New plants to try: Ceratotheca triloba

My visit this fall to Montrose hasn’t stopped inspiring me. Ceratotheca triloba, also known as South African foxglove, is an unusual annual plant that thrives in gravel soil.

Ceratotheca triloba

Ceratotheca triloba

It looks a bit like a cross between a salvia and a foxglove. Like foxgloves, it grows 3-6′ tall, attracts bees and hummingbirds, and gently reseeds itself to spread gracefully around the garden. At Montrose, it grew in the pathways.

Ceratotheca triloba

The front of the blossom looks very much like that of a foxglove. (Unfortunately, I couldn’t photograph the flower’s face without stepping in the borders.) I imagine it looking most attractive in the company of Salvia leucantha, Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape’ and Callirhoe involucrata. 

I think I must get the rest of my cyclamen sown, and quickly.

Planning and planting for monarchs

Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus Proboscis 2...

Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus Proboscis 2591px (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that fall is here, and life in the garden is beginning to slow down (ever so slightly), I am thinking about next year’s garden.

It’s been a wonderful summer here for swallowtail butterflies. I enjoy spotting the caterpillars that continue, even now, to overwhelm my small stands of bronze fennel (one of the construction workers building our addition said he counted 19 on one plant last week!).

swallowtail butterfly larva

A very hungry swallowtail caterpillar munches my bronze fennel to its core.

But as you may have heard if you live in the US, this has been a bad year for monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus). Habitat destruction and widespread use of pesticides have contributed to profound declines in numbers over the past few years. In the past, I have tried to grow plants attractive to all kinds of pollinators, but as I plan for Winter Sowing 2.0, I intend to sow and plant for monarchs in particular.

Monarch larvae feed on milkweed (Asclepias sp.), and females will only lay their eggs on these plants. Different species of milkweed are recommended for different areas of the US: Monarch Joint Venture has a map and fact sheet about them.

But migrating butterflies need nectar plants as well. Monarch Watch is a wonderful source of information on ways to help contribute to conservation of this species (as well as other butterfly species), including recommended nectar plants. I think my household may try to become certified as a Monarch Waystation next year (I feel a Girl Scout project coming on).

Photograph of a female Monarch Butterfly en ( ...

Photograph of a female Monarch Butterfly en ( Danaus plexippus en ) on a hybrid Milkweed en ( Asclepias tuberosa en x Asclepias incarnata en ). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many milkweeds species perform well with winter sowing–a technique in which the gardener sows seed in a simple pot or flat and leaves it exposed to the elements all winter long. The gardener doesn’t tend the seedlings until it’s time to pot them on. It couldn’t be easier–so there is little excuse for me to not try to help this beloved and charismatic species recover from the challenges it has suffered.

I hope that, if you garden in North America, you will explore resources like Monarch Watch and Monarch Joint Venture to find out ways you can help. There are wonderful citizen science programs around through which gardeners and homeowners can assist with migration tracking and population counts.  No garden is too small to contribute to the conservation of these creatures.

Preserving the harvest

Humans aren’t the only ones harvesting and preserving at this time of year.

bee collecting pollen from aster tataricus

Bees are taking full advantage of the heavy bloom of asters and chrysanthemums. I watched this one for a few minutes this afternoon.

bee in flight

bee collecting pollen from aster

bee collecting pollen

Those orange bulges on its legs are pollen baskets. The insect presses the collected pollen into these small cavities to transport it back to the hive.

bee in flight flight

 

I hope you get a few quiet moments to observe these fascinating creatures. Happy fall!

Perpetual caterpillar season

I had thought the caterpillar season was over.

papilio polyxenes caterpillar on bronze fennel

As I was weeding the blue slope the other evening, I noticed tons of them on the spindly remains of my bronze fennel.

Papilio polyxenes

This is the caterpillar of the eastern black swallowtail butterfly, Papilio polyxenes. There must have been ten or so, ranging from fat ones like these to tiny ones perhaps three quarters of an inch long, on one plant alone.

caterpillars climbing

With any luck, I will have a second chance to watch a chrysalis.

Chatham County Extension Agent Debbie Roos has noticed the same phenomenon in her nearby pollinator paradise garden. By the way, she has a terrific list of butterfly- and bee-friendly plants at this site.

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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