Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Gayfeather and Pine Muhly

Gayfeather and Pine Muhly dominate the front garden right now. Have a look around.

A few monarch and queen butterflies have arrived to feast on the nectar rich flowers. I hope to see more soon. This is a queen butterfly.

This common buckeye perched on a dried coneflower seedhead between meals.

Plano's annual Environmental Community Awards Celebration was held a couple of weeks ago and I was received the award for Community Outreach in the Individual Adult category. 

It was an honor to be considered among the nominees in this category and the nominees and recipients in the other categories. 

The following is a quote from the program:
Since 2009, Michael McDowell has shared his experiences transforming his front yard landscape from a typical suburban lawn to an environmental oasis of Texas native plants. Michael's Plano Prairie Garden blog, garden tours, speaking engagements and plant swaps have educated and enlightened thousands in Plano and North Texas of the benefits of these ecological landscaping practices. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

White Flowers at Dusk

The rain and break in 100 degree temperatures made August much less miserable than usual. It was enough to bring the garden out of its summer dormancy. As I surveyed the garden on a recent evening, I noticed that a number of the flowers were white.

Generally, I prefer colored flowers over white flowers, but the white flowers do have a way of brightening up the garden in the evening. As an added bonus, most of the white flowers in my garden are very fragrant. 

This photo and the first photo feature Beebrush, Aloysia gratissima. Beebrush blooms a few days after a rain. It is amazing how quickly the bush is covered in flowers and bees after it rains. Because I have four bushes in the backyard, the scent of the tiny flowers is a bit overwhelming at times. I likened the strong scent to bathroom deodorizer in this Prairie Plant Profile

Another flower that blooms a few days after a rain is the Rain Lily. I think this is Cooperia pedunculata.

The flowers open in the evening and are very fragrant. I almost got a picture of a hummingbird moth feeding on the flower.

Here is a close up.

Most people are familiar with red Turk's Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii. This, of course, is a white variety. I like the white flowered plant because it stays smaller and is less aggressive than the red variety.

Clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra, is another flower that opens in the evening. The flowers will begin to wilt by afternoon on very hot days and then a new round of flowers will open by evening. This annual wildflower produces many seeds, so be cautious if you plant it in your garden.

Angel's Trumpet, Datura wrightii, produces large trumpet-shaped flowers that open in the evening and fill the air with their perfume. Bees like their nectar so much that they will often try to pry the flowers open in early evening. 

There is a lot of buzz about this plant. Here is a Bee Movie I made three years ago. It stars Datura and many, many bees. And, yes, the constant background noise is the buzzing of bees.


All of the plants described above a native to Texas and do not need much, if any, supplemental water to survive those hot dry summers.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I saw something in the vegetable garden that I have not seen before. 
At first, I thought it was a bee and then I noticed that it was another insect eating a bee.

It did not take much internet research to identify this predator as a robber fly.  

According to the Smithsonian Insider, there are over 7,000 identified varieties of robber flies. The color and pattern of some robber flies mimic other insects. This one looks similar to a bumble bee. Robber flies catch their prey in flight and inject their victims with venomous saliva. The saliva kills the prey and liquefies its insides. Then, the robber fly sucks out the juices. 

While we are in the vegetable garden. This is one of two remaining tatume squash plants. They have been attacked by squash vine borers and squash bugs, but they are still hanging on. I covered some of the vines with soil in hopes that they will root and produce more vines.

Here is one of the round fruits. They are pretty tasty if you have not tried them before. 

And this is a volunteer plant that came up in my asparagus bed this year. I found a couple of others in the backyard. I assume this is poison ivy sprouted from seeds deposited by birds. Leaves of three, leave it be. But not for too long. I need to get rid of it before it takes hold and spreads.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Texas Thistle and American Basketflower

I collected and scattered a few Texas Thistle, Cirsium texanum, seeds in my front garden last year. 

Since Texas Thistle is a biennial, the seeds sprouted and grew into small plants last year. This plants bloomed this year and will later die.

The flowers attract a number of pollinators. If the flowers are left on the plant, the seeds will be eaten by goldfinches (I read this on the internet and do not have first hand experience). Additionally, the plant is said to be a host plant for painted lady butterfly caterpillars.

Like many plants, Texas Thistle grows much taller in my garden than it does in the wild. It is hard to tell in this picture, but the Texas Thistle in the background is over 6 feet tall. The other plants in this photo that look kind of like a thistle are American Basketflower, Centaurea americana.

I have grown American Basketflower for several years. American Basketflower is an annual and needs to go to seed in order to come back the next year. Most of my plants produce flowers that are light pink in color. 

I added seeds from plants with darker colored flowers a couple of years ago so now I have a wider range of colors. This is not a great photo, but it shows some of the variations in colors.

Here is a close up of one of the darker American Basketflowers. 

American Basketflowers and Texas Thistles are both in the Aster family. It is pretty easy to differentiate the two plants. American Basketflower gets its name because the bracts under the flowerhead look like a basket. The bracts are stiff, but not prickly.  

Texas Thistle has little spines below the flowerhead. 

The leaves of American Basketflower are soft and spineless.

By contrast, the tips of each lobe of Texas Thistle terminates in a point. Gloves are highly recommended when handling this plant.

I will probably remove any new Texas Thistle seedlings that pop up in the front garden and scatter some seeds in the backyard because the plant is a little too tall for the front yard. I will be removing the older seedheads soon because I do not want the plant to take over.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Hearts from Hail

The hail from this past March left lasting marks on the paddles of my spineless prickly pear cactus. It also seems that it may have affected the growth of this year's new paddles that had yet to emerge when the hail hit.

If you look at the outermost paddles, you will see many that are not the typical upside down teardrop shape. There are several that are misshapen. 

Many of the paddles have a notch out of the top which gives them a heart shape appearance.

Hearts from hail? 

I can't say for sure. All I know is than none of the paddles were heart shaped before the hail storm.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Still a Mystery

I mentioned my mystery Hesperaloe a few times in the past. It was sold only as "Giant". I could tell that was a Hesperaloe, but what kind? 
I knew it was not the common Red Yucca, Yucca parviflora, so asked the staff at the nursery and they said it was a Giant Red Yucca. Not really knowing if that response was correct, I bought the plant anyway because I liked the structure of the plant with thick filaments curling off the sides of the leafs. 

This is how the plant looked when I bought it in late 2012. I searched the internet and decided it was probably Hesperaloe funifera. I would just need to wait until it bloomed to confirm its identification.

Well, this year it finally bloomed and the flowers are white. I had to zoom in on the flowers because they are blooming about 8 feet above the ground.

I should have said were blooming 8 feet above the ground because flower stalk fell over the next day.

It looks like the hail that hit in mid-March damaged and weakened the stalk enough that it collapsed.

The good news is that the flowers are still blooming and they are much easier to see. 

I noticed that the flowers open at night and close in the morning. Could this be the night blooming Hesperaloe nocturna? I thought so until I did some internet searching. Hesperaloe nocturna does not have stiff, upright leaves like my plant. My plant looks most like Hesperaloe funifera. The thing that keeps me from making a firm ID is that I cannot find any references that Hesperaloe funifera is a night bloomer. Maybe there is another variety that I do not know about?

The mystery continues.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Celebrating World Naked Gardening Day

World Naked Gardening Day (slight caution with the link) is the first Saturday in May and is a time to garden as nature intended. So, I will be out in the garden today wearing my gloves and doing a few chores. 

Today is also the next to the last day of National Wildflower Week. With all this exposed skin, I am too busy swatting mosquitoes to take pictures of all of the wildflowers in my garden, but I was able to get a picture of a columbine and milkweed.

Enjoy your garden and the wildflowers today and every day, how ever you may choose.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rain Gardens at Work

Since we had so much rain over the last couple of weeks, I thought this would be a good time to post about my rain gardens. A rain garden is simply a planted depression that collects rainwater runoff before it leaves the property and allows it to soak into the ground rather than entering the sewer system. A rain garden usually holds water for no more than a few hours, which is not long enough for mosquitoes to develop. Rain gardens are planted with plants that can endure brief periods of wet soil followed by longer periods of dry soil.

The first three pictures are of my front yard rain garden. It is situated on the lowest point in the front yard and built up on two sides with large boulders. To create a depression, I dug out several wheel barrels of soil. I used the soil I removed to grade the other side of the front yard. I did not do much to prepare the depression for planting other than mixing in a couple of bags of compost and expanded shale.

The gutters on this end of the house are connected to underground pipes that empty in the rain garden. It is recommended that you use plants that can tolerate moister soil on the bottom of the rain garden and plants that need drier conditions on the sides. My rain garden dries out quickly, so it includes some surprising plants throughout. I consider the shade from the neighbor's live oak to be a greater limiting factor than the amount of moisture in the soil, although I would never put a xeric plant like a cactus or agave in a rain garden.

The plants in the front rain garden include False Indigo, Amorpha fruticosa, Heartleaf Skullcap, Scutellaria ovata, Gregg's Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, Blue Mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, Gayfeather, Liatris mucronata and Liatris Spicata, Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, Bushy Bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridis, and a variety of other plants that reseeded in the rain garden.

I also added a rain garden in the lowest point of the backyard. This rain garden is filled by underground pipes that collect rainwater from the gutters on the back of the house. Plants in this rain garden include Weeping Yaupon, Ilex vomitoria 'Pendula', Big Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri, Seep Muhly, Muhlenbergia reverchonii, Giant Coneflower, Rudbeckia maxima, Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis, Cherokee Sedge, Carex cherokeensis, Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora, and a few other miscellaneous plants.

And what do April showers and thunderstorms bring besides hail claims? May April flowers!

Most of the plants have recovered from the hail storms and are blooming away, like the Autumn Sage and Gulf Coast Penstemon in the background. The Gregg's Mistflower around the birdbath have yet to begin blooming.

The Bluebonnets are on the decline, but still look good. The golden flowers of Four Nerve Daisy brighten the scene.

More Bluebonnets and Gulf Coast Penstemon bloom around the prickly Toothache Tree. The Toothache Tree just finished producing its fragrant (in a good way) flowers.

My unidentified giant Hesperaloe will be blooming soon. 

I may have to get a tall ladder to get a good look at the flowers. The will be forming 8-10 feet above the ground. Unfortunately, the Hesperaloe is a little too close to the Toothache Tree and the flowers will eventually be in the canopy of the tree. I may have to try to move or divide the Hesperaloe one of these days.

The larger of the Pale-Leaf Yuccas is in bloom. 

The stress of being pounded by hail in mid-March may have attracted a new predator to my yuccas. The leaves of my Pale-Leaf Yucca and Yucca Gloriosa are covered with little beetles that I think are Yucca Plant Bugs. I will spray some light horticultural oil on them this weekend to see if that will get them under control. Has anyone experienced this beast before?  

A few more shots from the front garden...

The next rounds of blooms are getting ready to open. These are the closed flowers of Antelope Horns Milkweed.

And this is the first flower of Narrowleaf Coneflower. 

More rain and storms are expected throughout the day on Friday. It has been a stormy spring. Let's hope the weather begins to settle down soon.