Frost Fest

Everyone is talking about it!  It’s the plant of the week, the one everyone wants to know and hang out with!  My own blog statistics show a dramatic spike in views of past posts written about it!  What is this trending plant, the plant with the cool vibe?  Well, it’s more than cool, it’s cold–it’s FrostweedVerbesina virginica.  Of course!

Frostweed is an excellent wildlife perennial plant, native from all the way up in Pennsylvania to here in sunny–usually mild–Texas.  Its striking summer-to-autumn white blooms, which feed many, are quite enough for me to adore Frostweed, but it’s the transitory ice show, as seen during the first hard freeze of winter, that gives this summer and autumn blooming, pollinator-loving perennial its name.

Frostweed.

Luscious ice sculpture!

In the first winter hard freeze, this week, my Frostweed strutted its icy, frosty stuff for almost three full days, due to the temperatures dropping late Sunday and not reaching above freezing until mid-day Wednesday.  The first thing I thought about on Monday morning, January 1, 2018, (okay, second–the first was about coffee…), was Oooh, I need to check out the frostweed, I’ll bet they’ve all burst open!  

Indeed, burst open they had–and how!

The moisture from the stem blasts open the epidermis of the stalk.

Breaks through the stalk, with additional curling (upper left) of the ice, occurs as moisture, forming additional ice, moves outward.

The ice formations are delicate and transient–melting at touch or temperatures over freezing.  Ice forms as the plant draws moisture up from the ground.  The supercooled moisture breaks open the epidermis, freezing from the base of the plant and upwards along the stalk.

The resulting ice sculptures can furl (unfurl?), scroll-like, along the stalk, which is how my Frostweed usually behaves.

Monday morning.

Sometimes, the ice creates wavy, ice-taffy inspired forms.

Same plant, Wednesday morning as more moisture froze along the stalk when temperatures continued to drop.

A closer look.

Curly.  Groovy.  Icy.  Beauty.

This winter’s show was special because in Austin, and certainly in more northern parts of the state, temperatures stayed below freezing for longer than the typical fleeting hard freeze, thus allowing the ice sculptures to expand, and remain frozen for admirers to appreciate for longer than just one morning.

Other perennials demonstrate similar freeze-n-bust action, but none do it with the verve and style of Frostweed.

As the sun warmed Wednesday afternoon, so melted away the exquisite, frosty art.  The frost show ended, probably until next winter, but it was fun to see.  Frostweed will be back in spring, after winter’s pruning, for another year of blooms and bust.

Frostweed–a frosty delight.

 

Bloom Day, November 2015

The warmth of October leaked into November, but finally, FINALLY, Central Texas feels like autumn.  From ground-cracking dry to frog-drowning rain, we’ve seen it all this past month or so.  Blooming continues though and will until our first hard freeze, which will be…whenever it will be.   Today I join with Carol at May Dreams Gardens in honor of blooms in gardens–let’s take a quick and colorful tour, shall we?

Opening with the autumn white of the  White Mistflower,  Ageratina havanensis,

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…which is on the downside of its flowering cycle, though still providing for pollinators and with puffs of soft breeze, blanketing the back garden in sweet fragrance.

Flame Acanthas shrub, Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, sport tubular scarlet blooms and remain perky and present for whomever happens by–insect or gardener.

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Texas CraglilyEcheandia texensis,  is a native lily dressed in autumn-glow yellow.

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The Salvia species in my gardens really strut their flowering stuff during the fall months, those  like this Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii.

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Also, the red Tropical Sage,

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…and its kissin’ cousin-hybrid, the white Tropical Sage,

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…both of which are Salvia coccinea

The West Texas native, Shrubby Blue SageSalvia ballotiflora, was a  spontaneous purchase when I saw it covered in honeybees at a local nursery about a year ago.

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This beauty is finally attracting my honeybees to its sky-blue blooms.

There are always some Purple ConeflowersEchinacea purpurea, which perform in fall, though with shorter stature and duration than during the spring show. This year there are fewer than usual, owing to our very dry September and early October.

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But what is blooming is autumn eye candy.

The above are some of the native Texas bloomers active at the moment, but there are also some lovely and hardy non-native fantastic florals, too.  This Forsythia SageSalvia madrensis,  is new to my gardens this year.

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A gardening buddy gifted to me two sprigs with healthy roots last spring. I planted them and then mostly ignored them, but they’ve rewarded my gardening irresponsibility by coming into their blooming glory in recent weeks.  A native to the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains of Mexico, this is a fabulous, shade-tolerant herbaceous perennial here in Austin.  I look forward to more of the same.

The never-stopped-blooming-even-for-a-short-time, Firecracker Fern, Russelia equisetiformis, decorates my autumn garden.

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And it decorated my spring and summer gardens too.  Don’t you just love ridiculously long-blooming plants??

A big November surprise is the most recent and probably last set of blooms appearing on my Mexican Orchid TreeBauhina mexicana.  

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It’s a beautiful little tree, even without its creamy floral gifts which appear on and off during our long growing season.  I’m amazed and tickled to enjoy one more round of the gorgeous orchid flowers for  this year.

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Thanks to May Dreams Gardens for hosting; please pop over to view blooms from all over the world.  Better yet, share your blooms in celebration of November Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.

 

Wildlife Wednesday, November 2015

October in Austin ushers the end of the seemingly interminable summer and portends a transition to cooler temperatures of autumn and its promises of rain.  This past month was no exception with our typical, atypical early autumn weather.  October saw hot, dry, days, juxtaposed with heavy rain and flooding, augmented with the gift of appreciated and ballyhooed crisper days and nights.  The variable weather also saw many winged things of feathered and scaled varieties in my garden space.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday for November, heralding all things wild–by and for–the garden.

This little guy sports neither feathers nor scales, but instead, his green jammies as he traipses through the Drummond’s Ruellia and keeps a wary eye on anything bigger than himself, including me.

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Many young Green Anole, Anolis carolinensis, lizards are eating and presumably growing in preparation for winter and the spring that will follow.  Wishing them good hunting for anything smaller than themselves and some measure of safety from those who will be hunting and eating…Green Anoles.

Some of the “whatever” that might be on the hunt for lizards, though I’m guessing they’d prefer bigger and juicier prey, includes this majestic Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, who rested for a couple of days in my neighbor’s large Elm tree.

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Gorgeous.  I haven’t heard any hooting from this one and without a mate to compare, I’m not sure if this beauty is male or female.  But it was a treat to observe the large predator as she/he attempted some  zzzzzzz  before nighttime hunting.

This photo was taking on the second, but rainy day of roosting; he/she looks wet and bedraggled, but owls are tough.

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I was alerted to the owl by the complaints of Blue JaysCyanocitta cristata, who are vociferous when anyone visits who is big and potentially dangerous.    Even with their noisy calls and sometimes obnoxious behaviors, no one enjoys a bath more than a Blue Jay.

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I guess they know how pretty they are and are pleased that the bathing enhances their good looks.

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Fluffed feathers atop, notwithstanding.

The state bird of Texas is the Northern MockingbirdMimus polyglottos.  There are always Mockingbirds in my gardens–singing, bathing, and eating, but I rarely catch photos of them.  What a shame that is.

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Handsome guy–or gal, I’m not sure which.  Both male and female Mockingbirds sing beautifully and with varied, complicated songs (“polyglottos”) that mimic many other birds. Sometimes unmated males sing at night.  Poor dudes. I guess singing to the full moon is their version of playing computer games on a Friday night, sans dates.

And the Lesser GoldfinchSpinus psaltria, gang is back!!

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I don’t think they ever actually leave, but they definitely prefer certain seed choices through the seasons.  Currently and for the past month, the Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata,  have produced scads of seeds for feeding the scads of little finches.  I promised myself to catch a couple of decent photos for Wildlife Wednesday and then simply enjoy their antics. And so I have.

As for other winged wonders, there’s been no real shortage there.  This interesting critter is a Blue-winged WaspScolia bubia,

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…and it enjoyed the blooms of the Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.  Adults enjoy nectar and also beetles–beetle juice, if you will–and their larvae parasitize certain beetle species, especially of the invasive Japanese beetle. Good for them!!   Lots of folks don’t like wasps, but they’re good guys-n-gals.  Leave them alone to nectar, to pollinate, and to do-away with some of the bad bugs.

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Skippers (Hesperiidae) are also good to have in the gardens, but I have misgivings about photographing them.  Firstly, they’re hard to catch. They’re tiny, quick, and generally, don’t perch still for long periods of time.  Secondly, once photographed, I then have to identify them for Wildlife Wednesday.

So here goes nuthin’!

I  think this is an Ocola SkipperPanoquina ocola,  probably a male.

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Or, it might be a Dun Skipper, Euphyes vestris.  Honestly, I’m not sure.  Skippers are  common in my gardens and they nectar on a variety of blooms.  In autumn, they have a special affinity for the three Mistflower species that I grow:  Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, (especially) Gregg’s Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, and White Mistflower, Ageratina havanensis.  

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Their wings are held separately in levels–upwards, and to the sides–and is something that is apparently unique to certain species of skippers.

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This autumn orange-colored skipper is a Fiery SkipperHylephila phyleus.

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At least I think it is.  It would be a male, because of the orange coloration (females are  brown/tan) and there are kinda-sorta dots on the undersides of the wings, which male Fiery Skippers sport.  I know that I’ve seen Fiery Skippers in my gardens, I’m just not positive this is one.  Best guess.  So there.

This Horace’s DuskywingErynnis horatius, is another regular in my gardens.  Rather drab in comparison to some, this boy is a hard-working pollinator and thus, welcome anywhere in my gardens and at anytime.

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And the last of the tiny butterflies (whoop!) is this Dusky-blue GroundstreakCalycopis isobeon.

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As a group, I think the Lycaenidae Family of butterflies are especially attractive–the Blues, Coppers, Hairstreaks, and Harvesters.  Pretty, of course, doesn’t really matter, but the intricacies of their markings are remarkably artful, it’s hard not to admire their beauty.

And speaking of beautiful, there were a few Monarch ButterfliesDanaus plexippus,

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..though only a few.  Most of the migrating Monarchs veered west of the Austin area this year.

A Giant SwallowtailPapilio cresphontes, nectared on favorite blooms,

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…and a Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor, was a regular visitor as well.

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Lastly, the honeybees are gathering for winter storage–delighting all who observe them and long for a taste of their honey…

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My gardens host a variety of plants which provide seeds and fruits, nectar and pollen, cover,  and larval host food.  Diversity in plant choices and a focus on choosing native plants reflects how nature is intended to work–that is, as a complex food web for a multitude of predator and prey insects, birds, mammals, and reptiles.  Everyone can encourage wildlife in their gardens with simple, yet profound changes:  ridding your space of mono-culture turf, planting with native plants, and avoiding the use of chemicals in the garden.  By making these simple changes, your garden will be healthier and more productive and by choosing to plant for wildlife, you can help heal the world.

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What wild critters are in your garden? Please post 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 readers can enjoy a variety of garden wildlife observations.

Happy wildlife gardening!