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Flower Power -- Welcome, Pollinators!


It's National Pollinator Week! Pollinators work so hard -- they deserve a week of honor! So let's celebrate our hard-working garden buddies that visit our flowers and help them reproduce. Below you'll find some tips for supporting pollinators, and over at Beautiful Wildlife Garden you'll see some pollinator fun facts I collected. Hurray for bees, bats, birds, moths, flies, butterflies, and beetles!


Megachilid (Leaf-Cutter Bee) on sunflower

About 90 percent of our flowering plants, in addition to so many of our food crops, need animal pollinators to help them produce fruits and seeds. Because of habitat loss and chemicals being used in the environment, many of our pollinators are in serious trouble.

Here's how you can help:

  • Plant a diversity of plants native to your region.
  • Avoid pesticides and herbicides.
  • Limit lawn areas and instead provided a connected habitat of trees, shrubs, and perennials.
  • Have a water source that allows small pollinators to drink safely.
  •  If you plant non-natives, make sure they are not invasive in your area. Remember that cultivars are not always used by pollinators. For example, flowers that have many more petals than normal might not be accessible by the pollinators that would have visited the original native species. Likewise, nectar and pollen in cultivars might be altered enough to be no longer attractive to pollinators.
  •  Plan for blooms throughout the seasons. Redbuds are early bloomers, while Goldenrod, Gayfeather, Gaura, Sages, Frostweed, and others bloom right up into November. Of course many wildflowers and perennials bloom right through spring and summer!
  • Plant caterpillar host plants, leave some bare patches of earth for digger bees, and set out bee boxes -- help keep the cycle of pollinators going!
  • If you can, provide moist dirt areas to invite butterfly puddling.
  •  Keep a little untidiness -- this provides shelter for pollinators!


Snowberry Clearwing Visiting Peach Blossoms

giantswallowf05-30-11.jpgGiant Swallowtail on Purple Coneflower

Pollinators are all different -- some have long tongues and visit tubular flowers, while others have short tongues and visit flat or small flowers. But that's not all....

Bees love white, yellow, or blue flowers. That's why sunflowers and many crop flowers are so popular with bees.

Hummingbirds are frequent visitors of red, orange, and white flowers. Did you know that white-winged doves are also pollinators? They pollinate saguaro plants in the Sonoran Desert.

Butterflies are attracted to bright flowers, often red or purple, and they will visit flat flowers and flowers with narrow tubes.

Moths love white, pink, and pale flowers with sweet scents, particularly those that emit scent at night. Some moths, like Snowberry Clearwings, are diurnal.

Beetles visit white or green bowl-shaped flowers. They aren't the most efficient pollinators, but they still count!

Bats like white, green, and purple flowers that have strong odors at night. Our bats in Central Texas eat insects, but in other areas, different bat species are key pollinators for agave, cactus, and other plants.

Flies are generalist pollinators -- they visit lots of different plants. Consider them friends!


Hummingbird visiting Flame Acanthus

A diversity of native plants is absolutely the key to helping pollinators. There are fantastic planting guides available to help you choose great plants to attract specific types of pollinators, and you can also see suggestions for ongoing blooms throughout the seasons.


Honeybee visiting a sunflower


Join us in celebrating our pollinating friends, and do what you can in your own garden to help protect and support them!

New Garden Bed Does Well Despite Drought


The drought is hitting Texas hard -- fires in West Texas, shriveled-up lakes, suffering wildlife, and many a plant succumbing to the lack of water. But my drought-hardy natives are doing relatively fine, all things considered. The garden has toughened up for the hot summer -- it has had to, because I'm just not a person to water much. Sure, the plants would look more lush if we had rain, but lush doesn't matter in a drought. Surviving does.



The butterflies have been relatively few this year so far, thanks to the drought, but the bees have been plentiful. We've seen more native bees than ever, and even our bee boxes are getting used -- yippee. In particular, the wood ones in the shade are popular. The bamboo box is in the sun and to my knowledge has not been visited by any creature, bee or otherwise.

pondbermf06-09-11.jpgWe've been adding plants around the raised hot-tub pond, bringing the dirt up in a sort of berm. I know it doesn't look like much at the moment, but it will transform over time. As the plants grow, the pond will have a backdrop of taller evergreens, and the berm itself will be covered in wildlife-friendly plants of all shapes, colors, and sizes. The leaves you see are used as mulch -- they are doing an excellent job of keeping any weeds under control and keeping the soil moist, and they are freeeeeeeee.

pondberme06-09-11.jpgTo build the berm, we used the dirt that had been dug out to form our still fantastic sun garden pathway. Amazingly, we still have at least half of the dirt left even after creating the berm -- this will become additional contour somewhere else in the yard, most likely. Actually, I should back up in this story -- first we dug out ugly Bermuda grass from around the pond, covered the area with cardboard and newspaper, and THEN built the berm. We also mixed in some well-needed compost.


Leftover flagstone from the patio project became a pathway across the berm.


Leftover flagstone was also used to create steps to the built-in pond bench. I plan to refine the steps, but they're a start. You can see that we don't water grass. Bit by bit the Bermuda grass is dying out, and the Buffalo Grass is naturally taking over, particularly in the back half of the yard. This patch is still mostly Bermuda, though -- die, die, die.

<Momentary pause as I observe all the mockingbirds visiting the birdbath in the front. Usually I see all the other songbirds visiting but not mockingbirds. Today they seem to be staking claim, those naughty birds. I wonder if the backyard birdbaths are dry. Or perhaps (and more likely) the shaded birdbath has cooler water. Hmmmm, I'll revisit the water source locations, I guess.>

I've been transplanting plants to the berm from around the garden, and amazingly they've done well despite the transplant (organic seaweed during planting helps). The Texas Lantana is happier than ever before, not doing well in its first location near the pond pre-berm. We've got Lindheimer's Senna, Mealy Blue Sage, Gregg's MIstflower, Chocolate Daisy, Blackfoot Daisy, Milkweed, Missouri Primrose, Basket Grass, Engelmann's Crag Lily, Flame Acanthus, Rock Rose, the world's tiniest Evergreen Sumac, and non-native Almond Verbena and Dutchman's Pipevine, with lots more to come once fall rolls around.


pondbermd06-09-11.jpgAbove is a young Soapbush, Guaiacum angustifolium. It was a treasured find at the last fall Wildflower Center sale, but I didn't get it in the ground right away and I'd almost given it up for dead by the time we made it to spring. However, just look at it now. It seems quite happy in the berm. Someday it will have the most adorable purple flowers.

The wildlife moved in immediately -- always a sign that we are doing something right. The sparrows flew in to see what seeds they could find in the freshly placed soil. Doves walked up the berm, and then they walked down the berm, almost like ducklings in a row. Skippers and hairstreaks and swallowtails and bees arrived to visit new blooms.The dogs love it, too. They've got a new obstacle to run laps around, and they're actually using the flagstone path to cross the berm... most of the time.

miningbee06-09-11.jpgAnd look, a little mining bee began to work on a nest in a patch of bare earth.

The drought is terrible, but there is hope for the garden. Given that the birdbaths and ponds have constant avian traffic, I know the drought is really rough on the wildlife right now. We even had a doe visit the front yard birdbath for the first time yesterday -- I've never seen one venture this close to the house before, so she must have been really desperate.

deer06-08-11.jpgYou can see her ribs, poor little skinny thing. I don't mind the deer, but I make sure to not directly feed them (I plant unpalatable plants in the front). Without natural predators, there also isn't a natural balance to the ecosystem as would be found in the wild -- no population check. But that doesn't mean my heart doesn't go out to them during times like these. She can drink water from the birdbath if she likes.

I do have to post a picture of my friend and neighbor Jan's screech owl babies. I imagine they've fledged by now, but as soon as I heard about them, I zipped down for a picture. A-dor-a-ble!

screechowlbabiesc06-01-11.jpg That makes two successful nests in the neighborhood this year! My husband made the boxes for Jan and for our own backyard owls following the Audubon building plans. We'll tweak the design a little next time for easier access for cleaning, but otherwise, they are obviously good nest box designs.

I leave you with a parting image of a House Finch watching a sunflower seed fall.

housefinch06-11.jpgOh, well, little finch, rest assured it won't go to waste. There will be plenty of birds happy to collect it from below.

Wildlife Spotted... and Spotted Wildlife


Say what?!!

screech05-11.jpgThat owl up there is driving us crazy, though I'm sure it would say the same about us. All day long it sticks its head out of the nesting-box hole and does NOTHING. Nothing except occasionally stick its head out farther to see what we're up to in the yard (which usually is us sticking our heads around trees to see what the owl is doing). Just go ahead and show us some baby owlets or bring in a rat or make an eerie screech owl noise or something, would you? We're so happy our screech owl is here, but it's just weird that it hangs out of the hole all day long.

GSfrog05-02-11.jpgThat being said, I have a feeling I've been unnecessarily blaming our frogs for causing the odd shortage of our once-abundant toads. Most likely I should be blaming the screech owl. After all, we've apparently set up a rather nice buffet table for the owl, which watches over the pond from its vantage point up in the nesting box. The male toads come out at night, innocently croaking loudly to attract a potential mate, and it's just possible that their call instead acts like a beacon to bring the silent predator from above right to them.

Check out who this green frog is watching -- someone better be careful!

Of course, it's entirely possible the pond frogs really are to blame -- they are certainly not above cannibalizing (toads are actually frogs, you know, and frogs will eat frogs). It appears we have created the ultimate frog haven in our hot-tub pond. The frogs spread themselves out across the water (so as to not get too close to their hungry neighbor, I assume), and then they wait for whatever moving morsel dares to venture close. I'm still trying to determine the species we have -- at the very least, we have both American Bullfrogs and Southern Leopard frogs, but the markings are odd on a couple of them.

And they are all getting big. The largest bullfrog is getting downright scary (cue "Jaws" music).


bullfrogb05-02-11.jpg bullfrogc05-02-11.jpg bullfrogd05-02-11.jpgI still have to get in the pond to get acorns and such out of it -- my spring cleaning is way overdue -- don't I look forward to it with Gigantic Freaka-Frogazoid there joining me! I'm just kidding -- I love frogs.

checkeredgarter04-30-11.jpgOf course, also on the toad hunt might be this Checkered Garter Snake -- it has a perfect waiting spot among the pond rocks. Our garden habitat is an ecosystem at work, that's for sure. All the same, I suggest all toads immediately head to our front-yard pond. It's smaller, but a little toad-safer for the time being. 

Here's one toad we found alive and well -- hop and hide, little one! Hop and hide!



Nearby, a cardinal flew in for a seed and a close-up. Blue Jays splash in the birdbaths, hummingbirds dance in sync together, doves play follow-the-leader... and still our screech owl sits in its nesting-box hole.

All around town, the wildlife and native plants are doing their best to handle drought conditions. Check out this beauty seen at McKinney Roughs -- it's a Great Purple Hairstreak.

greatpurple05-02-11.jpgDon't see any purple on it? That's because there isn't any. By the way, this little beauty's host plant is Mistletoe -- consider it a plus side to the parasitic plant.

This next image is of a beautiful little Southern Emerald Moth -- however, its wings were up instead of laying flat, and it didn't seem able to fly, poor thing. This is the second time I've seen this moth in the same condition at the same locale, Hornsby Bend.

southernemerald04-30-11.jpg southernemeraldb04-30-11.jpgThe Retamas (also called Jerusalem Thorn) lining the ponds at Hornsby Bend are in full bloom right now. These airy-yet-thorny native Texas plants tend to spread when they get plenty of water, but the bees and birds sure love them. It's understandable. Beautiful yellow blooms and thorns for protection -- sounds great to me.

retama04-30-11.jpgBees, generally speaking, do love the color yellow. Bees visiting Prickly Pear blossoms go a little crazy with it -- they act almost drunk.

pricklypear04-23-11.jpg pricklypearb04-23-11.jpgBut the winner of the bee-attracting flowers right now is the blooming century plant down at Natural Gardener.

centurya04-30-11.jpgI think several hives of honeybees came to visit.


Too bad I couldn't climb up there to get a closer look. To put the height in perspective, take a look at this:


Time to get back out in the garden while the temperatures are still pleasant with our temporary cold front -- hopefully more wildlife will join me!

TX Mountain Laurel Brings Out the Pollinators


GSmtnlaurela03-17-11.jpgBeautiful mountain laurels in full bloom caught my eye during a recent visit to the Canyon Lake area, and I had to venture over to get a whiff of the grape-scented fragrance emitted by the flowers. Intoxicated by the scent, I paused to look around and realized that I wasn't the only one enjoying the blooms.

GSbeeonmtnlaurela03-17-11.jpgAt first the honeybees caught my eye, especially as my ears sensed them, as well. They really had to push their way in to get at the nectar. If I were a bee, I would have worked hard to get in there, too -- it smelled divine.

GSbeeonmtnlaurelb03-17-11.jpgA hoverfly rested briefly on a seedpod.

GShoverfly03-17-11.jpgIt was difficult to catch a picture of a hoverfly in the air -- they didn't hover much that day. Too busy trying to get energy refuels, I guess. But I'm fond of this motion shot, blurry that it is:


But the showstoppers of the day were the native bees, in this case metallic blue leaf-cutting bees. Dr. Jack Neff, a native bee specialist, tells me that they are likely female Osmia ribifloris, the bluest of our early season Osmia.

GSbluebeea03-17-11.jpg In the photo above, the bee has darker hairs on its upper thorax, while the bee below sports white pollen on her upper thorax and head hairs, with bonus yellow pollen "socks" (or at least "legwarmers")."


But as you can see in the next photo, the real pollen-gathering spot for this bee and other members of the Megachilidae family is on the ventral side of her abdomen, where little hairs hold the pollen she collects. This specialized area for pollen transport is called the scopa.

GSbluebeec03-17-11.jpgAccording to Dr. Neff, these lovely blue leafcutters apparently like to utilize old organ pipe mud dauber nests for their own nests, and they'll chew leaves to make a green paste that they'll then use to plug the nest holes. Clever little natives. 

GSbluebeed03-17-11.jpg Beauties, these little bees. I feel lucky that I got to observe them for a time.

GSbluebeee03-17-11.jpgGetting back to the Mountain Laurel, inside those seed pods are the Mescal beans, as the seeds are often called, and they're bright red and highly toxic. Some people like to take the seeds, rub them on a sidewalk to build up heat from friction, then burn the person next to them. Ouch.

GSmtnlaurelseed03-17-11.jpgThe Texas Mountain Laurel is a slow-growing, small, evergreen Texas native tree. It thrives in our Texas weather and soil and on "not being messed with" -- as in plant it and then leave it alone. Since this method of gardening works for me, I have three now and counting.

Trekking Through the Roughs


roughse09-05-10.jpgYesterday morning our hiking crew of friends and family visited McKinney Roughs Nature Center, an LCRA park near Bastrop in Central Texas. Not to be confused with McKinney Falls State Park, the Roughs is home to 18 miles of pleasant hiking trails that take one through peaceful woodlands, past wildflower meadows, and along the scenic Colorado River.

The park is located where four distinct ecological regions converge: East Texas Pineywoods, Riparian, Blackland Prairies, and Post Oak Savannah, and these regions can seem to suddenly switch on you as you walk along the trails. I think of three words when I picture my time at McKinney Roughs -- "beauty," "solitude," and "wildlife." Birds, butterflies, bees, lizards, spiders, turtles, mammals -- everywhere you turn, you either see wildlife, or you see evidence of it. Wildflowers line the paths, vines climb the trees, and sunlight filters through the trees to highlight shrubs or snags or other interesting elements of nature.

A little anole welcomed us at the front gate, though he did hang out among some thorns. Good for him.


Up at the visitor's center, spectacular flowers and berrying-plants provide a colorful scene, alive with zooming hummingbirds, busy bees, and fluttering butterflies. The building in the photo is the Natural Science Center, closed except for educational purposes, but all about the grounds, demonstration gardens teach visitors about native plants, wildscaping, and water conservation through rain collection. There's even a tepee to sit in. And the visitor's center itself holds large aquariums and terrariums, with all sorts of live creatures inside. So much to do, and so much to learn.

roughsn09-05-10.jpg roughso09-05-10.jpg

If all that wasn't enough, McKinney Roughs offers even more-- nature programs for youths, dorms for groups, stargazing and kayaking programs, and vertical challenge courses, including a climbing tower.

roughsr09-05-10.jpgBut the park trails are truly the "diamonds in the Roughs." They are well made and easy to traverse. Dogs on leashes are allowed, as are horses. It says something good about a park when people bring their horses from across the state to take them on the trails.

roughszd09-05-10.jpgWe chose about a 5-mile route, traveling on several connecting trails. The paths took us through all four ecological regions, letting us see quite a variety of plant species and terrain. Pine needles in portions reminded us when we were in the pocket of isolated hardwoods known as "Lost Pines."


The paths took us to overlooks and valleys, dry creek beds and the river, and through woods and meadows, but always the trail was well defined and constructed, particularly whenever a slope was present.

roughszl09-05-10.jpg roughszm09-05-10.jpgAnt lions left little pits in the sand along the paths.

roughszc09-05-10.jpgAll around were plants I'd never seen before, and I realized that while I can identify many native species, it was clear I had a lot more to learn. But many of my favorites were around.

Like American Beautyberry...


Texas Persimmon, with its beautiful peeling bark...


Inland Sea Oats, with seeds in transition from green to brown, and so many others.


While I could identify this next plant as a bird-friendly Pokeweed due to its very dark red berries, I didn't know much about it, so I looked it up. Turns out it's very dangerous to mammals, sometimes even lethal -- so don't eat it. This is a time where the saying "You eat like a bird" best NOT apply.


Another new one for me -- this appears to be Tall Gayfeather, also known as Tall Blazing Star, Liatris aspera. The stalk was indeed so tall that it needed the support of a younger plant.


And this is Coral Bean, Erythrina herbacea. Thank goodness it didn't have different colored seeds -- I might not have ever identified it otherwise. Not surprisingly, those beans are toxic.


It was hard to resist taking pictures of all the wildlife we saw. And ohhhh, we saw a lot. What a joy to experience nature at its best.

Near the visitor's center, this Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly worked really hard to make it as difficult as possible for me to take a picture of it, but I finally got one. It's on Pride of Barbados -- not a true native, but a sun-loving wildlife-friendly neighbor from the south. 


Well, actually I did get two photos. I believe this is another Pipevine Swallowtail, though its markings are less vibrant. It's on Tropical Milkweed.

roughsv09-05-10.jpgIt was pretty neat to see so many different species of Swallowtails all in the same vicinity. Here's an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.


And a good old-fashioned Black Swallowtail on Texas Lantana.

roughsz09-05-10.jpgNearby, a Gulf Fritillary drank from a Turk's Cap.

roughsq09-05-10.jpgOff in the woods, a pollinator favorite was Shrubby Boneset, or White Mistflower. Bees and butterflies all flocked to it.


roughss09-05-10.jpg Here's an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Female, a dark morph.


And, of course, the Mistflower-loving Queen.

roughsu09-05-10.jpgBut Mistflower wasn't the only plant the pollinators loved.

roughsd09-05-10.jpg roughsf09-05-10.jpgSolitary wasps collected nectar and pollen, as well. This digger wasp is a wonderful predator of grasshoppers and katydids. I wish it lived at my house.

roughsg09-05-10.jpg This black-and-white wasp is a Mason Wasp, Monobia quadridens.

roughsh09-05-10.jpgDown at the river, we soaked our feet in the cool flowing waters.

roughsza09-05-10.jpgWe weren't alone -- fishing birds fished, bumblebees bumbled. And damselflies joined us at the water's edge, often resting on our feet and toes. This American Ruby Spot stood out among the more common blue-bodied damsels.

roughsx09-05-10.jpg That's just the perfect shade of green on its body to go with the red on its wings.

  roughszb09-05-10.jpgA water bug army showed off surface tension physics at its finest.

roughsb09-05-10.jpgWe lingered awhile at the river, taking the time to rest and eat a few snacks. Then it was back on the trail.

Occasionally we had to dodge and duck under cobwebs that stretched across paths. But with them we sometimes found beautiful spiders, many of them orange Spiny-Backed Orb Weavers. But the larger garden spiders stole the show, I'm afraid. Big, beautiful, and very, very still. This lovely lady is an Argiope aurantia. She posed for many views. Interestingly, her web also held a male spider (missing one leg) and several baby Argiope spiders. It really surprised me that she would be so tolerant of other spiders on her web. Well, perhaps not so tolerant of the male, obviously...


roughsj09-05-10.jpg The view of her underside looks enough like the parasitic Alien facehugger to give even me the creeps. But she's utterly fascinating -- look at the way she positions herself on her own web strands. Do you see the tension she holds on select threads? Poised and ready to nab any creature who foolishly gets too close to her web...


Argiope aurantia has another name than just Garden Spider. It's also known as the Writing Spider, named for the zig-zags it makes in its webs, seen in this view of a different female.

roughsl09-05-10.jpgNot to be outdone, other spiders at the Roughs created spectacular tunnel webs and dense webs that seemed almost like blankets.


At last we made it back to the visitor's center, finishing our trip with a tour of the aquariums and terrariums. And after our hike, we enjoyed a late lunch at the Roadhouse in Bastrop. Great food. I had to skip dinner, I was so full. 

McKinney Roughs has become one of my favorite parks in Texas. I'm so glad it's close to Austin, as I know we'll enjoy going back. Next time we'll be sure to take our dogs with us. If you are in the vicinity, it's a trip worthwhile.


Good Morning, Pavonia


A Rock Rose by any other name would be just as pretty...

Here in Texas, our native Rose Pavonia, Pavonia lasiopetala, just loves the hot summers. When other plants curl up for protection from the baking sun, the Rose Pavonia opens up its flowers and puts on a beautiful display.


A gorgeous metallic turquoise female sweat bee (Halictidae) covered herself in extensive pollen grains by visiting the flowers. This behavior not only identifies her as female in the sweat bee world but also distinguishes her from a Cuckoo Wasp, which is remarkably similar in appearance.

pavoniac08-28-10.jpgThe Pavonia flower closes at night and reopens in the warm sunlight. I just love its closed state, like a little flower puppy or kitten all curled up and sleeping. Here is the Brazilian Rock Rose, Pavonia braziliensis, looking like a tiny peppermint-candy rose bud.

pavoniab08-28-10.jpg When it opens, it is a striking white version of its Texas cousin.


That's Firebush just behind it, another heat-loving plant. I'm glad these plants enjoy the Texas sun -- they remind us of the good side of our hot summers (but thank goodness fall is approaching).

Content Again


My initial shock and dismay over the vast destruction laid to my Cinnamon Sun sunflowers and Zexmenia by millions and gazillions of caterpillars all at one time were fortunately temporary emotions, and I've adjusted to this new level of habitat. I'm back to feeling happy, content, and utterly pleased. The butterflies fluttering about the garden today are more numerous than I'd ever dreamed of (I'm still astounded by this, I admit), and they swept me up in waves of joy and peace. Soon, all those hundreds of ravenous Bordered Patch caterpillars that caused me momentary freak-out will create an even more amazing butterfly scene -- who can argue with that?

So I won't dwell on the skeleton leaves and plant carcasses they are leaving behind and I will instead rejoice in the fact that most of the plants so far are surviving and putting on a beautiful bloom display -- 30 blooms almost entirely on one Cinnamon Sun plant alone. I get to report on new butterflies in the garden, as well, and also bees and spiders, and this habitat mama is happy as a clam.

If ever there was a question about sunflowers being so aptly named, I present this photo as a clear argument for the appropriateness. It shows the fiery side of the sun in flower form. In fact, I almost named this post Sunrise or Sunset after this shot, because that's what it makes me think of, but I actually took this in the middle of the day, so it would be cheating.


As I hovered around my sunflowers, alternating between pictures of blooms and caterpillar damage, I was joined by hummingbirds just a few feet away at the Standing Cypress, flying closer to me than ever and completely ignoring me. I missed the snapshot, though, because the two hummingbirds suddenly had one of their feisty spats and flew off. I'm not sure they even realized how close to me they were.

And then I saw the bees at the sunflowers, and my attention turned back to the fiery blazes before me. These weren't honeybees -- they were "Yellow Butt Bees" as I called them when I first saw them (Please don't think that's their real name! I was just distinguishing them from the similarly-sized honeybees we all know. Besides, perhaps "Yellow Belly" would be more appropriate; I can hear Yosemite Sam now calling them Yellow-bellied Varmints... except they are no varmints!). The best I could do was try to get some pictures in the poor light so that I could ID them later. I believe they are the species Megachile perihirta. Western Leafcutter Bees. Texas natives, woot.

cinnsunbeeb07-05-10.jpg Why are they called Leafcutter Bees? Well, they cut small little circles out of leaves and use the pieces to fashion little nest cells, adding to them some nectar and pollen for the eggs they'll lay. These solitary bees are some of the bees that benefit from Bee Boxes.

cinnsunbeec07-05-10.jpgAt one point, one of the bees looked straight at me. The little bee looks so cute that it seems unreal -- my son actually thought I stuck the bee image onto the photo. I like to think that it was posing for the camera and not considering me a momentary threat. In any case, it was cute enough to become a header shot for the blog page (scroll up and click refresh if you'd like to see it).


At the same time as their larger cousins, tinier native bees were also busy at work. They are harder to see, crawling in and out of the little flower parts.

cinnsunbeed07-05-10.jpg cinnsunbeee07-05-10.jpgThese native bees are the best pollinators a garden could ask for. Hugs to them all.

Back at the Gregg's Mistflower in the Spider's Favorite Locale, a spider reigns queen predator. I believe she is a Banded Garden Spider, Argiope trifasciata. And I think she might be the very same spider I found in the same spot a couple of weeks ago, perhaps then a juvenile and now mature (I've edited that post). She's a beauty, and highly successful in her predator talents. She had four wrapped-up carcasses that she was very focused on, and within hours she had consumed them, removed them, and repaired the web, ready for more.

She's as beautiful on her upper exterior...

  bandedgardenspidera07-04-10.jpgas she is underneath. In fact, I shot the picture below first before I even realized she was facing away from me.

bandedgardenspiderb07-04-10.jpgI spy what might be pollen seeping through the silk encasing -- might that be another bee? Gah. The nature of nature, once again.

To follow up on the Bordered Patch butterflies, I'm happy to report that they do eat Straggler Daisy, or Horseherb. In fact, there are already other groups of them out there munching away. The ones in the picture below are a little too small for me to identify for sure as Bordered Patch, but they are surely related, at the very least.

caterpillarsonhorseherb07-04-10.jpgI took a few of the more severely devasted sunflower leaves still covered with tons of caterpillars and relocated the little crawlies to the Horseherb for a dietary change, and so far so good. There are still many dozens on the sunflowers, but I feel better about all the plants' chances at this point. And as I mentioned last time, I've got plenty of Horseherb to go around. I also discovered even more groups of young caterpillars on the Zexmenia, but those plants are fairly well established and are thus on their own. I read that one Bordered Patch female can lay 500 eggs -- now I understand why I have such an invasion of munching munchers.

The older caterpillars are looking quite interesting, now that they are getting large.

borderedpatchcat07-05-10.jpgHmmm. Another caterpillar discovery. I have Genista moth caterpillars munching on one of my Texas Mountain Laurels, and eggs on another. But from what I read, the laurels should be okay. There are so many mountain laurels here in Austin, Texas, and they all do okay, right? The damage is ugly, though, but not devastating. I think. Hmmm, I feel the inkling of worry again...

genistacaterpillars07-04-10.jpg   genistacaterpillarb07-04-10.jpgI'm not sure whether these are Genista eggs, but I suspect they could be.

eggsonmountainlaurel07-04-10.jpgWhile I was walking around outside, something large moving by caught my eye. At first I thought it was a bird, but then I realized it was a butterfly. From a distance I couldn't tell whether it was a Giant Swallowtail or an Eastern Tiger, but it was definitely huge. And then it came down right by me for a nectar feast on the butterfly bush. An Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Yay!


It's the first time one has stayed still long enough for me to get a non-blurry picture. The sun was too harsh, but I'll take what I can get. I continue to have a wary eye on the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii, a non-native with a questionable reputation), but it earned big points when that Eastern Tiger landed upon it.

easterntigerb07-05-10.jpgI'm still waiting on my Giants to emerge from their chrysalises. I'm getting nervous, as I always do. 

Buckeyes are here now! New visitors to the garden. So beautiful.

buckeye07-04-10.jpgAnd I still can't resist the charm of the Cinnamon Sun sunflowers. More pictures must be posted.

cinnsunc07-5-10.jpg cinnsunb07-5-10.jpg

cinnsund07-5-10.jpgSee what I mean?

I Should Apologize Now For All My "Cinns"


I might as well apologize now, because it's just possible that the rest of my photographs for the remainder of the fall and summer might all be of this, my new favorite flower.

cinnamonsunflower06-24-10.jpgThe Cinnamon Sun sunflower is now blooming, and I can barely draw myself away.

cinnamonsunflowerc06-24-10.jpgI had a little trouble getting the pictures I really wanted, because this bloom is the first on the plant, and it's about 10 feet off the ground. I had to stand on a ladder. Oh, but there are so many more blooms getting ready to open... and they are much more accessible.

  cinnamonsunflowerd06-24-10.jpgNot only is the bloom gorgeous, but the colors are exactly the same as those on my house, not that you can tell from the back of the house. But might it be too matchy-matchy to have a flower match my house? I think not.


cinnamonsunflowere06-24-10.jpgAt times during the day, the flower appeared almost black -- in fact, the gloominess of the dark flower early this morning almost had me worried that I'd made a poor choice. Then the sun came up a bit more, and wow. Take a look at this next photo, where the flower appears dark. See what else showed up?

cinnsunspiderc06-24-10.jpgThat's a Green Lynx spider. I guess when I got so excited about it being Pollinator Week, the spider did, too -- but for a different reason. The last time I saw a Green Lynx spider, it was much better camouflaged.


But then Ms. Spider today moved to the back of the sunflower, and there was her camouflage. I'm impressed with her capture, even if it is one of my bees. Can you see her?

cinnsunspiderb06-24-10.jpgI did manage to pull myself away from the sunflower long enough to capture a quick picture of a hummingbird before my battery died. I also successfully managed to take the picture without falling off the ladder. Must be my newfound ladder skills from painting the exterior of my house...


I also caught a hummingbird today visiting the new blooms on the Standing Cypress. I always get a thrill of justification when I see hummingbirds at my flowers instead of just at the feeder -- like it was all worth it, this gardening stuff. Alas, I had no camera in hand at the time. But here are the blooms.

standingcypress06-24-10.jpgThis morning, over at the Gregg's Mistflower, I saw that this patch of flowers is becoming quite the spider hangout. Not too long ago a spider caught one of my beloved dragonflies in this popular insect hangout. Today I found another kind of spider waiting patiently on its zig-zag recliner. I think it's a male Argiope spider.  Edit: Having later found a larger Banded Garden Spider, I now wonder whether this is a juvenile female, species Argiope trifasciata.

spidera06-24-10.jpgI think that if I were an orb spider, I'd go for this kind of web. That zig-zag is called a stabilimentum. It just looks extra secure and comfortable. On the other hand, the spider is probably more noticeable, but the rest of the web could barely be seen. Maybe that's a plus for the spider -- if the prey avoids the visible spider by flying to the side, it gets caught by the invisible web. Anyway, it worked, because the next thing I knew there was frantic movement going on in the web -- a grasshopper had made an unfortunate jump. Try focusing with a zoom lens on a spider that's moving and spinning and wrapping its prey -- what a challenge!


spiderb06-24-10.jpg spiderd06-24-10.jpgNow this time I can say yay for the spider -- it caught one of my nuisance grasshoppers. It can have all the grasshoppers it wants. I'm sure the green lynx spider eats grasshoppers, too, but so far I keep catching it with its paws in the honey jar, so to speak.

Enough spider pictures. Let's go back to the Cinnamon Sun, shall we? Oh to be a bee visiting that sunflower... well, preferably without the spider there, too.


Happy National Pollinator Week, June 21-27! All this week (and everyday the rest of the year), let's celebrate our peppy pollinators and all that they do. Without them, many flowers, trees, fruits, veggies, and other plants would be in serious trouble! Did you know that 80 percent of the world's crops require pollination to set seed? And many, many pollinators are in decline due to the use of pesticides and to habitat loss. We must take care of these little guys, who in turn are OUR caretakers.

For more information on pollinators and this special dedication week, be sure to visit Pollinator Partnership.

I for one love to use this week's dedication to go out and buy a new plant for our pollinators. What will it be? A new caterpillar larval host plant for the butterflies? A bee's favorite bush? A new hummingbird plant? I'll let you know!

Let's give a cheer for... butterflies!


beeonmistb10-07-09.jpg Hummingbirds!



  hoverflyc10-07-09.jpgBats, geckos, opossums, beetles, wasps, flies, and more!

Some of my favorite plants for pollinators include Purple Coneflower, Milkweed, Greg's Mistflower, Cardinal Flower, any number of Salvias, Mealy Blue Sage, Firebush, Goldenball Leadtree, Kidneywood, Texas Lantana, Sunflower, Pumpkins and Squashes, and oh so many more. Think native when you can, and stay organic! Pesticides kill the GOOD guys, too -- not just the bad ones.

Speaking of sunflowers, the Cinnamon Sun is taller than ever -- now past the roof's edge of our house. It is threatening to burst out with blooms any day now.


Don't forget about putting out a bee box for our solitary native bees to show we love them!


Bee My Valentine


Inspired by this day of love, it was a perfect time to complete a long desired project -- bee boxes to provide nesting places for our native Texas solitary bees.

beeboxa02-14-10.jpg beeboxb02-14-10.jpg We drilled several holes into an Ashe Juniper log obtained from a friend, and since we had an extra, we decided to replace the decaying hackberry branch holding up the habitat sign with yet another bee box.

beeboxc02-14-10.jpg beeboxd02-14-10.jpg We ended up making a third bee box, this time from pine and bamboo, the latter of which we cut down from the yard of our neighbor across the street. She was quite willing to share, as she loathes the bamboo that is encroaching into her lawn from the house next to her.

beeboxe02-14-10.jpg But won't it make such a nice resting spot and nesting spot for little bees in need?


I heart bees. Thank you, hubby, for making these boxes for our little pollinating buddies. Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

Meredith O'Reilly happily
gardens for wildlife in
Austin, TX. She enjoys
educating people of all ages
about native flora, fauna,
and healthy environments.

Nature Blog Network


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