Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

IDing a Butterfly

I love butterflies; that isn't news. But seeing a new butterfly in my garden is newsworthy. This gorgeous butterfly was fluttering all over my Indian Hawthorne shrubbery the other day.

I ran inside to get my camera as my son stood watch.The plan was if the butterfly decided to fly off he was going to track it. Luckily it liked the blooms and it stayed around long enough for me to get a few photos. After it flew off we stood wondering what type of butterfly it was.

So out came the butterfly books and the research began. It was a large butterfly but it was difficult to determine the wing structure because this particular butterfly had lost significant parts of its hindwings.

Had she gotten tangled in a spider web? Attacked by a bird? I don't know but she was surviving nonetheless.

The wing color appeared to be a greenish-blue when the sun hit it. So we looked at all the different "blue" type butterflies that either live in our area or migrate through. None of them fit.

Then we pulled up the photos I had taken to look for some more clues. We noticed some markings resembling those of a swallowtail.

The one photo I got of the underside of the wing confirmed that this was indeed a swallowtail. It has the bright red stripe common to some swallowtails.

So now that we had narrowed down the family of butterfly it was easy. This is a Zebra Swallowtail. They are part of the Kite-Swallowtail group because of their triangular, kite-like wings. Normally they are easy to identify from the bright red and blue markings on the hindwings but they were missing on the one we saw. The stripping on the zebra swallowtail is described as black and white. The white we observed was very shimmery and showed tints of greens and blue depending on how the light reflected on the scales that make up the wings.

The Zebra Swallowtail is listed as uncommon but can be common in the right habitat. The host plant for these butterflies is the Pawpaw and apparently they never travel far from the tree. I don't have a pawpaw tree in my garden. There must be one somewhere close by but rest assured at my next visit to my favorite nursery I will be picking up one or two. And the bonus is that these trees are also native to the southeast.  

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

Through the sunshine,
through the shadow,
down the hillside,
down the meadow,
little streams
run bright and merry,
bursting with news they carry,
singing, shouting,
laughing, humming,
“Easter’s coming,
Easter’s coming!”

-Aileen Fisher

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Earth Day Reading Project

Reading is one of my life long passions. So when The Sage Butterfly invited me to participate in the Earth Day Reading Project meme in tribute of this special day I thought it was a brilliant idea. But, my kids' spring break and trying to get out and garden between the severe storms we've been having with power outages and monsoon-like rains  (not that I’m complaining; the heat and dry weather will be here soon enough), I have been delayed in posting my picks.

Here is what you do: write a post and list at least three books that inspired you to perform any sustainable living act or inspired you to live green, and then tell why they inspired you. These books do not have to be about green living. Nonfiction and fiction apply. Link back to the person who invited you and don't forget to also link to The Sage Butterfly.

The first author that inspired me to take care of the environment was Beatrix Potter. She is most famous for her children's books and illustrations. As a child, I was fascinated by the Tales of Peter Rabbit, The Flopsy Bunnies, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes among others. More recently, I read Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear which examines Beatrix Potter's personal life. She became a conservationist during a time when it was more popular to plunder than preserve the land. She took most of her earning from her books and purchased Hill Top Farm and eventually the surrounding farms in order to preserve the landscape that inspired her art. When she died she left the land to the National Trust and it is now part of the Lake District National Park in England. She is an inspiration because she was a strong and independent woman who not only had an amazing talent for writing and drawing but was ahead of her time and because of her courage and determination left an indelible imprint on the English countryside.

Not a book, but a magazine that inspired me to be respectful and truly appreciate the power and beauty of Mother Nature is National Geographic. As their tagline states they have been inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888. Their amazing photographs chronicle life from every corner of the world from urban to rural, civilized to exotic to remote and desolate locations. Their stories explore animals, world cultures, nature, archeology, geography, and natural science. This magazine certainly influenced my love of photography, specifically nature photography, and showed me how my actions impact life from macro and micro perspectives.

A really fabulous book that addresses making lifestyle changes to lead a calmer and healthier life is A Guide to Green Housekeeping by Christina Strutt. It covers recycling, reusing, chemical free housekeeping, and gardening organically. The idea is that you can live just as well, if not better and probably less expensively without hurting yourself or the planet. Becoming eco-friendly doesn't mean sacrifice it is about readjusting your life.

I would  like to invite the following three blogs to participate in the Earth Day Reading Project.
Casa Mariposa
Sweet Bean Gardening
Canoe Corner

Note all posts must be completed by midnight EDT April 23, 2011 please click here for all the details.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Callaway Gardens (Part IV): Birds of Prey

Another attraction at Callaway Gardens is the Birds of Prey show. This educational program is held at a small, outdoor amphitheater by the lake that allows these magnificent birds to demonstrate their speed, strength and natural instincts during the free flight show.

It is a rare opportunity to see these impressive birds up close as they swoop directly over the audience and where the handlers walk around with the birds so everyone has a great view no matter where you sit.

All the birds used in this program have been rescued and can not be released in the wild because they can't survive on their own. Many have been rehabilitated from injury or taken from well-meaning rescuers. The birds are held and handled under special permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The handlers bring out between 3 to 5 birds of the 12 that call Callaway home making the shows different each time. We saw 5 different birds, two diurnal (hunt by day) and three nocturnal (hunt by night).

The first bird to take the stage was this beautiful broad-winged hawk, found by a well meaning individual who, not knowing better, tried to rescue this bird when it fell out of its nest. Unfortunately the hawk became imprinted.


Imprinting is a species-specific type of learning during a critical early period (normally 4-10 weeks old) where the bird’s social attachment and identification are established. Imprinting is an irreversible process that “steals” the bird’s self-identity as a raptor. In other words, when the hawk sees a human it takes a photo snap shot and for the rest of its life believes that humans are its mother and mate. You can see the problem that arises here.  

An imprinted raptor cannot be released because it will not thrive in the wild. Other raptors recognize its difference and refuse to allow it to establish a territory, which is necessary for hunting and breeding. An imprinted raptor that escapes is also a danger to humans because it identifies humans as caretakers. When it becomes hungry, it will fly to humans for food. However, the bird is not like a tame bird that will perch on one’s shoulder. A raptor with needle-sharp talons and knife-sharp beak can unintentionally seriously harm a person.

The other raptor we saw was this beautiful red-tailed hawk. It is a member of the Buteos group which are thick-bodied hawks with broad wings and rounded tails. He had quite the personality and showed us his moves over the lake and up in the pine tree.

The first of three nocturnal hunters was this adorable little Eastern Screech Owl. He will stand only 8 inches tall at maturity. This is the most common owl found in Georgia living in both suburban and rural areas as long as they have open woodlands or backyards dominated by mature hardwood trees. According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, each year logging, land clearing and other activities reduce the number of cavity trees.  As a result, screech owls must compete for these sites with wood ducks, squirrels, starlings, house sparrows, raccoons and a host of other species.

This Screech Owl was hit by a car and has damage to one of his feathered ear tufts (which are not really their ears). That is why the ear tuft is flat on his head instead of sticking straight up.

Owls have the best hearing of all the raptors. Their ears are located on the side of their head. The left ear is higher than eye level and points down, while the right ear is lower than eye level and points up. This allows sound to reach each ear drum at a fraction of a second different so the owl's brain can figure out where the sound is coming from and find its prey.

Look at this gorgeous Barred Owl. He has the most amazing eye sight. Their eyes are adapted to see in dim light, almost 100 times better than humans can. Their eyes are similar to the shape of a light bulb with the largest part on the inside of their head, so the part of the eyes that we see is actually the smallest part of the eye.

Barred Owls live up to 10 years in the wild. Most deaths are likely to be related to humans (shooting, roadkill). The Great Horned Owl is their only natural enemy.

This Great Horned Owl put on a great display, even showing us its vocal talents. They have a large repertoire of sounds, ranging from deep booming hoots to shrill shrieks but the one we all recognize is the hoo-hoo hoooooo hoo-hoo which can be heard from several miles away.

They can even turn their head an amazing 270 degrees. He even gave us a demonstration.

The number of raptors in North America are declining and some are even listed as rare and endangered species because of loss of habitat, pollution, pesticides and illegal hunting. All raptors are protected by state and federal laws. It is illegal to harm them or to keep them in captivity without special permits.

Raptors have an important role in the environment. They help control populations of rodents and other animals by hunting and catching prey. They also prey on weak and unhealthy animals. Backyard birders often dislike birds of prey because they take the songbirds; however, when raptors do take backyard birds, they are usually capturing the oldest and weakest birds. By culling these less than prime specimens, they actually help improve the strength of the backyard flock and will help the other birds survive.

Birds of prey are necessary to keep the earth in balance. By creating a wildlife habitat in your backyard you can help restore their populations. Creating wood piles where rodents will live will provide food for the raptors. Putting up houses or planting hardwoods where the raptors can nest will enable them to build there homes in your garden. I would welcome any and all of these beautiful creatures to my backyard.

This is my last post in a series on my visit to Callaway Gardens. I hope that your travels will allow you to visit this beautiful place one day.  If you are so inclined please see my other posts about Callaway Gardens in Azalea Bowl, a visit to the Horticulture Center in Going Bananas at the Horticulture Center, and the tropical butterflies in Flights of Fancy

Monday, April 11, 2011

Callaway Gardens (Part III): Flights of Fancy

A more recent addition to Callaway Gardens is the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center. This 4.5 acre, octagonal shaped conservatory was opened in 1988. It has a 12-foot waterfall and pool which was designed to recreate the atmosphere of a rain forest. The interior of the conservatory is a constant 84 degrees Fahrenheit with 70% humidity.

Photo courtesy of Callaway Gardens
This is one of North America's largest glass-enclosed tropical butterfly conservatories. There are over 1,000 butterflies representing 50 different species. It is an amazing place to get up close to the butterflies.

Before entering the main part of the conservatory the public is educated on the life cycle of the butterfly as well as the differences between moths and butterflies.

Antennaerounded clubs on the endsthin or often feathery
Bodythin and smooththick and fuzzy
Activeduring the dayduring the night
Pupal Stagechrysaliscocoon
Wingsheld vertically when restingheld flat against body when resting

About 30% of the butterflies are produced in-house. The rest come from butterfly farms in the tropical rain forests of Malaysia, the Philippines and Central and South America.

The chrysalis hang in small rooms with a glass front for the public to view. They are attached to Styrofoam looking sheets with a large pin. There they hang until the butterflies are ready to break free.

Some chrysalis resemble shriveled leaves which would provide camouflage during the butterfly's metamorphosis while others are brightly colored to blend in with tropical plants. Do you see the metallic gold group on the left side? I wonder which tropical plant they blend in to?

I wish I could tell you what type of butterflies came out of each type of chrysalis but they were simply marked with numbers.

Some of the chrysalis are really large. A few of them were even starting to quiver and shake...

This butterfly was starting to break the chrysalis open right before our eyes.

Once the butterfly has wriggled out it begins to pump blood into its wings to help them to dry out and expand. This doesn't take long and when its wings are dry the butterfly is ready to fly away and search for food.

Once we had gawked sufficiently at this miracle of metamorphosis we entered into the tropical area where we were engrossed with flutters of butterflies in flight. If you stood still long enough you could end up with a butterfly on your shoulder. Here is a sampling of the tropical beauties we saw.

Butterflies enjoy drinking the juice of fruits. Throughout the butterfly house were feeding stations made from shallow bird baths. These were randomly placed in locations where people could closely sit and observe the butterflies in action. 

Look closely at the photo above and you will see the proboscis (butterfly's tongue) between its two front legs. It is hollow and the butterfly uses it like a straw to drink the juice from the orange.

Around the outside of the conservatory are gardens that have been planted to attract the native butterflies. Callaway claims that people can watch up to 75 species of native butterflies during the warmer months.These gardens show the public what types of plants butterflies are attracted to and host plants where they lay their eggs and the caterpillars eat. The purpose is to encourage people to incorporate some of these plants in their own gardens.

This was an amazing experience as I do love butterflies. It was hard to get myself to leave but there was more to explore. On our walk through the woods from the Butterfly House to our next destination, Birds of Prey, we saw this beautiful Luna Moth at the base of a pine tree. We were as excited to see this beautiful moth as we were being surrounded by gorgeous butterflies.

Please return for my last post on Callaway Gardens where I will share my experience with the Birds of Prey.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Callaway Gardens (Part II): Going Bananas at the Horticulture Center

Another must see at Callaway is the Horticulture Center which incorporates five acres of tropical and sub-Mediterranean gardens and greenhouses. It is home to an amazing array of orchids, sedum and succulent plants. 

Mottlecah 'Eucalyptus macrocarpa'

The Rockwall Conservatory features a dramatic collection of yuccas, agaves and aloes.

The retaining wall was constructed with materials recycled from a former garden, including Georgia fieldstone and chunks of broken concrete salvaged from the old walkways. New black slate was added for contrast in texture and color.

But the most interesting part of the center was learning about one of my favorite fruits....the banana. I eat one every day! It has amazing health benefits packed with minerals and vitamins and is high in fiber. It is also used for a long list of medicinal purposes from curing mosquito bites to helping with morning sickness and a cure for the occasional hangover. (note: one of the quickest ways of curing a hangover is to make a banana milkshake, sweetened with honey. The banana calms the stomach and, with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels, while the milk soothes and re-hydrates your system.)

Banana plants grow at my in-law's farm in Mississippi. Here is a photo taken 4 years ago of my two little monkeys playing in the banana plants. And yes, they really were pretending to be monkeys.

At our walk through of the Horticultural Center we were able to see the banana at its various stages of growth which is something we don't get to see at the farm.

The edible banana grown in the horticultural center is 'Dwarf cavendish' which is native to S.E. Asia and Northern Australia. The banana plant grows to about 15 to 30 feet. We felt dwarfed by its size. People often think of it as a tree but it is actually the world's largest herb! In fact it is the largest plant on earth without a woody stem. Amazing! But why is it an herb and not a tree? Its trunk is not a true one. It is actually many leaves tightly wrapped around a single stem which emerges at the top as the fruit-bearing flower stalk. It dies back after each fruiting and then produces new growth for the next generation of fruit. Remarkably some banana trees continue producing up to one hundred years.

According to the horticulturalist, bananas possess a unique scientific phenomenon called "negative geotropism." As the little bananas start to develop, they grow gravity would dictate. Slowly, several "hands" develop vertically and form a partial spiral around the stem. As they take in more and more sunlight, their natural growth hormones bring about a most puzzling phenomenon, and they begin to turn and grow upward. The entire stalk, known as a bunch, takes up to a year for the fruit to ripen enough to be harvested.

The stems are made of layers and layers of leaves that are wrapped around each other. Though quite large and thick, the stems are not strong and woody like most fruit trees and can break under the weight of many bunches of bananas. Here you can see the leaves unfurling, exposing the bananas.

Each hand has about 20 bananas while each bunch will yield about 200 "fingers" or bananas.

The bananas begin to ripen as soon as they are picked. It is important that they are harvested in the green state at just the right time. If harvested too early, they develop a floury pulp instead of a delightfully sweet flavor.

Bananas are a member of the Musaceae family which includes palms, grasses and orchids. Just another reason to love bananas.

My next post will explore the Butterfly Center at Callaway. I hope you will return to see some beautiful flights of fancy.