Recently in invasives Category

The New Caterpillar House


After an unintentional hiatus, I'm back. Things got rather hectic in my life as the school year transitioned to summer, and new schedules and projects kept my computer time to a ridiculous all-time low, something to rival the Stone Age. Plus, I didn't want to blog until I'd migrated my platform away from Movable Type, and of course here I'm having to blog on MT anyway. But that will change soon! The good news is that the garden overall did not suffer for my busy schedule, thank goodness.

butterflyhousea06-30-12.jpgWe did complete one of my wish-list projects. For some time, I'd been wanting a more permanent structure for raising caterpillars; with the garden and backyard looking so nice, the caterpillar mesh laundry basket just didn't cut it anymore. Welcome to our new caterpillar house!

butterflyhouseb06-30-12.jpgInitially I sketched a basic design, and then Michael built it, using primarily leftover materials from projects of old. We did buy window screen and a latch, so the caterpillar house cost us a whopping $5. For the paint, I used leftover environmentally-friendly exterior paint from when we painted our actual house. The caterpillar house is practically a Mini-Me!

butterflyhousec06-30-12.jpgHere's a side view. The sloping roof is for rain, of course. But it doesn't keep bird poop off the top! The sturdy post means that I no longer do I have to worry about the dogs knocking over the caterpillar tent. We (and by we, I mean Michael) also dug a 2-foot hole into the ground to make sure that post was going to stay good and stable.

butterflyhoused06-30-12.jpgGuess what -- the house has proven to be wonderful. Caterpillars inside stay nicely protected from wasps and birds, and a simple pot with moist soil is enough to keep leaves relatively fresh and caterpillars safe from drowning. I'm going to be making an exterior-grade cloth rectangle for the bottom so that I can keep the bottom clean from caterpillar frass.

butterflyhousee06-30-12.jpgHere's the little latch. Isn't it just adorable?

polyphemuscat06-30-12.jpgRight now I'm raising Polyphemus moth caterpillars. They are already getting huge.


Fortunately, despite their enormous appetites, they are such easy guests. Among other things, they eat oak leaves, the most plentiful leaves on our property. But they'll also eat leaves of citrus trees, trees of the Prunus and elm families, and more.


Just look at those itty bitty feet and little hairs. I think these caterpillars are absolutely gorgeous, itty bitty feet, hairs, color, and all.

polyphemusa03-04-12.jpgYou might recall the Polyphemus moth that joined us for a rather thrilling car ride home in the spring. Here's one of the photos from that day. Big caterpillar = big moth! Wing span will be about 6 inches across.


Yep, the caterpillars are doing fine in their new house, though I brought them into our big house during the 107-degree weather we had recently.

In case you are wondering about the strap on the trees in the above pictures, they are used for this: Michael's new hammock.

hammock06-25-12.jpgI guess he deserves a rest now and then! The mulch below is the remains of the last invasive plants we'd had on the property, two 50-foot Tree of Heavens. We finally were able to hire an arborist to bring them down, and what a relief that was! It's been wonderful to get to plant new natives in their place. There -- that was another big project we took care of during my blogging absence! More to come!

Busy, Busy, Busy


photinias10-23-10.jpgWell, haven't I been the slacker, not posting anything on Great Stems for a few days? I've missed my blog. But I have an excuse. This past week I:

  • Took care of friends' kids at a school carnival
  • Planted many plants in our fall garden
  • Organized two major habitat events at my son's school, which also meant picking up loads of compost, plants, and other supplies, sending a gazillion e-mails, and putting out signs
  • Held a Kindergarten Seed Stomp for the school's wildflower meadow
  • Led a volunteer workday at the school to remove photinias and nandinas and get native plants in the ground

Oh yeah, and I was sick with a cold in the middle of the week, too. Somehow I survived, recovering just in time for the big events. Phew! Thankfully, my garden does well on its own, but I must get out and water my veggie seedlings and new plants today. And this upcoming weekend, remarkably enough, we're having another habitat workday at the school. Round 2!

So the picture above shows the results of some serious work by strong and determined volunteers. The pile shows why one should skip planting Red-Tip Photinia, because once you come to your senses, you'll have a beast of a plant to deal with (or plants as the case may be, given that Photinias are typically planted in groups for screening purposes). Not only did it take lots of adult and kid volunteers, lots of muscles, and lots of tools -- we still had to tie the monster plants to a trailer hitch just to yank them out of the ground. Ten of them. Whoever planted them years ago also stuck them right up against the foundation. That made it extra fun for the volunteers, let me tell you.

photiniasb10-23-10.jpgI didn't get a picture of our Nandina crew, but about 30 of those plants were removed as well, by volunteers with Weed Wrenches -- best tool ever, other than the power of a two-ton vehicle against a Photinia.

By the end of the workday, we had many native plants in the ground, with more still to be planted. Already the school looks so much better. Hurray for our volunteers!


Back on the home front, the Fall Asters are busy blooming like mad.

fallastera10-26-10.jpg fallasterb10-26-10.jpgAnd my long-awaited bloom explosion of the Exotic Love Vine has finally arrived, making me just as passionate about the flowers as ever.


It's easy to see why this pretty vine is also called Firecracker Vine and Spanish Flag.

lovevineb10-26-10.jpgAnd I'm excited to discover a new native in the yard. Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) -- it just popped up in the butterfly garden.

tallgoldenroda10-26-10.jpgI'd seen the plant elsewhere in the yard but didn't know what it was, so often I yanked it when I got nervous. This one managed to reach bloom stage, and now I happily know that it's a keeper. I'd rather it be over by the cactus, though, than in the middle of my Lantana. Hmmm, what to do, what to do.


I'm off to the garden to hunt for caterpillars. I went to an Austin Butterflies Forum meeting last night and brought home caterpillars in need of plants to munch on. It was too dark to set up a caterpillar hotel, so I just let them climb onto their respective host plants, hoping that I'd be able to find them again in the morning. One species in particular is new to me -- Gold Rim (Polydamas) Swallowtail -- so I want to keep them safe to adulthood. The others were Fritillaries, of which I already had plenty of caterpillars, but also plenty of Passionflower to support more. Wish me luck!

Growing Up


I love the rain. Everything just looks so green afterwards.


 But even without the heavy rainfall this week, which I was so grateful for (by the way Austinites -- you can thank me for the rain on Wednesday because it was my watering day and I got up and watered-- Murphy's Law was in full effect, because the rain showed up that evening... now if you got hail, too, that's not my fault...), this year we are enjoying massive growth of pretty much everything in the garden. I suppose that sounds reasonable, as in the plant world we are in Year 2, at least for some of our plants -- the rest are still young. Following the saying "Sleep, Creep, then Leap" -- it is clear that our plants are enjoying a growth spurt!

gardena06-04-10.jpgI am envisioning a garden of giants before long -- the thought crossed my mind that I might have to trim some of these back at some point. Whoa, that's too much for this girl to think about right now.

But take a look at this Rock Rose, one that I don't even remember planting in that spot. It's massive. Right now I'm just letting it do its thing, but I'm sure that other gardeners are wisely shaking their head, saying that I'm going to be dealing with lots of little Pavonia babies everywhere and soon. (Here's where I'll tell you that one of my other Pavonias already made lots of babies, as I discovered a couple of days ago. And it was a much smaller plant!)

gardenb06-04-10.jpg  On the plus side, I hope that the natural shade that the larger plants in the butterfly garden will provide this summer will help the smaller ones get through the heat and sun. Downside is that right now everything appears to be the same height. Somewhere in the middle of all that is a Texas Kidneywood, as well as a Barbados Cherry, which at some point should provide the height variation the garden needs. They need to be in their Leap Year, too! 

All around the garden, I've got new plants I'm excitedly watching. Exotic Love Vine, an annual vine from Mexico and Central/South America, still hasn't produced any flowers, but I find myself admiring its beautiful leaves everyday. I guess the love effect is already, well, in effect, even without the amazing blooms it hopefully will produce. Maybe they bloom in fall.


exoticlovevineb06-04-10.jpgNow check out this great stem -- hoho, Great Stem.

cinnsunflowerstem06-04-10.jpgNow at 4-foot tall, this Cinnamon Sunflower is already bigger than some of my trees. Still no evidence of blooms. The leaves themselves are the biggest leaves of any plant I have on the entire property. For comparison, I placed a Pomegranate leaf on one of the Sunflower leaves -- I still don't think it does it justice.

cinnsunflowerleaf06-04-10.jpgFor the record, the Cinnamon Sunflower's growth is putting the Giant Sunflower's growth to shame. I haven't taken pictures of the Giant yet, so it better do some catching up!

The Passionflower is blooming like mad. I'm still waiting for the Fritillaries to show up.


But here's a little Phaon Crescent come to visit.


The Purple Coneflowers are doing some strange things this year, but at least they are officially blooming. Some big, some small, some tall, some flat, some wide, some droopy...

purpleconeflower06-04-10.jpgThis odd Coneflower has a striped appearance.

purpleconeflowerb06-04-10.jpgSpeaking of Great Stems (giggle), here's another one. Check out the thorns on this wee tree, a Toothache Tree, or Prickly Ash. The thorns are currently longer than the stem is wide!

toothachetree06-04-10.jpgWe're fortunate to have two species growing -- Zanthoxylum hirsutum (shown) and Zanthoxylum clava-herculis (very much still a sapling). If you haven't heard of these trees, they're fun. Chew on a leaf and your mouth goes numb for a few minutes. Back in the old days, they served to help with toothaches, hence the name. Bonus -- a larval host for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly! I look forward to our trees getting bigger.

Venturing back to the butterfly garden, I paused to admire a strawberry-like annual, the Gomphrena, that I spur of the moment planted a couple of weeks ago. It's a dwarf compared to the older perennials, but I appreciate the red color that was needed in the garden.


And ugh, a decision to make. This rogue not-native Lantana has popped up in the yard near the pond. Now I have to decide whether to pull it. This is why I stick to the native Lantana urticoides/horrida (Texas Lantana--has orange/yellow/red blooms) -- I don't want to contribute to the easily-spread other kind. I know where it came from, too -- my neighbor had one. Had. I notice she pulled it out this year.


Over in the veggie garden, I discovered an abundance of peppers! Garden Salsa peppers, and they are inspiring the Mexican meal we will have tonight. I didn't even see them start out as babies, and here they are.


Meanwhile, their leaves are getting munched by these little culprits -- tiny (but pretty) grasshoppers. The admiration stops there. They are munching on my peppers, my tomatoes, and my Exotic Love Vine. Stop it, grasshoppers!

grasshopper06-04-10.jpgThe tomatoes are certainly growing up. They've outgrown their cages, keep trying to topple over, and so bushy I'm feeling a little concerned. Next time, I'm going for the big collapsible and way over-priced Texas cages.

tomatoes06-04-10.jpgThe runner beans have grown up past the trellis. I'm hoping we'll actually get some beans before the heat of the summer really hits us. I feel we're pushing the season a bit.

beans06-04-10.jpgAnd the perennial Bell Pepper is producing fruit again. I look at this plant in wonder -- it survived last year's terribly hot summer, made it through fall and winter without any attention from me, and here it is, still growing. I didn't know they could do that. Talk about pushing seasons!

bellpepper06-04-10.jpgPlants aren't the only things growing up around here. I'm about to have a teenager in the house (egads). And at 12, he's already 6-feet tall. We're going to do a final "kid" measure tomorrow, the day before he turns 13.

And these fledgling cardinals showed up this morning. Three of them. I love how their feathers are in transition. Mama and papa should be proud! You can tell my blood sugar was dropping at the time -- the camera was shaking! I'd eaten breakfast, but only just. Not enough time to hit the bloodstream, I guess.

cardinalfledglings06-04-10.jpg cardinalfledglingb06-04-10.jpg cardinalfledglingc06-04-10.jpgI'm pleased that birds are finally starting to pay attention to the thistle feeder. I abandoned the thistle socks awhile back due to the damage the eager birds were doing -- I kept having to replace the feeders. But wow, they did love those socks. It's not off the project list -- I just needed a regular feeder to keep around constantly.

thistlefeeder06-04-10.jpgYeah, I see you squirrel. I know what you're up to. Yeah, I know you see me, too. And yes, I saw you on the birdfeeder this morning. I noticed the young squirrel nearby, too, watching you do it. Naughty squirrel.


So the organic garden is growing up. The birds are growing up. The squirrels are growing up. My kids are growing up. And I guess the evidence is there that this gardener is growing up, too. If I haven't already done it, I guess I have to do away with my newbie status officially, my crutch when I don't know what in the world is going on in my garden. But the greenery around means I must have done something right, newbie or not. If in doubt, add compost -- that's my motto! I'm loving it and ready for more.

For a look back at the garden beginnings through its first year, visit this page.

When Plants Attack


If you have a chance to watch this segment from Texas Parks and Wildlife about invasive plants, do so. It's very well done!




Making that One Small Change


Cat over at Amlo Farms in her latest post dared me, and by me I mean all of us, to participate in One Small Change, a great idea that comes from the inspiration of Suzy at Hip Mountain Mama, and it's all about changing little habits or doing little things that will have positive green impact. Make one small change each month through Earth Day (April 22) and post about it. More than 200 people worldwide are already participating, including a whole 5th-grade class (well done!). Well, I'm up to that dare, Cat and Suzy! This month is actually filled with goals for me -- I'm involved in some large habitat projects at the moment but I decided that they don't count as "small" changes because they are big ones! And we already do so much in our daily lifestyle that is eco-wise, so I had to give this some thought. And here's what I've come up with -- yes, it's three, not one. I can't count, apparently (okay, two were already in the works, but I included them).

The first is to get the last of the invasive nandinas off my property this weekend, in time for bulk plant pickup by the city (we're removing all the berries first). Two, I have some old paint cans and whatnot left over from my "I didn't know better" days -- these I will get to the hazardous waste facility and say goodbye forever. And three, I will learn more about organic gardening products so that I can offer organic solutions when people have pests, want to fertilize, or otherwise want to get their yard healthy. It's one thing for me to say "go organic," but to be able to offer actual solutions will help bring the idea back to earth, so to speak.  :)

What are some other ideas? The possibilities are endless! Switching to better lightbulbs (such as compact fluorescent), reusing bags at stores, avoiding dusting sprays and non-natural air fresheners, using more cloth instead of paper towels, stop buying bottled water, conserving rain water, purchase green energy, reduce car usage, adjusting your thermostat to use less energy, taking things to a recycling center when your city doesn't offer at-home pick-up for items, and so on, donating items you don't use anymore, checking craigslist and freecycle before you buy something, and finding a way to reuse something you might otherwise have thrown away. Little things, but they mean a lot!

Reflections on the First Year


Has it really only been a year? So much progress has been made in our first year of gardening that it's hard to believe it happened in a mere 365-ish days. Hey, I only about destroyed my back and my husband had to have knee surgery, but what does that matter when our yard is such a pleasant place to be now? (Ok, my husband just pointed out that we can't really blame gardening for our failing bodies, but it sounded good.)

What started it all? The felling of one very dead hackberry that was dangerously leaning over our house.

reflections2009x.jpgWhen that tree fell, I had no idea that I was about to embark on a gardening endeavour of massive proportions. But I looked around my yard and hated what I saw. It was time, after 13 years of doing nothing, to do something. Even if I had no clue whatsoever about what to do. 

But apparently I figured a few things out. The rest will come when I figure those out.

Here are a few tidbits of how our outdoor world has changed. Now be warned, the overgrown state has to do with all the rain we've finally been getting -- I haven't been able to clean anything up. At least things look more green...

The backyard, before and after:


reflections2009zh.jpg The pond, before and after:

reflections2009zc.jpgreflections2009zg.jpg The back porch, before and after:

reflections2009f.jpg reflections2009zl.jpg The front garden bed, before and after:

reflections2009v.jpg reflections2009zza.jpgThere's a lot more to our yard than what you see here, and I invite you to see more. We have a long way to go, but it's fun to take a look at how far we've come. You can also hear more about the story that got us on our gardening journey.

Plant ID -- Could it be a...


First of all, let me send out a big high-five to all of this year's Blotanical winners and a big thank you to everyone who voted for my little Texan blog. You seriously warmed my heart, and I'm a very happy blogger. It was great fun, and I'm thrilled to have been able to vote for some incredibly awesome blogs out there! And big kudos to Stuart for making Blotanical such a great community and resource.

Now then... I need help! Back in the wild portion of my backyard, I've got a pretty little plant growing and I don't know what it is. And by pretty, I recognize that it's probably not a Texas native (oh, I'm kidding -- you KNOW I think all our natives are pretty -- this one just looks quite out of place -- exotic). I'm giving it my infamous wary eye, as in "you sure are lovely, but if you are here because you are an invasive, you picked the wrong yard to be in."

unknownpink09-30-09.jpgI've been waiting and waiting to get a decent picture of an open bloom, but they're refusing to do more than stay in a crumpled state. So I stopped waiting and got the camera. It looks like it's some sort of pink honeysuckle, but the leaves look a little different from the pictures of honeysuckle I looked at online. It's growing as a shrub.


Here I opened up a bloom, and it's just got to be a honeysuckle. Can anyone tell me the plant name and possibly variety? EDIT: The verdict is in, and it's a Four O'Clock (Mirabilis multiflora)-- thank you to everyone who identified it for me.


I saw a little native bee trying to figure out how to get into the blooms, but they wouldn't even budge for him.

EDIT: Upon further inspection, four o'clocks might not be Texas natives but it's distributed throughout the state and considered native to U.S. I'm going to let it do its thing, until something or someone persuades me to pull it. And the blooms finally opened -- here's a nighttime picture (sorry for the horrible flash; I ran out in the dark while trying to unload groceries). They certainly didn't open at 4 o'clock!


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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