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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Partridge Pea makes a stand

It's been half a dozen years since Partridge Pea/Chamaecrista fasciculata was a Wildflower Wednesday star. That's way too long for such a fabulous Fabaceae to sit on the sidelines.

Chamaecrista fasciculata is an annual that grows in poor sandy or gravely soil. It forms large stands if happy and you can count on blooms for several months. It has attractive blue-green pinnate leaves and showy flowers that are a brilliant yellow with a red blotch at the base and dark red anthers. The flowers grow in the leaf axils all along the sprawling stem.

It first caught my eye at Radnor Lake, growing on a hill off the Lake Trail in dry soil and high shade. A few weeks later I spotted it at Bison Park, a little mini prairie in a nearby neighborhood. When I wrote about it back in 2011, I thought for sure it would be an easy plant to establish. Friends sent me seeds, but they didn't grow. Nothing happened until I got serious and ordered seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery. What I learned was that Partridge Pea like other members of the Pea Family, harbor beneficial bacteria called rhizobia on their roots and with out the bacteria they just won't grow. PMN includes the inoculum with Partridge Pea seeds. The seeds arrived with their inoculum and following the nursery's instructions, were inoculated prior to planting them last fall*.
flowers, buds and seed capsules
 Voila! Partridge Peas made a stand and I am one happy gardener. The bees are happy, too,

Bumbles busily work the flowers in the early morning.

In researching Partridge Pea for this post I learned a couple of new things. First, those cool flowers, that the bumbles make a mad dash for every morning, have no nectar, only pollen. The bees are  attracted to the food pollen on the purple anthers, and get dusted with the reproductive pollen from the yellow anthers.  Nature is amazing and plant reproduction is so cool.
Partridge Peas are not nectarless. This is the second cool thing I learned~Nectar is produced at the base of the leaf in tiny, reddish-orange glands called nectares.
Extrafloral nectaries along the stem

Nectares are nectar-secreting glandular organ in a flower (floral) or on a leaf or stem (extrafloral). Our Wildflower Wednesday star has ENFs that are loaded with nectar and very attractive to ants and other pollinators. It keeps getting cooler.
Don't you think the ferny leaves are a great backdrop to those bright yellow flowers?
Some gardeners shy away from annuals, but, that's a mistake. Collinsea verna, Western Daisy, Sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans and Heleniums are just a few of the wonderful annuals to consider for your garden. Add Partridge Pea to the list of wildlife friendly and valuable annuals. Don't worry that it's a one season wonder, it should reseed and make a nice stand in your garden!  

 Here's what I love about it!

  • long bloom season
  • pollinator magnet
  • pretty flowers
  • ferny leaves that add texture to a garden bed
  • host plant for butterfly caterpillars. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars will feed on both the Partridge Pea’s leaves and its flowers. You can tell which the caterpillar concentrated on by its color, which may be yellow or green.
  • ecologically valuable 
Cloudless sulfur butterfly caterpillar

The Particulars

Family: Fabaceae
Common Name: Partridge Pea, sleeping plant, showy partridge pea, prairie senna, large-flowered sensitive-pea, dwarf cassia, partridge pea senna, locust weed, golden cassia.
Botanical Name: Chamaecrista fasciculata
Annual: plant in fall with appropriate inoculant
Range: native to the Southeast and throughout much of the U.S. east of the Rockies.
Light Requirements: Full Sun, Half Sun / Half Shade
Flower Color: Yellow with a touch of red
Height: 24-36" tall
Bloom Time: July and I hope into the fall
Fruit: a straight, narrow pod 1½ to 2½ inches long, which splits along 2 sutures as it dries; the pod sides spiral to expel the seeds some distance from the parent plant. I always wondered why seed pods of legumes were twisted!
Host Plant: Cloudless Sulphur, Sleepy Orange, and Little Yellow, Ceraunus Blue and Gray Hairstreak  caterpillars. A good nectar source that also attracts many pollinators in addition to butterflies. (source)
Comments:  It's used in the USA for cover cropping, ornate flowers in native gardens, honey crop, as an annual reseeding legume for restoration and conservation plantings, and wildlife food. Its seeds are a favorite food for many birds, including bobwhite quail and endangered prairie chickens, it provides cover for wildlife, is a pioneer plant in poor and disturbed areas, improving soils as a nitrogen fixer. It grows in dense stands and the decaying stalks provide covering for birds, small mammals and waterfowl.

What ever it's called in your neck of the woods, this fabulous Fabaceae has excellent wildlife value...Not bad for an annual!

Thanks for stopping by to help celebrate Wildflower Wednesday. Btw, *I've written about Prairie Moon Nursery before Some catalogs are better than others do check it out.

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.

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.


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