Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pollinator’s Delight

Two years ago, in 2014, I wrote about finally having a bloom on my devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa). Shortly after it started to bloom, the stem snapped in a summer storm and the flowers withered and died. Last year, much to my dismay, the same thing happened. My husband started to tease me about how could such a plant exist in nature.

Viceroy and bees and wasps

This year, the plant put out four inflorescences. Would this give me four times the heartache or a better chance at seeing one make it through? Well, you know by now that the answer is B, but I still had to suffer for a while. A storm came through and took out one of them. We were down to 3. A week later, another storm came and a second one failed the test.

Tiger swallowtail goes inside the inflorescence
I’m happy to say that two of them have continued to remain in place and this week has been fantastic! We’ve had unbelievable amounts of bees, wasps, and butterflies. It has been especially popular with tiger swallowtails.

The plant almost overhangs the swimming pool (not quite), and I had to fish out 5 honeybees from the water. I think they were too drunk to think straight. Two large somethings (wasps?) were so excited that they dropped to the concrete and consummated their love on the spot!

Viceroy and others

As we swam in the pool, enjoying the happy spectacle of this pollinator’s delight, a large orange butterfly could be seen nectaring from the flowers. I ran inside to get my camera, excited at the prospect of a monarch stopping by.

Actually, it was a viceroy, the first time I’d ever seen one. In addition to the tiger swallowtails, I’ve seen quite a few silver-spotted skippers too.

Aralia spinosa on a wild roadside, short and suckering
This plant is not for everyone. It can be a thug. It started suckering in 2014 after the first branch broke. I have potted up a few suckers but mostly I just pull them up now – about 3-4 per year. If you’ve got a bit space, especially next to a stream, you’ll make a lot of insects happy to plant one.

Now to look forward to the fruit display ....

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Special Plants, Special Places: Mountain Bog

It’s always fun to get a chance to see some of the special places in Georgia and the unique plants that grow there. I recently had a chance to visit what is called a mountain bog, an area considered to be the last “low mountain seepage bog community in Georgia.”
Green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila)

How did I get to see such a special site? I volunteered to help manage invasive plants there. The location is the Reed Branch Wet Meadow Preserve and it is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. It is located in Towns County in Georgia, near the North Carolina state line. They periodically hold workdays to manage some of the aggressive plants that encroach on the special plants. You can read more about the site here and find contact details if you’d like to volunteer, but here is a quick description from that webpage:
Consisting of 5 acres in Towns County on the banks of Lake Chatuge near the North Carolina/Georgia border, Reed Branch Wet Meadow preserve is the last example of a low mountain seepage bog community in Georgia. The site is dominated by shrubs and herbs growing in shallow, acidic soil over bedrock. Water flowing over the rock often saturates the soil, seeping out of the ground. This mountain seep community is unique because it is home to a large number of plant species typical of the Coastal Plains that are usually not found in north Georgia like sundews, colicroot, and meadow-beauties.
Rosepink (Sabatia angularis)
We met our TNC leaders on a hot and sunny Saturday in a field full of Queen Anne’s lace. As we waited for the rest of the volunteers, we put on sunscreen and insect spray and bagged up several dozen QAL seedheads for the trash. There were plenty of native plants to admire, including big bunches of blooming annual rosepink (Sabatia angularis) and narrow-leaved mountain mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium). We got our assignments, gathered our tools and headed off to work.

The showiest protected plant there is the green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila), but there are others. Our tasks consisted of cutting red maple (Acer rubrum) saplings that were shading out the plants as well as preparing areas for a future burn. We walked through a sunny field on our way to the sensitive area. I noticed how short the grass was compared to the area where we parked and was told that it had been burned several years ago. The native grasses were doing well as a result, and we saw many native flowering perennials such as the annual Sabatia, colic root (Aletris farinosa), several species of goldenrod (Solidago), several species of Eupatorium, white-topped aster (Sericocarpus linifolius), orange milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), skullcap (Scutellaria integrifolia), prairie bluehearts (Buchnera americana) and much more. Some had finished flowering and others were just starting.

Marsh-pink (Sabatia campanulata)

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
From there we walked further towards the lake and the vegetation composition changed again. We had entered the seepage area. Pitcher plants grew in clumps, interspersed with the hot-pink blooms of slender marsh-pink (Sabatia campanulata) and the white flowers of Maryland meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana). Around the area were groups of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), the exotic, round inflorescences sparkling in the sun, attracting numerous pollinators. Here we also found beautiful purple-headed sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum), with fresh blooms decorated with golden pollen. 

Sneezeweed (Helenium flexuosum)
Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana)

A few pink blooms caught our attention and we realized that a big sweep of pink coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea) was just days away from a spectacular show.  In smaller numbers, but no less spectacular, were blooming pink milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata var. pulchra) with leaves that were noticeably wider and pubescent compared to the ones in our gardens. I spotted a pale blue flower and went closer to find it was savanna eryngo (Eryngium integrifolium), another new one for me. A drift of white dots to the side was a group of bog buttons or pipewort (Eriocaulon decangulare).

Pink coreopsis (Coreopsis rosea)
Eryngium integrifolium

Asclepias incarnata var. pulchra

A thunderstorm blew in about 2 pm so we packed up our tools and dashed back to our cars, happy to have helped in this special place. What a nice day seeing new plants, meeting new people and helping to keep a good thing going.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Sneaking Out for Nature

Do you ever just need a nature break? Those of us that work indoors for most the day sure do. Air conditioning is lovely and lack of mosquitoes divine, but at least once a day I just have to take the plunge. These are pictures from this week's sneaks.

Buckeye butterfly on Monarda fistulosa
I work from home so you’d think it would be easy, but there are busy days with little chance for “me” time, let alone nature time. Then a butterfly will float past my window as if to remind me that the great outdoors is waiting. Or rather, it is not waiting!

Gulf Fritillary butterfly on Joe Pye Weed
Silver skipper on Joe Pye

Once outside, I explore the blooming plants.  Sometimes a bloom has come and gone since the last time I checked – how I hate that I missed it! On the ones still open, I check for insects. Who is visiting, how many different bees on the mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), how many different butterflies on the Joe pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum)?

Dark form tiger swallowtail on Asclepias tuberosa
Bee on mountain mint

Baby toads hop by and Carolina anoles scamper along the fence rail. Checking for fruit, I spy a baby rat snake coiled around a paw paw branch (Asimina triloba). I run back inside to get my camera, but he’s too high to get a good picture. Another butterfly goes by and I’m off in another direction, glad that I have the camera already in hand.

Light form tiger swallowtail on Aralia spinosa

Skipper on unopened Stokesia laevis

As I return inside, hot and itching the mosquito bites, my senses are alive with what I’ve seen and the most excellent reminder of how much else is out there besides me.

Nature breaks are so much better than coffee breaks! Be sure to take some for yourself.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Saying Goodbye

Plants come and go in our gardens. They might thrive for many years: giving us much joy, treating the ecosystem around them with their gifts of nectar, pollen and foliage. We treasure their gifts and their place in our gardens.

Then something happens. It might be a change in their conditions, an accident (or critter) might injure them … or they just finish their lifespan and don’t return come spring. 

We miss them and stare solemnly at the place they used to occupy, a hole in the garden.

If we’re lucky, a piece of them will remain. Perhaps there are seeds left behind or a cutting or division that we made from this special one.

Though diminished somewhat by the loss of the original, the joy echoes back to us in the vibrant blooms of what we saved, evoking memories.

This year I lost a beautiful one but the echoes of her are in my garden still and I treasure those echoes, all the more special in the memory of the one lost. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Visiting Some Western Relatives

As vast as this country is, it is amazing to discover that plants related to Georgia plants can be found all over the place. I know they’ve had thousands of years to move around - sometimes only inches at a time - but still I am amazed. I recently took a trip out west and here are some of the beautiful relatives that I found. I have not identified all to species but the genus name is given.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
Ninebark (Physocarpus)

Cherry (Prunus)

Elderberry (Sambucus)

My trip took me to Montana and Wyoming while visiting 3 national parks: Glacier National Park in Montana and two Wyoming parks: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. The parks were beautiful and spacious with an abundance of mid-June wildflowers. The snow had receded from the roads and could mostly be found in patches at high-elevation. Only a few of the earliest flowers had already finished but there was plenty to see.

Pussytoes (Antennaria rosea)
Columbine (Aquilegia)

Clintonia uniflora


I saw only a few non-native flowers, far fewer than I see on the roadsides here. The most common was perhaps the dandelion. It could be found in abundance in some roadsides but was absent from others. In some areas, it had clearly been browsed by animals (deer, bison, elk?) but not always. Thistle, salsify (Tragopogon) and yellow sweet clover (Melilotus) were around as well, but it was great fun to see mostly lupines lining the roads in eleven different shades of blue! Now that's a roadside plant I could get used to.

Lupine (Lupinus)

Bluebells (Mertensia)

Beardtongue (Penstemon)

Phacelia sericea

Shooting star (Dodecatheon)

These are no means all the relatives that I saw. Not included here are blueberry (huckleberry), dogwood, hyssop, blackberry, juniper, ceanothus,buckwheat, baneberry, ladies tresses, Indian blanket, beargrass (what we call turkeybeard), geum and so many more! Plants, without feet, have moved around quite a lot in the thousands of years that they’ve been here.

Fragrant Rosa

Paintbrush in Glacier (Castilleja )

Paintbrush in Yellowstone (Castilleja )