Friday, April 30, 2010

Wildflower Celebration (part 4)

Along the pond they had established several species of carnivorous plants. I wanted to install a small bog in my garden this year but my wallet had other plans.

Even carnivorous pitcher plants flower. Sarracenia purpure, or maybe Sarracenia leucophylla,, is among the more eye catching of them.

Note the tadpoles in the pond.

 The flowers are built up tall, often 3 times taller than the pitchers. Don't want to eat the pollinator now do we? The pots I believe are left over from a recent class at the Mt. Cuba Center. Calling it a continued education building is almost degrading to how spectacular the building is. Classes are amazingly cheap usually running at $15, and often they come with a free plant and tour of the garden to highlight the plants that go with the topic.

I love the blue color of the pots they chose. It goes great with at of the plants. 

Sarracenia leucophylla, Calopogon tuberosus, and Pinguicula primuliflora are all I can make out on this tag.

The flower to these pitcher plants confuses me. Perhaps they're not fully opened yet but I don't see the normal parts you usually see inside a flower.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wildflower Celebration (part 3)

When I think of Phacelia I think of them as an all western genus of blue flowering plants (that supposidly turn honey blue if the bees use it enough). I had no idea we had native Phacelia on the east coast but apparently it's a wide spread genus for all of North America. Phacelia bipinnatifida was used like a carpet for much of the garden beds.

It's amazing what thousands of flowers can look like in a huge patch. I hope to mimic this effect someday with my garden.

I don't think they over used it at all. It was just doing better in the rain than Virginia Bluebells and Celandine Poppy were.

It went well with a lot of the plants they have here. The yellow is Ragwort which I have.

And speaking of carpets of flowers. That isn't snow.

Quaker Ladies, Houstonia caerulea. The wonderful snow effect comes from what has to be millions of tiny white and blue flowers.

I need to look into getting me some of these. The only issue I see is they might become lost in the lawn. This patch was planted on moss and I wonder if they're lawnmower friendly. Maybe around stepping stones?

This is a carpet of Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum. They're in full bloom but those flowers in the picture are Trilliums.

Mayapples form their own canopy of dense leaves. The flowers hand down just off the stem out of view.

They shade out surrounding plants and shield view of flowering trees that might be above. This way they help make their flower stand out as the best choice for passing by pollinators. Beetles and certain bees are likely what pollinate them best.

Virginia Bluebells was the only thing I saw growing under the dense leaves. They weren't do so hot either.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wildflower Celebration (part 2)

One of our native Rhododendrons growing above a carpet of Phacelia bipinnatifida. The white flowering tree in the far right is a Silver Bell, Halesia carolina.

Here we have a similar scene only the Silver Bell Tree, we have Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia.

Native Rhododendrons tend to be deciduous or semi evergreen bushes. All the Asian imports tend to be full evergreen or semi at least.

The flowers come in a range of shapes and colors and they are often scented.

I never understood why no one plants the yellow orange variety. It's our native Flame Azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum. Of all the Asian imports none of them are yellow or orange in color. No, instead they're all white, red, magenta, and combinations there of. Some recent cultivars have come out as orange but they're still Asian imports.

On a good year it's the most eye catching plant in the forest.

Even when planted along side other Rhododendrons it has a way of drawing your eye.

If you don't agree, well our natives come in the classic pink and red. One variety that I didn't get a picture of had enormous flower clusters the side of my head on it.

Silver Bells, Halesia carolina, was one native I didn't understand. Flowers that point down just don't appeal to me. But seeing it here and in full bloom has me coming around to it.

This tree gets 30' tall about and having all those flowers looking down at you is kind of fun and different. So many trees aim up and away it's a nice change.

I'd herd people suggest Red Buckeye as a hummingbird tree but I had no idea that it flowered this young! This is a 4' tall sapling and it had a cluster of brilliant red flowers already.

They don't have to get big to be pretty either.

They get nice and tall too. They're pollinated by hummingbirds and I imagen certain butterflies too. I don't think any of which are particularly common or easy to attract without years of devotion though. Having a nectar source like this tree would make the process easier though.

To be continued...

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wildflower Celebration (part 1)

Yesterday I went to the Mt. Cuba Center's 6th Annual Wildflower Celebration. It's a day when they open the gates for everyone to come and see the gardens. Normally one has to pay and schedule for a guided tour in advance. Their collections of flowers are that fragile that free roaming isn't allowed. The property is 600 acres of managed land which is how a place like this should be.

By far this was way better than the Philadelphia Flower Show! First off it's completely free. Secondly you're seeing all the plants blooming along side one another and growing in their own little ecosystems. Because they're on a mountain/steep incline separate micro-climates allow for a better perspective of the plants. Plants flowering at the top of the hill might not be blooming yet at the bottom, for example, so walking though the gardens you'll see plants in all stages. And best of all the first 500 families got a free plant to take home, a Coreopsis. 

The gardens are not handicap accessible but that's not to say they aren't allowed. (I believe classes in the main house wont be a problem.) Because this is open to the public, parking had to be on a neighboring field. Their normal parking lot only holds about 40 cars and that won't do for an event like this. The options to get to the house are either walk the trail, or take a bus which is provided by them. There was also bottled water and plenty of bathrooms I'm happy to say. We chose to walk the trail, despite being a rainy day.

Even before we arrived we started seeing brilliant views and some great native plants. The uncut grasses to this prairie were filled with milkweed. I can only imagen what this pasture looks like in June and July. Milkweed flowers are a spectacular nectar source and pollinated by just about any flying insect.

August must be equally as exciting. It's the host plant to the Monarch butterfly and there is plenty to go around in this field.

Bird houses were posted every few hundred feet. When this prairie becomes active with insects I'm sure they'll have plenty of food.

They'll have quite a view if nothing else. Delaware is filled with beautiful cottage homes, old stone walls, and it's as thought the whole state were professionally landscaped. Just down the hill was a beautiful house and pond. I believe that's actually a well they let flood over into a pond.

Just off the trail I saw a young Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis, in bloom. We're a bit past the peak of this tree's bloom but this young sapling was still in decent condition. Redbuds flowers oddly, along the trunk and main branches instead of only new growth, but I love them for that fact.

Farther in we walked past a White Flowering Redbud. I don't know the story with this tree, weather it was a random mutation or someone decided we need a white flowering REDbud. It's pretty all the same. There were a few of these growing along the forest and I know you can buy them here and there.

You can see everything is still wet from the light rain that happened all day. It's a shame this was a one day event.

Tomorrow we enter the gardens.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eat the Weeds: Mulberry

I'm off to a native plant garden for the day so I'll leave you with this video. I like this guy's show a lot.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mason Bees and Flower Flies

The mason bees have been making some real progress. Each capped tube is full and contains upwards of 10 bees give or take for next year. I started with about 100 of the little guys, though I suspect most were males or found nesting elsewhere. There's almost always a bee or two flying in or out filling the tubes. They'll only be around for another few weeks and I'll start taking the full tubes inside. Over the summer parasitic wasps lay their eggs inside the first chamber or two of brood and I don't want that.

Having these bees around is a great way to ensure pollination of fruit trees and blueberry bushes (heath family in general). But pollination is but one issue to getting a good crop. Aphids are already waking up and breeding on some of the trees here. Usually they aren't a problem but every little bit helps make a good harvest.

Thankfully the mason bees also help pollinate spring wildflowers like Roundleaf Ragwort, Packera obovata. I never understood where the name ragwort came from. Golden Flower would be just as good for this plant. It's a round leaved ground cover that moves like a carpet through the forest and in early spring they produce thousands of yellow and gold flowers above them.

Ragwort is one of the few plants also pollinated by Flower Flies. They're also called Hover Flies for their flying habits. Members of the Syrphini tribe, these beneficial insects are colorful flies that lay eggs in patches of aphids. The resulting grubs (maggots) take care of your aphid problem and aren't bothered by ants that may be guarding them.

They are a much better solution to the aphid problem than lady bugs in my opinion. Lady bugs stand out in a crowd and ants are quick to harass them away. Meanwhile flower fly grubs munch away on the aphid herd. A benefit for sure.

When the ragwort stops blooming they turn to Yarrow but we're not there yet in the year. Small flowers seems to be the key to attracting Syrphini to your yard. There are a few exceptions of course but they're pollinators all the same.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Traffic at a Honey Bee Hive

(Blogger cuts off the format. You can watch them in 720 or 480 by the box in the lower right too.)

Business is booming for my bee hives. The two that survived the winter are crazy busy. One more so than the other becuase it gets more sun at more hours of the day. When it gets to warm inside it encourages the bees to forage more.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth Day Coming Up

April 22ed, Earth Day, is traditionally celebrated by flapping one's mouth about how green things are or could be, while never doing anything about it. Many of these speeches and presentations take place in government buildings such as your local school auditorium. Buildings that are traditionally landscaped with cheap mass produced nonnatives like the brad ford pear.

A few years ago I read a book that quite changed my life. "Bringing Nature Home" by Doug Tallamy. It's just $12 and I guarantee worth every penny. This book is probably the reason why I blog about butterflies and nature so much. It is filled with examples of how we're starving nature to death by replacing it with alien plants. People have bitched and complained about the rain forests and yet no one bothered to save the temperate forests of eastern North America.

View Larger Map

It still looks green from outer space but zoom in some and you'll see how broken that green forests actually are. All the suburban areas, and even rural areas, where homes are in general, are landscaped with nonnative grasses. The vast majority of garden centers in the US don't sell native species, when they do it's usually only a handful of their stock and you'll be hard pressed to find anyone there who can tell you which are native and which are not. (Note the links to native plant stores that sell online in the top right of my blog.)
Because of this it is important now more than ever to take responsibility for your yard, as the home owner you stand to benefit more than anyone.

Note: a few nonnative indulgences are fine but the theme should be Native!

"Bringing Nature Home" This isn't a book about what the cat dragged in, but rather a guide to attracting wildlife to your yard. There are only two sources of energy on our planet: the sun, and deep sea thermal vents. Deep sea volcanoes are fueled by the earth's core and doesn't really mix in with the other system very well. The sun on the other hand is our leading source of energy on earth. Plants photosynthesize sunlight into usable energy, along with storing carbon in their trunks and generally cleaning the environment they're creating oxygen. A lot of the energy they create is trapped in the leaves though. While humans can eat a salad most plant greens are completely inedible to us, many are poisonous and will kill you if eaten. The leaf chemistry is different from plant to plant and thankfully after millions of years certain insects have developed a digestive system that allows them to release the energy. If the insects don't eat it then the leaf falls off to be digested by microscopic organism or other insects on the forest floor. At both ends birds, lizards, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and mammals etc... can eat the insects or other members in the system. And the energy is put into a cycle of higher organisms but always starts with the plants. Naturally we should be surrounding ourselves with plants that fit our ecosystems best so we have more access to energy.

(Yes a lot of plants produce fruit but good luck surviving the winter on that alone.)

Thankfully the patches of forest you see on Google Maps are for the most part free of nonnative plants. But keeping with our theme of bringing nature home several of these trees or at least one should be placed on your property. These are the tall Oaks, Maples, Birch, etc... The really tall ones that get to be 60' or taller some even reaching 120'. In a book dealing with permaculture these would be your nitrogen fixing plants. (Yes peas and other legumes make their own nitrogen but they don't add organic matter and healthy organisms to the soil, they just know how to make their own fertilizer.) The leaves are mostly eaten by insects, and should otherwise be put into the compost pile to make better soil for other parts of your garden. Broken limbs can also be used as fire wood or as a natural boarder to a flower bed. Many nut trees get this tall but usually require a male and female tree to produce the fruit.

The forest edge is usually a mix of low growing trees and shrubs, and often have prettier flowers than the taller hardwoods they surround. Examples of low growing trees include Eastern Redbud, Dogwood, Apple, Plum. This is an area where most birds build their nests. Many shrubs that grow in this area have berries, edible seeds, or are host plants to a variety of caterpillars. Examples: Blueberry, Viburnum, American Beauty Berry, Spice Bush. The birds also appreciate being next to the open fields where grasses and plant down are abundant for their nests. This is the area that probably best represents suburbia but we only really get the bird situation when there are lots of shrubs and low growing trees scattered around for them to dart to and fro. An open bird feeder in the middle of a lawn puts the birds at risk of predation, and you'll actually get more if they have lots of these pitching plants to zig zag their way to.

Gooseberry, Current, Blackberry, Raspberry, Elderberry, PawPaw, and Most fruit trees grow in this area, or will benefit from full sun.

This is also the area where most vine plants grow. Concord Grape, Coral Honeysuckle, Pipevine, Virginia Creeper, are all examples of native vines. Vines in general tend to be invasive especially in this the suburban setting. They get just enough sun to survive but not enough to think they need to slow down growing. This is where Japanese Honeysuckle really takes over as it's more shade tolerant than our native Honeysuckles. Passion Vine is a nice food crop but can only be grown in the southern half of the US, takes two to pollinate one another, but it's considered a noxious weed when you get to the most souther part of it's range. Passiflora incarnata is the native.

Most of these are all perennial crops coming back year after year and produce food. These are the most bang for your buck. Tallamy doesn't talk about food crops really in his book but I'm telling you it all doesn't have to be about butterflies.

Stepping out of the forest completely we find the prairie. In your yard this area usually gets more than 6 hours of direct sunlight. It's the environment farmers like to till and grow their unsustainable mono-crop on, and builders like to develop into housing and do so whenever they can. It saves them the money of clearing the forest and at most they just need to level things out. True prairies with their lush fields of native wildflowers and grasses are an endangered environment and don't occur naturally now except on wildlife reserves. This is the blank canvas home owners call their lawn.

Want to grow fruits and vegetables? That's fine, most crops Tomatoes, Potatoes, Salad Greens, Beans, Peas, Watermelon, Squash, etc... are all annuals and post no threat to the environment. Often times they taste great. Just make sure you have the nitrogen fixing tree(s) to make compost, and including shrubs and bushes that are sustainable will off food year after year. 

Need herbs? You go right ahead, just be sure to control Mint and Borage as they can get of hand. 

Want a butterfly garden? Plant Milkweed, Liatris, Aster, Goldenrod, Sunflower, Joe Pye Weed, Wild Senna, Violets, Carrot Family Plants like Parsley, Golden Alexander, Carrots in general. A lot of the native plants from other categories are also used as host plants such as Dogwood, Spicebush, Coral Honeysuckle, and Pipevine.

This blank area of lawn is what you want to get rid of. While that image of a prairie filled with wildflowers is hard to control and requires a wildflower is completely unsuited for the lawn area, many of the plants fit perfectly into a flower bed. Pictured above is my little pocket prairie which I've slowly been expanding.

So what are you doing this Earth Day?

Monday, April 19, 2010


Phlox divaricata, Wild Blue Phlox, is the perfect plant for well drained shade. Really any old Phlox will do and I'm happy to see most found in the US are native. Some are fragrant, some are creeping, others are upright short 2' tall perennials. They come in a wide array of colors. Best of all, they're pretty.

My only complaint is I have never seen anything really work the flowers. Granted a lot of my plants like Trillium almost never come face to face with a bee but this plant in particular, for the amount of flowers it eventually gets it has almost no attention. I have seen a bumblebee on it before but that's about it. The flowers are an odd shape and I suspect it's ideally pollinated by moths and butterflies. None of which are particularly abundant in the spring time but better to have it there then not. An excellent plant and I'd say one of the prettiest to put in a shade area (arguably a hard spot to fill in the garden).