Friday, April 26, 2024

Red admiral butterfly

The only butterflies I have seen so far this year are the ubiquitous cabbage whites and the red admiral butterflies. Many of us who have grown members of the broccoli family, especially broccoli and cabbage, are quite familiar with the life cycle of cabbage whites. But what about red admirals?

The red admiral butterfly (a.k.a. Vanessa atalanta) has a wide habitat over much of North and South America. Europe, and Asia, with individual variations that improve their adaptation to local climes. While they feed on nectar, their host plants are all the members of the nettle family (Urticaceae). Nettles grow worldwide, with over 50 species, which gives red admirals a leg up on butterflies such as monarchs that rely on only milkweed plants.

Red admirals have two broods in North America, between March and October. The males are quite terratorial, so if you see a pair fluttering together, they are not mating but chasing each other away. The females will mate only with males who hold terratory. Yet these brightly colored butterlies are rather friendly to humans, sometimes even landing on us two-leggeds.

The green to cream eggs blend in well with the undersides of nettles, the black spiny larva feed on the nettles, and the crysallis resembles a dried leaf. Camoflage is important because red admirals do not have a chemical defense like monarchs do. As the weather cools in fall, those in northern areas migrate south.

I no longer have any nettles in my yard. However, red admirals also use members of the Asteraceae family (asters, daisies, sunflowers) and the Cannabaceae family (hemp, hops, hackberry) as hosts. Indian hemp tries to grow in my yard, but it is actually a member of the Apocynaceae (dogbane) family. I think I've seen the red admiral larva around, though, so I will have to keep an eye out for it. Painted lady butterflies are cousins of red admirals.

(This information on red admirals comes from Wikipedia and the U.S. Forest Service.)

On the home front, the redbud trees are simply gorgeous this year, along with the flowering crabs. The cool weather is lengthening bloom time for both. Personally, I think everyone with a yard should be required to plant a redbud. And all the ornamental pears should be whacked before they take over every inch of undeveloped land there is.

The blue star and wild geranium are blooming out front, but they are hidden behind the ragwort, a design flaw that bugs me. If I were more energetic, I might try to replace some of the ragwort with something shorter. Later in the season, once the ragwort is done blooming and I cut the stems back, zinnia will go into those beds.

I haven't given up hope yet on the tulip tree, as there are other trees like locust that are also not leafing out yet. We'll have to wait and see.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Year of the violet

I can't believe how many violets I've seen this spring. I have quite a few in my front flower beds, but they are everywhere, especially in untreated lawns where they contrast nicely with the dandelions.

Last summer the lawn across the street sported a lot of clover. This year I called the lawn guy and told him, I miss my clover. His response was, No one has ever said that to me. So while I agreed to them applying a pre-emergent, I am going to spot treat the weeds myself, in the hopes that my yard will include wild strawberry, clover, and violets in the future. Next year we will probably skip the pre-emergent as well.

The redbuds have peaked weeks earlier than usual, much to the delight of a variety of bees that are usually stuck with creeping Charlie and dandelions this time of year. Flowering crab is everywhere, including in my backyard. A feast for the eyes.

One city park I like to visit in the spring is Foster Park. The flower beds are a riot of tulips. I don't consider myself a tulip person, but now I want to plant them in my yard.

My one bone to pick with the city parks department is they don't label plants, not even trees. I'm not very good at tree identification, especially before they leaf out, and would really like to know what this one is.

This pic is to remind me that I like blues and purples together, sort of like the violets and grape hyacinth in my own yard. I've grown forget-me-nots before, but they don't last. I'm surprised they are considered invasive in the Midwest.

I don't just sit around looking at pretty plants in the spring. There has been some spring cleaning - today was spent in the garage - and some clearing out of the old, to make room for the new. These old bones are not used to so much movement, though. I need some aspirin.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Pop! goes the serviceberry

The serviceberry shrubs in the backyard popped this weekend. They should produce a lot of fruit for the robins come June (which is why another common name for this plant is Juneberry).

Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'

According to The Spruce website, there are nine different types of serviceberry. The ones in my backyard, Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance', are also known as Apple Serviceberry. The ones in the front yard are Allegheny Serviceberry, specifically Amelanchier laevis 'Cumulus'. They bloom a bit later, and the fruit forms later as well. They are more tree-like; one site says they will get to be 10 feet tall, another says 20-25 feet tall. I'm hoping for taller.

When a tulip blooms in my yard, I have to take a picture before a rabbit eats it. Despite the upheaval from the landscape renewal, there are still grape hyacinth and violets growing here and there, and it looks like the daffodils were scattered about. Every year I promise myself to dig up the daffodil clumps that are not blooming well, but maybe I won't have to.

The AC was serviced today, just in time for warm temps. Despite the high pollen count, I have doors and windows open, to air out the house. I'm ready for spring.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

A trillion cicadas

Nothing says August around here like the drone of cicadas. For the first time since 1803, Brood XIX, or the Great Southern Brood, and Brood XIII, or the Northern Illinois Brood, will appear together in an event known as a dual emergence. I'm not likely to see it, as northeast Indiana is not their home territory. It looks like Illinois and Missouri will be hit the hardest.

Do cicadas bite? No, nor do they sting. But they are lousy fliers and landers, so may become a slimy nuisance on streets and sidewalks. Don't let your pets gorge on them, though.

Cicadas are actually good for Mother Nature. They drill holes in the ground, thereby aerating soil (and my clay soil could use a LOT of that kind of help). The slits they make in trees cause "flagging", a natural pruning of trees; when the limbs start growing again, they will be stronger and yield heavier fruit. Dead cicadas make great fertilizer, so throw them into the compost bin or let them rot where they fall.

Whatever you do, DO NOT try to kill them, especially with sprays as you will kill other bugs that you want to keep around. Just let nature take its course.

(Most of this information came from this article in the New York Times and this one in Smithsonian Magazine.)

Brood XIII (blue dots) and Brood XIX (red dots). Gene Kritsky / Mount St. Joseph University

Closer to home, I've seen something emerging along the south side of the house. At first I thought it was some weed spreading rampantly. Then I remembered what it is: dame's rocket. Technically, it's invasive, but I find it rather easy to get rid of, but I don't. It's quite pretty when it blooms.

Dame's rocket - not pretty yet

The garage setup for the seedlings was not the best (plus I kept forgetting to turn the lights on and off). The past few days, I've been putting them outside once the temps are above 50 in the morning, taking them in before the temps fall below 50 in the evening. They are starting to put out "true" leaves.

I did a little research on spicebushes, as I was wondering why the landscaper planted only one in my backyard. To produce fruit, there needs to be both female and male plants. Mine appears to be a male, so I was wondering if I should get a female. The answer is no. Even though they are native, they tend to be invasive. Also, they grow to be 6-12 feet tall and wide, so one will take up quite a bit of room. It's for attracting the spicebush swallowtail, and they don't eat the berries.

Otherwise, I've been piddling about in the yard. The asters I planted last fall have survived. I've taken in the orange stakes that mark the edges of my driveway and sidewalk (didn't need them this past winter - sigh - I miss snow). The grass has been mowed a second time.