Posts Tagged Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Insects own High Summer

green dragon

 

The heat and humidity have begun to wear on plants as well as humans in my patch of Piedmont. I saw a notice from a local extension agent that dreaded basil mildew disease has been spotted. I think it held off longer than usual — as did most of the fungal diseases — because our June was unusually dry and hot.

A Milkweed bug

A Milkweed bug

July has brought heavy, but scattered rains, and lingering humidity and heat. Fungal diseases are certain to soon plague my tomatoes, and perhaps the beans. The vegetables, while still producing well, are looking a bit tired. Many flowers are still blooming well, which the abundant insects are clearly appreciating.

damselfly mystery

The nearly butterfly-free summer continues at my house. Iridescent members of the dragonfly clan dominate the thick air, causing me to worry about the fate of the few butterflies I am seeing. The rains have finally brought around a few butterflies, I’m happy to say.

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was enjoying the Chinese Abelia flowers that finally opened after we got some rain.

This Eastern Tiger Swallowtail was enjoying the Chinese Abelia flowers that finally opened after we got some rain.

No clouds of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails this year, but a few are passing through from time to time. Pearl Crescents (I think that’s what they are) are easily the most numerous butterflies on my flowers.

A Pearl Crescent enjoying a Rudbeckia flower.

A Pearl Crescent enjoying a Rudbeckia flower.

I spotted a couple of dark swallowtails over the last few days.

Also on the Chinese Abelia flowers

Also on the Chinese Abelia flowers

And this one high up on a dogwood yesterday was drying out after a bit of rain from the previous evening.

A Spicebush Swallowtail maybe?

A Spicebush Swallowtail maybe?

My happiest butterfly moment of the summer so far was this Red Admiral sunning itself on my driveway yesterday. This is the first one of this species I’ve seen all year.

Welcome back, Red Admiral!

Welcome back, Red Admiral!

More numerous — by a bit — than the butterflies are the sphinx moths, also called hummingbird moths, because their mostly clear wings vibrate as quickly as those of hummingbirds as they hover beside flowers to drink nectar. As an amateur photographer, I find them very frustrating to capture. But I’ve gotten a few almost decent shots over the last few days, if you’ll indulge me.

This is typically how I see them, wings nearly invisible as they hover for a drink.

This is typically how I see them, wings nearly invisible as they hover for a drink.

In this hover shot, you can at least see the outline of their wings.

In this hover shot, you can at least see the outline of their wings.

Yesterday, I saw one spread out on a tomato leaf sunning itself in the early dawn light. We had very heavy dew on the ground, and I think it was drying itself.

Finally, you can actually see its beautiful wings in this shot.

Finally, you can actually see its beautiful wings in this shot.

And a final profile shot as it rested on the tomato leaf:

These creatures are so ethereal as they almost perpetually dance among my flowers that I think of them as tiny angels blessing my efforts.

These creatures are so ethereal as they almost perpetually dance among my flowers that I think of them as tiny angels blessing my efforts.

I’ll close this photo post with a few flower shots to show you what the insects are enjoying.

Seed-grown Rudbeckia 'Cappuccino' has turned into a stunning plant seemingly oblivious to the heat and humidity. Score!

Seed-grown Rudbeckia ‘Cappuccino’ has turned into a stunning plant seemingly oblivious to the heat and humidity. Score!

Echinaceas in the boulder garden are covered in pollinators from dawn to dark. That's a rosemary plant in the middle. It loves the heat from the sun-warmed rocks.

Echinaceas in the boulder garden are covered in pollinators from dawn to dark. That’s a rosemary plant in the middle. It loves the heat from the sun-warmed rocks.

The milkweeds I added to the boulder garden last fall continue to bloom -- repeatedly! This butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is on its second round of bright blossoms.

The milkweeds I added to the boulder garden last fall continue to bloom — repeatedly! This butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is on its second round of bright blossoms.

The rain made the weeds explode into productivity, of course. My gardening to-do list grows ever longer, while my enthusiasm for working in the summer weather continues to wane. Still, for fresh-picked blueberries, juicy tomato sandwiches, and a dazzling array of pollinators, I’ll endeavor to keep up as best I can.

Amelia tomatoes -- so good!

Amelia tomatoes — so good!

Stay cool and hydrated, ya’ll. Fall planting season will be here before we can turn around twice.

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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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Aerial acrobats in the garden

Swallowtail butterflies mobbing the Joe Pye Weed.

Swallowtail butterflies mobbing the Joe Pye Weed.

Record amounts of rainfall this growing season continue to create ripple effects throughout my landscape and gardens. For the first time I can remember, I harvested two zucchinis today. Normally by this point in the summer, heat, drought, and insect pests have exterminated my squash crop. Not this year. Zucchini spice bread, anyone?

Likewise, the Fortex pole beans seem to be ramping up for another surge in bean production. The vines have already climbed their six-foot trellis, grown down the other side, and now I’m trying to persuade them to climb back up again.

Tomatoes? Oh yes, we’ve got tomatoes. The plants are fighting fungal diseases, but the fruits are coming in bigtime. Ornamental flowers, which have often surrendered to the heat by now, continue to bloom with abandon. I’ve got sunflowers, zinnias, nasturtiums, and cosmos among the annuals. Perennials like black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, salvias, verbenas, daylilies, and now cardinal flowers have never been happier.

A Spicebush Swallowtail enjoys the ever-blooming Verbena 'Homestead Purple.'

A Spicebush Swallowtail enjoys the ever-blooming Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

The rain has also produced a bumper crop of biting flies, gnats, and mosquitoes, among the aerial pests. But that’s not all bad, because the record abundance of flying insects has also brought record numbers of predators to prey on them. Insect eaters like Eastern Bluebirds, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Carolina Wrens, and Eastern Phoebes patrol the skies from dawn to dusk. Numerous bats take care of night patrol. And during the heat of the day, when the birds relax in the shade, the sky dragons take over.

A Sky Dragon pauses briefly before resuming its hunt for flying food.

A Sky Dragon pauses briefly before resuming its hunt for flying food.

I have not yet spent the time needed to learn the names of our local dragonflies, but I can tell you our landscape is blessed by quite a number of species, some small, some as large as the hummingbirds with whom they share the sky. Wonder Spouse was so struck by the diversity of dragonflies in our yard last weekend that he spent some time capturing them with his camera. In fact, all the photos in this post were taken by Wonder Spouse.

The butterflies thrust themselves deeply into the throats of the flowers of our Autumn Daffodil daylilies.

The butterflies thrust themselves deeply into the throats of the flowers of our Autumn Daffodil daylilies. See its tongue curling above its head?

Dragonflies are efficient hunters, and yes, they do grab and devour an occasional butterfly on the wing. But they glitter like jewels; their wings appear to be made from delicate lace, yet are strong enough for aerial maneuvers any stunt pilot must envy.

An emerald Sky Dragon pauses on a boulder.

An emerald Sky Dragon pauses on a boulder.

As much as I love the butterflies, this year we can lose a few to the dragonflies. My Chinese Abelia, a massive shrub about 10 feet tall and equally wide, has been blooming since June — and continues to do so. All day long, it is visited simultaneously by at least a hundred butterflies. I’ve never seen so many!

When they fill up on the Chinese Abelia, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails stop by the lantana growing along the front walk.

When they fill up on the Chinese Abelia, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails stop by the lantana growing along the front walk.

Between the drifting flight of butterflies and the zooming quick starts and stops of the dragonflies, I get bumped into on a regular basis as I walk around my yard.

This dragonfly appears to be made of lapis lazuli, or perhaps sapphire.

This dragonfly appears to be made of lapis lazuli, or perhaps sapphire.

Patterns on the wings of the dragonflies are likely diagnostic. I really must learn the names of these hunters.

The white wing bars on this one make it more noticeable in flight.

The white wing bars on this one make it more noticeable in flight.

This one appears to be designed to blend in with the trees.

This one appears to be designed to blend in with the trees.

Butterflies, of course, are silent creatures. If I stand right next to the blooming abelia, I can sometimes hear a gentle fluttering of wings by the Spicebush Swallowtails, which never seem to remain motionless for more than a few seconds. Dragonflies make a bit of a buzzing noise as they zip erratically through the air, snagging snacks on the wing.

But for aerial maneuvers with sound effects, you can’t beat the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. This season has brought a bumper crop of them to the front feeder. The bejeweled beauties visit it from dawn to full dark. It seems to be a pit stop for them when they tire of dashing from coral honeysuckle to cardinal flower to salvia to abelia, all the while chittering as they argue over the rights to a particularly tasty nectar source.

After an early morning harvest session in the vegetable garden, I spend probably too much time sitting in the shade and watching the aerial show. I’m not the only one. I often spy a Green Anole perched on a shrub or vine within grabbing distance of unwary butterflies. And a large Green Frog usually meditates in one of the pots of sedges and pitcher plants sitting in our front water feature. The cicadas thrum, the hummingbirds swoop and squeal; in the distance, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo calls from the treetops, predicting more rain.

Pesky bugs and all, it’s the best summer we’ve had in years. I reckon I’m not going to feel to guilty for enjoying it as much as possible.

A Sky Jewel grabs a quick drink from the feeder that I keep supplied with fresh fuel.

A Sky Jewel grabs a quick drink from the feeder that I keep supplied with fresh fuel.

 

 

 

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Bountiful Blooms

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying flowers of Halesia diptera

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail enjoying flowers of Halesia diptera

As always happens this time of year, Spring is blasting through my yard so fast that I cannot keep up — at least, not in my blog postings. Since early April, every day new bloomers have started while others have stopped. Because I’ve been focused on the vegetable garden, I have not had time to share all the beauty that surrounds me. But fear not, faithful readers, I have been taking hundreds upon hundreds of photographs. Today’s post is the first installment designed to catch you up on all the glorious blossoms.

Let me take you back in time to the middle of April, when my 35-foot tall Two-winged Silverbell (Halesia diptera) was in full bloom. I told you about this spectacular understory native here, but I’ve mentioned it in several other posts over the years. If you search on the name, you’ll find all the relevant posts for this tree. The close-up of the flowers above demonstrates their loveliness — and their popularity with native pollinators.

Here’s what the entire tree looked like this year:

Thirty-five feet of Wow!

Thirty-five feet of Wow!

I had to stand pretty far away to get all of it in the photo. That little bit of white at the top right is a bit of the large dogwood trying to show off some of its flowers in the shot.

In the interest of fairness, that aforementioned native dogwood deserves a photo of its own:

About 40 feet tall, this dogwood is probably about 50 years old, maybe even older.

About 40 feet tall, this dogwood is probably about 50 years old, maybe even older.

To the left in the above photo, you can just see a few blooms of the native redbud variety, ‘Forest Pansy,’ and, of course that’s a bit of Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ filling up the right side of the photo.

Because the showy part of a dogwood flower is actually its bracts, they aren’t quite as pure a white as the petals of the Two-winged Silverbell. But they persist much longer in the landscape.

They may be bracts rather than petals, but that doesn't diminish their beauty.

They may be bracts rather than petals, but that doesn’t diminish their beauty.

And, since I mentioned Redbuds, I feel obliged to show you one of the standard natives in my yard in full bloom. Its lavender blossoms are emphasized by the green backdrop of the native Red Cedars behind it.

Cercis canadensis is breathtaking in bloom when sited where it can achieve its full potential.

Cercis canadensis is breathtaking in bloom when sited where it can achieve its full potential.

Now I want to turn your attention to the deciduous azaleas in my yard. I mention them in passing regularly, and you can find all the links by searching on the species or the category. The links that follow point back to the first posts from 2011 in which I described these wonderful understory natives.

Since 2011, all the azaleas have grown considerably. Some attain mature sizes in the 20′ x 15′ range, and I can tell that several of my specimens are well on their way to achieving their full potential. Some species and/or their cultivars bloom magnificently every year, while others seem to alternate years.

First to bloom, as usual, was Pinxterbloom Azalea (Rhodendron periclymenoides). It had its lushest bloom season so far, and thanks to the mostly cool weather, the blooms persisted longer than usual.

Pinxterbloom Azalea is native to the southeastern Piedmont.

Pinxterbloom Azalea is native to the southeastern Piedmont.

Soon after, it’s cultivar, ‘Purple,’ also bloomed, but its blooms were sparse this year.

R. periclymenoides 'Purple'

R. periclymenoides ‘Purple’

Overlapping the bloom time of Pinxterbloom was my R. austrinum hybrid, Pastel #19. This shrub is always ridiculously floriferous, and its potent perfume carries halfway across my five-acre yard on spring breezes. When it is at peak bloom, it stops visitors in their tracks every time.

Pastel #19 is almost six feet tall and five feet wide now.

Pastel #19 is almost six feet tall and five feet wide now.

Only inhale deeply of Pastel #19's flowers if you like very, very sweet fragrances.

Only inhale deeply of Pastel #19’s flowers if you like very, very sweet fragrances.

While Pastel #19 continued to bloom, another hybrid, Pastel #20 started its bloom cycle. Perhaps hybrid vigor explains why both these hybrids bloom with spectacular consistency every year.

The perfume of Rhododendron 'Pastel #20' is much more delicate than that of #19.

The perfume of Rhododendron ‘Pastel #20’ is much more delicate than that of #19.

I love the golden throats on these flowers.

Next to bloom was my R. alabamense, a native that is also reliably floriferous even without the benefits of hybrid vigor.

My Alabama Azalea is now about six feet tall and four feet wide.

My Alabama Azalea is now about six feet tall and four feet wide.

Its flowers emit a faint perfume that I enjoy for its subtlety.

R. alabamense is only now finishing up its bloom cycle.

R. alabamense is only now finishing up its bloom cycle.

The mostly cool spring has definitely prolonged bloom time for the azaleas this year.

My Oconee Azalea (R. flammeum) is over 8 feet tall now. Its form is more open than some of the other deciduous azalea species. My specimen bloomed heavily last year. This year, it’s not quite as floriferous, but still a knockout in the landscape.

R. flammeum buds just beginning to open.

R. flammeum buds just beginning to open.

R. flammeum in full bloom.

R. flammeum in full bloom.

Last of the azalea natives to bloom so far this year is Coastal Azalea (R. atlanticum). This native of southeastern US coastal plains keeps a much lower profile than my other deciduous azaleas. So far, it’s only about three feet tall in its high spots. The native species is a colonial spreader, but my cultivar, ‘Winterthur,’ is supposed to be more polite. It has gotten wider, but not aggressively so.

The flowers of Coastal Azalea are pure white, with no throat blotches as you see in R. alabamense. They are very potently fragrant — a cloying sweetness that is not my favorite. Because of its smaller size, I often smell the open flowers on this specimen before I see them the first time.

The flowers are almost sticky, perhaps encouraging pollinators to linger?

Coastal Azalea flowers are almost sticky, perhaps encouraging pollinators to linger?

Flowers of a couple of my other deciduous azalea varieties are almost open for business. I’ll show you those soon. Meanwhile, let me close today’s post with a photo or two of my trellis full of blooming Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’).

Unlike invasive Japanese Honeysuckle, the Major (as I like to call him) does not spread aggressively. However, it is enthusiastic, so I do cut it back severely every other year. The Major doesn’t object to this treatment, continuing to bloom so magnificently that every visitor to my house stops, gapes, and begs to know his name.

Lonicera sempervirens 'Major Wheeler'

Lonicera sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’

Hummingbirds adore these blooms.

Hummingbirds adore these blooms.

 

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While they sleep …

Swelling flower bud of Magnolia 'Elizabeth'

Swelling flower bud of Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’

Just before dawn this morning, thick frost glimmered in the fading light of a full moon. As the sun topped the nearby ridge, surfaces sparkled — walks, benches, lawn, even the trees. The thermometer on my cold hill bottomed out at 26 degrees Fahrenheit before the strengthening Spring sun began its work — Winter cold. Too cold.

The Spring Peepers, which have lustily chorused off and on since late December, have been utterly silent for four days. The American Toads, which had added their exquisite soprano trilling descant to the thrumming of the Peepers two weeks ago, have also gone quiet. The Green Anoles, which sunned themselves on our gutters on warm days all winter, have not ventured from their sleeping chambers in a week. To be sure, our weather has not been fit for cold-blooded amphibians and reptiles.

The plants in my yard agree. Half-open flower buds have opened no further. Some have browned from freeze damage. Others seem suspended in time, waiting for temperatures that match the astronomical calendar, knowing the equinox was last week, wondering like me, I imagine, why March turned so cruel in its waning days.

But while the plants and cold-blooded animals sleep, the warm-blooded ones are scrounging for food. A herd of five pregnant does devours every blade of green from our floodplain at dusk, when they emerge from their hiding places on the other side of the creek. Dark shadows in darkening light, they drift around the trees, more ghosts than flesh in the dimness.

The birds, on the other hand, have refused to concede to Spring’s reluctant arrival. Growing flocks of American Robins patrol the landscape, plucking fat earthworms from rain-moistened soil, muttering in delight at each new-found morsel.

The Red-shouldered Hawks circle the floodplain, then dive at crowded bird feeders in the hopes of pinning a slow-moving Mourning Dove or a greedy Red-winged Blackbird that lingers too long for one more bite. When the birds elude their grasp, they settle for patrolling the ground, pulling back fallen leaves with sharp yellow talons to reveal earthworms, which they greedily devour. When they’ve had their fill, they fly off with more; hungry nestlings must be fed, even while their favorite cold-blooded prey sleep securely in their winter hide-outs.

Nestlings must eat regardless of weather.

Nestlings must eat regardless of weather.

Flocks of Purple Finches grow daily. I think groups migrating from further south have heard about the snows in their summer homes up north. They linger at my feeders — free food — all you can eat! A pair of Carolina Wrens busily inspect flower pots, deck underpinnings, and an open garage for potential nesting sites. Wood Ducks paddle up and down the creek, preferring water warmer than the air.

A Great Blue Heron stalks from sand bar to sand bar. Rising into the air on massive wings, its majestic flight starkly contrasts with its harsh squawk of frustration at finding nothing tasty.

Alert for anything that moves, the hungry Great Blue Heron remains statue still.

Alert for anything that moves, the hungry Great Blue Heron remains statue still.

Suet feeders are perpetually busy from dawn to full darkness. Woodpeckers and nuthatches are feeding nestlings, and insects are difficult to find in the frigid air. They are joined by increasing numbers of warblers, which must be arriving for spring nesting season. Like the woodpeckers, suet is their fall-back food until the insects finally emerge.

This morning as I filled the feeders, I heard the characteristic melodic gurgling call of Brown-headed Cowbirds. They usually arrive a few days after the warblers, lingering at my feeders until they pair off, and egg-heavy females deposit their eggs in the nests of unwary warblers.

Warm-blooded life does not seem to have the luxury of waiting for Spring to assert itself. Somehow it must carry on despite the dearth of natural food and warming nights. I keep my feeders filled and birdhouses clean, in the hopes that this eases their struggle a bit — for my local population anyway.

The weather forecasters predict that our perseverance will be rewarded. Warmer days are promised soon. I think perhaps they might be right. I spotted a bright yellow Eastern Tiger Swallowtail this afternoon struggling to make headway against a gusty northwest wind.

Any minute now, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds will be arriving for their spring nesting season. I’d best dust off their feeders ASAP, because their usual early food sources — blooms of Red Buckeye and Eastern Columbine — remain tightly closed against the unseasonable chill.

Not even a flower bud is yet in evidence on the native Coral Honeysuckle beloved by the hummingbirds.

Not even a flower bud is yet in evidence on the native Coral Honeysuckle beloved by the hummingbirds.

Like the warm-blooded life surrounding me, my garden and I must persevere. Lettuce transplants huddle beneath garden fabric in the vegetable garden. I’ve been afraid to check on them, fearing that lifting the fabric might chill them more. And the tomato and pepper seeds I sowed a week ago have mostly germinated in the greenhouse. I’ve raised the thermostat to reduce the chances of cold air being fanned onto new-born seedlings.

Gardening is always an act of faith. This season, however, is requiring a bit more of it than usual. Believe, my friends. Soon we’ll be up to our knees in tall grass, mosquitoes, and summer squash.

But don’t blink. I have a feeling we’re mostly skipping Spring this year.

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Multiplicities

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails sunning on leaves of Halesia diptera

Abundance abounds on my five acres of North Carolina Piedmont. As summer winds down, plants are multiplying with enthusiasm, and native animals are taking full advantage of the bounty.  My area saw a week of what the weather seers call “unsettled weather,” which means thick humidity, uncomfortable (but not intolerable) heat, and random thunderstorms. As usually happens of late, my patch of Piedmont was ignored by most of the rain clouds, but we got enough to push plants and animals into a bit of a late summer frenzy.

Butterfly multiplicities are evident on every blooming flower in my yard. Species diversity seems to be multiplying too. I’ll show you in another post. I caught the two above as they were basking in the first sunshine we’ve seen in several days. I think they missed the light as much as I did.

Most of the plants are in the final stages of seed production, filling up seed heads and capsules, preparing to release their progeny into autumn air when it arrives in a few weeks.  Here’s a pair of Tulip Poplar “cones.”

All the Tulip Poplars reproduced well this year. I predict I’ll be sweeping their seeds off walks all fall and winter.

Another member of the Magnolia family — Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) — was kind enough to produce one of its spectacular seed heads within range of my camera:

Seed “cone” of Magnolia tripetala

Animal multiplicities include the deafening, constant, ebb and flow of cicada thrumming. They are maximizing their time in the humid air that makes me stick to myself after two minutes outside. Also present in astonishing numbers are the American Robins. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many this time of year. These are not the flocks of spring and autumn migrators that I’m accustomed to seeing. These are local birds — newly adult ones, judging by their very motley breast feathers.

The American Robins are here because of the bumper crop of Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) dominating every untamed corner (we have a lot of those) of the property. Easily eight feet tall with stems thicker than my wrist, these magenta and green very poisonous natives are currently weighed down by the biggest crop of berries I’ve ever seen them produce. The American Robins have claimed this crop for themselves. From dawn to dusk, I hear their muttering and exclamations as they devour every purple berry they discover.

Poisonous to humans, Pokeweed is a favorite food of American Robins and many other native animals.

I admit I don’t argue much with this plant. Unless it pops up in a spot that just won’t work, I usually let it have its way. However, if I had children or dogs with a habit of eating fruits in the wild, I would eradicate this plant from my yard. It is extremely poisonous to humans, from its roots to its leaves and berries. Yes, young leaves, if boiled for long periods, are consumed by some as “poke salad,” but I think the dangers aren’t worth the risk. Proceed with caution if you welcome this species into your Piedmont yard.

Photogenic and important to wildlife

Also multiplying in my yard: spiderwebs! I can’t walk anywhere without walking into one.

The builder was probably hiding in the leaves of the shrub that holds its web.

The arachnids even build across our often-used front walk. Every morning this time of year, it’s best to wave a stick in front of you to intersect the webs before your face does.

Multiplicities of fungi are also popping up all over the yard. Today, I encountered this large collection of delicate beauties:

A fairy picnic area perhaps?

They are quite exquisite up close, as you can see here:

The delicate folds in the caps remind me of outspread paper fans.

I am not an expert on fungi, so I assume they are all poisonous. I leave them to adorn the landscape and only consume mushrooms I buy at grocery stores.

As summer begins its reluctant transformation to fall, Nature’s multiplicities ensure that next year’s growing season will be productive — barring the usual weather catastrophe caveats, of course.

I revel in the beauty and diversity of this abundance, but I’m also hoping for a real winter this year — one with prolonged bouts of weather cold enough to freeze the ground and kill problem insects, diseases — and maybe even a few Pokeweed plants. One can only handle so much magenta and purple in the landscape after all.

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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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