Posts Tagged Chinese Abelia

STOP — and Savor Summer’s Waning

Spicebush Swallowtail stops for a drink.

Spicebush Swallowtail stops for a drink.

I’m seeing a variety of reds in my landscape these days, most of it not attributable to leaf color — that will come later. Red flowers and fruits — and related colors in that family — are visible in nearly every corner of my yard. I think of them as stop signals; they alert me to slow down and  linger with the lovelies in my landscape before all that beauty fades.

Ripening seeds are also sporting red colors, signaling wildlife that fruits are ready for consumption.

Cardinal flower

Cardinal flower

Vermillion spires of Cardinal Flowers set fire to shady spots on my floodplain and random, self-sowed corners of perennial beds.

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed

Magenta heads of a cluster of late-blooming Joe Pye Weed glow in a spotlight beam of sun that managed to pierce the dense canopy.

Green frog

Green frog

Green frogs float on my green pond, their bulging eyes watching summer’s waning as they seek unwary winged meals.

Spicebush Swallowtail on a Beauty Basket Zinnia

Spicebush Swallowtail on a Beauty Berry Zinnia

In this year of few butterflies, Spicebush Swallowtails are the most common large butterfly in my landscape, possibly due to the abundance of native spicebushes tucked under the towering canopy trees.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Chinese Abelia bloom

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Chinese Abelia bloom

An occasional Eastern Tiger Swallowtail floats through the humid late-summer heat, unable to resist the potent perfume of the Chinese Abelia bushes dotting the sunnier parts of my landscape.

Umbrella Magnolia seed cones

Umbrella Magnolia seed cones

The native Umbrella Magnolia that thrives beside the creek produced quite a few seed cones this year. Even tucked into deep shade, the ripe cones stop my forward progress, demanding admiration.

Scarlet Wild Basil

Scarlet Wild Basil

 

Native to the Sandhills region of NC, my Scarlet Wild Basil continues to produce abundant orange-red blossoms, drawing daily visits from hummingbirds, and admiring questions from visitors.

Spicebush Swallowtail on Milkweed flower

Spicebush Swallowtail on Milkweed flower

Like hummingbirds, Spicebush Swallowtails often hover as they feed, blurring my photographs as they rush to drink all they can before summer’s flowers disappear.

Maple-leaf viburnum berries

Mapleleaf Viburnum berries

As soon as they are fully ripe, the reddened berries on native Mapleleaf Viburnum are devoured by wildlife.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Slowly and methodically, the Praying Mantises in my landscape grow fat on the insect bounty attracted to summer’s blooms. This one hunted from a large lantana beside my front door for three days, then moved on to new territory.

Everywhere I look, Nature’s signals are clear. Animals fatten, seeds ripen, blooms explode in late-summer splendor. All feel the changing angle of the sun as it makes its daily trek across the sky. Soon, too soon, cold air will descend from the North, browning flora, scattering fauna.

But every gardener knows that winter sleeps are essential rhythms in Nature’s dance. The pauses make the crescendos that much more powerful.

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Swallowtail Season Signals Summer’s Waning

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying Buddleia blossoms (photo courtesy of Wonder Spouse)

I count myself lucky to be gardening in the Piedmont region of North Carolina this year. Sure, it’s still hot, but the unrelenting 100+-degree temperatures have backed down to the unrelenting low 90s. And although most of the good thunderstorm rains are still bypassing my yard, the air is soupy, sticky with humidity. The dregs of summer are here.

Signs are clear in the vegetable garden too. All tomato varieties are losing lower leaves to climbing fungal attacks, yet still their tops soldier on, producing enough ripe fruits to share with friends. The peppers are ripening well, but fruit worms are boring into the nearly ripe fruits, ruining some completely, rendering others only partly edible. Such are the usual late summer consequences of gardening without toxic chemical weapons of mass destruction.

Although the few rain showers that deigned to stop at my house have not brought enough water to help my stagnant creek and pond, the drops that fell were sufficient to revive the flowers. The giant Chinese Abelia that resides beside my vegetable garden had almost stopped blooming — much earlier than in previous years. But the recent rains persuaded it to reopen for business; now clouds of swallowtails, other butterflies, day-flying sphinx moths, and myriad bees animate the bush with drifting flows of color from dawn to dusk.

The Seven-Son Flower Tree is equally popular with the pollinators. Heavy perfume from these small flowers hangs in sticky morning air, an invisible entity waiting to envelop unsuspecting passersby with fragrance.

Seven-Son Flower Tree blooms are also current favorites of the pollinators.

Without question, butterfly and dragonfly populations are at all-time seasonal highs in my yard. The butterflies literally bump into me as I walk from my front door to the garden, so intent are they on finding the next tasty blossom. Dragonflies in metallic shades of blue, green, amber, and red zip through the skies, grabbing insects on the fly. When I try to photograph them, they seem to grow interested in me, following me short distances before returning to sky patrol.

Wonder Spouse was out in the yard yesterday trying to photograph a few of the sky dragons. Check out these shots.

My dragonfly identification skills are nonexistent, but I know gorgeous when I see it.

This one appears to be made from emeralds.

A final sign of summer’s waning is the arrival — in abundance — of Writing Spiders. Last year, I showed you the large Black and Yellow Garden Spider that set up shop among the plants I grow in pots that sit within my front yard water feature. This year, instead of one large spider residing over this space, seven smaller Writing Spiders have overtaken this area. Perhaps they are the offspring of last year’s large spider, or perhaps word leaked out into the spider community that this locale was ideal for their purposes.

However they came to find this spot, it is quite wonderful to see seven webs strung between sedge leaves and cardinal flower stalks, the characteristic spider writing prominent in their centers, along with seven growing black and yellow weavers waiting for unwary prey to stumble into their sticky traps.

She waits patiently for dinner.

Here’s to the waning of summer stickiness, the rise of sky dragons and butterflies, and the hope that the perfume of late-blooming blossoms will soon summon autumn’s kiss.

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Guaranteed Butterflies with Chinese Abelia

Chinese Abelia flower cluster with friend

Many flowers are known as excellent butterfly attractors, and I grow many of them. Native butterfly magnets are especially good, because they not only provide nectar for adults, but food for the caterpillar forms of these winged beauties.

Because I do provide many diverse native food plants, I don’t feel guilty for finding a place for the all-time winner of the Butterfly Magnet Award: Chinese Abelia (Abelia chinensis). This shrub begins blooming in my Piedmont NC garden in early June. Right now, despite record heat and searing drought, it is at peak bloom — completely covered in clusters of pinkish-white, sweetly fragrant flowers that weigh down the branch tips, causing the blooming shrub to have an almost weeping plant form.

The size of my mature specimen (eight feet high and six feet wide) is impressive enough in full bloom. But what makes it breathtaking are the zillions of pollinators that dance among the flowers from dawn to dusk. The flowers of this shrub reliably attract many more butterflies than the so-called Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia spp.). Often so many butterflies are fluttering among the flowers that the entire shrub appears to be moving as their colorful bodies float across it. Bees and sphinx moths love these flowers too. In fact, it’s hard for me to grab a morning sniff of perfume from a flower without disturbing some kind of pollinator that’s beaten me to the goods.

This is a big shrub, and its form is not what I would call elegant. But if you have a sunny spot big enough to accommodate it in your Piedmont garden — and you love butterflies — this is a plant you’ll want for your yard. Blooms appear on new growth, so you can prune it in early spring quite severely if you need to. I have hacked my poor shrub more than once, and its shape is consequently a tad odd, but the butterflies and other pollinators don’t seem to mind. This is what the entire shrub looks like as it guards the gate to my vegetable garden:

Abelia chinensis

See how the flower clusters weigh down the branch tips? As the flowers finish, the sepals persist, turning from green to a rosy mauve color. The sepals persist in the clusters through late fall. From a distance, it almost looks as if it’s still blooming even in November. I like to clip a few of these sepal clusters to add to fall flower arrangements.

Flowers will continue to appear as long as the shrub is adding new growth. In wet summers (those long-ago times), my shrub stays covered in flowers until frost. During this dry, hot summer, growth has nearly stopped, and flower production appears to be waning. My shrub gets no supplemental water, and still it produces its sweet flower clusters.

As heat and drought are becoming the new norms for summer Piedmont weather, plants that can flourish under such conditions become increasingly important. Chinese Abelia has proven its merit in my yard. The butterflies and I agree: summer would be incomplete without this spectacular bloomer.

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