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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Milkweed Tussock Moth

No Monarch cats on the Asclepias syriaca, but, I did find a Euchaetes egle feeding on its leaves yesterday afternoon.
It looks like a colorful pipe cleaner to me.

I've seen plenty of critters on my common milkweed, but, this caterpillar is a first for me. I knew it was a tussock cat by its bright color and bristly hairs, but, had to research to id it. I suspect that this is the final instar for this cat and before long it will leave the milkweed plant and pupate in its small, gray felted cocoon until next spring.

Milkweed Tussock moth
The moths aren't super colorful like the cats, but, they do have  orange and black abdomens that might make spotting them easier. Of course, you know that I will be watching for them.

In the meantime, I'll enjoy this beauty and appreciate the dozens of other critters that rely on Asclepias syriaca in bloom, in seed or just the plant. By the way, common milkweed was our June Wildflower Wednesday star, stop by/click on the link to see its gorgeous bloom.


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.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

I heart Hydrangea arborescens

H arborescens
Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea, is a gangly limbed deciduous shrub with large, opposite, toothed leaves and grayish stems. The dome shaped flower head is composed of sterile and fertile flowers that begin to bloom in June in my garden. It's native to woodland slopes, hillsides and stream banks in the Eastern US.

 ...and I adore it.
H arborescens has a lace cap look with large sterile flowers
I love the large, cloud-like clusters of early summer flowers that start out pale green and turn to white, then eventually fade to brown. I especially love that it resembles a fancy lacecap Hydrangea.

It grows wild on the wooded hillsides near our house and I was lucky to have some given to me. It's been in my garden for about 30 years and although, it can colonize, it hasn't gotten out of hand at all. It likes a moister soil than most sites in my garden, so I planted it along the sidewalk to the front porch where there is enough of a slope to give it the good drainage it needs and the faucet is close enough to give it big gulp of water during our dry summers.

Most of you know I garden for wildlife, so the wildlife value of plants I bring into the garden are important. Wild hydrangeas have pretty good wildlife value: they're pollinated by many species of native bees and beetles and it's a host plant for two moths, Darapsa versicolor/Hydrangea Sphinx Moth and Olethreutes ferriferana/Hydrangea leaf-tier moth.
 I love that little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), Halictid bees, masked bees (Hylaeus spp.), miscellaneous wasps, mosquitoes, Syrphid flies, thick-headed flies, Muscid flies, dance flies (Empis spp.), tumbling flower beetles, and long-horned beetles (source) visit the flowers, but, watching a bumble bee race back and forth is fabulous.

About a decade ago I started adding H arborecens cultivars. I am particular about what I add to my garden and these cultivar are not only good looking, they also have good wildlife value.
H arborescens 'White Dome'
H arborescens 'White Dome' was the first one I added. Its lacecap flower looks exactly like the straight species with those sterile white flowers around the edge of the inflorescence. The only differences I can detect from the species are the longer stems that hold the flowers up higher.
The flowers are a mixture of sterile and fertile flowers
 H arborescens 'Ryan Gainey' is another cultivar you might like. It is reminiscent of a smaller 'Annabelle' and is perfect for my woodland. In my opinion, the giant flower balls of 'Annabelle would look silly here! You might feel differently.
H arborescens 'Hayes Starburst' with double sterile flowers and lots of fertile ones
One of the most interesting cultivars in the garden is H arborescens 'Hayes Starburst'. Hayes Jackson found this sport while walking his property in Alabama. The serrated leaves are a great contrast to the greenish white blooms. Those double flowers are beautiful, but, the stems all flop over in my garden soil, so last winter I transplanted it to a tall container. It gets more sun and has excellent drainage and the flowers are no longer flopping on top of the soil.
bees and other pollinators visit this beauty
 'Riven Lace'/'Emerald Lace' lived for two years in a large container and last fall I planted it along the front garden path across from the original Hydrangeas. The flowers look exactly like the straight species, but, it's the leaves that give it more personality.
The leaves look nothing like the species, instead they're very deeply lobed in an irregular fashion and are a deep emerald green. I think you'll be looking to add this one to your garden.
Invincibelle® Spirit II is the most colorful.
 Proven Winners sent me several H arborescens to trial and they add a bit of color to the white and green palette. I was surprised at how much I liked Invincibelle® Spirit II.

It's bright color doesn't last long, but, it does have a sweet mixture of sterile and fertile flowers and yes, I have seen bees and other pollinators on it.

Smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea, which ever name you prefer,  are delightful plants for every garden. The green flower buds and creamy white flowers are stellar.

If the creamy white flowers and light pinks aren't enough color for you, do what I do. Plant a lot of wildflowers beneath them.


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 26, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: Asclepias syriaca

I am super excited to share Common milkweed with you today for Wildflower Wednesday. Three years ago I planted one small plant and now I have well over a three dozen plants and most bloomed. That's both wonderfully exciting and terrifying. Now, if only a Monarch butterfly would lay eggs and cats would start consuming the leaves!
Bumbles and other bees love the nectar and pollen rich flowers
It's an interesting looking plant with gorgeous flowers that smell delicious. It typically grows 3-4' tall on stout, upright stems with thick, broad-oblong, reddish-veined, light green leaves (to 8" long), although, in ideal conditions it can grow to be 6 foot tall.
they bloom over a long bloom period from late spring well into summer.
The flowers or umbels are lightly drooping clusters of fragrant, pinkish -purple flowers that appear mostly in the upper leaf axils. The flowers are nectar and pollen rich and attract a variety of critters. Stems and leaves exude a milky sap when cut or bruised....thus the name milkweed.

The seed pods develop after fertilization into warty seed pods (2-4" long) which split open when ripe. Once the floss/coma has plumped up the soft and beautiful silky-tailed seeds are ready to parachute away on the wind.

Botanists call this wind dispersal, but, for me it's pure magic. It's a trip to my childhood; where the dried pods were small boats and the feathery comas were soft fluffy pillows for fairies to rest as they floated in the puddles.

The seeds are cool (and fun to try to photograph) as they blow about, pausing for a brief moment before the wind catches them and they are gone. Traveling on the wind a few feet or a few miles, they will drop from the sky onto a spot of soil and wait the winter out. Technically that waiting period is called vernalization. Milkweed seeds need cold weather in order to germinate. Come spring, the seed will grow and any of the silk/coma that's left in the garden will be gathered by hummingbirds and warblers for their nests.

Total magic or nature at its clever best. You decide.
balls of pink fragrant blooms

It's a colonizer and when you plant one you can be guaranteed that there will be dozens before you know it. Trust me on this and plant it were you don't mind it taking off or be prepared to dig them up when young (taprooted so transplant when young) to share with others. Yes, it's aggressive, but, planting milkweed is important to Monarch butterfly. Besides, you do need this fragrance in your garden.

The preference is full sun, rich loamy soil, and mesic conditions, but this robust plant can tolerate  many different growing situations...even some shade. It can be found in a variety of habitats including croplands, pastures, roadsides, ditches and old fields. It's native from southern Canada and the eastern USA west to the great plains.
Nature's mega food market for insects

 "Common milkweed is Nature's mega food market for insects. Over 450 insects are known to feed on some portion of the plant. Numerous insects are attracted to the nectar-laden flowers and it is not at all uncommon to see flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies on the flowers at the same time. Occasionally hummingbirds will try, unsuccessfully, to extract nectar. Its sap, leaves and flowers also provide food. In the northeast and midwest, it is among the most important food plants for monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus). Other common feeders are the colorful (red with black dots) red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus), the milkweed tussock caterpillar (Euchaetes egle) and the large (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and the small (Lygaeus kalmia) red and black milkweed bugs. The latter two are particularly destructive as both the adults and nymphs are seed predators. They can destroy 80 to 90 percent of a colony's seed crop. The red (or orange-red) and black coloration of most of these insects is known as aposematic coloration; that is, the colors advertise the fact that the organism is not good to eat." Source

Native Americans used this species as a source of fibers and during the Second World War children in the northern states were encouraged to collect the seed pods that were processed for the coma, or floss, which was used for floatation in life vests. Today the coma is harvested for use in pillows and comforters.

 Asclepia syriaca is one of my favorite rough and tumble native wildflowers. Rough and tumble wildflowers are beautiful and charming plants that are usually found growing in meadows, prairies and roadside ditches. The beautiful thing about them is that they haven't had their best characteristics bred out of them. There are no cultivars or hybrids~That means they have not been crossed or genetically altered by human hand to be shorter, more floriferous, double flowered, disease resistant, sterile or what ever else is the going fad. I am pretty sure you can't improve on what nature has already done~creating plants that dance beautifully and gracefully with their pollinator and wildlife partners.

That definition fits common milkweed perfectly. It has a beautiful relationship dance with pollinators and an especially important one with Monarch butterflies. Monarchs cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and Monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs.

Planting milkweed is one of the easiest ways that each of us can make a difference for them. There are several dozen species of this wildflower native to North America, so no matter where you live, there is at least one milkweed species naturally found in your area. Planting local milkweed species is always best and common milkweed is native where I live.

In case you wondered if you're gardening on the Monarch Migration Trail the following maps will help. Btw, Middle Tennessee, where I garden, is not on the migration trail, but, I planted common milkweed for all the visiting pollinators.

Happy Wildflower Wednesday my friends.
Moving north

Heading south

The particulars:

Asclepias syriaca
Common Name: common milkweed
Family: Apocynaceae
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Native Range: Eastern North America
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 2.00 to 3.00 feet Spread: 0.75 to 1.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Description: Pink, mauve, white
Sun: Full sun/light shade
Water: Dry to medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Naturalize, meadow, field
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Wildlife value: High. Attracts: Butterflies, bees, flies, ants, beetles...
Fruit: Showy
Comments: Can spread somewhat rapidly by rhizomes. Often forms extensive colonies in the wild. Tolerate: Deer, Drought, Erosion, Dry Soil, Shallow-Rocky Soil

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

 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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