Falling Behind on Comments, Eep

I want to send out a thank you to everyone who has commented on my posts lately. I’ve been truly swamped, so I haven’t had a chance to reply very much, but I promise you that I read and appreciate every one of your comments. Likewise, I haven’t had a chance to visit many blogs or Blotanical lately, and I miss you all! I sneak a peek when I can, but I usually send a smile from afar due to time constraints.

So please keep visiting and don’t worry if you don’t get a reply back — as soon as I can I’ll be back in comment mode!

The Beauty of Lost Maples in Fall

Lost Maples State Natural Area, near Kerrville and Vanderpool, Texas, is beautiful year-round, but it is the fall colors of its bigtooth maples and other deciduous trees that draw in the crowds. The park is named for its pocket of bigtooth maples that were brought to its canyons by Ice Age glaciers. The maples do well because of the park’s microclimate, though in any given year the fall colors are dependent on that year’s rainfall and temperatures.

lmb11-25-09.jpgDuring our visit, the woods were a colorful palette of greens, golds, oranges, reds, and browns. The colors come from the Bigtooth Maples, Red Oaks, Lacey Oaks, Flameleaf Sumacs, and other trees, and even vines such as Virginia Creeper and Poison Ivy.

Sometimes the colors were all present on the same tree.

lmj11-25-09.jpgBut when the trees were ready, they really did the colors right.

Aside from the pleasing flora, the park offers miles of trails, springs, rivers, overlooks, grasslands, fern-covered canyon walls, and more. During the fall, visitors will wait in car lines for two hours just to get into the park. We cheated by going on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and we had no problem getting in. After the 3.5-hour drive from Austin, we were ready for some exercise!

The dogs were very excited to be there, too. Most of the pictures in this blog were taken after their energy wore out a little. Guess why?

lmv11-25-09.jpgLost Maples’ most popular trail is a short, relatively easy walk, but we opted for the almost-5-mile East Trail. Shortly into the hike, we were met by a sign that read something along the lines of “Steep Trail for the Next 1.5 Miles.” It was not just steep — it was very, very rocky, too. And you know, what goes up, must come down.


But it was worth it to see the beauty of the area for miles around.

The mountaintop was covered in Ashe Junipers and various grasses. The boys imagined a scene from an African savannah, with lions lurking about.

lmw11-25-09.jpgAs we made our way down the other side of the mountain, the stunning fall foliage came forth again.


lmzf11-25-09.jpgThough the dogs were worn out by the end, they didn’t mind a final jog.

lmzj11-25-09.jpgOn our way home, we stopped at Stonehenge II, a smaller version of its more famous archaeological wonder of a cousin. It also has an Easter Island-like statue. It was getting dark, so we snapped a picture and headed on. A nifty spot to visit — we’ll go back in daylight.


War, Peace, and Bananas

It seems strange to post pictures of a bright sunny day while I listen to the lovely sounds of raindrops falling outside. But at least I’m dry.

Over the past couple of days, the garden was a green version of Grand Central Station. Butterflies, wasps, moths, flies, and other creatures all came to feast, rest, and feast some more. It was high noon when I took these, unfortunately, but beggars can’t be choosers when there are masses of creatures about all at the same time! You just get the shots when you can.

varietybutterflies11-18-09.jpgAt last, Painted Lady butterflies have come to visit.

I love the hidden peacock feathers you see in their hindwings.

Variegated Fritillaries have arrived, too.


A Snout Butterfly rested on Big Muhly.


And Queens went back and forth between the Gregg’s Mistflower…

and the Milkweed.

I have so many kinds of skippers I can’t name them all.

I think this is a Fiery Skipper…

and this a White-Checkered Skipper.


The Gulf Fritillary was a challenge to photograph — it cared not for sitting still.

And Sulphurs — some big, some small. Is this a Southern Dogface Sulphur or a Cloudless Sulphur?

Tiny yellow butterflies fluttered about — they didn’t sit still for long. Hmmm… Little Yellow or Mimosa?


The big butterfly attractors have been the milkweed, zinnias, and Gregg’s Mistflower, but a few days ago I set out a banana for the butterflies. They do love a rotting banana, but the last time I did that, the banana just rotted all by its little lonesome. This time, I walked out to discover a Goatweed Leaf Butterfly enjoying a snack with a Snout Butterfly (and a fly).

goatweedleafandsnout11-18-09.jpgSo I decided to set out a fresher banana, as well, and — whoa — incoming. Suddenly my new banana became an experiment and a wildlife study. The first visitors were wasps and flies. I’m not even going to attempt to identify any of these, but there’s quite the variety!


The wasps didn’t always get along. The big red hornet-like one was the bully you’d expect him to be — not that the other wasps were friendly and gentle-like, mind you…

While the wasps were distracted with their quarreling, the flies zoomed in for some banana. I like how they naturally spread themselves out.

banana11-19-09.jpgDo you see the beautiful metallic turquoise insect in the lower left corner? That’s a Cuckoo Wasp — the only one I can identify other than “fly” or “wasp.”

Here’s another pic.


I didn’t mind all the visiting wasps. It kept them distracted from my Queen caterpillars on the milkweed.


queencatb11-18-09.jpgAnd the flies and wasps weren’t the only visitors to the bananas. Snouts began to venture over to the fresher banana, and today I found my first Red Admiral. What a beauty!

red admiral.jpg
See this “pretty” yellow, green, and black bug? Bad bug. Spotted cucumber beetle. You can mourn it if you like — it and four of its friends. At least I found them on the banana and not in my veggie garden. That water in the pic is from today’s rain.

spottedcucumberbeetle11-18-09.jpgThe only butterfly picture I didn’t capture that first picture day was the lone Monarch I saw flying around. Have they started to move on? I’m keeping my eye out for caterpillars — I did see a female Monarch laying eggs on the milkweed several days ago.

Elsewhere in the garden today, I discovered what I think is an assassin bug nymph. My last one was red, though, so I don’t know.

assassin11-20-09.jpgAnd off in the former pumpkin patch, where a few pumpkins and vines await me doing something about them, I found an icky green guy having a feast.

greenworm11-20-09.jpgEnjoy it while you can, buddy.  

Snout Butterflies

Who nose why they have this name? Yeah, ok, that joke really smells. ‘Snot my best.

But I have to say, the snout butterfly is pretty cool. Its elongated palpi in front of its eyes give it the appearance of having a long nose.


Easily camouflaged on tree branches and dead leaves, one might not even notice it.

Until it opens it’s wings, that is — hello!


I’d never seen one until this year, and now they are all over my garden. It’s possible they’ve been visiting for years, as we have numerous hackberries in the area and in my yard — the trees are the larval host of snout butterflies. But I’d been eagerly keeping an eye out this year, and suddenly the snouts are plentiful. Supposedly it has something to do with drought and rain — with the right conditions, the population can be enormous, and then these cute little butterflies might fly en masse, like a cloud in the sky. Now that’s another sight I’d like to see!


The Lovable Furry Creature

It started out like any other afternoon. I went out to garden and got distracted immediately by butterflies flutterbying. Then I noticed two Queen butterflies doing their thing on the fence by the veggie garden, and as I just couldn’t miss the photo opportunity, I ran to get the camera. Just in case you are interested, the male is at the fence’s edge, and the female is upside-down.


But what I really want to draw your attention to is the sneaky little voyeur nicely camouflaged in the lower right corner. I didn’t notice it until the Queens flew away.

And suddenly I forgot all about those pretty butterflies, and I was in love. Sorry, hubby.

jumpingspiderc11-13-09.jpgIsn’t she CUTE? Here she is again, turned for your viewing pleasure.


She has interesting markings on her back. She’s some species of Phidippus, but I couldn’t find a similar spider online with those kinds of markings. So for now, she’s “Phidippus Meredith.”


Would she have attacked the butterflies if they hadn’t flown off? Did they fly off because of me (probably) or the spider? I guess we’ll just never know!

After a bit I pulled my two plain blue eyes away from her eight gorgeous hypnotic black eyes and went to check on the veggies, where I found this monster chewing away. NOT cute.

lettucepest11-13-09.jpgMy son came outside then, so I rushed to show him the spider. And look what she had caught! Smart girl! What is that?


Look, now she’s giving it a hug!

jumpingspidere11-13-09.jpgShe loves it!

jumpingspiderh11-13-09.jpgNot too far away, I found another jumping spider (and I was ecstatic, of course). This one is Phidippus mystaceus, also CUTE. How can you resist her? She’s so furry and lovable. Her eight eyes give her remarkable vision. Quite the tracker. Little flies would land near her, and she would turn her body instantaneously to watch them.

jumpingspiderb11-13-09.jpgBye, little spider! I love you!


At Last, a Male Monarch

The garden is just magical — as soon as I walk outside, I see dozens of butterflies fluttering about, and I’m literally mesmerized for some time. And finally, the male Monarchs have started to join the females. So I get to add a new picture to my Butterfly ID page, which shows easy ways to distinguish Queens, Monarchs, Soldiers, and Viceroys. Here’s the image I’m adding in — see the updated page for the whole set of photos.

Scrappy Doo

Well, I’ve been hammered with an Honest Scrap award from Drew of Ecologic Consulting. Thank you, Drew! I’m quite honored and smiling up a storm.

Getting this award requires a number of tasks. One of these is to tell 10 honest things about myself. Well, that’s pretty easy to do because…

1.   I’m a very open person. I say what I see and wear my heart on my sleeve. I completely perceive this as a major flaw, mind you. Would that I were harder to read and be less likely to cry at any emotional moment, happy or sad…. I think this openness trait also contributes to me being a friendly talker. I can easily enjoy a conversation with any given stranger in any given place. One time I spent hours in a Goodwill in the dishes aisle chatting with a woman about everything under the sun. I think we just had so much in common, including the openness, talkative gene!


2.   The simple things in life are often the things that delight me the most. Maybe that’s why I’m also a nature girl.


3.   I’m a very visual person. If I can’t see it in front of me, I’m unlikely to remember it. Therefore, anyone who tells me his or her name might as well assume I’m going to forget it unless there’s some other visual connection (like a garden blog!). I’m particularly bad at remember names of anyone in a group. Somehow the higher number of people just ensures that I’m going to forget absolutely everyone’s names. This has definitely gotten worse with age. And according to my kids, I’m officially old, as of my last birthday.


4.   I tune in easily with animals. Perhaps that’s also why I have so many pets. And they all follow me around no matter what I’m doing, like my little pack. My husband long ago gave up trying to keep them out of the study when I’m in there. Even my little dwarf puffer comes out to see me when I’m around.


5.   I’m easily distracted. What?


6.   I’m a perfectionist. Here, let me correct that, perfectionist that I am. I’m a selective perfectionist. This means that while I’m not a perfectionist about everything, I’m absolutely obsessive about the things I choose, consciously or subconsciously, to be a perfectionist about, typically something I create.


7.   Green has always been my favorite color. Why on earth didn’t I become a gardener sooner?


8.   I buy too many plants without having a bed to place them in directly. I can blame this on my mother, for sure. She’s always been an impulse shopper, and so am – ooh, shiny!


9.   While I love to shop for plants, I hate to shop for clothes. I have the unfortunate luck of only being able to find things I like if they are an impulse buy and not an “I desperately need to have something to wear to such-and-such event” item. On the other hand, my clothes budget is very low. All that money goes to plants instead!


10.  I love spur-of-the-moment activities. That’s what adds spice to my life, baby!


11.  What, 11? As another blogger once put it, she breaks rules, and so do I on stuff like this. So my award tasks end here – I enjoy way too many blogs to try to choose ones to hammer with an award, but I gush about all of you in my own way. I’d hammer you all, if I could!

Thank you again, Drew!

Spiny-Backed Orb Weaver

spinyorb11-09-09.jpgThis little lady’s been a pleasure and a nuisance to have around. We love spiders, so we welcomed her little apartment web and love bringing her the occasional bug treat. But she’s chosen to attach her web to a ladder, a brand new planter I’m wanting to fill, and a tree that hangs over our back gate, so her web is in a most inconvenient spot!

When we first saw the spider a few days ago, it was actually my youngest son that helped me identify it. He called it a Thorn Spider, having learned about it in school — it turns out that’s what similar spiders in Madagascar are called. Here they are Spiny Orb Weavers, or Spiny-Backed Orb Weavers. They come in a variety of color combinations.

While trying to take a picture, I got to study her a bit, and a little research supported my observations. Rather than wrapping small prey in silk, she traveled along a web line, snagged the prey, dangled from a fresh silk line, and then traveled up the line to the reposition herself in the center of the web before enjoying her feast directly.

How do I know she’s a she spider? It’s the females that make the webs, a new one every single day. You won’t catch me building a new home every day! Or, say, ever.

I’m glad I was able to get a picture of her before she moves on to another web spot. I was worried that yesterday’s rains would make her leave. But she’s back. But every day prior to this, she’s been in eye view. Today I had to climb on a folding chair, get on my tippy-toes, and snap several shots of a moving spider in a web being blown by the breeze. I’d have used a ladder to get higher, but the silly spider attached her web to it!

For a look at a beautiful red version, check out Linda’s at CTGardener. If they weren’t both females, I’d say we should breed them and make a pink one!

P.S. Check out the markings on the back — in some places people call these spiders “smiley face spiders”! 🙂

Austin Garden Bloggers Take a Trip

 What do you get when a bunch of Austin Garden Bloggers get together?

  • Beautiful plants to ogle
  • Introductions to species you’d never seen or heard of
  • Visits to nurseries and gardens you’d never been to
  • Lots of chatting with new friends you have so much in common with
  • Cameras. Need I say more?
  • Celebrations of colors, textures, garden design, hardscape, art, and all things nature
  • Stories of plants (identified by scientific name), trips, tours, kids, spouses, gardens, chicken coops, plant-swapping, buggy pests, and decaying dead urban wildlife at lunchtime (oops)
  • Cars filled to the brim with newly-purchased plants
  • Good times and good food and sometimes a little confusion

sabgmap11-07-09.jpgYesterday many Austin Garden Bloggers gathered for a day trip to Madrone Nursery in San Marcos, San Antonio Botanical Garden, and Antique Rose Emporium.

Blogs represented were Digging, Sharing Nature’s Garden, Go Away, I’m Gardening!, In Bloom, Great Stems, Shovel-Ready Garden, Garden of E, Rock Rose, Gardener of Good and Evil, Round Rock Morning Glories, Some Like it Hot, and Zanthan Gardens. We were quite the eager plant-loving caravan!

Our first stop was Madrone Nursery, owned by Dan Hosage, Jr. A native plant specialist, he was both enthusiastic and energetic in sharing his love of plants. Many of us bought plants, and I know I’ll need to go back again soon with list in hand for others I’m interested in. 

At the San Antonio Botanical Garden, we were greeted by towering century plant blooms.

The lime-colored leaves of Duranta “Gold Mound” provided a colorful contrast to the surrounding plants.


Note regarding many of these plant photos from SABot: I wrote down the names of as many plants as I could, and now I can’t seem to find the sheet of paper I had. Perhaps I left it in Pam’s car? If I can locate the paper, I’ll update this blog with more plant IDs.

sabgplanta11-7-09.jpgBird of Paradise

Bee in Datura

Black Beautyberry


Barbados Cherry, loaded with fruit

Pacific Chrysanthemums (the lovely white trim on these leaves inspired a few people to take this plant home from Antique Rose Emporium later in the day)

On display throughout the gardens were Dave Rogers’ Big Bugs statues. Apparently these were at the Wildflower in Austin a year or two ago, but as I had never seen them before, I decided to run around to get pictures of all of them. They included a praying mantis, a dragonfly, a line of ants, an assassin bug, a ladybug, a grasshopper, a damselfly, and a giant spider on a web. Hmmm, it’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s hard to resist the spider, though. Guess that makes me a fly.


Of course, there was other beautiful art all over, as well. This statue represented different things to different people: a star, a child, a seastar, a Thumbkin, a dancer, and more.

There were hundreds of Monarchs, especially around the pentas. I found it interesting that all the ones I studied were females. Where were the males?

Oddly, the Monarch species dominated most of the gardens. Occasionally I’d see another species, like this Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus).

This Bordered Patch butterfly (Chlosyne lacinia), along with a companion, enjoyed a treat of Gregg’s Mistflower nectar by the Auld House.

I fell in love with the Children’s Vegetable Garden. These organic plots are maintained by children, and as you can see, they are quite productive. I couldn’t help but admire the very creative scarecrows and other decorations throughout the mini-farm.

The Japanese Garden seemed a little sad because of its missing tranquil waters. The drought-caused water restrictions in San Antonio forced the shutting off of water features throughout the park.

sabgjapa1-7-09.jpgI was wowed by the simple design but elaborate effect of the fence surrounding the Japanese garden.

sabgjapb1-7-09.jpgIn addition to special exotic areas of SABot, the gardens also had areas focused on different Texas regions, such as South Texas, Hill Country, and this scenic lake setting representative of the East Texas Pineywoods. The reflections on the water were occasionally disturbed by a falling maple leaf or a duck creating a “V” while swimming across the still water.

I am always fascinated by the protective spines found on cactus and various succulents.


This Dr. Suess-like agave bloom is from a Butterfly Agave.


A close-up, and the plant is still delightful.

The Sensory Garden was an abundance of textures and scents. Here silver ponyfoot drapes off the sides of a raised garden.

sabgsilver11-7-09.jpgIn the same garden, it might be tempting to touch this bumpy plant, but a closer look shows that each bump ends in a tiny and very painful spine. I wondered whether it really should be in a Sensory Garden, then realized that it was just barely kept out of eager hands’ reach. I guess an attempt was made to correct the mistake, if it was one.  

Off in the glass and cement pavilions of the conservancy, we were introduced to a vast collection of unusual plants from different growing regions across the world.

Karoo Cycad (Encephalartos lehmannii)


A photographer stops at nothing to get that perfect plant shot!


This Christmas plant looks similar to a Poinsettia, but it’s actually a bloom on a large tree.

A big black bee visits a Lucky Nut, or Yellow Oleander.

Life-Saver Plant (Huernia confusa) — it’s pretty obvious where this plant got its name!

sabgconsj11-7-09.jpgMany of the windows of the glass pavilions had been replaced with boards. It turns out that some of these had been damaged by deliberate gunshots from nearby Sam Houston. I’m quite appalled and upset about this. American soldiers and officers should be role models, not thugs.

I had great interest in the Watersaver Lane, a series of houses showing a variety of approaches to yards. Tell me, would you choose the sparse, wildlife-unfriendly, and rather unimaginative traditional American yard? (The hint here is, “Please say no!”)sabgyardsa11-07-09.jpgHow about a Cottage-Garden style, with reduced lawn and colorful flower beds?

sabgyardsb11-07-09.jpgOr a Wildscape Landscape, complete with curvy paths, reduced lawn, and plants selected for their value to birds, butterflies, and other wildlife?

sabgyardsd11-07-09.jpgOr do you prefer the style of a Spanish courtyard?


Two other styles were represented, a Manicured Xeriscape Lawn and a yard straight out of the Texas Hill Country. Certainly this look at yard styles and water-saving options gives one a lot to think about in terms of plant selection and design.

On the way back from San Antonio, we stopped at the Antique Rose Emporium near Selma. At first, I expected to be very much out of my element, as I don’t know a thing about roses. However, it’s hard not to take delight in the beauty and fragrance and variety of roses, and there were many native and Texas-adapted species as well, along with fun garden gifts.

This single white flower surrounded by pink buds was a bouquet all by itself.

are11-07-09.jpgA white climbing rose in the “Mannerly Climbers” section drapes out of its pot.

aree1-07-09.jpgI was sorely tempted to go against my grain and choose a water-loving non-native Curly Willow to enjoy at home near my air-conditioner drain. But at the last moment, I resisted. I left with a native Passiflora and two kinds of wonderfully scented Pineapple Sage instead. If I ever have an appropriate bog, however, that Curly Willow might be mine for sheer fun!

A good time had by all. Can you tell that this was the last picture taken of people restless from standing too long for photos? There were a lot of cameras “in line.”

Time to go home. The cars that had room for plants were filled up completely, of course.


What a fulfilling, pleasant, happy day. Thanks, everyone!

The Bulla Wildscape

As a special treat on Halloween, other recent Habitat Steward graduates and I had the honor of visiting the award-winning and very beautiful wildlife habitat of Dale and Pat Bulla here in Austin. 

bullahabitat10-31-09.jpgI had heard a lot about their spectacular wildscape, so when our Habitat Steward group was given the opportunity to have a tour, you know I jumped at the chance!

bullas10-31-09.jpgDale (left) and Pat (center) are also both Habitat Stewards with NWF, and preserving native Texas plant life is exceptionally important to them. They are leaders in conservation efforts in Austin and Texas, and they were a primary force in helping their neighborhood win Austin’s Community Wildlife Habitat challenge in 2008 with the highest number of certified wildlife habitats.

bullahabitatc10-31-09.jpgPat and Dale have lived on their property since 1998, building their home on a rocky limestone slope overlooking the Balcones Canyonland Preserves. Their efforts to create a natural landscape since then have paid off — paths of natural materials such as mulch, rock, and cedar lead visitors through peaceful woods and past pocket seeps.

cedarpath10-31-09.jpgMany of the plants were placed there by the Bullas, but many more were delivered by birds and other creatures. The result is a wonderland of native Texas species.


bullahabitate10-31-09.jpgmexbushsage10-31-09.jpgesperanza10-31-09.jpgPat told me that the plants on their property are about 95% native, with the remaining being well adapted plants such as rosemary and winter-blooming germander.


It being the end of October, we were able to see many species just beginning their fall fruit or fall color stages.

silktassel10-31-09.jpgAs we toured the Bulla wildscape, Dale and Pat identified many of their favorite trees, shrubs, and perennials, sometimes sharing stories about certain plants. We tasted the leaves of a Toothache Tree (Zanthoxylum hirsutum), and after a couple of minutes I felt my gums tingle, as if they were going numb. I want one of these trees for the pure fun of it.

The Bullas are fortunate to have many rare or unusual plants, such as the Lindheimer’s Crown-Beard (Verbesina lindheimeri), a plant so rare and special that the Wildflower Center collected seeds from the Bulla plants and sent them to the Millennium Seed Bank in London. Other plants, not necessarily considered rare, can still quite difficult to find in nurseries. 



brickellbush10-31-09.jpgThe Bullas study the soil, light, and water conditions of their property in order to best place plants. With a combination of rocky slopes, natural seeps, sun, shade, woods, and open areas all on their property, it seemed to me that they had an advantage in being able to plant a little bit of everything!

Bluebonnet seedlings, Tropical Sage, Little Bluestem, and other plants were interspersed in the Buffalo grass of the Bullas’ front yard mini-prairie.


Amazingly, the habitat is home to six different kinds of native Texas passionflower vines.


The Bullas have a knack for creating functional habitat features that blend in with the natural setting, including a manmade seep-like water source, beebox (with nesting holes for solitary bees), and rock man.


Dale and Pat’s home serves as an example to others about how to minimize their carbon footprint. Not only is their carbon footprint exceptionally low due to natural paths, water collection systems, zero lawn, and minimal water usage, the Bullas also use solar panels that produce enough electricity to actually return some back to the city.

bullasolar10-31-09.jpgAnd of course, the wildlife love the Bullas’ habitat, too. Unfortunately for the Bullas, however, this includes destructive feral hogs that visit the property from the BCP during the night, occasionally tearing up pathways and plants while looking for grubs, roots, and tasty vegetation. Deer prevent Dale and Pat from planting certain delectable species and veggies, too. But birds, butterflies, lizards, and other creatures call the Bullas’ habitat home. We enjoyed watching the Queens and Monarchs fluttering about, but I was truly mesmerized by this Buckeye. I have yet to see a Buckeye in my yard!

buckeye10-31-09.jpgIt’s no wonder the Bullas’ habitat is designated as a Green Garden by the City of Austin. An award well deserved!