June 14, 2020

Transitions, Edges, and Challenges

red-spotted purple

A few days ago, I headed to the Edna Taylor Conservation Park in Monona, just east of Madison. Embarrassingly, I hadn't discovered this property until last summer, even though I lived just a few blocks away when I first moved to the area many years ago, and I currently live only a few miles south.

It's really an incredible park, combining wetland, savanna, and prairie habitats. Most of the park is semi-open woodland, similar to my garden, so I find much inspiration in the plants that thrive there.

red-spotted purples

In addition to noting plants currently taking center stage at the park, I also visited the park to survey butterflies for master naturalist citizen science reporting. I didn't see as many as I expected, but one, and then two, red-spotted purples delighted me as they nectared and floated around a patch of Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum). I'm not sure I'd encourage this plant in my garden, but the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators were certainly enjoying it.

canada anemone

I sure would like to get Canada Anemone (A. canadensis) going in my garden. I tried broadcasting seed without success, so maybe I should try plants. But then rabbits would probably eat them. (As I'm writing this, I just watched a rabbit take down a Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)--a plant they're not supposed to like...one I planted last summer and one of several the rabbits have eaten recently. Before you suggest rabbit repellents, frankly, I've tried them all, and the only thing that works here is caging, but I can't cage my entire garden.)

bee on potentilla

Anyway...on to this beautiful bee on Potentilla (I'm not sure which species). The pollen on the bee's legs matches the pollen on the flower's anthers.

new jersey tea

Ah, yes, New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus). I tried this, and of course it was caged, but it never took off. Maybe I should try it again, in a different spot.

fly on grass

A cute little hoverfly on tall grass (I think this is a Bromus species).

shasta daisy

A large Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum spp.) near the stream. Yes, I could find a place for these in my garden.

blue flag iris

The highlight of my hike, in addition to the butterflies, was seeing a large number of native Blue Flag Irises (Iris virginica var. shrevei) in bloom. They truly are graceful and lovely.

As I battle the rabbits, and struggle with my "edge" garden, I'm trying to appreciate the biodiversity that happens in transition habitats--where prairies meet woodlands, wetlands meet dry woods, sun meets shade. These are tough conditions. Plants that thrive here must adapt to wet years and dry years, dappled and unpredictable light, and competition from a wide range of plants. We can learn a lot from these adaptable plants.

May 31, 2020

Think on These Things

swallowtail 4

Every year about this time, the Dwarf Korean Lilacs (Syringa meyeri) perfume the neighborhood, and the butterflies really start to congregate in the garden. I've seen a couple of monarchs and several tiger swallowtails. This female swallowtail had my heart aflutter because it was right outside the kitchen window and I was able to grab my camera fast and get a few shots (though through a screen). Something didn't seem quite right, though.

swallowtail 1

It wasn't until I downloaded the photos from my camera memory card that I realized she had two severely damaged wings. Her tails were completely gone. Wow, something must have tried to take a bite?

swallowtail 3

Yesterday was a very sad day for so many reasons. The country and the world are sick and hurting and grieving. It's been hard to move forward.

swallowtail 2

This persistent, beautiful survivor provided a sign of hope.

swallowtail 5

On a difficult day, it was helpful to think on this simple thing.

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"Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."    ~Philippians 4:8 KJV

May 05, 2020

Bluebells, Bumble Bees, and Bunnies

bluebells 2

Last week, during a hike at a favorite local state park, I noticed a beautiful patch of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica). This plant is native to most of Eastern North America and is beloved by many ... gardeners and nature-lovers, alike. This little patch I discovered was noteworthy, both because of its beauty and because it was the only patch I saw that day after hiking in a large area.

bluebells 1

Based on my own experience with Virginia Bluebells, I immediately formed a hypothesis. This patch was near the parking lot. Could it be that Mertensia has trouble establishing elsewhere in the park because of rabbits? Perhaps the rabbits tend to shy away from the busy parking lot area.

bluebells destroyed

My theory was based on many years of trying to get Virginia Bluebells established in my own garden. I do have several patches still growing at home--plants I started from seed several years ago. But the one year they did bloom, the rabbits chewed them to bits just as they were blooming. This year, I don't see any buds, for some reason, although I've caged the plants from the bunnies.

bluebells 3

In any case, if you DON'T have a rabbit problem or you have a protected area in your garden, Mertensia virginica is an excellent plant to support native bumble bees. The plant blooms just as the queens are getting active in the spring and looking for early pollen and nectar sources. On this beautiful patch at the state park, I observed a resting queen.

bumble 1

I've noticed many lethargic queens lately, during walks around the block and resting in unusual locations.

bumble 2

Like this one in a dangerous spot on the front porch. I don't usually interfere with nature, but I very carefully lifted her with a piece of light cardboard and placed her near some blooming flowers. I'm a little worried about the bumble bee queens this spring, because of how cool our weather has been lately, with at least one frost/freeze in the forecast this week. Blooming plants are still rather scarce.

bluebells 4

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation recently published this excellent article on Five Ways to Support Queen Bumble Bees. Native plants like Virginia Bluebells definitely play an important role--one of many reasons these beautiful blooms are worth protecting from hungry bunnies.

April 22, 2020

White Trout Lilies for Wildflower Wednesday

trout lily 1

Last spring, while hiking in a favorite county park, I happened upon a colony of White Trout Lilies (Erythronium albidum). I'd been to that park dozens (100s?) of times over the years, but I hadn't visited that sweet little section during the early spring, until last year. What a beautiful sight to see--the forest floor was literally carpeted with the dainty white blooms.

trout lily 2

That section of the park has become a favorite destination, and I was thrilled to see the speckled foliage of these exquisite ephemerals emerging a couple of weeks ago; then flowering this week. This species of Erythronium is commonly found in low, deciduous woods; thickets; floodplains; and prairies in the early spring. Native to many areas of Eastern North America, it prefers part shade or shade, but in deciduous forests with plenty of spring sunshine.

I've noticed this plant is plentiful in the wooded section of the park very near a low spot next to the lake, while absent in the wooded hilly sections further from the shore, so it appears to need plentiful moisture.

trout lily 3

The one-inch, nodding flowers remind me of little caps, with curled petals and shy yellow stamens that extend down from the center. The blooms hang low off short, slender stalks. One of the first native ephemerals to bloom in the spring, the flowers close up at night and open in the morning.

trout lily 4

One thing I did notice, comparing last year's photos to this year's, is that the flowers seem to have more color when they first bloom, and fade to a stunning translucent, linen-like white with time. I don't really have favorite flowers, but...what can I say...this one is exquisite.

I'm joining in Gail's Wildflower Wednesday. Head on over to her blog, Clay and Limestone to read about other amazing wildflowers. And Happy Earth Day!