Sunday, July 31, 2011

Butterfly Season

It's finally time to start seeing some butterflies outside. I believe the way their generations fall over the year make July and August the best months to see most species. Currently there are three highlights in my yard. The Monarch is a given but still to illusive for me to get photos of, but I've been seeing them pass through the yard.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus. This is probably the biggest butterfly we get here. It uses the Wild Black Cherry, Tulip Tree, and Native Magnolias as host plants. I most frequently see them on the Wild Black Cherry that grows behind our hours in a small fragmented woodland no one takes responsibility for. This wooded area doesn't actually touch my property which has always held me back from trying to find caterpillars. I do have some native plum trees which are in the same genus but so far there aren't any nibbles.

The Red-spotted Purple, Limenitis arthemis.

I find this to be one of the easiest butterflies to approach without spooking. They do eventually fly away but it's nothing compared to some of the other species. There are a number of color forms with the most drastic being a bold white stripe in place of the blue and orange, which changes the common name to White Admiral instead of Red-spotted Purple. When not in that form though, the adult of this species can be distinguished from the following: The band of light blue along the rear wings. The orange spots on the front wings and shading that may be hard to see in some lighting. Also there are even more orange blue and white spots under the wings.

This species shares the Wild Cherry as a host plant with the Tiger Swallowtail. Willow and Birch are other host plants. This is a butterfly that really goes for rotting fruit and tree sap, over flowers. They like sipping at mud puddles and collecting salt from sandy clearings. Generally you'll find them hanging out around the fruiting plants or damaged trees near their host plants.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Are Prairies Practical to the Average Joe?

I was at my cousin's house yesterday. He's on 5 acres that form a slight slope with the bottom being a slight wetland area. He mows his entire property in an hour or two with one of those professional-looking riding mowers but can't do the wetland area for various reasons. The ground is to uneven, some woody snags here and there, some of the plants while low growing form woody thickets, it floods and fills a small pond area after rainfall. I don't blame him for not wanting to mow but his idea is to let it go wild so it turns into a slight woodland. I'm not 100% behind that idea.

At least the Field side has a boat.
So I explored his property for an hour and at the end he asked me what I thought. My response, "Well you have a great view from the house, your neighbor's horses are pretty to watch, I love this wetland area and how it's just teaming with life, but the rest of your property bores the hell out me."

My cousin isn't into plants, he has no knowledge that natives are better than non, and I wasn't in the right company to explain otherwise. My dad was also walking with us and he has a habit of "correcting" me. Actually it's more like voicing the opinions of late night infomercials. It's the kind of logic that changes the dynamic of the conversation onto something else. For example he believes nothing in the world can grow without fertilizer. Want to grow something in the middle of the desert? Just dump some fertilizer and your tropical oasis will magically appear. He doesn't understand that a lot of plants love growing in conditions that aren't bursting with nitrogen. Anyhow...

The overall issue my cousin has is owning to much land. He wants to install an in-ground pool with hot tub that waterfalls into it, but at the same time he's thinking about getting a few horses. He might eventually put an addition on his home, will probably need a barn for the horses or whatever other livestock he plans on keeping, and at the same time knows nothing about managing so much land other than to mow the lawn. Plant wise, he's planted some saplings but doesn't know what half of them are. To top that off, towards the end of my visit, he said he has the money to fund any sort of projects or ideas I have about making low maintenance planting. 

For starters, before leavings I corrected him about a tree he thought highly of. He wanted a tree just like the one out front of his parent's home, and thought it was a Magnolia so he planted one. In actuality his parents have a Japanese Flowering Cherry, a double flowering one I think. So he was a little bummed about that.

That last part about wanting ideas for low maintenance planting really stuck with me on the ride home. The most obvious solution I think would be to install a Prairie seed mix but he has some nasty, evil looking weeds around his home!

Solanum sp.
I have no idea what this little vine is but I gasped when I saw those thorns coming out from under the leaf vanes. One dug into my finger pretty bad when I went down to touch it. I was really caught off guard about there being thorns under the leaves.

Solanum sp.

I really want to recommend my cousin plant a seed mix with a lot of forbs in it so doesn't just look like the side of his house. We'll explore that later. The thing holding me back though is the abundance of weeds like the one above around his property. Thistle and pokeweed are the least of his problems. There are so many types of thorn covered vines around I'd be afraid that they'd seed themselves into the mix from the wind and take over. The thing about managing a backyard prairie is mowing/haying can only suppress so many weeds, not everyone is open to the idea of burning, and asking to barrow the neighbor's cow just sounds silly. In short, I feel I should consult an expert before recommending this as an option.

The benefit to installing a prairie is he'd only have to mow it once a year, but still have to do the perimeter of his fence as well any open lawn areas. I'm certain he's open to the idea of setting fire to the yard, I'd say he's attempted to do that once or twice from the look of his fire pit. Considering he's in farm country maybe borrowing some livestock, or even charging them for the survive could be done too, but their hooves would tear up his property a bit. These are all fairly big jumps for the average person to make.

He didn't know what Milkweed was before today, and he has probably the prettiest specimen of Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed, I've ever seen growing in his wetland.

I wish I'd taken this picture at a slightly lower angle to take the focus off the grass behind the milkweed more.

It was just this one milkweed growing among this short grass. There were other Swamp Milkweeds about but this one stood out more than all the others.

It has a single stem, which I've never seen happen. And look how thick it is compared to my hand. The result was the thing being thicker than what the norm is all over the whole plant. All of the stems were engorged much thicker than they should be. It was enough to make me think twice about my ID. Other specimens in the wetland were more towards the norm though with multiple stems and closer looking to what most nurseries sell.

Pollinators were all over this thing. There were lots of Monarchs flying around but they were to busy having sex to be laying eggs it seemed. No caterpillars or nibbling at all, though I'm sure that'll change tomorrow.

Mist Flower, (The real one this time!) Eupatorium coelestinum, had a few patches here and there. I could see growing this for the sweeps of color their clumps offer.

What I think is Common Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum, was also growing there. Normally I don't like bonesets but this one was more like a white flowering Joe Pye Weed (same genus).

A neat looking kind of Wild Mint, Mentha sp. I think, also caught my eye. There weren't a whole lot of pollinators around it, which is shocking for a mint plant! but there is a lot to be said about the form and pattern all the stems create.

They spread by rhizomes I'm sure.

Cloudless Sulphurs, Phoebis sennae, were dancing around some Purple Coneflowers. This wasn't in the wetland at all. He has these planted as part of the landscaping (... I suspect something the former owners put in).

Fritillaries were also flying about both in the wetland and up by the house. I suspect the abundance of thistle and other unnamed host plants around have been supporting the population.

So I'm left with the conclusion that if all this wonderful nature can grow around his house without any care at all, then despite the weeds it should be worth it to install a prairie. And if he hates that idea then I'll just tell him what to buy and where to plant it!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Some Summer Flowering Forbs

Tall Coreopsis is flowering! Coreopsis tripteris. I planted this in two locations this year. The first I bought from an online nursery as a bare root plant and it's gotten to be about 4' tall. No flowers open yet but there are buds. The second location was from a 3 gallon pot I found among the massive inventory Popes' Gardens has. They're a local nursery about the size of a farm that sells at least one of everything. I wish they stocked more natives but they have such a huge selection that it's easy to overlook things like Tall Coreopsis. I kind of jumped up and gasped when I saw they sell it. The one from their nursery is flowering now, with it's blooms pictured above.

To be more accurate, 3' high isn't very tall at all but that should change next year. An unfortunate side effect of nursery grown can be stressed roots, either from growing in a pot to long or being divided off an adult plant. This stress limits the natural growth and disrupts the normal cycle of growing. This isn't necessarily bad for the plant though, it encourages early flowering is all. Next year it should grow to a more normal size of 5' to 8' tall.
To talk a little bit more about stressed plants, it's almost standard practice in the nursery trade. Think about how many trees being sold are taller than you are and yet they sit in pots where their root structure is little more than the size of a basket ball. Ideally you should grow everything from seed, or at least only plant things that are about knee high, so the root structure is more evenly balanced with the top growth. Time is the issue though as many of those potted trees are likely 5 to 10 years old.

The flowers to Tall Coreopsis aren't very showy, but frankly that's normal for a Coreopsis. The real show will hopefully happen next year when the plant isn't as stressed. Tearing out some of the tangled roots before planting encourages them to grow out and get a firm grip on the surrounding soil. Next year they should reach 5' to 8' tall and flower much more heavily. I have a Perennial Sunflower planted right next to this one (not in the photo) and the contrast of flower size should be neat to see.

Also flowering now is Sneezeweed. I can't remember why I bought this plant honestly. I've never been happy with the amount of pollinators on it. I hate the red ring around the flower, it really annoys me when plants have this. I'd rather the bloom be totally red or not at all. Red is to showy of a color and it can easily contrast with green in irritating ways. It's not that I hate red flowers, but it's the hardest flower color to ignore and can be very distracting when seen in the background. It just takes the eye off the focus, say a butterfly on a flower... on and then there's that big red glob in the background. I'd get rid of the thing but it's filling in a bare spot and nothing seems to survive very well there anyhow. I used to have a totally yellow form but it seems to have died off.

Black-Eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, are also flowering finally. In the past I've listed this on plants honeybees love. I still stand by that but I really need to stress the following: You need a field, like a 10' by 10' area of just this plant (and maybe related or similar flowering species) all in bloom to really get honeybee attention. They otherwise ignore it completely along with most other pollinator. This little sweat bee (right?) so far is the only thing I've seen working the flowers all year. I know something likes pollinating them because they keep coming back year after year. Black-Eyed Susans are biannual! The nonflowering leaves poking out of the ground are next year's blooms waiting to happen. Occasionally there is a perennial in the mix but those aren't the standard.

What's great about this plant is it's a pioneer species. The seeds germinate in response to sunlight so you'll find this plant reseeding itself where there are bare patches of soil. If there's to much organic matter laying about then this species slowly dies out in the field. After a good swift burning all the plant debris shrivels up into ash and allows more light to hit the soil. Within two years they're back at it flowering in all their glory. Of course if you're haying the field once a year, that is removing your lawn clippings instead of mulching them back into the land, then they don't really go away.

Generally they're one of the easier plants to spread around by seed. After the plant pretty much dies back and you're left only with the dead stems, cut off a few seed heads and sprinkle their contents about in open bare soil in a full sun location. Next year if they germinate you should be able to see a leaf or two poking out of the soil, and the year after that they should be of flowering age. Some seeds won't germinate until the next year, so you'll get fluctuation in how lush and full their patches are unless you keep at it reseeding them around.

As far as nectar and pollen go, you'll get far more interesting things happening with Sunflowers, Liatris, Coneflowers, and many others. It's just nice to have a few plants not covered in bees now and again. Some Fritillary Butterflies use Rudbeckia as a host plant as well, though it's vital to their populations to leave the plant stems where they are until next spring. The caterpillar pupa over winter on the stem and preemptive burning or mowing can decimate their population locally.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mountain Mint Madness

About a month ago the honeybees and bumblebees lost interest in the Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum sp. presumably to take nectar from bigger and better things. In their absence some of the more obscure pollinating wasps have taking their place.

A lot of these wasps refuse to stay still for pictures so a short video was needed to capture them in action. The rather colorful stripped scoliid wasp was the only that I couldn't get at least a decent picture of. Others were more cooperative.

Mud Wasp of some sort.
Mud Wasp of some sort.
Mud Wasp of some sort.
Summer Azure of some sort.
Another plant I've seen some of these on was the Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium. Last year I had four of them, but only one has come back. I have seen the longer of the two thin dark mud wasps on other kinds of mint as well. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Imperial Moth Eggs Hatching

A friend mailed me some Imperial Moth eggs last week, Eacles imperialis. They were quick to turn from a light green to transparent. 
Within a few days of arriving they've started hatching. After a few quick nibbles they hold still a while, waiting for their spines to inflate (emerge?) and harden. These hard spikes will be their only protection early on.

I was also sent some Polyphemus Moth eggs so hopefully I'll be able to update on those too.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Catching and Release Giant Silk Moths

After two attempts trying at catch and release with Eacles imperialis, Imperial Moth, I have no eggs to show for it. The idea with catch and release is as you can imagine. Catch and store in a dark place where they can spend the night. Sheltered outside in a birdcage or screened terrarium will work. There's no way to tell if they're mated with from looks alone but if they're mated they should start laying eggs in the darkness (leaves to a host plant are optional). If they're not mated with then there's the potential to attract a male right up to the cage and it's a simple matter of sticking him inside with her. They're quite easy to handle.

Telling the two genders apart as I recently learned from a friend isn't as you might read in books. Typically males are darker and have more brown/purple color, while females tend more towards the yellow. I'm told this is inconsistent, and it's "easier" to judge gender based on the antenna. Males have fluffier antenna, while the female is thinner, and more strand-like.

If there's no eggs in the morning, then it's best to release them later that night, or at least leave the lid off the cage while outside just before dark. The life cycle to these moths is something like 2 weeks in the adult stage. Weather pending that's not a lot of time to get stuff done.  

I'm not sure how successful this method is with other moths. Polyphemus moths are the only one I'm confident enough to say, "they will lay eggs in the dark, even in the absence of a host plant." I would assume other giant silk moths would do the same, especially because they all seem to be generalist foragers using most tree genera in the average forest as host plants. Females are commonly mated with just after they've come out of their cocoon, or crystals, during the late afternoon hours. As darkness rolls in she almost doesn't need to care where she deposits her eggs in a forest full of host plants. This makes sense in my mind at least. Other moths who have more specific host plants or lay eggs at different times of the day might not be as receptive to this method.

Upon success: young caterpillars should be divided into small groups (10 at most) in containers they can't escape from. They should be fed their host plant into adulthood, and perhaps bred in captivity before releasing into the wild again. This can be harder than it sounds, especially when a single female to one of these species can lay some 400 eggs over night. If that's to much to handle, consider sharing the wealth with others, or releasing the young caterpillars on host plants as they're born.

I had success getting a Polyphemus moth to lay eggs last year, and she deposited ~200 eggs. I released her into the yard afterward and found she'd laid eggs in our oak tree where I discovered a cocoon to at least one successful individual. The mistake I made with that generation was keeping all the caterpillars together in the same cage, and eventually moving them to a setup where they started escaping. Sadly not one of them made it past the second or third instar. They kept wondering off away from their host plant leaves, I think attempting to disperse, and the AC did them in shortly after. Once they get beyond this wondering stage I'm told they settle down and play nice.

This year I'm going to try keeping them all inside on a heating pad in small groups. Once they're old enough I have a larger setup outside on our covered deck. A friend mailed me eggs to two species and hopefully I'll be able to update you all on their progress.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hummingbird Moths like Amsonia

Hemaris diffinis, Snowberry Clearwing (I think). Last week several dozen of these suddenly showed up taking nectar from assorted honeysuckles and ironweeds currently in bloom. Host Plants include: Dwarf Honeysuckle, Honeysuckle, Snowberry, Amsonia, and Dogbane. Preference for native species is likely as there are a number of imported honeysuckles. I've yet to see any caterpillars on anything, so maybe this species might occur in an annual cycle. Meaning you'll never see the developing stages and the adult side by side.  

The real news here is reading that something uses Amsonia as a host plant! It's a somewhat under used perennial but is occasionally used by landscapers. I've only recently planted two species and have no pictures of yet. They are Eastern Blue Star, Amsonia tabernaemontana, and what's called Spring Sky Blue Star, Amsonia ciliata.  

The most common species used in landscaping seems to be Amsonia hubrichtii, which has wonderful narrow leaves. They flower in the springtime and have an excellent yellow color come fall. What I don't like about this species is how small the blooms are. The flower petals are really narrow and not very showy. This is why I went with Amsonia ciliata who's flowers are much showier but still has the great narrow leaves and fall color. Amsonia tabernaemontana is probably the safest choice as far as cold hardness goes, however the leaves are larger and the light and airy effect is somewhat lost. Plus you're stuck with the narrow looking flowers as in A. hubrichtii. I would suspect A. tabernaemontana would make the best host plant though because of it's broader leaves. Milkweeds with narrow pine-like leaves are often the last to be nibbled by Monarch Caterpillars for example. They go for Swamp Milkweed, Butterfly Weed, and Common Milkweed which have more "normal" looking leaves first.   

Some Summer Flowering Shrubs

Cephalanthus occidentalis, Buttonbush, is blooming! These shrubs grow happily in 4' of water, or along the river's edge, and they make a nice garden plant too but benefit I wouldn't put them in a spot too dry. I consider this plant to be our native butterfly bush, though unfortunately it has a shorter bloom season and with shorter lived flowers. When it does flower though it's said they're rarely seen without a butterfly around them. As you can see bees love them too. The tube shaped flowers are not to deep for honeybees to work so this could be a nice pollinator shrub, ideal for a water garden.

The blooms are fragrant, in that you have to put your nose right up to it. It's not what I'd call a good smell but it's okay, something different. 

Another shrub that started blooming this week was Clethra alnifolia, Summersweet or Sailor's Delight. Pictured here is a cultivar called 'Ruby Spice' which I've found actually varies a bit in color, which seems unusual for a cultivar. The true species has solid cream white flowers while this cultivar varies from mostly white to solid red/pink. Regardless these can be incredibly fragrant, (when they want to be it seems,) and very shade tolerant. I find these growing all over as rather small shrubs in the woods. They can get nice and big too, but usually it's when they're in full sun and right next to a water source. Both are excellent for bees.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Identification Flub

So a year or two ago I ordered about a dozen plugs to Eupatorium fistulosum, Hollow Stem Joe Pye Weed, which gets 5 to 7 feet tall. What arrived on accident was labeled Eupatorium coelestinum, Blue Mist Flower, which gets 2 to 3 feet tall at most. I was okay with the mix up, and they handled it nicely. They said can go ahead and keep the plants they sent and that they were sending me the correct species. As mentioned this was a few years ago, things have established, and grown, and finally the Blue Mist Flower has decided to flower....

... as something in the wrong genus. Yes along with getting the species wrong, they went ahead and got the genus wrong too. What they sent me was Ironweed, Vernonia sp. I already had a species of this that's decided to flower this year as well. It's the purple one up top. The one they sent me has more of a magenta flower, and the buds spread out before flowering.

I have contacted the nursery about this mix up. I'm not naming who they are because I really like them, though if you bought Blue Mist Flower or Ironweed from them and are having the opposite come up, you probably know which nursery it is. They have a huge selection of plants, so stuff like this does happen.

The exact species probably won't be known for another year or so. Though I have asked if they could ID it for me with less than satisfactory results. Ironweeds are notorious for hybridization. Also plants can be somewhat stunted the first few years they grow. I remember the first year I planted Cup Plant; they were 3 feet tall when they flowered! Today those same Cup Plants range from 5 to 7 feet tall before flowering. A similar thing might be happening here with the Ironweeds. I note they don't have many flowers on them this year either. Perhaps next year it will be more apparent which species they are.

My only gripe here is that I planted them in places meant for 2 to 3 foot tall plants. They're currently at 5 feet, but if they're a certain species they may get to be 8! Not exactly the a charming ground cover I was going for. Again I'm not mad at all. Next year I might have to take a shovel to a few plants is no reason to be angry. Vernonia sp. all tend to be very popular with pollinators. I've already had one hummingbird moth go nuts with one of the plants. I think of the genus as the thornless version of Thistle.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Imperial Moth

Imperial Moths are emerging, Eacles imperalis. In the northern part of North America they only have one generation, adults only live for 2 weeks, and from the earliest ones emerging to the last ones hatching out, they're only around for 3 to 4 weeks of the year. They're one of the few (the only?) giant silk moths who's caterpillar stage burrows underground to spin a cocoon. The result, (come July!) is the adult moth emerging from the burrow, a shallow one I believe and scurrying along the ground looking for something to climb. Once elevated they inflate their wings to take flights. Males are the first to emerge I believe and typically have more purple/brown in their color scheme. Pictured above is a male I believe, though they typically come darker. Females are almost completely yellow but maintain the longer stripe of purple/brown along the wings.

In the off chance this was a female (which I still might be wrong about) I decided to keep it over night in a dark place. In the morning there were no eggs so I decided to let it go. Assuming it was a female though there's a tactic you can use to get them to lay in captivity. Unmated females don't usually lay eggs, but if you put them in a bird cage they might attract a male right to the cage. You can stick him in with her, assuming love can't take place through the bars, and afterwards you can set the male go, and let her lay some eggs before releasing.

Host plants include:Pine, Basswood, Birch, Cedar, Elm, Sycamore, Walnut, Oak, Box Elder, Maple, Sweet Gum, Sassafras, and other woody species. There is a subspecies called pini which feeds only on Conifers, and has paler males than usual. Caterpillars come in a range of colors depending on what host plant they're on, see some of them Here. Remember though to complete their life cycle they'll need some sort of medium to burrow around inside. If you feel unable to accommodate them over the winter then consider releasing them into some leaf litter.

CORRECTION: I'm told by a reliable source that the wing patterns aren't accurate for determining male and female. Males tend to have bigger "fluffier" antenna while the female is more strand-like. 

My Prairie Update

Alright I've spend enough posts about other gardens, how's my prairie project going?

It's at least colorful looking minus all the clutter laying around. It's weird nice I think my yard looks in person. There's something about posting photos of it on the internet for all to see that really brings out the clutter.

Here it is from another angle. One of the species of Coreopsis has gone completely dormant/dead. All of the Western Spiderwort seems to be dying back after they flowered. The milkweed is doing great, they have flowers and are sending up even more shoots, with at least 3 or 4 of the 12 plants flowering at any given time. Next year everything should go extremely well.

I've since been transplanting some Liatris into the garden from elsewhere in the garden. I find Liatris to be neat as they don't have much of a root structure but moving them triggers flowering to start immediately.

There's a nice patch of Black Eyed Susan in the older prairie garden next to the tree. They're as mutated as ever naturally. 

Cassia hebecarpa, Wild Senna, has started flowering. This is a host plant to the Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae with emphasis on the flowers and seed pods. Leaves are mostly a secondary option for caterpillar consumption. I'd like to plant more of this as the butterfly is quite nice looking.

And speaking of butterflies I've attracted to the yard. Here is either the Spicebush Swallowtail or Black Swallowtail. I have a spicebush but it's very tiny. I have lots of things in the carrot family about which are what black swallowtails love. I'm not certain which this is but I found a picture of a spicebush swallowtail that matches this one perfectly and that's what I'm siding with. It's a shame I don't have a more suitable host plant for it though.

Lilium superbum, Turks Cap Lily, started flowering elsewhere in the garden. I have a cultivar of this in the prairie garden but frankly it looks as effed up looking as that black eyed susan flower. Not sure who thought the thing was pretty enough to cultivate, as the true species lacks random growths and tendril-like flaky structures on the flower. 

While the wind was blowing one day I realized how perfect a companion they are to the cup plant. Both are almost as tall as one another, the flower color goes great, they're different enough to not be redundant, everything sounds perfect. I will certainly be planting some bulbs around this fall.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Class on Milkweed

Once again I took a class up at the Mt. Cuba Center. To their credit, this is a wonderful place and really is one of those hidden treasures few people take advantage of. This week's class was on the wonders of milkweed. It was a good course as expected, however they lack enough milkweed species on display in the gardens to really make the course worth it. The specimens they did have mostly were either not blooming or not interesting enough to stand out in any meaningful way. Many of them are not even sold in the nursery trade despite their beauty. There was emphasis on companion planting but even this fell short, and mostly repeated information from last week's meadow studies course.

I feel like the lecture could have been improved with more pictures of milkweeds being used in people's gardens. This way they could show off more companion plants not on display.

There was mention of some fauna associations such as the Red Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes tetrophthalmus, pictured above. And it was neat finding one out in their gardens doing it's thing. But at no point did anyone really talk about the neat thing about this beetle, and my photo doesn't portray it accurately either. It's other common name is Four Eyed Beetle because it has eyes both above and below the antenna socket. This is one of those neat facts gardeners might enjoy.

Asclepias tuberosa, Butterfly Weed, was the natural highlight of the meadow garden. It's completely over used and among the more common species you can buy in the nursery trade. Seeing it in their meadow was a little boring (as I'd seen it the week before) but they did have it in a variety of it's color forms: solid orange, some with red stripes on the inside, some red on the outside, red both in and out, yellow petals, overall pale orange, solid red flowers, and lots of combinations there above. So this species was well represented.

Asclepias virvidiflora, Green Milkweed, did not stand out at all. We almost walked past the entire patch. Granted we were in the meadow garden and it's setup to be a meadow but I feel like this and other species should be represented in a more formal looking garden somewhere, just to show off how the green color can be brought out somehow and used.

Asclepias verticillata, Whorled Milkweed, was interesting to see in person. I swear I read somewhere that this particular species, with it's grass-like leaves, has nectar that's poisonous for humans to consume. I might be mixing this up with a species out west though. I remember white flowers and grass-like leaves. I could be wrong of course and I can't seem to find a reference for it being poisonous anywhere. But anyhow, this is a rather short species that generally hates being watered or being anywhere near it, especially over the winter. You find this growing in places that have completely nutrient-less, infertile soil where nothing else seems to grow. The instructor said they used to have a patch of about 20 plants there but they all died from to much snow staying on the patch over the winter.

Overall the course was well put together but would have benefited from more gardens where milkweed was being used, maybe with better companions. Growing it all out in the meadow and forest edge where assorted plants are almost growing randomly makes for a harder sell on getting people to grow this. The green milkweed in particular was dying for a companion to bring out the color, as it's otherwise lost against the grass. I was amazed to learn that A. incarnata, Swamp Milkweed is actually fragrant. But not in the sense that it's producing to attract insects, but more from the sun heating up the flower. It smells like dessert with hints of wax and nectar mixed in. Very pleasant indeed and something I never knew before.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

More Early Summer Blooms

Here are some other plants I saw at the Mt. Cuba Center. They were in their Prairie Garden but more located along a path at the top and growing individually or in clumps for educational purposes.

Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra 'Summer Nights' is the orange ringed form of Western Sunflower or Ox-Eye Sunflower. The true species lacks the orange color and is a more solid yellow. This was definitely an eye catcher, with it's dark foliage and bright flowers, which cover the plant. I read that this species can be aggressive spreading but it's unclear weather that's by rhizomes or by seed. It's pretty enough that I might be willing to find out.

Stokesia laevis, Stokes' Aster. I was growing this in my garden for a time but it died out on me. They benefit from acidic soil apparently. Personally I don't know why this isn't planted instead of Bachelor Buttons. The flowers look similar enough in both shape and color. At least here you have a much bigger flower. 

Stokes' Aster 'Peachie's Pick' is a purple flowering cultivar. I think they also come in white as well.

Allium cernuum, Nodding Onion. This wild onion is said to have an overpowering smell and taste, and thus it's culinary potential has been overlooked in favor of the varieties we use today. The wild onion still grows in the wild but can make a nice addition to the garden too. Personally I'm not a fan of this plant but I may one day get around to getting some. It's just not on the top of my list.

They had a lot more stuff flowering there but I don't always take good photos. Their forest was absolutely blooming with Black Cohosh or Bug Bane, I forget which flowers sooner. I have Bug Bane but it rarely does well in my garden.