Thursday, October 23, 2014

Glorious Glowing Grasses

In 2009, the Texas Legislature designated the third week in October as Texas Native Plant Week. Native plants benefit wildlife by providing food and shelter. When properly selected, they are an attractive, low impact choice for landscaping. Even the less attractive native plants have their place and purpose. Texas native plants make Texas Texas.

Of course, every week is Texas Native Plant Week at Plano Prairie Garden. I am a little short on time to write a dissertation about native plants right now, so here are some pictures of the glorious glowing grasses that are blooming in my garden now. The beauty of these Texas natives when backlit by the autumn sun speaks volumes.

West Texas native Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia.

A little closer look.

Statewide native, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium.

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

 Little Bluestem

Another shot of Pine Muhly. This one grows in a pathway next to my vegetable garden. It is not in the best location, but it is too pretty to move.

Central Texas native, Seep Muhly, Muhlenbergia reverchonii.

Another native to most of the state is Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum. This variety is 'Dallas Blues'.

Big Muhly or Lindheimer Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, is another central Texas Native.

This Indian Grass, Sorghastrum nutans, was dug from a patch in a field a couple of miles from my home.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Past the Peak

Two weeks ago, my last post was about the peak bloom of the Gayfeather and the peak migration of the monarch butterflies.

There is still a little color from the Gayfeather, but it is well past its peak now. It is kind of sad that this plant grows (and takes up garden space) for six months out of the year and only blooms for about three weeks. Even so, it is special when the plants are in bloom because the timing seems to be coordinated with the migration of the monarchs. 

There are still a number of monarchs hanging around the garden. Even though there are still a few Gayfeather blooms in the garden, the monarchs have turned their tastes to the Gregg's Mistflower. This monarch has some damage to its wings. It must make the trip to Mexico a little more difficult.

The monarchs are joined by as many queen butterflies this week. The Gregg's Mistflower really brings them into the garden.

Ever wonder how to tell the difference between a monarch and a queen? The photo above is a monarch. The thick black lines on the open wings give them a stained glass appearance.

This queen butterfly does not have the dark lines. This is the easiest way for me to identify the butterfly. This queen happens to be a male. You can tell by the dark spots on the wings near the tail. Male monarchs have similar spots.

It is a little harder to identify the butterflies when their wings are closed.This is a monarch with its wings closed. The wings are a little lighter on this side and the black stained glass lines are still present.

The queen, on the other hand, is dark orange on the outside. It has narrow black lines which are broken up by white dots.

Earlier this year, I bought a different type of mist flower. Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, looks similar to Gregg's Mistflower, however the leaves are rougher and not as deeply cut as Gregg's Mistflower. Blue Mistflower only blooms in the fall and Gregg's usually begins blooming in early summer.

Blue Mistflower is supposed to be a more invasive than Gregg's. My Blue Mistflower is still in a pot because I am not sure how it will behave. I placed the pot next to the Gregg's to see how the flowers compared in attracting butterflies. Blue Mistflower did attract butterflies, but it seemed that Gregg's Mistflower was preferred. 

Here is a skipper on a Zexmenia flower. Aromatic Aster is in the background.

A gulf fritillary is feeding on the flowers of Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana. This is another aggressive spreader, although its spread may be limited by lack of moisture. It is growing in the rain garden where it can be contained to a degree. This may be a good location for the Blue Mistflower too.

There were a few other varieties of butterflies in the garden. The only other one that posed for photo was this gray hairstreak.

This grasshopper is one of many in the garden. They are everywhere, but don't seem to be doing any damage to the plants. 

This is probably my last photo of Gayfeather for 2014. There are still a few more flowering plants in the garden that are waiting for their time to shine. The next one on the schedule is Fragrant Mistflower.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gayfeather and Monarchs

The fall blooming season has officially started in my garden.

As far as I am concerned, it is not fall until the Gayfeather (probably Liatris mucronata) start blooming.

It seems like it took a little longer for the flowers to kick into full bloom this year. That may be because September was exceptionally dry. At the official DFW rain gauge, only .06 inches of rain fell for the month. Through the end of September, rainfall was 10.69 inches below normal for the year. Last week, I even decided to run the sprinklers one more time. That makes two times for the year.

Even with limited water, the garden looks pretty good now that the temperatures are not as high. Having some plants in bloom helps the appearance too.

Here is a view of the garden through the Pine Muhly, Muhlenbergia dubia.

More Pine Muhly with Giant Hesperaloe in the foreground.

News Flash
We interrupt this blog post for a special report. Monarch butterflies have arrived in Plano. Repeating, monarch butterflies have arrived in Plano.

A cold front blew through Thursday evening bringing a little rain and damaging winds for some. The monarchs flew in right behind the cold front.

As they make their amazing migration to Mexico from as far away as Canada, quite a few monarchs stopped off here for food and lodging.

They were primarily interested in the Gayfeather flowers, but they were also feeding on the flowers of Gregg's Mistflower, Frostweed, and Mexican Milkweed.

This was the scene all across the front garden. There were more monarchs that I could count. It was quite a surprise since I only saw two monarchs this spring. Below is a short video of some of the visitors to put their numbers in perspective.