’m able, but there is no commercially available native Texas Aristolochia. The next best thing is a non-native and A. fimbriata  fills this niche nicely.  It’s summer-tough, non-invasive, and pretty.  What more could you ask for?

One cautious note about pipevines: if you’re interested in attracting the stunning Pipevine Swallowtails,  you should avoid planting Giant pipevine, Aristolochia gigantea.  This tropical pipevine is too toxic for the Pipevine Swallowtails; the butterflies lay their eggs, the larvae hatch and eat, then die after the first instar.

So if you want this,

…and this,

…plant this.

 

Wildlife Wednesday, November 2014

I should call this month’s post: what you notice when you bother to pay attention.  The reason I started Wildlife Wednesday was (unselfishly)  to promote planting and gardening for wildlife and (selfishly) to improve my own observation, identification, and photographic skills.  One thing I’ve learned is just how much wildlife actually resides in my gardens that I hadn’t fully appreciated.  I wasn’t oblivious to the myriad of creepy, crawly, flitty pollinator/seed distributor-types, but I didn’t notice them all that much.  Bees?  Oh sure, they’re in the garden, but don’t ask me to tell the difference between species.  The birds were easy to identify, as long as they were colorful or in some other way caught my eye. All those little brown/gray/tan things?  They were just “twitty birds” to me.  Butterflies, because of their obvious beauty, were much easier to discern, but I didn’t necessarily observe and identify moths or the many little skippers out there, which are important pollinators, along with the most beautiful butterfly. I’m still more likely to be aware of the conspicuous; sometimes, that’s all I have time or patience for.  But in these past few months, in focusing my observations on life-beyond-the-plants, I’m amazed at what I’ve seen that I wasn’t aware of.  I have grown to value, even more than before, the abundant diversity residing in my patch of the Earth.

I must have spent fifteen minutes attempting to get a decent photograph of this pollen-heavy leafcutting bee,

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..as it worked the blooms of a Henry Duelberg Sage.  At least I think it’s a leafcutting bee, which is categorized as a Megachile species.   I was more fascinated at how this little bee moved around, so laden  with pollen.  At one point she rested along the stem.

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Just afterwards, she lumbered away in flight, her corbiculae, which I like to call pollen pantaloons, loaded with valuable cargo.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure she could fly, she was carrying so much pollen.  But fly she did.

Throughout this blooming fall, I’ve seen many individuals of this species of Tachinid fly at blooming plants, like Frostweed.

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The first of these flies that I saw was at a distance and  I assumed it was some sort of black bumblebee.  Upon closer inspection,

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…it had that definite fly look about it. Those huge eyes!  And don’t you just love those hairs sticking out of its abdomen?

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Interestingly, I’ve observed these flies exclusively on the Frostweed and White Mistflower blooms–both white flowers, though I couldn’t find any information that suggests they prefer white blooms.

Of course, I must brag about my little honeybees,

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…as they work flowers for the benefit of the hive(s).

Throughout October, I’ve seen several types of hover fly species in the gardens.  The Common Oblique Syrphid, Allograpta obliqua, is remarkably photogenic.

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This little “flower fly” is a beneficial garden resident as it sips nectar in its adult stage and controls aphids in its larval stage, as a little green worm.  Beautiful to look at and valuable for gardens,

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…they’re good garden partners.

And of course, no parade of October-in-Austin insect photos are complete without a bevy of butterfly images.  The Monarchs, Danaus plexippus,  have been daily visitors through most of October, nectaring on favorites like the Gregg’s Mistflower.

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A relative of the Monarchs,  the QueenDanaus gilippus, also prefers Gregg’s Mistflower,

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…as does the American Painted LadyVanessa virginiensis,

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…as does the Mournful DuskywingErynnis tristis.  

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I guess the garden lesson demonstrated here is that Gregg’s Mistflower is a must-have wildlife attracting plant.  It’s pretty, too.

Common in Austin, the Pipevine SwallowtailBattus philenor,  is a high, strong flyer. Though this one,

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…looks a little worse for wear.  It was nice to see him one sunny afternoon, because I haven’t enjoyed many of his kind visiting my gardens this year.

As we head into cooler temperatures, the various dragon and damselflies will be dormant. I spied this beauty, a Springwater Dancer,  Argia plana, sunning himself on the rocks which border my pond.

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He may be the last one I see this autumn, but I’m sure he and his Odonata brethren will return next spring to grace my gardens.

I think this little insect is a sweat bee of the Halictidae family.  He/she was busily working a Goldeneye bloom. Small bloom, smaller bee.  I thought that I would definitely find a photo and identifying information for this critter, but didn’t locate information which gives me total confidence on my identification. I’ll have to take a guess on this one.

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But it’s an example of what you notice when you pay attention.  Unobtrusive and small, I might not have seen this native bee (of whatever variety) if I wasn’t looking for wild visitors.

This Blue-gray GnatcatcherPolioptila caerulea, was hopping around in my Retama tree one Sunday afternoon as I attempted to photograph a Tufted titmouse.

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The Gnatcatcher is apparently a summer resident in Central Texas, before migrating south, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one before.

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More than likely I have seen a Gnatcatcher, but relegated it to the category of “generic neutral-colored bird,” which I’m afraid I sometimes do.   My bad.

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He’s another example of what you notice when you pay attention.  And I never did get a decent photo of a Tufted titmouse.

This American RedstartSetophaga ruticilla, visited and this is the best shot I could manage. IMGP1652_cropped_2695x3304..new

The photo is poor quality, in part because I was so excited to find a bird that I’d never seen (I need to work on that breathe deep and focus thing), but also because he was flitty and flighty in his movements.  Then my dog waddled near to where the bird was.  Then the cat decided to stroll in the general vicinity of Mr. Redstart.  Well, he’s no fool and he flew away. Migratory through Central Texas, on his way to Central and South America for winter, I saw him a little later in an oak tree, but it was late and he just wouldn’t cooperate for a photo.  After looking at photos of both the male and female Redstarts, I believe I observed a female mid-month working her way among my perennial shrubs.   Alas, no photo of her either.

The Lesser Goldfinches, Spinus psaltria, descended on the Goldeneye as the flowers went to seed.

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They were around for a week or two, making themselves at home.

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I haven’t seen them in about two weeks.  I live on the edge of their year round habitat, but it’s possible the visiting crew headed south.  I did read that they tend to move around quite a bit.  I still have Goldeneye seeding out;  I wish the Lessers would stop by for some meals.

And I’m always amaze at the noise the petite Carolina WrenThryothorus ludovicianus, makes.

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This little guy is a common bird in my gardens and packs a wallop of sound from that tiny body.  This fellow was singing away just after sunrise.

Lots happened in my garden during October and I’m sure yours also hosted plenty of wild action. Please join in posting about the wild garden visitors for November Wildlife Wednesday. Share the rare or mundane, funny or fascinating, beneficial or harmful critters you encounter. When you comment on my post, please remember to leave a link to your Wildlife Wednesday post so we can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

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Good wildlife gardening to you!