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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

A (not so) Magnificent Obsession

I don't believe I have any need to go into the obvious human nature bits of this situation.  I can simply tell you we've had multiple coral yucca plants (hesperaloe parviflora - not actually a yucca at all) growing here for over a decade.  Local deer love to chew the bloom stalks down to stubs.  A process they will repeat over and over again.  We never had a bloom stalk that survived longer than a few days.

Events finally conspired however, and this year we have flowers, a series of pink and yellow long lasting blooms, for the first time ever.
I can't speak for the rest of my family, but I am completely obsessed with the flowers and developing seed pods both.
They are visual sirens I cannot ignore.

August heat or not, there are jobs that desperately need to be done, centrally involving cutting back completely overgrown opuntia, agave and countless volunteer hackberry seedlings intermingled in a wild run of sprinkler blocking branches.  Today I decided to get started on beds on the downhill side.

As I was working my way from drive to corner I discovered both types of paper wasps nesting in the overgrowth, polistes exclamans and polistes carolina. (These wasp photos are from earlier this year.  Today's work was not a photo op.)  9/7/15 Update:  While the wasp in this photo is P. exclamans, I now believe the wasps I ran across out front to be P. bellicosus.  See this post for more on the saga.
P. exclamans (top left) has a signature orange tipped antennae.
Both types of wasps reacted when I worked close by their nests.  The polistes exclamans went ballistic, flapping their wings and vibrating their bodies, becoming quite agitated.  Well warned, I backed away and stopped working in their vicinity.
Polistes carolina harvesting wood pulp aka our bench
The red wasp, or polistes carolina, had been consistently circling overhead while I worked.  When I got close to the nest, the wasp flew in and landed on it, which first served to draw my attention and then facilitated my choice to stop work for the day.

Temperatures will drop.  Both nests will be abandoned.  Most of the plants growing in the areas where the sprinklers have been blocked by wasp nest-bearing branches, are mature native specimens.  For today, I'm making no decision other than to keep a watchful eye on things.  And hope like crazy for rain.


Shirley said...

Oh I do enjoy those blooms whenever the deer leave a few. The hesperaloes are great garden plants since they care for themselves whether hot or cold, drought or flood.

Simply observing the garden is the best bet for this time of year. Only a few more weeks until we cool down.

Kris Peterson said...

I'm very glad to know that you backed off when you spotted the agitated wasps. They're known for their meanness, not their tolerance. Your Hesperaloe's flowers are a beautiful color and I entirely understand your obsession with it. I have one of the standard red forms but it has yet to bloom for me even without the complications of deer.

Tina said...

So glad you've been able to enjoy those blooms--they are lovely, yes? As for the wasps, there's been a whole strain of complaining about how aggressive the "red" wasps are on Nextdoor (You familiar--sort of like FB, but neighborhood related. Same stupid stuff. At least I don't have to read about what someone had for lunch.) Anyway, I've never had an experience with an aggressive wasp--I have quite a few at the moment. They do their things, I do mine. The consensus seems to be that the $2 can of wasp spray makes everything right in the world. Well, at least FB has funny animal stuff.

TexasDeb said...

Shirley: The hesperaloe are amazing plants for our area, aren't they!? I am deeply happy we finally have blossoms to enjoy. They are absolute gorgeous and I cannot get enough of them.

You're quite right about the weather of course but I am worried for some of my plants that aren't getting a drop of water in all this heat. Trowels crossed they hang tough.

TexasDeb said...

Kris: Honestly I just was reading earlier this AM about the wasps and what to look for in order to know you've crossed a line with them. They use pheromones to trigger group attacks and I am not interested in fending off masses of wasps at this point in my gardening life. I was stung once as a young child and still recall the electric shocklike sensation. I had no idea I'd be putting that wasp observation/information into play in my very next foray out to the garden. I was just hoping to get some work done before anything dies from lack of water.

The hesperaloe do seem to be happiest with all the extra rain we got earlier this year (so long as their planted in an area that drains well). It seems they want the water, so long as it keeps passing through, passing through, nothing to see here, passing through. Perhaps if your winter rains set up just so yours will reward you at long last!

TexasDeb said...

Tina: The red wasps do seem to be very easy with proximity to people and perhaps are even curious about our activity. I can see where folks might get nervous if they aren't used to that. I have had them circling me for fairly long intervals while working, but they never landed on or near me and I never felt threatened. When the red wasp landed on its nest today I took it as signal that if I got much closer I might trigger other more aggressive behavior. I was in no mood to test that after having been warned off by the agitation of the polistes exclamans.

Better safe than stung. I'd really rather not spray - I just hope not to lose an entire area of mature plants in the bargain. There's a beauty bush, native lantana, a stand of Mexican honeysuckle, salvias, Turk's cap... If it rains, I'm in the clear. If not, I have some tough choices ahead.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on Hesperaloe bloom success...glad the dear deer have more to eat this year in your area, so they can leave some gardens alone. Jackrabbits got the young hesperaloes in pots where I used to live, but at least they outgrew their enemies...except aphids. Always something.

TexasDeb said...

David/DHB: Thank you - it has been a long time coming. And I haven't seen aphids recently - too hot and dry perhaps? Or maybe too many other hungry mouths out there. Multiple local populations experienced population explosions in the context of all the extra spring rain in our area. I may never see blooms develop all the way into seed heads on our hesperaloe plants again, but by golly I'll at least have the photos to prove it did happen once.

Debra said...

Better safe than stung. I have never encountered angry wasps before. Knock on wood. The ones here are all peace loving hippies. I have encountered hackberry seedlings in the billions and billions though. gah. How can any plant be that successful when the ones I want to grow barely manage to survive? Nature is a mean girl sometimes. Grats on the blooms! (Loved the sarcasm of the wood pulp/bench caption. haha)

TexasDeb said...

Deb: Right!? Most of the wasp nests around here are up at least 8 feet or more in a tree, under an eave, attached to a light fixture, etc. The wasps coming from those nests all seem pretty laid back. The two wasp nests I ran across yesterday were both in saplings and only 3-4 feet off the ground. A lot closer to me and my tools than is the usual respectful distance. We were all of us, wasps and gardener alike, a little shocked, frankly. : )

My father used to knock wasp nests down all the time off our house and out of small trees/shrubs. He was stung frequently enough he became extremely sensitized. I haven't been stung since childhood (knock on wood pulp!) but I don't need any more allergy related restrictions on spending time out in the garden if they are easily avoided.

Hackberries! Argh! I realize they support a lot of life in their own way but it feels if we didn't keep after them they'd be sprouting in the living room. Just tiny ones in the corners to start with...then..."Honey, did you just hear a twig snap?!?".

Rock rose said...

I see that wasp is busy pinching wood from your chair. They are always hard at work on one of our wooden steps but haven't made it to the furniture yet. I am really allergic to the paper wasps and almost always get stung on the hand when I am pruning. I have learnt that immediate benedryl and hydrocortisone helps keep the swelling down which can spread over 12" if I don't test. I can quite easily live without them. I have hesperaloes outside too and often the blooms disappear only for the plant to make more. They are the paler pink ones. WOuld love some of the very dark ones I have been seeing around town. But their shorter stems would likely make an easier meal for the deer.

Donna@LivingFromHappiness said...

Oh that is great news to have those flowers finally....beautiful! I give wasps especially paper wasps a wide berth...they can be nasty although here hornets are even worse.

TexasDeb said...

RockRose/Jenny: Sting allergy reactions can be significant - I'm glad you don't take them lightly and I'm trying to keep from getting stung often enough to trigger my own allergies. Wasps work on all our wooden benches here year in and year out. I keep thinking I'll go out some morning to see one collapsed to the soil after one........last...........teensy.........mouth full!

The hesperaloes do work quite diligently to bloom, don't they? I'm as happy for the plants to have this year's chance to set seed at long last as I am for the flowers. Ours are fairly light in color but I've seen the other newer form, "brake lights" I think it is called and think it is striking, though I agree our deer would make quick work of those shorter stems. Maybe they'd need to be in an elevated planter of some sort.

TexasDeb said...

Donna: I respect the wasps for the most part and they are rarely aggressive until and unless I blunder in too close to a nest. These are the first branch nests I've run across in quite a while. There seem to be plenty of eaves and light fixtures otherwise and I'm not sure why the wasps out in front have chosen what seems a much more vulnerable situation. I'm guessing at least one of those nests is a satellite nest due to overpopulation after abundant spring/early summer rains.

Pam/Digging said...

Good thing you're so observant as you work and avoided getting stung. I tend to wallow through the brush when I'm hacking things back, and wonder if I'd have seen the warnings in time.

Congrats on the hesperaloe bloom. The deer love to nosh on those in our neighborhood too.

TexasDeb said...

Pam: I'll take "observant" over what I was crediting - my getting older and working at a slower pace. I like the idea I was just paying close attention much better. : )

It is a little silly how excited I was over those few flowers this year. I'd all but given up on ever seeing a nice run of blossoms on any of our hesperaloe stems. You'd think after all this time I'd know to "never say never" when it comes to gardening and plants.