Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Ants and Azure Caterpillars.

 
 A couple of weeks ago (about three) the Spring/Summer Azure butterflies were out and I managed to find one laying some eggs on the New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus. I'm calling it a Spring/Summer Azure because my understanding is that both Spring and Summer Azure butterflies are species complexes, meaning several nearly identical-looking species that scientists have been taking for granted as being the one or fewer species.

 The resulting caterpillars mostly hatched and chewed on the flowers. They take on a white coloration and blend in with the petals near perfectly. This would be the perfect camouflage were it not for the huge orange ant tending it. 


This is a Camponotus castaneus worker. It's a ground nesting species we have in the eastern United States and Canada. Normally they only come out and forage at night but I'm guessing these caterpillars are producing a noise similar to a queen ant or larva when they require tending to.

I'm not certain on the noise aspect for this species though but some members of this family do. They require a special microphone to hear also and are really just a series of muffled clicks and chirping sounds.

What I am certain of is the caterpillar produces nectar on occasion which the ant is sipping at. This can actually change the ant's behavior making them guard the caterpillar instead of steal nectar from the flowers. Ants do steal nectar from Ceanothus flowers but not all of them will the caterpillars oddly enough and I don't know why this is. 


In years past I've seen Lasius americanus, Camponotus subbarbatus, and Tapinoma sessile tending the caterpillars. But on the same plants I find Temnothroax curvipinosus workers nectar scraping, stealing nectar from flowers, and generally foraging on the plant. Oddly enough I've never found them tending an Azure caterpillar. This might just be because the other species mentioned would easily conquer them for supremacy over the right to occasionally drum their antenna on the caterpillar. Clearly this is an experiment I should preform but I don't think I'm equipped I test out any of the findings beyond saying "Yeah they will tend them in the absence of other ants," or "no they don't bother with them."

Also on the topic of Caponotus castaneus, they've been fly the past week and I managed to find a queen under a rock in the yard.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

My Garden on Easter

Easter is conveniently happening at the peak of wildflower season in my yard. Lots of wonderful colors to look at that are all on theme with the holiday. It's a shame my family doesn't gather at my house for this holiday but in a way it's a blessing. So many non-native bulbs though they certainly serve their purpose. The thing about Tulips, Daffodils, Hyacinths, and "Easter" Lilies is they thrive best in full sun. Almost all our native ephemerals are shade plants. It's a shame they're not sold in as much abundance or bought with the same enthusiasm.

I rarely get to show off my garden to family members I don't live with. Often the holidays they do come over my garden is transitioning from one season to the next and lacking in flowers. Despite the diversity in my garden few of the species bloom with any abundance. They don't always demonstrate their usefulness either.

My camera doesn't capture the detail it should in this photo.

Second attempt wasn't much better I should probably stop trying such wide photos of small objects.

Trees are probably the best way to entice pollinators into the garden. This beefly is a little late to the party but cooperated for a photo on a cool day on the new Witch Hazel I've added to the garden. On warm days I've seen it (more likely others) flying around on the Native Plums when they flowered then a day before those blooms closed up onto the Beach Plum tree and now onto the Apple Tree which started flowering this weekend.

Beeflies are important pollinators for certain plants like Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata. Long tongued bees and flies are the only insects that can reach the pollen anthers hidden deep within the tube-shaped flowers. Without them populations of these flowers diminish in size or blink out entirely. Unlike creeping phlox, Phlox divaricata is a short lived perennial. When pollination occurs though they are abundant seeders and spread far and wide.

But the other thing about beeflies is that most of them are parasites of Bumblebee hives. They invade the nests, lay a few eggs and the maggots eat the wax. Bumblebees don't really pollinate phlox though, so in order to have the pollinator of this Phlox species you need enough wildflowers and trees established to support a few bumblebee hives. 

As an aside, I did a google image search for "Bumblebee Phlox" and almost all the images that come up are of Carpenter Bees which chew holes in the sides of the Phlox flowers to gain access to the nectar and probably don't pollinate the flower. Bumblebees do visit Phlox but of the images taken I only saw the summer flowering species. Not Phlox divaricata. I'm not saying it doesn't happen but it seems rare if it does.

Our ephemerals get away growing and flowering now because most trees have yet to leaf out. When they do though they secrete a small amount of sugary sap. Here a Nylanderia faisonensis worker is exploring a few leaves on the sapling I planted last year. 

Sap isn't always a good thing though. The flower buds to our Flame Azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum, are so sticky with sap that insects that land on them get stuck. This is probably an added way to entice humming birds to visit the flower but I don't think it's always successful. More likely it's a method to prevent ants from crawling into the blooms when they open and stealing all the nectar to them selves. (I've actually found opened Flame Azalea flowers that had ants all stuck to the stems of their flowers). Whether it's intentional or not, it's probably still to the humming bird's benefit should it chance up on one.

These types of flies are becoming more abundant in my yard too. I've caught them visiting more than a few of my Trillium species. I had assumed all the large white flowering Trilliums were pollinated by bees but this photo tells another story. The pale yellow/white dots on the fly here are actually pollen. 

These are Trillium flexipes, note how fat the petals are to form a triangular shape overall and how the pollen is pale in color. 

This is Trillium grandiflorum, note the bright yellow pollen and how the petals are ruffled along the edges. The petals aren't as wide either.


I know for a fact that Honeybees and Bumblebees will visit these flowers but only when the patches are in abundance. Maybe ~25 plants all flowering within a few feet of one another? My plants aren't quite there yet but given time they'll get there.

I've found our native Jacob's Ladder, Polemonium reptans, makes a beautiful companion plant for them. They're just short enough to fill in all around underneath the Trilliums and the blue flowers are a nice addition.

I bought a nice big flat of these from New Moon Nursery a few years back. They were a pain in the ass the rip free from the plastic flat. The roots seem to push outward all the way up the plastic. I was ripping the foliage clean off the top of them and probably did that to most of them before I figured out a good method. Pushing up from the bottom worked but required a lot more force than expected. They really didn't want to come out of there!

Fernleaf Phacelia, Phacelia bipinnatifida, has FINALLY started to establish in my yard! Of all the spring ephemerals in eastern North America, this is probably one of the best ones to plant for honeybees... a shame I don't have hives anymore. I've been trying to get this plant to grow in my yard for probably the last 8 years now.

The issue with it is that it's a biannual and the only place selling it online basically has an F rating from the Better Business Bureau. I bought from them once and they sent me Watercress by mistake, yes that little invasive lawn weed with exploding seed pods everyone tries to get ride of... This place Sells that... to people... for money... and they pay them to do it apparently...

I called them about the mistake and they refused to help me until I had sent them pictures to prove they had made the mistake and then demanded the plants back at my cost! About a month later I received a trash bag in the mail of Fernleaf Phacelia roots that were lacking any green growth to them. This was in May so the plants had already flowered which they do at the end of their life cycle... So they sent me a bunch of dead plants.

So in order for me to obtain this species I have to drive to Native Plant Sales in Delaware and Pennsylvania (I'm in NJ) and hope they happen to be selling this species.

I fell in love with this stuff at the Mt. Cube Center in DE where it grows in huge abundance on some years. One time during their annual Wildflower Celebration I was telling one of the gardeners there I'm friendly with how I wish the species were more available to sale, especially in seed form. You'd think someone would sell it in seed form given that it's a biannual or at the very years recently germinated plugs. The Gardener couldn't believe no one was doing that and then told me, to my horror, that they actually cull the stuff there every few years! They fill up huge trash bags with it.... I wonder if that awful online nursery I bought from was stealing from their garbage?

Anyway, as you can see my efforts to get this plant started has come along. It's growing nicely beside some Jacob's Ladder. Several years of planting 1 quart sized pots of it have started something of a seed bank. The only thing holding it back now are the rabbits which have a real liking for the stuff. One year I had a great big plant growing a good 3' across and then the next day it had all been nibbled down into nothing.

Virginia Bluebells are another one that's supposed to spread like crazy. So far my plants have only enlarged in size each year. I'm not seeing any seedlings at all. It's another plant the gardeners at the Mt. Cuba Center occasionally have to weed out when they get too aggressive.

Woodland Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, has spread like a sort of weed though not in the direction I'd like it to. I stared with maybe 6 plants of this one year and they've spread quite a bit, but died out where I initially planted them. They seem to like growing away from other plants instead of next to them though I do like that they're spreading.

This species is also called the Caladine Poppy, but I hate this name because I have no idea what a Caladine is besides a different plant. Webster's Dictionary says it's basically a yellow flower scientifically known as Chelidonium majus, which is an invasive weed in America often mistaken for Stylophorum diphyllum. So it's common name refers to a species that it isn't... What? Is the dictionary wrong? It seems to be implying that the Calandine Poppy is the Calandine Poppy but not that Calandine Poppy, rather it's this Calandine Poppy over here.

If you google Calandine Poppy it certainly gives you Stylophorum diphyllum. So someone stole a name somewhere or is wrong.


The Eastern Redbuds in my yard are now all very well established and the perfect overlay to the ephemeral garden plants beneath them. Eventually the red/pink petals will drop from the tree and sprinkle the color to the display below. 

I had assumed the Spring Beauty, Claytonia , would be pinker before I planted it. That was the intent anyhow. I tried planting a pink flowering Phlox stolonifera which I read is aggressive spreading and one of the hardest phlox species to kill... well it died out.

Right now the only pink under the tree are the shriveled up petals Trillium pusillum. Interesting thing about this plant, I bought them from a nursery selling them as Trillium catesbaei. At least I think that was this nursery. I don't keep good records of all the plants I buy and from whom but given how much of this I have coming up, I would have had to have bought a flat of them. They've taken this long to ID because this is the first time one of them has flowered.

 Trillium viridescens, looking handsome as usual.

This is by far the most successful Trillium species in my yard. Each late afternoon they produce a faintly pungent scene of rotting apples and get swarmed by vinegar flies which transfer pollen from one flower to the other. They all started as just three plants, but that's become three large clumps of flowering stems with patches of seedlings all around them and then strays like the one photographed here coming up in other places.

 I'm gonna have to start giving them away as gifts.

More Jacob's Ladder doing well. I planted so much of this because I'd given up on Fernleaf Phacelia and wanted to move onto something easier to grow. Despite having such a good year with Phacelia, ultimately because it's a biannual I have no idea where it will come up next year, unless I collect seeds.

Round Leaf Ragwort. This would be having a good year but isn't. Basically the past two years, a female rabbit used the patch to have her babies in. She cleared out a nest in the middle. Then this year we got a puppy... (I'm amazed my Trilliums are holding up as well as they are.) She's has also decided to make this spot in the Ragwort patch her little spot to lay and chew things like plant stem. 

Trillium cuneatum growing beneath one of my few non native plants. The non native Bleeding heart was a mistake on my part. Back when I started gardening they were in the same genus as the native ones. So I have this gigantic bleeding heart plant I've started dividing and spreading about.

I didn't know Trillium cuneatum, was so amazingly fragrant until last year when a different one started flowering. While T. viridescens smells like rotting fruit, T. cuneatum is much more like fresh apples. Oddly though it doesn't seem to get anywhere near as many pollinators to it. I've yet to see anything land on them actually.

Another of what I'm calling T. cuneatum though I suspect one or the other is a different species. These are flowering for the first time and relatively short. They're newly planted this year so the stems might not be so short in future.

I have another one that's just as big as the red flowering one (two pictures up) but with flower petals in this shade. They all smell the same but that might be coincidence. We'll see what they do next year. 

There are Trillium species that remain this short though.

I've been finding Trillium growers (even reputable ones that don't steal from nature) have difficulty distinguishing some species apart. Lots of reasons for this. Growing them from seed they require 2 years to germinate, produce a single leaf of foliage for the next 2 to 3 years and then all look fairly identical until flowering. Take into account having to move flats around in a green house and it's easy to see over even just a 5 year period how things can get mixed around. Likewise Trilliums are prone to hybridizing with some frequency. 

Trillium luteum is another one I've had for a long time. They've mostly started to divide like my T. viridescens, but I've noticed when they do that they don't flower as much. I've never gotten them to produce seeds, nor seen anything visiting the flowers, even though they smell nice and lemony. Hopefully as the Trillium patches continue to grow in size I'll get more of the flies, beetles, and bees that pollinate them taking closer attention.

Red Trilliums I've been finding very tricky to ID. I'm going with T. vaseyi because that's what the nursery said they were, but I'm not certain how they ruled out, T. sulcatum, or T. erectum. Actually I can kind of see how it isn't T. erectum which I assume would have a larger flower with slightly longer petals. T. vaseyi and T. sulcatum seem to differ only in whether they stick the flower above or below the leaves. Mine just opened today so and have the flowers above the leaves suggesting T. sulcatum  ... but they might hang under the leaves in a day or two...

Whatever the case, I'm happy to see they're at least getting pollinated both by vinegar flies and some sort of pollen beetle.

 
 Maybe I should cave in and plant more tulips; no one cares what pollinates those.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Early Bloomers Have Sprung

 Bloodroot, Twinleaf, Spring Beauty, Pasque Flower, and Trillium catesbaei all flowering.

 Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. Flowers just starting to open

The leaf always clasps the stem and flower early on to help protect it from strong winds.

They slowly spread by rhizomes sending up a larger clump of stems and flowers each year. Last year there were only 6 flowers, this year there are 10 with a few more yet to open. You can also tell which ones have been open for a day or two and which ones are just getting started by how far up the flower bud is from the leaf. 

 Close up of the inside.

It's hard to believe that I started these from seed. Friends of mine in Missouri say from seed it only takes 3 years from germination to flowering, and as far as ephemerals go they're reasonably fast spreading. Here though in NJ, more specifically the 12" by 12" spot in the front garden where I planted the seeds, they've taken about 5 years from germination to flowering. Actually it was really cute the first year they germinated because the first year leaves are like Bloodroot but for a doll house, like barely an inch tall. I wish I'd taken a picture of them. Then on the following year the produced normal leaves. They've flowers the last two or three years and I can't locate any new seedlings yet but hopefully that will change.

Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla. I watched this thing like a hawk waiting for the flower to open. Sadly they only flower for a maximum of 4 days and if it's not above a certain temp out (I think 68F) they don't open at all. 

Better luck next year with this one. On the up side I accidentally took a picture of an ant. Looks like Tapinoma sessile.

Thankfully when I planted these I bought a flat of them and have numerous other plants scattered about the yard. It amazes me that just being planted a few feet away and they still come up and flower a week apart. Some of them are getting almost the identical amount of sun and water and still aren't going to have flowers open at the same time. Growing these things from seed must be a pain in the ass.

One did manage to open, so far, and still has it's petals but of all our native emphemerals this is the most finicky when it comes to flowering. The petals can fall off the flower after just 4 hours of being open.

Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica. I planted about 6 corms several years ago and they've spread all over my little woodland garden. I've even had to transplant them into other situations where they've started to do the same. Online I read they're a common lawn weed but my population hasn't quite gotten that far yet. I'm looking forward to it though.

 The European Pasque Flowers I bought a few weeks ago are growing nicely in the front garden I installed last year. I believe they do flower around this time but won't know for sure until next year.

I grow many Trillium species in the garden. This is the first year one of this species has flowered. Blushing Wakerobin, Trillium catesbaei pusillum. Eventually the flower hangs down below the three main leaves to aim down at the ground.



It's a tiny little plant right now at about 3 inches tall. It's funny reading online they can get up to 8.