Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fall Migration Pit Stop

The native plants on my suburban prairie provide a welcome pit stop for weary travelers as they journey to their winter destinations. This year's journey will probably be particularly difficult due to the extreme drought affecting much of the migration path.

This female ruby-throated hummingbird looks like she is very happy to see this Salvia greggii in bloom.

Her beak is covered in yellow pollen from the Salvia flowers.

Monarch butterflies are enjoying the flowers on the frost weed, Verbesina virginica.

Another monarch favorite is Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii (click the link to see a photo from a couple of years ago). Unfortunately, it has fewer blooms this year due to the drought. 

Food and lodging available at the Plano Prairie Garden. Enjoy your stay and have a safe journey.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Record Breaking Summer

The weather guessers (aka meteorologists) are saying that the summer of 2011 is the hottest on record for DFW. We had a few days of relief from the heat last week and then it returned again this week. Yesterday's high was 107. This was the hottest recorded day after Labor Day in DFW. Yesterday's high also put us in the record books for the most 100 degree days in a year. The old record was 69 days from 1980. We hit 70 days yesterday and we are expected to get to 71 days today. 

Despite the heat (and still no rain), my prairie is starting to come back to life again. 

The sky blue flowers of Pitcher sage, Salvia azurea, are making a second appearance this year. Pitcher Sage normally just blooms in late summer, but this year it also bloomed in the spring. I cut the plants back after the spring flowers faded and hoped they would bloom again in September. It worked! There is a Mealycup Sage, Salvia farinacea, right next to the Pitcher Sage. Mealycup Sage has purple flowers. I have to look closely to notice the differences in color when they grow next to each other. Pale-leaf Yucca, Yucca pallida, is in the foreground. It had several pups pop up this year. The growth of the Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, was stunted this year due to the drought.

Little Bluestem is one of my favorite grasses, but this year, I think Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia, is at the top of the list. It is native to West Texas, so it did not have any issues with the heat and drought. I really like the way the flower spikes shoot out of the center of the plant and catch the sunlight.

Here is the same Pine Muhly from a different angle. Surrounding the Pine Muhly are more Mealycup sage, Pink Skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens, a native of Mexico, and yellow  flowered Zexmenia, Wedelia hispida.

A gayfeather, Liatris mucronata, started blooming over the weekend. Seeds from this plant an another plant were scattered across the prairie a couple of years ago. The seedlings are finally mature enough to bloom and will fill the prairie with purple spikes within the next couple of weeks.

Here is my stock tank. It is now planted with horsetail reed, Equisetum hyemale, which should fill in well by next summer. The autumn sage around the tank seems to show its appreciation for the moisture seeping from the tank with additional blooms. The hummingbirds have noticed the flowers and stop by regularly for a drink.

Daytime high temperatures are expected to drop into the 80s later this week. The weather guessers say we should not see any more 100 degree days this year after today. I hope they are guessing correctly. If we could just get a good soaking rain...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Prairie Plant Profile #4 - Eryngo

Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, is one of my favorite late summer wildflowers. At this time of year, the tops of the spiny plants are covered with electric purple flowerheads that are shaped like pineapples. The unusual flowers are an attractive nectar source for bees and butterflies.

Eryngo is an annual wildflower native to the south central United States. It grows in full sun on the dry soils of prairies, fields, open woodlands, and along fencerows and roadsides. In its natural habitat it usually grows from one to three feet tall.

I collected the seeds for my plants a couple of years ago along a railroad track about a mile from my house. I disbursed the seeds in my prairie in the fall and the following spring I had several small seedlings growing. I actually removed several of the seedlings before I realized that they were not weeds. I did not know that the first sets of leaves on the plants are rounded and do not have sharp points like the leaves that appear once the plants start growing a vertical stem.

Eryngo grows much taller in my prairie than the parent plants did along the railroad tracks. The parents were no more than two feet tall and my plants typically grow five feet tall. I assume it is because my prairie soil is deeper, richer and moister than the soil along the railroad tracks.

The lower leaves of eryngo may turn brown. The plants can look pretty scraggly so it is a good idea to plant eryngo with other prairie plants, such as little bluestem, to hide the brown leaves and bare stems. Due to the heat and drought this year, the little bluestem did not grow tall enough to hide the stems of the eryngo. 

Once the flowers dry, I collect the seeds to scatter for the next year's plants. Thick leather gloves are a must when handling all parts of this plant. I certainly would not touch the prickly leaves barehanded or barefooted like this brave (or hungry) anole.