Anticipation

Today I noticed that holes have appeared in the swallowtail chrysalis left on my bronze fennel stalks.

butterfly chrysalis with holes

The chrysalis, which had been an electric green color earlier in the summer, now looks brown and desiccated. I hope it won’t be long before it splits open and we see a new butterfly emerge.

Wildflower Wednesday: Joe Pye Weed

I am not going to win any awards for novelty with this post, but I do love Joe Pye weed.

Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium fistulosum

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) is a plant well worth growing, if you don’t already. An excellent back-of-the-border plant that blooms for months from midsummer to mid-autumn, it asks little of the gardener and provides the nectar of choice for bees and butterflies. My clump is about 6 feet tall and thoroughly sturdy, although it would be smaller if I bothered to cut it back in late spring.  Every day I pass it on my way to the mailbox, and every day it is absolutely crawling with bees. And so far, the deer have left it alone.

Gail at Clay and Limestone hosts Wildflower Wednesdays. 

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Mountain mint

I love plant swaps and gardening listservs. It’s so much fun to share plants you need to divide, and to acquire new plants to try.

This week I came into two containers of mountain mint, Pycnanthemum sp. I don’t know what species I have, but I suspect it may be Pycnanthemum muticum, or short-toothed mountain mint. It’s about 3 feet tall, with silvery, slightly serrated leaves an inch to an inch and a half long. Small, buttonlike bracts just above the leaves hold the flowers, which are white, I understand. The plant had finished flowering when I acquired it.  It smells pungently of mint–much stronger than the culinary mint I grow in containers–and is attractive to bees and butterflies. It is actually more closely related to the Monardas than the Menthas, and the resemblance between their respective leaves and bracts is quite plain.

Pycnanthemum muticum heads and bracts

Pycnanthemum muticum heads and bracts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The woman who shared it with me warned me that it might be another to keep in a container, because it took over her own backyard (classic behavior of both Menthas and Monardas). Her soil is much nicer than mine, though; fluffy and rich, if the material in the pot is anything to go by. I am wary of the possibility of swapping one assertive species for another, but I planted it in the back of the garden where the heavy rains this year have made the English ivy encroaching from the carrot lady‘s yard go berserk. The soil there is positively unimproved, so if the mountain mint shows signs of thriving, I may dig it up and replant it in a sunken container with the bottom cut out.

Bring on the butterflies and bees!

More swallowtails on the way

I found a swallowtail chrysalis on the bronze fennel they’ve devoured all summer.

swallowtail butterfly chrysalis

About one inch long, the length from the end of my thumb to the knuckle, it is held off the fennel stalk by two thin threads. I keep an eye on it every day.

It’s worth remembering to look carefully as you clean up the garden in late summer and early fall. I’m relieved I didn’t throw this into the compost pile. Instead, it remains at the end of my front walk, where I pass by it several times a day. Dragonflies perch above it, perhaps, like me, anticipating the big show.

blue dragonfly, species unknown

Backyard Blooms: Plants in flower this week

I’m taking a break this week, but here’s what’s blooming in my garden right now:

Stokesia laevis 'Peachie's Pick'

Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’ (‘Peachie’s Pick’ Stokes’ aster).

I’m not desperately keen on asters, but I like this one very much. Drought-tolerant, unbothered by insects or disease, it grows about 18 inches high and stays where it is put. It likes full sun or partial shade and asks virtually nothing of the gardener, although a little deadheading here and there improves its blooming.

An easy plant for the novice gardener, and a butterfly-friendly one at that.

The buffet is open

This little fellow, I am pretty sure, is Papilio polyxenes, the Black Swallowtail butterfly larva. k Swallowtail

caterpillar on rue 2

He’s feasting on rue,  Ruta graveolens. I grow lots of it in my garden because it is a favorite food source of these breathtaking insects.

Learn more at ButterfliesandMoths.org.

My very hungry caterpillar(s)

(an homage to Eric Carle)

At some point last summer, a butterfly lay an egg on a leaf.

One morning, when I wasn’t watching, out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar. Then his brother hatched. And his sister. And his other sister…

They started to look for some food.

On Monday they ate through one Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll.’ But they were still hungry.

very hungry caterpillars

On Tuesday, they ate through some gardenias. But they were still hungry.

gardenia 1

On Wednesday, they ate through three 6-foot Osmanthus. But they were still hungry.

osmanthus 3

On Thursday, they ate through a Heuchera. But they were still hungry.

heuchera 2

You know the rest of the story.

We all love butterflies. We want them to fill our gardens and delight our children and ourselves. But if we want them, we had better accept that we must also have caterpillars. As depressed as the chewed-up foliage leaves me, I won’t reach for any sprays. Soon they will be big, fat, sleepy caterpillars and I can pass some time with my kids finding cocoons. I grow several plants that are favorite hosts of different butterfly species: rue (Ruta graveolens), favored by the Old World swallowtail;  bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), favored by the Anise swallowtail; butterfly bush (Buddleja), Senna marilandica, Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea), Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) and others. When caterpillar season is over I will cut off the decimated foliage, and wait for the butterflies to emerge.