Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wish fulfillment

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.  
Anything your heart desires, will come true.

I've been humming that tune for several days now.  Despite the periodic march of storms through our area, certain flowers persist in blooming (albeit the flattened ones much closer to the ground than is usual).  Area butterflies are not ignoring their colorful invitations.  Yesterday I spent blissful moments out watching as a mix of about a half dozen Red Admiral and Painted Lady butterflies danced from flower to flower.
Red Admiral and Painted Lady (Vanessa atalanta and Vanessa cardui) on Coreopsis lanceolata.
A year or so ago I learned pollinators are happiest with masses of blooms in one place, which makes perfect sense, as they all have their favorites.  Who wants to shop all over the garden for singleton bloomers when there are other places packed with prospects?
Possible Cloudless Sulphur (Pheobis sennae) nectaring on Purple prairie verbena (Glandularia bipinnatifida)
That fact changed the way I thought about my beds and began to dictate where I put additional native plants into play.  Abandoning my "one of everything, everywhere" approach I began concentrating on "more of some things all in one place".  Judging by the action I've seen the past few days, working with winged visitor's natural preferences is already beginning to pay off.
Reakirt's Blue (Echinargus isola) with wings folded on Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
Wings open, the rationale behind the name for Reakirt's Blue (Echinarga isola) is revealed
A remarkable exception to my "native plants first!" rule has been the Ox-eye daisy, or Leucanthemum vulgare.  These were introduced as part of a mixed packet of wildflower seeds I scattered sometime after we took large swaths of lawn out in 2007-8 and have since colonized wherever I left them alone.

The blooms consistently draw in several different local pollinators, enough so that we've had butterflies land on cut flowers adorning a table on the deck. These daisies sail through summer heat and winter cold and don't seem picky about water or soil.  I'm happy to give them space here even as non-natives on that count alone.  Because they also tolerate transplantation well I'm systematically pulling daisy mounds out of prime full sun real estate in deference to native plants, plugging the easy going daisies in to anchor shadier, barely developed beds.

True confession: I've devoted a certain amount of time, energy and expense putting in both native and non-native milkweed plants to support threatened monarch populations, but I rarely see queens or monarchs either one.  Maybe they feel I'm trying too hard, I don't know.
Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) on Coreopsis
I console myself in their absence with the other winged visitors who are busily working the beds, just what this particular gardener's heart always desired.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) with wings folded on ox-eye daisy.
The issue of what will happen when I fill my computer to capacity with hundreds of photo files of butterflies that I cannot bear to throw out is yet to be addressed.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), wings opened
I'm optimistic having actual butterflies arriving in ever larger numbers will help me become more disciplined.  Once I've gotten clear photos with wings open and closed of the majority of our usual suspects, I plan to discard most, um, many of the tens of dozens of photos I've accumulated of each type.
On a slightly different note, I finally successfully identified a visitor that had me scratching my head for a week or more.  First seen on fennel fronds and then again today on a Meyer Lemon tree, this 1/2 inch ladybug look-a-like is actually a Labidomera clivicollis - or Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle.  Dun dun dunnn...  As the name suggests, this rather large beetle will feed on the leaves of milkweed plants, slicing stems open to drain sap and if left unchecked, is capable of potentially defoliating entire plants.
Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle
I left the beetle unmolested in both instances as I had not yet determined its status as pest or beneficial predator.
As mentioned before, I put in milkweed plants specifically to draw the winged creatures that are dependent upon it for their life cycle, so in this instance I suppose I did get my wish.  Just with a different visitor than I anticipated.

I've only seen one beetle at a time so far, and always on other plants.  I checked today and there is not currently visible damage to any milkweed plants. I have to admit, I think the beetles are kind of handsome.  And it is good that somebody RSVP'ed to the milkweed.  I'll maintain a watchful eye, if I see more than one beetle at a time or signs of damage, it'll be better soap than sorry.  Now there is potential competition, maybe the monarchs will deign to reign?  Time will tell.


Tina said...

Like you, I've had plenty of pollinators, though not a single monarch. No queens, either, though I typically see them later in the year. Harrumph.

Gosh, your photos are just magnificent. You're able to capture color and texture of your little insect visitors so beautifully. I think I've had the same beetle in my gardens. I tend to ignore critters, which also means that I don't know their names. I agree that he's quite lovely.

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Harrumph indeed, right? The lamentable Great Monarch Snub of 2014 seems destined to repeat this year, and just like in Jr. High I think I'm developing a bit of an outsider complex about it all. I saw two Monarchs in somebody else's garden talking and they got quiet when I came near and I'm pretty sure they were making fun of me. Stupid monarchs!

Thank you very much about the photos. My family can attest it is not an exaggeration, I take a bazillion photos and typically a few of them turn out. Law of averages...

Kris Peterson said...

Your butterfly photos are a wonderful reward for your investment in your garden and its visitors. The beetle is indeed a good-looking fellow - it's interesting that he goes undercover with a lady bug costume.

Tina said...

Haha. So are Monarchs like the Queen Bees and the Wanna Bees? :)

TexasDeb said...

Kris: That mimicry is something scientific types are guessing is to fool potential predators into thinking these bugs are toxic and therefore should be avoided rather than eaten. I know it worked for me - I had absolutely zero inclination to pop the ones I saw into my mouth! : )

TexasDeb said...

Tina: At the moment I think the Monarchs are acting a little bit more like the Mean Bees. That's OK I didn't want to sit at their stupid lunch table anyway. It's sticky...

Rock rose said...

You really know your butterflies and I am impressed with the capture of them on the flowers. I always have difficulty sticking around until they decide to stick around. They usually see me coming and fly away. As to that bug-great id. I don't have milkweed in the garden but if one wanders in here I'll know how to treat him.

Laurin Lindsey said...

Such great photos. I love the lady bugs : ) We have had monarchs here for a month or so they like the ever changing plants in my holding area. Kind of a movable feast.

TexasDeb said...

RockRose/Jenny: If you knew how much time I spend trying to figure out some of these identifications you'd laugh, knowing I've spent way too much time out in the noonday sun. I hope to develop a working knowledge of all the most familiar visitors, even the pests. Maybe especially the pests...they can be so relentless! Thanks for dropping by!

TexasDeb said...

LaurinL: That's great about your holding area - as you say, an all-you-can-feast for the flutter-bys. Good to know the monarchs are managing to dodge storms and wild winds alike as they move through your area and head back north. Their particular combination of beauty and toughness is quite something!

Michael - Plano Prairie Garden said...

I had some of those milkweed beetles a couple of years ago. They only attached my Mexican milkweed and they were able to strip it of all its leaves in no time at all. I have not seen them since. I do have lots of milkweed bugs. I think their primary damage is to the seedpods. Of course, I want more seeds for more plants so I squish them when I can.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

A true testament to your garden are all the visitors especially the butterflies...those monarchs will find you! And I love that milkweed beetle...what a cutie pie!

TexasDeb said...

Michael: I eventually saw several more of the milkweed leaf beetles so I, ahem! "took steps to correct that situation" (aka squished them). They are large, easy to spot and capture and thereby easy to control. And, not like I have tons of milkweed here. That project is kind of a flop, so far.

Then there are the four lined leaf bugs, spot makers extraordinaire, despoilers of foliage garden wide, who seem to be getting wise to my presence as unfriendly. They are clever at getting away and I have to watch I don't cause more damage chasing them than they cause sucking sap!

TexasDeb said...

Donna: Thank you! Honestly, I'm about over wishing for monarchs. There are probably good reasons I don't see them here - not under their regular flight paths perhaps. I'm actually quite happy with our current inundation of Red Admirals and Question Mark butterflies visiting the loquat trees.

Travis Heights Garden Mama said...

Your pictures are amazing! I love the details and textures- beautiful! And computer storage is cheap- so keep taking them :)

TexasDeb said...

THGMama: Oh you enabler, you! I do need to keep a tight grip on how many photos I have stored (we are talking thousands even when I feel I'm being really strict) but I'm deeply grateful you like to look. That is what it is all about!

Rebecca Newcomb said...

Beautiful butterflies, especially that Reakirt's Blue. I can't say I've ever had one of those. I must admit, I'm still in the camp of "one of everything." It is so hard to narrow down to just a few plant types in the garden when I like so many!

TexasDeb said...

Rebecca: There is nothing wrong with your gardening style (or your gardens!). When I had larger spaces to fill and was trying to figure out what would work where, that is exactly how I proceeded - trying out several different plants - all of which I liked a great deal - and then seeing what worked. The idea was always to bring in more of the ones that did well, only I'd so often get distracted at the nursery by new plants.

Now you could say I'm simply attempting a bit more discipline with my choices as my open spaces are few, especially with good sun (and/or away from deer!).