Hot Plot, Cool Critters: Wildlife Wednesday, August

Despite summer’s heat as daily fixture of life,  the garden and its critters go about their business of growing and blooming, nectaring and seed-eating.  I swelter in the garden, but revel in observing the abundance of wild activity.  Welcome to Wildlife Wednesday, marked on the first Wednesday of each month and celebrating the wild things in our gardens and wherever we meet them.

The garden currently enjoys no shortage of Horsefly-like Carpenter beesXylocopa tabaniformis.  They are the most numerous, and active, of the native bees that I see; they are earliest at work in the morning and the last to clock-out in the evening.

This one demonstrates nectar-stealing, so no pollination here, but she’s slurping up the good stuff for her larvae and herself.

While taking my elderly dog for his outdoor breaks, I’ve noticed the popularity for blooming oregano among pollinators.  The petite, clustered blooms attract a variety of pollinators–huge and tiny, colorful and plain.  I was especially pleased to witness visits from both a male and female Eastern Carpenter BeeXylocopa virginica, a relative of X. tabaniformis.


The white face indicates a male bee.

Considered common here in Central Texas, I haven’t seen this species often and am happy to welcome this new-to-my-garden visitor.

His lovely back side, wings aloft.

The sun was spot-on as I photographed mid-afternoon–normally a problematic time of day for photos–but I think the bright light beautifully illuminates his subtle coloring.

He and his female friend also visited Turk’s cap and Shrubby Blue sage blooms as well, but both favored the oregano flowers.

I grow two oregano plants (and also, two basil plants) in my herb garden:  one of each for me to snip from and not allowed to flower, the others left to bloom for the bees and butterflies.

Another spectacular pollinator who works the oregano blooms is this stunning green metallic bee, which I believe is a Sweat beeAugochloropsis metallica.

I saw this bee (these bees?) several different times, and like the Eastern Carpenter, she nectars at several plants. But her favorite meal is found at the little oregano flowers.

The Texas July sunshine highlights her stunning coloring and glittery presence.

A two-fer in this shot with the sweat bee sharing space and food with a honeybee. The honeybees are regular customers of the oregano flower buffet and are always buzzing around the oregano.

Ms. Metallica plays peek-a-boo, while Ms. Honeybee gets to it!

These scalloped leaves show cutter bee activity, though I haven’t actually seen them munching away.  The females carve round holes, or partial holes, in leaves, then mix the leaf component with pollen and mud.  The bees use the mixture in their nurseries as a stuffing to protect eggs and feed larvae.

I spied this Leaf-footed bugAcanthocephala terminalis,  along the beam of a blackberry vine-enveloped trellis.  I thought he might strike a manly pose for me; instead, he skittered behind a leaf, glancing once to check if I was still there.

I was.

Later, he flopped down onto a sunflower leaf, which looks worse for wear, either from the doings of a sucking insect (maybe our leaf-footed friend?), or perhaps, just the heat. I like to watch these insects.  They’re shy and avoid confrontation, but can apparently deliver a wallop of a sting if need-be.  I maintain a respectful distance and hope they don’t damage too many leaves.

They don’t.

Dragons and damsels are back and it’s murder and mayhem in the garden, carried out with swift efficiency by these predatory beauties. This sparkly jewel of a Neon Skimmer, Libellula croceipennis, is a fixture in the garden when resting and an aerial acrobat as he hunts mosquitoes.  And I’m just fine with that.

His bright coloring indicates a male. His mate wears a muted orange, not quite as dazzling.

Resident birds while away the summer months, munching seeds and insects, and cooling off in bird baths and at the pond.  This female (or juvenile?) Great-tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,  contemplates a dip in the waterfall. Grackles and Blue Jays are consummate bird bathers.

Before they plop into the water to bathe or sip from its flow, many birds perch on the rocks and take advantage of the cover provided by the Ruby Red-runner plant which accompanies the flowing water into the pond.

This Carolina Chickadee, Poecile carolinensis,  steadfastly refused to look my way as it perched just above the waterfall.

After winter, I didn’t prune the  Yellow BellsTacoma stans entirely so that the birds could enjoy a safe place in which to perch and watch their surroundings.

Still, he could have given me a thrill and glanced my way.  I was able to catch a slightly better look at his cute face only after he flew to a different location.

The Chickadees are year-round residents in Central Texas and regular visitors in my garden.  We placed nest boxes for them, the Carolina Wrens, and the Black-crested Titmice, but had no takers–the nest boxes sit abject and empty.  All summer I’ve watched as each of these parents showed their offspring the avian ropes: sipping from the baths and pond, noshing from the feeder and plants, and teaching the how-tos of safely traversing the trees. They’re content to visit my garden, but not move in. I have no idea where they nest, I just know it’s not in my garden.

While pruning early one morning, I spied this resting moth, a Melipotis perpendicularis.

I know that I’ve seen this kind of moth before, though Austin Bug Collection says that this moth is not common.  Perhaps I grow its host plant, though I didn’t find information about that.

Whatever you grow and whomever visits or resides in your garden, please post your wildlife happenings for this past month. If you don’t have wildlife in your garden, it’s easy to plant for them and provide a welcoming home: they’re entertaining, beautiful, and necessary for a well-rounded garden. 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!

Wildflowers Work!

The wildflowers in my central Texas garden are screaming SPRING, and this week, May 1-7, is National Wildflower Week, so claimed with the purpose of celebrating the beauty and practicality of planting and nourishing native wildflowers alongside roads and in home and commercial gardens.  Wildflowers define place, as they are specific to region, and besides the beauty that wildflowers add to the world, they serve another noble purpose:  to provide food and cover for endemic wildlife.

Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) nectaring at a Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). Yellow Zexmenia (Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida) pops in the background, while Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) waves in the breeze behind.

Wildflowers are easy to grow because they belong where they grow. Encroaching urbanization, modern agricultural practices, and the use of non-native, invasive plants threaten native wildflowers and the spaces where they thrive.  You can help lessen that threat to North America’s bountiful natural legacy by growing wildflowers in your garden. They are simple, elegant, and practical plant choices for home gardeners. Most wildflowers germinate easily by seed and many locally owned nurseries carry container grown wildflowers.  If you want to grow wildflowers by seed, use seed packets that contain specifically named seeds that are native to your region. Not only will you get the best results for your seedy efforts, but you’ll be a partner in the restoration of the magnificent endemic flora–wherever you may live in North America.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) at Purple coneflower.

Check out the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s website  for excellent information on wildflowers and native plants.  Good native wildflower seed sources include, but are not limited to: Native American Seed, Prairie Moon Nursery, and Wildseed Farm.

I’ve grown native plants and wildflowers in my modest urban garden for more than 20 years.  Conditions have changed and interests evolved, but I’ve never regretted the transition from a garden of turf and non-native plants to one utilizing native Texas plants and wildflowers. They’re a snap to grow and fetching to behold. Unlike many non-native plants, natives are tough and stand up to the challenging soil and capricious weather patterns of Central Texas.

The following is a smattering of wildflowers and native shrubs that are currently abloom in my garden this 2017 National Wildflower Week.

This perennial wildflower,  Engelmann’s daisy, Engelmannia peristenia, blossoms in clusters, complementing its deeply lobed foliage.

A prolific spring to early summer bloomer, it’s also a favorite for many native bees like this metallic sweat bee.


A gloriously re-seeding annual wildflower, the Clasping coneflowerDracopis amplexicaulis, blooms precariously by the pond.

These cheery wildflowers mingle with other spring beauties.  Another Clasping coneflower cuddles with a solar lamp, while creamy-bloomed native Autumn sage, Salvia greggii sparkles in the background.


Here, the Clasping accompanies the Purple.  Further afield, red Autumn sage blooms.


Henry Duelberg sage, Salvia farinacea ‘Henry Duelberg’, cools a hot wildflower color combo of Purple and Clasping coneflowers.  Henry the wildflower was found in an old Texas cemetery by plantsman, Greg Grant.  It’s easily propagated by seed and readily available in various sized containers in nurseries.


Other spring wild things, like dainty, shade-loving White avensGeum canadense,

…and the aftermath of its blooms, quiet the garden.


Toward the end of its spring show, wildflower Wild red columbineAquilegia canadensis.

…and its spring partner, Gulf penstemonPenstemon tenuis, are fading and will make way for those who enjoy the heat of summer.


Just beginning its long summer-fall bloom period is the Tropical sageSalvia coccinea.

Red blooming

White blooming


Favoring late summer and fall when it blooms in earnest for multitudes of busy butterflies, this Gregg’s mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, displaying its blooming fuzz in a season not its own, shows it has contracted wildflower spring fever.


More wildflower blues in the garden– another Henry Duelberg sage,

…and lavender-blue Heartleaf skullcapScutellaria ovata.

Here, the Heartleaf fronts a late summer flowering wildflower, Drummond’s ruellia, Ruellia drummondiana,


…and here, it fronts Purple coneflower and another fall blooming wildflower, Plateau Goldeneye, Viguiera dentata.

Heartleaf is a wildflower perennial which acts as a winter, spring and early summer groundcover.  It fills the garden with drifts of grey foliage topped with striking, lavender-hued, pollinator-friendly bloom spikes.  Heartleaf skullcap is an excellent landscape plant.


Native plants and wildflowers certainly combine well with hardy non-natives like iris, day lilies and roses.   Though this post is to remind and encourage gardeners to grow local, that doesn’t mean that beloved non-natives are necessarily poor choices as long as they’re not damaging, by being invasive, to the local environment.

The sweet Caldwell pink roses (at right) are the only non-natives in this shot.


These spring examples are a few of the North American native plants and wildflowers that I grow.  The trickiest aspect of having these lovelies in my garden is deciding what to do with the many seedlings they produce.  No worries–I’ve given scads away and they’re propagating happily in new homes, giving joy to their gardeners and sustenance to their fauna!

You too can grow wildflowers–they work, they’re beautiful, they’re easy.

Happy National Wildflower Week–buy some, trade some, plant some!

Butterfly Bucket List: Texan Crescent

In joining with Anna of The Transmutational Garden and her fun and informative Butterfly Bucket List monthly meme, let’s have a look at this pretty garden visitor:

Texan CrescentAnthanassa texana, is a common butterfly species in my garden and throughout a wide range of the tropics and a large part of the western to southern United States. This is a small pollinator, only about 1 to 1.5 inches across with wings spread wide.  A rapid flyer, fortunately these gregarious butterflies rest frequently and I spot them sunning on all sorts of foliage in my garden.  They’re very good about posing for photos.

While not an eye-poppingly beautiful member of the Lepidoptera bunch, the muted coloration provides good camouflage, especially in shady gardens and I think this little butterfly is quite pretty.  Brown, rust and cream comprise the  primary color scheme, but in such a fetching pattern of those colors.  Look at the sheen of blue in the eyes,

…and along the thorax as this guy or gal, moves around the oregano bloom, modeling all sides of its fashionable summer wear.

Texan Crescents hang out in open, dry areas and are common in urban settings. Adults nectar on a many different  flowers.  I routinely see them nectaring on the florets of oregano,

ZexmeniaWedelia acapulcensis var. hispida

…and sunflowers.

Texan Crescents have always been part of the insect mix of my garden, but this summer, I’ve noticed more than usual.  There was quite a bit of rain in late spring/early summer, but if that was the reason for a population boom, surely I’d see more of other butterflies too and that hasn’t necessarily been the case.  The host plants for this butterfly are plants of the Acanthaceae family.  I grow several perennials from this moderate-sized group:  Flame AcanthusAnisacanthus wrightii quadrifidus, as well as several Ruellia species–a true native and a couple of cultivars.  Additionally, a new plant  has made itself quite at home in my garden–the native Branched Foldwing, Dicliptera brachiata,

…also a member of the Acanthus family and one that I recently identified; you can read about that  here. The Branched Foldwing is the only new plant in my garden that might host the Texan Crescent and I think it’s this garden surprise that is helping to gift more of these cuties to my garden and the surrounding areas.  I have found eaten and damaged leaves on the three Branched Foldwings that I’ve located,

…and more damage on the Foldwings than on any other of the Acanthaceae plants.  Though I haven’t yet spotted eggs or larvae on the plants, my suspicion is that the Branched Foldwing are to thank for the larger numbers of Texan Crescents.

Regardless of where their botanical nursery is located, I’m glad to host these little butterflies in my garden–may Texan Crescents always flutter!

Check out the The Transmutational Garden to learn more about butterflies and their importance in a healthy and diverse garden.