Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Summer Blooms 1

Fall is upon us, and summer blooms are fading, it's time to plan for next summer!  Fall is a great time to plant perennials in your garden, and I hope you'll consider some native plants.  Why?  They're usually pretty hardy, and you'll be supporting native wildlife, too.  At the Museum, we have native plant sales twice a year--once in the spring and this year's Fall Plant Sale is open to the public on September 21 & 22 and 28, & 29, 2013.  Saturday hours are from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, Sunday hours are 12:00 to 3:00 pm, rain or shine.  If you're a VLM member, a good deal--the member's preview sale is on Thursday, September 19, from 4:00-6:00 pm.  I'm not sure which kinds of plants will be available, but if you get a chance, here's a few I can recommend....first this beauty is commonly known as "bee balm" or "bergamot" and there are different cultivars (this one is the Jacob Cline cultivar), but they all belong to the genus Monarda in the mint family.  It attracts bees and also hummingbirds--which are especially attracted to red flowers.
Also in the mint family, is spotted horsemint.  The delicate pinkish hues of the petals surround the spotted yellow center.  The flowers grow in clusters along its stem--stems are square in cross section, a characteristic of the mint family:  These flowers also attract native bees and wasps:
Also in the mint family (yep, it's a large family!) is mountain mint, Genus Pycnanthemum.  The head of the blossom is fringed with delicate pale purple flowers--it's a magnet for bees and wasps, too.  Many thanks to Larry Lewis who showed me how wonderful this plant really is!  I took some really great insect photos when this plant was in bloom:
This charming white flower, about an inch or so across, is called "buttonbush"--and wow!--it attracted a lot of native bees as well as butterflies--I saw plenty of black swallowtails, tiger swallowtails and silver-spotted skippers on these spherical flowers.  The plant is a large shrub that can reach 10-12 feet in height and prefers fairly wet locations like on the edges of ponds and streams, even swamps:
Another amazing plant is buckeye--there are several kinds, but this white plume is from "bottle brush buckeye"--it grows up to about 8-12 feet and likes moist, well-drained soil.  I was able to get my best photos of hummingbird moths at this flower (see my August 21, 2013 entry):
One of my favorite kinds of flowers are "cone flowers"--the blossoms are very nice and come in a variety of colors, but what I like best is that the "cone" produces seeds that attract goldfinches.  This is "great rudbeckia" (Rudbeckia maxima) sometimes called a "great coneflower":
This weird-looking, yet beautiful flower is from the passionvine plant.  The oddly-shaped flower attracts bees and if you look closely you will see that the stamen form an arc--as a bee moves to the center to drink nectar, pollen is rubbed onto its back, so when the unsuspecting bee moves to another plant it's actually helping to pollinate flowers (sneaky plants!)  The foliage is a primary host plant for gulf fritillary butterflies.
Do you like aquatic plants?  Then I know just the plant for you....pickerel weed--don't let the title "weed" fool you!  It puts out a spire of lovely purple flowers that will attract bees and butterflies:
Finally, the quintessential aquatic plant--the water lily:
Hope this inspires you to "go native" when is comes to planning your garden!  More in two weeks....

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hickory Horned Devil

If you've ever seen one of these amazing caterpillars, you will never forget it.  At a whopping 12.5-14 cm (about 5-6 inches) long, with its weird looking black-tipped reddish "horns" and thorny-looking black spikes on its plump greenish body, it's definitely a sight to remember!  This caterpillar called a "hickory horned devil" is the larval form of the royal walnut moth also known as a regal moth (Citheronia regalis) native to deciduous forests of the Eastern United States.  It's a Saturniid moth, a family of moths consisting of giant silk moths and royal moths--examples you might be familiar with include the luna moth, cecropia moth, and polyphemus moth.  Many thanks to Judy Molnar and Lu Ackley for setting me up with this beautiful creature so I could get photos.  Many, many thanks to my friend and photography mentor, Don Redmond for loaning me a lot of studio lighting equipment so I could get these shots!  I'll start with some full body shots:
It eats a variety of leaves including sweetgum, hickory, persimmon, and winged sumac to name a few.  Here, it's chowing down on a sweetgum leaf.  Notice the first three pairs of legs--they are the true legs:
Normally if you see something this "spiky" you should not touch it.  Things with bright colors and spikes are Nature's way of saying "do not touch"--the animal may be poisonous or have venomous spines.  Ironically, this caterpillar does not have venomous spines!  It does, however, have a defense--when touched in the middle of its back, both ends will whip together towards the center--I suppose if you were a bird trying catch it, you'd be very surprised indeed!  Here's a close-up of the "horns" on its head :
Detail of the head--see the two stubby antennae on either side of the mouth?  It's "eyes" are the clusters of dots to the sides near the base of the antennae:
The prolegs will disappear when the caterpillar pupates--only the front three pair of legs closest to the head are the true legs (they look "spiky" compared to the prolegs that look "squishy.")
The back end of the caterpillar is sort of armor-plated.  The top brownish triangle is the anal plate and the back prolegs are also "armored."  The whole back end is meant to fake out predators by looking like its head:
A close up of the big spike on the back end--although it appears rigid, it's somewhat flexible:
And finally (don't freak out...) here's its "frass" or poop:
The caterpillar will go through five "instars" (a growth period followed by a shedding of its skin) before it pupates.  However, the hickory horned devil does not spin a cocoon like most moths--instead it will burrow into the ground to pupate where its skin will harden and turn a dark brownish-black color.  It'll overwinter until the following summer--usually during a period of sustained warmth and humidity.
More in two weeks!