Good Morning, Sunshine

Golden groundsel, Packera obovata,  is a yellow-flowered perennial.

Its blooms are not orange-yellow, nor are they yellow-green.

Golden groundsel flowers are yellow.

There’s no ambiguity or ambivalence with these blooms: they are yellow, yellow, yellow.

One of the earliest of the spring bloomers here in the Austin area, this perennial pretty delivers a dab of sunshine to shady spots, and for the remainder of the year, carpets those same shady spots as a hardy ground cover.

I like the foliage.  The base foliage–the leaves that you see for 10 months of the year–are composed of oval, serrated-edged leaves which form a dense mat along the ground.  In late January, early February, the plant sends up slender stems along which grow more deeply lobed leaves.    In essence, the plant produces two styles of foliage.

It’s a plant with a two-for-one set of leaves!

As groundsel gears up for its spring show,  the slender flower stems develop clusters of buds which eventually open with radiant yellow blooms.  Viewing these beauties first thing in the morning is as good a wake-up as any strong cup of coffee.  In a garden or along a trail, you can’t miss these shards of sunshine–they demand attention.  Even before my own little patch of groundsel flowered-up, I’d spied a number of groundsels blooming along some urban trails where I hike.

These flowers are not shy and will not be ignored.

While Golden groundsel isn’t host to any particular insect, the flowers are good nectar sources for native bees and butterflies.  Somehow, I didn’t get any photos of the pollinators on my groundsel blooms, though I observed some tiny native Perdita bees.  In early March, I spotted this hairstreak on a groundsel flower at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

On a petal of the flower just below where  the hairstreak nectars, sits another insect. Bee, beetle, or bug, I can’t discern.

The patch of groundsel was growing in full sun and bloomed much earlier than mine.  On that early March day, the blooms appeared to be nearing the end of their cycle.

Just this week, some of my groundsel flowers have begun to seed out.

Snowy, fuzzy seedheads, clearly designed for wind dispersal, have replaced some of the sunny flowers, and many more will follow in similar fashion.  Golden groundsels are in the Asteraceae family of plants and demonstrate the pappus structure of seed development.  The delicate, hairy attachments carry the actual seed aloft on wind, planting themselves in other places and other gardens for future groundsel goodness.

Many of the native Texas plants that I grow seed out prolifically, but not the Golden groundsel.  Even though I allow mine to seed out, I’ve never found any groundsel seedlings in other parts of my garden.  What I have noticed is that my patch is leaning toward its neighbor, a group of iris, as the groundcover part of the plant is steadily creeping into their space.

Or perhaps, it’s the iris which are marching toward the groundsel.  Either way, I plan to expand the range of my groundsel. The groundsel leaves, presumably with roots attached, are outgrowing the original area that I devoted to it.  In late summer or early fall–once we’re out of our tough Texas summer–I’ll remove several of the abutting iris to make room for the groundsel plants.  I love my iris and they bloom for a longer time, but I have plenty of iris in my garden and not nearly enough Golden groundsel.  By transplanting a few more groundsel plants, I’ll welcome to more in my garden.

Native to Central Texas, Golden groundsel enjoys a wide distribution throughout North America.  As long as you can find seeds or plants, there’s no reason not to enjoy this lovely plant.  It’s a tough, easy-to-grow perennial with a bright disposition.

Just remember to don your sunglasses when they start blooming.

Purple Reign

Purple is the color of the week in my garden.

A purple Spiderwort flanks a potted Ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense), setting the mood for a reign of purple.

 

Oh sure, there’s yellow, red, and orange too, all vying for attention with their look at me! petals and am I not gorgeous? spring-green foliage.  But it’s the purple array of Spiderwort–demonstrating pollinator-driven color and petal variations–that is stealing the wildflower show at this moment in my March garden. 

Some Spiderwort flowers are darker and suggest an affinity for geometric arrangements.

The petals are curling, heralding afternoon heat.

 

Other Spiderwort flowers trend pink, though purple is definitely a part of the petal pedigree.

 

Still other Spiderwort are shy and soft in color, with hint of blue and only a suggestion of exhibitionist purple.

 

The pollinators are busy, busy, busy and Spiderwort blooms are a favorite dining spot!  This diminutive syrphid fly caught my attention as I was chasing a significantly larger butterfly.  I failed at photographing the butterfly, but I followed the syrphid, or flower fly, as it visited several Spiderwort blooms.  The syrphid was a work-horse pollinator at the flowers, spending more time at each bloom than the flighty butterfly.

 

Part of the honey for next season will come from this Spiderwort and its farming honeybee.

Check out Ms. Honeybee’s pollen pantaloons.  The proper name for this part of the honeybee is pollen basket or corbicula, but I prefer my own addition to bee etymology:  pollen pantaloon.

 

Purple reigns in the garden, though it–in the form of Spiderwort–hasn’t quite taken over.  If I want a diverse garden community next year, I’ll need to cull a fair number of these randy Spiderwort plants–they’re rather a promiscuous bunch!    That’s fine, I’ll be donating some to plant swaps and cajoling neighbors into planting some of my extras.  (But will those neighbors ever speak to me again, after they, too, reap the bounty of Spiderwort?)

A stalk of purple passalong iris photobombs the cluster of spiderwort.  In time, this iris and  its compadres will likely  assume the mantle of purple.

Spiderwort: a reign of purple and a prince of flowers.

Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens): A Seasonal Look

Coral honeysuckleLonicera sempervirens), loved for its eye-popping clusters of pollinator-delighting blooms and its robust  demeanor in the garden, is a favorite perennial vine for many Texas gardeners.

This vertical loveliness is native to East Texas, Florida, with a northward range up the east coast of the United States, but is also found in many other parts of the continental United States.   Here in Central Texas (Austin, Zone 8b), Coral honeysuckle provides semi-evergreen color, punctuated by spring outbursts of gorgeous red blooms, with yellow interiors.

The bloom clusters remind me of a group of debutants, all in elegant, clingy red evening gowns, with an underneath peek-a-boo of yellow petticoats.

 

I’ve grown two of these vines in my garden.  This one in full sun,

…and this one in a mostly shade spot.

A May shot of a shady spot with blooming Coral honeysuckle anchoring the garden.  Aside from the bicycle, and (from left to right), grows Frostweed, Inland sea oats, and Turkscap.  Some Spiderwort are still popping with purple blooms.

The bulk of blooming occurs mid-to-late spring.   The flowers on my vines have bloomed as early as February, sometimes with continuous blooming into May.  Peak bloom time occurs during March and April, with a sprinkling of blooms in early summer.

An excellent climber–perfect for a trellis, arbor, or fence–Coral honeysuckle flowers more in full sun.

In woodland areas, it clamors over the ground as well as up trees and rocks.

Pollinators of all stripes, sizes, and colors flock to the tubular founts of pollen and nectar:

Nectar stealing Honeybee at top of bloom, with native Green Metallic bee (Halictidae) on left, toward back of bloom cluster.

Nectaring Metallic Green bee.

Horsefly-like Carpenter bee (Xylocopa tabaniformis).

Honeybee coming in for a meal.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the blooms, though I’ve never seen any at my blooms.   I suspect that there simply aren’t many (if any) hummers around during the peak bloom period in my garden as they don’t typically arrived back in Austin from Mexico and Central/South America.  That said, the tubular red blooms certainly fit the profile of hummingbird attracting flowers.

Additionally, this honeysuckle is the host plant for a butterfly, Spring Azure, (Celastrina ladon), and a moth, Snowberry clearwingHemaris diffinis.

Springtime sees the biggest burst of blooming, but sporadic clusters occur in summer as well, usually after a tropical rain event.

The vine maintains a lush, green presence throughout the summer months, requiring minimal water during the dry and hot of summer.  I irrigate in the hottest of the hot, during those months with nary a drop from the sky.

Coral honeysuckle is a water-wise addition to any garden.

 

I usually see the fruits of the Coral honeysuckle in summer and early autumn.

They must be yummy, because the fruits don’t last long on the vine.  Various birds enjoy the fruits and foliage protection from honeysuckle; I’ve seen Mockingbirds, Carolina Wrens, and other birds seek refuge–and probably snacks–in both of my vines.

Nascent coral honeysuckle fruits.

 

As summer segues into autumn, Coral honeysuckle continues its solid green contribution to the garden.

 

During winter the vine can freeze completely if the freeze is hard and long enough.

There are usually a few token leaves remaining.

More often than not, the foliage simply thins a bit, with some strands lacking foliage and the vine maintaining the majority of its leaves.

As the days grow longer and the temperatures warm, whatever foliage which quit the vine during winter’s freezes, return–lush and full and ready for the new growing season.

New Coral honeysuckle growth is exuberant–to the point that the fresh limbs reach to the sky in unwieldy growth spurts, requiring occaisional tucking in and twining around so as not to clamor over other things in their paths.

Additionally, emerging foliage and stems blush burgundy, augmenting the brilliancy of the blooms.

The crowning glory of this honeysuckle vine are the masses of bloom clusters which follow new spring growth.

Coral honeysuckle prefers well-draining soil and can develop powdery mildew if its feet are damp and the arms and legs of the vine congested.  That said, even in my clay soil and during the heaviest of flooding, I’ve never seen mildew on my leaves.  I mulch new plants, with a refresher of either commercial mulch or shredded leaves, as needed.  I water my vines, along with the gardens they’re a part of, during the dry of summer and prune bare strands when/if necessary.

I leave my vine as it is–a bit wild and wooly–so that birds can perch and hide, if someone scary (hawk, cat, gardener) comes near.  Coral honeysuckle isn’t invasive, it just requires a ‘haircut’ from time-to-time.  The oldest strands of vine are easily snapped off, making the work of pruning an easy task.  If you prefer a very tidy garden vine, Coral honeysuckle might prove a little feral for your taste.  But give it a chance: Coral honeysuckle’s beauty and hardiness make its mild rowdiness well worth the minimal shagginess.

My biggest complaint about Coral honeysuckle (and it’s not a complaint about the plant at all!) is that I don’t have enough room for more of these tough, pretty vines.  Gardeners appreciate the stalwart nature and beautiful blooms and foliage of this vine, wildlife appreciate its contributions to their safety and diet.

Coral honeysuckle:

The vine grows to the left of the Softleaf yucca.

 

Spring:

 

Summer and Autumn:

 

Winter:

Coral honeysuckle flanked by dormant Turkscap (right), Inland Sea Oats (bottom) and in-bloom bottle tree (left).

A water-wise, wildlife-friendly, and gardener-pleasing vine–you’ll be glad it grows in your garden!