Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Day of Firsts

Enjoy the little
things in life
for one day you'll look
back and realize they
were the big things

Ever have one of those days that is filled with joyous little moments that make a day so special. A perfect day in my book.

Yesterday I went to the Georgia Native Plant Society's spring plant sale for the first time. I picked up many wonderful plants. Some I had on my wish list such as the Paw Paw Tree, Spicebush and Mountain Laurel. Some I'd never heard of before but came recommended like fly poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum) and Featherbells (Stenanthium gramineum) and others where just speaking to me including bloodroot and rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum) and rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium).

Rattlesnake weed (Hieracium venosum)

A blog that I have been following for a while is Using Georgia Native Plants. If you live in Georgia or even the Southeast this is a blog to follow. You will learn a lot about native plants to include in your garden and why you should. Ellen Honeycutt is the mastermind behind this blog and I got to meet her at the plant sale. She is the first fellow blogger (and native plant enthusiast) that I have met in person. It was such a pleasure!

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

When I returned home from my shopping expedition my husband and daughter informed me that they had found a trillium with a big flower on our new lot. I grabbed my camera and off we went to see this beauty. And there she was standing tall all alone. Our first trillium growing naturally on our lot.

This is a Catesby's Trillium, found in acid soils in rich mesic woods within rhododendron and Mt. Laurel thickets. It grows in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

They bloom late March to early June and often start out white and turn pink the older the bloom or once pollinated. Here is a closer look at the reproductive parts. The yellow anthers and white ovary will produce fruit in July or August once pollinated by queen bumblebees. The flower will remain open for 2 to 3 weeks increasing the opportunity for pollination.

When we walked back to the house we spotted the first Zebra Swallowtail of the season on the Indian Hawthorne blooms. What a coincidence since I was just telling a friend earlier that day that I hadn't seen one yet this spring.

The Paw Paw tree that I bought is for this butterfly. I'd better get it in the ground quickly.

Remember when I grabbed my camera to photograph Catesby? Well, I was in such a hurry I left the back door open and a ruby-throated hummingbird made a wrong turn and flew into the house. She was flying around our living room. Crazy girl! Eventually she settled on the window ledge and my husband was able to very gingerly take her in his hands.

Just look into those eyes. She looks scared, probably exhausted but I'd like to think that she knew that we would take good care of her.

Poor thing was in a state of shock but quickly snapped out of it and flew off. She is fine and happily flying around the garden again. I bet she won't make that same detour through the house again! 

We should all have more days like these...filled with magical moments, exciting finds and good deeds.

Monday, April 15, 2013

GBBD: April 2013

Spring was slow getting started this year. It started out with temperatures colder than most of our winter. So when spring finally arrived she busted out the blooms. Temperatures in the low 80's along with warm spring showers created the perfect conditions for the beginning of the blooms fest.

The woods are spotted with blooming dogwoods. I love seeing these understory trees blooming in the filtered sunlight. Dogwoods are one of my all time favorite trees.

Another great woodland plant are the azaleas which are native to the Southeast. There are about 13 natives species while several species have been hybridized. In addition to several Piedmont and Florida Flame azaleas I have a few hybrid species from the Confederate series including  'Admiral Semmes', 'Robert E. Lee' and 'J.E.B. Stuart'.

Confederate series: Admiral Semmes
Confederate series: Robert E. Lee

The trillium continue to bloom and are gems on the woodland floor.

A sweet scent lingers through the woodland garden from the sweet shrub. It smells very much like pineapple with a hint of spice. It makes you just want to stop and inhale the fruity air.

Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy' is a hybrid discovered by Michael Dirr, a legend in the horticulture world. This is a fabulous addition to any garden. The blooms have a sweet, honey smell and look great planted amongst azaleas.

At the edge of the woodland garden are many native columbine servicing the ruby-throated hummingbirds that arrived earlier this month.

Another hummingbird favorite is the coral honeysuckle which has been blooming since February.

Carolina Jasmine which starts blooming in very early spring provides a gorgeous pop of color. All that yellow just makes me happy!

The creeping phlox provides a lush carpet on the slope at the edge of the azalea garden.

It is a butterfly favorite in early spring.

The newest addition to our garden is a sign that my husband made for me. Isn't he the sweetest! It still needs to be painted. We are debating on color. Your thoughts and suggestions?

Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this wonderful event each month.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Masters

Early April is when many of the azaleas are at peak in Georgia. Every year at this time The Masters Tournament is held in Augusta, Georgia. Now, I know not everyone is passionate about golf; however, it is worth taking a look at the event because the azaleas, dogwoods and redbuds really steal the show. It is stunning! Along with the ponds and bridges it is a serene looking place. I could walk around the course for hours just admiring all the blooms.

The grounds of  the golf club are part of a former nursery. Berckmans Nursery (aka Fruitland) was the first large scale horticultural nursery in the southeast. It was founded by Louis Berckman, a trained physician, and his son Prosper, a horticulturist who was educated in France. The family immigrated from Belgium in the 1850s. 

The family operated the nursery from 1858 to 1918. During this time they helped introduce many species of azalea and trees to the Southeast. Prosper introduced many new varieties of fruiting trees and shrubs that would grow better in our climate. He became known as the 'Father of Peach Culture' across the South and was instrumental in making peaches one of Georgia's primary commercial crops.

The plantings of azaleas began all the way back in 1931. Many of the exquisite s species are still growing around the fairways today. Almost every hole on the course is named after a plant or tree. For example the 2nd hole is Pink Dogwood and the 8th hole is yellow jasmine.

Here is the complete list:
No. 1 - Tea Olive                                                        No. 10 - Camellia   
No. 2 - Pink Dogwood                                             No. 11 - White Dogwood
No. 3 - Flowering Peach                                           No. 12 - Golden Bell
No. 4 - Flowering Crab Apple                           No. 13 - Azalea
No. 5 – Magnolia                                                         No. 14 - Chinese Fir
No. 6 – Juniper                                                             No. 15 - Firethorn
No. 7 – Pampas                                                             No. 16 - Redbud
No. 8 - Yellow Jasmine                                             No. 17 - Nandina 
No. 9 - Carolina Cherry                                          No. 18 - Holly   

Golf champion Bobby Jones and his business partner created the club and golf course in 1931. Prosper's two sons assisted in the landscape design of the course. The Berckman's home, Fruitland Manor, is what we now recognize as the Augusta National Clubhouse. 

So, if you have some time today, turn on your TV for a few minutes. Turn the volume down if you need to. (Being the language enthusiast that I am I always enjoy listening to all the wonderful accents.) And, check out the stunning setting. You won't be sorry.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Woodpeckers Galore

The two+ acre pond at the family farm in Mississippi with its decaying oak trees is the ideal habitat for several species of woodpeckers. Red-headed, Downy and Pileated are the three species we see most here.

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated woodpeckers are the largest of the common woodpeckers in North America and are about the size of a crow. They are impressive with their zebra striped heads and distinctive red crest. They forage for their favorite food, carpenter ants, by digging large, rectangular holes into trees. These holes are very extensive and attract other woodpeckers and house wrens.

A Pileated pair will stay together for the year. They usually nest in older trees because they are larger. A pileated can spend up to 30 days carving out their nesting cavity. The nest holes they make also provide shelter to other species including swifts, owls, ducks, and bats.

Red-headed woodpeckers are smaller, about the size of a robin. They like open woodlands, forest edges, and wooded swamps. They are mostly solitary birds; however, both parent help raise the young. Nesting cavities are usually in a bare, dead tree and the male's winter roosting cavity is sometimes used or a new cavity is created.

The Red-headed are opportunistic foragers eating insects, spiders, earthworms, nuts, seeds, berries, fruit and occasionally bird eggs and mice. They don't usually drill for food like other woodpeckers. We often see them flying out from a perch to catch insects. 

They gather nuts and store them in crevices and holes and feed on them throughout the winter. If a nut doesn't fit in the intended hole they will break the nut into pieces instead of making the hole larger. They are the only woodpecker that will cover stored food with wood or bark.

retrieving an acorn from a crevice
One morning there was a lot of squabbling going on between two woodpeckers over a particular cavity. I first saw this red-headed woodpecker at the cavity looking like he owned it.

But not so fast. Who is coming?

This Downy woodpecker was not at all happy that the red-headed woodpecker was there and he swooped down, diving at him letting him know.

Red-headed at cavity, Downy doing fly by
Back and forth the Downy went, being very vocal. Was this in fact the nesting cavity of a downy? The red-headed eventually left, leaving the Downy to claim this hole.

Male Downy at nesting cavity

The female Downy is usually the one to select the nesting site and then both male and female will excavate the cavity which usually takes a week to complete. Downies typically drill a new cavity each year. Previous year's cavities are used by chickadees, titmice, wrens and sometimes bluebirds.

Going in

Occasionally a red-headed woodpecker will finish excavating a cavity that was started by another animal. Is that what was going on that morning?

The Red-headed woodpecker was once common but is a declining species. A 50% loss has been recorded across its range since 1966. A loss of potential nesting sites-cutting down of dead trees-is one possible reason. Loss of an important food source-beech trees-has also contributed to the population decline. The red-headed woodpecker is a protected bird and is listed as near threatened. The good news is that I counted 7 red-headed woodpeckers at one time at the pond.

Two red-headed woodpeckers. It is mating season after all!
Habitat loss is the greatest threat to woodpeckers. While many species have adapted to suburban backyards and urban parks, some, like the Pileated woodpecker need large tracts of forest in which to breed. Without decaying trees they need to nest and raise their young their populations will continue to decline. As we witness at the family farm, there is a great deal of habitat overlap with woodpecker species and little competition for food and nesting sources since each of these woodpeckers has their own niche.

Some fun facts about woodpeckers:
  • The most common plumage colors for all woodpeckers is black, white, red and yellow.
  • A woodpecker's tongue is about 4" long, depending on the species, which is used to get insects.
  • Most woodpeckers have zygodactyl feet (toes facing front and toes facing back) which helps them grip trees as they climb.
  • Woodpeckers do not have a vocal song, instead they drum on hollow trees and other resonant objects. They drum to attract mates, establish territories, and communicate with one another.
  • No, they don't get headaches. Woodpeckers have reinforced skulls structured to spread the impact of force from pecking. Their brain is also tightly cushion and protected.
  • Woodpeckers can peck 20 times per second; a total of 8,000 to 12,000 times a day.