Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus, is a common visitor to our property here in west central Maryland.  The native range for this species is the south eastern US.  One reason we have so many is the abundance of  the native Pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba) which are the host plants for the Zebra Swallowtail's caterpillars.  

This Zebra Swallowtail is checking out the thermal blanket on our pool.
It's probably looking for some moisture.

This was one of the first butterflies to visit us this spring, showing up in the first part of April (didn't have my camera handy).  At that time it was feeding on nectar from the purple deadnettle, Lamium purpureum, that shares space in our lawn and woodlands.  When gathering nectar it is usually vibrating in a sort of feeding frenzy and it is hard to get a good photo.

A shutter speed of 1/40 is too slow to still those fluttering wings.

Yesterday while working around the pool I spotted one of these, most likely in search of moisture.  It was moving a little slower, so I could get some clearer photos.  This is the first time that I noticed it with its wings folded up and being relatively still.  

The tips of the swallowtail look like the antennae of the pseudo-butterfly.
The striped body is pretty cool, too.

What hit me here was that, when folded up, the wing shape of this swallowtail looks like another butterfly pointing in the opposite direction.  That has got to come in handy when predators are about.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Seedlings and Sprouts

While a few established plants did not make it through this past winter most did and are performing quite well now.   A number of plants that I put in last fall which I had written off as lost 'suddenly' reappeared in the middle of May.  These include a Passion Vine,  some New York fern and False Goatsbeard (Astilbe biternata).  It was very fortunate that I left the plant tags in the ground otherwise I may have totally missed these late arrivals and possibly removed them as weeds or planted something else on top of them.   The False Goatsbeard is an excellent example.  This was a new plant for me so I did not know when it would resprout or what it would look like.  As the photo shows the new shoot could easily be mistaken for a dead twig.  Now that it has leafed out it looks like what I would expect for and Astilbe.

The new shoot comes up reddish-brown with tightly curled leaves.

Astilbe biternata is the only North American species of Astilbe.  It grows to over 3' tall.

The intensity of the red markings on the leaves is variable in the wild type plants
I have mentioned many times before that we are on a mission to remove the Garlic Mustard from our property.  In addition to improving the biodiversity it is giving us the opportunity to closely observe the other plants that were growing under the mustard canopy.  The other day after pulling some garlic mustard I found a patch of Jumpseed, Persicaria virginiana, (formerly Polygonum virginiana) that was growing in an unmanaged area.  I wanted to compare this to some red-flowered Jumpseed that I got from a nearby nursery.  

These Jumpseed from a nursery have a similar number of leaf veins,
but the shapes of its leaves is variable.
 Because most Jumpseed blooms with whitish flowers I was uncertain whether the red flowered plants were North American (var. virginiana f. rubra) or from an Asian species (var. filiformis) which normally has red flowers.  These varieties have different leaf shapes and number of veins on the leaf.  See this link for the original publication.  The characteristic leaf shape for the Asian species is obovate with an attenuate or cunnate base.  The nursery-grown plants have similar number of veins as the wild type (5-9 pairs), but the leaf shape is variable with a single plant having leaf shapes that match either species description.  Bottom line... I'm just not sure.

No garlic mustard in these Mayapples, but there
was woodland phlox and some galium species mixed in.
Another thing we noticed was that there was a large patch of Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) that was nearly devoid of garlic mustard.  I don't know if the Mayapples are actively defending against garlic mustard invasion or if this area has just not been invaded yet.  It does support the practice of having a good dense ground cover to shade out/exclude invasive species.  

I am seeing seedlings returning from 2 native annuals that I set out last year.  I am finding large masses of American Pennyroyal, Hedoma pulegioides,  near where I had planted them last year.  The seed that I sowed last spring did not germinate well last year (only 1 or 2  plants).  But seeds that had over-wintered are germinating like gang busters.  So despite what the seed packet says, some cold, moist stratification or fall planting of this species gives much better results.  I am encouraging these in my vegetable garden because they are reported to repel crawling insects due to the strong aromatic scent.  I am hope that it will have a similar effect on mammals as well.
These seedlings look similar to those of some Salvia species;
however, they can be distinguished by their strong aromatic scent even at this age.

The other annual that is coming back is Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.  Last year I started most of these indoors after  2 weeks cold, moist stratification and pretreatment with an rhizobactrium innoculant.   These germinated quite well both indoors and out.  This spring I am seeing many new seedlings near to their parent plants. 
The leaflets of Partridge Pea will fold up at night and when briskly jostled.

These blooms have just opened, the white petals
doubled in length a couple of days later.
As I was coming back from pulling more garlic mustard I stumbled upon another plant that I did not see last year.  I believed that it was Robin's Plantain, Erigeron pulchellus, because of the larger flowers and the spatulate basal leaves.  On digging a little deeper I realized that this was Common Fleabane, E. philadelphicus.  This species is indicated by the clasping leaves on the flower stalk. While not a beautiful garden plant is a pleasant surprise in the woods.  Most of my plants are actually growing on the path on the more compacted soil.  Perhaps I didn't see them last year because they had gotten trampled before they could bloom.

Just a note on the invasives front:  The garlic mustard is starting to go to seed now (late May), so we are trying to bag it up right away; also Mile-a-minute vine is starting to grow and the stilt grass is about an inch tall now.  It is really best to pull the mile-a-minute now before the thorns develop later in the season.