Texas Native Plant Week

The third week of October is Texas Native Plant Week.  School children and their teachers, native plant organizations, and individual gardeners are encouraged to learn about and then plant natives in eagerly awaiting gardens.  Aside from their beauty, native plants are a snap to grow with our capricious Texas weather patterns and difficult soils.  Native plants also provide sustenance and protection for endemic and migrating wildlife; diversity in all forms improves when gardeners go native in their landscapes.  Throughout the year and in every part of Texas, native plants are a key driver for conservation of our unique natural landscapes.

If you don’t live in Texas, celebrate the native plants of your region by growing natives in your garden and encouraging neighborhood and school groups to do the same.

Below are but a few of the native plants that I grow in my garden.  Many are passalong plants, shared with me by keen and generous gardeners.  Some are plants that I started from seeds, testing my gardener’s patience as I’m always excited to see how something fares as it grows and matures.  A couple of these plants appeared–unplanned, but very welcomed–by serendipitous acts of birds or the wind.  Many of these plants were purchased at Austin’s awesome locally owned nurseries.  All of these plants grow with little effort and less water than what a typical lawn demands. Ease of endeavor notwithstanding, my garden is alive with pollinator and bird activity, which is how a garden should exist.

No matter where you live and even if some of your plants’ ancestors hail from far away places, make room in your plot of the Earth for native plants.  You’ll help heal the world substantially, by conserving water and natural habitat, and by increasing local diversity of plants and wildlife.

Native plants are beautiful and belong where you live and garden.

Spring:

Pipevine Swallowtail on a Giant spiderwort (Tradescantia gigantea)

Southern Pink Moth on a Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata).

Yellow columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha)

Honeybee working a Gulf coast penstemon (Penstemon tenuis).

White avens (Geum canadense)

 

Late spring, early summer:

Blue curls (Phacelia congesta)

Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

 

Summer:

Big red sage (Salvia pentstemonoides) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Big red sage, bog plant Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata), with  non-native waterlily, ‘Colorado’.

Rock rose (Pavonia lasiopetala) and Yarrow

Drummond’s ruellia (Ruellia drummondiana) with attendant Carpenter bee.

Henry Duelberg sage (Salvia farenacia) and nectaring Eufala skipper.

White tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Red tropical sage (Salvia coccinea)

Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis) bloom spikes

 

Autumn:

Fruits of Pigeonberry

Gregg’s mistflower (Conoclinium greggii)

Texas craglily (Echeandia texensis)

Lindheimer’s muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Foliage of Texas red oak (Quercus texana).

 

Winter:

Possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua)

Ice formations in the stems of Frostweed (Verbesina virginica).

Seed heads of Frostweed, with bare stems of Red oak tree to the left, and Retama (Parkinsonia aculeata) to the right.

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!