Can a Caterpillar Be Charismatic?

By Edie Parnum

Yes, of course. I was thrilled to discover a brown-hooded owlet in my late October garden. This caterpillar with its glossy yellow, red, blue, and black pattern is beautiful. It is pre-frost as I write, so the leaves of the aster where it’s feeding are still green and evidently tasty.

Brown-hooded Owlet caterpillar on a native aster plant. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

For three days I’ve watched it feeding and pooping. Thankfully, the nearby hungry birds have not spotted it. Frost is coming, so I hope it will soon crawl down the aster plant where it has been feeding and make its pupa. As a caterpillar this insect won’t live through the winter, but its pupa can survive unseen in the soil or decaying leaf litter. In the spring after undergoing metamorphosis, a drab brown one-inch adult moth will

Brown-hooded Owlet adult, an excellent pollinator. Photo credit: Jim Petranka and Becky Elkin; Click to enlarge.

emerge. This night-flying moth will visit flowers for their nectar and spread the pollen to fertilize other plants. Then it will mate and lay eggs on asters and goldenrods that will hatch into these caterpillars. To complete its entire life cycle, my caterpillar needs humus-rich soil, native asters and goldenrods, and nectar-rich perennial flowers.

The brown-hooded owlet is my favorite caterpillar. I wish more people had favorite caterpillars. They are essential bird food and as adults become excellent pollinators. In the case of the brown-hooded owlet caterpillars, they require native asters and goldenrods as their host plants.

We need beautiful caterpillars and drab ones, too. Without them birds will suffer, plants (including our food plants) will be less plentiful, and our lives less rich. Let’s plant more host plants and leave decaying leaf litter for the caterpillars.

Bark: A Buffet for Birds

By Edie Parnum

The aptly named shagbark hickory has loose bark. Black cherry’s bark has scales like burned potato chips.  Other tree species have furrowed bark, too.  All have crevices

Shaggy bark of shagbark hickory shelters many insects. © Edie Parnum.  Click to enlarge.

where small insects and spiders, including their eggs and pupae live.  Birds like Brown Creeper and White-breasted Nuthatch explore the trunks of trees to find their favorite foods.

Insects hide in loose scales of black cherry bark. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.










Brown Creeper searches for insects in bark. Photo by The Bird Blogger, Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge.

The Brown Creeper rarely visits bird feeders. Instead, this brown-streaked bird, camouflaged to blend into a tree trunk, feeds from bark. Starting at the bottom of thetrunk, the creeper climbs upward in a spiral, all the while examining the bark to find its tiny prey.  Supported by a stiff tail held against the tree trunk, it probes with a thin, down-curved bill adapted to extract the nutritious morsels.

White-breasted nuthatch clings to tree trunks and branches probing for insects. Photo by Matt MacGillivray on Wikimedia Commons. Click to enlarge.


The White-breasted Nuthatch alsoscours tree bark for its food. This bird often faces downward, using a different perspective to find insects overlooked by the creeper and other birds. To keep from falling face-first, it has a backward facing toe with a strong, clasping claw. Its upturned bill is designed for extracting its prey from the bark. At feeders they will sometimes carry off seeds and nuts to store them in the crevices of bark for later consumption – hence the name “nuthatch”.

An entire guild of insects and birds rely on bark.  Adult insects and spiders, together with their eggs, larvae, and pupa, are adapted to life on and in the bark. In addition to the Brown Creeper and White-breasted Nuthatch, woodpeckers, chickadees, and titmice also take advantage of this bounty.

White oak. Bark of oaks hosts insects and their leaves host 557 caterpillar species. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

To host bark-loving insects, we should plant native trees such as oaks, birches, maples, hickories, pines, and cherries.  Smaller native trees and shrubs like serviceberry, crabapple, dogwood, blueberries, and viburnums should be included, too. In just a few years these woody plants will develop bark where multiple insects will live. Of course, they will also produce leaves hosting the moth and butterfly caterpillars that birds, especially their young, require for their survival. These woody plants will develop additional life-giving foods like berries, buds, nuts, seeds, and nectar. As they grow, each year our native trees and shrubs will offer more biomass and hence foster greater ecological diversity.


Prime Plants for Nature: Backyards for Nature 2022 Native Plant Awards

By Edie Parnum

Viburnum nudum (Smooth Witherod or Possumhaw) and Zizia aurea (Golden Alexander)

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. Are 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.
  4. Host insects that are eaten by birds or other animals.
  5. Offer shelter and places to raise young.
  6. Are easy to grow and make attractive additions to your landscape.
  7. Sold at local native plant nurseries and native plant sales.

Here are the 2022 Prime Plants for Nature

Viburnum nudum (previously V. cassinoides), Smooth Witherod or Possumhaw

V. nudum flowers offer pollen for native bees and other pollinators. Photo © Edie Parnum. Cllick to enlarge.

Wildlife Value: This shrub produces berries in fall that are eaten by robins, cardinals, bluebirds, flickers, thrashers, mockingbirds, catbirds, and thrushes. The autumn fruits are high in lipids, a source of energy for the southbound migrants.  Native pollinators such as hoverflies, sweat bees, and scarab beetles seek the pollen produced by the spring flowers.

Harris’s three-spot moth’s caterpillar feeds on viburnum foliage. Photo © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

The leaves host 104 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars including the spring azure butterfly and hummingbird clearwing moth. Other valuable native viburnum shrubs include V. acerfolium, V. lentago, V. dentatum, V. prunifolium, and V. trilobum.

Growing Conditions:  The witherod viburnum is adaptable to a variety of growing conditions but prefers acidic, moist, well-drained soils in sun or part shade. For best fruit set plant two or more. This shrub has good disease and pest resistance and is not favored by deer. Can be grown singly, in a shrub border, mixed-species hedgerow, or periphery of a rain garden.

Fall fruits provide food for birds, particularly migrants. Photo © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Appearance: In fall the attractive clusters of pink, purple, blue, and purplish black fruitshang on red stems. The glossy green leaves turn red or reddish purple in autumn.  In spring the white flowers are arranged in a flat-topped cluster. This deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub can grow to 8-12 feet with a spread of 5-7 feet. The cultivars ‘Winterthur’ and ‘Brandywine’ are more compact.


Zizia aurea, Golden Alexander

Golden alexander flowers attract native pollinators. Photo © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Wildlife Value:  Golden alexander blooms in mid to late spring. This long-blooming perennial is an important source of nectar for early bees, flies, wasps, beetles, and small butterflies when few other flowers are available. Mining bee, a native bee, is a specialist that eats this plant’s pollen. A member of the parsley family, golden alexander is a host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. The abundant insects attract predators like spiders and assassin bugs, too.

Black swallowtail butterflies use golden alexander as a host plant. Photo © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Growing Conditions:   These perennials will thrive in part sun or part shade. They prefer moist soil but will do well in average conditions once established, even in clay.  Although individual plants live for just a few years, they self-seed to form a long-lasting colony. Not usually browsed by deer. Disease-free.

Appearance:  Each flower looks like a single flat-topped umbel but is a cluster of 10-20 small umbellets. The 3” bright yellow spring flowers stand 16-20” high above attractive dark green foliage and are attractive in flower arrangements

Prime Plants for Nature: Backyards for Nature 2021 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. Are 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. 
  4. Host insects that are eaten by birds or other animals.
  5. Offer shelter and places to raise young. 
  6. Are easy to grow and make attractive additions to your landscape.
  7. Sold at local native plant nurseries and native plant sales.

Our selections for the 2021 Prime Plants for Nature awards this year are Ilex verticillata (Winterberry Holly) and Packera aurea (Golden Ragwort)

Ilex verticillata, Winterberry Holly


Wildlife Value: This shrub produces copious quantities of red berries that are eaten by more than 48 species of birds including robins, bluebirds, waxwings, and

Winterberry Holly foliage and berries. © Edie Parnum.

mockingbirds. The berries are not usually consumed until mid to late winter when food is scarce, and birds may be struggling to survive.  The high fat fruits of viburnums, spicebush, dogwoods, and sassafras are eaten earlier in the season.  Winterberry Holly’s small flowers appear in June and attract native pollinators like bumble bees, mining bees, sweat bees, small carpenter bees, and plasterer bees. This shrub is a host plant for the caterpillars of 34 species of butterflies and moths, including the Henry’s Elfin butterfly and Harris’ Three-spot moth.

Unidentified flower fly on male Winterberry Holly flowers. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Growing Conditions:  Winterberry holly is adaptable to a variety of growing conditions, sun or shade, but prefers moist soils. Like other hollies, it is dioecious, so male and female flowers are on separate plants.  Only the females produce berries, but a single male no more than 40’ away will offer enough pollen for three female plants.  Flowering times of male and female plants must overlap for females to bear fruit. 

Appearance: This holly is deciduous, so when the shrub drops its leaves, the dazzling red berries show well. The bold red contrasts especially well when snow is on the ground.  Many use the fruit-laden branches for holiday decorations. Without fruits, distinguishing male plants from females is difficult, but some nurseries will mark the plants. This shrub can grow as tall as 7-15‘, but dwarf cultivars are available.  Beware of cultivars that produce large fruits, which are typically not preferred by birds. Deer usually do not eat this plant.

Winterberry Holly berries. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.


Packera aurea (formerly Senecio aureus), Golden Ragwort (aka Golden Groundsel)

Wildlife Value: Golden ragwort is a source of nectar and pollen for a variety of pollinators in spring.  Twenty species of butterflies, including skippers, use the blooms of this perennial. 

Sweat bees, cuckoo bees, carpenter bees, and various halictid bees are attracted, too. In addition, flies like syrphid, tachinid and fireflies pollinate the flowers.  The leaves of this plant host caterpillars of 17 species of butterfly and moths.

Unidentified native bee on Golden Ragwort. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Growing Conditions:   Golden ragwort will grow abundantly in a wide variety of conditions, part sun or full shade, in relatively moist soil.  It spreads by rhizomes or self-seeds to form a colony that creates a nice groundcover.  However, when overabundant, it can easily be weeded. This perennial is not browsed by deer and is disease-free.

Golden ragwort foliage is suitable as a groundcover.  Shown here with an Eastern Tailed Blue butterfly. © Edie Parnum.

Appearance:  The yellow daisy-like flowers are small but profuse and showy In April and May. They grow on two-foot stems above basal leaves that are dark green, shiny, and heart shaped. Because golden ragworts grow close together and crowd out other plants, they form an effective groundcover that can stay attractive and green throughout the winter. 

A bed of Golden Ragwort blooming in April. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.


Appreciate and Help Nature: Two New Books

Reviews by Edie Parnum

Nature’s Best Hope:  A New Approach to Conservation That Starts in Your Yard by Douglas W. Tallamy

In his latest book, entomologist Doug Tallamy once again inspires and informs us about gardening for nature.  From Tallamy’s previous research and books, we understand native plants’ pivotal role in empowering the web of life.  Insects, birds, mammals, and the rest of nature depend on native plants.   Human beings, too, rely on the functioning of nature. We require the healthy air, clean water, and carbon-storing plants and soil that are nature’s products. Drawing on the latest research, he tells us how we can create an ecologically productive landscape in our own yards, inspire our neighbors, and help assure the health of the planet.

Most people assume that nature can be preserved on public lands. Conservation happens, we assume, somewhere else beyond our control. In fact, most of our country’s land is privately owned. We homeowners must create the landscapes where nature can thrive.  Each of us can transform our own properties without the need to change government policy. Together we can create the “Hometown National Park”.

The suburbs offer the greatest opportunity to create this national park. Ninety-two percent of suburban land is lawn, a sterile landscape that doesn’t support birds or other wildlife   By reducing the area devoted to turf grass, we can make room for native trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and grasses. We’re urged to plant lots of natives, not just a scattering of natives among the non-native ornamental exotics.  Rather than isolated trees, plant groves of native trees and islands of native trees and shrubs.

The Hometown National Park can exist even in cities. In New York City the High Line is an abandoned elevated rail line that has been converted into a walkway surrounded by native plants.  It is a popular destination to observe nature including birds, butterflies, and native bees. In Chicago, a tiny, isolated 1/10-acre garden is chockablock with native plants that have attracted 103 species of birds, including a woodcock.

Edie’s garden. Photo by Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

To support nature on our properties, Tallamy urges us to garden for insects. Certain keystone native plants offer optimal value to wildlife because they support insects.  Previously, Tallamy has urged us to plant oaks, willows, cherries, and other native woody species that host a great number of caterpillars, essential food for birds. Now we know fallen leaves are also important, because 94% of caterpillars pupate in the leaf litter or soil. We can use these leaves as mulch and grow native groundcovers to shelter these leaves.

Growing keystone native perennials is important for insects, too.  For instance, goldenrods, normally considered weeds, are beautiful flowering plants that support 110 species of caterpillars. Thirty-five species of bees rely on the nectar and pollen of goldenrods.  In addition, fifteen species of bees rear their young on goldenrod pollen.

This newest book by Tallamy provides valuable insights about gardening for nature. Readers not previously exposed to Tallamy’s ideas can benefit from first reading Bringing Nature Home, his groundbreaking book about gardening for wildlife with native plants. It includes a valuable list of the keystone woody plants that host the most caterpillars, plus a regional guide to recommended plants. The Living Landscape, co-authored with Rick Darke, provides comprehensive lists of native plants by regions and their ecological functions.

Tallamy’s writing is optimistic and empowering. This illustrated book gives us a practical, science-based guide to climate-wise gardening.  By using native plants in our gardens, we can reverse declines in wildlife and support the earth-sustaining functions that store carbon and give us clean air and water. Our individual gardening practices plus those of our friends and neighbors can make a difference for the health of our planet.

What It’s Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating, Singing — What Birds Are Doing, and Why by David Allen Sibley

David Sibley is a renowned bird artist, so we would expect beautiful images of birds in his newest book. Indeed, his birds seem to fly off the pages in the life-like illustrations. These are not static birds posing for their pictures. They fly, swim, eat, sing, preen, court, feed young, and more. They are always doing something, so we see what it’s like to be a bird.

My favorite images show birds living their lives.  A male Northern Cardinal offers food to his mate.  A Common Yellowthroat feeds a Brown-headed Cowbird fledgling.  To survive a snowstorm, Mourning Doves fluff their feathers and hunker down. The drawings illustrate key information.  For instance, a Brown Pelican doesn’t use its pouch as a basket for carrying fish. Instead, Sibley, using both words and illustrations, clarifies its use as an underwater scoop to capture fish.

Using the latest ornithological research, Sibley also utilizes text to explain his illustrations. I wanted to know how a woodpecker extracts insects buried in the bark of a tree.  The images and text show us a long, barbed tongue that can bend to reach into the crevices.  When not in use, this exceptionally long tongue retracts to curve around the back of the bird’s brain. Then I became curious about the tongues of other birds.  From the woodpecker page I was directed to information about hummingbird tongues.  Thus, I become a curious traveler, following a trail of information through the book.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Image by Howard B. Eskin. Click to enlarge.

Sibley’s introduction aids the curiosity-driven navigation.  All the brief illustrated essays are arranged into topics such as bird sight, sleep, growing new feathers, the digestive system, and many more.  For instance, avoiding predators is a topic with 23 brief essays.

I plan to keep this book handy for regular use.  It’s too big to take into the field or read in bed.  Instead I’ll keep it next to the chair where I watch birds, referring to it when I have questions and then following the trail from one topic to another.  I’ll discover gems of information and be impressed by the beauty, complexity, and richness of bird life.




Prime Plants for Nature: Backyards for Nature 2020 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
  4. Usually host insects that are eaten by birds or other animals
  5. Offer shelter and places to raise young
  6. Are easy to grow and make attractive additions to your landscape
  7. Sold at native plant nurseries and native plant sales. (See below for a list of local sources of native plants during the Coronavirus shutdown.)

Our selections for the 2020 Prime Plants for Nature awards are:

Cercis canadensis, Eastern Redbud

Wildlife Value: To support bees and other pollinators, we usually think of perennials.  However, some trees, particularly Eastern Redbud, produce a

Carpenter Bee collecting pollen from Eastern Redbud flowers. Photo from Tufts Pollinatore Initiative & Wikimedia Commons. click to enlarge.

massive number of spring blossoms for early season pollinators. The nectar-rich flowers attract numerous bees, butterflies, and sometimes hummingbirds at a critical time when other flower resources are limited.  Medium-sized native bees such as Mining, Cellophane, Carpenter, Mason, Bumble Bees and others can pollinate by pushing down the lower petals of the blossoms.


Redbud’s foliage is a host for the Henry’s Elfin butterfly, Io Moth, White Flannel Moth and a few other moth species.

Io Moth. Eastern Redbud is one of its host plants. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Growing Conditions:  Redbud is easily grown in sun or part shade.   It tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions, moist to dry, and is normally free of insect pests or diseases.  Most yards have enough space for planting this small tree.

Appearance: When in bloom Eastern Redbud is spectacularly beautiful. In early spring before the leaves emerge, all the branches are covered with magenta flowers. A graceful, vase-shaped deciduous tree with spreading branches, it grows to 15-30 feet at maturity.

Eastern Redbud tree in full bloom. Wikimedia Commons photo. Click to enlarge.

Penstemon digitalis, White Beardtongue 

Wildlife Value: White Beardtongue is an important source of nectar and pollen for a

Nectar guides on the left blossom signal the direction to nectar and pollen. The Bumble Bee on the right has reached the nectar and pollen. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

variety of pollinators. Long-tongued native bees including bumble bees, digger, miner, mason, and small carpenter bees are important pollinators of beardtongue. Butterflies, sphinx moths, and hummingbirds are less important pollinators. The White Beardtongue’s flower petals have nectar guides (see photo).  These direct bees and butterflies to the nectar and pollen buried in the center of the flower.

Growing Conditions:   Beardtongue will grow well in sun or part sun in dry to medium soil. Seedlings are shallow-rooted and can be transplanted easily or given to gardening friends. This perennial isn’t usually appealing to deer.  When purchasing beardtongue or other perennials, be sure the plants are not treated with neonics (neonicotinoids), a systemic pesticide that is toxic to bees and any other insects using the plant’s resources.

Blossoms of White Beardtongue. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Appearance: The white or pale pink blossoms of White Beardtongue are shaped as a tube with two lips. Blooming occurs from April to June on 3-5-foot erect stems that rarely flop. The flowers are attractive, and some individuals use them in flower arrangements.


Local Sources of Native Plants During Coronavirus Shutdown

Collins Nursery, 773 Roslyn Avenue, Glenside, PA 19038. 215-715-3439 or . Order at for curbside pick-up.

Edge of the Woods Nursery, 2415 Route 100, Orefield, PA 18069.  610-393-2570 or .Order online and pick-up by appointment.  For questions about plants, schedule a phone call.

Gateway Garden Center, 7277 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, DE 19707.  302-239-2727 or .  Open and considered a Delaware essential business.

Gino’s Nursery, 2237 Second Street Pike, Newtown, PA 18940. 267-750-9042 or . Call or email to order. Curbside pick-up or delivery within 12-mile radius.

Good Host Plants, 150 W. Butler Street, Philadelphia, PA 19140. 267-270-5036 or Email to order for curbside pickup in the West Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia or delivery within a 5- mile radius.

Northeast Native Perennials, 1716 E. Sawmill Road, Quakertown, PA18951. 215-901-5552 or . Call or email to order for curbside pick-up.

Redbud Native Plant Nursery, 904 N. Providence Road, Media, PA. 19063. 610-892-2833 or . Call or email to order for curbside pick-up. .

Yellow Springs Farm, 1165 Yellow Springs Road, Chester Springs, PA 19425. 610-827-2014 or .Order on-line or by phone for mail order or farm pick-up.  Free shipping for orders over $100.



A Caterpillar-Raising Extravaganza!

Cecropia Moth caterpillar in its last stage of development. July 2017. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

By Barb Elliot, Ph.D.

In July 2017, I came home from Mothapalooza, a conference for moth enthusiasts, with a Cecropia moth (Hyalophora cecropia) caterpillar.  I was excited.  The beautiful adult Cecropia (Hyalophora cecropia) is the largest moth in North America with a wingspan from 5″ – 7″. The showy caterpillars are chunky and grow to 4”- 4.5”. Although I had raised butterfly and moth caterpillars previously to increase their chances of survival, I now had the opportunity to observe the life cycle of this iconic silk moth and learn about its role in our ecosystem.

My caterpillar was almost full grown, but still had a voracious appetite. I kept it in a butterfly cage, provided a constant supply of fresh River Birch leaves, and removed the caterpillar waste (frass) each day.  Cecropia caterpillars can eat other native tree and shrub leaves including elm, oak, maple, apple, cherry, ash, sassafras and willow, but prefer to stick to one kind once they begin eating. A Cecropia caterpillar gains more

Cecropia caterpillar making its silk cocoon enclosure. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

than a thousand times its weight between hatching from its egg to being fully grown and ready to pupate and spin its cocoon.

In late summer, my caterpillar clung to a twig in the cage and spun a cocoon around itself.  Inside the protective silk, it changed from a caterpillar to a dark brown pupa, the third stage in its development.

A completed Cecropia cocoon. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Many months later, on June 21, 2018, with metamorphosis complete, a spectacular female Cecropia moth emerged (eclosed) from the cocoon. With only a week to live and with no mouth parts to eat and drink, this adult female’s sole job was to mate and lay eggs.

Cecropia moth female newly eclosed from her cocoon. June 21, 2018 © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

I decided to keep the moth outside overnight to see if she could attract a mate.  At dusk, I put her in a wire cage with holes sufficiently large for mating to occur.  A male, with its large, feathery antennae, can detect the pheromones a female emits and hone in from over a mile away.

I got up at 5 AM the next morning to check on her.  A male was clinging to the cage and mating with her!  The two mated all day and de-coupled just before dark.  Right away she began laying eggs.  I released the male so he could mate with other females.

Mating Cecropia moths. Note the male’s (on right) larger, more feathery antennae. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

During the overnight hours, she laid about 130 eggs.  After she rested, I released her so she could lay more eggs and live in the wild for the rest of her short life.

Cecropia eggs – two days old. June 27, 2018.

I kept five eggs and donated the rest to several environmental organizations and a few caterpillar-savvy friends. Three of my eggs hatched on July 4th, ten days after being laid.

My Cecropia eggs after three hatched.  Note the two with exit holes chewed by the tiny caterpillars. July 4, 2018.  © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Each ¼” black, spiny caterpillar chewed a hole in its leathery brown egg and almost immediately began eating the River Birch leaves I provided.  Within two or three days, the caterpillars outgrew the skin of their initial first stage (instar) and molted into a second instar.  Each time a caterpillar molted, the new skin was “loose” so it could continue its rapid growth. All three ate, grew, and reached the fifth instar, their final caterpillar stage.

Newly hatched Cecropia moth caterpillar – first instar. . July 4, 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

First & second instar Cecropias.  9 days old. July 13, 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Two Cecropia cats molting from 2nd to 3rd instar; one still in 2nd instar. 11 days old. July 15, 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

More mature 3rd instar Cecropia. 22 days old. July 21, 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Two fifth instar Cecropias and one 4th instar. 31 days old. Aug 3 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

While my Cecropias were growing, I got an opportunity to raise another large silk moth.  On July 13, a friend noticed a large moth at the foot of a light pole – a Royal Walnut Moth or Regal Moth (Citheronia regalis).   Unfortunately, the moth was dead but had laid eggs before succumbing.  This hapless moth, like countless others, was drawn to nighttime outdoor lights, but was unable to escape the lights and died.

Dead Royal Walnut Moth by light pole with eggs. July 13, 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Of about 25 eggs I kept five and donated the rest to the Academy of Natural Sciences.  Just one of mine hatched and I began feeding Black Walnut leaves, one of its host plants, to the tiny fierce-looking caterpillar.  This caterpillar, known as the Hickory Horned Devil (HHD), is the largest caterpillar species in North America.  This species also goes through five instars before pupating. Although harmless, each stage looks scary and unpalatable, intended to make a bird or other hungry predator steer clear of such a high-protein meal.

Newly hatched Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar. July 24, 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Second instar of the Hickory Horned Devil. Aug 1, 2018. Day 9. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Third instar of the Hickory Horned Devil. Aug 6, 2018. Day 14. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Fourth instar of the Hickory Horned Devil. Day 20. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Early 5th instar of the Hickory Horned Devil. Aug 16, 2018. Day 24. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.


Hickory Horned Devil 5th instar, now greener with some blue near the head. Aug 19, 2018. Day 26. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Fifth instar, Hickory Horned Devil. Some blue starting in a few spots on top of body. Aug 22, 2018. Day 30.


Hickory Horned Devil in final 5th instar colors – ready to pupate. Wikipedia image by Chris Hibbard.

Hickory Horned Devil Pupa. Winter 2018-2019. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

To my astonishment, I was raising the moth species with the largest caterpillar along with three caterpillars of the largest moth species.  By the end of August, all three Cecropia caterpillars made their cocoons. My almost hotdog-sized HHD caterpillar turned into a dark brown pupa during the first week of September. This species doesn’t spin a cocoon like its Cecropia relative, but digs down into the soil to pupate and spend the winter.  To simulate an underground environment. I provided an enclosure filled with crumpled paper towels, and the caterpillar pupated there successfully.  When temperatures turned frigid, I moved the HHD pupa into my refrigerator for safe-keeping over the winter.  As I had with their mother, I kept the Cecropia cocoons outside and waited for spring.

All three Cecropia moths eclosed – a male on May 22nd, and females on June 22nd and 25th – and I released them after dark on those nights.

The second of my 3 Cecropias to eclose from its cocoon – a female on June 22, 2019. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Unfortunately, the HHD pupa died, so that huge, spectacular caterpillar didn’t become a beautiful Royal Walnut Moth as I had hoped.  In nature, less than 5% of caterpillars survive to become butterflies or moths.

A live Royal Walnut Moth. (Citheronia regalis). © Paul Scharf via

Because they are active only at night, it’s rare for us to see Cecropia, Royal Walnut, or other large moths.  However, they and their caterpillars are key food sources for birds and other animals and thus are important members of our local food webs.  You can help keep them flying by providing native trees and shrubs that caterpillars need for food.  If you have outdoor lights, use timers or motion detectors so they are not on from dusk to dawn.  Of course, don’t use pesticides, which kill not just moths and caterpillars, but other beneficial insects, many of which are in steep decline.  If you’d like to see these and other interesting moth species, attend a local moth night event, perhaps  during National Moth Week in July, or have a moth night of your own.  I wish for you a Cecropia Moth, Royal Walnut Moth, and other magnificent nighttime moth wonders!

Prime Plants for Nature: Backyards for Nature 2019 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
  4. Most host insects that are eaten by birds or other animals
  5. Offer shelter and places to raise young
  6. Easy to grow and make an attractive addition to your landscape
  7. Sold at native plant nurseries and native plant sales. (See list of local sources for native plants at the end).

Our selections for the 2019 Prime Plants for Nature awards are:

Amelanchier canadensis, Serviceberry (also known as Juneberry or Shadbush) A. arborea and A. laevis are closely related species.

Berries on Serviceberry ripen in early summer and are quickly eaten by birds. © Mark Gormel Click to enlarge.

Wildlife Value: In the early summer this small tree produces berries relished by American Robins, Gray Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, and Northern Mockingbirds. Other birds and mammals eat the fruits as well. The popular fruits disappear quickly, often before they are completely ripe. The foliage of Serviceberry is food for 124 species of caterpillars including Striped Hairstreak and Red-spotted Purple butterflies and Blinded Sphinx and Small-eyed Sphinx moths. The nectar-rich flowers attract adult butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and other pollinators.

Cedar Waxwing eating Serviceberry fruits. © Harris Brown. Click to enlarge.

Serviceberry is a host plant for Red-spotted Purple butterfly caterpillars. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Growing Conditions:  Serviceberry is easily grown in sun or part shade.   It prefers moist soil, but will tolerate a variety of conditions. Although sometimes subject to rust or leaf spot, it is normally free of any severe problems. Rust (Apple Cedar rust) can be a problem for anyone who also has nearby Eastern Red Cedar.  It is moderately deer-resistant.

Serviceberry blooms profuely in April. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Appearance: A single-trunk or multi-stemmed tree, Serviceberry grows to 15-25 feet at maturity.  This member of the rose family is covered with showy white blossoms in early spring before the foliage emerges. The

Blossoms of Serviceberry are popular with native bees and other pollinators. © Barb Elliot. click to enlarge.

attractive fall foliage is yellow to orange-red.  Amelanchier canadensis, A. arborea, and A. laevis are closely related species that hybridize and are difficult to differentiate unless you are a


The Serviceberry should not be confused with Bradford Pear, also known as Callery Pear, an invasive tree with similar white flowers that blooms at the same time.  The Bradford Pear has upright branches and denser, dark foliage. It out-competes native species, hosts very few native insects, and produces fruit that is unpalatable to birds and other wildlife.  For more info about invasive Bradford/Callery Pear in Pennsylvania, click here.

Garden Phlox, Phlox paniculata 

Giant Swallowtail, a rare butterfly in southeastern PA, visited my Garden Phlox. © Edie parnum. Click to enlarge.

Wildlife Value: Garden Phlox is a nectar-rich perennial that attracts native pollinators including butterflies, bees, moths, and hummingbirds. The flower petals are fused into a tube (corolla). To access the nectar, a pollinator inserts its tongue (proboscis) into the bottom of the corolla.

Bumble bee nectaring at Garden Phlox. © Bonnie Witmer. Click to enlarge.

Butterflies and large bees with a long proboscis and hummingbirds can reach the nectar.  Small bees such as Sweat Bees, Yellow-faced Bees, Leafcutter Bees, and small carpenter bees have a proboscis that is too short to reach the nectar.  However, all will pick up pollen as they rub against the anther (male part) at the top of the corolla. Flying from flower to flower, these pollinators carry the pollen to the stigma (female flower part) of each bloom. As a result, reproduction occurs.

Among the insect pollinators using Garden Phlox, Hummingbird

A moth with transparent wings, a Hummingbird Clearwing, nectars on Garden Phlox. © Tony Nastase. Click to enlarge.

Clearwing Moth is a conspicuous day-flying sphinx moth that is sometimes mistaken for a hummingbird.  Also look for Peck’s Skipper, a small tan butterfly.

Growing Conditions:   Garden Phlox will grow well in sun or part sun in moist to average (tolerates clay) soil.

Appearance: The pink, lavender, or white flowers bloom profusely in late summer and early fall on 3-4-foot plants. Many cultivars (often referred to as navitars) are

Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Garden Phlox. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

available, but some have reduced nectar production.  However, according to studies performed at Mt. Cuba Center, ‘Jeana’ produces nectar abundantly and attracts many pollinators.  Garden Phlox can develop mildew during hot, humid summer conditions.  Removing some of the flower stalks will improve air circulation and prevent mildew.  According to Mt Cuba, the ‘Jeana”, ‘Robert Poore’, and ‘David’ cultivars are mildew-resistant.

Other phlox species:  Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata, and Creeping Phlox, P. stolonifera, are spring-blooming phlox species that grow in part shade or shade. They attract a variety of pollinators including butterflies and hummingbirds. The flower structure is similar to Garden Phlox.


Local Sources of Native Plants

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, 1635 River Rd. New Hope, PA 18938.  215-862-2924 or Nursery open April -October.

Collins Nursery, 773 Roslyn Avenue, Glenside, PA 19038.  Native trees, shrubs, and some perennials.  Spring and fall open houses.  Otherwise appointment necessary.  215-715-3439 or

David Brothers Native Plant Nursery, Whitehall Road, Norristown, PA 19403.  Native trees, shrubs, and perennials.  610-584-1550 or

Edge of the Woods Nursery, 2415 Route 100, Orefield, PA 18069.  Native trees, shrubs, and perennials. 610-393-2570 or

Gateway Garden Center, 7277 Lancaster Pike, Hockessin, DE 19707. Native trees, shrubs, and perennials.  302-239-2727 or

Gino’s Nursery, 2237 Second Street Pike, Newtown, PA 18940.  Native trees, shrubs, and perennials.  267-750-9042 or

Good Host Plants, 150 W. Butler St., Philadelphia 19140.  Straight species native perennials and woody plants of local genetic provenance. 267-270-5036 or

Jenkins Arboretum, 631 Berwyn Baptist Road, Devon, PA 19333.  610-647-8870 or Outdoor plant shop open daily 9-4 late April through mid-October.

Northeast Natives Perennials, 1716 E. Sawmill road, Quakertown, PA 18951.  Native trees, shrubs, and perennials.  215-901-5552 or

Redbud Native Plant Nursery, 904 N. Providence Road., Media, PA. 19063.  Native trees, shrubs, and perennials. 610-892-2833 or

Yellow Springs Farm, 1165 Yellow Springs Road, Chester Springs, PA 19425.  Native trees, shrubs, and perennials. Landscape design and consultation services available.  Spring and fall open houses. On-line and phone orders available.  Otherwise call for appointment.  610-827-2014 or

Native Plant Sales

Bartram’s Garden, 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA 19143. 215-729-5281 or

Brandywine Conservancy, Routes 1 and 100, P.O. Box 141, Chadds Ford, PA 19317. 610-388-2700 or  Mother’s Day weekend.  Seeds also available.

Delaware Nature Society, Cloverdale Farm Preserve, 543 Way Road, Greenville, DE 19807.  302-239-2334 or  First weekend in May.

Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust, 2955 Edge Hill Road, Huntington Valley, PA 19006. 215-657-0830 or

Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, 8480 Hagys Mill Rd., Philadelphia 19128. 215-482-7300 or

Welcome Nesting Birds!

By Barb Elliot, PhD

It’s spring, and once again I hear the songs of Northern Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, Mourning Doves, and House Finches as well as the drumming of Downy Woodpeckers and Red-bellied Woodpeckers.  These and other local birds are attracting mates and warning rival males to stay out of newly claimed nesting territories.  At least nine bird species have nested in my yard over the years. As I look back, I remember the joy of seeing birds raise and successfully fledge their young, the heartbreak when things don’t work out so well, and the things I learned along the way.

Male Red-bellied Woodpecker at his work, March, 2018. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

In early February, 2018, I noticed a male Red-bellied Woodpecker tapping near the top of a dead Black Cherry tree trunk in my yard.  I had left this snag because dead wood is scarce in our tidy landscapes but sorely needed for nesting, feeding, and resting places of birds and other wildlife. Several other woodpecker species – Downy, Hairy, Pileated, and Northern Flickers peck this tree and look under its peeling bark for grubs and other insects. Carolina Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, and Brown Creepers also scour the bark for insect morsels. I was happy to see the Red-belly using this tree to start excavating a nesting cavity.

Male Red-belly joined by his mate. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker worked day after day at this hole in all types of weather, and I was excited to see his progress.  At first he could just fit his head into the hole, but soon got half his body inside, then his tail. Finally he entered the cavity and looked out the hole.  He was joined by a female Red-belly, and they took turns at the work.  One would enter the hole, work inside, and call the mate. The mate then entered the cavity to gather small wood chips and sawdust in its bill and spit them out of the hole. Click here for a 2-minute video of this activity (better viewed on a large screen).

Male expelling sawdust and wood chips from the cavity. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.before flying off.

By early May, after more than three months, excavation stopped. In mid-May I saw the female enter with food in her mouth – the baby birds had hatched.  I could hardly wait for nestling Red-bellied Woodpeckers to peer out from the hole!  But alas, it was not to be.  A few days later, the Red-bellies called repeatedly near the nest, but never entered it again.  I understood their agitation when a pair of European Starlings exited the hole.  These invasive cavity nesters had taken over the hole and removed the baby woodpeckers.  Sadly, the Red-bellies’ nesting season was over.

European Starling peering out after taking over the Red-bellies’ nest cavity. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Other cavity nesters have been more successful in my yard. For species that don’t excavate their own cavities, I chose boxes with the dimensions recommended for Tufted

Tufted Titmouse eggs in one of my nesting boxes. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Titmice, Carolina Chickadee, and House Wren, but with entry holes small enough to exclude House Sparrows and European Starlings.  I monitor the nest boxes no more than once a week to minimize disturbing both nestlings and parents.

Tufted Titmouse nestlings. Notice one unhatched egg. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.




Over the years, I’ve planted a variety of locally native plants, especially trees and shrubs that support lots of leaf-eating insects, caterpillars in particular.  Ninety-six percent of terrestrial birds in North America feed only insects, spiders, and other arthropods to their young. Even hummingbirds add tiny insects and spiders to their babies’ diet.  Packing more protein than beef, caterpillars are the preferred insect food for feeding nestlings.  Since 90% of caterpillars and other leaf-eating insects specialize on one type or family of plants, I

House Wren with small caterpillar eyed by hungry baby. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

planted a diversity of native plants to host a diversity of insects.  According to University of Delaware professor Doug Tallamy, to raise a clutch of baby birds healthy enough to leave the nest, a pair of Carolina Chickadees must feed them between 6,000 and 9,000 caterpillars!



Carolina Chickadee eggs in another of my nestboxes. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.


Thanks to the native plants in my yard (see list of the 20 most valuable woody and perennial native plants) and the insects they support, Chickadees have successfully raised two broods of five to seven young each over the past 12 years. Tufted Titmice raised one set of five nestlings and House Wrens successfully raised at least eight broods of 5-6 birds each from my nesting boxes.  The importance of native plants to birds’ nesting success is emphasized by a recent 3-year

Carolina Chickadees almost ready to fledge. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

study of 200 suburban yards in the Washington, DC area.  Scientists from the University of Delaware and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center tracked nesting Carolina Chickadees and found that residential yards dominated by nonnative plants did not provide enough insects for birds to raise their young.  Chickadees were successful in raising and fledging young only when at least 70 percent of the plants in a yard were native to the region.  Birds larger than chickadees, such as Red-bellied Woodpeckers, obviously need even more insects and thus a higher percentage of native plants. We should all strive to have more native plants in our yards.

American Robin nest in my Trumpet Honeysuckle vine. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

Several cup-nesting bird species – American Robin, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, and Mourning Dove – have also nested in my yard.  Robins nested in a vine, an evergreen tree, on top of a curved downspout, and on top of a wreath hung under my porch overhang.

American Robin nesting in the crook of a downspout. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.




These birds certainly need native plants to find sufficient insects to feed their young. However, they also require native trees, shrubs, and vines with dense branching and leaves to provide good structure for the nests and concealment from predators.

Mourning Dove nest in one of my Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

For example, several pairs of Song Sparrows and Mourning Doves have successfully nested in my Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana). These evergreens are dense, hide nests well, are difficult for predators like raccoons to climb, and host more than 40 species of caterpillars.

song Sparrow nestlings in another of my Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana). © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

If you are trying to encourage birds to nest in your yard, here are some tips and lessons I have learned:

1. If you add a nesting box, do a little research to select a box with dimensions for the birds you want, and mount it at the suggested height.

House Wren parent with bug and hungry baby.  I added this hardware cloth predator guard after losing  a full set of nestlings to a predator that reached into the box.  © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

2. Nesting boxes with a predator guard of wood or hardware cloth will make it harder for predators like raccoons and squirrels to reach into the box. A baffle can be added below a box mounted on a pole or wood support.

3. Check a nest no more than once a week. Avoid checking nests when the young are close to fledging.  They may be startled into leaving the nest early and be more subject to predation.



House Wrens found many feathers to add to this nest, but the blue plastic strips on the left might entangle babies. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

4.  It’s better not to put out nesting material, as birds can find natural materials.  If you insist on providing something, do not put out yarn or hair longer than 2” to avoid entanglement.  Dryer lint, human hair or hair from dogs treated with flea/tick medications should not be used.

5. Check your yard for any plastic that birds may use as nesting material. A healthy baby Robin perished in a local nest when a plastic strip used in the nest wrapped around its leg and prevented it from flying from the nest.

Northern Cardinal nest in Barb’s Virginia Creeper on a trellis. © Barb Elliot. Click to enlarge.

6. If a baby bird without feathers is on the ground, return it to the nest. However, a baby bird on the ground that has feathers likely has parents nearby. Many newly fledged young spend time on the ground and are fed by parents for several days after leaving the nest.

7.Leave cats indoors year round to prevent killing of babies and adult birds.


8. Don’t use pesticides or herbicides. Birds and other wildlife in a healthy habitat will keep insects in balance.

9. Avoid trimming shrubs and trees during nesting season.

10. At the end of the season, clean out nesting boxes. This allows birds to use the box for roosting and cuts down on blowflies and other insect parasites that may prey on future nestlings.

Above all, enjoy the birds that visit and nest in your yard!  If you have (and keep adding) native plants, you can be assured that there will be enough food for them to successfully raise their young.

Fall is for Gardening

By Edie Parnum

Planning to wait until spring to garden?  Fall is better.  The soil is still warm, and with autumn rains, the new plants will grow their roots and come to robust life next year. Fall-planted perennials produce more flowers than those planted in spring.  Woody plants get a head start and could produce flowers and berries their first year.

First, assess your garden.  You’ve watched your landscape since April, and its flaws are still visible.

  • Are any plants not thriving? Perhaps they’re in a too-sunny or too-shady spot and need to be transplanted
  • Do you have weedy areas offering opportunities for new native plants or ground covers? (See “Native Groundcovers”)
  • Have any nasty invasives moved in and need to be replaced with native plants?
  • Do you have more lawn than you need?

Consider your garden’s aesthetics.

  • Should any sickly-looking plants be removed?
  • Are some plants obtrusively tall and would show better in the back of the garden? Are short plants hidden by tall plants?
  • Would an arbor or trellis be an attractive feature and support a Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, vine for hummingbirds. (See 2017 Prime Plants for Nature)

Can your garden support more birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife?

  • Plant something for birds.

The Chestnut-sided Warbler’s primary diet is caterpillars. Most young birds eat only caterpillars. © Gerald Dewaghe Click to enlarge.

Do you have room for an oak?  White Oak, Quercus alba (See 2013 Prime Plants for Nature Awards), Chestnut Oak (Q. montata), Red Oak (Quercus rubra), and Black Oak (Q. veluntina) are possibilities in our area. Oaks host the greatest numbers of native insects, which are high-quality foods for birds (see Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home). Adding additional native trees and shrubs to your yard will increase your yard’s biomass, i.e. all living things including insects, and significantly enhance your yard’s ecosystem.

  • Plant for butterflies.

To host Monarch butterflies, you can never grow enough milkweed (See “Marvelous Migrating Monarchs Need Our Help”).

Monarch butterfly nectaring on Butterfly Milkweed. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

All of us can plant more Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), Common Milkweed (A. syriaca), or Butterfly Weed (A. tuberosa).  Other native plants feed butterfly caterpillars, too.  For example, a Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) (see 2018 Prime Plants for Nature) hosts Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. Perennials such as Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), and other asters offer copious amounts of nectar for butterflies.

  • Plant for pollinators.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly on Short-toothed Mountain Mint. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

Yes, you want more native bees, wasps, and flies, of course (see “Pollinators Need Our Help!”).  Short-toothed Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) is a must.  Also consider Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), Joe-pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Beard Tongue (Penstemon digitalis), Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida), and the butterfly-attracting native perennials listed above.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding on Trumpet Honeysuckle. © Ruth Pfeffer. Click to enlarge.

  • Plant for hummingbirds.

In addition to Trumpet Honeysuckle, Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Great Blue Lobelia (L. siphilitica), Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), and Wild Bergamot (M. fistulosa) attract hummingbirds.

  • Try some new native plants.

Potter Wasp nectaring and pollinating Grass-leafed Goldenrod. © Edie Parnum. Click to enlarge.

How about goldenrods?  Several species are well-behaved and attractive.  They are great late summer/fall pollinator plants and don’t cause hay fever. My favorites include Blue-stemmed (Solidago caesia), Zig-zag (S. flexicaulis), and Grass-leafed Goldenrod (S. graminifolia).

  • Want more plants?

Transplant seedlings.  Divide perennials.  You’ll have extras, so be generous with your friends and neighbors. (See “Want More Native Plants? Learn to Transplant”)

  • Enrich your soil.

Instead of sending your fallen leaves to the municipal dump, leaves can be used as soil-enhancing mulch in flower beds and around trees and shrubs.  Consider leaving quantities of leaves and other garden debris in unobtrusive spots where insects and other creatures can overwinter.  Too much tidiness can kill. (See “Brown Gold: The Gift of Fall Leaves”)

Sound like too much?  Pick and choose.  But, remember, fall gardening is easier than in the spring.  It’s cooler.  With the autumn rains, less watering is required. You can plant up until six weeks before hard frost, as late as early November in southeastern Pennsylvania. And, there’ll be less to do in the spring.

Is there a down side to gardening in fall?  Well, you must wait until spring to see the results.  The new leaves will appear, the flowers will bloom, the insects will hatch.  And, your garden will nurture a multitude of living things.

——————————————————————————————————————–For a list of retail sources of native plants and native plant sale events, click here.

A special native plant sale sponsored by John James Audubon Center and Valley Forge Audubon Society will take place on October 20 and 21, 2018.  Details are below.