Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Silver-spotted skipper

It's the height of summer in my garden, the Phlox is in full bloom and the butterflies are busy doing their pollinator/reproduction dance. It's a magical time even in a blazing hot, too bright to take photos garden.
Epargyreus clarus nectaring on Phlox 'Jeane'

Let's ignore the heat and instead, celebrate the Silver-spotted skipper.

North American gardeners are lucky, this pretty critter is found throughout most of the United States and into southern Canada. Rita Veneble, the author of Butterflies of Tennessee  (a must get book for anyone wanting to id butterfly in Tennessee), calls this skipper a Music City butterfly because it has guitars on the wings! I have to agree with her description~Just check out those bright white patches on the hindwings!

Adult Silver-spotted skippers, like most skippers are nectar generalists~meaning they will visit any good nectar source. In my garden that means they're all over Phlox 'Jeana'. She is a powerhouse nectar producer that I recommend you all locate and purchase. She blooms for a very long time and you can expect all your butterflies to visit her.

On the other hand, this skipper has larvae host preferences. They feed on leaves of the pea/Fabaceae family, so look for the cats on Baptisias, Partridge Peas, etc. Females lay pumpkin shaped green eggs near host plant leaf tops and the hatched cats have to find their way to the host plant! Young caterpillars live inside folded leaves, as they age they make a nest of silked together leaves. Chrysalids hibernate and emerge in the spring.
Music City butterfly

I am crazy about skippers and so glad they are happy in my garden. All skippers are important plant pollinators, they're also, part of the garden food chain, as consumers and food; and, because of their sensitivity to environmental toxins they're an important indicator species of ecosystem health. If you have an abundance of skippers and butterflies~you probably have a healthy garden habitat.
Which brings me to a sad place. There aren't nearly as many this year as there have been in other years. That really is concerning. Speculation is that with the recent rains~we have had a wet few months~ the city and neighbors are spraying for mosquitoes and killing off beneficial insects. This could be true, as I am seeing many signs around the neighborhood advertising mosquito spraying service.

I honestly don't know what to say. I get that people hate spraying their clothes with poisons, but, I hate that we are poisoning our gardens. It's a tough choice. I haven't an easy answer for any of us. My choice is to treat my clothes and sweat my buns off while gardening. Sometimes, I'll drag a fan outside to blow the little blood suckers away from me.

I won't tell you what to do in your own garden, but, I will remind you as gently as I can, that if you want skippers like the silver-spotted beauty, then, you must never ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides in the garden.


Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Painted Lady in the garden

I haven't seen many butterflies so far this summer, so when this beauty showed up I ran for the camera. The pretty Painted Lady butterfly was not going to pose for me, so I feel lucky to have these few photos.
Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'

I followed her (just a pronoun) as she fluttered around the Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit' and then, she was off to explore other gardens. If she is a she and has mated there may be eggs someplace in the garden; fingers crossed that is what happened.
I was able to identify it as Vanessa cardui from the eyespots.

The Particulars:
Vanessa cardui 
The Painted Lady

Brushfooted/Nymphalidae Family: This family of butterflies gets its name from its front legs which are shorter than the other four and are not used to stand or walk. Instead of feet the front legs are little brushes of hairs that are used to smell and taste. The front legs of some brushfoots are so small you can't see them. Brushfoots are quite a diverse family, some are brightly colored, some well camouflaged. There are 34 species of Brushfoots found in Tennessee.

Description: Easily identified by 4 eye spots along the hindwing edges of this orange and brown butterfly. The wingspan is 2 to just under 3 inches. Females have a larger, more rounded abdomen than males. The male butterfly’s abdomen has straight sides, while the female’s abdomen is curved.

Range: The Painted Lady/Vanessa cardui butterfly is one of three Vanessa in Tennessee. it's called a cosmopolitan butterfly because it's one of the most widely distributed butterfly in the world and is found in all 48 contiguous states.

Habitat: gardens, fields, old pastures, lake edges, and even in vacant lots.

Larval Host plants: Their larval food plant list is longer than most other butterflies. They commonly use some species of thistle as their primary host, but they also lay eggs on hollyhock, mallow, and plantain species.

Adult Food: The Painted Lady prefers nectar from composites, especially thistles; also aster, cosmos, blazing star, ironweed, and joe-pye weed. Flowers from other families that they visit include mallows, forget-me-nots, waterleaf, bean, nettle, mint, potato, morning glory, carrot, milkweed, elm, and citrus. So many families as a food choice that you are sure to find them in your garden!

Comments: Their adult life consists of drinking nectar, pairing, and laying eggs. Expect to see them from April to November in Tennessee. Life span is about two weeks.

Raising Painted Lady Butterfly: The Painted Lady Butterfly is a popular science activity in elementary schools.  Do a web search to find information and to order kits. This can be an exciting activity for supervised children. The sellers ask only that you make sure you have host plants for them once they arrive...They're voracious eaters!  Here's a link for more general information on raising butterfly.

I've been checking plants to see if there are eggs or cats, but, so far none. I will be sure and let you know when/if I find any!
Creative Common Use Tom Murray photographer

Here's what I am searching for: A black caterpillar, with yellowish lines on each side, and a black head. The first instars make a nest of rolled leaf held together with silk. Photos I've seen of these nests show nearby skeletonized leaves and lots of frass. Please note: Each instar changes appearance, which makes this a difficult cat to id.

Now start searching!

PS Remember if you want pollinators like this pretty Painted Lady in your garden never, ever, ever, ever, ever, use pesticides, even when you come upon a messy, frass filled rolled leaf! Let's all be better at embracing imperfection in our gardens.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Deer-tongue Grass

I have an abundance of several lesser known native grasses growing in my garden. Until recently they've been considered weeds and even now you can find articles on how to rid your lawn of them.
Danthonia spicata summer color

One is Danthonia spicata, a sweet cool season native grass that I am crazy about. Poverty Oat Grass is a perfect name for a grass that grows in the most inhospitable of "lawn" spaces: Dry upland woods and forests, upland prairies, glades, tops of bluffs, old fields, eroded pastures, roadsides and dry disturbed areas. But, don't look for it among the ornamental grasses offered by most nurseries. It isn't a big sexy grass with showy inflorescence, but, it has much to offer for gardeners who love native plants. It also has good wildlife value for critters.
Panicled seedheads
Another unusual and lesser known grass and the real star of Wildflower Wednesday is Dichanthelium clandestinum. Deer-tongue Grass is one of the various panic or witch grasses that I've discovered growing in damp spots in the garden. The unbranched leaves of early spring caught my eye and I was determined to identify it.

What I discovered was that most of the witch grasses/panic grasses are members of the Panicum or Dichanthelium genus and impossible for me to tell apart. Their panicled seedheads make them easily identifiable as panic grasses, but that's as far as I have gotten with most of them.
source: Kansas Native Plants

Deer-tongue grass is a native grass that occurs in the eastern half of the US. It prefers damp soil, so look for it in marshy ground, thickets, woody edges, stream banks, roadsides, and even near the shore.

It's most attractive in the early spring when the silver flower heads shimmer in the slightest breeze. The clasping leaves give the plant a bamboo like appearance and the foliage turns yellow-brown in autumn. It's attractive and has good wildlife value....so it's a keeper!  Under the right conditions it can be an aggressive spreader, but, so far, that hasn't happened here. 
The tiny flowers are produced on open, airy clusters called panicles and are nearly impossible to photograph

The particulars

Botanical name: Dichanthelium clandestinum
Grass family (Poaceae)
Common name: Deer tongue grass
Wildlife Value: Dozens of birds eat the seeds, at least 5 different skipper larva feed on it and dozens of other beetles, and other insects feed on the leaves. When left standing in winter it provides shelter for birds and small mammals. Is grazed by mammals.
Inflorescence: Panicle
Leaf: Green
Size: 24"
Bloom Time: May through Sept
Partial sun/shade (4-6 hrs light daily)
Hardiness Zones: Zone 4 to Zone 9
Soil Preference: Clay, loam, sand
Pollination: Early flowers are wind pollinated, later ones are self pollinating
Landscape Uses: Massing, Natural garden, used to re-vegetate disturbed areas with infertile soils
Comments: In the right conditions this grass can spread aggressively.

My dear readers, you might consider allowing some of these native grasses to grow in your garden or even in your lawn. Think of all the good you'll do for skippers and other critters. Seeds can be found online, so give them a try!


Thanks for stopping by to help celebrate Wildflower Wednesday.

Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing wildflowers all over this great big beautiful world. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants, how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesday of the month!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


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