Natural Disasters

It’s a beautiful day in the Northeast. The temperatures mild, the sun shining, my tomatoes ripening, birds singing, garden healthy, and loving all that nature provides at this moment in New Hampshire.

Limelight Hydrangea in September

Around the globe, nature has brought a different story.  In the midst of the 9-11 remembrance, it’s back to back devastating hurricanes in America, forest fires in the western U.S. and Canada, a hurricane in Mexico, disastrous floods in South Asia, and a catastrophic earthquake in Mexico… all remind us that we are not in charge. We are vulnerable to the forces of nature on an often volatile planet.

Now that we have ascertained that all family members are safe and accounted for after Irma roared through Florida, we await news of property damage. My niece in Islamorada, cousins in Jacksonville, relatives in Tampa, daughter in Naples, a niece on the coast of Georgia, and a son on Hilton Head, gave us reason to drop almost everything and keep in constant touch with one another the last few days. With no power or cell phone coverage in some areas, we can only wait for feedback.

And, here’s another unsettling thought. Although hurricane forecasting is not a perfect science, category 1 Jose is puttering around in the Atlantic and may impact land on the east coast sometime next week. Sigh.

NOAA Hurricane Jose possible path

The earth provides us with the natural resources we need to survive on this planet, but not always. For those of us who are comfortable and safe, we reach out to do what we can for those who are impacted.

We are reading about both the bravery and the heartbreak of thousands around the world right now. My heart goes out for humans, for animals, for the earth, but knowing full well that we are simply guests on this planet and can be evicted at any time.

I ❤️ Bumblebees

I make a concerted effort to attract bees and other pollinators to our garden. This year, I spent a little more time trying to entice bumblebees to nest in the yard. I already supply a continuous food source during the growing season but I read up on what a bumblebee needs for a nest.I saved dried leaves and grass, and in a corner behind a fence where the soil is dry and shady, I piled the grass clippings and leaves early in the spring. And, lo and behold, one day I watched a large bumblebee arrive, zigging here and there, flying around and around the leaves and fence for a couple of days in the cool spring. At first I thought it may be a carpenter bee attracted to the wood fence but, no, this plump bumblebee was eventually crawling around the leaves. She was a bumblebee queen!

She liked the site I prepared and she proceeded to build a nest, lay eggs and, raise her young. Now, late summer, we have a population explosion of beautiful bumblebees that forage from dawn to dusk. We watch them fly in and out of their cavities in the ground. The nest has been enlarged and there are different entrances now… the main entrance now just a foot from the faucet and hose, but they are unconcerned by my presence. I never bother the nest and they just buzz around me and on to the garden.  In and out, in and out, all day long.

I work along side the bees in the garden. They fly around me, move when I’m tending to a plant, land on me, rest a bit, then fly to the next flower. No stings!

Bumblebees need a continuous food source and we supplied a gap-free nectar source in our bee friendly garden. Bumblebees do have a preference for certain flowers and we took notice and made sure we had enough of their pesticide-free favorites all growing season.

The bumblebees pollinated our blueberries, were all over the clover, and the only pollinators I saw on our tomatoes. They loved the early crabapple and rhododendren blossoms, the summersweet, the allium, hosta blooms, hydrangea, and all the herbs in bloom. Right now it’s all about the garlic chives and Russian sage, but any moment, the showy flowers of Aralia ‘Sun King’ will open and it’s goodbye chives!

It’s been a “buzzy” summer garden but the season is winding down and changes will be taking place. Only the newly mated females will survive the winter, usually beneath ground. The rest of the colony will die later this fall.  Next spring, I’ll try again to encourage another queen bumblebee. It’s been an adventure and it feels right to give a helping hand to a bee that is facing many threats… from habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and disease.

Who’s your Mama?

Brown headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are called brood parasites, birds that lay eggs in other birds’ nests. It’s said that up to 150 different species in North America are parasitized by cowbirds and the host parents then raise the young. Needless to say, cowbirds are generally looked upon with loathing. Whenever I see this species near our bluebird house, I am out the door clapping and shooing the scourges away.

That is until a fledgling cowbird nearly landed in my lap a few days ago. It had been reared by a tiny chipping sparrow and now it seemed abandoned. I watched as it chased every chipping sparrow it saw, more than a dozen around the feeder at a given time. All flew away or scurried to hide when this big baby ran at them, mouth open, flapping wings, and warbling like a baby chipping sparrow.

After watching it beg for a day with no food, I broke down and fed it a few mealworms.

cowbird 1And now the fledgling flies to me several times a day! That makes me wonder how the heck it can learn to be a cowbird. It is still excited to see a chipping sparrow but absolutely thrilled when it sees me open the door. Hey, you are a cowbird, little guy!

cowbird 2

I’ve seen cowbirds walking in the grass nearby but our fella doesn’t seem at all interested. With a Google search, I found Matthew Louder, an ecologist, who states in Animal Behavior journal that the juvenile cowbirds leave the host’s territory at sunset, perhaps encountering adult cowbirds in wooded areas, returning to their hosts in the morning, thus fostering independence.

But it doesn’t explain how juveniles locate and recognize their own kind. Does our little fledgling fly to the woods when the sun sets to meet up with other cowbirds? We don’t know. But, each day it is standing at the door when we rise at 6 a.m.

cowbird 3

Fly away soon, little cowbird.  Fly far, far, far, far away and never come back to lay an egg in our bluebird box!

Creatures great and small

Something has claimed my beach wormwood (Artemisia stelleriana) and I am happy about it. It’s the larva of the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). I see all stages of larva development on the plants but the full-grown caterpillar is a wonder to behold. The one below is almost an inch and a half in length and has rows of bristle-like spines, yellow and black stripes, and red, orange, and white spots on each body segment.

American Lady Caterpillar

The artemisia cultivar I grow is compact, growing about 8″ tall and planted along the edge of a border, a great accent with its downy soft silvery leaves. It looks a lot like dusty miller but unlike dusty miller, this plant is a hardy perennial in the Seacoast of New Hampshire. It’s a perfect little groundcover.

But this season it won’t look so perfect…. especially at the tallest tips, the blooms. The smaller larvae have spun silk around the bloom tips and smaller leaves. They use these safe hideaways as protection from predators during the day.  The larger caterpillars have nests lower on the plants. It’s a bit messy inside there, full of excrement or frass.

larva nest

The plants are pretty much covered with larvae, many at an earlier stage of development. I’ll have to wait to clean up the plants after the larvae have developed into pupae, then emerge as adult butterflies. The artemisia will survive. After the butterfly season ends, I’ll heavily trim the ragged plants and new growth with begin to appear.

larva

Soon we will be rewarded with the beautiful American Lady butterfly, a medium size butterfly of deep oranges and black spots, closely related to and often mistaken for the Painted Lady butterfly. It lives for two to three weeks during which time it mates and reproduces, starting the cycle once again…. and will eventually begin their fall migration, riding the winds southward just like the Monarchs.

American Lady Butterfly

photo by Julia Wilkins via Wikimedia Commons

 

I’m buggy about bugs

I’ve always been a little nuts about insects. The earliest memories of lying across our front walkway under a hot Virginia sun, sharing my lunch with a multitude of ants that lived between the bricks may have launched the budding citizen scientist in me. Observing ants of all colors, shapes, sizes and behaviors intrigued me and led me to a multitude of other insects.

That inquisitive little girl has aged into an inquisitive old girl who is still intrigued by insects. Here’s an early spring insect resting on my dwarf spiraea japonica. I’ve seen them a few times on cold spring days in New England as they are the first of this family to emerge from hibernation, often in freezing temperatures.

If this fella reminds you of a lightning bug (locals say ‘firefly’), you are right. It’s in the same family, yet it doesn’t look exactly like those we see on summer nights dancing and flickering their lights over lawns and the edges of woods. Although the middle sections are outlined with bright orange bands, the difference is in these wings, which are a dull black.

The Winter Firefly (Ellychnia corrusca) is related to our familiar lightning bugs. It glows as a larva, but lacks the light organs as an adult. And it is active during the daytime instead of night.

Maple syrup producers are familiar with this gentle pest. It dines on the fluid of maples and what better meal than a bucket of sap on the side of a maple tree…. where they often perish in the liquid.

Click HERE to visit a virtual habitat to learn about three groups of flashing lightning bugs in New England.

As The Crow Flies….

A couple of weeks ago on a chilly Virginia morning, my brother prepared to climb a ladder to install a security light near his trash receptacles. He’d been recently spooked by a couple of brazen raccoons on his nightly delivery of refuse and recycling and decided to throw a little light on the area.

The light in one hand, the drill in the other, he made his way to the top of the ladder concentrating on the impending task. Then without warning, a large bird attacked his back, flapping its wings, attempting to hang on, he believed with talons belonging to one of the several hawks that frequent the yard. He dropped the light and drill, fell to the ground and high-tailed it for his garden house….slamming the door. He peeked out of the windows up toward the trees. Nothing. Noticing movement on the driveway, his eyes widened at the sight of a large American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) marching slowly toward the garden house. My brother cracked opened the door to shoo him away. He didn’t budge. When the crow came too close, my bro closed the door. The crow flew up to the Virginia flag by the door and waited. Poor brother was trapped.

Garden HouseEventually he saw the crow fly toward the bamboo. He didn’t waste a minute. He jerked opened the door and sprinted to the back of the house and the protection of his basement. Whew!  A bit later, he nervously finished installing the security light while my brave sister-in-law stood watch by the ladder.

That same day, they had a home visit with their insurance representative. They opened the door to welcome her, but she was calling for help as she hurried toward the house with crow on her back, flapping and trying to bite her earrings. My brother grabbed a crab net. Another neighbor who heard the disturbance came to help but the bird was gone again.

Later, he glanced out of the window and saw two ladies hurrying down the street with umbrellas on this sunny day. He opened the door and asked if they’d been attacked by a crow. “Yes!,” they replied with gory details of the assault. He joined them as another neighbor shared that she was a witness. Yet another neighbor said that it had been pecking on her kitchen window. Someone else would not get out of their car because of the bird on the windshield. Two terrified children had locked themselves in the home and sent a message to my brother to please kill it.

At that moment, something clicked with my brother. He had a light bulb moment, a sudden realization of just what may be motivating the crow’s bizarre actions. He asked one of the neighbors for a slice of bread. She hurried it to him. Without further ado, the crow landed on his arm and my brother began to feed him. This was a young hand-raised crow that was released or escaped. Sadly, he was imprinted only to humans and could not forage for food.

BaldwinHe took the crow home until he could decide what to do. Crow roosted in the garden house that first night, then moved to the basement. They fed him well and for a few days, they and the entire neighborhood, including the children, fell in love with him. The neighbors voted to name him Baldwin after their neighborhood. Baldwin was a lucky crow to land in this neighborhood with a brother like mine who probably saved his life.

Personality, brains, playfulness, mischievous, handsome, lovable, and charming were some of the descriptions I heard. He bathed in their creek, he played fetch and tug of war. He had quite a vocabulary and got excited when he heard my brother talking on the phone. He tried to communicate, too, with murmurs, low caws, and clucks.

If they could have kept Baldwin, they would have. But it is illegal to keep a crow as a pet and they worried whenever he flew out of sight. So many dangers. Early last week, they made the long drive to Rockfish Wildlife Rescue in Schuyler VA where they had arranged for Baldwin to be acclimated to the wild. But somehow I think that Baldwin will forever live there as their Good Will Ambassador. Of course, he will have his adventures… flying through the forests and soaring over Walton’s Mountain but I’m pretty sure he will always be home for dinner.

Click on any photo to enlarge and to learn more about crows, watch PBS’s A Murder of Crows online.

Let me in! It’s cold outside….

With the season changing and evening temperatures dropping, there have been one or two visitors that have found their way indoors this fall. And we’ve seen a few wandering around on the outside of the house.  It’s the Tree Stink Bug, Brochymena spp., sometimes called Bark or Rough Stink Bug. They’re all looking for a warm place to spend the winter months. Most will hibernate in leaf litter or under the bark of a tree but they can feel the warmth of our man-made shelter and are drawn to it.

Tree Stink Bug

Tree or Rough Stink Bug

These true bugs have spent the summer gorging on flora with their piercing mouthpiece and now they are looking for a good hibernation spot. The one pictured above had hibernated in leaf litter and I uncovered it while putting my garden to bed for the winter.

The Tree Stink Bug is very similar in appearance to a more dangerous stink bug, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, that has swept into the USA after being  accidentally introduced in the late 90’s. Two characteristics that can tell these two stink bugs apart are the toothed or ridged shoulders and the lack of white banding on the antennae on the Tree Stink Bug.

Tree Stink Bug

The Tree Stink Bug has ridges along the shoulder.  The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug does not. Click the photo to see the ridges up close.

Most folks are aware of the invasion of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug. In some areas of the country, the insects have invaded homes by the hundreds. And they are the cause of great damage to fruits and crops. Pesticides have limited effect on the insect and there is no natural enemy in our country. The insect has been spotted in one neighborhood in Portsmouth.  UNH Cooperative Extension Specialist, Alan Eaton, and State Entomologist Piera Siegert ask to be notified if you spot the Brown Marmorated Stinkbug (BMSB) anywhere in New Hampshire. Check out the Wikipedia photo of the BMSB below. There is white banding on the antennae and there are no ridges on the shoulders.

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug need to be reported if seen in NH. (Wikipedia photo)

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug needs to be reported if seen in NH.

Summer Serenades

As we sat on the deck on warm evenings in late summer, we were serenaded loudly by a certain insect I could not quite identify. It was not the chirping field crickets so commonly heard in Virginia and it didn’t quite sound like the call of katydids.This buzzing insect song was loud and long. I searched in the direction of the call with a flashlight but it was well-camouflaged in dense foliage. It took me a few weeks to discover one of these well-hidden insects out in the open during the day.

I don’t think I’d ever seen this insect. It’s a tree cricket… the two-spotted tree cricket (Neoxabea bipunctata), one of many varieties of nocturnal tree crickets around the world. The first one I found, a female (below) with two identifying spots on her back, sat on a begonia leaf.

Two-Spotted Tree CricketThe male, the vocal cricket who serenaded us so sweetly, I only discovered recently. It is interesting how the tiny male can project such a loud song. He chews a hole in the underside of a leaf, raises his wings at a 90 degree angle over the hole, and chirps away. The hole and the wings amplify his song like a megaphone. How cool is that?

Here is a male that must have fallen from above with one of his wings askew. The circular spot between his wings is called the ‘honey spot.’ The female will dine on gland secretions during mating.

male Two-Spotted Tree CricketI believe these must be fairly common crickets around these parts. I do feel lucky to be a part of their habitat. To read more about these crickets and see how the male sings through a leaf, click HERE.

A Walk in the Spring Woods

A very short walk from our neighborhood are the Phillips Exeter Academy Trails, 140 acres of woods along the Exeter River. It’s a haven for dogs and their owners, cross country skiers, bicyclers, joggers, hikers, Exeter Academy sports teams, and for strollers like us.

trail map

Exeter River

Exeter River

Tranquility of nature abounds. Trails are wide and picturesque with hemlock and pines beckoning us along.

HemlocktrailMost of the trails were well maintained, either covered with thick leaf litter or wood chips over muddy spots. Several well-shaded areas were still covered in icy snow, packed well from cross country skiers earlier in the season.

snowIt was fun to see the newly emerging plant life along the way, some of the familiar flora we left behind in Virginia.

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens)

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum)

We saw evidence of fauna along the way too.

The work of beavers

The work of beavers

Mallards

Mallards

Numerous bogs were alive with the chorus of wood frogs… that were quickly silent on our approach.

Bog

It’s Spring. Bogs are everywhere!

Our only misadventure was not knowing exactly where we were two miles back in the woods. There are numerous side trails and Y’s along the way that were not on the map. Should we go this way or that way?

Is that a trail marker? We almost missed it.

Is that a trail marker? We almost missed it.

Can't miss this one but should we turn here?

Can’t miss this one but should we turn here?

Thank goodness we were saved by the Phillips Exeter Academy track team who pointed us the way out.

Track Team

Track Team

We have since downloaded the app Map My Walk, an amazing GPS pedometer that tracks our route, pace, calories, distance, and time. We’ll never be lost again!

A Fine Balance

October can be an exciting month for birdwatching. We’ve watched wave after wave of migrating songbirds and shore/water birds pass through this area of southern New Hampshire. Many birdwatchers travel to migratory hot spots to watch the action but we believe we have a good seat right here on the 50-yard line to watch all the birding action we desire.

We’ve followed ducks, geese, vireos, sparrows, warblers, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, hawks and more, stop to rest and dine for a few days before taking off again. One new visitor I’ve especially enjoyed watching this week is the Northern Flicker, the Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus), a larger bird related to the woodpeckers and sapsuckers. Not an uncommon bird, but it’s fun to watch. It stands out on the horizon as it swoops and dips in flight, its large white rump visible only in the air. I admired his distinctive spotted plumage as it fed on ants and other insects on the ground beneath the white pines .

October is also great time to observe migrating hawks that land in the pines, perch on tree limbs, or circle the salt marsh looking for food. As in Virginia, a hawk we often see is the the Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii.) that scans the horizon from its favorite perch in nearby trees. What is the Cooper’s Hawk looking for? Birds. And what did the last Cooper’s Hawk find? Yep, that’s right. Our Northern Flicker nourished the hunter so it could continue its journey south.

It’s always a bit unsettling for me when I discover a fluff of a bird that was. But understanding nature in its fullest is understanding the delicate cycle and balance of the natural world.

Windy weather in New Hampshire yesterday ushers in a cold front today, perfect weather for spurring on bird migration. We’ll have our binoculars (and warm coats) ready.

New Hampshire Vacay

Standing in line for my New Hampshire driver’s license, I spotted a poster on the wall at DMV that touted “New Hampshire is 84% forested and the rest is underwater.”  Hmmmm… really? I verified the fact with an online forestry site that it is indeed 84% forested and the underwater part is obvious when looking at a Google Map of the state. Rivers, lakes, ponds, bays dot the landscape and the ocean provides a superabundance of water.

So I decided then and there to search the perfect getaway for my children, spouses, grandchildren in this land of trees and water. The words I searched  for online were peaceful setting, pristine water, native plants, hiking trails, private, rustic cabins, firepit… all within driving distance to Portsmouth for a night out or day at the ocean. And I found the perfect cabins nestled in the woods on Wild Goose Pond near Pittsfield NH.

Rustic it was. And isolated. A pristine lake. Nice and quiet. Peaceful. With a variety of boats… paddles or sails provided. At night we snuggled under down comforters and during the day we paddled, sailed, hiked, ran, swam then gathered for a plein-air dinner cooked over an open fire.

Nature in its purest surrounded us.

… spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

Adventures that delighted children (and me!) included fairy houses using old bark, twigs, acorns, rocks, moss, leaves and other natural materials.

… puzzles

… lunch from bushes,

… running, walking,

… marshmallows,

… swimming, fishing,

… and finally, hiking Mt. Major with the ultimate in views!

I think I like it here in New Hampshire!

A Walk In The Winter Woods

Running Cedar

Stepping off our sandy lane onto a thick cushion of fallen leaves, we don’t have to walk far to find an oasis of green beneath the young oaks, maples, pines and poplars.  In the frigid temperatures and wet weather of January, tiny evergreen plants blanket this zone 7b woodland floor.  These are clubmosses, plants whose ancestors existed almost 400 million years ago before flowering plants populated the earth.  Along with massive tree ferns, the club mosses grew well over 100’ tall with trunk diameters of 5’.  These ancient forests of giants lived in swamps during the age of coal, the Carboniferous era and their decay led to the coal fields of today.

click each photo to enlarge

The first club moss that we encounter in our woods, with its flat branches and the cedar-like appearance, is Running Cedar (Lycopodium digitatum).  At this time of year, the tiny candles or clubs are full of spores and just brushing the plants will generate miniature yellow clouds.  The plants also expand by rhizomes along the ground, thus the name Running Cedar.  In this way, they can cover extensive areas of the forest floor if conditions are ideal. Our woods must provide what they need for the ground is covered with this variety.

Princess Pine

Nearby, we recognize our other clubmoss that looks remarkably like a tiny pine tree (Lycopodium obscurum) or what I call Princess Pine.  It grows about 6 – 8 inches off the ground in our woods but can grow larger. The Princess Pine reproduces by a rhizome as well so I suppose it could be called Running Pine.

The common name, clubmoss, describes the appendage at the tip of the plant, which produces spores for reproduction.  The spores have a high oil content and have been used to coat pills and is still used in powders to sooth the skin. Native Americans used the spores for various medicinal purposes and early Americans and Europeans used them for a wide range of healing.  Interesting, the plant is poisonous but not the spores.  The spores are highly flammable and they were used in early photography to provide the needed flash.

A request was once made for some of our Princess Pine to be used as a church decoration.  I gave my consent.  But in learning more about the plant and how difficult it is to transplant or cultivate, I now protect our miniature evergreen forest, a mere shadow of its ancient relatives.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Fireworks Every Day in the Garden

Every two and a half weeks I stand in line at Costco along with other bulk shoppers, their carts full of king-size supplies of food and my cart containing only two items….two king-size bags of sugar, 50 lbs. of sugar to be exact, just enough to fill 7 hummingbird feeders with nectar for about 18 days.  There is a formula to estimate how many hummers reside in an area by the amount of nectar they consume but we aren’t interested in knowing.  We only know we have oodles of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds that are drawn here year after year by an abundance of food, water, and nesting sites. Suburban and rural gardens are ideal hummingbird habitats with trees, shrubs, open areas of grass or meadows, water and flowers.  With the addition of the right flowers, most gardens will attract these miniature thespians to entertain you in the garden.

leucistic Ruby-Throated Hummingbird in Ware Neck VAThese “glittering garments of the rainbow,” as John James Audubon called them, are the most colorful and prolific bloomers in our gardens from early spring until late fall. We recognize the same individuals as they arrive each spring, not only by their familiarity with us, but by unusual markings on some of them.  Several of our hummers are leucistic, a condition of reduced pigmentation in the feathers.  As new generations are born each spring to these birds, it is interesting to see the white leucistic variations on the heads of the offspring.

We are entertained by the raging territorial battles to protect their nectar source. They battle each other, bees, birds, the dogs and people.  As the ‘king’ of one feeder chases an intruder, several others slip in to have a sip from his nectar cache. These jewel-colored birds with their explosive and ferocious territorial dances at speeds of up to 60 mph provide us with 4th of July fireworks every day of the summer.

Did you know?

  • The Ruby-Throated is the only hummer to breed east of the Mississippi yet during migration you can see other varieties passing through.
  • Hummingbirds are great pollinators, often better than bees because they feed continuously from dawn to dusk.
  • Hummingbirds do eat insects: gnats, mosquitoes, spiders, aphids, etc.  In the early spring they will look for insects trapped in sap from woodpecker holes.
  • Females do all the nest building, often attaching it with spider silk and pine resin, and camouflaging it with lichens and fungus.  The nest is walnut-sized and the 2 eggs are pea-sized.  The male continues to court other females after mating.
  • Predators include spiders, preying mantis, dragonflies and other birds. I have witnessed a bullfrog in our pond jump a foot straight up to within 1/4-inch of a hummer at a pickerel weed bloom. We have rescued them from spider webs and nursed them from collisions with each other.
  • At night, due to their small size and lack of insulation, hummers enter a state of torpor, a hibernation-like condition where the breathing and heart rate slow dramatically.

Nectar recipe:  1 part white granulated sugar to 4 parts water.  According to Bill Williams of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology, it is not necessary to boil the solution, just dissolve the sugar. Male Ruby-Throated HummingbirdThe nectar solution can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks. Do not use the commercial red dye solution.  Keep the feeder very clean to avoid black mold that can be harmful to the birds.

Bill Williams also states that the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has recently been documented wintering over in two Tidewater locations.  Is this a new trend? It very well could be he says.

Plants to attract:  hibiscus, flowering quince, currants, weigela, azalea, mimosa, and buddleia.   Flowers to attract: morning glory, columbine, trumpet vine, fuschia, bee balm, bleeding heart, honeysuckle, virginia creeper, and salvia.  Remember, they are attracted to the color red.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Are You A Good Host?

If you are a good host and your invited dinner guest is the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly, there is a set menu you should provide.  Your guests, male and female, will arrive dressed in sleek formal black with tails.  Adorning the outfit of the female are bright yellow markings and a row of iridescent blue spots between rows of yellow spots at the base.  The male will have a yellow band near the edge of the wings.  Completing the look is a dashing red spot on each wing that forms a dot when the wings touch.

Black swallowtail caterpillarsWe have all have seen the fetching Eastern Black Swallowtail merrily dancing in our gardens amongst the nectar plants like phlox, thistle, butterfly bush and purple verbena but to encourage these lovelies, your party should include host plants as well.

Host plants in the carrot family include parsley and dill, fennel, rue, carrots and Queen Anne’s Lace.  My butterfly rule of thumb is one plant for me and two for my guests. Dill and parsley grow in sunny beds around my day lilies, my roses and peonies, forming a green and airy foundation for any plant.  Butterfly eggs are laid and eggs hatch.  In no time you will see the young caterpillars in vibrant stripes of black, chartreuse, cream and yellow.  Up one stem of parsley and down another they go.  Eat is the name of the game and molt is what they do to fatten up. Parsley disappears and dill disappears but, not to worry, the damage is fully cosmetic. The plants recover.  Soon the plump youngsters are ready to pupate, form a chrysalis, and within 1-2 weeks, an adult emerges fully dressed for the next party.

Providing a habitat for the Black Swallowtail is fun, easy, educational and good for the garden.  It’s time to stop squishing those parsley caterpillars and share the abundance of nature.  Be a good host to the Black Swallowtail butterfly.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

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