Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Friday, October 26, 2012

Some Autumn Blooms, Folliage and Predators

October has been pretty darn spectacular. Its essence has really shown through in all the beautiful blooms and foliage. Mornings have been brisk with sunshine warming up to gorgeous days. Fall is definitely in the air.

The Ryan's Pink Chrysanthemum are at peak right now and really brightening up the garden. I can see them out my kitchen window and they are really putting on a show.

The Swamp sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) are still going strong. Towering over 6 feet high they tend to fall over with heavy winds and/or rain. They are now leaning amongst the sumac which are just beginning to change into their fall coat.

We are still seeing the stray Monarch and a good number of Cloudless Sulphurs fluttering through the garden on their way to warmer winter climates.

Painted Ladies, various skippers, Buckeye, Checkerspots and Gulf Fritillary are still busy in the garden. Some mornings they are slow to rise with the onset of the cooler temperatures making it even more important to have good spots for them to perch and warm themselves near nectar plants. We even spotted a hummer this weekend at the Pineapple Sage. I am keeping the feeders up for those stragglers.

The purple coneflowers are still putting out some blooms and look pretty with a touch of dew on them in the morning.

This week I spotted some downy asters growing at the edge of the empty lot next door.

 The pollinators are all abuzz over these gorgeous blooms.

The red-tailed hawks have been frequenting the garden. We observed one eying a chipmunk the other morning. They had an altercation under the stalks of the Chrysanthemum but we believe the chipmunk escaped down one of its tunnels that was conveniently located behind the plant. There was a lot of tussling going on but the hawk came out empty handed.

We also spotted a hawk on the shepherds hook of one of the bird feeders (he must of been feeling really cheeky). That time it caught something moving amongst the azaleas. It was difficult to see what it caught as I was focused on grabbing my camera. This shot was taken through our embarrassingly dirty windows. Even zooming in on this shot I can't make out was caught. Typically they like going after the mourning doves. Probably a little more meat on them than the songbirds.

The foliage is just starting to show signs of change in our garden so we took a ride to the North Georgia Mountains the other weekend to take in the colors of autumn. This was the road coming down from Brasstown Bald, Georgia's highest peak at 4,784 feet. It was very foggy at the top so we didn't get a view of the mountains on this trip.

A final note: I have been very busy with several volunteer obligations these past few weeks. There are some big events coming up that need my attention and sadly they have kept me away from our garden and reading all your wonderful posts. Hopefully I will be back to reading and commenting soon.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Exploring a Granite Outcrop

On a recent tour of a local Arboretum I was introduced to a unique ecosystem in Georgia. Granite outcrops are exposed granitic rocks found in the Piedmont and Appalachian Mountain regions. Ninety percent of the 12,000 acres of outcrops in the South are located in Georgia. Stone Mountain is the largest of the Piedmont outcrops and probably most well known. Geologists estimate that most of the granitic rocks that outcrop in the Piedmont are approximately 300-500 million years old. Wow!

The granite outcrop I am showing you is located a mere 10 minutes from my home and is a treasure of highly specialized plant species.

The environmental conditions on these outcrops are harsh and very different from the surrounding forest. The temperatures on the outcrops get much higher than adjacent areas because the rock absorbs heat. During the summer months temperatures easily reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The impermeable rock and sparse vegetation leads to extreme water run-off hence ninety-five percent of annual precipitation in outcrop areas is lost to run-off. Now that sounds like a tough life!

The herbaceous plants that have adapted to these extreme conditions give the granite outcrops their distinctive character.

Lichens and mosses
Annual herb communities occupy depressions over granite where soil depths reach four to six inches. Lichens and mosses are frequently found here.

As resurrection plants they are ideally suited for these desert-like conditions since they are able to resume photosynthesis shortly after rehydration.


A large number of plant species occur only on Piedmont outcrops. The mat-forming quillwort (Isoetes tegetiformans) and black spored quillwort (Isoetes melanospora) are two rare aquatic plants that are Federally Endangered species found in rock-rimmed shallow pools on Piedmont granite outcrops. These pools are susceptible to degradation and destruction from foot traffic, off-road vehicle abuse, dumping and soil accumulation. The quillworts anchor themselves to the thin soil with their roots. They reproduce by spores which form in May through October. They are able to go dormant when the pools dry up and then resume growth whenever rainstorms refill the pools regardless of the season. What an incredible adaptation!

Prickly pear cactus
The extremely hot and dry conditions on the granite has led plants to adapt to this environment like the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) which tolerates drought by storing water in succulent stems or leaves.

wooly ragwort

On thicker soils, the perennial herb wooly ragwort (Senecio tomentosus) is common.

On thinner soils, Confederate daisy (a.k.a. Stone Mountain daisy) may dominate in the fall.

This unique outcrop vegetation also provides habitat for wildlife. There were several skipper butterflies enjoying the blooms. Check out the proboscis on this busy skipper.

I certainly want to revisit this outcrop in late March, early April when the flowering plants bolt and create an entirely different look to the outcrop. This visit has encouraged me to explore and learn more about this unique and amazing habitat.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Savor the Moment

Do you wonder what happens to the butterflies that you see abundantly in your garden during the warmer months? Where do they go?

A lot of attention is given to the Monarch butterflies at this time of year as they are migrating to Mexico but there are many other butterflies that migrate including the Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, American Lady, Long-tailed Skipper and the Cloudless Sulphur. Take a moment and enjoy these beauties before they leave your garden on their perilous journey to their winter homes and plan now to add some more nectar sources and host plants to your garden for their spring & fall migrations next year. Some great fall blooming plants that serve as nectar sources for migratory and resident butterflies include asters, swamp sunflower, zinnia, goldenrod and blazing star.

One of the most overlooked yet most spectacular fall butterfly migrants is the Cloudless Sulphur. In the Southeast you can see masses of these gorgeous greenish-yellow butterflies. They use the sun to guide them during their travels. They tend to fly lower than the Monarchs so they are easier to spot.

Like most migratory butterflies, the Cloudless Sulphur is heading to a warmer climate for the winter season. In late summer the Cloudless Sulphur begins to head south from as far north as southern Canada. It is a rather leisurely journey since they only travel about 12 miles a day. The males tend to move a little faster because it is thought that the females are conserving valuable energy reserves for egg laying. See my post about one of its host plants, the Partridge Pea to see some photos of the butterfly in the larva stage. Typically they breed in disturbed open areas where they find their host plant which includes several varieties of plants in the pea family. See Red House Garden's post here for an excellent example of this habitat.

The Cloudless Sulphur has a rather long proboscis (see photo below) and can therefore reach the nectar of many tubular blooms that are inaccessible to many other butterflies.

They are particularly fond of the color red. I took these photos in a friend's garden. Her red salvia was covered in happy Cloudless Sulphur butterflies.


Other great Cloudless Sulphur magnets with red blooms are Turk's Cap and Pineapple Sage. 
They also really seem to be drawn to the Encore Azaleas in my garden. 

Fun Fact: The Cloudless Sulphur Phoebis sennae (Linnaeus) got its genus name from Phoebe, one of the original Titans. In Greek Mythology Phoebe means radiant and bright. Sennae is derived from the genus Senna, the host plant that the larval feed on.

The butterflies I see in our backyard now will be leaving soon to migrate further south. During these sunny fall days I am savoring every moment with these fluttering beauties.

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On another is the 3rd anniversary of Southern Meadows and 259th post! Wow!! I can't believe how the time has flown. Big hugs to all my readers for your support over these adventurous three years. Your comments and thoughts are cherished and I treasure all the friendships I have made. I look forward to growing our gardens, talents, and friendships even more. xo!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Seven is the magic number

I never tire of all the wonders nature presents.

Just this week we witnessed a black swallowtail caterpillar shed its skin and reveal the chrysalis. What an AMAZING transformation to watch.

This caterpillar had attached itself to the side of a post in the kitchen garden. It hung in its signature J form for about a day. The next day we had a torrential down pour. See the rain drops hanging on the caterpillar in the photo in the upper left corner? Despite the rain it was time for the swallowtail to begin its transformation. We happen to be out in the garden checking the rain gauge when its skin began to split. Starting at the back of the head and going down toward its end almost like a zipper. The caterpillar occasionally made a little wiggle to help it along. The entire process took only SEVEN minutes. WOW!

(These photos were a challenge to take. Not only was the lighting terrible but I had to hold an umbrella over the camera while taking these photos. Needless to say the quality isn't great but at least they documented this tiny miracle.)

A solid day of rain resulted in SEVEN inches in a twenty four hour period. Much needed rain but there is a lot of clean-up and repair work to be done to the garden paths.

The winds from the storm helped guide the Monarch butterflies on their migration south. I was thrilled to find SEVEN butterflies in my garden the following day. They were hanging out on the swamp sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) and the zinnia in the kitchen garden.

I hope they will find their way to the milkweed. They are so busy laying eggs they make it more difficult to photograph them there. I need to put the camera down and get busy tagging all these Monarchs.

My new favorite number is SEVEN!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Kitchen Garden: Eggplant, Potatoes, Peppers & Carrots

This bloom belongs to Black Beauty Eggplant. Most vegetable plant blooms are rather insignificant but this one is lovely! 

You may remember in my Lessons Learned post that I learned that the eggplant blooms are wind pollinated. Sometimes with the summer's heat and humidity the pollen becomes sticky and doesn't fall down on the pistil. My hope was that Fall's cooler weather would result in pollination. Alas, look what is growing in the garden now! We are on the way with three fruit and several blooms.

I just love the deep purple. So appropriate for fall!

Have you ever wondered why a sweet potato blooms? Well, its probably not something you've spent an entire day pondering over but maybe it has crossed your mind before. These are the type of things I contemplate as I am weeding in the garden.

Oh, I realize that the plant is putting out a flower to attract pollinators so that it can produce seed and give life to the next generation of potato. I know if I were a pollinator I would hang out with them. They are really attractive blooms. Kind of resembling a morning glory. But, who grows potatoes from seed? Are those pollinators working hard for nothing?

If you were stranded on an island and you could choose only one food the sweet potato should be it! They are the most nutritious vegetable in the world. They are a very good source of vitamin C, copper, fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, iron and manganese. The vitamin C and beta-carotene in the sweet potatoes even work as powerful antioxidants. And, best of all they are delicious with all their sweetness and creamy texture. So, what's not to love?

Our potatoes are not ready for harvest just yet. My son grew these potatoes with his Junior Master Gardener group and he is very proud of them!

Did you know that sweet potatoes are not even in the potato family? Look at its botanical name Solanum tuberosum and you see that it belongs to the Solanaceae family which includes tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and tomatillos.

(In response to your comments I obviously wasn't clear in my writing above: Solanum tuberosum is the potato family which includes potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant in the genus Solanum. Sweet potatoes (Ipomaea batatas) are in the Convolvulaceae family which include morning glories in the Ipomoea genus. Sorry for the confusion!)

We are still getting some tomato production although it is sure to slow down soon. I planted Better Boy tomato seeds, which I won from Gardens Eye View, (Hip, Hip, Hurray~thank you Donna!) this summer. This was my first experience growing them from seed. I planted them in early summer and they started producing in August. The tomatoes look better than the tomatoes I bought as seedlings and there is far less cracking on the fruit. 

The cherry tomatoes which were planted in early summer from purchased seedlings are still producing some fruit.

We love spicy hot at our house! The mouth burning, eye watering kind of hot. We grow jalapeno, cayenne, hot banana and habanero peppers.

The orange habanero and red cayenne peppers bring a festive touch to the garden.

We planted a late crop of carrots in spring hoping to harvest them before the heat set in. They were the slowest growers ever! I left them in the garden over the summer for the black swallowtail caterpillars but they seemed to prefer the fennel and parsley. To make room in the beds for sowing cooler season crops I decided it was time to pull them out. Well, much to our surprise we had carrots.

We steamed them, added a little salt and pepper and they were very tasty!

Soon we will be pulling out the remaining summer crops and planting Brussel sprouts, turnip greens, cabbage, mustard greens, and carrots. We've already planted lettuce and spinach. Have you started a fall garden yet? What will you be growing?