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.

Edie’s Garden—A Place to Discover Nature

By Barb Elliot

Wildlife is abundant in Edie’s yard.  She finds birds, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, bugs,

Monarch newly emerged and ready for release. Raised from eggs laid on Edie’s Butterfly Milkweed.  © Edie Parnum.  Click to enlarge.

Monarch newly emerged and ready for release. Raised from eggs laid on Edie’s Butterfly Milkweed. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

beetles, bees, wasps, flies, and more – creatures she loves – living among her native plants.

It wasn’t always this way.  I saw the yard when Edie moved to this ¾-acre property in 2007. It was mostly turf grass. Except for a few native trees (Black Cherry, Red Maple, White Pine), no native plants grew here. Consequently, we observed few birds—just an occasional robin or starling—no other wildlife.  She knew she could transform her lifeless property into a healthy habitat for wildlife by reducing the lawn and planting native plants. It could become a place where she could discover, learn, and enjoy nature.

To create a healthy ecosystem on her property she wanted to:

  • Plant a diversity and multitude of native plants
  • Offer conditions for birds and other creatures to thrive and reproduce
  • Provide year-round food sources, water, cover, and places to raise young for wildlife
  • Welcome lots of birds—certainly hummingbirds
  • Create a place of beauty where she could be immersed in nature
  • Learn the species of flora and fauna and how they interact and depend on each other
  • Leave a legacy of nature for future generations with long-lived trees and shrubs

Gradually, year by year, she has succeeded in creating this haven for wildlife.  Eight years later I see thousands of native plants.  They include perennials, grasses, vines, ferns, and woody plants, i.e. shrubs and trees.  She planted densely, letting the plants touch each other as they do in the wild.  Her canopy trees are young, but the oaks and others will be massively productive for wildlife for decades.  Eastern Redbud, Flowering Dogwood, and Shadbush are already filling the understory.  The mature shrubs like Spicebush, Elderberry, and several viburnum species are now luxuriant.  At the ground

Red Milkweed Beetles eat plants in the milkweed family.  The beetles are protected by the milkweed's toxins and the black and red colors. © Edie Parnum.  click to enlarge.

Red Milkweed Beetles eat plants in the milkweed family. The beetles are protected by the milkweed’s toxins and the black and red colors. © Edie Parnum. click to enlarge.

level perennials, vines, ferns, sedges, and grasses, are profuse. This diversity of plants offer nuts, seeds, berries, nectar, and pollen.  Even the foliage of the native plants is indirectly a source of food.  Insects eat the leaves and become food for birds and other creatures.

Birds now find what they need to live and thrive. They eat the fruits, nuts, seeds, and nectar produced by the yard’s native plants.  Resident and migrating birds eat the insects hosted by her native plants. For example, Carolina

 

Chickadees can locate the 6, 000-plus caterpillars required to feed their young.  Of course, no pesticides are ever used.

Edie has added other features for birds.  She installed nest boxes for cavity-nesting House Wrens and Tree Swallows.  She allows fallen leaves to lie in many places. Eastern Towhees and Brown Thrashers rummage in this leaf litter to find insects. Carolina Wrens

 Trumpet Honeysuckle, a well-behaved vine with hummingbird-attracting red tubular flowers.  © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Trumpet Honeysuckle, a well-behaved vine with hummingbird-attracting red tubular flowers. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

often locate their insect delicacies in the brush pile. On a snag (dead tree) woodpeckers, including a Pileated Woodpecker, forage for insects in the decaying wood. A Trumpet Vine grows on this snag and attracts hummingbirds seeking nectar from its flowers. A bird bath and small pond offer birds water. The bird feeders supply a small proportion of food needed by some of the birds. Many, many birds (106 species) love this yard.

Her meadow, in my opinion, is the crown jewel of her property.  It is chock full of colorful perennials and grasses.  Birds forage for seeds in late summer, fall, and winter. Numerous butterflies (30 species so far), bees, beetles, and other pollinators are active on flowers

Edie’s Meadow in late summer.  Flowers attract butterflies, moths, and other insect pollinators.  © Edie Parnum.  Click to enlarge.

Edie’s Meadow in late summer. Flowers attract butterflies, moths, and other insect pollinators. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

blooming from April through October.  Even at night the meadow is alive with moths, beetles, and other insects and spiders.  Aiming a flashlight into the dense meadow plants, she can see the tiny, shining eyes of moths and other insects.  Bumble bees, too, sleep on the flower heads, resting for the next day’s work.

Edie has created a paradise for herself as well as the creatures that call her yard home. With binoculars and camera, she frequently takes nature walks around the yard.  The birds, whether eating, preening, feeding young, are always interesting.  Mating foxes are less expected.  Mating Garter Snakes, too. Even

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar on Sassafras, one of its host plants.© Edie Parnum.  Click to enlarge.

Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar on Sassafras, one of its host plants.© Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

better, she loves to discover a caterpillar eating leaves. When she locates other tiny creatures—bees, beetles, wasps, and others—she takes their photos.  At night she uses lights to attract moths.  She photographs these creatures, too.

Using the photos of insects, she can usually make identifications and then figure out their role in this ecosystem. What plants do they depend on?  What plants depend on them? What do they eat?  Who eats them?  Are they parasites?  Predators?

The possibilities for discovery are endless.  Mostly, she revels in success of the healthy ecosystem she has created.

——————————————————————————-

Nature Discovery Day, August 29, 2015

Edie enjoys showing her garden with its native plants, birds, butterflies, moths and other creatures to nature-loving friends. On August 29th she will host Nature Discovery Day.  Throughout the day you can explore her yard, discover nature in action, and learn about habitat gardening. Guided walks for children and adults will be offered, too.  In the evening it’ll be Moth Night.

This event will be for a limited audience by invitation only. She’s inviting Backyards for Nature blog readers and their interested family and friends.  Save the date and watch for an invitation coming to you in late July or early August.

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.

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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 

Marvelous Migrating Monarchs Need Our Help

By Barb Elliot

Monarch butterflies are on the move.   I’ve been seeing them fly through my yard, above fields, over traffic jams, through neighborhoods.  These fragile creatures are heading southwest toward their ancient wintering grounds, stopping along the way to rest and sip nectar from late-blooming plants.  The peak of Monarch migration through our area is mid- to late-September, but you may still see Monarchs if you spend time outdoors.

This generation of Monarchs is different from those we saw in the summer.  Those Monarchs were intent on mating and laying eggs and only lived from two to six weeks.  But this generation will live for about eight months and is in the midst of an epic journey.   They will not mate, but instead are programmed to fly to a place they have never been before – mountains in Mexico where millions of Monarchs will roost together to survive the winter.  Some of them will fly as far as 3,000 miles!

Monarch Fall Migration Routes

Migrating Monarchs depend on nectar sources along their route for energy to complete the journey.  Next spring, the Monarchs that survive migration and the winter in Mexico will fly north into Texas, mate, lay eggs on milkweed plants and die.  Caterpillars will hatch from the eggs, eat milkweed, change into chrysalises, and emerge as adult Monarch butterflies that in turn fly north, mate, lay eggs and die.  The next generation will make its way farther north and east, repeat the cycle, and the U.S. and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains will once again be populated with Monarch butterflies during spring and summer.  The great, great, grandchildren of the Monarchs that are now flying south will be the ones we see during their migration to Mexico next fall.  Though some butterfly species complete a one-way migration, Monarchs are the only butterfly species in the world that accomplishes a two-way migration.

Monarchs roosting on their Mexican over-wintering grounds. National Geographic photo.

Migrating Monarchs face many threats, including bad weather, predators, and lack of food, but some have always survived to continue the species.  However, if current

This Monarch, caught by a praying mantis, won’t make it to Mexico. Cape May, NJ, September 12, 2012 Photo © Barb Elliot

trends continue, we are in danger of losing Monarchs altogether.  This year’s population, according to Chip Taylor, director of Monarch Watch, is about half the long-term average.   Monarch numbers have been declining since the late 1990’s, but the downward trend has accelerated since 2003.  Monarch Watch indicates the major cause for the decline is loss of food sources in the U.S. from development, routine mowing along roadsides, and the widespread use of herbicides that kill milkweed plants, the Monarch caterpillar’s only food.  Increased use of genetically modified corn and soy crops on mid-west farms is likely responsible for much of the population decline.  These crops are engineered to survive the spraying of herbicides which kill milkweeds and other plants growing in the fields.  Since the year 2000, about 100 million acres of former Monarch milkweed habitat in agricultural areas have been lost in this way. The milkweed habitats that are left are not sufficient to sustain the larger Monarch populations of the 1990s.

This Monarch near Austin, Texas is much closer to the Mexican wintering grounds, but faces drought conditions with few flowers to provide nectar. October 9, 2012. Photo © Barb Elliot

Monarchs need our help!  Monarch Watch has suggested a national effort to plant milkweeds in as many locations as possible, and have instituted a campaign called Bring Back the MonarchsIt’s not too late to get some milkweed started in your garden this fall, or you can wait till spring.  Perhaps you can think of additional locations that milkweeds could be planted, such as in schoolyards, parks, business properties, or roadsides.  Milkweeds do well in containers, too, so a large space is not necessary.  Of the five species of native milkweeds in my yard, my favorite is Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  I found many Monarch eggs on my Swamp Milkweed this summer and also noticed that adults seemed to prefer the long-blooming Swamp Milkweed flowers’ nectar to that of other flowers in my yard.

You can help migrating Monarchs and other fall-flying butterflies by providing late-blooming nectar plants such as native asters and goldenrods.  Consider adding flowering plants to your yard that provide a succession of blooms from spring through fall.  You’ll be providing nectar not just for migrating Monarchs, but also for the Monarchs and other butterflies that fly earlier in the year.  Check the native perennials on our Backyards for Nature plant list for some suggestions.

Male Monarch on New England Aster in Barb’s yard. September 21, 2012. Photo © Barb Elliot

If you add milkweeds for Monarch caterpillars and nectar plants for the adults, you will be helping to make more Monarchs.  You’ll not only have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping to increase the population, but you’ll be able to see these marvelous butterflies in your yard and even witness their metamorphosis of egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly! You can also have your yard certified as a Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch.  This will mark your contribution to preserving Monarchs and show others how they, too, can help one of the true treasures of the natural world.

Certified Monarch Waystation sign from Monarch Watch. Photo by Barb Elliot

Below is a list of the locally native species of milkweed that I grow in my yard.

Locally Native Milkweed Plants**

Botanical Name Common Name Bloom Color & Period Light  & Soil Conditions
Asclepias incarnata Swamp   Milkweed Pink flowers; June & July Part to full sun, moist soil
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly   Milkweed Orange flowers; June to August Sun, dry to average soil
Asclepias  verticillata Whorled   Milkweed White flowers; July & August Sun, dry to average soil
Asclepias purpurascens Purple   Milkweed Dark pink/purple flowers; June & July Part to full sun, dry/ average/moist soil
Asclepias syriaca* Common   Milkweed Pink flowers; June & July Sun, dry soil
  *Spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes;  best for large areas with other flowers and grasses
  **All are deer resistant

For a list of local nurseries that sell native milkweeds, click here.

For info on how to gather and plant milkweed seeds, click here.

Raising Monarchs

By Barb Elliot

In mid July, I discovered Monarch eggs on my Swamp Milkweed.

Monarch egg on Swamp Milkweed. (Photo © Barb Elliot)

A few days later I found three 1/8-inch caterpillars, probably a day or so old.  I took them inside to raise them.  Over the course of a month, I watched the amazing transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to adult butterfly.  Watching the life stages of a Monarch rejuvenates my awe at the wonders of nature.

Once inside the aquarium container, two of the caterpillars ate Swamp Milkweed and eliminated “frass”, signs that they were healthy.  The third

Click on photo to find the one-day-old Monarch caterpillars (Photo © Barb Elliot)

caterpillar, however, never moved and soon died.   I was reminded that caterpillars’ lives are fragile and often very short.  Very few caterpillars of any species, perhaps less than one in a hundred, survive to become butterflies.  The threats are legion:  bacterial and fungal infections, predatory insects, spiders, birds, or other creatures looking to gulp down a neatly wrapped package of protein, plus parasites such as wasps that deposit eggs on a caterpillar so their larvae can eat the caterpillar from within.Though my yard is a certified Monarch Waystation providing optimal conditions for Monarch caterpillars and butterflies, life is tough for these creatures.  By rearing some indoors, I can give them a measure of safety.

Shed skin (above) and head capsule (below) (Photo © Barb Elliot)

A week later, at day eight of their lives, the caterpillars stopped eating temporarily, left the milkweed for the side of the container and remained motionless for a number of hours.  They were ready to shed their skin, which becomes too tight as they grow.  Each shed its tiny head capsule separately and then wiggled out of its skin.  This was one of five molts.  Then, it was back to eating more milkweed.  After all, most Monarch caterpillars increase their weight about 2,700 times from egg to chrysalis!

 

Caterpillar escapee (Photo © Barb Elliot)

Two days later, I noticed only one caterpillar in the container.  Alarmed, I searched and found the escapee a few feet away on my upright camera lens.  I quickly returned it to the container. It moved to the top and wove a silk “button” on the screen cover.  Soon it hung with its body in a “J” formation, its hind end suspended from the button. A couple of hours later, the second caterpillar was also hanging in this J shape.

Click highlighted text to see video

In the morning I watched closely for signs that the 11-day old caterpillars were about to metamorphose into the chrysalis or pupa.  Just before the transformation, each began rocking and straightening out slightly.The antenna-like tentacles drooped and looked almost segmented. Then, the skin began to split at the head end. Each caterpillar wriggled furiously as the skin split up its full length and then fell away.

Pupating caterpillar movie (Video © Barb Elliot)

At first, each pupa was yellowish green and wider at the bottom than the top.  Gradually the color changed to emerald green, the shape became wider at the top and the distinctive, jewel-like gold and black markings appeared on the surface of each chrysalis.  It is while in the chrysalis or pupal stage that a caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis and changes into a butterfly.

Bejeweled Monarch chrysalis (Photo © Barb Elliot)

Chrysalis the night before Monarch emerged (Photo © Barb Elliot)

Nine days later, I noticed a few dark marks on the chrysalises, and by the tenth evening, the orange and black of forming wings were visible through the clear shell of each pupa.  While I was asleep both butterflies emerged from their chrysalises.  Early the next morning I saw two beautiful, fresh butterflies – one male and one female.

Newly emerged from chrysalis (Photo © Barb Elliot)

They were hanging from their former homes, drying and occasionally pumping their wings.   I waited a few hours so they would be completely dry before I took the container outside.  With a little nudging, each climbed on my finger and quickly flew off to the top of a tree where I lost sight of them.

I like to think that they stayed in my yard to nectar on flowers I grow for butterflies.  Hopefully, they found mates and the female laid eggs. This next generation of Monarch butterflies, the last of this summer, will go through the same marvelous transformations and then fly 2,000 miles to their over-wintering grounds in central Mexico.  That same generation will fly north into Texas in the spring of 2013 and begin the annual succession of Monarch generations that re-populate central and eastern North America each spring and summer.  I hope to host Monarchs in my yard next year, raise some more caterpillars indoors, and once again experience the thrill of watching one of the true wonders of nature.

Female Monarch on Swamp Milkweed (Photo © Barb Elliot)

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For information on how you can help Monarchs and/or get your yard certified, click here: Monarch Waystation

Stay tuned for a future blog with more info on Monarchs and a national effort to help them.

Below is a list of the native milkweed plants that Barb grows in her yard.

Locally Native Milkweed Plants**

Botanical Name Common Name Bloom Color & Period Light  & Soil Conditions
Asclepias incarnata Swamp   Milkweed Pink flowers; June & July Part to full sun, moist soil
Asclepias tuberosa Butterfly   Milkweed Orange flowers; June to August Sun, dry to average soil
Asclepias  verticillata Whorled   Milkweed White flowers; July & August Sun, dry to average soil
Asclepias purpurascens Purple   Milkweed Dark pink/purple flowers; June & July Part to full sun, dry/ average/moist soil
Asclepias syriaca* Common   Milkweed Pink flowers; June & July Sun, dry soil
  *Spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes;  best for large areas with other flowers and grasses
  **All are deer resistant