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.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Why try?

Identification of various insects and spontaneously appearing plants can be tricky.   I've complained written here often, bemoaning hours of time spent fruitlessly trying to match a photo taken to images online, hoping to establish the correct name of something.

Why?  Why even bother?  Why not just throw up my hands, assign my own names to everything and call it a day?

Part of the answer is that I am (extremely) stubborn.  Once I begin a search for a name, if I'm not rapidly rewarded with what I feel are reasonably accurate results my efforts become a Quest.  The more time I spend not finding what I am looking for, the more determined I become to find it.  (see "Top Management Mistake:Throwing good money after bad")...

Most of the rest of that "what IS it!?" energy comes from the fact we are trying to take a no-kill approach here.  If a plant appears that we didn't plant, we usually accept it as a gracious gift until it is proven otherwise.   Several plants others consider weeds, we prefer to regard as native ground covers.

To properly identify a plant I typically rely upon the LBJ Wildflower Center's Native Plant Database, but I also keep an eye out on local garden blogs. Common things being common, most if not all the plants I run across are not strangers to others in my area.  Just because I don't know what something is, rarely means somebody more experienced in my area does not.  And potentially, somebody else in my area is also wanting to know.

Recently I experienced a small frisson of recognition while reading a post on Sheryl Smith-Rodger's wonderful "Window on a Texas Wildscape" blog.  She was updating readers on the watchful-waiting attitude she'd taken towards a horseweed, or mane's tail weed, aka Conyza canadensis.  Her plant was tall, and getting taller.  She had decided to let it grow until it bloomed and then she planned to take it out of the ground to prevent its spread from seed.
Please understand Ms. Smith-Rodgers is a certified master naturalist and quite a skilled gardener.  I am neither, but I do share a great deal of curiosity about the world around me, so it was a bit of a thrill to realize that the mystery plant I'd been observing in one of our front beds is the very same plant she'd written about.
The Mystery Plant appears center stage, a bit spindly with the tiniest of blossoms up top.
So, not to steal any thunder, but Sheryl, here are those blooms we've been waiting for.  Such as they are.
I nearly missed the opened flowers, mistakenly thinking the blossoms might fan further out in wider fashion.  They never did, and the appearance of the first seed ball let me know it was "time!" to pull the plant.

And you'll have to forgive me - I didn't get a photo of the seed ball because I reflexively trapped and disposed of it safely before I thought of recording its appearance.  Imagine a miniscule dandelion seed head. That's pretty close. Rather than risk seed dispersing while I waited for a photo, I pulled the plant.
Take a closer look at the blooms to the right and left of center in this frame.  Those are opened blooms.  Easy to miss.
Update:  The bloom stalks I cut and put in a vase in my kitchen window (I think they're pretty) have yielded up a seed head.  Here for posterity...the seed head of Conyza canadensis.

Bloomed and seeded and gone.  Bye-bye horseweed!  I enjoyed your tall slender stalks while they were safe to keep around.  Next time (and place) you appear I'll know just what to expect.

By similar token, when a new (to us) creature appears in our midst, we'd rather find out about it before deciding the appropriate measure to take (if any). Co-exist, relocate, or potentially exterminate, as stewards we try to establish the wisest course. Those decisions all require accurate information.

Supporting that same no-kill approach with insects and arachnids drives me to other blogs and sites established to help amateurs make good choices. Toxicity, aggression, tendency to overrun a biome, we strongly believe all these factors must be taken into consideration before doing anything other than admiring these drop-in time-share partners.

Just yesterday my daughter and I were wrapping up a lovely visit and a swim, when I noticed a nearly 3 inch long spider sitting in the skimmer basket opening.  I wasn't really worried about it, but we do have other local family (including canines) who might take issue over sharing the water with such a large arachnid.

Does it swim?  Does it bite?  Is it aggressive?  I watched for a while and it seemed to be hanging there, waiting for prey.  I knew I needed more information to convince everyone involved it would be safe to let it stay there undisturbed.

I tried (and TRIED! I promise!) to make some definitive identification, but to no avail.  Finally I sent the image in to What's That Bug and asked for their weigh-in.  Soon I had my answer.  It is their opinion the Mystery Spider of August 2015 is Dolomedes triton, also known as a six-spotted fishing spider.
Probably a female, she might stay there by the pool and hunt until she's ready to lay eggs, at which point she'll move out into the vegetation, spin a nursery web, and then stay on guard there, protecting her babies.

I read these water bug hunters might dive to 7-8 inches and grab a plant to hide if frightened, but they don't live in the water and they don't really swim per se.  No need to stress, no need to relocate, and most definitely no need to exterminate her.  We can safely admire her and swim securely knowing she's keeping the water's surface patrolled for other bugs we might not be so happy with in close quarters.

So thank goodness for other bloggers and interweb identification helpers. They all make this attempt of ours to peacefully co-exist a lot easier to support with some peace of mind.

Do you ever struggle with identification?  If you aren't surrounded by knowledgeable gardening neighbors, here are a few of the other sites I rely upon frequently.

Bug Guide
     The experts there recently helped me pinpoint what to this beauty is called:  Melipotis indomita

Valerie's Austin Bug Collection
    I don't have a recent story utilizing this website, but I turn here frequently as a first step.  When searching out identities of the locals, it never hurts to limit the starting point to the usual suspects for your locale.  Valerie has done most of that work for Austin and the surrounding area.  (Thank you, Valerie!).

For those of us living in the Lone Star State, there are a whole host of other "fill-in-the-bug type here" of Your County or "Birds of Texas" type sites to consult.  Your results will vary depending on where you live, and occasionally on how prevalent agriculture is in your neck of the woods.

Not surprisingly, there's a wealth of information to be had from the extension agencies serving farmers and ranchers.  Granted, a lot of that information includes data on eradication and/or control, but armed with the facts, you can feel more secure in making your own choices about how to respond to the various surprise appearances life delivers into your yard or garden.

There you have it.  Now you know.  I am curious, stubborn, and I am trying (hard!) to co-exist peaceably with everything and everybody Momma Nature throws our way.   What's important about all those names?  Oh, only everything...


Kris Peterson said...

My usual searches involve plants and birds - I haven't graduated to bugs yet. You never know when you're going to discover a treasure - at least that's my thought when I'm trying to identify unknown plants that suddenly make an appearance in my garden. What's the saying? You've got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.

Tina said...

Up to your usual excellent blogging standards--a great post. Like you, I utilize several sites for identifications--Valerie's is the best for local critters, but there are several, depending upon the "thing" I'm looking for. Thanks for the id on the spider. They hang out above my pond and I've been too lazy to look up what they are; I knew they liked hanging out near water (duh), but beyond that, I just said to myself--"oh, it's a spider." Lame.

I've also hosted that plant and done the same thing--let it grow to the sky to see what its blooms are like. A bit anticlimactic, I'd say, but a learning experience. And, that's what it's all about for me!!

TexasDeb said...

Kris: So true in so very many ways. : ) There are several native plants that have been somehow "introduced" into our spaces and once we recognized them in early stages we've been able to give them proper placement and admiration. Spiderwort, most recently.

Bugs are great. You'll never run out of things to be looking for. With your plant variety, I doubt that's an issue for you. Have a lovely week!

TexasDeb said...

Tina: Thank you, lady! That means a lot. And, glad to help out with the spider ID. You've reinforced so many great lessons for me (and continue to do so) it is fun to reciprocate. I suppose the idea we have a water spider hunting our swimming pool speaks to The Hub's good ongoing efforts to balance the water very carefully, using as few additions as possible.

Rock rose said...

All power to you for allowing the plant to grow but well done on getting rid of it before it becomes a menace. That's one I yank before it blows its seed everywhere, although the fact that it is a frequent visitor to the garden is evidence that at some point I missed one. A fishing spider. There is a niche for everything. Thanks for the link to the site for spider ID. Very useful. I came home to find a gecko in our bath. There was also a desiccated scorpion in there too-or had the gecko feasted on him. I managed to rescue the gecko. How they get into our bathroom I have no idea but they are always there every year.

Debra said...

There is a big stand of the horseweed growing nearby. As a singleton it doesn't have a lot of oomph but in a large clump it is surprisingly pretty. I've been watching the progress of that patch since early April wondering what the owners were going to do. heh. All I can say is they must have some pretty nice soil because the tops now are about the same height as yours truly. The overall feel is tropical. That moth is absolutely gorgeous. I love the velvety texture and patterns. Since it is so close to water maybe it is some kind of fishing spider?

Debra said...

gah. Next time I will read more carefully. Never mind ... move along ... nothing to see here ... (sorry)

TexasDeb said...

Debra: It is good you like the horseweed because when it goes to seed if you are downwind you'll probably end up with some all your own. I was OK with having one grow right by the front door where I could watch it carefully but I wasn't going to take a chance letting it go to seed. It doesn't seem to really have a lot to offer wildlife in return for the resources it uses. The past couple of weeks have been a good reminder there really is not a lot of water to go around under normal circumstances.

I was really taken by that moth as well. I couldn't get close enough for a great shot - it freaked out every time I moved in so I left it alone rather than terrorize it further. The color variations were so subtle - I really don't think the photo does them justice.

TexasDeb said...

Jenny/RockRose: You are right of course - I did not want that weed seed blowing around in hot August winds all around our yard and the rest of the neighborhood. I'll just yank any future plants. They go from bud to seed pretty quickly. When I started out I had no idea what it was going to be when it grew up. I was mostly curious.

Those geckos! They manage to get in through the tiniest of spaces. I think I've brought them in riding along on potted plants occasionally. But ugh. Scorpions. I try not to actively dislike them because what's the point of that, but I was afraid of them as a little girl and that fear seems to have turned to what is close to disgust. They are one of the few creatures I kill on sight in the house.

Rebecca Newcomb said...

It is a tedious task, trying to ID an unknown critter or plant. My Wildlife Wednesday posts usually take me the longest to compose, because I spend most of the time trying to ID the right insects. Many times, I'm rewarded with finding out the right name (and learning something new), but sometimes it is too frustrating and I concede. But I also find that following you, Tina, and other bloggers in the area help me even further with identifying the unknown, since it always seems one of you has already done your research and can help name the unknown critter. So thanks to you for that! And if you are on social media and haven't joined the Central Texas Backyard Gardeners Facebook page yet, I highly recommend it! It seems at least half of the posts are people trying to ID plants, animals, plant disease, etc. and the other Central Texas Gardeners are more than willing to help out, and usually are able to help ID plenty of things that would take me a ridiculous amount of time to track down.

TexasDeb said...

Rebecca: It does get tedious on those days when every new bug seems to present an unsolvable mystery, identity wise. But as you say, it really helps when a group helps work the identifications in concert, as we can at least rule out the already identified critters and focus on the rarities together.

It is also really truly fun to see an insect or lizard and recognize them for what they are, at least for me. That thrill of seeing a familiar "face" is highly motivating for me and generates a lot of the pleasure I get from being out in the garden, especially this time of year when the plants are looking, well, a bit crispy.

Thanks for dropping by, and thanks for taking the extra time to participate in Wildlife Wednesday! This is truly a more-the-merrier situation.