Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Helianthus porteri

September is our transition from summer into fall here in Northeast Georgia, and with the cooler morning temperatures and cheery afternoons, gardening is most pleasant, making it my favorite garden season. Some summer flowers are still hanging on but as they fade fall flowers step in with gorgeous color.

Bright yellow blooms are definitely a trend in our autumn garden and this beauty, Stone Mountain Daisy (Helianthus porteri) is a stunner.

Also known as Confederate Daisy, this wildflower grows in granite outcrops within a 60 mile radius of our most infamous granite outcrop, Stone Mountain. This glorious flower is in bloom this month and is celebrated at the Yellow Daisy Festival, held every September at Stone Mountain, an arts & crafts event that just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

typical granite outcrop habitat (Thompson Mill Arboretum) where Helianthus porteri grows

Discovered in 1846, this reseeding annual will grow anywhere on Piedmont granite outcrops, where there is sufficient soil (not much!) and water. Peaking out from rock crevices and small cracks, providing an explosion of color, this daisy dances in delight. 

Bees and small butterflies are often found visiting, drinking nectar from the blooms. The flower heads are 1-2" wide and have 7-8 yellow ray flowers and a central disk of tiny, yellow flowers. After pollination, seeds will set later in the fall and germinate as early as February.

In our garden we planted it at the edge of our driveway, welcoming all those who drive by. Surrounded by a few boulders and in direct sunlight, it feels right at home.

street view toward our driveway
This annual even stood up spectacularly when Tropical Storm Irma hit our area. This photo was taken a few days after the storm, during our garden clean-up.

Helianthus porteri, is only found growing in four southeastern states (Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina) but this spectacular Georgia wildflower is worth sharing. I'm joining Clay and Limestone, for Wildflower Wednesday, a once a month celebration of our native flora.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Orb Weaver Spiders

Spiders. You either love them or hate them. I happen to be in the 'love' camp and it's a good thing because we have LOTS of spiders in our garden.

In late summer and early fall the orb weaver spiders have reached maturity and are on show with their masterfully designed webs hanging from all forms of plant life and structures. In fact its hard not to run into a spider web when trekking around our garden. Mating season is in full gear and these females need nourishment.

Black & Yellow Argiope (female)

Orb weaver spiders build the classic web of concentric circles and spokes, which radiate outward from the center with anchor points. This genius design allows them to capture anything as small as a mosquito to as large as a butterfly. Other common meals include flies, thrips, mites, moths, beetles, wasps and bees. Evident by their diverse diet, they are not picky eaters and can have ferocious appetites. Their work helps keep insect populations in check and are a friend to this organic gardener.

Orb weaver spiders have poor vision and use vibration to know when they have captured prey. Watching a spider at work is incredibly fascinating. I happened to witness a butterfly mistakenly fly into a web and observed the spider quickly restrain its prey by wrapping it in silk. This is done so that the web will not be destroyed by the movement of prey trying to escape the sticky webbing.

Here is the series of shots I took over a period of a few minutes.

Spotted orb weaver (female)

Once the prey is crushed the spider will consume the liquids in the insect's body. Below is another spotted orb weaver, found hanging across our back driveway, this time with a gulf fritillary butterfly.

Spotted orb weaver (female)
I accidentally disturbed her web as I walked by and she instinctively began to pull up her meal to a secure location in the oak tree branches she was using as her anchor. This species usually takes down its web each day by eating it, recycling the proteins contained in the web, and creates a fresh web in the evening.

Unlike most orb weavers that have a bulbous abdomen, the Arrowhead is distinctive with its big yellow arrowhead shaped body and marking. This smaller spider, at half an inch long, is also unusual because it hangs with its head facing up, where most spiders hang head down.

Arrowhead orb weaver

The arrowhead spider prefers to build its web in forests and shadier areas of the garden and is notorious for building webs across paths at eye level.

Spiders are peaceful dwellers in the garden. It's unfortunate that so many have an irrational fear of these beneficial creatures.

disclaimer: as an avid butterfly gardener it does make my heart sad when I see them captured; however, we have created a habitat garden and I have made peace with the fact that all insects have to eat. It's all part of a functioning, balanced ecosystem.