Hosting the American Ladies

painted lady

 As time goes by we are building a large picture collection of butterflies in all their many life phases.  We get these pictures not because we sit in silence for hours waiting patiently for butterflies to land near us and lay eggs.  Quite the contrary, as our plant-tending activities usually scare off any insects that might be on or near the plants we are trimming, potting up, or otherwise babying.  The reason we see and photograph so many of these caterpillars and butterflies is because we are growing the host plants on which these caterpillars feed.  The picture above was taken last year by Pandra.  It’s an adult female American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) laying eggs (ovipositing) on a Pussytoe leaf (Antennaria sp.).

We’d read that American Lady caterpillars would eat Antennaria species, but now we have proof:IMG_3640

 Two of them were in our pots of Antennaria plantaginifolia in the greenhouse this past week.  They seemed to be eating just the leafy green parts and leaving the fuzzy hairs that coat the back of the leaf alone.  The color patterns of caterpillars are endlessly fascinating to me.  They often change throughout the life cycle of the caterpillar as it grows and sheds successive skins. This one has probably already molted 4 or 5 times to get this large.  The next stage after the caterpillar has grown as large as possible is the chrysalis or pupa stage.


 The other caterpillar that had been feeding on these plants reached this stage just before we noticed them.  It had headed up the stalk of a nearby aster and proceeded to pupate.  You can already see the changes in color and form happening. 


This was about 24 hours later.  Completely different (but still gorgeous) coloration, and now the changes are hidden by the newly formed chrysalis.  I really hope that I’m at  the farm when this one hatches (7-10 days later) and I can get some good pictures of it emerging.  There’s hundreds of flowers blooming mere feet away, so it will have plenty of food when it wakes up!

So, if you want to see similar miracles occur in your yard or garden:

1) Avoid pesticide use at all costs.  Butterflies, especially their caterpillars, are the “good guys” that get wiped out when pesticides are applied to control other insects.

2) Plant some (native!) host plants.

3) Plant a variety of flowering plants that will provide nectar throughout the season so that whenever a butterfly does emerge there is food right there for it, and it will stay in your yard.IMG_3294

Onward and Upward!

Seedlings abound

This is the first year we’ve been able to sow seeds in our outdoor propagation beds, and it’s all starting to come together.IMG_3408 

 Cornel Aster (Doellingeria infirma) seedlings sprouting their red stems.

I started planting seeds back in March and then was slightly worried a month later when nothing had sprouted. IMG_3417

I hastily put together a bunch of trays for the greenhouse because I thought the ants had stolen all those precious seeds.  The average last frost date for our area is April 10th, and although I forgot it, the plants sure know it.  We even had an extra few weeks of cold, wet weather this year, but as you’ve noticed, it got downright hot in the past few weeks.  The seeds noticed.  They pretty much all sprouted in unison right after the cold and wet stopped.  We’re still waiting on a few stragglers, but most of the species we planted (some seeds were from 2011!) have germinated and are almost big enough to be scooped up into trays.


 Bowman’s Root (Gillenia stipulata) in a clump.  I planted a quincunx (“5” on a die) pattern of clustered seeds in each bed in the hope that I could just scoop up clumps and make one tray at a time.


 The Downy Blue Lobelia (Lobelia puberula) seeds (and all Lobelia seeds) are like dust so they didn’t lend themselves to a pattern per se.  They start off SO small.  All the plants here, except for that pesky grass in the background, are Lobelia puberula of slightly different ages.


One of many species called “Brown-Eyed Susan,” Rudbeckia triloba, note the tri-loba.


Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontane) are some of the faster growing seedlings this year.


Check out the cotyledons on this Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus).  I planted all the Sweetshrub seeds in trays because they are very large and I thought squirrels, mice, etc. might take off with them.  


Apparently those large seeds house all the energy for these massive seed leaves. It reminds me of Bloodroot the way the leaves are almost wrapped around the stem.


And finally, speaking of seed leaves, here’s some River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). They are Monocots (short for monocotyledon), meaning they only sprout one leaf from their seeds at first.  The Sweetshrub above is a great example of a Dicot (dicotyledon) with two seed leaves sprouting in unison.  The subsequent, or “true,” leaves on the plant often differ from their seed leaf predecessors.  Growing from seed encourages genetic diversity, so it’s something we like to do whenever possible. It can be as simple as scratching the ground and partially burying spent flower heads, or as complex as saving, cleaning, drying and cold stratifying seeds in the fridge and then sowing them in trays full of soil.  

These seedlings should be large enough to sell in a the fall (except the Sweetshrub, might be 2014 before that one gets tall enough), which is also the perfect time to plant them. In the meantime, we have plenty of their parents/cousins/siblings that would love to brighten up your yard. 

What’s Blooming Down on the Farm

Just a splash of color for your mid-week blues:IMG_3383

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)


Purple (Pink) Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).  Check out those reflexed petals.  That’s usually an indication of a more wild-type variety, whereas cultivars tend to be bred for large, overlapping, non-reflexed petals.


Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) with it’s bi-color blooms.  These DO NOT like overwintering in pots.


Purple Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium trifolatum).  I guess the tuber is purple, but I haven’t pulled one out and looked at it.  This flower structure is known as a ‘compound umbrel’ (Same Latin root as “umbrella”).  This is a possible host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies.  Everything I read says “members of the carrot family, such as dill, carrots and queen anne’s lace” are good host plants for Black Swallowtails, but those plants all came from overseas! The butterflies were here long before those plants, so why not put this plant in your butterfly garden?  Along with……IMG_3401b

 Rattlesnake Master (Eryngium yuccafolium)!

They are both interesting and native members of the Carrot family (Apiaceae).
This one isn’t quite blooming; those green globes atop the stalk will turn white and expand into a spiky flower that is truly unique.


 We also have a number of Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) blooming as well.  I’ve seen so many of these blooming on the side of the road this year.  They don’t bloom every year, but this wet spring seems to have encouraged many of them to do so this year.

Orange, Pink, Red, Yellow, and White with liberal amounts of Green for good measure. Take some time to stop and smell the flowers this week!


Phragrant Phloxes

_13320 Phlox in the garden: there is a species for every habitat.  Do you have dry, well drained soil that bakes in the sun?  There’s a phlox for that, actually two: Thrift, Phlox subulata or Trailing Phlox, Phlox nivalis, each of these phloxes creeps along the ground, creating a carpet of tiny narrow leaves.  Is your yard inundated with the cool open shade from a canopy of big trees?  There are a couple of phloxes for that as well:  Garden phlox, Phlox paniculata or Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata.  Do you have a garden with a part shade to sunny disposition and medium soil?  Try some Prairie Phlox, Phlox pilosa, on for size.   Phlox flowers are generally fragrant, and often occur in delicate, loose clusters of flowers that range from pale blue, through light pink to brilliant or deep pink.   Each of the species listed here is a perennial.

Thrift, Phlox subulata and Trailing Phlox, Phlox nivalis 

These guys, they are a couple of “creepers,” but not in the Internet sensDSC_0270e.  Their leaves are tiny, spiky, narrow green affairs only about an inch long, if that.   They creep along the ground, making a lovely, green spikey mat – that has gorgeous pink flowers in mid to late spring.  The bright pink splotches of color in the photo on the right are Thrift, Phlox subulata, planted on an eroded slope in Freedom Park in Atlanta.

Garden Phlox, Phlox paniculata

Phlox paniculata needs open shade, or a “border woodland” type of situation where it will get sun or dappled sun about 5 or 6 hours a day.   This species grows to 3 or 4 feet tall, and by fall is topped with short clusters of deep pink flowers.    This phlox also wants moist, well drained soil with plenty of organic matter.  

Blue Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricataPhlox_divaricata_18

This phlox is an early blooming woodland species coming out in March through April to take advantage of the sun peeking between the mostly bare tree branches.  The flowers are lovely lavender blue to bluish-pink.  Phlox divaricata wants soil enriched with organic material, and part shade to shade.  A moist well drained location in your yard would suit it best.  This species is rhizomatous, slowly spreading by its roots.  Mature colonies make lovely 10-18” tall drifts of blue-lavender blossoms in the shade.

Prairie Phlox, Phlox pilosa
Prairie phlox can take the heat.   This plant prefers dry open woods, or Phlox_pilosa_12full sun with sandy well drained soil.  This is a prairie plant, and it’s tough.  Plants that want sandy/rocky soil will need sand added to clay soil.  Throw a little finished compost in there as well, but don’t make it too rich (put in too much organic matter.)

 If all this stuff about pretty flowers isn’t enough, phloxes attract some pretty awesome pollinators as well.  These beautiful butterflies and moths use the phlox for nectar:  Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor); Achemon sphinx (Eumorpha achemon); Apple sphinx (Sphinx gordius); Slender clearwing (Hemaris gracilis); Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe); Nessus sphinx (Amphion floridensis).

If you’ve never seen a Hummingbird Clearwing or Slender Clearwing moth, oh my!  These sphinx moths come out during the day, and from the cornier of your eye, you would think that they were hummingbirds.  They move and hover just like their namesake, and the Hummingbird Clearwing is almost the same size as the hummingbird.

So there you have it, a phlox for every season and every habitat will keep you up to your ankles in bright flowers and beautiful butterflies and moths.