Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pipevines on the Prairie

I caught a fast moving pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor, laying eggs on my woolly pipevine, Aristolochia tomentosa

 Lots of eggs.

Some of the eggs were laid a few days earlier and tiny caterpillars are beginning to eat the pipevine leaves. Some people would be going for the insecticide to kill the caterpillars, but not me. I am not concerned about the caterpillars eating the leaves because I planted the pipevine as host plant (food source) for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. 

Woolly pipevine is also known as woolly Dutchman's pipe because of the hairy appearance of the vine's leaves and stems and the pipe shape of the flowers. Plants of the Aristolochia family are the sole food source for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hard Times a Comin’ to the Prairie?

It looks like this is shaping up to be a rough weather year. The entire state is experiencing drought conditions. My prairie is in an area of severe drought according to the US Drought Monitor. Just to the west of Fort Worth, wildfires have burned over 150,000 acres (strikethrough because news sources do not agree on this number and it keeps going up). When the wind blows from the west, smoke fills the already polluted DFW skies. 

The City of Plano implemented Stage 1 water conservation measures today. Not because of drought, but because invasive zebra mussels from Russia are clogging the pipes from Lake Texoma which supplies raw water to the North Texas Municipal Water District and Plano.

When it does rain, the rain is accompanied by high winds, if not tornadoes, lightning, and hail.

This was the scene in my prairie vegetable garden last Thursday night. This is not nearly as bad as others experienced, but the hail was large enough to cause damage to some of my plants.

A dry line passed through the area tonight kicking off another round of storms. Again, I was lucky and got a little rain and just a little hail. After the rain passed, I went outside and took a few pictures.

Flowers are filling in on the prairie and the pale-leaf yucca is finally blooming. The flower stalk first started poking up through the leaves a month ago.

 Here is a close up of the flowers or are they bug umbrellas?

 More blooms on the prairie.

This butterfly was taking shelter on a switchgrass leaf. I need to work on identifying this butterfly. It does not look familiar and the wing shape seems a bit unusual. Update: the butterfly is a variegated fritillary.

Last week's rain triggered a flower on this rain lily. After I enlarged the photo, I noticed the flower was covered in thrips and some other insect (maybe a stink bug) was on the underside of a petal. I will let them be. That is nature on the prairie. Looks like the yucca flower has thrips too.

Rain causes bee brush to produce sprays of tiny, fragrant flowers as well. Bluebonnet, mealycup sage, red yucca, cutleaf daisy, and prairie verbena are also blooming in this photo.

This is a non-native hardy amaryllis that provides vibrant red color every spring. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Spring Flowers on the Prairie

Things are changing daily on my prairie. The weather has been warm and sunny on most days, although the prairie did experience a rare, but welcome, meteorological event on the last two Mondays - rain! The first rain in weeks, if not months.

I make daily walks around the prairie to see what has changed since my last walk. Which plants have started growing? Which plants have started blooming? Are there any new caterpillar eggs on the milkweed, pipe vine, or Hercules club? Have any of the caterpillar eggs hatched? Do any weeds need to be pulled? Did I just hear a hummingbird fly by? People with lawns just don't know how they are missing out.

I have been busy working on several projects and enjoying the garden, but I took time to take photos of some of the plants blooming on my prairie.

Gulf Coast penstemon, Penstemon tenuis,  blooms in my front yard rain garden. This plant is very versatile. It can grow in sun or shade and wet or dry soil. The bees and butterflies love the flowers. The plant sometimes reblooms if you cut back the flower stalks or you can leave them for the decorative seed pods that turn reddish purple in the summer. 

These are the deep red flowers of cedar sage, Salvia roemeriana. It is a low growing salvia that primarily blooms in the spring and spreads slowly by seed.

Looking across the front yard prairie toward the west are the bright yellow flowers of the almost always blooming four nerve daisy, Tetraneuris scaposa. In the background, my snowball viburnum bush is in full bloom. I do not know for sure which viburnum this is, but I am pretty sure it is not a native to Texas. The mother plant was purchased several years ago for $2 at a Winn Dixie. This plant is a sucker from the mother plant that I brought with me when I moved to this house seven years ago.

More four nerve daisies are blooming and spreading across the prairie. 

I am anxiously awaiting the first (ever) blooms on my pale-leaf yuccas, Yucca pallida.

Another shot featuring Gulf Coast penstemon and snowball viburnum.

On warm sunny mornings, the chocolatey perfume scent of chocolate daisies,  Berlandiera lyrata, fills the air.  Behind the chocolate daisies are some winecup, Callirhoe involucrata.

This eastern red columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, grows under an oak tree in the backyard. They are native from Texas to Canada and all the way to the East Coast.  

The purple flowers of prairie verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida, do not always photograph well and neither do the fast moving snowberry clearwing mothsHemaris diffinis. Apparently, dogbane is a host plant for snowberry clearwings caterpillars. Maybe I will keep my spreading mystery plant around for them.

I believe this is a stemless evening primrose, Oenothera triloba. The flowers of this annual open in the evening and close the next morning. The red flowers in the photo are spent blooms from the previous day.

You would not want to walk barefoot in a field of stemless evening primrose. The seed pods develop along the base of the plant forming a very hard pineapple-like structure by the end of the season. This one is a little mangled because I was trying to release the seeds. I needed pliers to break into the seed pods.