Pollinators Come to a Tiny Urban Yard

By Edie Parnum

A 130-square foot cement-covered backyard —who would expect such a yard could be a haven for wildlife?  The property is on a narrow street of rowhouses in Philadelphia.  The nearest park is several miles away. Nonetheless, this garden is teeming with  butterflies, bees, wasps, moths, and a host of other pollinating insects.

A view of Navin’s small backyard. Photo by N. Sasikumar. Click to enlarge.

Navin, an avid amateur naturalist, moved to this property last fall.  He saw the potential to attract pollinators with native plants in raised beds and containers.   In early spring, he invited me for a Backyards for Nature consultation.  Together we made a list of short and mid-sized perennials that bloom from early spring to late fall and are known to attract a variety of pollinators.

He purchased good quality plants from Good Host Plants, a native plant nursery in Philadelphia. He planted perennials in two raised beds that sit atop the cement.  Others he planted in large, deep containers. He installed two trellises for growing vines.

Pecks Skipper butterfly nectaring on Wild Bergamot. Photo by N. Sasikumar

It worked.  In the spring bees and other insects found the Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadense), Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis). and Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata).  The summer blossoms of Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Butterfly Weed (A.tuberosa), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Joe-Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Short-toothed Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), and Orange Coneflower

Female Monarch nectaring on Swamp Milkweed Photo by N Sasikumar. Cllick to enlarge.

(Rudbeckia fulgida) host many butterflies and other pollinators.  The show continues this fall with Grey Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), New England Aster (Symphotrichum novae-angliae), and other asters.  Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquifolia) will bloom on the trellises.

On weekends Navin observes and photographs the wildlife in his

Black Swallowtail caterpillar. Photo by N Sasikumar. click to enlarge.

garden.  He discovered Monarchs laying eggs on his Swamp Milkweed.  An insatiable predator, a Carolina Mantis (our native mantid species) lurked nearby, so he decided to bring the Monarch eggs and caterpillars inside to raise them in safety.  So far, he’s raised and released 34 adult Monarchs.  An additional 47 are either chrysalises or caterpillars and will be released soon for their journey to Mexico.  He’s also rearing BlackSwallowtail eggs and caterpillars that grow on parsley.  According to Navin, nighttime is the best time for spotting the small eggs and caterpillars.

So far, he’s recognized ten additional butterfly species including Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Red Admiral, and Eastern Tailed Blue.  The biggest surprise was a Giant Swallowtail, a southern species rarely seen in

Giant Swallowtail. Photo by Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

the Philadelphia area. Other insects are finding his garden, too.  Navin observed a Snowberry Clearwing, a large day-flying moth, nectaring on blossoms like a hummingbird. A variety of bees, wasps, flies and moths feed on nectar and pollen.  With so many insects, predators such as the Carolina mantis as well as spiders,lacewings, and parasitic wasps have located his yard, too.  One day he spotted a lacewing eating aphids.

Tiger Bee Fly, a parasite of carpenter bees. Photo by N Sasikumar. Click to enlarge.

Navin offers advice to other wildlife gardeners with limited space.   A great many plants can be crowded into small garden plots, raised beds, and large, deep containers.  Prune the plants periodically to keep them short and use stakes before tall plants get floppy. Water frequently in hot weather.

Navin submits his wildlife sightings to iNaturalist, a nature record-keeping app.  He photographs the butterflies and moths (both adults and caterpillars), bees, wasps, flies, beetles—in fact, any creature using his plants.  He uploads these photos and the species names to iNaturalist. The dates and location are automatically included.  When the species is unknown, iNaturalist experts can usually provide the identification.  Scientists and other amateur naturalists can view and study Navin’s sightings and those of the other 137,000 iNaturalist users.

How do so many creatures find this yard?  Certainly, adult butterflies and moths can fly.  They’re wired to find nectar and pollen for their survival.  With their chemical sensors, they can also locate the specific plants they require to lay their eggs.  Other insects have powerful search mechanisms, too.

Navin will keep searching.  He’ll find more creatures.  After all, this garden is only 6 months old.

Prime Plants for Nature: Backyards for Nature 2017 Native Plant Awards

by Edie Parnum

Every year we feature two superior native plant species. One of the Prime Plants for Nature is a Tree, Shrub, or Vine and the other is a Perennial. Prime Plants are selected based on these criteria:

1. Native to southeastern Pennsylvania.
2. Offer high wildlife value and contribute significantly to your property’s web of life.
3. Provide food for wildlife by producing nutritious fruits, seeds, nuts, nectar, or       pollen. Most host insects that are eaten by birds or other animals.
4. Offer shelter and places to raise young.
5. Easy to grow and make attractive additions to your landscape.
6. Sold at native plant nurseries and native plant sales.

Our selections for the 2017 Prime Plants for Nature awards are:

Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens

Wildlife Value: Red tubular flowers on this woody vine produce nectar that attracts and

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeds on Trumpet Honeysuckle nectar. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

nourishes our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Butterflies and bumblebees use the nectar and pollen. As with other native plants, the foliage is food for native caterpillars, including Spring Azure butterflies and moths such as Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis), Harris’ Three-spot (Harrisimemna trisignata), and Great Tiger Moth (Arctia caja). These caterpillars in turn are food for birds and their nestlings. Songbirds occasionally eat the red berries.

Trumpet Honeysuckle vine in full bloom. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Growing Conditions: Trumpet Honeysuckle is adaptable to a variety of situations, sun or part sun, dry to moist soil. This twining vine is best supported by a trellis, fence, or arbor. The plant is long-lived and usually not bothered by pests or disease. Fertilizer is not recommended.

Harris’ Three Spot moth caterpillars eat honeysuckle leaves. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

 

 

Appearance: This honeysuckle is a rapidly growing multi-stemmed vine but isn’t invasive. The attractive, clustered 2” tubular flowers are red with a yellow throat. They bloom, sometimes profusely, from May through late summer.

 

 

New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Wildlife Value: Many bees and butterflies use the pollen and nectar of New England

New England Aster produces a profusion of attractive flowers. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Aster flowers. Sweat bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees, mining bees, and bumble bees are attracted to the blooms’ bold, contrasting colors. The flowers are an important nectar source for Monarch butterflies during their fall migration. The foliage hosts 109 species of caterpillars (per Doug Tallamy, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, 2007) including the Pearl Crescent butterfly. Moth species include Saddleback caterpillar, several geometers, and Brown-hooded Owlet.

Asters are host plants for Pearl Crescent butterflies. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge

Growing Conditions: This trouble-free perennial grows in moist to average soil with sun or part sun. The parent plant produces seedlings that can be easily transplanted. Mature plants can be divided and transplanted, too. Mildew can develop with high humidity and poor circulation.

Appearance: New England Aster is one of our prettiest native perennials. A profusion

Sweat Bee (Augochlorell sp.) collects pollen. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

of brightly colored blossoms, each 1 ½” across, appears in late summer and persists until fall. The flower rays are bright pink or purple, the central florets yellow-orange. The plant grows 3-6 feet high and may require staking. In a small garden, keep the plant from getting too tall by pinching back the top growth in early June and then again in early July. The flowers are attractive additions to flower arrangements. Cultivars are available in a variety of colors and heights.

Summer Magic in Barb’s Yard

By Barb Elliot

When I leave my house to explore my backyard, whether by day or after dark, I enter another world.  Transported from daily cares, I anticipate experiencing the wonders of nature. What’s happening at this season? What creatures will I encounter?  What mysteries will unfold?  I am rarely disappointed. Life is abundant in my yard because the numerous native plants I’ve planted meet the food and shelter needs of many animals.

This summer I photographed some of what I observed.  Here are highlights.  Enlarge any photo by clicking on it. 

Early Summer

Interesting pollinators gather nectar and/or pollen from my Highbush Blueberry flowers, including a Flower Longhorn Beetle  and an unknown flower fly – a good Yellow Jacket wasp mimic.  A native Green Sweat Bee on a Black-eyed Susan is covered with yellow pollen grains.

Flower Longhorn Beetle (Strangalia luteicornis) .  Photo © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Flower Longhorn Beetle (Strangalia luteicornis) . Photo © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Unknown flower fly.  Photo © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Unknown flower fly. Photo © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Green sweat bee (Agapostemon sp.) on Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida).  © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Green sweat bee on Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

In my pond, a Northern Green Frog  awaits its next meal. Near the pond edge an Orchard Orbweaver spider is ready to pounce on prey caught in its web.

Northern Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Northern Green Frog (Lithobates clamitans). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Orchard Orbweaver (Leucauge venusta) spider . © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Orchard Orbweaver (Leucauge venusta) spider . © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

A Cooper’s Hawk, unsuccessful at catching a songbird, watches for birds to return but eventually leaves without a meal.  A male Northern Cardinal, which is starting to molt, returns warily to the feeders.

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Wild Bergamot flowers attract a day-flying Hummingbird Clearwing Moth as well as many bumble bees.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) . © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth (Hemaris thysbe) sips nectar from Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Unknown bumble bee on  Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).   © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Unknown bumble bee on Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

One night, I find mating Red Milkweed Beetles on a milkweed plant and a Virginia Creeper Sphinx moth caterpillar on a Virginia Creeper vine.  On another night, an adult Virginia Creeper Sphinx moth comes to my lights.

Red Milkweed Beetles mating.  (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Red Milkweed Beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) mating. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Virginis Creeper Sphinx Moth (Darapsa myron). caterpillar. © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth (Darapsa myron) caterpillar. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Virginia Creeper Sphinx moth (Darapsa myron).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Virginia Creeper Sphinx moth (Darapsa myron). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

A Tent Caterpillar Moth, which I find attractive, also flies in.  Yes — this is the adult moth that comes from the Tent Caterpillars that make webs in my Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) trees.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth (Malacosoma americana).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar Moth (Malacosoma americana). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Midsummer

In July, I find a variety of beetles.  My favorite, the Dogbane Beetle, is on a Dogbane plant.  A tiny (less than 1/4 inch) colorful beetle, the Mottled Tortoise Beetle  appears during the day (wearing its little translucent skirt!).  A longhorn Ivory-marked Beetle, comes to night lighting.

Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus) on Dogbane plant (Apocynum cannabinum).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus) on Dogbane plant (Apocynum cannabinum). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Mottled Tortoise Beetle (Deloyala guttata).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Mottled Tortoise Beetle (Deloyala guttata). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Ivory-marked Beetle (Eburia quadrigeminata).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Ivory-marked Beetle (Eburia quadrigeminata). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

The right side of the patio area sports both Cardinal Flower  and Great Blue Lobelia . Pickerel Rush grows in the pond on the left. The tall plants with yellow flowers in the background are Cup Plant. Cardinal Flower nectar is enjoyed by a Spicebush Swallowtail that lost part of its left hindwing.  Probably a hungry bird tried unsuccessfully to capture this butterfly.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) on right,  blue Pickerel Rush (Pontederia cordata) flowers in pond on left.  Yellow flowers of Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) in right background.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) on right, blue Pickerel Rush (Pontederia cordata) flowers in pond on left. Yellow flowers of the tall Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) in background. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) on Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) missing part of left hindwing on Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Cup Plant attracts many pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and moths.  At night I find a Grape Leaffolder Moth sipping nectar.  One of many bumble bees that worked hard gathering nectar and pollen during the day sleeps on a Cup Plant flower.  At night, I often find bumble bees sound asleep on flowers in my garden.

Grape Leaffolder Moth (Desmia funeralis)  on Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Grape Leaffolder Moth (Desmia funeralis) on Cup Plant at night. (Silphium perfoliatum). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Bumble bee sleeping on Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) at night.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Bumble bee sleeping on Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) at night. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

After raising one successful brood, the House Wrens have a second set of nestlings that will soon leave the nest box.

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) nestlings in nest box>  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) nestlings in nest box. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Bumble Bee on Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odorata).   © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Bumble Bee on Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odorata). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Several types of native bees are busy pollinating my flowers.  Of special interest, bumble bees are performing buzz pollination on my Flowering Raspberry flowers.  Bumble bees vibrate their wings at specific frequencies to get some species of flowers to release their pollen.  Note that bumble bees are used for buzz pollination of a number of crops, including tomatoes, blueberries, eggplants, and cranberries.  The non-native honeybee is not able to buzz pollinate.

To watch and hear bumble bees performing buzz pollination in my yard, click here for the video.

 

I find a small green Nessus Sphinx moth caterpillar on native Enchanted Nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) and decide to raise it in a small enclosure with several inches of loose soil.  I feed it fresh leaves and within a week or so, it grows to over two inches long, molts into a brown caterpillar, and later burrows into the soil to pupate.  I have to wait until next spring to see it emerge as a beautiful day-flying hummingbird-like moth.

Nessus Sphinx Moth caterpillar - early instar.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Nessus Sphinx Moth (Amphion floridensis) caterpillar – early instar. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Nessus Sphinx Moth (Amphion floridensis)  caterpillar - last instar before pupating.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Nessus Sphinx Moth (Amphion floridensis) caterpillar – last instar before pupation. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

One night a strange-looking treehopper, possibly a Buffalo Treehopper, appears near my porch light.  Even more strange and ominous-looking, a very large robber fly the size of a large wasp hunts from a perch above my pond. These flies prey on large insects such as bees and wasps and will hang from one foot while devouring a victim.

Treehopper (possibly Buffalo Treehopper (Ceresa alta) .  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Possible Buffalo Treehopper (Ceresa alta) . © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Robber Fly (likely Diogmites sp.).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Robber Fly (likely Diogmites sp.) hunts over the pond. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Late Summer

A Shadow Darner dragonfly dries and expands its wings after emerging from the pond where it spent its nymphal stage.  The nymph recently crawled out of the pond and shed its exoskeleton. Because I find numerous shed skins (exuvia) during the summer, I know that my pond produces a good number of dragonflies.

Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) dragonfly.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Newly emerged Shadow Darner (Aeshna umbrosa) dragonfly dries and expands its wings. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

The shed skin (exuvia) from which a dragonfly emerged still hangs from a stem in the pond. © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

The shed skin (exuvia) from which a dragonfly emerged still hangs from a stem in the pond. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Native bees continue to actively collect pollen.  This one deposits the white pollen of Upland Ironweed into large pollen baskets on its hind legs.

Unknown native bee on Upland Ironweed (Vernonia glauca).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Unknown native bee on Upland Ironweed (Vernonia glauca). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails and Skippers are frequent visitors at my Garden Phlox.  I am happy to find a Monarch, too, but regret that this is the only one I’ve seen in my yard all summer.  It’s a female, so hopefully she laid eggs on my milkweed.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’). © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) on Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Skipper drawing nectar from Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’). © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Skipper (probably Zabulon Skipper – Poanes zabulon) sipping nectar from Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Monarch Butterfly (female) on Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Monarch butterfly (female) on Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Two ants in the grass struggle to drag a grub to their nest.  The grub must weigh many times more than they do.

Ants dragging a grub to their nest.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Ants dragging a grub to their nest. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

My Virgin’s Bower vine begins to bloom in late August and hosts a myriad of pollinators twenty-four hours a day.

Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) vine in bloom.

Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) vine in bloom.

At night, this vine is a moth magnet, attracting beauties like the multi-colored Ailanthus Webworm moth and Tobacco Budworm moth.

Ailanthus Webworm Moth  (Atteva punctella) at night on Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana).  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Ailanthus Webworm (Atteva punctella) moth sips nectar at night from Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Tobacco Budworm (Heliothis virescens) moth at night on Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana).  Note very small caterpillar on flower in background.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Tobacco Budworm (Heliothis virescens) moth sips nectar at night from Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana). Note very small u-shaped caterpillar on flower to the right of the moth’s antennae. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Predators such as harvestmen (“daddy longlegs”) and centipedes linger around the Virgin’s Bower vine to catch unsuspecting victims.  As I watch, a Spotted Orb Weaver spider quickly paralyzes the moth that flies into its web and then wraps it in silk.

Spotted Orb Weaver (Neoscona crucifera) spider quickly paralyzes a moth that flew into its web.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Spotted Orb Weaver (Neoscona crucifera) spider quickly paralyzes a moth that flies into its web. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Spotted Orb Weaver (Neoscona crucifera) spider with moth wrapped in silk.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Spotted Orb Weaver (Neoscona crucifera) spider with moth wrapped in silk. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

By mid-September, I see some fall migrating birds in the yard, including a Northern Parula and Common Yellowthroat.  Both find insects on my native plants that will fuel their journeys to the tropics.

Northern Parula (Setophaga Americana)  in River Birch (Betula nigra) tree.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

a migrating Northern Parula (Setophaga Americana) in River Birch (Betula nigra) tree. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) preens by the pond.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

A migrating Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) hunts insects by the pond. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

A Red-spotted Purple caterpillar has eaten the tip of a Black Cherry leaf in a pattern characteristic of this species.  I watch it grow for almost a week.  Then one night I make a gruesome discovery.  A spider has found my caterpillar and is in the process of sucking its life fluids.  However, I find another small Red-spotted Purple caterpillar a few feet away.  I’m hopeful this one will successfully overwinter and make it to adulthood.  If so, next summer it will grace my yard as another beautiful Red-spotted Purple butterfly.

An early instar Red-spotted Purple (Limenitus arthemis) caterpillar on Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) .  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

An early instar Red-spotted Purple (Limenitus arthemis) caterpillar on Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) . © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Spider sucking the life fluids of "my" Red-spotted Purple caterpillar.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Spider sucking the life fluids of “my” Red-spotted Purple (Limenitus arthemis) caterpillar. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitus arthemis)  butterfly in Barb's yard.  © Barb Elliot.  Click to enlarge.

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitus arthemis) butterfly on White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) in Barb’s yard. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

I look forward to next summer and discovering nature’s mysteries anew.

References

  • Beadle, David & Leckie, Seabrooke.  Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. New York, NY:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Brace Publishing Company, 2012
  • Bug Guide.Net:  http://bugguide.net/node/view/15740
  • Evans, Arthur V. Beetles of Eastern North America. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2014.
  • Evans, Arthur V. Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2008.
  • Moth Photographer’s Group: http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/
  • Switzer, Callin, “Getting Buzzed at the Arnold Arboretum”, Arnoldia; April, 2014.

Remembering Nature Discovery Day

By Edie Parnum

For eight years I have been gardening for nature on my ¾-acre suburban property. My yard with its abundance of native plants teems with birds, butterflies, bees, beetles, moths, and other creatures both big and small.  On August 29 my property abounded with people, too.  I had invited nature-loving friends to enjoy my native plants and discover the creatures they support.

Edie explaining the wonders of pollination.  Photo © Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarge.

Edie explaining the wonders of pollination. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, and Grass-leaved Goldenrod.  Photo © Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarge.

Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, and Grass-leaved Goldenrod. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Some people came for just an hour, others stayed all day.  Most participated in one of the three guided yard tours.  The insect and pollinator walks were popular, too.  Kids enjoyed their own nature and insect events.  A sizable group drove to Barb Elliot’s nearby property and saw her pond and thriving native plant habitat.  Some truly nature-crazed individuals stayed after dark for moth night.

Unquestionably, the native plants were a hit. All the species were labeled for easy identification. Many of my favorite plants (Short-toothed Mountainmint, Grass-leafed Goldenrod, Upland Ironweed, Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, Garden Phlox, Trumpet Vine, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Large-leafed Aster, and Sneezeweed) were in bloom. Berries on woody plants (Nannyberry and Blackhaw Viburnums, Flowering and Silky Dogwoods, Winterberry Holly, Black Chokeberry) and a vine (Virginia Creeper) were ripe and ready for the fall migrants.   (Click here for my complete yard plant list.)

Insects attracted notice and won new converts.  Many admired the Monarch and Black Swallowtail caterpillars.  The pollinators were active on the flowers.  We saw native bees (European Honey bees, too), wasps, flies, beetles, day-flying moths, as well as Ruby-throated Hummingbirds spreading pollen while feeding on the nectar.   Our entomologist, Dan Duran, PhD, identified a large blue-winged wasp (Scolia dubia) nectaring on mountainmint.  This wasp, a parasite on the larvae of Japanese Beetles, is now a favorite of mine.

The kids admire a slug with Debbie Beer.  Photo @ Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarge.

The kids admire a slug with Debbie Beer. Photo @ Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

The sharp-eyed kids on Debbie Beer’s nature walk saw a migrant American Redstart.  By turning over rocks and logs, they discovered slugs and other creepy-crawlies. They also found spiders (the wolf spider was popular), beetles, and a cicada shell—goodies the adults missed.

Vince Smith gave us a geology lesson.  My property is composed of Precambrian gneiss and schist, one of the oldest soils on the planet.  Because it’s well-drained, the Tulip Poplar, Black Gum, and various oaks I’ve planted will develop deep roots.   They should become massive trees and provide wildlife value for decades, perhaps centuries.

Hummiongbird Clearwing, a day-flying sphinx moth, on Garden Phlox. Photo © Tony Nastase.  Click to enlarge.

Hummingbird Clearwing, a day-flying sphinx moth, on Garden Phlox. Photo © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

Usually I merely write about my yard’s plants and animals and post photos on the Backyards for Nature blog.  However, neither words nor pictures are enough.  Seeing the natural beauty of my yard and discovering the creatures living there is more powerful.

Many people told me they were inspired to create their own backyard ecosystems.  Others vowed a renewed commitment to enhance their developing habitats.

They said Nature Discovery Day was fun. I could see it on their smiling faces.

************************************ Special Note ********************************************** I will be selling my house in the spring of 2016. If you or anyone you know is interested in a property that’s alive with nature, contact me at edie@backyardsfornature.org

**************************************************************************************************
See additional Nature Discovery Day photos below.
The Double-banded Scoliid Wasp, Scloia bicincta, parasitizes beetle larvae.  Photo @ Link Davis.

The Double-banded Scoliid Wasp, Scolia bicincta, parasitizes beetle larvae. Photo @ Link Davis.  Click to enlarge.

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Debbie Beer and the kids explore nature in the yard.  Photo © Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarge.

Debbie Beer and the kids explore nature in the yard. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Dan Duran shows a Monarch caterpillar.  © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

Dan Duran shows a Monarch caterpillar. © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

Monarch caterpillar © Tony Nastase.  Click to enlarge.

Monarch caterpillar © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

Edie's shade garden. © Bonnie Witmer.  Click to enlarge.

Edie’s shade garden. © Bonnie Witmer. Click to enlarge.

Bumble bee on Garden Phlox.  © Bonnie Witmer.  Click to enlarge.

Bumble bee on Garden Phlox. © Bonnie Witmer. Click to enlarge.

Barb Elliot describes her pond to visitors.  Photo © Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarge.

Barb Elliot describes her pond to visitors. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Eastern Redbud seed pods.  © Bonnie Witmer.  Click to enlarge.

Eastern Redbud seed pods. © Bonnie Witmer. Click to enlarge.

Edie talks to guests attending Nature Discovery Day.  Photo © Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarge.

Edie talks to guests attending Nature Discovery Day. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  Photo © Bonnie Witmer.  Click to enlarge.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo © Bonnie Witmer. Click to enlarge.

Vince Smith explains the geology of the property.   Photo © Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarge.

Vince Smith explains the geology of the property. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Ailanthus Webworm, a day-flying moth.  © Tony Nastase.  Click to enlarge.

Ailanthus Webworm, a day-flying moth. © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

He's found something interesting.  Photo © Mallary Johnson.  click to enlarge.

He’s found something interesting. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Bee carrying the white pollen of Upland Ironweed.  Photo © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Bee carrying the white pollen of Upland Ironweed. Photo © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Peck's Skipper.  Phitii © Tony Nastase.  Click to enlarge.

Peck’s Skipper. Photo © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

Early instar of Black Swallowtail caterpillar.  Photo © Tony Nastase.  Click to enlarge.

Early instar of Black Swallowtail caterpillar. Photo © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

Watching birds in the yard.  Photo © Mallary Johnson.  Click to enlarg.

Watching birds in the yard. Photo © Mallary Johnson. Click to enlarge.

Want More Native Plants? Learn to Transplant

By Edie Parnum

You read it repeatedly on this blog—plant more native plants. Plant lots of them. Too expensive, you say.  That’s true when you purchase them at nurseries or native plant sales.  I know where you can get native plants for free—yes, really! They are already in your own backyard.

Local native plants are adapted to our soil and climate, so they reproduce abundantly.  Look carefully at the young plants in your garden.  You’ll find multiples of many of your favorite native plants. Resist pulling out these volunteers and throwing them away. They are not weeds.  Keep them growing by transplanting them to new locations.

A 5" Witch Hazel is flagged and ready to transplant.  © Edie Parnum

A 5″ Witch Hazel is flagged and ready to transplant. © Edie Parnum

Take a tour around your yard.  Locate the native plants that have popped up voluntarily, but haphazardly.  These young woody saplings and perennials are smaller versions of plants you already know and love.  Many, you recall, are particularly favored by birds, butterflies, and other creatures. Others are your personal favorites—they are so beautiful!    You already know their ultimate size, shape, and color and their needs for sun, shade, dry, or moist conditions.  These native plant treasures can be saved by moving them to new locations.

Now look for places where you can incorporate these volunteer trees, shrubs, perennials, ferns, vines, and groundcovers into your landscape.  Where can you grow another tree? How about several trees?  Shrubs can be added around the base of isolated trees. Can you install or expand a garden bed?  What about removing some non-native plants or invasives?  Keep in mind native plants prefer to touch each other, not be isolated.  Spots of bare ground should be filled in with native groundcovers. And, surely, your lawn can be reduced.   Aim to cover virtually all open areas with native plants.

Be brave.  Dare to transplant—even if you’ve never done it before.  Native plants are resilient and determined to grow.  Spring or fall, here’s how to transplant.

Directions for transplanting tree or shrub saplings

  1.  Locate a small sapling, preferably shorter than 15”, to transplant.  If the soil is dry around the plant, water it well.
  2. Before you dig out this woody plant, select the location where you want it to grow and dig a hole there.  This hole should be no deeper than the expected depth of the transplant’s roots and about twice as wide.
  3. To dig out the transplant, estimate the size of the root system (usually as wide as the sapling’s canopy).  Dig deeply around the plant and avoid severing the tap root.  When you lift the sapling out of the ground, it should have plenty of roots and soil attached.
  4. Carefully lay the sapling with its root system on a piece of newspaper or plastic and carry it to the new location.
  5.  Place the plant into the pre-dug hole.  Hold the plant upright with the top of the root system ½” above the height of the ground.  Fill in around the roots with the soil that was removed from the hole.  Do not add fertilizer, topsoil, or other amendments.  Press the soil down with your hands, but do not stomp with your feet.
  6. Spread compost and leaf litter on top.

    The sapling of this 10-foot White Pine was 6 inches tall when transplanted five years ago.

    The sapling of this 10-foot White Pine was 6 inches tall when transplanted five years ago.

  7. Water well.  Unless it rains, water the transplant every week for several months—longer if the season is dry.  In fall, water until the ground freezes.
  8. Some established shrubs such as viburnums send out horizontal roots where new plants can emerge.  These baby shrubs can be transplanted, too.  Follow the directions for free-standing saplings.  However, before digging the plant out of the ground, find and sever the lateral root growing out from the mother plant.
  9. Small woody transplants, once established, grow quickly.  After a few years they will be as big as much larger nursery-grown trees and shrubs.

Personally, I have successfully transplanted Red Maple, Bottlebrush Buckeye, Redbud, Eastern Red Cedar, Tulip Tree, Eastern White Pine, Black Cherry, Tulip Tree, and Sassafras.  I’ve also moved several native species of dogwoods, hollies, oaks, and viburnums.   Most other native woody plants will transplant well, too.  You can also relocate woody vines like Virginia Creeper, Trumpet Vine, and Virgin’s Bower.

Directions for transplanting perennials

  1. Perennials and other non-woody plants often produce volunteer seedlings.  These young plants resemble their parents and can be readily differentiated from your yard’s common weeds. Frequently I see Nodding Onion, Anise Hyssop, Amsonia, Wild Columbine, Wild Geranium, Cardinal Flower, Great Blue Lobelia, False Sunflower, Golden Ragwort, New York Ironweed, Golden Alexander—all valuable plants begging to be saved. I often find my cherished native asters, goldenrods, and phloxes as seedlings, too.
  2. You can dig out these and many other seedlings and transplant them elsewhere.  Follow the above directions for transplanting shrubs and trees.

    Lance-leafed Goldenrod and other goldenrods are easy to tansplant and attract many pollinators, including Ailanthus Webworm Moth.  © Edie Parnum

    Lance-leafed Goldenrod and other goldenrods are easy to transplant and attract many pollinators, including Ailanthus Webworm Moth. © Edie Parnum

  3. Some perennials spread by underground runners.  The lateral roots of Mountain Mint, Bee Balm, Monarda, Wild Bergamot, Obedient Plant, Ostrich Fern, and Mistflower produce growth to dig out for new plants.
  4. Divide older perennials.  Look for plants that are oversized and have lost vigor. These can and should be divided.  Push your spade deeply into the ground at several places around the perimeter of the large plant.  Lift it up out of the ground with most of the root system intact.  Thrust your shovel into the middle of the plant and separate it into two clumps. If the root system is dense, you can use two back-to-back garden forks to pry it apart. Further subdivide these clumps to yield four or more plants.
  5. As with woody plants, plant perennials and ferns ½ inch higher than the ground. Be sure to keep them watered until they are established.  If planting late in the fall, mulch the plants to prevent them from heaving out of the ground during light frosts.

With the right transplanting tool, the work is not hard nor especially time consuming. You

Tools for transplanting:  watering can, pruners, bulb trowel (extra leverage for digging seedlings) and transplant shovel (see text).  © Edie Parnum

Tools for transplanting: watering can, pruners, bulb trowel (extra leverage for digging seedlings) and transplant shovel (see text). © Edie Parnum

certainly can dig out a plant satisfactorily with an ordinary shovel.  However, I prefer using my transplant shovel.  With its narrow blade I can make precise cuts around my target plant but avoid injuring desirable plants nearby.  It has a wide ledge for stomping with my foot and good leverage.  Thus, I’m able to do most of my transplant operations standing up.  No need to kneel or squat uncomfortably.

You can’t create the landscape of your dreams all at once.  Each spring and fall, transplant as many young plants as you can.  Ever increasingly, your property will include all the layers found in nature: groundcovers, perennials and ferns, shrubs, understory trees, and canopy trees.  This dense, layered landscape will develop into a rich habitat alive with insect and animal biodiversity.

A layered landscape,including Virginia Creeper as a ground cover, asters, Fringe Tree (an understory tree), and a large Common Hackberry tree.

A layered landscape in fall, including Virginia Creeper and violets as ground covers, asters, amsonia hubrectii, Solomon’s Seal in its fall yellow color in the background, Fringe Tree (understory tree on right), and a large Common Hackberry tree (on left).

Revel in the fecundity of your garden.  Each of your native plants is a gift to nature.  Each with its leaves, flowers, seeds—in fact every part of the plant—contributes exuberantly to the web of life. Save them one by one to plant elsewhere in your yard.  Give them away, too.  Your garden will be a native plant nursery.

Looking for Nests

By Edie Parnum

Nests are hard to find.  Sure, it’s easy to see the House Wrens and Tree Swallows come and go from the nest boxes I have provided.  Most songbirds, however, build and raise

A House Wren about to feed a caterpillar to its young in Edie’s backyard.  Photo by Edie Parnum.

A House Wren about to feed a caterpillar to its young in Edie’s backyard. Photo by Edie Parnum.

their young in well-concealed cup nests.  Paying particular attention to the dense areas, I examine my trees and shrubs. I look, too, for lumps in the crotches of trees. I strain to see high in the canopy.  The breeding season is well underway, but I’ve found only two cup nests on my ¾-acre property.

Early this spring a female Robin built a nest out of grass, sticks, and mud in a dense holly below my raised deck.  I could look down and see her settled in the nest. Once I glimpsed four pale aqua eggs. Here was an opportunity to learn more about the nesting behaviors of the American Robin. From a comfortable but hidden vantage, I planned to observe the mother robin incubate her eggs, then watch both parents feed the nestlings.  Not so. One day the female and the eggs were gone.

Plenty of predators prowl around my yard.  A ravenous jay, crow, raccoon, possum, snake, or even chipmunk might have devoured the eggs and destroyed the nest. Last year Gray Catbirds screeched hysterically when a Blue Jay ate their eggs.

Besides the Robin’s, a Mourning Dove’s nest was high in my in my crabapple tree this spring.  While my nature-loving arborist was removing winter-damaged limbs, he exposed a flimsy nest with two eggs in the crevice of a broken branch.  He left it undisturbed.   From the ground I could glimpse a Mourning Dove’s eye peering at me from above the

My arborist found this Mourning Dove nest while removing winter-damaged limbs. Photo by Mark Masciangelo.

My arborist found this Mourning Dove nest while removing winter-damaged limbs. Photo by Mark Masciangelo.

limb.  Again, I hoped to watch and study the birds’ breeding routine.  After a few days of viewing the brooding dove, however, I could no longer see the bird nor any activity.  Why did the nest fail?  Perhaps the arborist’s intrusive activity caused delayed nest abandonment.  Of course, a predator could easily have seen and raided the exposed nest. Thankfully, both the doves and robins will nest again—successfully, I hope.

Besides searching for nests, I’m also watching for signs of breeding.  Catbirds, cardinals, house finches, song sparrows must be breeding here. Pairs of birds, singing loudly and persistently, cavort in my yard.  Some birds carry nest material.  Others have insects in their beaks. When they don’t eat the food, they’re carrying it to a nest—a sure sign of breeding. I hope to discover the nest where nestlings are being fed.

Though I have not seen it, I believe a pair of Brown Thrashers has a nest on my property.  Most suburban yards don’t host Brown Thrashers, especially not a breeding pair.  Thrashers like dense shrubbery, not the typical manicured landscape. With their bills they sweep and probe the ground searching for insects and spiders in last year’s fallen leaves. I was plenty pleased when a Brown Thrasher spent the winter in my yard.  This reddish-brown, jay-sized bird with a streaked belly stayed silent and sheltered in the arborvitae and other dense vegetation. Every few days I saw it stray from its hiding place and feed on exposed ground.  I assumed it would move on in the spring to breed elsewhere.

A Brown Thrasher feeds on the ground.  Photo by Howard Eskin.  Click to enlarge.

A Brown Thrasher feeds on the ground. Photo by Howard Eskin. Click to enlarge.

In mid-May, a Brown Thrasher, possibly the same bird, sang vociferously from the treetops.  Its loud doubled phrases are different from its close relative, the smaller Northern Mockingbird.  The purpose of the song is to attract a mate and defend a breeding territory.  Even so, I assumed my wintering bird (or new arrival) was just practicing and would not stay to breed here.  When the singing stopped a week later, I concluded it had departed.

To my surprise in late May and June I’ve occasionally glimpsed a soundless thrasher. Males and females are indistinguishable, but sporadically I have seen two birds together.  Could a pair be breeding after all? The thicket of forsythia and blackberries at the back of my property is perfect for thrashers. Every few days I spend a few minutes peering into the undergrowth and listening.   Once I saw it deep, deep inside the dense vegetation.  On another occasion I discerned a barely audible whisper version of the thrasher song. According to my research, thrashers are mostly silent during the nesting season but sing softly in the vicinity of a nest.

Surely thrashers have a nest in my shrubbery.  It is probably just a few feet off the ground, but hidden in the impenetrable thicket. My chances of discovering it are slim.  Because they consider me a potential predator, the birds probably engage in evasive behavior to lead me astray.  Undeterred, I keep looking and listening.

I need a vigilant, alert ornithology student to help find the nest. A sharp-eyed young person could spot the bug in the thrasher’s beak.  Together we could find the nest.  See the baby birds. Watch their parents put insects into gaping mouths.  Observe the naked babies grow pinfeathers followed by juvenile feathers.  We would thrill to witness them fledge and take flight into the world of my backyard.  Alas, without my student, I evidently can’t be a voyeur of birds’ private lives.

By searching for nests, I’ve learned more about helping breeding birds succeed. I’ll plant more dense shrubs where birds can build and protect their nests. These shrubs will be insect-hosting natives instead of the non-native forsythia. Already I do not tidy up the thickets and corners of the yard.  Thrashers and other ground-feeding birds require the leaf litter to feed themselves and their offspring. Next fall I’ll welcome leaves into the perennial beds, too. And, most important, I’ll grow more native plants where birds can find plentiful insects to feed their young.

In some ways I’m unable to help and must trust the birds’ own survival abilities.  Predators abound, but the birds possess skills to protect their nests, eggs, and nestlings.  Vigilant and ingenious, they know how to keep their nest locations secret.  Thankfully, when a nest fails, most are able to produce a second brood.

It’s summer now, and I see lots of baby birds around the yard.  The nests are somewhere nearby. Birds are breeding here successfully.

 

Let’s Celebrate National Pollinator Week! June 16 – June 22, 2014

By Barb Elliot

Pollinator Week* is a good time to watch, celebrate, and be thankful for pollinators.   After all, they are responsible for every third bite of our food and drink.  They pollinate crops, trees, shrubs, and flowers in our landscapes for free.  I’m having fun observing pollinators

Native Bee on Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa).  Barb's Yard 6/16/2014.  © Barb Elliot

Native Bee on Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa). Barb’s Yard 6/16/2014. © Barb Elliot

as flowers bloom on my native trees, shrubs, and perennials. Native bees, beetles, wasps, and butterflies are busy during the day, and after dark I’m finding moths and other nighttime insects visiting my flowers.  Pollinator Week is a good time to take a walk in your yard, look for flowers with pollinators, and watch them as they work.

It’s also a great time to do something for pollinators!  Facing multiple threats, including habitat loss, pesticides, and diseases, they certainly need our help.  The simplest and best

Moth on Common Milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca).  Barb's yard, 6/15/2014. © Barb Elliot

Moth on Common Milkweed (Aesclepias syriaca). Barb’s yard, 6/15/2014. © Barb Elliot

thing we can do to help is add some pollinator-friendly native flowers to your landscape – even if it’s just a few plants in a pot.  Do even more by taking the Pollinator Pledge through The Xerces Society Bring Back the Pollinators program.

For a list of pollinator-friendly plants and more information about pollinators, reasons for pollinator declines, and other simple actions you can take, see my March 24, 2014 post Pollinators Need Our Help!

(*Established in 2007 by the Pollinator Partnership, Pollinator Week “has grown exponentially in scope each year with this year June 16-22 being designated by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and 44 governors as a week to celebrate and protect the nation’s pollinating animals.”)

Milkweeds for Monarchs – 2014

By Barb Elliot

 

“The lowest numbers of Monarchs ever recorded” 

“Monarch migration at risk of disappearing”

This is the devastating news about Monarchs over-wintering in Mexico. These Monarchs migrated last fall from eastern portions of the U.S. and Canada to reach their historic Mexican wintering grounds. Each year scientists count the number of acres of trees where the Monarchs cluster during their winter stay in Mexico. This winter Monarchs covered just 1.7 acres — a significant decline from the previous low of 2.9 acres.

Male Monarch in Barb's yard.   Photo © Barb Elliot

Male Monarch in Barb’s yard. Photo © Barb Elliot

Loss of milkweed is the primary reason for the steep decline in Monarch numbers. Milkweeds are the only plant Monarch caterpillars can eat. Millions of acres of milkweed habitat have disappeared in the mid-west due to the use of genetically modified (GMO) corn and soy crops. Farmers spray their fields with Roundup, and the crops survive. However, this herbicide kills the other plants like milkweed that previously grew in and around crops. Since these Roundup Ready crops came into use over the last 15 years, almost 80% of milkweeds in the mid-west have disappeared. Monarch population decreases have correlated in lock step with the loss of milkweed.  Milkweed habitat is also lost due to development and mowing of roadsides. Extreme weather over the past few years in Mexico, the U.S. and Canada has also contributed to Monarch losses. Cold snaps, heat waves, droughts and heavy rains have also taken a toll on the Monarchs and milkweeds.

Monarch laying egg on Butterfly Milkweed.  Photo @ Barb Elliot.

Monarch laying egg on Butterfly Milkweed. Photo @ Barb Elliot.

As a result, last summer we Monarch-lovers saw few, if any, Monarchs. With these steep declines, we’ll surely see even fewer this summer. However, Monarch experts say that the Monarch population can bounce back – probably not to the high levels of the 1990s, but to a lower “new normal”. To improve their numbers, Monarchs need MORE milkweed.

That’s where we come in. We Monarch-lovers must plant more milkweeds this year. The Monarchs, fewer in numbers now, will need quantities of milkweeds to find the plants easily and lay their eggs. Also, milkweeds are very important plants in the web of life and provide high quality nectar for a variety of other important pollinators.

Monarch caterpillar on Barb's Swamp Milkweed.  Photo © Barb Elliot.

Monarch caterpillar on Barb’s Swamp Milkweed. Photo © Barb Elliot.

Let’s keep the welcome mat out for Monarchs! To that end, we are selling Butterfly Milkweed and Swamp Milkweed this year for only $2 a plant. Plant some milkweeds to help the Monarchs. If you already have some, plant even more! Plant them in containers, too. Talk to family, friends, and neighbors about the need. Get permission to plant them at a community park, church, business, roadway, or open space, too.

Now is the time for YOU to help the beautiful Monarchs survive for generations to come.

 

Milkweed Sale Information

Cost:  $2 per plant.  Cash only.  Money collected above our actual costs will be donated to Monarch Joint Venture, a partnership of organizations working to conserve the monarch migration.

Plants Description:  Plants are landscape plugs with well-developed (about 5”) root systems.  When in bloom, they look like this:

   Butterfly Milkweed                                                                Swamp Milkweed      (Asclepias tuberosa)                                                             (Asclepias incarnata) 

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) Photo © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) Photo © Barb Elliot.

A

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Minimum Order:  5 plants of one species only.  That is, 5 Butterfly Milkweed or 5 Swamp Milkweed. Not 3 of one species and 2 of the other.

Number of Plants:  Plants will be sold in multiples of 5 per species only, e.g. 10, 15, 30

Maximum Order:  None.  However, supplies depend on availability from our wholesaler.  Plants will be reserved based on the order in which orders are received.

Order Deadline:  Orders must be received no later than April 30, 2014..

Pickup Date & Time:  Saturday, May 31st, 2014 – 10 AM to 3 PM.                                             Sorry, no alternate pickup times can be arranged.

Pickup Location:  Roberts Elementary School, 889 Croton Rd, Wayne, PA 19087       For Directions, click here

General Planting Recommendations:
1. Plant in clusters, preferably at least 5 plants per cluster to attract passing Monarchs.
2. Plant 12” apart.
3. For more detailed planting instructions and other ways to help Monarchs, click title:  Planting and Caring for Your Milkweeds.

If you have any problems ordering or questions, send an email to info@backyardsfornature.org

Order Confirmation:  You will receive a confirmation email within 7 days from info@backyardsfornature.org.  Please set your email filter to accept email from this address.  If you do not get a confirmation email within 7 days, send an email to:  info@backyardsfornature.org 

Pollinators Need Our Help!

By Barb Elliot

The earliest spring flowers will soon emerge.  In my garden I’ll admire the delicate white petals of Bloodroot, the first to bloom. Soon I’ll enjoy the blue bell-like flowers of Jacob’s Ladder, the bright yellow of Golden Ragwort, and striking red blooms of Wild Columbine.   The flowers are charming, but I will be more captivated by their insect visitors.  Small bees and flies will fly from blossom to blossom. Working intently, they will stop briefly to feed and gather nectar and pollen.  These will be the first pollinators of the year.

Skipper sipping nectar from Upland Ironweed.  @ Barb Elliot

Skipper sipping nectar from Upland Ironweed. @ Barb Elliot

As spring and summer progress, pollinators will visit the succession of blooms on my native trees, shrubs, and perennials.  Bees, butterflies, flies, beetles, and wasps will be at work.  I’ll watch each butterfly unfurl its straw-like proboscis to daintily probe flower heads and sip nectar.  Yellow pollen grains will dot the heads and bodies of bees and flies.  Female bees will sport saddlebag-like pollen baskets on their hind legs.  The undersides of leafcutter bees’ abdomens will be golden from pollen grains stored on special hairs.

Bumble Bee with pollen baskets.  Photo by Beatriz Moisset. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

Bumble Bee with pollen baskets. Photo by Beatriz Moisset. Wikimedia Creative Commons.

I’ll notice the size, shape, and tongue lengths of pollinators – characteristics that enable some to better exploit different shaped flowers than others.  Iridescent green sweat bees will glisten in the sunlight as they feed on nectar.  The strikingly-marked Locust Borer Beetle will catch my attention as it methodically forages for pollen on my goldenrods.  I’ll marvel at how close I can get to colorful wasps as they busily collect nectar.  Hover flies will hang suspended in air as they take a break from feeding on nectar and pollen.  After dark, with my flashlight, I’ll find moths flying from flower to flower, performing nighttime pollination.

Locust Borer Beetle on goldenrod.  Wikimedia Creative Commons photo.

Locust Borer Beetle on goldenrod. Wikimedia Creative Commons photo.

My flowering plants put on their royal finery to entice these pollinators, not me.  Their showy colors and patterns advertise and guide the pollinators to the plants’ nectar and pollen.  The plants must rely on the pollinators to transport pollen among different flowers of the same species.  This cross-pollination enables plants to produce the seeds and fruit needed  for reproduction.  Well-pollinated plants bear more fruit, produce genetically diverse seed, and are healthier. For the pollinators the nectar provides carbohydrates for energy. The pollen supplies them and their offspring with protein, vitamins, minerals, fats, and starches.

Pollinators play essential roles in our ecosystems.  Seventy-five percent of the world’s plants require pollinators to produce seed or fruit.  One-third of our food supply comes from pollinator-reliant plants. Birds and other wildlife in my yard and the world over eat

Green Sweat Bee.  Photo by Beatriz Moisset on Wikimedia Creative Comoons.

Green Sweat Bee. Photo by Beatriz Moisset on Wikimedia Creative Comoons.

the seeds and fruits produced by pollinator-dependent plants.  Pollinators themselves are food for birds and other animals, including insects.  A diverse population of pollinators is critical to the web of life.

Unfortunately, many pollinators are in decline.  Some are threatened with extinction.  Our most beloved pollinator, the Monarch butterfly, is in serious trouble.  The eastern U.S. population crashed in 2013, and the smallest number on record over-wintered in Mexico this year.  Not only Monarchs but other pollinator populations, including bees, our most prolific pollinators, are in trouble, too. The effects of Colony Collapse Disorder on non-native honeybee populations are well known. However, many of our 4,000 U.S. native bee species, key pollinators of both

Bumble bee with tongue extended on Mountain Mint. Photo @ Barb Elliot.

Bumble bee with tongue extended on Mountain Mint. Photo @ Barb Elliot.

native plants and crops, are also at risk.  Bumble bees seem particularly hard hit, with about half of our 47 U.S. species in decline.  Some are in danger of extinction. Less studied pollinators like beetles, wasps, and moths are likely declining as well.

Loss of good foraging and nesting habitat is the primary cause for pollinator declines.  Pesticides and introduced parasites add to the toll.  Many experts believe neonicotinoid insecticides pose a particular threat to bees and other pollinators.  Those that forage on treated plants become weak or die.  “Neonics” and other systemic pesticides are taken up through a plant’s roots and travel to all parts of the plant, including its nectar and pollen.  Last June, 50,000 bumble bees foraging on flowering trees at a single location in Oregon were killed after the trees were sprayed with a neonicotenoid.  Neonics are present in a variety of insecticide brands commonly sold to gardeners. They are also used in nurseries that raise plants.  In fact, some plants sold as bee-attractants contain neonicotenoids.

Wasp on Mountain Mint. @ Barb Elliot

Wasp on Mountain Mint. @ Barb Elliot

Despite all the threats, we gardeners can help sustain pollinator populations in our area.  (See table below.)  Some gardeners like to attract butterflies, but balk at inviting moths, bees, beetles, flies, and wasps.  However, these insects have important roles to play in the web of life and are generally harmless to gardeners.  Native bees are unaggressive and rarely sting. Even wasps are docile when foraging on flowers, although they may forcefully defend a nest.  By incorporating a variety of native plants in our yards, our most important conservation action, we will attract pollinators that are also predators and keep insect populations in check.  Various beetles, flies, and wasps prey on aphids and other insect pests.  By growing a diversity of native plants (see plant list below), we will encourage a healthy balance of insects in our gardens.

Hover Fly on Snakeroot.  @ Barb Elliot

Hover Fly on Snakeroot. @ Barb Elliot

I hope the plight of the Monarch butterfly will compel us to action. We must help not just the Monarchs* but the less charismatic butterfly, bee, fly, wasp, beetle, and moth pollinators as well.  For too long, we have ignored pollinators or treated them as pests to be destroyed.  We have gardened for aesthetics and our enjoyment without considering nature.  These beneficial creatures are crucial players in the web of life in our own gardens and beyond. We can make a difference for them.  We and our gardens will benefit.

 *Please note that we will be selling milkweed plants for Monarchs again this year!  Stay tuned for an upcoming post about Monarchs and details of the milkweed sale.

How to Help Pollinators
Provide Food 
  • Plant:
¨  A variety of nectar- and pollen-rich native plants. Strive for 8 or more species.
¨   Perennials in clusters, preferably 5 or more of a single species, so plants are easily found.
¨   For a succession of blooms from early spring through late fall.
¨   Natives with different flower shapes for pollinators or varied sizes, shapes, and tongue lengths.
¨   Host plants for butterflies and moths.
  • Buy plants at local native plant retailers or where sellers identify whether plants are pre-treated with systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids.
  • Remove invasive plants so they crowd out natives
Provide nesting and overwintering sites
  • Leave:
¨  Areas of bare soil in sunny, well-drained spots.
¨   Stumps, logs on the ground, dead branches and trees.
¨   Leaf litter for over-wintering butterflies, moths, beetles and their larvae or pupae
¨   Stems of perennials standing from fall through late winter
Provide water
  • Add a shallow dish with sloped sides for easy entry and exit
  • Keep an area of soil moist or muddy for butterflies and other pollinators that forage for minerals and salts in soil
Prevent pesticide poisoning
  • Don’t use pesticides, but especially avoid neonicotinoids.  Click here for a list of common brands containing neonics.
  • Don’t apply herbicides or fungicides to lawn or beds with nest sites or pollinator plants
Other Ways to Help Pollinators
  • Make a commitment to protect pollinators by getting your yard certified as a pollinator habitat and posting a sign.  See The Xerces Society’s “Bring Back the Pollinators” campaign
  • Become a citizen scientist to help scientists track pollinator populations, such as by reporting sightings of bumble bees to Bumble Bee Watch or other species to Project NoahXerces Bring Back the Pollinators habitatsignfull (1)
Recommended Native Plants for Pollinators by Bloom Period

Common Name

Botanical Name

Flower Color

Bloom Period^

Height

Soil

Exposure

Notes

Perennials

Bloodroot
Sanguinaria canadensis
White
April
6-8”
Dry to moist
Part shade to shade
Golden Ragwort
Packera aurea
Yellow
April-May
1-2’
Moist to wet
Part shade to shade
Host plant. Deer resistant
Jacob’s Ladder
Polemonium reptans
Blue
April-May
8-15”
Moist
Part  shade to shade
Deer resistant
Wild Geraniium
Geranium maculatum
Pink – purple
April-May
1-3’
Moist to dry
Part sun to shade
Host plant. Deer resistant
False Solomon’s Seal
Maianthemum racemosum
White-cream
May
12-24”
Moist to dry
Part shade to shade
Smooth Solomon’s Seal
Polygonatum biflorum
White -light yellow
May-June
2-4’
Moist to dry
Part sun
Deer resistant
Wild Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis
Red
May-June
1-3’
Moist to average
Part sun to shade
Deer resistant
Beardtongue
Penstemon digitalis
White
June-July
2-3’
Dry to moist
Sun to part shade
Deer resistant
Bee Balm
Monarda didyma
Red
June-August
3-4’
Moist to dry
Sun to part shade
Deer resistant
Butterfly Milkweed
Asclepia tuberosa
Orange
June-August
1-2’
Dry to moist
Sun
Host plant for Monarch, others.  Deer resistant
Nodding Onion
Allium cernuum
Pale -dark pink
July
1-2’
Dry to moist
Sun
Deer resistant
Purple Coneflower
Echinacea purpurea
Purplish pink
July
3-4’
Moist to dry
Sun to part sun
Swamp Milkweed
Asclepias incarnata
Light – dark pink
July
3-5’
Moist to wet
Sun to part sun
Host plant – Monarch butterfly; deer resistant
Blazing Star
Liatris spicata
Purple
July-August
2-4’
Moist
Sun
Culver’s Root
Veronicastrum virginicum
White
July-August
3-5’
Moist
Sun to part shade
Joe Pye Weed
Eutrochium maculatum; E. fistulosum
Pink
July-August
4-7’
Moist to wet
Sun to part shade
Host plant. Deer resistant
Short-toothed Mountain Mint
Pycnanthemum mutucum
White
July-August
2-3’
Moist
Sun to part shade
Deer resistant
White Turtlehead
Chelone glabra
White
July-August
2-4’
Moist to wet
Sun to part sun
Wild Bergamot
Monarda fistulosa
Pink
July-August
2-4’
Moist to dry
Sun to part sun
Host plant. Deer resistant
Common Boneset
Eupatorium perfoliatum
White
July-September
2-4’
Moist to wet
Sun
Host plant
Cup Plant
Silphium perfoliatum
Yellow
July- September
4-8’
Moist to wet
Sun
Host plant
Fragrant Hyssop
Agastache foeniculum
Blue-violet
July-September
3-5’
Moist to dry
Sun to part sun
Deer resistant
False Sunflower
Heliopsis helianthoides
Yellow
July-September
3-5’
Moist to dry
Sun to part sun
Garden Phlox
Phlox paniculata
Pink/white/
lavender
July-September
2-6’
Moist
Sun to part shade
Goldenrod -Stiff
Solidago rigida
Yellow
July-Sept
3-5’
Dry to moist
Sun to part sun
Host plant. Deer resistant
Great Blue Lobelia
Lobelia siphilitica
Blue
August
1-3’
Moist to wet
Sun to part shade
Cutleaf/ Green-headed Coneflower
Rudbeckia laciniata
Yellow
August-September
3-6’
Moist
Sun to part sun
New England Aster
Symphotrichum novae-angliae
Pink -purple
August-September
2-5’
Moist to wet
Sun to part shade
Host plant
Goldenrod – Zigzag
Solidago flexicaulis
Yellow
August-October
1-3’
Dry to moist
Part shade to shade
Host plant. Deer resistant
New York Ironweed
Vernonia noveboracensis
Magenta
August-October
3-6’
Moist to wet
Sun to part shade
Obedient Plant
Physostegia virginiana
Pink
August-October
2-5’
Moist to wet
Sun to part shade
Mistflower or Hardy Ageratum
Conoclinum coelestinum
Blue
September-October
1-3’
Moist to wet
Sun to part shade
Deer resistant

Vines

Virgin’s Bower (a magnet for daytime species & moths at night)
Clematis virginiana
White
August-September
To 10’
Moist
Sun to part shade
May spread. Deer resistant

Trees and Shrubs

Pussy Willow
Salix discolor
Silvery gray
March
20-35’
Sun
Wet to moist
Serviceberry
Amelanchier canadensis;  A. laevis
White
April
6-20’
Sun to part shade
Dry to moist
Highbush Blueberry
Vaccinium corymbosum
White – pink
April-May
6-12’
Sun to shade
Wet to dry, acid
Redbud
Cercis canadensis
Pink – lavender
April-May
20-30’
Sun to part shade
Moist to wet
Deer resistant
Black Cherry
Prunus serotina
White
May-June
50-75’
Sun to part shade
Moist
Sweetbay Magnolia
Magnolia virginiana
Creamy white
May-June
10-20’
Sun to part shade
Moist to wet
Deer resistant
Black Gum
Nyssa sylvatica
Green
June
30-50’
Sun to part shade
Moist to wet
Deer resistant
Tulip Tree
Liriodendron tulipifera
Yellow-green  & orange
June
75-100’
Sun to part shade
Moist to average
Basswood
Tilia americana
Pale yellowish
Late June-early July
75-100’
Full sun to light shade
Moist
Buttonbush
Cephalanthus occidentalis
Creamy white
July-August
6-12’
Sun
Wet to moist

Resolutions to Bring Nature to Your Yard in 2014

By Edie Parnum

Oh, no, you say.  I never make resolutions—too much self-denial and discipline.

Here are some resolutions that don’t require much work.  And, in fact, they’ll add pleasure to your life. Pick one of these to get started. Birds, butterflies, and other creatures will visit your yard.  Pick three, and you’ll see nature flourish abundantly–guaranteed.

  1. Plant a tree.  Adding a native (historically part of our local ecosystem and food web) tree is the single best contribution you can make to your property’s habitat.  It will offer more food, shelter, and nesting places than any other plant.  Besides providing seeds, fruits, or nuts directly to birds and other animals, the tree’s leaves host native insects.  Birds and other small animals eat native insects in
    White-Marked Tussock Moth caterpillar eats leaves of oaks, birches, cherries, and other trees.  Click to enlarge

    White-Marked Tussock Moth caterpillar eats leaves of oaks, birches, cherries, and other trees.

    large quantities. The small animals are prey to larger ones.  Thus, this native tree and its insects contribute enormously to fuel your yard’s ecosystem.  It’s easy and inexpensive to plant a sapling tree.  It will establish quickly, grow fast, and sustain wildlife for decades.  Surely you have room for one tree (small or large), perhaps several of them.  Native oaks offer the best wildlife value but check our website for other valuable native trees.

  2. Plant shrubs.  Requiring less space than a tree, they offer nearly as much value to a healthy habitat. Besides the nutritious fruits these woody plants produce, insects eat their leaves.  As with trees, these insects sustain birds and the other animals in the web of life.  Also, dense deciduous and evergreen shrubs provide
    Red Chokeberry’s fruits are eaten by thrushes, catbirds, and waxwings.  Click to enlarge.

    Red Chokeberry’s fruits are eaten by thrushes, catbirds, and waxwings.

    cover and places for nesting birds.  Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Red and Black Chokeberry (Aronia sp.), Northern Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), and various native dogwoods (Cornus sp.) and viburnums (Viburnum sp.) are excellent choices. Plant three or more of each species.  See our website for recommended shrubs.

  3. Plant perennials, not annuals.  Annual flowers are so much trouble to put in each year, fertilize, and keep watered.  Forget the bothersome begonias, impatiens, marigolds, coleus. petunias, and the like.  Native perennials will grow
    Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators feed on Wild Bergamot’s nectar.  Click to enlarge.

    Hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators feed on Wild Bergamot’s nectar.

    and bloom beautifully for years without any extra care. My favorites are Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), Summer Phlox (Phlox paniculata), New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angelae), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), and Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum), but there are many other beautiful native perennials. All provide nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Like other native plants, they host native insects, too.

  4. Plant a vine.  If you want hummingbirds in your yard, plant a Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) (not the invasive Japanese Honeysuckle, of course) or Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans).  Virgin’s Bower (Clematis virginiana) is a magnet for bees, moths, and other pollinators.
  5. Plant groundcovers.  Minimize weeding.  Instead, cover the ground with native groundcovers like Allegheny Pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens), Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum), and Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea).
  6. Take out a patch of lawn.   It’s the most biologically deficient part of your yard—not much better than your driveway.  Every year decrease the size of your lawn
    Great-spangled Fritillary nectaring on False Sunflower.  Click to enlarge.

    Great-spangled Fritillary nectaring on False Sunflower.

    and keep only what you use for family activities, dog play, and other outdoor activities.  Instead of turf grass, plant any and all of the above: trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, groundcovers.

  7. Take out invasives.  Invasive plants spread aggressively and crowd out desirable native vegetation.  Yes, whether you cut, pull, or smother the invasives, it can be a lot of work.  Plus, if you leave the ground bare afterward, of course they’ll come back.  Immediately fill in the cleared area with native plants.
  8. Learn native plants.  You can attend botany walks at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, Heinz National Wildlife Refuge, and Tyler Arboretum.  Visit a botanical preserve where native plants are labeled such as Bowman’s Hill and Jenkins Arboretum. When buying plants at native plant nurseries like Redbud Nursery and Yellow Springs Farm, you’ll see labelled plants and learn growing tips from their knowledgeable staffs.  Use the internet photos and gardening information, too.
  9. Read a book.  I recommend Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants.  The author, Douglas Tallamy, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, will inspire you to plant native plants and increase your determination to host native insects, birds, and butterflies in your yard.

    White-throated Sparrow, a common visitor in winter. Click to enlarge.

    White-throated Sparrow, a common visitor in winter.

  10. Walk around and enjoy nature in your yard frequently.  Take your binoculars to better see and learn about the birds, butterflies, and other creatures that live in your garden.  With a camera you can take photos of your plants and wildlife sightings.   You’ll be inspired to become more familiar with your own wildlife preserve. Spread your enthusiasm: take a child with you on your backyard adventures.

Personally I will do all ten of these—with pleasure.

If you’re a beginner to habitat gardening, pick one of these ideas to get started.  Perhaps you can tackle two or three this year, but don’t get overly ambitious.  Start planning now in the dead of winter. Time and money may be limited, but you can start small and keep improving your habitat each year.  Before long you’ll notice more insects including butterflies and moths, more birds, and, indeed, much more wildlife activity in your yard.

Do something for nature in 2014.