Sunday, August 31, 2014


This butterfly came through the garden this week, stopping to nectar on a tall thorough - wort (Eupatorium serotinum). This lovely insect is the American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly. 

American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
As I took pictures of it, it occurred to me that this butterfly didn’t just come through my garden, it was likely born in my garden! Yep, I have homegrown butterflies.

The American lady butterfly lays eggs on plants like Antennaria plantaginifolia, which is a charming groundcover known as pussytoes. 

Vanessa virginiensis caterpillar

The eggs hatch and each caterpillar creates a tent for itself while feeding on the foliage until it reaches maturity. I often find these tents on my pussytoes and have occasionally peeked inside to see the caterpillar.

Cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
A few days later a cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae) butterfly appeared. It was happily sipping nectar on cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis). 

I have plenty of native legumes in my yard and have been especially growing more partridge pea (Chamaecrista spp.) to attract female sulphurs to lay eggs on them.

Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

The Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), Georgia’s state butterfly, is a frequent visitor which is no surprise. Caterpillar hosts include two of our most common trees – the black cherry (Prunus serotina) and the tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). I imagine that they hatch out here on a regular basis after feasting on the trees around.

Butterfly populations have been down this year. This picture of a male and female swallowtail was taken in 2012 in a patch of lantana (non-native) that had about 8 at once.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)

All of these butterflies are courtesy of native plants. Without native plant hosts, these and many other butterflies would not be around. 

If you’d like to “grow” a few of your own, add some Georgia native plants to your garden.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hardy Hibiscus (and Native too)

Hibiscus is an exceptionally tropical looking genus of flowering plants. My tall “Texas star” hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus) is blooming this week and it sure looks like it belongs in Hawaii. Yet it and several other species are indeed native to the southeastern US; in Georgia they are largely native to the Coastal Plain.

Hibiscus coccineus
This robust wetland native – sometimes called swamp hibiscus – can be found in ditches and wet areas from South Georgia to Florida and west to Texas. It grows up to 7 feet tall with several stems per plant and interesting palmate leaves that tease the neighbors’ curiosity about what you might be growing.

While H. coccineus flowers in late summer, some of its relatives bloomed earlier. 

Hibiscus laevis (Photo by Mary Tucker)

My friend Mary lives nearby and grows two additional species: Hibiscus laevis (halberdleaf rosemallow) and Hibiscus moscheutos (crimsoneyed rosemallow). 

H. laevis grows up to 6 feet tall and has a distinctive lobed leaf reminiscent of a medieval halberd.

Hibiscus moscheutos (Photo by Mary Tucker)

H. moscheutos grows up to 5 feet tall and the large leaves have a whitish cast on the undersides, according to Mary. Both have a much larger range in the US, but still are chiefly Coastal Plain residents in Georgia.
Hibiscus grandiflorus (Photo by Ed McDowell)

Another friend grows Hibiscus grandiflorus (also called swamp hibiscus) in middle Georgia. At Ed’s house, this giant hibiscus enjoys growing right on the edge of a lake, its roots submerged most of the time. 

Hibiscus grandiflorus habit
(Photo by Ed McDowell)

Perhaps the largest of all these described here, H. grandiflorus can reach 10 feet with fuzzy lobed leaves up to 10 inches across. According to Floridata, it has one of the largest flowers of any plant in North America. Also, unlike the others, the flowers open in the evening and are fragrant. 

One hibiscus that gets passed around a lot in the South is a large, late-blooming species affectionately known as Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis). Despite both its names, it is neither a rose nor native.

If you have a sunny moist spot (or even a large container), consider treating yourself to one of our native Hibiscus as a specimen perennial. The flowers only last a day, but they are mighty special.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Here Comes The Cavalry

The dog days of summer are tiresome for us humans and hard on plants that were their best in spring. I’m starting to see a few plants sport the occasional yellow or red leaf. Even most of the summer perennials are dwindling, although the annuals that bloom like their lives depend on it (and they do) are still going.

It’s time for the last few batches of caterpillars to hatch and insects to get ready for the winter. Are bees still provisioning their eggs? Plenty of them are still gathering pollen on the last few blooms of mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) and anise hyssop (Agastache). 

Monarch butterflies will be coming through next month on their way south and they’ll want nectar. What’s a pollen/nectar gatherer to do?

Buckeye butterfly on Eupatorium
Well, here comes the cavalry – a group of fall plants that have evolved specifically to be there for the insects that need them!

First come the thoroughworts and by this I mean the white flowers in the genus Eupatorium. This does not include Joe pye weed (although it is great plant too) which is now in a different genus (Eutrochium). 

On a roadside this week I saw 3 different species of Eupatorium within a square yard: Eupatorium rotundifolium, Eupatorium serotinum and Eupatorium hyssopifolium. Only the first one was blooming, but the others were in bud and would be blooming soon.

Solidago odora on roadside - it should be in our gardens
Then the goldenrods start. The first roadside goldenrod (Solidago) to bloom in my area is the anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora), a well-behaved clumping form. I noticed a few of the aggressive Canada goldenrod (S. canadensis) are already blooming on roadsides but it’s early for them. Still, there’s no accounting for individuals that do what they want!

Leafcutter bee on Solidago speciosa

I really like how the different species of all these plants stagger their blooms over several months. It’s good for the insects and nice for us too. I have a showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) blooming in a pot; it was a purchase and I combined it with several other natives in a mixed planter in one of my “container” experiments. It has done very well there. 

The container also has Liatris elegans which I bought from Nearly Native Nursery. It is native to the Coastal Plain and also done well in the mix.  

Monarch on Liatris with Solidago and
Eupatorium nearby in fall 2012

Liatris are also part of the cavalry – the left flank if you will – complimenting the goldenrods with their puffy purple blooms. Monarchs are fond of it and I hope that some of my Liatris pilosa will have survived the deer’s attempt to eat it all.

The right flank comes in the form of asters, especially the small white asters whose name no one seems to bother learning. 

Symphyotrichum racemosum

These asters (Symphyotrichum) blanket the roadsides, their nondescript form transformed into sprays of beautiful white flowers. A few purple ones will work their way in, but the white ones are the workhorses. They will keep blooming until frost.

So if your garden is flagging in late summer and you'd like some help from the cavalry, plant some of these guys! Look for them at fall native plant sales.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pretty In Pink

About 4-5 years ago I came upon the most beautiful pink flower on the roadside near my neighborhood. I identified as Sabatia angularis, an annual native plant. Rosepink is the common name for Sabatia, and the genus is in the Gentianaceae family. There are about 18 species native to the central and eastern US. The color of the flower ranges from very pale to deep pink - I even found a white one once.

Sabatia angularis

This species is native to Georgia and about half the continental United States. It is a modest little plant and all but invisible on a green roadside – believe me I have looked for it every year since – until it bursts into bloom one day in June. It still lives on the roadside where I found it and the population size expands and contracts at the whim of the property owners and their weed sprays.

Typical roadside view
I have since collected seeds and convinced it to bloom in my own yard. The seed capsules contain many fine seeds. This year four plants came up and I was thrilled. It seems to have no trouble with fairly dry conditions and the deer generally leave it alone. Those are two very excellent traits in my yard! 

Sabatia kennedyana
My friend Sheri gave me a different species that she grew from seed. Sabatia kennedyana is not native to Georgia but pretty close (SC, NC, VA). 

This showy perennial species has been very happy at my house and bloomed prolifically this year. I have kept it in a moist spot that only gets morning sun. This plant attracts a lot of flower flies (syrphid flies) which serve as pollinators (and they do a great job).

I came upon an interesting blog entry that explained the curious behavior of the style in the center of the flower. The term associated with this behavior is “protandrous.” As the blogger explains, “It is a strategy by which a complete flower -- one having both male and female parts -- prevents or limits self-pollinization and helps ensure the exchange of genetic information with another member of the same species. Rosepink (Sabatia angularis) is an example of a protandrous flower.” He has more details and great pictures here.

Notice the difference in the styles in the center of these
flowers; on the left it is closed, on the right it is open
I hope to discover more species as I explore Georgia more. There are several species in the Coastal Plain that I would love to see.

If you have a chance to grow Sabatia, I’d encourage you to give it a try. I think you’ll agree with me that it is very pretty in pink indeed.