They’re Back and Blooming

After a year of record breaking rain and freezing temperatures down to the teens, I was worried about my plants returning.  But, they’re back and bigger than ever.  I have been growing these reseeding Black Eyed Susan for many years and have never seen the flowers this large.

A seed from a Blanket Flower made its way across the driveway to grow in this crack.

It seems very happy against the hot wall and drive.

Speaking of hot,  Hot Lips is back.  It is Salvia microphylla.

The Mexican Hat returned. Being in a raised bed might have helped it survive the rains as they prefer drier soil.

One of my all time favorites, Balsam Impatiens, germinated from the seeds they dropped last year. Surprisingly, the seeds were not washed away.

These plants were grown by our founding fathers.

The Tickseed (Coreopsis lanceolata), managed to reseed a plant or two.

Even though the Butterfly Weed froze to the ground, the roots survived and it is ready for the Monarchs to visit.

A Five Lined Skink photo bombed the shoot.

Although most of the plants survived, there is always room for something new.  I added this Bat Faced Cuphea, but expected it to be red and dark purple, but it is pretty anyway.

Another new addition is this petunia that just showed up in a front yard bed.  I know I grew some several years ago.  Did the seed survive or blow in from a neighbor?  I will enjoy it while it’s here.

My winter anxiety has finally been relieved by seeing new blooms everyday. The Automatic Garden survived.

 


Monarch Munching

Before the snow and the freeze, I took this shot of a Monarch Caterpillar munching away on this Butterfly Weed.

I was wondering if the caterpillar made it through the cold snap. I spotted a Monarch Butterfly flying around the plants yesterday and a smaller caterpillar feeding on the leaves.  I guess they can take a bit of cold.

 

 


Monarch Lunch

I collected these Monarch caterpillars, but not for my lunch.  I found them on some sick looking Butterfly Weed with few leaves and moved them to healthier plants so the babies could have their lunch.

This big and beautiful Monarch is probably from a previous batch of caterpillars I found a few weeks ago.


Finding a Place for Metamorphosis

I spotted this Monarch caterpillar crawling on a large clay pot.  It was far from the Butterfly Weed, so I thought I would keep an eye on it.

The caterpillar climbed up to the rim and attached itself.  Look closely for the nearly invisible thread.

For some reason that did not seem right, so the caterpillar dropped to the ground.

It crawled around for quite awhile and headed up a stick for a better view.

Finally, it settled for this plastic net that is protecting a plant. And yes, I did spend quite a long time watching this caterpillar crawl around.  It is their habit to leave the plant they feed on and form a chrysalis elsewhere and are usually hard to find.

And in no time the caterpillar was in its chrysalis.  Sadly, I missed the process and when I checked hours later, it was done.

About the time it should have hatched, a beautiful Monarch Butterfly was  hanging on a nearby brick wall drying its wings and the chrysalis was gone.

And the circle of life begins again with a female Monarch depositing her eggs. I like to think it was the same one that hatched, but there is no way to tell.  She checked out all the plants and made sure the eggs were laid only on Butterfly Weed.

Apparently other Monarchs had stopped by and on the same day, I found a tiny caterpillar barely a half of an inch long  starting on its journey.

This year has already started well for the butterfly population in my area and many more have been stopping by than in past few years.


Monarch Caterpillars, Milkweed and WWII

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There has been much concern about the dwindling  numbers of Monarch Butterflies.  An organization called Monarch Watch has been encouraging everyone to plant Milkweed, also know as Butterfly Weed.

I have been planting Butterfly Weed all over the yard.  Unfortunately, a beetle has shown up the last few years and has eaten almost all the plants I grew.  This year I am trying to collect the bugs daily for disposal, as any kind of spraying will also kill the Monarchs.

I was pleased to find many very fat and healthy Monarch Caterpillars on the Butterfly Weed.  This one is eyeing his competition.

 

My main purpose for planting Butterfly Weed is to feed caterpillars.  The plants tend to look pretty bad after awhile.  Interestingly, the plants contain a chemical called cardiac glycoside that cause birds to vomit.  By eating the leaves, the caterpillars are protected from birds.

I find that rabbits and deer also avoid the plant. The most common Butterfly Weed grown here is Asclepias tuberosa, which is tropical/Mexican Butterfly Weed.

The plants produce seed pods filled with seeds attached to fluffy floss that allows them to drift in the wind to a new location.

I recently found out that Milkweed floss had an important role in World War II.  School children from all over the country were sent out to collect the seed pods to make life vests for Navy sailors. Milkweed in the northern U.S. is much larger than the ones that grow in the South and were found growing in fields and along the roads.  The seeds were removed and the floss was used to stuff the vests.

I find it hard to imagine that these vest would stay afloat for long, but I guess that is what they had back then.  While researching, I also found an article with instructions for making a down-like coat using the Milkweed floss for the insulation.  As it turns out, this “weed” is not only necessary for Monarchs, but humans have also found uses for it.


Automatic Renewal

The last time I was away from home, I came back to a killing freeze.  Most of the plants had to be cut back.  In this climate, many plants usually stay green for the winter. The Automatic Garden looked hopeless. I spent many hours cleaning up, reevaluating and moving plants around.  I walked the garden several times a day checking on the plants’ progress and watching them grow inch by inch.

Recently, I had another trip and this time I came back to a much happier reunion.  While I was away, it rained and the days heated up.  The Automatic Garden did its job and not only filled in, but put out blooms.

The faithful perennials of Black and Blue Salvia and Shrimp Plant came back bigger and better.

Butterfly Weed wasted no time and quickly bloomed, allowing a passing Monarch to leave her eggs for the next generation.

I had seeded a few annuals, along side the reliable garden staples, for some early color. Spring is an anticipated a time of renewal and the Automatic Garden did not disappoint.


Eat Away…

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little caterpillars.  For once I don’t mind the destruction of my plants.  The garden has been lacking butterflies for the last several years and I am delighted to see the return of a few.  A Monarch has been floating around, probably on its way to Mexico.

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These caterpillars are on the Passion Flower and they are Gulf Fritillarry Caterpillars.  The butterfly is also attracted to the wild Maypops that grow in the area.