Posts Tagged Green-Head Coneflower

A Bird in the Hand

Ripe fruits of Solomon's Plume

Ripe fruits of Solomon’s Plume

Last week was too hot here, the heat made worse by the fact that most of the summer was unusually mild. Dust clouds rose with the slightest disturbance, lingering long in humid, stagnant air. It was not a week conducive to gardening.

Finally this past Sunday, cooler weather began to creep in, accompanied by clouds that dimmed what had been searing sun. Wonder Spouse immediately charged outdoors to catch up on tasks delayed by the heat, leaving our garage door open as he moved back and forth fetching tools, wheelbarrows, and assorted other necessities. His tasks did not require a second pair of hands, so I grabbed my camera and began acquainting myself with the latest developments on our five-acre jungle.

Fruits of Halesia diptera will turn light brown when they're fully ripe.

Fruits of Halesia diptera will turn light brown when they’re fully ripe.

Fruit — that was the takeaway message from this walk. Most plants are well into fruit/seed production, clearly aware of dwindling daylight and down-trending temperatures. The Solomon’s Plumes I added to a wildflower bed on the north side of my yard all made numerous berries this year, as you can see in the photo above. The empty stems you see likely tell the tale of a hungry bird or other critter sampling these bright red berries. I think they look especially festive mingling with the evergreen Christmas fern — another native to our region.

Pokeberry fruits

Pokeweed fruits

Giant magenta stalks of Pokeweed — easily 8 feet tall — bend from the weight of purple-black clusters of ripe berries. These are favorites with many of the avian inhabitants of my yard, as evidenced by purple-tinged splats of bird excrement deposited on my walks and decks.

Red Buckeye fruits

Red Buckeye fruits

Branches of the large Red Buckeye on our floodplain are touching the ground, bent from the weight of nearly ripe fruits. Soon the husks will split and the shiny nut-like fruits will tumble to the ground. These nuts are poisonous to people, but some wild inhabitant makes them disappear every year.

Hammocksweet Azalea

Hammocksweet Azalea

The greatest surprise during my walkabout was my Hammocksweet Azalea — in full, overpoweringly fragrant bloom at the base of my north-facing garden, close to the creek. I sited it there, because this deciduous azalea — the last to bloom for me every year — is native to wetland environments. The flowers are pure white, without a hint of ivory, and their fragrance is knock-your-socks-off sweet. If it were any closer to my house, I think the fragrance might be overpowering, especially as this shrub continues to grow.

Greenhead Coneflower

Green-Head Coneflower

September is the month that many large native yellow composite wildflowers adorn every corner of my yard, and many roadsides. I added Green-Head Coneflower to the mix, because I love the prominent seed heads it forms, as do the seed-eating birds that dwell nearby.

Mixed nasturtiums mingle and multiply

Mixed nasturtiums mingle and multiply

My vegetable garden is mostly done for the year. A few peppers linger, and some broccoli plants are struggling to grow beneath the shelter of their Reemay tent. Many of the beds are packed with fresh green sprouts of crimson clover, my winter cover crop of choice. But one bed is dominated by the lovely mix of nasturtiums above. Unimpressed by heat, drought, deluges, or anything else as far as I can tell, they bloom continuously, spreading wandering shoots in all directions, even mingling a bit with adjacent beds full of crimson clover. Their gentle rose-like scent is nothing short of heavenly.

I encountered a bit of wildlife as I made my way around my yard. I think perhaps they’d been hunkering down during the heat wave too. Like me, they were out and about in force during my morning walk. Bird song filled the air. Many toads greeted me in all parts of the yard. I’m always happy to see these insect-eaters. A Green Anole rushed out of a potted plant when I began watering it. It was bright green to blend with the vegetation, and if it hadn’t objected to being watered, I likely would have never noticed it. Five-lined skinks skittered across open ground and up and down trees. A Black Racer darted beneath an aster blooming by my front deck when I got too close; it had been trying to warm itself in the cloud-dimmed sun.

But the highlight of the day came after I had put up my camera and gone back outside to gather some tools in the garage. A frantic bird fluttered at the back windows, too confused to realize that its way out was the other way, through the open garage door.  It was an Eastern Phoebe, a small flycatcher common to my yard, thanks to the woodland creek — its preferred habitat — that borders our land.

I have spent many happy hours watching this beauty hunt from my back deck. Its keen eyes watch for flying insects. When it spots one, it leaps into the air, grabbing the bug on the wing, then returning to its perch to watch for more tidbits. Its aerial acrobatics are impressive, and its squeaky call, sounding more like a child’s squeeze doll than a bird, let’s me know it’s on bug patrol.

So when I discovered this distraught Eastern Phoebe desperately trying to escape our garage, I leapt into action. First, I opened all the other doors. Often this is enough to help a trapped bird find its way out. But this little one was unwilling to venture from the high window at the back of the garage. I next tried using a light-weight rake to reach up toward the bird, in the hopes that it would hop on and let me carry it out. This works surprisingly well with the occasional discombobulated hummingbird.

But not so for this Eastern Phoebe. Instead, it fluttered down the back wall, settling on a piece of plywood leaning against the wall, and mostly hidden by another, taller piece of plywood. I did the only thing I could think of. I quietly asked the little bird if it would allow me to pick it up with my hand and carry it to safety. It didn’t move, probably exhausted from its fruitless escape efforts. I chose to interpret its stillness as permission, gently reaching behind the plywood.

The poor, exhausted creature didn’t even struggle in my gentle grasp. I quietly thanked it for its cooperation as I carried it toward the front of the garage. I could feel its heartbeat thrumming through my fingers, otherwise feeling no movement. But as soon as we were clear of the garage, the soft brown bug hunter in my hand began to push against my grasp. I opened my palm and it immediately flew high into a nearby tree, apparently none the worse for its misadventure.

I closed all the garage doors to prevent further accidents, still feeling the heartbeat of that beautiful wild creature in my hand. Not for the first time, it occurred to me how blessed I am to live among the wild ones on our five acres of green chaos. So many people live their entire lives without ever feeling what it’s like to hold a bird in the hand.

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September means bugs and plant sales

A Firefly enjoys one of the abundant yellow composite wildflowers blooming in our yard.

A Firefly enjoys one of the abundant yellow composite wildflowers blooming in our yard.

This past weekend, I was able to persuade Wonder Spouse, Ace Photographer, to join me in a walk around the yard. He took just over 200 pictures, and he’s still post-processing most of them. But he released a few finished shots to me now, so that I could show them off.

As the leaves begin to color up and tumble from the trees, the insects and spiders in our yard seem to accelerate their activities. Flowers buzz audibly as the diversity of busy pollinators gather as much pollen as they can before winter stops them cold.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the spiders seem to get especially busy now. Orb weavers in particular erect massive webs between trees big enough, I imagine, to snag small birds. Not that I’ve ever seen a bird trapped in a web, but I do wonder sometimes.

The Writing Spider I showed you before now has a name — Big Girl — BG to her friends. She has grown enormous feasting on butterflies. Their discarded wings litter the ground beneath her sizable web. Last week, I watched the tiny male move his mini-web ever closer to the object of his fancy. I think he must have succeeded in his quest, because now he’s gone, and BG is distinctly fatter — full of fertilized eggs, I imagine.

Wonder Spouse took such amazing photos of BG that I must show you all three views:

Her back side

Her back side

A side view that shows her sucking the last juicy bits from her latest victim.

A side view that shows her sucking the last juicy bits from her latest victim.

Her underside. Note the distinctive patterning of her body.

Her underside. Note the distinctive patterns on her body.

We are fortunate in the southeastern Piedmont to have a wealth of autumn-blooming wildflowers. And this year’s uncharacteristically generous rainfall is making for especially widespread and colorful displays. Our floodplain is full of the red spires of Cardinal Flowers, numerous yellow composites, goldenrods, Monkey Flowers, and Blue Mistflowers. Wonder Spouse’s shots of the Monkey Flowers are still being processed, but here are a few photos to give you an idea.

My Green-headed Coneflowers have gone nuts this year. If you’ve got room for a 4-5-foot tall wildflower in your landscape, I highly recommend this one.

Green-headed Coneflowers bloom for almost two months in my yard.

Green-headed Coneflowers bloom for almost two months in my yard.

And those Blue Mistflowers I mentioned are just getting gorgeous.

A profile shot to give you a sense of how it looks in the landscape.

A profile shot to give you a sense of how it looks in the landscape.

A top view to show its popularity with insects.

A top view to show its popularity with insects. Click on the photo to enlarge it for a better view.

As the humidity levels begin to drop and the mornings grow cool and filled with cricket song, my mind turns to fall planting season. In my region, fall is the best time to plant most perennials and all woody trees and shrubs. Our usually prolonged falls give new plants plenty of time to focus on root growth before the ground freezes — if it ever freezes at all.

Most years, our Septembers are still hot and very dry, so I’ve tended to wait until October to plant new additions. However, this year, the ground has remained blessedly moist all season, and the heat has remained astonishingly bearable — no 100-degree temperatures at all (knock wood).

Thus, I feel comfortable encouraging my Piedmont readers to go ahead and start getting serious about fall planting. Local plant nurseries will all be advertising sales soon, but there’s one sale North Carolina Piedmont gardeners should be sure to put on their calendars now: The NC Botanical Garden’s Annual Fall Plant Sale. Members get first pick from 5:00-7:00 p.m. on Friday, September 27. The general public is welcome the next day, Saturday, September 28 from 9:00 a.m. to noon.

Bring your own trays or boxes to carry home your purchases, and if you’re like me, only bring as much money as you can afford to spend. The wide array of vigorous native flowers, trees, and shrubs is more than most avid gardeners can resist.

I am a firm believer that there’s always room for more special plants in a landscape. Now is the time to survey your yard for spots crying out for color or shade or scent — or all three! Go forth, survey your yard. Then acquire the new plants that will help you realize your dream landscape.

These yellow sunflower-family members have a faint sweet scent that seems to draw  a diverse array of pollinators.

Sweet dreams, avid gardeners!

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Seize the Season: It’s Time for Fall Planting

Rudbeckia laciniata

Have you noticed that it’s dark in the morning again? And that faint chill in the pre-dawn morning air — have you inhaled its promise of autumn days to come? I sure have. Thoughts of autumn mean one thing to this obsessed gardener: fall planting!

It is my opinion that even the smallest landscapes always have room for a new plant or two. It’s a matter of researching your best options (right plant for right place), and you must be willing, on occasion, to do a little landscape editing.

Take a step back and cast an objective eye on your home landscape. Have you been pruning your forsythias into globe-shaped submission because they otherwise take up too much room? Are your evergreen azaleas plagued by insect and deer predation? Consider a radical fix. Yank out those old and difficult plants, and think long and hard about what plants you choose to replace them.

Most plants native to the southeastern United States (and especially the Piedmont region) will likely adapt more easily to your Piedmont planting spot. Native options abound, including many cultivars developed by horticulturalists. You’ll find you have more than enough choices among native plant offerings.

Not sure where to find native plants for sale at reasonable prices? I have the solution. Try the Fall Plant Sale at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC. Members get first crack at the goodies on Friday, Sept. 23 from 5-7 p.m. The general public is invited on Saturday, Sept. 24 from 9:00 a.m. to noon. Sales support the NC Botanical Garden, and if you don’t know that great organization, go visit their Web site to learn why they are an essential resource to native plant lovers of the southeastern United States.

As for that flowering plant at the top of this entry, that’s a Green-Head Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), also called a Cutleaf Coneflower, because it has pretty dissected leaves. Although it’s called a coneflower, it’s not an Echinacea, like the Purple Coneflower I wrote about here. This flower is in the genus Rudbeckia, the same genus that gives us Black-Eyed Susans. However, Green-Head Coneflowers add much more drama to the landscape than Black-Eyed Susans.

Green-Head Coneflowers can grow as tall as 12 feet in shadier locations. And they tolerate shade very well. However, as you can see from the photo above, if you don’t stake them, they will fall over. I like this look. It keeps the flowers closer to where I can see them — and who has time for staking flowers anyway?  This native likes a bit of moisture to be happiest, and it spreads via underground stems, so plant it where it can stretch out and dominate a corner of your landscape. They’re called coneflowers, because the green centers in the flowers elongate as the seeds mature, producing brownish bumps full of seeds that native birds delight in devouring.

I grew my Green-Head Coneflowers from seed that I received as a benefit of my membership in the NC Botanical Garden. The Fall Plant Sale may include some Green-Head Coneflower plants for sale; I can’t promise, because you never know what goodies will be offered. But it’s certainly a possibility.

If you don’t live close enough to take advantage of the NC Botanical Garden’s fall plant sale, look around your area. Most public gardens and local nurseries offer great sales this time of year. It’s a great way for them to reduce their inventory, and for you to acquire some choice specimens for your landscape — just in time for their optimal planting season.

So go forth, find some gems, and settle them into your garden before winter comes knocking. Next spring, you’ll be glad you did.

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