Hunger games: The joys of aphid-lady beetle IPM

This weekend, as I cleaned up the spent blooms of my bearded iris (Iris germanica), I noticed that one of the leaves was absolutely covered in aphids. I don’t like to use pesticides if I can avoid it, and bearded iris don’t need them. But aphids enjoying my iris will soon find my roses, my tomatoes, and other edibles–and I really don’t want to use pesticides on anything I’m going to eat.

I noticed a ladybug (or more correctly, lady beetle; I think this is Coccinella septempunctata, or seven-spotted lady beetle) on the ground. I gently picked her up and held her to the iris leaf. I hoped she would make like a high school football team at an all-you-can-eat crab legs buffet.

Lady beetle preparing to feast on aphids on Iris germanica.

Lady beetle preparing to feast on aphids on Iris germanica.

Unlike teenage Homo sapiens, lady beetles apparently aren’t a gluttonous species (though hungry adults can apparently eat up to several hundred aphids per day). But they’re no dummies, either, and know to eat when they are presented with easy prey.

I watched with delight as the aphids, acknowledging her presence, migrated down the leaf towards the ground. They’re slow creatures but can move when faced with imminent threat. As the faster aphids began moving away from the ladybug, the ladybug overtook one of their witless chums.

Lady beetle approaching her prey on a twigWatching a ladybug tear into an aphid is as thrilling as any David Attenborough-narrated documentary on life on the African savanna.  She (not that all lady beetles are female; they’re not) seized that aphid and crushed it in her jaws. In just a few seconds, she had eaten the aphid alive.

I didn’t have my camera at the time, so I raced into the house to grab it. Perhaps she had already feasted on other aphids in the garden, because by the time I came back, although I tried to coax her into eating more, she seemed to be full. So she settled down on the leaf to digest her dinner.

Ladybug content post-meal

No, thank you; I’m full. The lady beetle had eaten her fill by the time I came back.

Want to see the horror show for yourself? Here’s a video showing something similar to what I saw.

Iris obsession puts me in good company

Henry Mitchell loved irises. Me, too.

Iris time is peaking here in my garden. All  the rain of the past two weeks has left me with  soggy-tissue lumps to deadhead. But I have been delighted to see many of the pass-along plants I’ve received in the past two years blooming for the first time.

I thought my collection of miscellaneous iris might be redundant, but I am nothing compared to Henry. In his garden in Memphis, he apparently grew more than 500.  Schreiner’s Iris Gardens continued to honor Mitchell posthumously for many years with gifts of rhizomes to his widow.

In a post last year, I wrote about inheriting this property in which iris seedlings grew like grass. Most of them couldn’t be salvaged, but a year or two after the surgery I do have a healthy stand of several different cultivars. Now, I am increasingly fascinated with identifying which ones I have.

If you have any tips on sources that can definitively identify iris, bearded ones in particular, I’d love to hear them. I did find the World Iris visual gallery, and their “QuickFix index” which is helping me slowly. “Quick” is relative when there are so many iris cultivars out there, and plant identification apps seem to be low on the programmer-type’s priority list.

I’ve got (that I’ve counted) a total of 13 varieties of bearded iris, Iris germanica:

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Then, there are the ones I don’t know:

Iris germanica ‘Carolina Darkness’ has never bloomed for me before, but it looks as though it will in the next few weeks. I cannot find a picture of it online. And there is the muddy yellow one of which, inexplicably, I do not have a picture.

Then, there are the other species:

This spring, my neighbor Martha gave me Iris cristata, dwarf crested iris. I understand it is white. Other not-yet-bloomed characters include the purple Japanese iris that I received from my sister’s garden some years ago, and Iris x louisiana ‘Black Gamecock.’

I understand it is possible, in a not-unreasonable amount of time, to actually watch an iris unfurl. If it ever stops raining, I shall treat myself to a sabbatical long enough to do just that.