Our Wonderful Daylily Mystery

My husband says I planted these and forgot that I did it. Nope. I forget some things, but I’d remember planting flowers. I think. Really, these I would remember.

Aren't they beautiful?

Aren’t they beautiful?

I’d also remember the location, right by the mailbox near the street, because when we went to Kelowna, BC, last year, I was so impressed with all the beautiful yards that it made me want to do more to mine. So far, I’ve basically pulled weeds and cut things back which is a constant thing around here. Haven’t got to the planting part yet. During one of those weed pulling sessions, I noticed some long grassy blades that looked different. When I see something coming up that I can’t identify right off, I usually leave it so that when it grows up I can see what it is and whether or not I want it to stay. I’ve regretted that a time or two, but it’s also how I got my mock orange and Turk’s cap. (Turk’s cap is a great flower for attracting hummingbirds, by the way!)

We really don’t know how these got here unless we have a neighbor or friend who is planting things surreptitiously in folks’ yards. I have some pretty cool family and friends, so that is a possibility. Actually, I think it’s probable because after reading a bit, it looks like daylilies won’t just pop up in a clump like this.  They will spread, but that’s only after being planted by a human. Another thing I learned is that hummingbirds and orioles are both attracted to daylilies. Wow! That just adds some excitement to this whole mystery!

Another good thing is that they can be expected to hang around here for a long time. I still have some yellow ones growing by the water faucet that my Aunt Myrtle planted when she lived here back in the 1960’s. My mom has always said that Aunt Myrtle could plant a dead stick and it’d come back to life and grow. I’m not like her. These babies are tough, and that’s just the kind of plant I need. The fussy ones can’t survive my sporadic care. Daylilies can handle drought and are pest resistant and they crowd out the weeds. Yea, for fewer weeds!

Well, we don’t know how these flowers ended up in our yard, but we sure are glad to have them. May God bless our mystery gardener!

I sure do wonder who…?

 

So pretty!

So pretty!

A Lepidoptera Midwife Stays Busy

Man, where does the time go? I’ve been meaning to write this for weeks! This summer I had two kinds of caterpillars that I fed and kept while they did their caterpillar thing and became what they become. If you’ve never done this, you might want to give it a try. You can see what it feels like to be a midwife for our Lepidoptera friends. Hint: it’s fun.

First, I’ll tell you about the day I went to the Big Box Hardware Store to check for marked down plants. It was the end of gardening season and that’s a good time to find things like parsley. Parsley lives for a whole year, so I like to get a plant every six months or so. Anyway, I found some parsley I wanted and when I took it to the register to see if the checker could mark it down, she and another employee were surprised that I wanted it. This plant was almost totally consumed and what was eating it was still there! Three swallowtail butterfly caterpillars were munching away. The plant was from a company that sets the prices and the store couldn’t mark it down, but that’s OK. I bought it anyway, because I wanted the caterpillars.

When I got them home I had to figure out how to set this up. Rather than a big jar for each one in the kitchen, I went for this in hubby’s study:

Caterpillar Nursery

Caterpillar Nursery

This is made with window screen that I cut in a strip and sewed together and covered it with net. I did add more clothespins after losing caterpillars. The little jar and bottle had a bit of water and parsley in them. The tops should be small enough or else covered, so the caterpillars can’t fall in the water. Also, never, never, never feed them parsley that isn’t organic. I learned that the hard way once. They will die if they eat parsley that has been sprayed with insecticide.  After seeing what happened to the caterpillars, I haven’t bought parsley that wasn’t organic, no matter who was going to eat it!

I learned something this year. When they start crawling all over the place, they are looking for a place to ‘hang out’ while they go through the process of metamorphosis. Otherwise, they just eat and sleep. One of them got out and I put him back in. He found one of the sticks I’d set up for him and attached himself. Then another one got out and I couldn’t find him. The third one attached to a stick. Eventually, they all came out of their chrysalises. Even the one that was lost. (We still haven’t found his chrysalis! And I’ll keep records next year, so I’ll know exactly how many days from one caterpillar event to the next.)

What is funny to me about the one I lost is that I looked around the living room one morning to see if he was flitting about the room. It felt like it was time. An hour or two later, hubby told me he found my butterfly. It was in his study. We very carefully caught it inside the screen and netting and took him outside. The only photos I got were taken in the house.

The butterfly who was lost.

The butterfly who was lost.

Something cool happened with the third one. One morning when I first got out of bed, I went in there to take a look at him. I’d never done that at that time of day, and there he was on the stick he’d chosen and he was moving his mouth from side to side. What on earth? Making his support, that’s what. In less than half an hour, they make the support that will hold them in place while their body goes through the changes. Boy, I sure was thankful to have been able to see this! I’ve raised a few butterflies and never caught that. When I wrote about butterflies a few years ago, I had no idea how they did this. You can check out videos of it on YouTube. It’s really awesome to see.

Then the third one hatched; this photo may be of the first one. In any case, this is what he looked like. Every time I let one go, I say to him, “Be Free!”

Welcome to the butterfly life!

Welcome to the butterfly life!

There were also some other caterpillars in my yard that I don’t remember ever seeing. They are big and thick and green with a red and white stripe down their sides and they aren’t exactly fuzzy, but what they have on their bodies looks like bushes. Bushes? Yep. That’s what I thought, and so did my cousin when I showed him. We both thought this is one wild-looking critter.

Io moth caterpillar

Io moth caterpillar

Just for fun, here’s my cat watching through the foil I put on the back door during the summer. I had to fix a peep-hole for him.

Captain

Captain

Those ‘bushes’ can sting but it doesn’t feel like an asp, which feels like getting hit with a hammer. It just burns a bit. Yeah, that’s the voice of experience you hear. I was trimming the Turk’s cap and one got me on the arm. The first thing I did was run hot water on it. By the time my arm was turning pink from the hot water, it wasn’t stinging any more. I think the hot water must neutralize the toxins. It was still swollen though like little hives. I didn’t take a photo of my arm, but I did go on a search for the caterpillar. I knew what I was looking for because I’d seen one, put him in a jar, then later let him go. During the time I had that one I looked them up and found a YouTube video of a guy letting one sting his arm so we could all see what happens. That’s how I knew what got me. (Bless your heart, and thanks for the video, Dude!)

So, I found him and put him in a jar, then found more. Before it was all over, I had seven of these fellows in a gallon jar. I fed them leaves every day. They have all made cocoons under the dirt and so far, two have come out and been set free. They are Io moths and boy, are they pretty!

See the pretty 'eyes' on his lower wings?

See the pretty ‘eyes’ on his lower wings?

I’m sorry about the focus there. I have a cool little camera, but it focused on the wrong thing. The other five may overwinter in the jar and hatch out next year. I read online that they do that, and so was surprised when these first two didn’t. My guess is that the length of days signals them on what to do?

So, those were some adventures with caterpillars this year. The jar with the five cocoons will spend the winter on the front porch where I can keep an eye on it, and the cocoons will be in their natural environment as far as light and temperatures. Yesterday, I put the caterpillar house up in the attic. Next year, along about early June it will time to take it down and go caterpillar hunting.

I’d Love To Find The Owner Of This Skin!

A few days ago when I was out at my clothesline I glanced over at the garden and saw a really long snake skin. My first thought was that it once belonged to a rat snake.

I brought the skin in the house and got my book and started counting scales and such. It’s not the easiest thing to do, identify a snake when the owner of the skin isn’t there any more. It would help if I could see colors, however, a bit of pattern is visible, even on the scales. This one is solid with no markings at all. By the way, did you know snakes have scales over their eyes? They need those scales because they don’t have eyelids. This skin was totally intact, ocular scales and all.

Keeled scales have a little ridge on the middle of them. The scales on this critter are smooth and not keeled. He has 17 rows of dorsal scales in the middle of the body, with 15 just in front of the vent. (The vent is a scale that looks different on his underside. It’s where the digestive system ends. And, I have no idea whether this is a boy or a girl snake. I’m just going with the all-inclusive “he”.) He has a divided anal plate, with the scales going from the plate to the end of the tail being divided. If all the scales from the anal plate to the tip of the tail are divided, it’s a non-poisonous snake.

This rascal was 44 1/2 inches long when he left this skin behind in my garden. What a gift for me to find! Oh, my very best guess, according to all my counting of scales and such, and I think I’m right, is that he is a tan racer. We do have them here and they will even crossbreed with the buttermilk racer.  I actually skinned one that crossed. The poor thing was dead in my street, with just a tiny indention on his small noggin. Other than the dent in his head and being dead, the skin was in perfect condition.

I happen to like snakes and I like them to be alive and living in the wild. They certainly serve a good purpose, eating things like rats which carry diseases.

I took a few photos. The skin showed up better in the grass so I laid it out there for a photo.

Then I set it up by my tea cups. It’s still there. I don’t know how long I’ll leave it as part of my decor. Folks just never know what they will see when they walk into my house. Don’t you think it looks nice there? I like the contrast between cultured and wild, myself.

The Little Snakes Are Awake

Things are blooming early this year. I’d say spring has sprung. More than just the flora, the fauna are awake, too.

Last week, I was getting weeds out of the garden and I found a little brown snake. He’s the one we were told was a ‘Ground Rattler’ when we were kids. I think everyone told us that so we wouldn’t pick them up. Like this:

He’s really a Rough Earth Snake and he probably wouldn’t bite if he could. Which he can’t. See how tiny his mouth is? He couldn’t get a human finger to fit between those tiny jaws if he wanted to, and I don’t think he does.

This fellow also can’t bite, but I do think he wanted to. He was so mad at me for picking him up he pee’d on my thumbnail. See?

I guess I wrecked the beginning of his day. He’s a Texas Brown Snake and he was trying to scrunch himself up so I wouldn’t see him when I was sweeping the walkway. Here he is trying to scrunch himself up in my hand. Too late, Dude (or Dude-ess, as the case may be). I see you!

It was easy to get lots of photos of him even after I put him down, because he was still trying to hide. Not the smartest of creatures. Or else, so angry he couldn’t think straight. I’m not sure how snakes think, but he was mad. Kept sticking his tongue out at me. Really, he was smelling something – probably his pee on my thumbnail. I think he’s pretty. See the black mark under his eye? That’s how I know, along with the black marks on his lips, that he is a Texas Brown Snake and not a Marsh Brown Snake.

See the big scale right behind his eye? A Marsh Brown Snake would have a vertical black line on that scale and not a dark spot below the eye. Also, he would have no markings on the scales by his lips. (If you are finding it hard to see these marks, click on the photo and it will enlarge it. Then click the Back Arrow to get back here.) Oh, and I didn’t just have all this scale marking info in my head. It’s in my great Field Guide to Texas Snakes, published by Texas Monthly.

I’m glad to see some snakes this year. Last year’s drought was rough on everything that doesn’t have a faucet in their house with a ready supply of water. We all need to watch for the Big Bad Boy Snakes. I’m sure they’re out, too, now. Oh! I hope there are some Louisiana Milk Snakes around. I used to have several of them before I moved a brick pile. They are so pretty.

Well, y’all be careful, and enjoy nature.

My Yard During the Drought

It’s been forever since I’ve written about the plants in my yard. We’ve been in a drought, but most of the vegetation in my yard is still alive. The only thing we’ve lost, really, is some St. Augustine grass. Unless it’s been watered, everyone I know has lost St. Augustine grass. Normally, we get enough rain for it, but when we don’t, it dies, and we haven’t seen “normal” very often the past few years. Our weather has been crazy.

From my studio windows I can see two trees at the edge of the woods that look like they have died and one that may be dying. The two that look dead may only be dormant. I’ve learned that some of the trees are going dormant because of the lack of rain; I guess we’ll know next spring what we have left around here. The third tree has severe hurricane damage, and what is left doesn’t look so great having just a few leaves.

The only ornamental plant in my yard that I have watered is one azalea bush. And I’m not real good at remembering to water it, so it’s been stressed pretty often. Poor thing would have droopy leaves before I’d notice it was in trouble. If plants could talk, this thing could give me a holler and it would definitely get better care!

Just a few feet from the azalea is a lipstick plant. It should have bloomed months ago, but it didn’t. It was staying alive, so I left it alone. Water isn’t free, and even in Southeast Texas where we have lots of it we could end up rationing, so I’ve tried to be careful all year. Well, this fall we’ve had a little bit of rain here and there, and now the lipstick plant must think it’s spring. It has shot up taller than I am and it’s blooming.

What is really weird is our mock orange shrub. Part of it looks like it normally does in November with leaves turning a sort of yellowish brownish, and getting ready to drop. Part of it looks like it’s dead from lack of water, part of it has small new leaves, and part of it is blooming. I have never ever seen mock orange bloom in the fall! Technically, it’s not one plant, but several all growing in a clump. The clump all gets the same light, water, temperature, and wind exposure and everything. Yeah, that’s weird.

Then I have these other plants. Like the Canna lilies that are supposed to be miniature that grow by my front porch. I planted them there because the lady who gave them to me said they wouldn’t get any taller than they were in her yard, which is how tall they were in her mother in law’s yard. I thought, “How cute! They are about two and a half feet tall and they will look great next to the porch by the sidewalk.”  How about seven feet tall next to the porch by the sidewalk? With great big leaves? I have to cut some of them down every now and then just so we can walk past them without brushing up against them. That’s a good way to get a lizard on you.

Another plant that I have to cut back so we can get in and out of our house is the Turk’s cap. I go out there every few days, and whack it back and it just grows and grows. It’s been great for hummingbirds. They love the bright red blooms.  The butterflies like it, too.

And, oh, the Amaryllis! I have some pink ones and some white ones that have been growing like crazy. The red ones have been run over by the white ones. Back in the spring, before it got so hot outside that a person couldn’t even think out there, I fixed a border around the Amaryllis. (I’m still working on the front of it. I ran into a bunch of rocks in the ground.) I also mulched so my husband wouldn’t have to try to weed eat and mow around them and between them and the house. Either they like the mulch, or they saw the brick border as a challenge. It looks to me like they have made a run for the border! The white ones have grown taller than I am.  A few days ago I dug up some white ones and pink ones and gave them away. I need to do some more of that. My daughter in law said I need a whip and a chair to tame the Cannas, the Turk’s cap and the Amaryllis plants. She said she loves how things in my yard grow. She said it’s like they all just say, “I am Plant!” very forcefully. And then they grow! Really big!

One more thing about the yard and the drought. Mosquitoes. It seems like every time we get a sprinkling of rain, which is about all we are getting, the mosquito population explodes. I can’t even go outside to pick up black walnuts without three or four mosquitoes at once landing on me. What I wonder is where are the mosquito hawks? Well, that’s what we call dragonflies. Those guys can eat a ton of mosquitoes! They can eat 100 of them in 30 minutes. I haven’t seen any in a few months. I wonder if when it was dry and there weren’t many mosquitoes, the mosquito hawks all went someplace else? I hope this next cold front knocks out a bunch of mosquitoes. I sure have a lot of work to do out there!

Armadillos, Dogs and Garden & Yard Mishaps

Yesterday morning when I opened the back door I saw my neighbor’s two dogs in my yard. That’s really unusual. I told my husband so he could go tell the neighbor so he could put them back in their pen before he left for work.  My husband thought maybe the dogs took care of the armadillo problem while they were out.

Oh, the armadillo problem. I thought if we put some concrete block things around the garden, the armadillo that has been tearing things up would just sort of nose around the edges and not bother to climb over. HA! I did a bit of reading on Texas A&M’s horticulture site and found out those critters can climb fences! The fellow who wrote the article said they were tearing up his yard and he thought they looked like possum on the half shell. He found out his neighbors didn’t appreciate the gunshots they heard in the night while he gathered his main stew ingredient. I decided if the armadillo doesn’t go away soon (had this problem off and on over the years) I’ll just put up a little electric fence outfit and that will keep him out.

So, yesterday afternoon our neighbor whose dogs were out knocked on our back door. He was holding a pair of tennis shoes in one hand, a single tennis shoe and a single garden glove in the other. “Are any of these yours?” he asked. I looked at the glove because we have some that are similar, but none of it was ours. I said something about his dogs bringing treasure home to him last night and he said he didn’t know who to return all this stuff to.

Then he noticed our garden and told me it was looking good. I told him how my cat ate the tops off my pepper and eggplant seedlings before I even got them ready to go outside and the armadillo has been tearing up the rest. It’s a wonder I have anything left. He said he put some mulch out in a flower bed and the next day there was a big hole and mulch piled up next to it. He said he was going to kill that armadillo and make chicharrones. (I knew I was familiar with that word but couldn’t place it. My son’s girlfriend said it’s fried pork skins. Oh, yeah. I’ve been eating that all my life.) My husband had come outside by this time and we told him that sounded good to us. And if I hear a gunshot from my neighbor’s house, I’ll head over there the next day and see if I can try his armadillo dish.

Had a couple of mishaps yesterday. I read in a magazine that an inexpensive bird bath can be rigged up with a 14″ round wire plant support and a 14″ plastic tray that goes under a potted plant. You know those plant supports that have three legs and a circle for the plant to stick out of? All you do, according the the article, is put the three support legs in the ground and put the tray on the top. I got these things and tried it. I’m glad I only bought enough to do one. When I put the water in the tray it fell through to the ground. So much for that. I just set the tray on the ground with some water in it. I do wonder sometimes if the folks who talk about all these great ideas in magazine articles ever actually try any of them before they tell millions of people to do these great things. Maybe they had a bigger lip on the tray and a stiffer tray than I had but mine didn’t work. I still want two bird baths – one for the front yard and one for the back.

Now, this mishap…oh, boy. We have expanded our garden this year and I decided if we move one more plant (it’s a Texas Star) we can take in another 10′ x 4′ area of what is now yard. I decided where to move the plant and it was only about 20 feet away. Yesterday after my husband got off work I asked him if he wanted to move the Texas Star and he said sure, so we did. Our garden is in our back yard. We put the Texas Star in the front yard.

Later, when I was thinking about some bricks I have stacked near the garden and the next project I have planned that I will use some of them for, I thought about the plant we moved and how I wanted to put that plant close to where those bricks are. Uh, oh. I had my husband put the Texas Star where I wanted to put the butterfly weed! (The only thing worse than being confused and knowing you are confused, is being confused and not finding out till later.) You know, this isn’t like saying, “Oh, honey, I think I might like that chair better over here. Can we try this spot?” He had to dig holes in the ground to move that thing. You guys reading this might suggest that next time I move it myself. My answer to you is that we have not had any decent amount of rain since I don’t know when. My yard is hard as a brick. I could put the shovel to the ground and jump up and down on it and it might break the grass but I don’t think it will break the ground. I haven’t told my husband yet.

Final note on the armadillo – My garden looks undisturbed this morning! There is only one freshly dug hole under the bird feeder. I wonder if there were two armadillos and the dogs got rid of one of them?

Well, I’m looking at hungry house finches, sparrows and doves, and have had a red-bellied woodpecker trying to drill holes (banging on the table is more like it!) on the wooden platform so I guess it’s time to take their breakfast out to them. Then I guess I’ll see what I’m going to do in the yard today.

Birds, Yard and Garden

Last time I wrote I was hoping I’d be able to move my arms and back after all the yard work I’d done. I was able and got a lot done last week. I worked outside six days in a row, followed by a day of rest on Sunday. I’ve worked out there a little this week and still have plenty to do. I want to get as much done as I can before I hear our weather man say the temperature will be 80 by 8:00 and 90 by noon!

A minute ago I watched a pair of cardinals on my feeder. I guess they just got married. (God marries the animals. My mom told me so when I was three years old.) I think when he feeds sunflower seeds to her, that is how they get married. I expect to see the young ‘uns on the feeder in a few weeks. They are always funny. They look like eight-year-old boys whose hair is never combed.

I have at least one blue jay (I can’t tell one from another so I don’t know if it’s the same bird each time or not.) who comes up to the feeder and picks up a peanut, puts it down, picks up a different peanut, puts it down…he does this several times before taking one and flying away. I don’t know if he is testing the weight to see which one is best, or if he’s trying to carry more than one and can’t fit them in his beak. I bet he’s testing weight. I think blue jays are too smart to keep doing the same dumb thing over and over and expecting different results. (Unlike some humans.)

I found out that the goldfinch that I thought was a straggler was part of a different bunch of birds. The ones we had this winter left, but about two weeks later a whole bunch more showed up. Now they are turning yellow. I had two of them on my window while ago. The seed had run out and they were looking inside the house. The only time birds ever cling to my screen or perch on my windowsill and look inside is when I’ve let the seed run out.

The other evening I saw three indigo buntings in my next door neighbor’s yard. I’d sure like to see a lot of those. I saw two or three last year, but we used to see them in flocks of 20-something.

I’m waiting for an orchard oriole. I forgot I was supposed to take the bee guards off the hummingbird feeder so they can drink from it. I learned that from a friend who says the orioles like her hummingbird feeder (the kind with the pretend flowers) better than her oriole feeder, but you have to take the guards off. I took them off yesterday.

The azaleas have finally bloomed! They were several weeks late. The man at the nursery where I got my milkweed the other day told us they had an Azalea Trail Tour in Houston at the usual time for seeing them loaded with blooms, but there wasn’t a bloom to be seen. I imagine that was a bust. I watched a swallowtail butterfly yesterday who was taking his own tour of my azalea flowers. I hope the swallowtails find the parsley I planted for them.

Lat year we thought my husband’s Texas Star was dead, but it has a bit of new growth on it this year. It always dies back and new shoots come up from the ground each year. There was no new growth last year. Weird. We still think the freeze got the lipstick plant and it may have wiped out my Lantana. I’ll give it a little more time just to make sure before I yank those out and put something else in their places. Also, a rosebush that I was ready to toss down the hill and into the woods must have heard me say I was going to do that. It’s looking great now. I’m glad because it’s a Seven Sister’s Rose and it’s pretty neat.

My beans are coming up. Something is munching on the leaves. I wonder if turtles eat bean plants? Oh, but it’s not time for turtles to be in the yard yet. They come up here in the spring to lay eggs but it’s too early. I think if it was a rabbit they would just gnaw them down to nubs. The leaves look like they’ve had a bite taken out here and bite out there. I need to put a small fence around my garden.

My cat – who at times like this reminds me of what a cute little black and white rug he’d make – has eaten most of my pepper plants. He got a few bites of the peanut plants, too. I put the peanut plants outside. I’m still working on getting the ground ready; we’ve been moving some bricks so the garden can be expanded.

Well, the work goes on. I sure have a lot of plans for my yard and I’m glad it’s staying cool longer than usual so I can get these things done.