Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Monday, June 3, 2013

Lessons Learned: Spring 2013

We've had a nice long SPRING here at Southern Meadows! On average temperatures have been 10+ degrees below average and we've experienced record spring rainfall. This has been fabulous for the plants and this gardener. So what did I learn this spring? I am joining Plant Postings for "Lessons Learned" and sharing some of my new discoveries in the garden.

raindrop on plum blossom

The Downside of Cool & Wet

One of the casualties of this cooler, wetter weather are the butterflies. We have had significantly fewer butterflies fluttering around the garden. You may remember a photo I posted last year of 22 black swallowtail caterpillars on just one bronze fennel plant. This year we've had just one.


Fascinating Fasciated Plants

I've learned that nature makes "mistakes" too. These mistakes are called mutations and have a genetic basis that are sometimes passed on to future generations. Those mutations that provide favorable adaptation can be incorporated over time into most of the species and non-adaptive mutations are typically eliminated from the population. One of these interesting "mistakes" is known as fasciated. It is usually the result of a growing point changing from a round dome of cells into a crescent shape. This results in a growth with a flat stem. It is known to happen in over 100 vascular plant species. Woody plants, annuals and even cacti are affected.

fasciated foxglove

This fasciated foxglove is growing at the educational garden where I teach. You can see the leaves and flowers look like a fan. Scientists aren't really sure what causes fasciation but they think hormones play a part. Gee, you mean plants suffer from hormonal issues too!


Apparently, fasciation is pretty common in foxgloves. And, interestingly, perennials that exhibit this mutation one year will be normal the next.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Lady Beetles

Every organic gardener knows that lady beetles are a gardener's best friend and they do their best to attract them to his/her garden to help control other insects that can be destructive to plants in large populations. Lady beetles help keep aphid and spider mite populations in check.

lady beetle eating aphid
 In 1916 Asian lady beetles were introduced as a natural pest control in greenhouses. Of course they escaped and spread uncontrollably across the U.S. Until recently scientists didn't really know why the non-native lady beetle was such a successful conqueror.  A new study published in Science found that the Asian lady beetle is very aggressive attacking the larvae and eggs of butterflies and native lady beetles. The study also discovered that the Asian beetles contain high concentrations of a fungal parasite called microsporidia. If a native lady beetle eats the larvae or eggs of an Asian beetle this parasite, which lays dormant in the non-native bug, is activated. It begins to penetrate the new host's cells and continues to replicate until the parasite has killed the host. Very bad news!


So how does one control the Asian lady beetles in their garden? For starters, I am learning to identify the various types of lady beetles. I have found this site very helpful: Natural History Museum of LA-Identifying Ladybugs. Another helpful guide is here where you can enter characteristics and it will search results. But what is the next step?

Please do join Plant Postings and share any lessons you learned in your garden this spring. Next, I will be joining Gardens Eye View for a look forward to summer in Seasonal Celebrations.

28 comments:

  1. One decision or accident can affect so many other things in nature.

    On a cheerier note, the raindrop photo is amazing.

    -Karen

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    1. Thank you Karen! Agreed! One little misstep can have far reaching consequences.

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  2. I see you are making good use of your 105mm. The images are very nice. I did know of fasciated growth and I also get Science so know of the beetle parasite too. It really is amazing what is learned and nature is always providing more and more we don't know.

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    1. Working on it. I am still struggling with focus. I even went and had my eyes checked because I was getting frustrated with the results. Turns out I needed to up my contact prescription. Still it will take some practice...

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  3. Great resource for the lady beetles...thanks and that foxglove is so distorted...I had heard of this phenomenon but had not seen it...our weather is on the cool side again...not sure when the warm will come but I will take temps in the 70s instead of the 90s.

    Looking forward to your next post! :)

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    1. Donna, I have so enjoyed the cooler spring. Normally we are hot, humid and very little rain. This has been such a nice change! I know the heat will be upon us soon. The other day the humidity sunk in and it was the kind of day you would rather be sitting in the pool than laboring in the garden.

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  4. That first photo is incredible! I didn't know about the Asian lady beetle issues with butterfly and native beetle larva. Argh. They're all over the place here. Karin, I always learn new things when I visit your blog. Thanks, again, for joining in the meme and sharing your valuable lessons!

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    1. So glad you benefit from my learning curve too!

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  5. Love the close-up of the lady beetle. We also have had a wet, cool spring, and there seem to be fewer butterflies and bees. No shortage of mosquitos, though. I think the lack of insects resulted in a lot more traffic at our bird feeders earlier in the spring.

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    1. Ha! Isn't that the truth! I've gotten my share of bites and we continue to go through a lot of seed. I have noticed fewer birds nesting in our garden than last year. I am sure there is a correlation between availability of insects and nesting.

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  6. Interesting about fasciated plants. I have an agastache that grows behind the shed that has an umbel shape. I will check if it comes back this year if it's fasciated. You do a great job of explaining things.

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    1. I would be very interested to know if your agastache is fasciated. Do post a photo if it comes back like that this year!

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  7. Your insect / nature photos are wonderful. I particularly like the first photo and the lady beetle. And the caterpillar is fab too. The foxglove is interesting, one never knows what will happy with nature.

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    1. So true, nature seems unpredictable to us sometimes but I am sure it is our learning curve and mother nature knows exactly what she is doing! :O)

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  8. Interesting post. Sometimes we are better off when coming to insects and such just to leave our natives to do their thing and hope for the best.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I agree! We seem to experience problems (eventually) with almost all introduced insects.

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  9. Karin, since I haven't been able to make good time to read your blog, I did not noticed you have new header. I liket it! I will catch up with other posts and will come back regularly, I rellay enjoy your posts

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    1. Thanks Lula! I have been behind on reading posts too! May was very busy for us and then the garden was calling. I am trying to catch up too. No worries...come back when you can enjoy leisurely!

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  10. I had no idea that ladybugs were good to have...noted! It has been very hot here in Alabama however.

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  11. Loved the images and the information. Spring here is the best I can remember....I too am short on larva.

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  12. Haven't seen any Monarchs...;(

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  13. First i have to mention that first shot, which to me is spectacular because i normally fail with my 35mm macro. On mutations, a lot has been happening in nature which might also have been inadvertently caused by men, but for ornamental plants these are welcome anomalies. They provide nice aesthetics, just like in chimera or variegations, polyploidy, etc. Regarding some nature changes, which normally associates with hormone imbalance, my hippeastrum went hayward these days; flowering ahead without water, then those dug bulbs i brought to my home in the city for supposedly lovely simultaneous blooms, got so dwarfed producing only 1-4 in length of scapes. I know these are hormonal imbalance, but i am at a loss what triggered it, so i can repeat the results. huh!

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  14. I think I've seen a few Asian lady beetles and will check to make sure before I do anything! While I appreciate regular rain, I've also noticed the lack of butterflies and even bees from too much of it.Maybe summer will arrive now that it's June. Beautiful photos as always and a thoughtful post.

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  15. Fascinating information, Karin. That poor foxglove... nice to know it will be back to normal next season.

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  16. I knew asian ladybugs were taking over but had no idea they had that issue. What a terrible development. Have you heard of the Lost Ladybug Project? You can contribute ladybug sitings to their database so they can track the progress of invasive ladybugs and also monitor the native species.

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  17. I've had several swallowtail caterpillars despite our rainy weather but I'm not sure if I have less than normal. We've had some really warm days that brought the pollinators out. Bad lady bugs? That's a shocker!

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  18. Amazing post! I will have to watch out for the Asian lady beetle. We have had a slow emerging spring that has been so supportive of the plants.

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  19. I thought I knew quite a bit about Asian lady beetles, but I didn't realize how harmful they were to our native lady beetles. They were introduced in our farming area years ago to help control soybean aphids. Another good example of a good intention gone bad.

    What an interesting foxglove--at first glance I thought it was a liatris! Thanks for a fascinating post.

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