A Ballyhoo for Spiderwort

Texas is well-known for its spring wildflowers: BluebonnetLupinus texensis

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Pink evening primroseOenothera speciosa,

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FirewheelGaillardia pulchella,

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…and so many others. Folks from far and wide travel to Texas to view the spring wildflower show. In a good year, open spaces and home gardens are resplendent with color from all parts of the color wheel.

I don’t grow any of the famed Texas wildflowers in my personal garden. Alas, my soil is too heavy and my space too shady for the prairy/grassland flowers that most identify as quintessential Texas wildflowers.  But I certainly love and grow many other native Texas plants and wildflowers and a favorite in bloom right now is a group belonging to the Commelinaceae family–the pride of purple–Tradescantia or Spiderwort.

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There are 19 species of Tradescantia throughout North America, almost half of which reside in Texas.  A woodlands plant, Spiderwort thrive in a variety of soils, but generally prefer part-shade to shade exposure, though it grows well in more sunny conditions, too.  In short, it’s not a picky plant.

I can’t tell you exactly which one of the Tradescantia that are in my gardens because different Spiderwort mix-n-match with one another, hybridizing readily and creating variations in color,

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…height,

…and petal shape.

A simple Spiderwort petal,

A simple Spiderwort petal,

...and a more ruffly form.

…and a more ruffly form.

I started with several individuals gifted to me a few years ago and they’ve self-seeded with aplomb.  Some clumps of these purple zingers trend very purple,

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…and others lean-to the lavender side of things.

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I think the majority of my Spiderwort plants are the Giant spiderwortTradescantia gigantea,  if only because most of them are just so darned tall.

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And so darned purple.

Spiderwort pop up in the late fall or winter, sporting grass-like foliage; during the cool season the foliage grows and thickens.

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As the days lengthen and temperatures warm, fleshy stalks shoot up from the base of the foliage.

A Spiderwort bloom stalk arises.

A Spiderwort bloom stalk arises.

In time, bloom clusters form atop those bloom stalks and purple play begins!

Spiderwort in blooming tandem with Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata.

Spiderwort in blooming tandem with Lyreleaf sage, Salvia lyrata.

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In my garden, Spiderwort blooms for  a rather long period.  Often, the flowering begins at the first of March (if not sooner) and continues well through May. Spiderwort plants are best situated in a more casual garden, though if kept in check, it’s a plant that could work beautifully in a formal setting.  The key phrase is kept in check. Tradescantia re-seed with abandon and can prove weedy and thuggish if allowed to seed out ungoverned. You MUST weed wayward seedlings if they grow where they’re not wanted!  A good time to discipline these rogue germinators  is in winter and early spring, as the seedlings emerge.

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Spiderwort seedlings alongside sprinkled spent blooms of White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.

Spiderwort seedlings alongside sprinkled spent blooms of White Tropical sage, Salvia coccinea.

If I see a mother plant and scads of babies at her feet AND I don’t want them–out they go! The seedlings are easily removed by hand or with a weeding tool.

The mother Spiderwort is toward the top right of the photo, her progeny are everywhere else.

The mother Spiderwort is at the top right of the photo, her progeny are everywhere else.

Another strategy is to nip Spiderwort in the bud during the blooming season.  Once I notice less flower production, it means that the seeds are developing and it’s time to snip.P1030500.new

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Most of these bloom clusters are ready for seed.

Most of these bloom clusters are ready for seed.

I prune the flower stalks down to the base of the grassy foliage to lessen the spread of the prolific re-seeders.

A just pruned Spiderwort at the end of its bloom cycle.

A just pruned Spiderwort at the end of its bloom cycle.

I’m brutal with this process because I know that if I’m the least bit kind-hearted, Spiderworts will be everywhere in the garden.  I still get plenty of new seedlings each year, but keeping Spiderworts in check prevents mayhem in the garden of the Spiderwort variety.

Despite its mission to spread, Spiderworts are valuable to pollinators and pretty  for me to relish, and therefore, welcome in my garden–with practical limitations of course. Honeybees adore this plant and Tradescantia are visited by native bees and butterflies too.

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A buzzing honeybee sharing Spiderwort pollen with a Syrphid fly.

A buzzing honeybee sharing Spiderwort pollen with a Syrphid fly.

From A Seasonal Look perspective, Spiderwort are primarily winter and spring plants. In a wet and cool autumn, the foliage will emerge early; in a wet and cool early summer, the blooms might last into June, the foliage a little longer.  But once the heat of summer sets in and Spiderwort flowers have bowed out and relinquished the flower show to the heat lovers, the foliage…fades away.  I can’t honestly say exactly when the foliage is no more–but eventually, it disappears.  One of my strategies in planting for seasonal flowering is to plant early spring bloomers underneath the larger summer/fall blooming/berrying shrubs (many of which are herbaceous perennials).  I’m certain that those particular Spiderwort plants hang on for a while after the peak of their blooms, shadowed and covered by the limbs of summer/fall plants.  Since the Spiderwort plants are sheltered by the spread and height of the summer shrubs and perennials, I don’t notice what they’re doing–and I won’t notice (or think about) those Spiderwort plants again until winter’s first freeze renders the deciduous perennials inconsequential and the tell-tale grassy foliage of Spiderwort emerges from the chilled soil.  The caveat is that many of the unwanted Spiderwort in my garden occur because I neglect to deadhead those soon-to-disappear-under-larger-plants Spiderworts.  That’s the downside of planting them underneath larger plants: out of sight, out of mind.

Spring blooming Spiderwort growing amidst Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and Yellow bells, Tacoma stans. Both of these larger perennials will cover the Spiderwort by early summer.

Spring blooming Spiderwort growing amidst Frostweed, Verbesina virginica and Yellow bells, Tacoma stans. Both of these larger perennials will cover the Spiderwort by early summer.

Spring blooming Spiderwort will be overtaken by the rapidly growing Turk's cap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

Spring blooming Spiderwort will be overtaken by the rapidly growing Turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus.

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Spiderwort planted underneath a White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis. Most years, the Mistflower freezes to the ground, or nearly so, allowing the Spiderwort a good late winter and spring show.

Spiderwort planted underneath a White mistflower, Ageratina havanensis. Most years, the Mistflower freezes to the ground, or nearly so, allowing the Spiderwort a good late winter and spring show.

For those free-standing Spiderwort individuals that drag into summer, their seasonal end is more obvious.

A self-seeded Spiderwort beside the pond. By late May, the bloom stalks will be pruned and by mid-summer, the foliage will wilt and the gardener will prune the foliage to the soil and toss in the compost bin.

A self-seeded Spiderwort beside the pond. By late May, the bloom stalks will be pruned and by mid-summer, the foliage will wilt and the gardener will prune the foliage to the soil and toss in the compost bin.

What typically happens is that sometime in June or July, they become terribly droopy and sad–heat is not a friend to Spiderwort plants.  I relieve any Spiderwort misery with my trusty Felco pruning shears, cutting down the remaining, sad foliage to the soil. The roots stay safe in the ground until more convivial conditions present and ready the Spiderwort story to begin again: lush winter foliage and enchanting spring flowers.

If  basic preventative pruning and/or seedling weeding is employed, Spiderwort is a desirable spring wildflower for the garden with its lovely foliage and flowers, attraction for many pollinators, and easy growing habit.  What’s not to enjoy about Spiderwort?

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I appreciate the winter foliage and spring flowers–and who wouldn’t?

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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, May 2015

Bees, beetles, butterflies, birds, blooms–all are the big Bs of wildlife gardening and my garden was chock full of them this past month.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, celebrated on the first Wednesday of each month by and for gardeners who cherish wildlife in their gardens.

It was the good, the bad and they ugly in my gardens this past month.  A crew of icky aphids set up an all-you-can-eat diner on the foliage of some of my Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.  I’ve never seen the Frostweed host these damaging insects before–until this spring.

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I hit the foliage with a stream of water three different times within the span of a few days to knock off the aphids and by then, the good guys, Lady Bird Beetles like this Seven-spotted Ladybird BeetleCoccinella septempunctata, and their larvae moved in for the kill.IMGP7318.new Or, rather, the meal.

The adults eat, but their larvae, typical of all kids, eat more. These little alligator-looking Ladybird Beetle larvae contentedly munched away at their favored food, the squishy, juicy aphids.

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The aphids are gone now, thank goodness, and the Frostweed is on its way to  its autumnal glory.

Lady Bird beetles have made themselves at home on other plants too–presumably because what they eat (like aphids) have been abundant this spring.  They hunted on the wildflower, Lyreleaf Sage, Salvia lyrata, 

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…where you can see the aphids amidst the eating beetle.   I’ve also seen plenty on fennel which I plant primarily for the Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes, butterfly larvae, like this well-fed beauty.

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Once the Ladybird Beetle larvae eat-n-grow and complete their four larval molts, they pupate, like this one,

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Last month, I identified this excellent garden companion, the Horsefly-like Carpenter BeeXylocopa tabaniformis.

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I’m charmed by these bees–they possess a je ne sais quoi, which is unexpected in a bee.

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These native bees are common in my gardens, working blooms from sunrise to sunset.

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I love watching them in my garden, though I’ve had trouble photographing them because they’re so active–zooming up, down, and all around.  I’ve finally captured a couple of good shots and would you take a look at those baby-blue eyes,

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…and that cute face,

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…especially when playing hide-n-seek with me.IMGP7147.new

I think Paul Newman would be jealous of their beautiful peepers.

Bees are the bomb in any garden. This native Sweat Bee, maybe a Augochloropsis metallica(?), was only willing to show her abdomen while she pollinated a native wildflower, a SpiderwortTradescantia, ssp.IMGP7016.new

 

But the Metallic Green bee, Agapostemon texanus, on the open WinecupCallirhoe involucrata, worked intently and not shyly while gathering pollen for her offspring and nest.  She  performed admirably for me and my camera.

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I particularly like this shot.  Head stuck deep in the pollen center of the flower, with only the abdomen and splayed back legs visible.  There’s also a tiny companion ant on the flower.IMGP7553.new

I gave up on an identification of this pollen-covered bee, though I suspect it’s some kind of carpenter bee.  The medium to large size, dark/black coloring and relatively hairless body are good general descriptors of carpenter bees.

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I watched her crawl around the blooms of a Globe MallowSphaeralcea ambigua, one Sunday afternoon and was impressed at the amount of pollen she gathered on her body.  How does she fly and see with all that stuff on her body and in her eyes?IMGP7076_cropped_3331x3327..new

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If you know what this bee is, give a holler; I’m stumped, but glad she’s visited!

I think the wildlife plant-of-the-month award goes to the Engelmann or Cutleaf Daisy, Engelmannia peristenia.  It’s currently serving as Syrphid Fly central,

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…providing nectar for the adults,  also known as Flower or Hover flies, and aphids for the larvae, which are little green to creamy-yellow worms.IMGP7501_cropped_3839x3323..new

These are beneficial insects, so you want them visiting your gardens.IMGP7495.new

Besides, look how pretty they are–both the flowers and the insects.

This guy,

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…a “true bug” or Hemiptera and in the Family Coreidae or Leaf-footed bug, is a Spot-sided Coreid, Hypselonotus punctiventris, and also liked my Engelmann Daisy.  I don’t think he’s someone I really want on my plants, though it looks to me like he’s in a nectar-sipping mode, rather than a sucking-the-life-out-of-the-plant mode.

IMGP7500.new He’s dashing in his brown tuxedo.

The Engelmann Daisy in my garden has attracted Ladybird Beetles and their offspring and at least five types of bees, as well as visits from butterflies.  It’s a good wildflower and wildlife plant.  Since it’s National Wildflower Week, I think Englemann Daisy deserves a huzzah! for its usefulness and beauty in the home garden.

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Of course butterflies are happenin’ pollinators this month, as well.  This pretty Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, appears to enjoy the nectar benefits of the native wildflower, Zexmenia, Wedelia hispida.  The host plant for the Grey Hairstreak includes mallow and pea family plants, but the adults will nectar on a variety of blooms.

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This attractive butterfly, a Mournful DuskywingErynnis tristis, doesn’t look particularly mournful to me.

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In fact, this little fella looks as if he’s challenging me because I’m wanting him to pose prettily.

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Or maybe I disturbed his smooth-moves with a lady-friend.

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The host plant for his kind includes a variety of oaks and they breed in Texas three times per year.  I’ll leave you to it, M. Duskywing–I like seeing you and your bunch around my gardens during the summer.

I observed a bird that I’d never seen before, flitting between my Shumard Oak tree, just above where my honeybee hives are located, and a neighbor’s tree.  Because he was shy, this was the best photo I could get.  Look at that color!!IMGP7523_cropped_3410x2824..new

This gorgeous thing is a juvenile male Summer TanagerPiranga rubra, and is North America’s only truly red bird. They breed in Texas, though I’ve never seen one before; it may have been passing through or perhaps he lives in a nearby area. I wondered aloud why he kept returning to the oak tree and The Husband offhandedly suggested that maybe the Tanager eats bees.   I whipped out my phone and checked the Cornell Ornithology Merlin app and read about this eye-poppingly beautiful bird.  Indeed, they hunt bees and wasps! They catch the bee as they fly (both bee and bird), hit the bee on a branch (ouch!!) to kill it, remove the stinger and chow down on bee/wasp.  My poor honeybees–that’s why the bird was hanging around! But that’s the natural world–not necessarily pretty, tidy and well turned out, but always interesting.

I hope your gardens benefitted from wildlife visitors this month and that you will join in posting for May 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!