Curls-n-Caterpillars

I love my curls.

Tiny blue flowers open from the curl.

I also love my caterpillars.

Blue curls, or Caterpillars,  Phacelia congesta, are charming spring garden additions here in Texas and neighbors, Oklahoma and New Mexico.   Native to this region, Blue curls are wildflowers worth having.  A low-growing, deer resistant herb, this springtime bloomer has performed as an annual in my garden.   The ‘curls’ part of the name is because as the diminutive flowers develop and open, they unfurl from a coiled position.  As well, the row of unopened buds evoke the curled position of caterpillars, thus the second of the common names.

Blue curl “caterpillars” flank the open flowers.

I prefer blue curls, but both names are descriptive; it’s an aptly named plant!

I’ve experienced problems with germination–sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t–but on the handful of occasions when the plant successfully seeds out and blossoms to blooming, Blue curls haven’t disappointed. Two years ago during the latter part of winter, I noticed a “weed” growing in a pot in the back garden.

I don’t yank until I’m sure an unknown is an unwanted, so I watched.  During the time that I watched and waited, a friend extolled the virtues of the Blue curls she grows in her garden, kindly offering to me some of her seedlings.  An enthusiastic “yes” was my answer to her offer, and what she gave me was exactly the thing that was growing in the pot.

Blue curls, all around!

I planted the two gifted curls near the bird or wind planted volunteer, and the three individual plants thrived and bloomed in spring.

Caterpillar stage.

Blooming stage!

Such darling flowers: unusual construction (“Compound Cyme” according the the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center), and truly gorgeous in color and form.

I adore blue flowers.  I can only imagine what Blue curls look like, en masse, in a Texas Hill Country field.  For several years, during April and May, I’ve enjoyed viewing a small cluster of these blue beauties growing alongside a bike path that I regularly ride.  City mowers and street construction hasn’t yet destroyed the wildflowers along that particular street.

I also like the foliage of this wildflower;  I’m a sucker for deeply lobed, bright green leaves.

Pre-blossom foliage. The leaves look like those of a tomato plant.

The leaves become a bit tatty toward the end of their days.

Post-blossom foliage.

Two years ago, I dutifully allowed the plants to seed out, then sprinkled the seeds and chaff in various parts of my garden.  The next winter and spring, no Blue Curl seedlings appeared in my garden. Drat–no gorgeous Blue curl wave.  Nada, zilch, nothin’.

I whined to my friend, who graciously supplied me with more seeds. I spread some (not all) of  the seeds out last autumn, and voila!, this spring a grand total of four plants germinated.  One disappeared–subjected, no doubt, to someone’s late night munchies; another, I stepped on and crushed–yes, sometimes I am that careless.  But two survived; I transplanted both to better spots, and they grew to blooming beauty!  Unfortunately, the peak of flowering occurred during the first half of May when I was traveling, though I did get some enjoyment from these pretties as the first dainty blues opened shortly before I left.

In my absence, the pollinators spent a few weeks sipping from Blue curl goodness.  A good pollinator plant, I’ve observed tiny native bees feeding, though the literature suggests that Blue curls attract butterflies, too.

My two Blue curl individuals are now wrapping up their life activities and I will leave them to their own seed dispersal.

I have seeds from my friend and plan to add more to the garden next autumn for spring 2019. I’d love to have a greater number of these sweet little spring wildflowers as they are care-free once germinated, (unless stepped on–ahem), and they fit in a variety of light situations, though probably not deep shade.

But the Blue curls will do whatever they choose to do–and I’ll enjoy what they’re willing to give the garden, and the gardener.

This photo is one of my blog banner photos.

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!

Coneflowers are Yummy

Besides being garden head-turners and absurdly easy perennial growers, Purple coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, are also some of the best wildlife plants in any home garden.  Now, as Central Texas enters its mid-spring-into-summer bloom period, coneflowers are reaching their zenith of beauty and bounty.  Everyone visiting wants a meal at Cafe Coneflower.

Enjoying a coneflower is a plain little Dun Skipper, Euphyes vestris.  According to Austin Bug Collection, a local Austin insect resource, the males of the species show no demonstrable markings, but the females have a few spots on the forewings.

And so they do!

Another of the many skippers endemic in this region is the Julia’s SkipperNastra julia.

Both of these skippers individually enjoy Purple coneflowers,

…and as dining companions at Cafe Coneflower.

Texan Crescents,  Anthanassa texana, are all over the garden, all the time, but they always check out the coneflowers for a good nectar snack.

 

This Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, heads for Coneflower Cafe whenever he/she is out-and-about, typically during sunshine-drenched afternoons.

 

Of course, honeybees will always be found partaking a good nectar meal.

 

It’s easy to catch a Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta, dining on flowers in the garden, but right now, it’s all about coneflower cuisine for these friendly pollinators.

They move around the flower during nectaring, so it’s easy to glimpse the various sides of their wings.

It’s not only the butterflies and honeybees who like coneflowers, though.

A  Spot-sided Coreid, Hypselonotus punctiventris, worked the coneflower one morning.  BugGuide calls this bug a Spot-sided coreid, but Austin Bug Collection says that this common coreid to Central Texas has no common name.

I’ll call him handsome and leave it at that.

This Leaf-footed bug, Acanthocephala femorata, posed impressively on his coneflower plinth.

I think these bugs are charming, though a little intimidating because of their size. But I can’t question this one’s affinity for the coneflower–it’s something we share in common.

As the blooms fade, the birds and some mammals will also reap nutritious rewards through the seeds from this valuable perennial.

I appreciate the beauty coneflowers bring to the garden, the critters like the bounty.

A win-win for all, I’d say.