Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Best of Nature 2011

This catagory is generally reserved for plants and animals that don't fit in the other areas. This past year was a big one for this group as I decided to install a small prairie and visited the Mt. Cuba Center far more often.

The trees in winter. This is just behind my house.

Crocuses in our lawn provide an early splash of color. They do best in the driest parts that are otherwise bone dry over the summer. They're not native to North America and I'm at a loss to name anything flowering when they do that would work well in a lawn setting.

Bluets, Hedyotis caerulea, would be a nice choice but this is my first year with them. What they need to grow seems to be questionable. Pictured above is the patch at the Mt. Cuba Center which seem to grow great in partial to full shade among the moss. Other sources tell me they need to be bone dry and in full sun. Regardless, they actually don't do that well in areas where grasses will out compete them. I actually don't know what pollinates them.

Hepatica is quickly becoming one of my favorite spring blooms. They're kind of like bluets but the flower is larger. They have semi-evergreen foliage too, where new leaves are produced every spring to replace older ones. 

Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla. If I were rich, I'd plant more of these. Of three plants only one flowers, and that flower only lasts 8 hours at most. Online pictures show that multiple plants will all flower on the same day so I'd be curious to find out if different patches of these plants would bloom on different days. That is to what degree do they synchronize their bloom? It's pretty for a day but not something I'd recommend starting out. They're really more of a collector's item.

Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, flowering among some bluets. They're not as pink as I expected them to be.

Violets and Trilliums. Violets are supposed to have ants carry their seeds off... clearly the ants aren't doing a good job. All of the small green sprouts in the lower portion of the pictures are violets. Trilliums on the other hand take 5 years before they really get as big. I've found the two can grow well together as most Trilliums are taller than the clumps of violets growing below.

Playing with angles and the Trillium flowers.

Trillium grandiflorum is an excellent spring ephemeral. For the first week of flowering they are all white. Slowly over the second week, depending on age and pollination, the flowers fade pink and magenta.

Blue False Indigo, Baptisia australis. This flowered much sooner than I expected it to. The flowers are almost exclusively pollinated by bumblebees. Despite this though they are a very stately plant, good as a hedge, a clump of 3 or more, or specimen.

New Jersey Tea, Ceanothus americanus. I have 4 of these small shrubs which are all nowhere near their full size, but I'm happy to see say all of them are flowering this year. This shrub is in something of a nation wide decline and the range to the dozen or so Lepidoptera that depend on it have been suffering for it. Some of these are endangered species. I encourage anyone willing to give this shrub a try. The flower clusters are small but supposidly buzz with insect activity when in abundance. None of my plants are old enough for that activity yet but hopefully I'll get to see it in years to come. 

If nothing else, let it be known that this was the year I went nuts with milkweed. I bought a couple dozen plants from either Prairie Moon Nursery or Prairie Nursery. I forget exactly which one provided these plants. (I have an awful habit of spending ~$500 every year on plants.)

Turk's Cap Lily, Lilium superbum. I'm thrilled to see not only are my plants producing more flowers but they also seem to be reproducing a little. Lilies are one of those weird flowers that require a swallowtail butterfly to hang upside down from them in order to pollinate it. This isn't a common sight so having more flowers increases the chances of it happening while I'm around.

I wasn't very successful with sunflowers this year but at the local community garden they've mastered growing them. Most of these flowers are coming off of 3 or 4 plants. Some of them there had 50 flowers open at a time. The structure looked more like a Christmas tree than your typical annual sunflower.

Wild Senna, Senna hebecarpa, growing in front of Joe Pye Weed, which are now in the genus Eutrochium.

Nymph Milkweed Bugs, Oncopeltus fasciatus, huddling together on their host plant. None of my plants seem to get swarmed the way I see some do. I've seen plants that were overrun with these bugs. It got to the point where they were spilling off onto other plants.

Blue Monkshood, Aconitum uncinatum. When people think of monkshood usually they think of an upright perennial. North America has a species or two of it's own though. This species in particular grows as a vine that only reaches 5' tall. They die back to the ground each year so they stay in check. In the absence of anything to climb on they'll grow along the ground. They don't set down roots as they like but the rhizome will send up more and more shoots each year as an expanding clump. For most of the year they're nothing special. When they flower in late summer though they have loads of flowers all over.

Something I noticed with the Mt. Cuba Center, They seem to be going a little nuts with these plants, along with Bugbanes, Cimicifuga species. There aren't a whole lot of flowering perennials for full shade in the summer months so they are almost stock piling these plants in their wooded area. Personally I'd love to include more of both in my garden.

Full sun areas over the summer show a different story. Flowering plants are abundant and in assorted colors.

This was a great year for Monarchs as well as Hummingbirds. Both took to the plants I started growing this year nicely.

As autumn rolls in the asters bloom out. New England Asters, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, are among the best at getting pollinator activity.

And so is the goldenrod. This is the first year I've ever seen a Monarch on my Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima. Normally it blooms to late in the year, just after most of the Monarchs have passed through my part of New Jersey.

The seed heads to Tall Coreopsis, Coreopsis tripteris.