Tag Archives: Butterfly Weed

Feathery Parachutes

8 Sep

There are a variety of ways unexpected plants can crop up in your garden, but often, you can thank the wind for it. If bees play a vital role in pollination, then wind plays a similar role when it comes to seed dispersal. Think of the dandelion, the bane of many gardeners’ existence. It has developed a perfect way of ensuring a next generation by encasing its seeds in balls of fluff. What the wind doesn’t carry away (or lawnmowers cut down and disperse), young children will happily blow into the air–all but guaranteeing a new crop of the ubiquitous yellow flowers right in the middle of your lawn, or your neighbors’.

The Butterfly Weed plant disperses seeds in a similar fashion, but its seeds reside in pods that dry out and then crack open, allowing the feathery parachutes to travel hither and yon (if the Milkweed Bugs that love the seeds and tissue of Butterfly Weed plants don’t get to all the seeds first…). Luckily, there are many, many seeds to go around. And then, it’s up to wind, luck, and Mother Nature. In the bottom two photos, the Butterfly Weed seed parachutes have gotten stuck on 1) a Verbena Bonariensis and 2) a spider web near our brick staircase. I hold out more hope for the former’s prospects than for the latter’s.



Garden Update: Monarda, Milkweed, and a Moon

25 Jun

My husband and I began a very optimistic plan to lay a 450 sq. ft. patio this past weekend. The two of us. By ourselves (since our kids have all scattered far and wide). Our intention was to make a good start and to try to finish by next weekend, in and amongst working full time during the week. One tiny setback: a torrential downpour that occurred on Sunday morning, turning our denuded (but not yet paved) patio area into a mud pit. More on our venture later–but on the plus side, while we were toiling away I had multiple opportunities to admire how full and lush the garden has become (and to remind myself, repeatedly, of how much nicer the whole yard will look when swathes of dog-worn grass have been replaced with cobblestone pavers).

I have always loved the garden in June, when many of my favorite plants are in bloom. The photo on the left shows a small section containing a neglected bird feeder and (clockwise from top left) variegated Porcupine Grass, Montauk Daisy (not yet in bloom), yellow Tickseed (Golden Gain), tall lilac Verbena Bonariensis, a tiny bit of pink Monarda (Raspberry Wine), wine red Asiatic Lily (Tiny Ghost), small purple spikes of Veronica (Royal Candles), and orange Butterfly Weed. To the right is a close-up of the Monarda, which is new to the garden this year.
I added a couple more Butterfly Weed plants this year to fill in the space a bit and also because I love orange and Butterfly Weed is so cheerful and such a magnet for, well, butterflies–including Monarchs. I will be on the lookout this year and will bring in any Monarch caterpillars I see, to avoid the unknown fate that befell their 2012 counterparts. (I do not really blame the Nuthatch….).

And finally, after a grueling day digging dirt and laying bricks, we were rewarded with a lovely sight in the night sky: the Supermoon. I definitely did not have the right lens to do it justice–but here is a very rough view of the moon looming over a neighbor’s house, with a passing cloud absorbing some of the lunar glow.

Mad for Monarchs

12 Aug

Yesterday, having vowed to clean up my act (and the yard, too), I discovered that one of our Butterfly Weeds had become home to two Monarch caterpillars:


Butterfly Weed is a type of milkweed, which Monarch Butterflies love. The butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves and not long afterward, a caterpillar emerges, snacking away on the leaves until it is nice and plump, whereupon it attaches itself to a nice spot, hangs upside down in a sort of J shape, and turns into the pupa from which a new butterfly emerges, completing the cycle.

Judging by their size, the two caterpillars in our yard will pupate fairly soon. I’m hoping they stay put on the Butterfly Weed, though some caterpillars wander off and undergo their metamorphosis elsewhere. If these two are happy where they are (and if predators do not get to them), I may be able to post a pupa update in the near future. I am going to let nature takes its course this time around, but if I lose track of the caterpillars, I may consider bringing the 2013 generation indoors so they can pupate in safer quarters.

In the meantime, here is another critter that loves milkweed–the Milkweed Bug. There are two types, both of which are orange and black: the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) has a distinctive black band across its back, while the Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) has an orange X on its back. We have both, which may not be a good thing. These bugs multiply like rabbits and can denude a Butterfly Weed very quickly; right now, there are only a few of each type hanging out on our plants, but I’ll have to monitor them to make sure they don’t reach critical mass and chomp away the leaf under which a Monarch pupa might be hanging….


Two Unexpected Appearances

9 Jul

There are few things cheerier than the color orange. In the garden, one of my favorite orange flowers is Butterfly Weed, which as its name suggests, is just as attractive to butterflies as it is to me. Here is a close up from early June:

Now, most of the blooms are gone, and the Butterfly Weed is creating seeds, housed in the pods you can see here:

The pods dry out and crack open, and the seeds disburse in search of new homes.  [Note: People who know about these things (ie, real gardeners) collect the pods and keep the seeds for the following year instead of letting them blow all over the neighborhood. Now that I have finally figured this out, I will attempt to do the same.]

Last year, the seeds I neglected to harvest went their merry ways. One of them floated across the yard and over the fence, where it softly descended into a small patch of mulched earth near our garage. And there, it settled in for the winter, popping up unexpectedly as a new plant this year. I just discovered it a few weeks ago — a very nice surprise indeed. So this evening, I went to take a photo of it, and what did I find? A second unexpected appearance–in this case, a baby rabbit.

Tall, Colorful, and Handsome

5 Jul

In an earlier post, I included a photo of Garden 2 (G2) in 2011. Here is a photo of G2 last month:

As you can see, G2 has exploded. The focal plant, Crape Myrtle (Siren Red) is now well over fence height, with the Porcupine Grass on either side towering more than 6′. Ultimately, the Crape Myrtle will be taller than the Porcupine Grass; I just hope it doesn’t get suffocated before it gets there. A recurring lesson: check the spread (width) of your plants before planting them.  I only had eyes for height; width wasn’t really a consideration. I was looking for tall, colorful, and handsome, and in some cases ended up with fat and jolly instead. But it’s hard to be upset with a happy plant.

The new Gauras (Passionate Rainbow) on both sides in the front filled in quite nicely, but have yet to bloom. I suspect they will not this year. Maybe I am fated to not have Gauras, though I love them. But the yellow Euphorbia is still pulling its weight, as it has been since March. And new this year are two Azaleas–the two lighter green plants at the far left- and right-hand sides of the photo, just below fence level. I planted them in April, and am already fairly certain they are getting too much sun, so a relocation may be in the works. Another lesson worth repeating from 2011: don’t be afraid to move plants around. Of course, it would be best not to do it at high noon in 100+ degree weather (of the kind we have been experiencing lately); even the hardiest plant would have a rough time under those conditions. In fact, I can’t blame them. I’d wilt, too, if I were unceremoniously dumped into a hot hole with the sun beating down on my head. So I will keep my eye on the azaleas  and move them if needed–on a cooler, overcast day when rain is predicted.

I leave you with a couple other photos of the garden from June: a corner of Garden 1 (G1) featuring some pink and orange Echinacea, as well as Rudbeckia Giant Coneflower, which is stunningly tall, colorful, and handsome, and a total bird magnet.

And Garden 3 (G3) looking down toward G2, with the coppery Hibiscus and crimson-colored Yarrow in the foreground, and orange Butterfly Weed by the tree. Don’t be fooled by the Yarrow, however. It is proving to be all show and no substance. More on that soon.