Always a Surprise

Every September, I’m surprised–and unsurprised–at the overnight emergence of the clusters of Oxblood lily, Rhodophiala bifida, in my gardens.

The September surprise begins with the fleshy stems, which push through newly rained upon soil and which I observe if I’m actually looking for them.  But it’s usually the riot of red atop those stems that catches my attention.  And how could I miss that scream of scarlet? 

These shockingly crimson blooms emerge at the end of our long summers and after the first fall rains.  Not native to Texas, these beauties originated in various parts of South America.  Oxbloods were brought to Texas by an early Texas botanist, Peter Oberwetter and have naturalized throughout much of the state, gracing lawns, natural areas, and gardens–including my own.  The blooms sit only about 12 inches from the ground and last a week or so.  Often, though not this year, my various groups pop up and bloom at different times, extending the bloom period to as much as a month.  This year, they’ve all burst open at once.  Once the blooms are done, slender, striped foliage emerges and remains evergreen throughout winter, disappearing sometime in late spring.  The Oxblood lily bulbs hunker down for the hot summer.  Smart bulbs! 

The strappy leaves you see accompanying the blooms in the photos belong to another plant, the native Texas craglilyEcheandia texensis, which are revving up their autumn blooming, too. 

As I sat on the ground to get these shots, several metallic sweat bees buzzed around the blooms, but I couldn’t get more than a smear of bee in any of the photos, so I settled for pure flowers.  It’s affirming to see the pollinators active and attracted to these blooms.  A little ways from where I sat, a hummingbird worked a different set of red flowers and I’ll bet that after I left the scene, Ms. Hummer came by for a sip. 

Surprises in the garden really aren’t surprises, are they?  We know the garden is dynamic, we know there’s always something new, something evolving, something different.  We just need to pay attention to the somethings.

For more surprises–or not–check out Anna’s Flutter and Hum and Wednesday’s Vignette!

Green With Envy: Wildlife Wednesday, September 2020

On lucky days my garden is graced by some of Austin’s resident, non-native, Monk Parakeets.  Usually it’s a small group of two or three gregarious greens flying over and cawing loudly to let everyone know they’re in the neighborhood.  Occasionally, one or two of these gorgeous birds will pop in, perch in my trees, and purloin some seeds.  The munching Monks have generally favored the black-oiled sunflower feeder, but recently, this one decided that safflower seeds were just the thing it craved.

That said, the green-with-envy bird could only look, smack its formidable beak in anticipation, and wait patiently above the popular bird seed feeder, because the House Finches, Haemorhous mexicanus, are currently the dominate guests at the safflower food tube. 

Safflower seeds are all the rage, it seems.

While the Monk Parakeet waited, two hatch-year females took their time enjoying the seeds, no doubt frustrating the colorful giant.  Most days, each of the four safflower feeding stations are filled with finches and there was a bumper crop of fledglings this year, so there’s currently lots of finch action in my garden, in the trees and on the feeders.  I enjoy observing the House Finches:  they’re attractive, chatty birds with pretty songs and calls and they chirp with charm as they chop their seeds.   The females are striped in brown and cream, as are the males, who also blush red on their breasts, heads, and under wings.

Eventually, the petite finches became safflower-sated and the parakeet got the feeder to itself.  Austin’s Monk Parakeets are descendants of pets released over the past 50 years or so.  The Monks have adapted well here, as they have in other North American cities.  Monk Parakeets, Myiopsitta monachus, are native to South America and live communally, building large nests atop utility poles and tall trees.  As far as I’m aware, the Monks haven’t negatively impacted the environment or displaced any native birds.  It’s not unusual to see Monks hanging out with glossy, gleaming black-to-brown Great-tailed and Common Grackles, especially in open areas.  The birds all congenially march along, pack-like, gleaning seeds or insects from the ground before taking flight to trees, bright green wings in contrast and complement to the black iridescent ones. 

On some rare occasions, fires have erupted in and on the large Monk stick nests built at the top of electric poles, which obviously isn’t good either for the birds or the people and other critters who live below.  In the interest of safety, Austin’s fire department pull down nests built in questionable places which is a bummer for the Monk Parakeets, but better for all concerned.

My visiting Monk Parakeet was almost, but not quite, too big for the feeder.  It maneuvered around the feeder somewhat awkwardly, taking seeds successfully.

And while the green machine ate, look who had to rustle up some self-restraint and wait her turn. 

Who’s green–or brown and white–with envy now?

I hope your garden has some wild goings on and happy wildlife gardening!  Also, pop over to Flutter and Hum for garden vignettes;  there’s always a story there to enjoy.

That Branch

Sometimes I look at that dead branch and wonder why I haven’t pruned it back to the  major limb that’s actually alive.  The branch belongs to a Red Tip Photinia which I planted decades ago when I was a newby gardener and knew next-to-nothing about gardening in Central Texas.  It sits near a back corner of my house and I’ve kept it because it provides evergreen coverage for the many birds who visit: those who’re migrating through and the neighborhood birds who’re making the rounds to feed, drink, and rest.  That’s why I keep the Photinia, but why the dead branch?

This is why.

Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis)

The branch is perfectly suited for a quick dash to or from the feeder: feeding birds snatching a snack, then retreat to the large shrub to nosh.  Sometimes the birds prefer the foliaged parts, sometimes, they’re content to perch in the open.

What I’ve learned in the decades since I plopped the Photinia into the ground is that the perfectly coiffed “yard” is not an inviting home or welcoming place for birds, bees, butterflies and other critters.  My goals in gardening have changed from those early days and I prefer plants, or plant parts, that are useful for those critters who live among us critters.

The branch will eventually break, either from a heavy wind or rain, or just because–but I won’t bring it down.  I’ll leave it for the birds until events require them to find another place to park.  

I’m happy to link today with Anna at her lovely Flutter and Hum and Wednesday Vignette; pop on over to enjoy garden stories.