Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wildlife Wednesday: A Toadly Adventure

My task was to replace a dead/dying plant in the barrel planter when......Hello there!  We seem to have a bit of a standoff.  Gulf Coast toad, Bufo nebulifer, common in most of Texas.   A female since her throat is not pigmented with yellow.

"Was it you who drank all the Jack Daniels out of this barrel?"

"What's going on here?"  Adorable and beneficial in the garden since they devour insects.  Bufo nebulifer has a defined "V" indentation between the eyes.

Optical illusion of soil appearing in the "V" between her eyes.

"A new plant right here?  This spot is taken."

I think I know the answer.  Her look was one of confusion since she had just been tossed out of a bucket of potting mix toted from the porch about 10 yards away.  A long hop back for a toad so I coaxed her into the bucket and returned to the porch.

Happy to be home, she immediately hopped out (before I could even tip the bucket) and took off for the safety of a nearby planter.

A few minutes later, while watering plants along the nearby front walk I spotted another, smaller toad.  They are clearly happy in this part of the garden and I am happy to have them.

Be sure to check out Tina's post at "My Gardener Says..." to follow more Wildlife Wednesday stories.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday August 2019: Passiflora vines

Sometimes the simplest ideas turn out to be the biggest challenge.  I'm all set to highlight Passiflora in my garden as a great butterfly host plant for the August edition of Wildflower Wednesday.  I can't get much closer to home when it comes to native plants than this Passiflora foetida grown from seed collected along the utility easement behind our back fence.  Or is it Passiflora foetida?  I checked the NPIN database at The Wildflower Center and noted their photo, especially the leaves, showed significant differences from mine.  Clearly this was more complicated than I thought.  After much searching I found no other Passiflora photos that looked any closer to the one in my garden so I'm going with Passiflora foetida and noting some plant characteristics may vary.

Common names include Corona de cristo and Fetid (stinky!) Passionflower.  Since these grow nearby without any supplemental water and care I follow nature's lead and let them scramble with just an occasional dose of water from the hose when nearby drought-tolerant plants need water.

Passiflora flowers open early and close just as soon as the sun hits.

Caged bloom buds and seeds add interest along the vine and you can see (above and below) where the cage-like sepals fold out and back in as the flower opens and closes with light.

Available information is all over the place on the native/invasive status of Passiflora foetida.  Combining information from several sources I find Passiflora foetida is native to deep South Texas and has spread northward to San Antonio.  It's not even close to being invasive in our climate but introduced to tropical climates like Hawaii it can form a dense mat and smother native plants.  I would love to have it spread a bit more as it is the exclusive larval host for Gulf Frittilary butterflies we have in abundance.  In fact we've had a dry summer and the vines in the wild are parched so it's a good thing to give a few of these at home in my garden.  It is also a host for the stunning Zebra Longwing butterfly which aren't seen often enough in my garden.

Another Zebra Longwing host, Passiflora lutea or Yellow passionflower, turned up by surprise in my garden a few years ago.  Since it looks similar to Snailseed vine I almost pulled it but caught myself just in time and decided to research first.  At first I was stumped because I compared it to P. affinis which didn't look exactly right.  A post to the Facebook group Texas Flora quickly pointed me to P. Lutea with a caveat to wait for blooms to be sure.

Happily Passiflora lutea has returned each year and grown from a small sprout to present tiny yellow blooms for the first time this summer.  Passiflora lutea prefers part shade and moist soil so it planted itself in the right spot near a barrel planter I water frequently.

Host to several butterflies including the same Gulf Fritillary and Zebra Longwing which are attracted to Passiflora foetida featured above.

Given the success of these two Passiflora vines I'll try to add Passiflora incarnata which is one native Passionvine currently missing from my blooming collection.

Bring on the butterflies!  

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted on the fourth Wednesday of each month by Gail at Clay and Limestone.  She always has informative posts on wonderful native plants so be sure to check out her blog for links to participating blogs as well.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wildlife Wednesday August 2019

Nature's camouflage is fascinating and August's Wildlife Wednesday is a good time to share a few examples I've observed recently in my garden.  Wildlife Wednesday is hosted by Tina at My gardener says..." on the first Wednesday of each month.

Close observation presents many surprising opportunities to enjoy tiny wildlife.  First up is a busy bee coated with pollen cleverly disguised in yellow blooms of Twisted rib cactus.

This brown moth on a Skeleton Leaf Golden Eye seed head blends right in.

On closer look it's mostly the movement which gives it away.

Red male cardinals have a bit of a challenge trying to hide but Mrs. C is harder to spot in the fig tree.

She's out in the open now fussing at me.

Not camouflage but a strange looking bird requiring a closer look.  This one took a minute to ID but then I remembered Tina's post from a while back showing a molting Cardinal.  That's what I think is happening here.

Birds breathe through their mouth and it's more obvious when it's hot out.  Between the heat and molting this poor guy has got to be very uncomfortable.

A common garden spider (Argiope aurantia) was reeling in her prey just as I walked by and before I could focus my camera.  Her web was so close to the ground I almost missed it.

I sat down beside her and neither of us were frightened away.   She carefully rolled up her bundle which was the size of a small bee while I watched.

Nearby in the garden bees are busy.

I think both of these are solitary bees.

An almost transparent cicada I nearly missed has freshly emerged from an outgrown, discarded shell to the right.

A slightly older cicada on Pomegranate 'Wonderful' branch.  It was the bird's nest wrapped in a recycled plastic bag which first caught my eye.  We live near a busy road and commercial center so there's usually a supply of plastic bags around which we try to keep picked up.  I've walked by this tree a number of times without seeing the nest tucked in there.  Observing the nest let me see the cicada as well.

Cicadas usually stick around for about four weeks after emerging from the ground.  They are noisy!  Those transparent wings are cool.

Tiny anole keeping to the shade on cool stone near the hose bib.  It was smooth-skinned and I also saw a green one so these are not likely invasive brown anoles.

It's too hot for a GIF this month.  I stationed myself in the shade for a while but GIFs take time to set up.  So we'll move on to the deer report.  It's time to protect plants from antlering.  All this velvet will soon be rubbed off on whatever is handy including young trees, agaves and many other unsuspecting plants you might have in the garden.

After the velvet is gone, he will stick to the woods where his antlers will be disguised as twigs.  Right now he's here for the water we leave outside the gate during hot dry weather so he's not as shy.

The same for these ladies which prefer to rest in dappled shade.  Scratches on her hide are hoof marks from mating.

That's the wildlife report from my garden the past month.  You'll find more wildlife posts in the comments at Tina's blog.  Try a wildlife post of your own if you're a blogger.  It's fun and I'm often surprised by how many wildlife photos I've collected when I sit down to create my post.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday July 2019: Texas Greeneyes!

Oh those green eyes!

I first spotted Texas Greeneyes while browsing the impressive native plant display gardens at Medina Garden Nursery and knew instantly Berlandiera betonicifolia or texana was a plant I had to have in my own garden.  I'm joining Gail at Clay and Limestone for Wildflower Wednesday on the fourth Wednesday of each month to highlight one of my favorite native summer blooming plants.

According to Sally Wasowski's book Native Texas Plants it's easy to grow in just about any soil and doesn't need much water.  The Wildflower database tells me Greeneyes are native to my Central Texas area.  Sounded like a sure thing for my garden, and they were just that.  They are perennials so plant them once and they'll be back in future years.

Unless you have armadillos.

My first attempt at growing these ended when an armadillo dug my one single plant up by the roots just before it set seeds.  Medina is over an hour and a half drive by back roads.  It's a beautiful drive in the country so I managed to get out there again the following spring and brought home several to plant in different conditions just to make sure.  This time I added cages and rocks to discourage animal digging.

And it worked.  They have now returned two years in a row.  And I still love having them bloom in my garden from Spring to Fall.

Blooms in May with more upright growth

Reading about the care of a plant and growing it yourself are often two different experiences.  No less the case with Greeneyes.  With several plants from my second trip to Medina I could experiment with a variety of planting locations.  Available information states they grow best in part shade which I have found to be true.  The same sites also state that they flop over in shade which they do.  So I planted some in full sun.  And they flop over in sun too!  Conclusion, it's a floppy plant.  Most of the photos in this post show them leaning sideways.  I still don't care because those green eyes surrounded by bright yellow petals are just so fun to see in the summer garden.  Every flowering stage from bright green eyes to petaled flower adds interest to the plant.

New flower eyes are green.  Stems are fuzzy and sticky like sunflowers.

Varying burgundy rings emerge in the eyes as flowers age.  I'm saving those seeds to continue lining the fence with them.

It's related to Chocolate Daisy and is said to have a similar chocolate fragrance though it's not as distinctly chocolate scented.

The Wildflower Center info recommends planting with native grasses.  I might try that to give them something to lean on.  Fading Beebalm works pretty well too.  I haven't seen many pollinators on these but I do have plenty of other nectar options nearby.

Sally Wasowski writes that she waters hers about once a month in the hot Texas summer.  These went about ten days without supplemental water before they looked in need of a drink so I'd say 2-3 times in the summer months.

Height 18" to 24", spring to fall blooming, grows in most soil types with dry to average moisture, sun to shade.  Native to the Central U.S. states and down to Mexico.  Perennial in my zone 8b garden.

This is a keeper.

Join Gail to learn more about growing native plants in the garden.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Happy Independence Day!


Bluebonnets from the spring garden, Mr. Moy Rose, Lisianthus from a recent garden visit, Moy Grande Hibiscus, White Plumbago, and Gomphrena Strawberry Fields.

Plus fireworks!

Crinum bloomed just in time.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Wildlife Wednesday: July 2019

I'm joining Tina at "My gardener says..." to share garden wildlife sightings for Wildlife Wednesday.  Rain and cloudy weather have meant butterflies are a bit scarce this year even while their favorite flowers are growing better than ever.  A somewhat rare, almost sunny moment for these unusually rainy past several weeks brings out a Queen butterfly to feast on Gregg's mistflower in the garden.

According to our weather forecast we have plenty of sunny, cloudless and hot days ahead so more butterflies should appear soon.  They are able to function more efficiently in the sun as their delicate wings convert sun rays into heat energy.

Across the garden at the same time a hummingbird is feasting on young Pride of Barbados flowers.  A surprise catch since last month I lazily staked out the feeder from a chair on the porch for a sure shot at getting photos.  Hummingbirds will nectar in light rain and cloudy weather so I have been seeing quite a few.  With so many cloudy days their favorite native plants have been slow to bloom.  Then there's always that choice between gardening or photographing in the garden.

We have not seen a Tarantula spider in the garden for years, yet Tarantula hawk wasps turn up regularly so there must be some around.  The wasps paralyze a Tarantula and lay eggs in its abdomen then the larva feeds on the spider for several weeks.  Meanwhile adult Tarantula hawk wasps nectar on milkweed flowers or seek moist soil as the one below is doing.  They are the state insect of New Mexico.

In the deer report, there is plenty to eat along the creek for this White-tailed doe. 

A buck with velvet antlers enjoys drinking from the saturated creek and reminds me that it will soon be time to protect susceptible plants from "antlering" as they seek to rub off the velvet and polish up those antlers for mating season.  Susceptible plants include just about every reachable sturdy plant in the garden except older trees with thick trunks or tough bark.  The list of target plants includes some of my prize agaves.

That's the wildlife sightings in my garden for the past month.  To enjoy more garden wildlife follow Tina at "My gardener says...." and be sure to check out the comments section in her blog today for more links.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

100,000 Roses!

"100,000 roses are in bloom!" exclaimed the email from the Antique Rose Emporium (ARE), and as a bonus, owner Mike Shoup would be conducting tours of their greenhouses and growing fields near Brenham, Texas, on the last weekend in April.  How could I miss that?  And since June is National Rose Month, sharing our tour is the best way to close out the month.

I invited my youngest sister, and the serious rose lover in the family, to join me at the appointed time.  She lives in East Texas where roses are popular and easy to grow.

We were met by owner and rose expert Mike Shoup.  First stop was a talk on propagating roses.  We were invited to take one of the Katrina roses as we left.

The highlight of the tour was a visit to the greenhouse where they develop new rose varieties.  

Mike described how they use their own roses and commercially purchased roses to breed new roses for market.

Each rose is tagged with a color and tags added as they are cross pollinated.

Some of these tiny rose plants are blooming already.

The challenge is to breed roses that are disease resistant with marketable characteristics such as color and scent.  This recent article in the Houston Chronicle details more about the program.

Mike gave us plenty of time to smell all the roses!  He discussed dominant and recessive genes and other fascinating details about his craft.

A few closeups of roses used in the program.  One surprise was how many commonly available retail roses they use to breed their stock.

Hundreds of rose plants selected and ready outside the shipping shed.

Mike demonstrates their specialized boxes for shipping roses.

Ginger the dog was taking it all in too.  If she's heard it all before she didn't let on.

After the guided tour we were invited to take our own driving tour of the fields.  Ginger decided she would be our guide.

Roses are blooming all the way up the hill in the distance.

They weren't kidding about the number of rose blooms either!

We don't see these types of ponds around San Antonio.

Happy to be surrounded with roses!

Next stop is around the corner at the retail nursery for some plant shopping.

Thank you Mike and The Antique Rose Emporium for a fun and informative day.