Munching for a Cause

I would usually post nice photos of the currently stellar-in-the-garden foliage to mark the monthly foliage fanfare that is Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day, but since it’s also National Pollinator Week in the U.S., I’d like to remind gardeners everywhere to look beyond mere surface of leaf beauty to something deeper, and even profound, in the garden.

In my garden this month, there are certain leafy greens that are being munched.

The stripped remains of Maypop foliage

Chewed foliage of  Blue passion-flower

Oh my!!  Should I fret?  Should I swear?  Should I throw in the trowel and give up gardening entirely? Or instead, should I celebrate the life cycle of pollinators who lay their eggs on host plants and then accept that at certain times during the growing season, some of my plants’ foliage will be less than flawless because of insect-eating damage?

I think I’ll go with that plan.

The host plants of many pollinators (butterflies and moths species in particular) serve as ready-made food bars where the leaves and stems host the incubation period of the eggs, and then once hatched, are munched by the larvae.  Eventually, the larvae, after consuming their fill of the required greens, morph in their beautiful adult stage.

A newly emerged Black Swallowtail

Yes, fennel foliage is fabulously beautiful in June’s sunshine.

But so are the Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, caterpillars that are devouring contentedly.

A mid instar  Black Swallowtail larva

Eventually, that hungry, hungry caterpillar will morph into this:

A Black Swallowtail in “J” formation. Finished with eating and growing, it’s time to morph into the adult stage

The same pupa, 24 hours later–in full chrysalis mode

Newly hatched Black Swallowtail, with ventral (underside) wing view. This butterfly is drying its wings after emergence from the chrysalis

The same butterfly, with dorsal (top) of wings in view–still drying.


For a while, I’m glad to tolerate the change from this,

…to this:  the spare, stripped stems and leaves, and yes, less lovely foliage, that is fennel after the larvae feeding.

None of my butterfly host plants (I grow about a half-dozen) have ever experienced too much munching damage to the point that the plant(s) didn’t return to full health.  From a biological standpoint, that makes sense, because a host plant wouldn’t be much of a host plant if the visiting insect ate it to death–that wouldn’t bode well for either the plant or the insect.  Nature is generally designed better than that.  The only caveat in my experience is that if fennel (a cool season plant and NOT the native host plant for the Black Swallowtail) is decimated, and it’s an older plant, and the summer is truly blazing hot (reminder–I live in Central Texas), the fennel might succumb. But there is an easy fix for that: a four-inch pot replacement is about $2 at my favorite nursery.

Also, as lovely as fennel foliage is for most of the year, I must be patient and understanding during the late spring/early summer and then again, in early fall, when the Black Swallowtail larvae are most active and therefore, the fennel isn’t in its best looks. I must recognize that the munched fennel will not add anything to accepted aesthetics of garden beauty. At that point, fennel has a more important role to play than as a just another pretty plant.


Currently, two different passion-flower plants, Blue passion-flower, Passiflora caerulea,

… and Maypop, Passiflora incarnata,

…are hosting the eggs and caterpillars of the Gulf FritillaryAgraulis vanillae.

Gulf Fritillary nectaring on a Giant spiderwort

A bit chewed up and worse for wear,

…the foliage feeds the larvae of this active and important pollinator which lives throughout Florida and Texas. The Gulf Fritillary lays her egg,

The newly laid egg is perched on the passion flower’s climbing tendril

…the larva eats,

…a  chrysalis is formed,

…and in time, the butterfly is born.

Gulf Fritillary in a resting position–ventral wing position


Gardening is neither an exact science or pure art form.  Gardeners must keep a keen eye on the garden for changes–good and bad–and for potential problems.  While almost all insects (like moths and butterflies, as well as their larvae) are beneficial, there are the bad bugs that no one wants to see cozying up to their well-loved and well-maintained gardens. Obviously, we don’t want to allow tomato horn worms to careen through our summer tomato crops with abandon.  Nor do most gardeners have much patience with aphids and other sucking insects.  But let’s keep noxious insecticides on the shelf, or better yet, un-purchased, and let’s hand remove or water-spritz the bad bugs when necessary.  A low maintenance insect management method will allow beneficial insects, pollinators especially, to thrive and to continue their work in our gardens and contribute to the health of larger world.

Even if they do eat up our foliage!

Whether your foliage is intact–or otherwise– join with me in celebrating foliage in the June garden.  Thanking Christina and her lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for hosting, check out her Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day for a look at foliage in many gardens, from many places, and share your leafy loveliness, too!

A Corner Garden

It’s a corner garden at the narrow end of my small, urban slice of the Earth.  It’s mostly about foliage in this garden because it’s also shady, with a dribble of sun here and dapple of sun there.

A variety of different plants envelop the negative space that is the pea gravel walk with the blue bird bath at its center.  For this post, I’ll focus on certain sections–the center corner and the adjacent left and right sections.

At the far end of the garden is a combination of leafy greens.

Toward the front, the Four o’clock is deciduous, but blooms a deep, fragrant pink flower at night during the growing season. If I irrigated more, I’d get blooms from the Uruguayan Firecracker, but this is a dry garden–I must content myself with its lovely foliage, which is the main reason I planted it.  The white-blooming Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea, (clustered at the back and not currently much in bloom) is meh  in the foliage department, but the bees and I adore the white blooms, which appear  throughout the growing season. The Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora, sports evergreen foliage year-round, plus adds height and width to this area, contrasting with the smaller perennials. Behind that and draping along the fence is an evergreen, Blue passion-flower vine, Passiflora caerulea, which is a host plant for the Gulf Fritillary butterfly. Along with its twining foliage, the Passion vine blooms magnificently and bees and butterflies appreciate that.


Sparkler Sedge,  Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’, truly sparkles in the garden.  I’ve enjoyed this plant (there are two specimens in this bed) though Sparkler breaks one of my gardening rules: don’t plant if it doesn’t feed something.

The second Sparkler sedge is located toward the back, underneath the Mountain Laurel,  competes for attention behind the Four o’clock and the Uruguayan Firecracker plant, both of which will get a little larger–though not huge– during the course of the growing season.

But what’s life without a few broken rules, right?  Sparkler sedge is water-wise and beautiful and that satisfies two other qualities that I look for when deciding what to plant and that’s good enough for me!

I like the juxtaposition of the various round-to-oblong perennial foliage  combined with the jaunty straps of the Crinums.

Moving to the center, we find an evergreen Coral honeysuckle vine, Lonicera sempervirens, clamoring up and along a fence.  Gorgeous tubular blooms appear primarily in spring, but there are a smattering of blooms throughout the warm season.

I like the foliage of this vine because of the cool-season burgundy tinge to the leaves and the year-round reddish stems.

A vine is a good addition in a small area because it allows for vertical growth and suggests a living wall.

Fronting the honeysuckle are several clumps of Inland sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium,  a grass which is native to a large area of the U.S.  The “oats” are developing, and growing,

….and will gracefully adorn this grass until late next winter.  Left of the oats is a tall, big leafed Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, a white-blooming, stately perennial, timed for nectar consumption by Monarchs during their fall migration to Mexico. For most of the year though, the leaves steal the show with their generous girth.

My beloved daughter, Shoshana, who died in 2006 at the age of 13, loved riding her bicycle. It’s home for the last couple of years has been entwined in the Coral honeysuckle, but the bicycle is now nearly covered by the vine. I don’t mind the bike’s shy peeks through the foliage, but I may to consider moving it at some point. For now, Shoshana’s bike stays.

Behind the Frostweed, a generous bird or mammal planted a Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, which is a second vine in this corner section.  This specimen doesn’t achieve the stunning fall color that it would were it planted in full sun, but it’s a great addition to the foliage gang of this garden, nonetheless. Fronting this lot, at the bottom-left, are a collection of unknown Crinum lilies (from my parents’ garden) and Iris plants at the right. The Crinums rarely bloom; regardless, I love them for the foliage. The Iris are reliable spring bloomers.

 Recently, I removed a struggling Crinum from here,

…and added a potted Dyckia, (I often misplace the name tags of container plants, so I don’t remember its name.  My bad.), a silly Tina-made ceramic garden sculpture, along with a corner piece from an old fireplace, which now doubles as a stepping stone.

I want the eye drawn to this spot–the center point of the garden–and I found that the combo of the three yard-art pieces worked well, without being overwhelming.

To the right of this corner of mixed foliage, grows a favorite native Texas perennial of mine, Turk’s cap,  Malvaviscus arboreus.

Iris is an evergreen, spiky punctuation at the base of the herbaceous perennial, Turk’s cap.

Full of darling blooms loved by hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies,

….it’s the foliage that I prize on Turk’s cap. The wide, tropical leaves evoke lushness, even in the hottest, driest time of the year.  Turk’s cap is a remarkably tough plant, too, as well as a valuable wildlife plant.

Rambling further right along the arc of the garden continues another set of favorite foliage plants.  Next to the Turk’s cap grows a Mexican Orchid Tree, Bauhinia mexicana.

In a normal year (one where we have winter!) this tree would have been knocked to the ground by a freeze.  This year, it remained evergreen and honestly, I’m not complaining about that.  I’m thrilled that it’s already bloomed fully–twice–this spring, and will bloom on-and-off until late next fall.

When the blooms are new, there is a blush of pink to the petals.

It’s an elegant small tree, with a beautiful flower,

These stunning blooms are favorites of butterflies.

…and fun foliage.  The foliage reminds me of deer hooves.

Paw-shaped Turk’s cap leaves (left) and ungulate hoof-shaped Mexican Orchid leaves (right).

Mexican Orchid tree foliage pairs with the evergreen Cast Iron Plant foliage.

At the base of the Orchid tree, are a group of evergreen Cast Iron Plant, Aspidistra elatior. Another plant that doesn’t produce obvious seeds or blooms, it provides cover for a variety of critters (lizards especially) and is as water-wise, xeric a plant as you’ll ever not water.  I planted the Cast Iron so that when the Orchid tree disappears during winter dormancy, there’s remains some foliage action in that part of the garden.  In front of the Cast Iron, sprawls a native-to-Mexico, naturalized-in-Texas, groundcover, Purple Heart, Setcreasea pallida ‘Purple Heart’.

I have fond memories of this plant, having grown up along the Texas Gulf of Mexico coast.  My mother planted Purple Heart along with bananas, ferns and other assorted tropical plants and I remember playing in her garden–probably annoying the gardener with my stomping feet and resulting crushed foliage.

Sorry, Mom–I’m a grown-up gardener now and I get it!

Along with its purple/pink/green foliage, the Purple Heart rocks charming, bee-friendly blooms.

A snail (probably) munched the top part of the leaf, just above the top bloom. Grrr.


I’ve recently removed some dark blue Mexican stones that loosely encircled the base of this birdbath, in favor of a group of seedling Lyreleaf sageSalvia lyrata.

I liked the stones–a much darker blue than the ceramic bird bath–but every time my dog, Asher, rolled around in the pea gravel (which is often) he jumbled the configuration of the stones.  I didn’t want the stones permanently set, instead, preferring them dry-stacked.  But the mess Asher made, coupled with an abundance of Lyreleaf seedlings, was all the encouragement I needed to remove the stones and plant the Lyreleaf. I’m enjoying the ruffly effect of the seedlings underneath the birdbath.  Later in the year, the foliage will develop a pretty, deep purple-blue veining in the leaves–which you can see the beginnings of in the photo.  Additionally, blooms appear in spring and are a beautiful blue-lavender which will complement the birdbath.

This is not the entirety of the corner garden and perhaps I’ll profile the remainder during another GBFD.  Most of these plants bloom at some point, but the various greens and leaf structures are what interest and please me most about this garden.  My one regret is that there isn’t a large variety of foliage-colorful, drought-tolerant plants, appropriate for shade and that provide something for wildlife, that I can use.  I guess it’s a tall order:  a dry-shade garden which can take the Texas-tough climate conditions that also feeds/protects wildlife and that showcases more-than-green foliage.  Oh yeah, I’d also prefer to use as many native Texas/North American plants as possible.

I’m not the least bit particular about planting, am I?

Whether you’re particular or not, join with me in celebrating foliage in the May garden and thanking Christina and her lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides for hosting. Share your leafy loveliness and then check out her Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day for a look at foliage in many gardens, from many places.

Strings of Pearls

The toads were late to the garden party this spring but they’ve finally arrived and are croaking, mating, laying eggs–and filling their niche in the garden environment.
I always think of the gelatinous strings of toad eggs as amphibian strings of pearls–and hopefully that mental image doesn’t put anyone off of wearing the real things. The Gulf Coast Toad or Coastal Plain Toad , Ollotis nebulifer (Bufo valliceps), is the likely species that laid these eggs-in-goo and soon there will be more toads for the croaking, mating, and egg laying. No doubt, some of the toads will make yummy meals for the resident Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, parents and their 5 offspring.

Along with toad eggs and fish, the pond hosts some handsome and varied foliage. I separated the ‘Colorado’ and ‘Claude Ikins’ waterlilies last month; both have since bloomed and very soon, will put on a rapid growth of lily pads, enough to cover about 75% of the pond surface by early summer.
The pads serve as landing strips for bees and dragon/damsel flies, and occasionally butterflies. More importantly, the pads keep the water temperature even during the summer months, as well as cover and protect the fish as they swim underneath the pads.
I also separated the Texas native Pickerel Rush, Pontederia cordata which grows in the bog.
The open, moving water has given the birds, especially the little warblers and finches, a fun place to bathe. Every year, I promise myself that I’ll keep this assertively growing plant from filling in the bog–and every year I fail in achieving that goal. So this year is THE year: I’ll save some space in the bog for the birds to bathe–I’ll consciously weed out the Pickerel rush, even if it’s a weekly chore, so the birds can bathe in moving water.

Says me!

Another lovely and important pond foliage plant requiring yearly separation is the Ruby Red Runner, an Alternanthera hybrid that grows in the waterfall feature. Like the Pickerel rush, Ruby Red Runner serves as a biological filter for the pond.
Ruby Red Runner grows vigorously, sprawling all over the edges of the pond as the weather warms and the days lengthen.

Taking in a wider view, I’m happy with the perennials which frame the pond.
Across the pond from the perennial garden, is a pea gravel sitting area and pathway. A Katie dwarf Ruellia, Ruellia brittoniana ‘Katie’, and a Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala, volunteered themselves for this spot and fit well beside the pond.

These two neighbors sport opposite leaf types: ‘Katie’ is lance-like and deciduous and Rock rose is oval, scalloped, and semi-evergreen.


Nuri the Cat is comfy as he lies on the warmth of the pea gravel. Lazy cat.

The evergreen Soft Leaf Yucca, Yucca recurvifolia, is a pup from the original, now-deceased mother plant. Just in front of the yucca, I recently transplanted some Firecracker fern, Russelia equisetiformis, that rooted out from the mother plant, to its right in the photo.

It’ll be a couple of years before the transplanted Firecracker fern reaches maturity, but I think these two arching perennials paired side–by-side will be a nice addition to the garden and the pond.
The mature Firecracker fern bloomed all winter during our non-winter winter, but is in a resting cycle now. The blooms of this plant are show-stoppers, but the foliage is also special: cheery, spring-green coloring pairs with graceful, arching stems and slender, elegant foliage.

Mexican feathergrass, Nassella tenuisima–soft and silvery all year–is stunning in spring glory.

Behind the Mexican feathergrass, from left to right, is Martha Gonzalez rose, white blooming Autumn Sage (Salvia greggii), Iris, and Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima)


In the perennial bed bordering a different curve of the pond, a feathery, bright green fennel (planted for butterfly larvae), combines with grey-green Heartleaf skullcapScutellaria ovata. I guess it’s true that opposites attract.

Nearby, Winecup, Callirhoe involucrata, clamors over the limestone rocks bordering the pond.
Individual leaves of Winecup are lobed and hairy. Winecup grows as a ground-cover and spreads about 3 feet wide during the bloom season, which is beginning.

Engelmann Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, bursts with flowers next to more Heartleaf skullcap.

The two flowering yellows are Blackeyed Susan ( left) and Engelmann daisy (right).

Like the Winecup, the foliage of the Engelmann daisy is deeply lobed–another common name for this spring/summer daisy is Cutleaf daisy. Engelmann daisy is an excellent pollinator plant, the blooms attracting a large variety of native bees, flies, and butterflies.

Celebrating foliage in the April garden, many thanks to Christina and her lovely Creating my own garden of the Hesperides. Check out her Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day for a look at foliage in many gardens, from many places.