Sunday, September 29, 2019

Yellow and Blue Rings True

Yellow and blue flower combinations are some of the most appealing and at no time is that more apparent in the native wildflower world than in late summer and early fall. I find myself compelled to take pictures when I find them together - if only to capture some of that magic for another day.

I’d like to share some of the combinations that I’ve found, over the years and including this week. In some cases the combination was artfully planned. In other cases the combination was serendipity or nature’s own masterful hand.

The photo to the left is a bit of both: this is the annual bearded beggarticks (Bidens aristosa) which I wrote about several weeks ago. I planted it here and the blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) was already there, but I didn't plan for this combination exactly (in my yard, I don't plan for much!).

Liatris pilosa/Solidago nemoralis
Lobelia puberula/Solidago altissima

Consider yellows like the fall composites: sunflower relatives (Helianthus), goldenrods (Solidago), and the Rudbeckia species. Your palette of blues for the fall include blue colored Lobelia species, asters (Symphyotrichum and Eurybia), blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), and blazingstars (Liatris). 

Stone Mountain daisy (Helianthus porteri) with Conoclinium coelestinum

Georgia aster (Symphyotrichum georgianum) with Helianthus porteri

And if you want a real treat, throw in a red flower and you reach the pinnacle of color combos as far as I’m concerned: red, yellow and blue. Nature arranged for a spectacular one in my yard this year with red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), blue mistflower, and the annual bearded beggarticks (Bidens aristosa).

Bidens aristosa, Conoclinium coelestinum and Lobelia cardinalis

Now is a good time to take note of what fall flower combinations you would like to see next year. Replicate those as you decide what to add or rearrange for next year. When it comes to planning, there's no time like the present!

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) and orange coneflower
(Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Step Outside

Those of us who nurture our small plot of land see the rewards of our efforts in the daily visits of birds and butterflies. I see the birds flying by and hear their calls right through the windows. I know they are finding sustenance and shelter in my yard. I can see the butterflies floating through the air, even as I sit inside and participate in conference calls for work.

Handsome trig cricket
I’m amazed, however, at some of the truly unique things I see on chance moments outside. A walk to the mailbox or a moment to water a thirsty plant can be very special because occasionally these quick moments outside allow me to discover things that I probably would have missed – a moment of serendipity, if you will.

This summer I’ve discovered several unusual bugs, species that are new to me after 16 years in this garden. Have they been here all along? Or have my garden practices (planting native plants, leaving fallen leaves/logs/sticks, eschewing pesticides) helped to bring them in?

The first discovery in late June was a spider-eating wasp; this fierce lady was carefully dragging a large, paralyzed spider to her nest to feed her babies. I noticed the flicker of movement as I rounded the side of the house to get something.

Wasp spider carrying her groceries

In mid-July, I was photographing bees on my mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) when I spotted what appeared to be a large mosquito. As you may remember from my earlier post, it turned out to be an elephant mosquito, one of the good guys! I have seen it once again, when I was counting pollinators in mid-August.

The third discovery was the handsome trig, a cricket of elegant attire to be sure. This picture is not my best but unfortunately I have not seen him since to try for a better one. I found him next to my 'casual brush pile' next to the driveway in early August. He is also known as the red-headed bush cricket.

In mid-August, a moth on my boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) turned out to be the boneset borer moth. It was new to me, and if my boneset dies over the winter then its larvae may be to blame.

Boneset borer moth ... on boneset (Eupatorium)

A mating pair of Carolina mantids

September brought a male Carolina mantis to mate with the young female that had been living in the potted plants on my deck. Although he – and another male waiting nearby – stayed there for the act for several hours, I would not have seen them if I hadn’t gone outside that day. By the way, there was no evidence that she ate either one afterwards; she was happily munching on a small bee the next morning.

Geotrupes dung beetle
An upside down beetle in my garage the same day turned out to be a type of dung beetle. It was a gorgeous shade of green with blue undersides. This is the second type of dung beetle I’ve found in my yard (the first one not being seen again) and will be added to the list of beetles that I’ve seen only once: the carrion beetle, the tortoise beetle, the tiger beetle.

Step outside for just a moment, especially in your own yard, and see what shows up. I think that the more native plants you use, the more natural materials you leave in place, and the fewer pesticides that you use will all help to bring you more of the unique things in nature. If you have a diverse mix of areas, sun/shade and wet/dry, the diversity of what you can see increases even more. Nature awaits!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Biding My Time Brings Flowers Again

Bidens aristosa
I have a pretty yellow flower blooming in my garden this week: bearded beggarticks (Bidens aristosa). It is an annual member of the Asteraceae family that can grow to be as large as a shrub, covered in late summer with soft yellow flowers adored by bees. Another common name is tickseed sunflower, and while it resembles sunflowers (Helianthus), the foliage is quite different; the leaves are heavily lobed and soft to the touch.

I have loved this flower for years but haven’t grown it in a long time. This year’s flower came to me by way of a friend who knew that I liked it, but the story is more interesting than that. I moved to Georgia 31 years ago. Harry’s Farmers Market in Alpharetta was newly open at the time and we shopped there a lot. A roadside near the store had a gorgeous hillside of this plant and the fall blooms were quite noticeable.

Bidens aristosa foliage

At some point, in later years, I must have gathered some seeds because I remember having them bloom at my old house; I haven’t had them since we moved in 2003. Harry's store closed in 2014 and the flowers on the roadside diminished over the years, barely noticeable on my less frequent trips on that road.

About two years ago, construction was slated for the road and the hillside was in the way. A friend of mine, who was getting into native plants, got permission to rescue plants along the road and he found the Bidens. I helped him to identify it and shared my story of blooms long ago. When he got seedlings this spring, he shared some plants with me, and now these plants, long admired, are with me again.

Carpenter bee on Bidens aristosa

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Wild, White, Late Summer-blooming Vines

Hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)
Native vines bloom throughout the year, starting as early as January in some years when the yellow flowers of Gelsemium and the coral trumpets of Lonicera open their earliest flowers. As summer winds down, a flurry of white blooms appear on tangled roadsides. I thought it would be helpful to mention four of the ones that you might see.

The first and showiest one to mention is Virgin’s bower (Clematis virginiana). This clematis has four petals in a flat arrangement (not a bell shape like most of our other native clematis). These flowers mature to a crazy tangle of seeds with long fuzzy tails that I find quite showy. The leaves are usually divided into 3 leaflets with toothed edges. This vine is long, up to 20 feet, and vigorous; it can really provide an eye-catching display over shrubs and small trees in damp ditches.

Native virgin's bower (Clematis virginiana)

The seed heads of Clematis virginiana (with pink flowers of
ground nut, Apios americana)

Non-native Clematis terniflora with smooth edges on leaves
A very similar but non-native clematis is sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora). In fact, the plants are so similar that I don’t know of a way to visually use the flowers to tell them apart. The leaves are how you can discern the difference: the leaves of this species are also often divided into leaflets (sometimes more than 3), and the leaflets have smooth edges with no teeth. Sometimes the leaflets also have faint white markings.

A third white-blooming vine is climbing hempvine (Mikania scandens). It is a member of the Asteraceae family and an aggressive spreader. The leaves are oppositely-arranged and heart-shaped. The small flowers are clustered together (usually 4 per head) and are often white with slight tinges of pink or purple once you look closely. Multiple heads are in a panicle arrangement. This website has great photos. It also grows in damp areas and I have seen it on the same roadside as Virgin’s bower clematis. A similar vine with heart-shaped leaves is climbing buckwheat (Fallopia scandens). It has very distinctive seeds. 

Mikania scandens with Clematis virginiana in lower left

Heart-shaped leaves of Mikania scandens (with pokeweed)

Hog peanut is the fourth and last plant; it is perhaps not as noticeable since the flowers can be rather modest and sparse. However, its foliage is persistent and seems to be much longer than the stated 6-8 feet in length. Hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) has thin stems and trifoliate leaves. Very pale pink flowers, almost white, are 2 or more in racemes which develop into seedpods like other bean family (Fabaceae) members. The common name comes from the presence of ground-level flowers (self-pollinating) that create single-seeded fleshy fruits that are edible. You can find good pictures here. This vine is considered an annual in most areas.

Hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata); see earlier photo in this blog also

So there you have it, a collection of late summer-blooming vines. Go out there, discover them, and figure out what they are! It makes wandering around so much more interesting.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Our Friend, The Elephant Mosquito

Being outside looking at plants often brings you up close to insects. The variety of what’s out there is amazing! Sometimes I only see a certain bug just once and I realize what an incredible opportunity it was that I was there at just the right time to see it. That is how I found the elephant mosquito.

Elephant mosquito

In late July I was photographing the bugs on my mountain mint (Pycnanthemum) when I spied a mosquito so large that that I wondered if it might not be some sort of fly. I uploaded a photo to my favorite bug identification website ( and had an answer within hours: it was the elephant mosquito, Toxorhynchites rutilus. The shining blue ‘straws’ are her mouth parts.

The mosquito is not only harmless to humans – it feeds on flowers instead of blood – but its larvae are predators of the larvae of other mosquitoes, eating as many as 5000 of the others before it matures! Here is a fascinating article that I found about breeding efforts in Texas.

I’m glad to have it naturally but now I am faced with the dilemma of dumping out sources of water which might contain the good ones! Argh. 

A second discovery of this bug occurred while I was counting on Aug 24 for the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This time the mosquito was nectaring on cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) in the backyard. The bees were a little pushy on that plant and eventually she left it for a more peaceful meal.

So if you see this large mosquito with the beautiful blue mouth parts, be excited and let it go happily on its way to helping you out. This one is our friend.

Elephant mosquito on Rudbeckia laciniata