September 1, 2011 § 2 Comments
Eye to Eye
A butterfly’s eyes are relatively enormous, spherical structures referred to as compound eyes. Consisting of thousands of hexagonal shaped omatidea, each omatidea, or mini-sensor, is directed at a slightly different angle from the others. Collectively they are directed forwards, backwards, left, right, up, and down. For this reason, butterflies are able to see in nearly every direction simultaneously.
Vision is well developed in butterflies and most species are sensitive to the ultraviolet spectrum. The ability to see colors may be widespread but has been demonstrated in only a few species.
August 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
This gorgeous female Black Swallowtail butterfly emerged during Hurricane Irene. What to do when a butterfly ecloses during inclement weather? Take a moment to enjoy it’s beauty close-up, provide food in the way of nectar plants, and wait until the storm abates before releasing.
Newly Emerged Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes)
August 9, 2011 § 1 Comment
Recently a design colleague wrote inquiring as to the best time to mow her client’s fields as she was concerned about disrupting the breeding cycle of the Monarch butterfly. I am often asked this question and it is well worth considering, not only for the sake of the Monarchs, but for the survival of the myriad species of butterflies, bees, and other pollinating and beneficial insects that find food and shelter in untilled fields.
August 4, 2011 § 1 Comment
At this time every year readers write in to inquire about the mysterious and startling “furry shrimp” flying in their gardens. Perhaps you have a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth I write back? They are often seen nectaring at our North American native wildflowers bee balm (Monarda didyma) and white flowering summer phlox ‘David’ (Phlox paniculata), as well as the butterfly bushes and Verbena bonariensis. Scroll down through several posts to see article..
August 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“At this point, it is the summer phlox and, above all, the towering lilies that are providing the scent in our garden in Milton. And very heady it is, too- especially on still, hot days.” - My friend David Godine writes of his beautiful garden in Milton, Massachusetts.
I am wonderfully fortunate that Mr. Godine is both my publisher and editor for my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!. Not only does David have a deep love for all things books, he is passionate for gardens and gardening.
August 3, 2011 § 6 Comments
Startled! is an apt description of the reaction most gardeners experience when first they encounter a clearwing moth. Hovering while nectaring, with wings whirring rapidly and audibly, is it a miniature hummingbird, enormous furry bee, or mutant new world creature?
The family Sphingidae are easily identified in both their adult and caterpillar forms. The medium-to-large-sized sphinx, or hawk, moths have characteristic robust, chunky bodies tapering to a point, and slender wings, which are adapted for rapid and sustained flight. Often mistaken for hummingbirds, the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemeris thysbe), with green tufted body and ruby colored scales, suggesting the male hummingbird, and the Snowberry Clearwing Moth (Hemaris diffinis), with the gold and black striped color pattern similar to that of a fat bumble bee, mimic both the bees and birds they fly with during the day. The ability of certain Sphingids to hover in mid air while nectaring is unusual in nectar feeders and has evolved in only three species: Sphingids, bats, and hummingbirds. Sphinx moths also do an exceptionally unusual movement called “swing-hovering,” swinging from side to side while hovering, it is thought, in an effort to escape predators lying in wait amongst the flora.
Sphinx moths are grouped together because their caterpillars hold their head and thorax erect in a sphinx-like fashion. Most larvae have a horn protruding from their last segment. For this reason, they are often called hornworms. The adult sphinx moth is a powerful flier and usually has a long proboscis suitable for tubular-shaped flowers with a deep calyx, such as trumpet vine. The slender wings must beat rapidly to support their heavy bodies. The names of many sphinx or hawk moth species correlate to their caterpillar host plant, to name but a few examples: Catalpa Sphinx, Huckleberry Sphinx, Paw Paw Sphinx, Cherry Sphinx, and Elm Sphinx.
The order Lepidoptera is comprised of butterflies, moths and skippers. The name is derived from the Greek lepidos for scales and ptera for wings. Their scaled wings distinguish them as a group from all other insects. Shortly after the Hummingbird and Snowberry Clearwings are born, they immediately begin to shed their wing scales, hence the common name clearwing moth. While nectaring, moths receive a dusting of pollen as they brush against the pollen-bearing anthers. Their fuzzy, fur-like scale-covered bodies are an excellent transporter of pollen. Because moths are on the wing primarily at night, moth-pollinated flowers are often white and pale, pastel-hued and tend to be sweetly scented. White flowers are more easily distinguished in the evening light, whereas colorful flowers disappear. Adult clearwing moths are diurnal (day flying) and nectar at a variety of flowers. In our garden, they are most often spotted at our native Phlox ‘David,’ bee balm (Monarda didyma), purple-top Verbena bonariensis, and butterfly bushes with blue and white flowers. The larvae of Hummingbird Clearwings feed primarily on viburnum, honeysuckle, and snowberry (all Caprifoliaceae), and less commonly on hawthorn, cherry, and plum (Rosaceae). Snowberry larvae feed on honeysuckle and snowberry.
For the most part, Sphinx moths are on the wing at night, although the beautiful White-lined Sphinx (Hyles lineata) is often seen at dusk. The forward wings are dark olive brown streaked with white. The hind wings are black with a vivid band of rose-pink. Found throughout North America, both larvae and adults are consummate generalists. The caterpillars feed on the foliage of apple trees, four-o’clocks, evening primrose, elm, grape, and tomato. The adults nectar at a wide variety of flowers including larkspur, gaura, columbine, petunia, moonflower, lilac, bouncing bet, clover, Jimson weed, and thistle. White-lined Sphinxes are drawn to lights and those that remain in the garden the next morning are quite subdued, and may come to your finger.
Orchids often have a symbiotic relation to very specific sphinx moths. The starry white, six-petalled Comet Orchid (the French common name, “Etoile de Madagascar” means “Star of Madagascar”) produces nectar at the bottom of an extremely long corolla, nearly a foot in length. Star of Madagascar (Angraecum sesquipedale) was predicted by Charles Darwin to have a highly specialized moth pollinator with a proboscis at least that long. “Angraecum sesquipedale has nectaries eleven and a half inches long, with only the lower half filled with very sweet nectar…it is, however, surprising, that any insect should be able to reach the nectar: our English sphinxes have probosces as long as their bodies; but in Madagascar there must be moths with probosces capable of extension to a length of between ten and twelve inches!” (Darwin). The giant hawk moth Xanthopan morganii praedicta (“the predicted one”) was named appropriately upon its discovery, after Darwin’s death.
Co-evolution, the specialized biological embrace of two species, bears both benefits and risks. Each partner benefits in that no energy is wasted on finding ways to reproduce. The risk lies in becoming too dependent on a single species. If one half of the co-evolved partnership perishes, the other will surely become extinct as well.
All photos shot at the Butterfly Garden at Willowdale Estate with Fujifilm x100.
July 30, 2011 § 2 Comments
Quickly posting as I am under several deadlines and determined to get all fully underway. I believe I mentioned that this past week, Lisa Smith and her Cape Ann TV After-the Beach Teen Video Club stopped by for a tour of my garden. Here’s a short clip, with a wonderful surprise visit by the friendly Question Mark butterfly, who very conveniently, stole the show.
The teens and Lisa did a great job and all very much enjoyed the beautiful creatures that flew in and out of our story. It is not easy to focus on tiny subjects using a heavy camera attached to a tripod. The full video of the garden tour and interview will air in the near future and we will keep you posted.
July 28, 2011 § 5 Comments
July Butterfly Update
Have you noticed the sheer numbers of our winged friends? Returning this evening from a swim at 6:45, I bumped into three Monarchs nectaring and a Red-spotted Purple (all in pristine, newly emerged condition). Early evening is an unusually late time of day for butterflies on the wing, especially when skies are slightly overcast. This, after a day of observing and shooting numerous numbers of butterflies, caterpillars and hummingbirds–and never leaving our garden. I work for a bit, but then the garden calls and I’m out the door with both video and still cameras. If this fabulously warm weather keeps up, I think we are in for another banner year with the butterflies, and skippers too.
Currently, we have 28 Monarchs, in various stages of development, residing in our kitchen, and seven Black Swallowtail caterpillars and chrysalids.
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar–note the fine “girdle” spun by the pupating caterpillar. Attached to the stem by both the girdle and a silky mat in which his last proleg is hooked, the caterpillar is securely latched. The proleg becomes the cremaster during pupation.
I am often asked why I collect butterfly eggs and don’t simply leave them in the garden. Butterfly larvae have a roughly one in ten chance of survival in the wild. In our kitchen, the odds increase exponentially, with a ten in ten rate of survival. For instance, I have learned, that after observing a butterfly deposit her eggs on a host plant, to gather them up quickly. If I become distracted and wait even only an hour, they often disappear, usually having been eaten or parasitized.
More detailed information on each species will be forthcoming. Much footage to edit…
Question Mark Butterfly and Patrice ~ My favorite photo of the season (click on the photo to see full size). Yesterday afternoon, Lisa Smith, one of the producers over at Cape Ann TV, with her After the Beach Video Club for Teens, were filming in the garden. While Patrice was interviewing me, this Question Mark alighted briefly on her shoulder several times. I was prepared the second time, with camera ready and adjusted to the appropriate settings. The Question Mark’s cooperation throughout the day’s shoot–nectaring, sunning itself, and taking long sips of sap through the chinks of bark in the weathered old pear tree–was very much appreciated by all; he was the true star of the day!
Oh Joyous July!
July 16, 2011 § 4 Comments
I am often asked “why is that green, yellow, and black Monarch caterpillar eating my parsley”?
Chances are, you will never see a Monarch caterpillar on your parsley. By far and away it is more likely that you have the caterpillar of the gorgeous Black Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio polyxenes).
Caterpillars that are actively feeding are usually only found on their larval host plant(s), the plant they have developed a distinctive coevolutionary relationship with over millennia. Monarch caterpillars do not eat parsley and Black Swallowtail caterpillars do not eat milkweed, and if either attempted, they would not survive. Black Swallowtails were in the past commonly referred to as the Parsnip Swallowtail as their caterpillar food plants belong to members of the Umbelliferae, or Carrot Family. The diet of the Black Swallowtail caterpillar includes the foliage and flowers of carrot plants, fennel, dill, parsley, Queen Anne’s lace, and parsnips.
The Monarch caterpillar is yellow, black, and white. The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is green, black, and yellow.
July 13, 2011 § 1 Comment
This morning I had the pleasure of presenting my Monarch butterfly program to the Cape Ann Garden Club. The meeting was held at the charming and beautifully maintained Annisquam Village Hall, located in the very heart of Annisquam. Thank you Cape Ann Garden Club members for your enthusiasm and for your interest–it was my joy!
These lovely arrangements are created by the members and then gathered up at the end of the meeting to be distributed to nearby nursing homes.
June 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Magnolia virginiana ~ Sweet Bay Magnolia
Located in the heart of Ravenswood Park in Gloucester there is a stand of Magnolia virginiana growing in the Great Magnolia Swamp. It is the only population of Magnolia virginiana known to grow this far north. I took one look at the native sweet bay magnolia and breathed in the fresh lemon-honeysuckle scent of the blossoms, fell in love, and immediately set out to learn all I could about this graceful and captivating tree. Recently having returned from a trip to visit my family in northern Florida, I had tucked the bud of a Magnolia grandiflora into my suitcase. I was dreaming of someday having a garden large enough to accommodate a Magnolia grandiflora and was overjoyed to discover the similarities between M. virginiana and M. grandiflora. For those not familiar with the Southern magnolia, it is a grand, imposing specimen in the landscape, growing up to fifty feet in the cooler zones five and six, and one hundred feet plus in the southern states. M. grandiflora is the only native magnolia that is reliably evergreen in its northern range, flowering initially in the late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. The creamy white flowers, enormous and bowl-shaped (ten to twelve inches across), emit a delicious, heady sweet lemon fragrance.
In contrast, the flowers of the sweetbay magnolia are smaller, ivory white, water-lily cup shaped, and sweetly scented of citrus and honeysuckle. The leaves are similar in shape to the Magnolia grandiflora, ovate and glossy viridissimus green on the topside, though they are more delicate, and lack the leathery toughness of the Southern magnolia. The lustrous green above and the glaucous silvery green on the underside of the foliage creates a lovely ornamental bi-color effect as the leaves are caught in the seasonal breezes.
Magnolia virginiana is an ideal tree for a small garden in its northern range growing to roughly twenty feet compared to the more commanding height of a mature Southern magnolia. Sweet bay grows from Massachusetts to Florida in coastal freshwater wetland areas as an understory tree. The tree can be single- or multi-stemmed. Sweet bay is a stunning addition to the woodland garden with an open form, allowing a variety of part-shade loving flora to grow beneath the airy canopy. The leaves are a larval food for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Almost immediately after planting we began to notice the swallowtails gliding from the sunny borders of the front dooryard, where an abundance of nectar-rich flowers are planted specifically to attract butterflies, around to the shady border in the rear yard where our sweet bay is located.
Our garden is continually evolving and part of our garden has given way to a limited version of a woodland garden, for the shady canopy created by the ever-growing ceiling of foliage of our neighbor’s trees has increasingly defined our landscape. We sited our Magnolia virginiana in our diminutive shaded woodland border where we can observe the tree from the kitchen window while standing at the kitchen sink. Gazing upon the tree bending and swaying gracefully in the wind, displaying its shifting bi-color leaves, provides a pleasant view when tending daily chores and the dreamy fragrance emitted from freshly opened blossoms make the chores all that less tiresome.
Excerpt from “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!” Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
June 26, 2011 § 4 Comments
Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts written by Peter Del Tredici.
The sweet bay magnolia swamp in Gloucester, Massachusetts has been a botanical shrine since its discovery in 1806. Early New England naturalists and botanists of all types, from Henry David Thoreau to Asa Gray, made pilgrimages to the site of this northern- most colony of Magnolza virginiana. The local residents of Gloucester were so impressed with a “southern”plant growing this far north that they changed the name oft he Kettle Cove section of the town to Magnolia in the mid-1800s. It is probably no coincidence that this name change occurred at the same time the area was starting up its tourist trade.
In addition to its isolation, the Gloucester Magnolia population was remarkable for having escaped notice until 1806 in an area that was settled in 1623. This fact has led at least one author to speculate that the colony was not wild but escaped from a cultivated plant (Anonymous, 1889). However, the overwhelming consensus of earlier botanists is that the population is, in fact, native. Whatever its origin, the swamp remains today the unique and mysterious place it has been for almost 200 years.
Very little has been written about the magnolia swamp in recent years. The latest, and best, article about it was wntten by Dr George Kennedy, and appeared in 1916 in Rhodora, the Journal of the New England Botanical Club. Dr. Kennedy summarized the history of the stand, and cleared up the confusion about who discovered it by publishing a letter he found, written by the Honorable Theophilus Parsons to the Reverend Manassah Cutler in 1806. The letter captures the emotion of the moment of discovery:
Reverend and Dear Sir:
In riding through the woods in Gloucester, that are between Kettle Cove and Fresh Water Cove I discovered a flower to me quite new and unexpected in our forests. This was last Tuesday week [July 22, 1806]. A shower approaching prevented my leaving the carriage for examination, but on my return, on Friday last, I collected several of the flowers, in different stages, with the branches and leaves, and on inspection it is unquestionably the Magnolia glauca Mr. Epes Sargent has traversed these woods for flowers and not having discovered it, supposes it could not have been there many years. It was unknown to the people of Gloucester and Manchester until I showed it to them. I think you have traversed the same woods herborizing. Did you dis-cover it? If not, how long has it been there? It grows in a swamp on the western or left side of the road as you go from Manchester to Gloucester, and before you come to a large hill over which the road formerly passed. It is so near the road as to be visible even to the careless eye of the traveler. Supposing the knowledge of this flower, growing so far north, might gratify you, I have made this hasty communication.
Your humble servant, Theoph. Parsons
To read Mr. Del Tredici’s fascinating article in full click here Magnolia virginiana in Massachusetts, including an excerpt from when Henry David Thoreau visited the swamp and wrote about it in his Journal.
Peter Del Tredici is a Senior Research Assistant at the Arnold Arboretum and Lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Peter writes the following for the Arnold Arboretum: “My research interests are wide ranging and mainly involve the interaction between woody plants and their environment. Over the course of thirty plus years at the Arnold Arboretum, I have worked with a number of plants, most notably Ginkgo biloba, conifers in the genera Tsuga and Sequoia, various magnolias, and several Stewartia species (family Theaceae). In all of my work, I attempt to integrate various aspects of the botany and ecology of a given species with the horticultural issues surrounding its propagation and cultivation. This fusion of science and practice has also formed the basis of my teaching at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (since 1992), especially as it relates to understanding the impacts of climate change and urbanization on plants in both native and designed landscapes. Most recently, the focus of my research has expanded to the subject of spontaneous urban vegetation which resulted in the publication of “Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast: A Field Guide” (Cornell University Press, 2010).”
June 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I had planned to use my x100 for nearly everything–except butterflies and songbirds–what a pleasant surprise! Jpgs straight from the camera.
With an average wingspan of just under 1.5,” and because the butterfly was so well camouflaged in the leaf litter, the x100 struggled to focus, but I and it persevered and eventually got an acceptable identifying shot. This is a problem I have often encountered when photographing small butterflies on the wing, whether using my Canon DSLR or very fast Panasonic Lumix.
June 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Native Buzz: Creative Container Gardening for Pollinators Opens at Garden in the Woods
Fifteen exhibits are placed along the Curtis Path at Garden in the Woods. Some whimsical, and all educational, each of the fifteen exhibits has a distinct concept and use of containers that hold the plants, which attract pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.
Native Buzz: Creative Container Gardening for Pollinators runs at Garden in the Woods, 180 Hemenway Road, Framingham, MA, through August 31, 2011, Tuesday through Sunday and holiday Mondays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission fees for adults (18-64) $10, seniors (65+) $7, youths (3-17) $5. Guided walking tours are offered Tuesday through Friday and holiday Mondays at 10 a.m. Weekend guided walking tours are given at 2 p.m. For more information see Native Buzz.
Hibiscus moscheutos, with many common names–Crimson-eyed rose mallow, swamp mallow, and rose mallow–makes a long-blooming and gorgeous container plant when kept well-watered and well-fed. With luscious blossoms in pure white, rose red, and shades in-between, nearly all have an eye of deepest red. Popular during the Arts and Crafts period, Hibiscus mosheutos has had a wonderful resurgence with today’s gardeners. It occurs naturally in the east in swamps and marshes, from Massachusetts to Michigan and south to Florida and Texas,
The mission of New England Wild Flower Society is to conserve and promote the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes. Founded in 1900, the Society is the nation’s oldest plant conservation organization and a recognized leader in native plant conservation, horticulture, and education. The Society’s headquarters, Garden in the Woods, is a renowned native plant botanic garden in Framingham, Massachusetts, that attracts visitors from all over the world. From this base, 35 staff and more than 1,000 volunteers work throughout New England to monitor and protect rare and endangered plants, collect and preserve seeds to ensure biological diversity, detect and control invasive species, conduct research, and offer a range of educational programs.
June 6, 2011 § 2 Comments
Dear Gardening Friends,
Come join me this Tuesday, June 7th at Willowdale Estate, from 4:00 to 6:00, for a house and garden tour of this beautiful, and beautifully restored, historic Arts and Crafts manse. Members of the Willowdale staff will be giving guided tours of the house and I will be available to talk about the garden, including how the Arts and Crafts movement influenced our horticultural decisions. Admission is free and the event is open to the public.
Thank you for all the thoughtful comments and praise for last week’s column “The most highly scented lilacs…” Next week I will send you information on lilac culture as this is the ideal time of year to trim and shape your lilacs for maximum blooms next year.
Reader Irma wrote the following: I picked my lilacs at their height. In water, in the vase they lasted 2 days and drooped! Last year the same. I couldn’t believe it. Do you know why?
Hi Irma, Lilacs have woody stems and do not easily absorb water in the vase. Depending on whatever tool is handy, I do one of two things,. With a hammer, crush the stems, at least six inches along the length, and immediately place in a vase filled with tepid or warm water. Over the years I have also discovered that peeling the stems with a vegetable peeler is just as effective, and less messy. Peel away the woody outer layer, all around the stem, again at least six inches up the stalk (peel down to green). Still, even with treating the stems, the arrangement will be fleeting and only look beautiful for several days. The scent of the lilacs permeating throughout your home is worth the extra effort!
Many wrote last week to say they enjoyed the excerpt from Amy Lowell’s gorgeous poem Lilacs. Here it is in entirety:
June 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Sam Jaffe writes:
I would like to formally announce this summer’s exciting new caterpillar exhibit: The Caterpillars of Eastern Massachusetts an exhibit of photography, local natural history, and live caterpillars.
June 30th to September 12th, 2011
Looking forward to seeing you all there,
In the fall of 2008 I began photographing caterpillars. These larval insects demonstrate a diversity of morphology and behavior better than perhaps any other group of animals in this region, and yet, they remain relatively unknown to even the most dedicated of naturalists. Through my photography, and through documenting the life histories of the species I find and raise, I hope to share some of what I have learned about the quality of our native biome.
In ages of exploration, drawing and painting were important tools used to document new discoveries. Old illustrations of insects regularly depict the subject and its food source alone on a page, isolated from background distractions. However, the desire to visually record an insect’s behavior and life history often infused these images with life and motion, and many artistic and powerful compositions resulted. These classical natural history pieces are the source of my inspiration. Isolated against a black background, the caterpillars are conspicuous and sculptural. Further, each species is shown upon its native hostplant and each composition aims to tell a story about its subject’s unique natural history.
May 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
Surely at the top of the list of shrubs to grow for creating the framework of an intimate garden or garden room are lilacs, in particular Syringa vulgaris and their French hybrids. Syringa vulgaris are grown for their exquisite beauty in both form and color of blossoms, although it is their fragrance flung far and throughout gardens and neighborhoods that make them so unforgettable.
Not all species of Syringa and cultivars of Syringa vulgaris are scented. The early French hybrids and hybrids of Leonid Kolesnikov have retained their fragrance. Syringa oblata has a similar fragrance, though is not nearly as potent. Several of the Chinese species have a spicy cinnamon scent, while many of the Asian species and their hybrids have very little, if any, fragrance. To find your personal preference, I suggest a visit to a local arboretum, or take your nose to the nursery during the extended period of time (six to eight weeks, or so) in which the different cultivars of S. vulgaris are in bloom.
Nearly everywhere lilacs are grown (and here I am only referring to S. vulgaris), they are called by some variety of the word lilac. Perhaps the word lilac stems from the Persian word Lilak or Lilaf meaning bluish. The French say Lilas, the Spanish say Lila, and the Portuguese Lilaz. In old English lilacs were called Laylock, Lilack, and Lilock.
Lilacs are native to and found growing among the limestone rocks on the hillsides and mountainsides throughout southeastern Europe, in the Balkans, Moldavia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia. Cultivated by local mountain herdsmen, they were taken from the peasant villages of central Europe to the garden courts of Istanbul. In 1563, the Flemish scholar and traveler Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, Ambassador of Ferdinand I of Austria to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, brought back to Vienna gifts from the sultan’s garden. Attracting much attention was the lilac. Seven years later, in 1570, Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, and then Curator of the Imperial Court Library, accompanied the Archduchess Elizabeth from Vienna to Paris where she was betrothed to King Charles IX of France. Count de Busbecq journeyed to France with a shoot of Syringa vulgaris, where it soon began to fill the gardens of Paris.
Two color variants sprang up in European gardens beside the wild blue- flowered lilac, a nearly white flowered variant with lighter foliage and a taller- growing variant with deeper purple flowers. Hybridizers quickly set about to create different forms and color versions from these two variants.
Victor Lemoine of the famed nursery Victor Lemoine et Fils at Nancy in Lorraine Province continued the work of hybridizing lilacs. From 1878 to 1950, Victor and his wife, their son Emile, and their grandson, Henri, created 214 lilac cultivars. The cornerstone of the Lemoine’s lilac hybridizing program was a nat- ural sport that bore two corollas, one inside the other, making it the first dou- ble. This double was subsequently named ‘Azurea Plena.’ Because of the Lemoine family’s success in turning ordinary lilacs into fancy double-flowered lilacs in nearly every hue imaginable, they became known as the “French lilacs.” Spreading throughout Europe, the French lilacs were brought to the Russian court by French travelers. Well suited to the soil and climate of Russia, they soon spread far and wide. Several decades later, the Russian hybridist Leonid Kolesnikov continued the successful work of the Lemoines with his own exquisite variants.
The French and Dutch colonists transported lilacs to North America. These cherished cuttings, wrapped in burlap and wet straw tucked into suitcases for the long journey across the Atlantic, traveled well and were soon growing throughout the colonies. By 1753 the Quaker botanist John Bartram of Philadelphia was complaining that lilacs were already too numerous. One of two of the oldest col- lections of lilacs in North America are at the Governor Wentworth home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, planted by the governor in 1750. The second collection, perhaps one hundred years older, is at Mackinac Island in Michigan, where French Jesuit missionaries living in the area are thought to have planted them as early as 1650.
With their traveling fragrance, versatility in the landscape, and their ability to live tens, perhaps even hundreds of years, lilacs are garden heirlooms. When selecting lilacs to grow for creating the framework of the garden, take the time to choose wisely. Some lilacs grow readily into a tree shape (‘Beauty of Moscow’), while others are somewhat relatively lower growing cultivars; ‘Wedgwood Blue’ comes to mind, and still others, the common white lilac (Syringa vulgaris var. alba), sucker more freely. And bear in mind that different lilacs bloom over an extended period of time. If you wish to have a blue lilac blooming simultaneously with a white lilac, then it is worthwhile to determine whether a specific cultivar is an early, mid, or late season bloomer. The following is a selection of lilacs growing in our garden, arranged in their sequential progression of flowering, with considerable overlapping. They are all highly scented or we wouldn’t grow them. The last photo below shows the different colors in lilac blossoms of white, pink, blue, lavender, magenta.
S. x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’ (1966) Skinner ~ Single, pale rose pink; shows different colors of pink under different soil conditions. In a warmer climate and lighter soils it is a paler shade of pink, in heavier soils ‘Maiden’s Blush’ has more lavender undertones.
‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ translated to ‘Beauty of Moscow.’ Leonid Alexseevitch Kolesnikov (1974) ~ Double, lavender-rose tinted buds opening to white-tinted pink. Grown throughout Russia. Vigorous upright habit, useful for growing into a tree-shape. Very extended blooming period.
Syringa vulgaris var. purpurea. Common purple lilac ~ Lavender, the wild species seen growing throughout its native land. The common purple is the most widely distributed form of lilac. The lilac of old gardens.
‘Wedgwood Blue’ John Fiala (1981) ~ Hanging panicles of beautiful true blue florets. Lilac-pink hued buds. Somewhat lower growing.
‘Madame Florent Stepman’ (1908) ~ Satiny ivory white florets from rose- washed buds. Pure white when fully opened. Tall and upright growing. One of the most extensively cultivated for the florist trade.
‘President Grevy’ Lemoine (1886) ~ Pure blue, immense panicles of sweet starry florets.
‘Marie Legraye’ (1840) ~ Single, diminutive florets, radiant white, lighter green foliage.
‘Monge’ Lemoine (1913) ~ Vivid, intense plum wine fading to deepest rose.
‘Andenken an Ludwig Spaeth’ Nursery of Ludwig Spaeth (1883) ~ Single, rich purple-violet with a smaller pointed-head panicle.
Above excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine, Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
More on Lilac Culture in the next post.
May 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Colour of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soilof New England,
Lilacs in me because I am NewEngland,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.
—from Lilacs by Amy Lowell (1874–1925)
May 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Dear Gardening Friends, Think Spring! Come join the North Shore Garden Club for what promises to be a wonderful event. I will be there and available to answer questions about the butterfly garden. Hope to see you there! Warmest wishes, Kim
May 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Is there a tree more lovely in flower than the North American dogwood (Cornus florida)? Whether flowering with the classic white bracts, the stunning rubra bracts, or the less often seen pale, creamy rose-tinted bracts, our native dogwood never ceases to give pause for beauty given.
At this time of year when traveling along southern New England roadways we are graced by the beauty of the dogwood, dotting sunny roadside borders where meets the woodland edge. The bracts and flowers emerge before the leaves, serving only to heighten their loveliness. The fresh beauty of the bract-clad boughs is offset by the impressionistic symphony of neighboring tree foliage unfurling, shimmering in hues of apple green, chartruese, moss, and lime peel.
Discouragingly, many dogwoods in our region are inflicted with the lethal dogwood anthracnose. I believe the problem is exacerbated by the vast majority of information regarding growing flowering dogwoods, which suggests planting in part shade, and does not differentiate between gardening in the north versus gardening in the Midwest or northern Florida for that matter. If one lives in warmer regions south of New England, yes, perhaps it is possible to grow a healthy C. florida in partial shade.
Dogwood anthracnose is caused by the aptly named fungus Discula destructiva. It will typically kill an untreated Cornus florida within two to three years. As we look to nature for an answer, the native flowering dogwoods growing in the fertile, moist, friable soil of the Northeastern woodlands, as understory trees, are the trees most affected by anthracnose. Cornus florida growing in an open, sunny location are far less afflicted. What we learn from this lesson is to choose a location that has good air circulation and full sun. What we know is that Discula destructiva requires high humidity for infection; therefore trees planted in mesic sites in the shade are more susceptible than trees growing in xeric sites.
Discula destructiva is a soil born disease. Dogwood trees inflicted with anthracnose will begin to show signs of infection by dying from the bottom up. The lower branches will become twiggy and will not flower or leaf-out. This is the opposite of what you may see if a tree is losing foliage along the upper branches because of drought stress, for example. A tree that is stressed from lack of water or nutrients will, generally speaking, begin to show signs of trouble from the top down.
Our lovely Cornus florida var. rubra (my second go around with this species; the first was killed by anthracnose) shows signs of drought stress every year, usually during the dog days of late summer. I place the hose at the base of the tree, allowing water to gently flow overnight (never wet the foliage of a dogwood). Visibly, the tree will perk up. Typically this will need to be done every few days, until the next soaking rain. Any tree that is stressed from lack of water is more susceptible to disease. Along with monitoring our tree for drought stress, and because we plant densely beneath the tree’s boughs, I have found these measures, thus far, have served to prevent an outbreak of anthracnose.
Note how beautifully grows this dogwood. Despite the rain-soaked droopy bracts, you can see its gorgeous overall form. The level branches grow horizontally and there are no bald, twiggy areas.
bract – In botany, a bract is a leaf-like structure surrounding a flower or inflorescence. The colorful bracts of poinsettias, the hot pink bracts of bougainvillea, and the bracts of dogwoods are often mistaken for flower petals.
May 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In organizing my Monarch book proposal to send to a friend, who has a friend who publishes children’s books, I am sorting through my illustrations. This painting was completed at the end of summer last and illustrates a male Monarch (above) and female (below) ascending towards a maple tree during their mating flight. He carries her and together they stay joined, abdomen to abdomen, for several hours–truly a beautiful thing to observe.
I lay down on the ground under a neighboring maple tree and sketched while looking up into the canopy. This is what I imagine the leaf net canopy looks like to the Monarchs as they ascend into the trees.
PLANT MILKWEED AND YOU, TOO, WILL HAVE MONARCHS MATING IN YOUR GARDEN!!
Milkweed is the food plant of the Monarch caterpillars. I often observe females drinking nectar from the milkweed blossoms one moment and the very next, depositing an egg on the underside of a freshly unfurled leaf, near the top of the plant. We observe the greatest numbers of caterpillars on the foliage of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).
April 26, 2011 § 2 Comments
Come join me this Sunday at 1:00 at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Worcester for the perfect May Day event–How to Create a Butterfly Garden. Pre-registration is required:
I will be presenting the necessary elements to help you create a beautiful and welcoming haven for butterflies. Once you begin to think about your garden as food source and shelter, it will influence all your horticultural decisions. Native and well-behaved non-native plants, along with examples of architectural features, will be discussed based on their value to attracting specific butterflies. This lecture and slide presentation will help you gain a deeper understanding of the interconnected world that we human beings share with plants and butterflies and how to translate that information to your own garden. Butterfly gardening plant list included with workshop.
From wiki: The Floralia, also known as the Florifertum, was an ancient Roman Festival dedicated to Flora the goddess of flowers and vegetation. It was held on the IV Calends of May, April 27 to May 3, and symbolized the renewal of the cycle of life, marked with dancing, drinking, and flowers. While flowers decked the temples, Roman citizens wore colorful clothing instead of the usual white, and offerings were made of milk and honey to Flora.
May Day is synonymous with International Worker’s Day and Labour Day. Read Howard Fast’s May Day – 1947, well-worth revisiting with the continued and increasing efforts to destroy organized labor.
April 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Beauty on the Wing ~ Life Story of the Monarch Butterfly
In preparing for my upcoming presentation to the Gloucester Garden Club, Wednesday, April 13th, I am discovering new images shot last summer. The photo shows a freshly emerged Monarch clinging to its chrysalis, with crumpled wet wings yet to fully expand. Butterflies Days can’t get here soon enough! Later in the afternoon we will be attending Ellen Lefavour’s art opening and book signing for Did you Know at Alchemy of Art Gallery. I hope to see you there.
April 5, 2011 § Leave a Comment
March 28, 2011 § 5 Comments
Dear Gardening Friends–What do think about this title for my tv show? Through the Garden Gate with Kim Smith
I am working with Lisa Smith over at Cape Ann TV and she is terrific. Lisa is teaching me Final Cut Pro. Extraordinary, don’t you think, that the same editing program used by major Hollywood film makers (Francis Ford Coppola, to name one giant in the industry) is available to any resident of Cape Ann to learn (for free!) at Cape Ann TV?
Additional candidates for the title:
Kim Smith’s American Gardener’s Journal
Welcome to the Wild Garden
Wild Gardening with Kim Smith
P.S. I am under strict orders not to mention by name who is the person singing Bizet’s La Chanson du Fou, uncovered in my itunes account. I am sure you can guess. Don’t you think the evocative layer of warmth and beauty added by her voice compliments perfectly the lush gardens and movement of the pollinators?
March 18, 2011 § Leave a Comment
My deepest thanks and appreciation to Pat Leuchtman for her wonderful review. Pat has been writing a weekly garden column for The Recorder in Greenfield since 1980. She has been blogging for the past several years and has posted and archived all her columns on her blog Commonweeder. Read more of Pat’s review and spend time perusing her blog, which is brimming with useful information, book reviews, insights, and missives– all beautifully organized.
Pat’s Review: Fresh Possibilities are just what I am looking for at this time of the year, so it is no surprise that I have been spending happy evenings with Kim Smith’s beautiful book that includes so many of her own delicate paintings of flowers, birds and butterflies.
Kim Smith gardens, and paints, in Gloucester. Over the years her garden has grown, as has her concern about conservation and her delight in the roads to literature and art that her garden has opened to her. Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher) combines all these aspects of her life in the garden in the most beautiful way.
With its delicate paintings of individual flowers, and butterflies, the book does not look like a how-to book, yet it includes plant lists to attract butterflies, of fragrant flowers and plants through the seasons, seasonal blooms and useful annuals. I can hardly decide which I enjoy more, the charming prose of chapters titled The Narrative of the Garden, Flowers of the Air and The Memorable Garden, the exquisite paintings, or the poetry that ranges from our own Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker to Li Bai (701-762 CE), a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. I enjoy knowing that Kim has found the same delight in the connections to history and the arts that I find in the garden.
One of the two chapters I particularly found useful as well as beautiful right now is Flowers of the Air which includes information about a variety of butterflies, and the plants that they need for their life cycle. We have to remember that butterflies are not only lovely, they are important pollinators.
It is no surprise that I also enjoy Roses for the Intimate Garden. Kim’s climate is a bit more gentle than mine and she can grow more tender roses that I can, but we are both devoted to the fragrance that roses bring to our gardens and to the uncorseted exuberance of old fashioned roses.
If you want information, but also want the kind of delicious prose you find in evocative essays, an aesthetic sensibility, and beautiful illustrations, this is the book for you. Kim is an inspired gardener and writer, but she isn’t stopping there. Watch for more news about Kim and her latest project soon.
March 15, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Dear Gardening Friends,
We are sending our most heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the Japanese people. Viewing the broadcasts reminds me that it was just over a year ago that the devastating earthquake struck Port au Prince. Can a person ever fully recover from such an event? The utter destruction of the tsunami is confounding, now coupled with threats of nuclear meltdown. My wish for the people of Japan and their nation is as speedy a recovery as is possible.
We are so very blessed living where we do. Perhaps I mentioned that I am developing a television series, which will air on our local cable television station, Cape Ann TV, as well as other cable stations. I believe it was early last summer that Donna Gacek, the director of Cape Ann TV, approached me about the possibility of creating a show based around my writings and butterfly photos. A tv show would be a magnificent medium to share about the joys of creating organic habitats designed for people and pollinators. We can visit gardens, fields, meadows, and wildlife sanctuaries–and connect how to translate habitat information found there to our own gardens, examine gardening trends, loves, and literature, conduct interviews, undertake how-to projects–the possibilities are limitless. I hope, too, for some room for spontaneity and fun–once I get a handle on the process. I knew what I was getting myself into and knew it would be enormously time consuming, which it is, however I am so pleased with our initial progress and thought I would bring you this trailer for the first episode as well as behind the scenes updates.
Instinctively it was clear that the first step in development would be to film and photograph as much as time would allow, especially as this past summer, gratefully so, was THE summer to photograph Lepidoptera–day after day of hot, dry, sunny weather–a butterfly, and a butterfly photographer’s, dream conditions The past few months have been spent organizing all photos and footage from this summer, as well as footage and photos from previous summers, into handy categories from which I can draw, while simultaneously writing the first script, and thinking about future scripts.
I chose the butterfly garden I designed at Willowdale to be my first subject for several reasons. I know the grounds and garden intimately; the Lepidoptera seen there are the same species seen all around the northshore, and throughout New England for that matter; the setting is undeniably gorgeous; over the past few years I have shot many photos there and some video footage; and because the garden is on occasion open to the public.
While writing the script I tried to imagine how the information would relate to, and be of interest to, a wide audience. Creating ‘wild gardens’ (by wild gardens I mean to say gardens that utilize native wild flowers that support wild life) is meant to be joyful and easy for everyone– for the millions as well as the millionaire! The next phase was to organize the video and still photos, loosely, around the script. Then, and this part was really new and challenging for me, came layering the narrated voice tracks and precisely synching it to the footage, and still retain existing ambient nature sounds audibly. Much tweaking was necessary. Have you ever wondered where your speaker is on your computer? It took me the longest time to locate mine (iMac)– a pinhead-sized hole in the center of the top, right above the camera lens–and they do not produce very good or usable quaility input sound. All the audio will have to be redone at the tv studio, however, it was time well spent as I was able to experiment and learn the basics on my own time.
The first production meeting with Donna went really well. The next phase will be to redo the audio tracks, under the guidance of the staff at the tv station, and continue to work on the next two episodes. In developing a series, it is suggested that you have at least three to begin with – getting all your ducks in order, so to speak. I am working furiously on all because spring and summer are my peak seasons for garden design work and for presenting lectures and programs.
So far, everything has fallen into place, from the gorgeous weather of last summer, to finding a beautiful recording for the into and outro, to working with Donna and the staff at CATV!
My mission for this wonderful project is to create as vibrantly beautiful, and as informative and interesting, a viewing experience as is possible. I am also very interested in working in collaboration with anyone who may have an interest.
Perhaps after reading the above you can help me decide the title of the show–so important to get it right! I love the title of my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! because there is no other like it. Perhaps I shall call it The Garden of Fresh Possibilities Show.
Some other candidates:
The American Gardener’s Journal
Through the Garden Gate
Garden for All Seasons
Welcome to the Wild Garden
Any comments, thoughts, or suggestions would greatly appreciated.
March 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
February 21, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The Pollinator Garden has been rescheduled for Monday morning, Apriil 18th. Updated information to follow.
Dear Gardening Friends,
Come join me Monday morning, February 28th, from 10:00 to 12:00 at the Espousal Center in Waltham, where I will be giving a talk and photo presentation about creating The Pollinator Garden for the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts. Although this is a state Garden Club Federation event, everyone is welcome. Cost is free for members and $5. for non-members. My extensive pollinator planting list is provided with lecture.
Scroll down to see a short video tour of the Limonaia, along with much good information about growing citrus in colder climes, excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
Keep warm and cozy and–take heart–the vernal equinox and the first day of spring are officially less than one month away!
February 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Tour the Limonaia at Tower Hill Botanic Garden
Register online for my workshop at Tower Hill Botanic Garden: Creating a Butterfly Garden, Sunday, May 1, 1:00 to 3:00. I hope to see you there!
~ Citrus ~
Growing Citrus Indoors excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
We would grow citrus, whether they bore fruit or not, for the lilting sweet scents of the blossoms alone. Whether entering a room in which a citrus is in bloom or approaching the plant on the terrace, one cannot help appreciating their exquisite fragrance.
During the Baroque period, orange and citrus fruits became equated with the golden apples from the mythical Garden of Hesperides. In 1664 Louis XIV of France commissioned the architect LeVall to build the first orangerie at Versailles. It was the Sun King’s love for gardens, and in particular his admiration for the “Seville” orange, which brought both citrus plants and the conservatory into prominence. The orangerie protected exotic and tender plants during the winter, and when the plants were moved out of doors during the warmer months, the orangerie was transformed into a setting for courtly events and celebrations.
The genus Citrus is indigenous to southeast Asia, occurring from northern India to China and south through Malaya, the Philippines, and the East Indies. The earliest records of its cultivation date back to about 500 b.c. The four original wild species from which all domesticated fruits are thought to have been hybridized are Citrus medica, Citrus aurantifolia, Citrus grandis, and Citrus reticulata.
The calamondin orange (Citrus mitis), with heavenly scented, pure white flowers, is among the easiest to grow. Although the fruit is too acidic to eat out of hand, it is fine for cooking, seasoning poultry prior to roasting, or combining with honey to make a piquant glaze. The key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), has an insinuating sweet and fresh fragrance and is used for preserves, garnishes, and juice. Oil of citral is extracted from Citrus aurantifolia for use in perfumes. Highly valued in Japan and China for use in Buddhist ceremonies, the Buddha’s Hand (Citrus medica) is a thorny shrub with fragrant fruits that resemble a human hand. The flowers are comparatively large (3–4 inches across), white shaded purple, and intoxicatingly fragrant.
One of the most beautiful and widely available citrus for pot culture is the Meyer lemon (Citrus limon x Citrus sinensis), also known as the Chinese lemon. It grows to a manageable size, less than two feet, and in a standard shape with a nicely rounded-head form. Not a true lemon, but a hybrid cross of C. sinensis, an orange, and C. limon, its fruit is sweeter than that of a pure lemon cultivar. But it is for the flowers that I grow the Meyer lemon. The blossoms are thick and velvety, creamy white tinted rose. Blooming in notes of honeysuckle and jonquil-like fragrances, the tree flowers prodigally.
Citrus thrive in a well-draining soil similar to what is an ideal medium for cactus. They must be grown in clay pots to insure good air circulation. The surest way to kill a citrus is by overwatering. Wait until the soil is thoroughly dried between watering. Place your finger a full three inches into the soil and water only when it feels dry at your finger tips, and then water deeply until a bit of water comes out the bottom of the drainage hole. With regular feedings of fish fertilizer throughout the summer and an all-purpose fertilizer during the winter months (when we find the odor of fish fertilizer to be repugnant indoors), citrus plants grow strong and healthy and are less likely to succumb to insect infestations.
Citrus plants are fairly indestructible, although they will quickly let you know when they’re unhappy. A few leaves will yellow and fall off, and if the problem is not resolved immediately, the entire plant will defoliate. This is typically due to overwatering and/or a soil mixture that does not allow for excellent drainage. Do not be discouraged, even if the entire plant becomes leafless. Water less frequently and try repotting the plant in a more suitable growing medium. Usually, they can be revived.
When grown indoors, citrus are occasionally bothered by spider mites and scale. Spider mites are easy to detect because they make a visible white web. Scale is a more challenging problem to diagnose as the light brown, pinhead sized and hard-bodied pest is difficult to see. They remain well hidden, where they attach themselves to the stems and along the ribs on the underside of the leaves. Scales produce a sticky substance that coats the leaves. For both pests, spray with a solution of diluted rubbing alcohol (three parts water to one part rubbing alcohol) to keep them in check.
Considered a harbinger of prosperity and good fortune, citrus have been grown in Chinese gardens and courtyards for thousands of years. We can take a lesson from how seasonal changes are reflected in a Chinese garden. Different areas of the garden are used in rotation for social events, depending on the prominence of a particular tree or shrub in flower, and flowering plants growing in pots are brought into the current living areas. After blooming, they are moved to a less visible location, and the focus shifts to flowers that are coming into florescence.
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher)
February 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
Not to be missed is the Camellia Show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, today and tomorrow, February 12th and 13th. I am heading out to Bolyston today to see the exhibit, which will be held in their brand new Limonaia, and in the upcoming weeks will bring you photos and updates about the stunning and distinctive gardens at Tower Hill. On Sunday May 1st I am giving a workshop at Tower Hill on Creating a Butterfly Garden, with more information on registering for the class in a future post.
October 4, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Update: Monarch Butterfly Migration Late Summer 2010
Dear Gardening Friends,
So many have telephoned or emailed inquiring about the status of the annual Monarch butterfly migration through our region. This past summer I have observed umpteen Monarch butterflies and caterpillars in cultivated gardens, wildflower meadows, and along the shoreline; however, I did not see the great numbers in great heaps roosting in any one particular place that I have in some years past. Rather I would find a small passel here and a small passel there—perhaps several dozen at a time—roosting in the wild black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) at Eastern Point, awakening in the early morning and nectaring at the Seaside Goldenrod in the meadow below.
Although the Monarchs are guided genetically, using their internal sun-compass navigation and circadian clock, each year the annual southward migration takes a different form that depends on many variables, primarily the weather conditions in their overwintering site in Michoacán, Mexico as well as weather patterns in their US and Canadian breeding grounds. Because Cape Ann is located at approximately 43 degrees latitude north, our peak migration pattern is estimated at around September 11, but I modify this pattern because of the strong winds and storms we often experience in the late summer living along the coastline.
I have read reports of fantastic migrations that are taking place this year, from Long Island, south to Cape May, and west to Virginia—some saying it is the best they have seen in decades! I continue to remain on the look out because the air temperatures were atypically warmer this summer, creating a longer breeding season than usual, which would indicate that there may be newly emerging Monarchs on the scene. While photographing during this year’s migration, I encountered a pair of Monarchs mating, a very unusual occurrence at this time of year. The “Methuselah” Monarchs that we see in late summer and early autumn are generally speaking sexually immature and do not mate until next year, after they journey south and after they overwinter and awaken in Mexico.
Monarchs observed in late summer and early autumn are intent on nectaring and not easily distracted. This later generation of Methuselah Monarchs is feeding aggressively to increase and store their lipid reserves for the long journey south. We provide plenty of nectar-rich blossoms to help the Monarchs in their exhaustive migration, taking cues from marsh and meadow. Blooming freely at this time of year are copious members of the Composite family—goldenrods, asters, pearly everlasting, zinnias, ironweed, Mexican sunflowers, and Korean daisies. If one diligently deadheads the butterfly bushes and Verbena bonariences, they too will be available for the migrating Monarchs.
My favorite goldenrod is Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), which blooms from August to November. Seaside Goldenrod is the gorgeous brilliant golden wildflower we see growing and glowing along the edge of the sea. It is easily differentiated from other New England goldenrods in that the flowerheads are comparatively larger and the leaves are thicker and fleshier, with a waxy feel, an adaptation to the drying effect of salty sea spray. Seaside Goldenrod grows prolifically in rich, moisture retentive soil, less so in drier conditions.
Although I strongly discourage digging plants from local marsh and meadow, perfectly acceptable is the practice of collecting ripened seed stalks and shaking them about. That is just how we obtained our Smooth Asters (Aster laevis). With cheery one-inch button-shaped flowers borne along the lengths of the stalks, the pale-hued lavender-blue ray flowers and yellow disk florets of Smooth Asters are attractive to bees and butterflies. We have observed Common Sulphers, Pink-fringed Sulphurs, Monarchs, American Ladies, Red Admirals, and Cabbage Whites nectaring simultaneously on a clump growing in the sheltered border along our fragrant path. Pinch back the developing growth tips during the early part of the growing season (until roughly July fourth) to encourage a bushier and more compact plant. Asters provides nourishing sustenance for transitory butterflies when many nectar-rich plants have finished blooming for the season. Not particularly fussy in regard to soil conditions, Smooth Aster grows and flowers profusely in full sun to light shade. Smooth Aster and Purple-stemmed Aster (Aster puniceus) are the asters we see blooming along the backshore at this time of year. With golden yellow florets at the center of their ray flowers, asters and goldenrods create a convenient landing pad for nectaring Lepidoptera. Flowering alongside ripening red berries and surrounded by changing autumnal leaf color, goldenrods and asters transform the seasonal tapestry.
September 20, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The most recent issue of Butterfly Gardener magazine features my photo on the back cover of an American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterfly nectaring at Korean daisies. The North American Butterfly Association, or NABA as it is more commonly known, is a worthy organization to support. As a member of NABA four times a year you will receive two magazine subscriptions. I eagerly anticipate the arrival of both magazines. American Butterflies is edited by the world renowned lepidopterist Jeffrey Glassberg and is brimming with stories and species accounts of butterflies found throughout America. Butterfly Gardener, is chock-full of useful information about gardening for butterflies. I enjoy editor Karen Hillson’s missives and asides and find especially useful Lenora Larson’s quarterly column on caterpillar food plants.
Mr.Glassberg writes in a recent issue of American Butterflies about why he believes butterflies are an ideal portal to the natural world “…once one becomes interested in butterflies, one almost certainly becomes interested in plants, in other components of nature–in the whole web of life. To find adult butterflies one must soon learn the important nectar plants in one’s area and especially the caterpillar foodplants. And the captivating transfomation of caterpillars into adult butterflies brings a very high percentage of butterfliers to a deeper appreciation of life histories and the larger ecological picture.” To learn more about NABA and how to become a member visit their website at www.naba.org (membership fees are very reasonable).
September 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Singularly beautiful—large and rounded with tawny orange wings checkered with black dots and dashes—when observed from above. When wings are folded, this fritillary shows a striking underwing pattern of spangled spots, bordered by a wide yellow band and outlined in iridescent crescents. Perhaps the Great Spangled Fritillary has graced your garden. I had never encountered this creature of extraordinary beauty until the summer after we planted violets dug from a wildly unkempt cemetery. They were native common violets (Viola sororia). I don’t recommend the common violet for a small garden, unless you desire a garden composed entirely of common violets. Please don’t misunderstand; I do not regret planting V. sororia because otherwise I may never have encountered the Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele). No, I am glad to have welcomed this beauty to our garden. There are, however, far better behaved violets that are of equal importance to the fritillary caterpillars and they would be a far better choice for the garden. Both native wildflowers Labrador violet (Viola labradorica) and Canada violet (Viola canadensis) naturalize readily, making rulier groundcovers than common violets, and are lovely when in bloom and when not in flower.
O wind, where have you been,
That you blow so sweet?
Among the violets
Which blossom at your feet.
The honeysuckle waits
For Summer and for heat
But violets in the chilly Spring
Make the turf so sweet.
—Christina Rossetti (1830—1894)
The Great Spangled Fritillary is found throughout New England and its range extends from southern British Columbia and central Alberta, east across southern Canada and the central US to the Atlantic seaboard. It is one of three Greater Fritillaries found in our region, along with the Aphrodite and Atlantis Fritillaries. The wingspan of the Great Spangled Fritillary measures approximately three inches, compared to that of several of the smaller fritillaries found in our area, the Silver-bordered Fritillary and Meadow Fritillary, which measure about half as much. Its habitat is woodland openings, meadows, prairies, and other open habitats where violets and nectar plants such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), spotted Joe-pye weed, and ox-eye daisy are found.
Kingdom: Anilmalia (Animal)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Class: Insecta (Insects)
Order: Lepidoptera (Butterflies, skippers, and moths)
Superfamily: Papilionoidea (Butterflies, excluding skippers)
Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies)
Ancient cultures valued violets for their medicinal and aromatic properties. In art and literature they symbolize a widely varying range of human experiences from new life in spring to death and dying, young love, and frailty. The genus Viola comprises some 400 to 500 species, distributed around the world. Viola, often called pansies, violets, and heartsease, have been traditionally used to create perfumes, dyes, insecticides, soaps, expectorants, and analgesics for labor pain. The flowers and leaves of the violet plant make a delicious and nutritious addition to a garden salad; the leaves are rich in a variety of powerful chemicals including flavenoids, saponins, and glycosides.
The Greater Fritillaries have a unique and highly evolved association with violet plants. In late summer or early fall, the female oviposits eggs close to the ground on twigs or foliage near to, not necessarily on, a clump of violet plants. Newly emerged caterpillars crawl to the nearby hostplant. Rather than feed on the foliage, they nestle into the leaf litter at the base of the plant and enter diapause. For northern butterflies this behavior is thought to be an adaptation to cold weather since undigested food particles in the gut of a diapausing caterpillar would form ice crystals, thereby killing the larvae (Cech and Tudor). Diapause in insects is a physiological state of dormancy in response to predictable periods of adverse environmental conditions—winter in the case of the Greater Fritillaries.
In early spring, the awakening caterpillars, which are black with black protruding spines dotted red at the base, feed on freshly emerging violet shoots. The caterpillars pupate, and after metamorphosis, in late spring or early summer, the male Greater Fritillary butterflies begin to emerge, well before the females. Active courtship ensues once the females emerge. The females typically mate once, after which the males die off. The females live on during the summer in a temporary state of reproductive diapause, until ovipositing eggs in the late summer or early fall. Typically the Great Spangled Fritillaries that we encounter at this time of year are the females.
While photographing Great Spangled Fritillaries at high noon I noticed that the iridescence was quite apparent, although only showing for a fraction of a second. The photo below illustrates clearly the structural iridescent scales (or “spangles”). What the photo does not show is that the large whitish-looking spots also have iridescent hues of pearly pinkish-bluish-greenish.
Iridescence in Butterfly Wings
Butterflies, moths, and skippers are members of the insect order Lepidoptera; the name is derived from Greek lepidos for “scales” and ptera for “wings.” Their scaled wings distinguish them as a group from all other insects. Unrivalled in the living world, their wings are adorned with myriad patterns and solid colors in the full spectrum of the rainbow, as well as pure iridescent hues of blue, green, and violet.
The foundation of the Lepidoptera wing consists of a colorless, translucent membrane supported by a framework of tubular veins, radiating from the base of the wing to the outer margin. They are covered with thousands of overlapping scales, arranged very much like overlapping shingles on a roof. Like miniature canoe paddles, the scales are attached to the wings by their “handles.” So small that they feel like and are a similar size to the silky granules of face powder, their purpose is multi-fold. Scales protect and act as an aid to the aerodynamics of the entire wing structure, help regulate Lepidoptera temperature, and are the cells from which color and patterns originate. This color and patterning are used for sexual signaling and as a means of eluding birds and other would-be predators.
There are two fundamental mechanisms by which color is produced on the wings of Lepidoptera. Ordinary color is due to organic pigments present that absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others. Extraordinary iridescence on butterfly wings is caused by the interference of light waves due to multiple reflections within the physical structure of the individual scales. Iridescent scales are composed of many microscopic thin layers; each scale has its own color, from pigment present and from the diffraction of light on the surface (the surface of iridescent scales are intricately corrugated and grooved). The iridescent effect is created much like a prism and is called structural coloration. When viewed under a microscope, the iridescent scales of some species of butterflies have a similar appearance to that of the tiered layers of a pine tree. Sometimes structural color and pigmented color occur simultaneously and a secondary color is created in the usual way color is added. For example, when blue iridescent color is produced from the structure of a scale that also contains yellow pigment, the resulting color is iridescent green.
When Lepidoptera with iridescent scales fly, the surface of their wings continually change from brilliant hues to the underlying relatively duller scales of the wings, as the angle of light striking the wing changes. The ability of the Lepidoptera to rapidly change colors and patterns is one of their defense mechanisms against predators. Along with their undulating pattern of flight and the figure-eight movement of their wings, the effect is of ethereal flashes of light disappearing and reappearing.
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Chapter 15 ~ Flowers of the Air, pages 130-131.
September 12, 2010 § Leave a Comment
This female Monarch emerged from her chrysalis late yesterday afternoon. She stayed hidden under foliage overnight. Mid-morning she alighted onto my hand and I placed her on a fresh blossom of the butterfly bush ‘Nanho Blue.’ She is easily recognized as female because her wing venation is thicker and smokier than that of a males wings, and because she does not have the two small black pockets of pheromones on each hind wing.
July 28, 2010 § 2 Comments
One of the most elegant butterflies to grace our garden, the Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), is one of two races that comprise the Red-spotted Admirals, the other being the White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis). Red-spotted Admirals should not be confused with Red Admirals, which are a member of the Vanessa genus. I hope you are not totally confused at this point, but if you look at the binominal nomenclature, or scientific name (see below), it will help you see that, although distinctively different in appearance, both the White Admiral and the Red-spotted Purple are members of the same genus and species. For many years zoologists thought they were two distinct species. It is a wonder of biology that a single species has such different appearances for its survival strategies. With this delightful stretch of warm weather, almost daily, I catch a glimpse, or two, of this most richly hued and unusual of butterflies.
The average wingspan of the Red-spotted Admiral is approximately three inches. The White Admiral has a distinctive wide white band on both the forward and hind wings, and on both the dorsal (upperwing) and ventral (underwing) surface. In the Red-spotted Purple, the white band is replaced with a band of iridescent lapis lazuli blue scales. It has evolved to mimic the highly distasteful Pipevine Swallowtail. Red-spotted Purples are found in greater numbers than White Admirals in the eastern part of Massachusetts. The opposite holds true for the western part of the state.
Purportedly, Red-spotted Purples are seen feeding primarily on rotting fruit, sap, and dung— infrequently at flowers—however, I see them nectaring often, and for long periods of time, at flowers. They are particularly fond of butterfly bushes, meadowsweet, Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Joe Pye-weed.
Hostplants for the Red-spotted Admirals are extremely varied. Both races use cherries, including Chokecherry (Prunus virginiaina), Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Pin Cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica), plum (Prunus), apple (Malus), poplars, cottonwood, aspens, willows (Salix), birches, (Betula), hawthorn (Cratageous), basswood (Tilia), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and serviceberry (Amelanchier). The female oviposits a single egg on the upper surface at the tip of a fresh hostplant leaf. Our postage-tamp of a garden is much too small for the aforementioned larger trees, and too shady to grow healthy Prunus and Malus, so I am experimenting with a multi-stemmed Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis), which I plan to keep pruned to a manageable shrub-size.
Amelanchier’s common names of Shadbush, or Shadblow, are derived from the fact that they bloom at the same time of year as the annual spawning migration of the shad fish. One of the most beautiful sights of early spring is the lacey white blooms of the Shadblow dotting woodland and roadside. Amelenchier canandensis is also called Canada Serviceberry, because of its delectably sweet blueberry-sized berries. You would be lucky to actually sample a berry. In our garden, the bluejays, catbirds, and mockingbirds are first in line. Naturally occurring in moist woodlands, shadblow is highly adaptable to a variety of soils. It can tolerate some dry conditions, but only when once established. Keep very well-hydrated until very well-established.
I am off to Tanglewood, which is located in western Massachusetts, to visit our daughter. With camera in tow, I am hoping to see a White Admiral!
P.S. Although while in Tanglewood we did not spot a White Admiral , we did observe a Viceroy in a wildflower meadow. The Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) is one of four North American species of admirals in the genus Limenitis.
Kingdom: Anilmalia (Animal)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Class: Insecta (Insects)
Order: Lepidoptera (Butterflies, skippers, and moths)
Superfamily: Papilionoidea (Butterflies, excluding skippers)
Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies)
Subfamily: Limenitidinae (Admirals and Kin)
Species: White Admiral: arthemis arthemis
Species: Red-spotted Purple: arthemis astyanax
End Note: I am organizing a new show for Cape Ann TV and will be appearing on the Cape Ann Report with Heidi Dallin on Wednesday, August 4th at 6:00 pm to talk about it. More information will be forthcoming. Kim Smith Designs is my interior and garden design firm. I am happy to respond to questions and comments.
July 23, 2010 § 1 Comment
Dear Gardening Friends
Butterfly Days are Here! This gorgeous stretch of warm weather has allowed myriad species of butterflies to thrive. Yesterday in our garden I filmed a Red-spotted Purple, Black Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, two male Monarchs, a Question Mark, Pearly Crescentspot, Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, many clearwing moths, and, at dusk, a female hummingbird. This is highly unusual to have so many and I will be posting photos to help you identify what you may be seeing in your gardens.
Our daughter Olivia was home from Tanglewood for the day last Sunday. We celebrated her 22nd birthday with fabulous lobsters fresh from Captain Joe’s. She was here with her friend and accompanist, Michael Sherman. While they were rehearsing for the beautiful concert they gave later that evening, I was videotaping a male Monarch in the garden. You can hear Michael in the background playing Maurice Ravel’s Jeux d’eau. I peaked in and captured Liv and Michael rehearsing Mozart’s Exultate jubilate.
Lastly, I am creating a new show for Cape Ann TV, about butterflies, gardening, gardening for the pollinators—I haven’t decided what to call it. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Gardening for People and Pollinators, something like that. Donna Gacek, the director at Cape Ann TV suggested the series and I think it is a great idea. The beauty that surrounds here on Cape Ann has provided me with a million ideas. I will be writing, editing, filming, photographing, interviewing. What I need help with is finding one or two people, who on a regular basis, can help video tape the parts that I am in—the introduction to each segment as well as interviews on location. Please pass the word around if you know of someone who has this skill, or who would be interested in learning. More information will be forthcoming and we will be talking about it with Heidi Dallin on the Cape Ann Report, which airs August 4th at 6:00pm.
July 10, 2010 § 1 Comment
Dear Gardening Friends,
Although it may seem as though I have been unplugged as of late, I am actually becoming more plugged-in than ever (is this a good thing?) as I am in the process of teaching myself how to edit and combine my video clips and photos. To be sure, editing videos is easy for my techno savvy friends, but I find it time consuming beyond measure. The net result is that I will be able to passalong more good information. For example, the video below shows the ventral (underside) and dorsal (topside) of the Little Wood-satyr, as well as its light brown and tan forms. Hopefully, this will help us to better identify, and provide sustenance for, the beautiful pollinators that are attracted to our habitat gardens.
The fearless Little Wood-Satyr seen in the video stayed for several days. While photographing, he alighted on my camera and then onto my hand. As you can see, there wasn’t much remaining of his left wing.
Little Wood-satrys are found throughout the eastern United States (except northern New England) and southeastern Canada, Nova Scotia to Florida, west to Texas and eastern Wyoming, and north to Saskatchewan. The first of its kind to arrive in our garden, we more typically observe the Little Wood-satyr along the wooded edge of clearings and quarries. The body color varies from light brown to tan. The following photos show the light brown version and were taken at a quarry in Rockport where I noticed both tan and light brown forms. Little Wood-satrys are on the wing in the northeast from May through July. The females land on a blade of grass and walk down to the base where she deposits a single egg. The caterpillars feed at night on various grasses including Orchard Grass (Dactylis glomerata), Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis), Centipede Grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides), and St. Augustine Grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) (Cech and Tudor).
Kingdom: Anilmalia (Animal)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Class: Insecta (Insects)
Order: Lepidoptera (Butteflies, skippers, and moths)
Superfamily: Papilionoidea (Butterflies, excluding skippers)
Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies)
Subfamily: Satryinae (Nymphs, Satyrs, and Arctic butterflies)
Happy Butterfly Days!
June 20, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Dear Gardening Friends,
I’ve updated the article on common milkweed (see below). The second video of the caterpillar pupating goes a bit dark in the beginning because I was trying to capture the caterpillar’s exoskeleton splitting apart, just below the head.
My husband, Tom Hauck, was quoted on Sound Off in this week’s issue of Time Magazine. His quote can also be found here (scroll down).
Looking at our thriving patch of common milkweed, I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Monarch butterflies to our garden in Gloucester. It is difficult to reconcile the enjoyment we derive from life’s simple pleasures when looking into the faces of the victims struck by the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf Coast region—a tragedy for the nation. I hope and pray that the net result of this catastrophe will be a wake up call, and that we will all come together to fully realize the potential of non-polluting alternatives to our unsustainable use of fossil fuels.
Best wishes, Kim
The pair of Monarch caterpillars, hanging in the characteristic J-shape, are attached to the underside ribs of common milkweed (Asclepais syriaca). They were filmed at approximately 7:30 am on August 22, 2009, one hour prior to pupation. The “twins” pupated within six minutes of each other. “Twin #2″ is pupating in the video.
June 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
Common Milkweed ~ Asclepias syriaca
Recently a friend inquired that if I had to choose one native New England plant to grow to attract butterflies to the garden, which would it be, and why. It was a challenging question because butterflies are typically drawn to the garden planted with a rich and varied, yet very specific, combination of species. A successful Lepidoptera habitat is comprised of many elements all working in tandem. Sunny and protected areas in which to warm their wings, trees and shrubs that provide shelter, and a host of nectar plants for the adults, as well as specific caterpillar food plants, create the successful Lepidoptera garden.
Perhaps if I had to choose a favorite butterfly and therefore a favorite plant to grow to drawthis butterfly to my garden it would have to be common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is both a larval host plant and nectar plant for the elegant Monarch butterfly. People often speak unkindly about common milkweed, rather I think it deserves applause for it is plant without rue and thrives wherever found—in the cracks of city sidewalks and along country roadsides, highly-trafficked soccer fields, and in the most neglected of neighborhoods. Whether in the garden, along the shoreline, or local meadow, it is on the foliage of common milkweed that we find the vast majority of Monarch eggs and caterpillars. Noteworthy also is that we observe many different species of butterflies and skippers nectaring at common milkweed—sulphurs, swallowtails, and fritillaries, to name but a few. In our garden we grow common milkweed alongside marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); marsh milkweed blooms slightly earlier than common milkweed as it is sited in a sunnier locale. Both species attract a wide variety of winged pollinators. Male and female Monarchs nectar from the blossoms, while the males simultaneously patrol for females. The females utilize the foliage of both species to oviposit their eggs. Typically we observe females freely flitting alternatively between our common and marsh milkweed, depositing their eggs on the choicest leaves and buds, while pausing frequently to nectar.
The milky sap that flows through milkweed veins lends the genus its common name. Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars have evolved to withstand the toxic milk, but not the predatory bird that attempts to eat one. The adult Monarch’s unique wing pattern and caterpillar’s striped suit warn of its dreadful taste and lethal toxins. A bird that is tempted becomes sick and may even die, and if it survives, remembers never again to try to eat a Monarch. “The larvae sequester cardiac glycosides from the milkweed leaves that they consume. Concentrations of these heart toxins in their bodies may be several times higher than those occurring in milkweed leaves. The glycosides consumed by the caterpillars are carried forward both into the chrysalis and adult stages, affording them protection as well.” (Caterpillars of North America David L. Wagner).
Common milkweed is highly adaptable and grows in nearly any soil. The size of the developing colonies and individual plants reflect the conditions in which it is grown. Planted in a rich, moist soil, protected from the wind and where it receives some light shade, it will grow six to seven feet. I use it extensively in my butterfly garden designs, planting in rich, average, and dry conditions, and find it especially appealing and useful for shoreline gardens. In sandy soil, sand dunes, and meadows, where it is exposed to wind and/or salt spray, common milkweed is equally as vigorous, but of a much shorter stature, typically obtaining the height of two to three feet.
A. syriaca thrives in full sun to light shade. In a moist, protected area, plant in the back of the border. In a more exposed site, plant in the mid-ground. Because of its ability to spread readily and rapidly, use in an informal, natural setting as opposed to planting in formal beds.
Common milkweed is highly fragrant and is the most richly scented of the species of milkweeds found in Massachusetts (A. incarnata, A. syriaca, A. quadrifolia, A. tuberosa, A. amplexicaulis, A. exaltata, A. pupurascens, and A. verticillata), with a complex wild flower honey fragrance. I have heard it described as similar to the scent of lilacs, but find lilacs have a much sweeter fragrance than common milkweed. Fragrance is highly mutable and subjective.
One- to two-year-old plants are easier to transplant than established plants. Common milkweed takes approximately three years to flower from seed. The method in which I have had the greatest success in propagating Asclepias syriaca, best attempted in early summer, is to dig up a rhizome, found at the base of a plant with newly emerging shoots. The rhizome would ideally be obtained from a friend’s garden. If collected in the wild, be sure to dig from an area where there are many shoots present. You need a fairly large chunk, at least a half-foot, with both roots and new shoots present. Replant the rhizome at the same depth. Water throughout the summer. Towards the end of the growing season you will be rewarded with newly emerging shoots. Common milkweed self-seeds readily, but spreads primarily (and rambunctiously) by its rhizomatic root structure.
Milkweed in general, and in particular, common milkweed, attracts a host of pollinators—bees, wasps, butterflies, and purportedly hummingbirds. I have yet to see the Ruby-throated hummingbird nectar from common milkweed, but it may also be the case that they are attracted to the plant for the multitude of tiny insect populations frequenting the flowers (over ninety percent of a Ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet is comprised of insects). We typically findMonarch eggs and caterpillars on milkweed plants during the months of July and August.
Buddleia davidii ’Nanho Blue,’ with blue-violet racemes, melds beautifully with the muted lavender rose florets of the softly drooping flower heads of common milkweed. The brilliant white of native Phlox davidii and vivid purple-pink of Liatris ligulistylus attractively offsets both. All are famously attractive to Monarchs (and myriad other species of Lepidoptera) and will provide a long season of nectar-rich blossoms and Monarch caterpillar food.
A note about the video: Monarch butterflies deposit eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in eastern Massachusetts. The chrysalis in this video was attached to a marsh milkweed stem. For a wealth of information on butterfly gardening, read Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
June 13, 2010 § 1 Comment
This beautiful Summer Azure butterfly (Celastrina ladon ‘neglecta’), seen in our Gloucester garden, is ovipositing eggs amongst the buds of native meadowsweet (Spirea latifolia).
She tightly curls her abdomen in a c-shape and deposits her eggs amongst the unopened flower buds, while pausing every now and then to drink nectar from the opened florets. Just as many species of milkweed plants (Asclepias) are utilized by Monarch butterflies, to both take nectar from the florets and as a larval host plant for their caterpillars, the blossoms of meadowsweet provide nectar and the foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of the Summer Azure butterfly.
Plant native meadowsweet near to where you will enjoy their delicately shaded rose-pink blossoms and the insects attracted. We grow ours along a sunny path and also grow a patch in the dappled shade cast by our pear trees. The plants sited in sun bear far more blossoms. The shrub grows fairly quickly, three to four feet high and equally as wide, and is easily divided. To create a tidy shape, prune lightly, in very early spring. Playing host to the azures, long season of blossoms, and lovely bright green and finely-cut foliage, meadowsweet is a fabulous native shrub for the ‘wild’ garden.
March 25, 2010 § 1 Comment
While planting for design clients and organizing plant lists for the class I am teaching at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University I thought you would like to know about some of the great shrubs we have been working with. A well-sited flowering and fruiting shrub will often provide at least several, if not four, seasons of beauty; are long-lived (as compared to woody perennials); and provide sustenance and shelter for songbirds, butterflies, and bees. The following are several native favorites well worth considering when planting for people and for pollinators.
The accompanying photograph is of pinkshell azalea (Rhododendron vaseyi) and the much-maligned Eastern Carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica), taken in mid-May at the Arnold Arboretum where a stunning massed bank of R. vaseyi is planted alongside the Meadow Road. Carpenter bees are an important pollinator for many open-faced spring flowers such as the blossoms of fruiting trees—crabapple, apple, pear, peach, plum, and wild cherry—as well as holly and brambles. The damage done to wood is usually minimal and cosmetic. X. virginica has an especially bad reputation with blueberry growers because they have strong mouthparts (capable of boring into wood), which will easily tear flowers with a deep corolla—blueberries and azaleas, for example.
Carpenter bees are regularly mistaken for bumblebees. Their shiny black abdomen most easily distinguishes them, although in the photograph, this carpenter bee was covered in shimmering golden pollen, which could lend a similar appearance to that of a bumblebee. While photographing at the Arnold I observed dozens of carpenter bees and at least half a dozen other species of native pollinators nectaring at the blossoms of the pinkshell azaleas.
Pinkshell is a deciduous azalea discovered in 1878 by George Vasey, the botanist in charge of the United States National Herbarium. Named after Vasey by Harvard botanist Asa Gray, pinkshell is found growing naturally in only six counties in the mountains of western North Carolina. R. vaseyi was introduced into cultivation by the Arnold Arboretum in 1880 and is now widely grown. Although able to attain fifteen feet in height, the pinkshell azaleas at the Arboretum are pruned to approximately chest height. The blossoms of pinkshell are typically seashell pink, but can vary from white to reddish-purple. The upper lobes are usually spotted red, but pink, green, and brown spotted blossoms are also common variants. When grown in a sunny location, the leaves turn a striking reddish hue in fall. R. vaseyi is very easy to grow and is highly adaptable to a wide variety of conditions from mountain ravines, swamps, bogs, stream banks, and high elevation coniferous and oak forests. At the turn of the previous century, it was once found in the wild in Massachusetts, apparently having naturalized at an abandoned nursery near Halifax, and was growing in a swamp as well as in sandy soil. Native species azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) are a nectar source for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and Ruby-throated Hummingbird and larval host plants for the Azalea Sphinx Moth (Darapsa choerilus).
Ilex glabra, or inkberry, is a fine-textured evergreen shrub, often confused with the less cold-hardy Japanese holly (Ilex crenata). Inkberry is found growing naturally along the East and Gulf coasts, from Nova Scotia to Florida and west to Texas. The species form matures at approximately eight feet high and equally as wide, with an upright oval growth habit. The commonly available cultivars, with names such as ‘Compacta’ and ‘Densa,’ are generally more compact, less leggy, and less suckering than the species form. The compact cultivars and species are ideal for creating year-round screening to disguise a neighboring eyesore. With periodic shearing, the plants can be maintained to the desired density.
The Atlantic (or Holly) Azure butterfly caterpillar (Celestrina ‘idella’) feeds on the male flowers of Ilex, including inkberry and American Holly (I. opaca). The diminutive cream-colored flowers appear in June on male and female plants. When a male pollinator plant is growing nearby, by September green berries ripen to ink-black berries on the female plants, providing sustenance for many songbirds including the Mourning Dove, Northern Bobwhite, and Hermit Thrush. There is much misinformation regarding which cultivars bear fruit; adding to this confusion is the fact that plants are often mis-labeled. When selecting plants for a client, I make a point of looking for remaining fruit on the individual specimens to ensure that we are indeed purchasing a fruit-bearing plant. Inkberry grows in part shade to full sun and prefers moist acidic soil, but is highly adaptable to soil conditions. To avoid winterburn, in general, broadleaf evergreen shrubs should not be sited in a south-or west-facing exposure, although inkberry performs better than most in such adverse conditions.
As usual, I am running out of space and time. A quick note about the early spring blooming pollinator magnets, Fothergilla, both F. major and F. gardenii. The fothergillas are native to the Allegany Mountain region, primarily around Georgia, but also occur in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida. Fothergilla major ‘Mount Airy’ is a deciduous rounded shrub, growing from 6 to 8 feet with scented, white bottle-brush flowers. Although the species name gardenii may lead you to believe it to be more fragrant than
F. major, it is not, rather F. gardenii is slightly less fragrant. The flowers are also a bit smaller and less showy. Fothergilla gardenii fits the bill when a similar, but smaller than, shrub to ‘Mt. Airy’ is required. As we were planting F. gardenii at Willowdale Estate several weeks ago, immediately a Spring Azure butterfly joined the scene and began nectaring at the blossoms. The summer foliage of ‘Mt. Airy’ is a lovely soft shade of blue-green, turning brilliant red and yellow during autumn—making it, too, a lovely multi-season plant.
End Notes: You may find the following link helpful in identifying beneficial pollinators: Visual Aid to Pollinator and Beneficial Insect Identification
March 23, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Pam Thompson of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University has invited me back to teach my class Your Garden as Habitat, on Tuesday evenings, beginning May 11th. More information is provided on their website at Your Garden as Habitat. I hope you can take my class–I love teaching it and have crammed as much information as is possible in this four week program, and still, there is always more ground to cover…the time goes by so quickly!