What’s all the frass about?

I have always planted an abundance of parsley and dill in the spring… one clump for us and 3 or 4 for the butterflies. Not many butterflies have been fluttering through this neighborhood so I was overjoyed three weeks ago when I saw some frass or caterpillar poo beneath a big pot of parsley, the parsley we used for the kitchen! Immediately, I took the pot off the deck and placed it in a secure place in the garden.

I knew exactly what caterpillar made this frass… the Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) that uses plants in the carrot family as hosts. I spotted several tiny caterpillars on the parsley and watched them develop through several instars for about two weeks.caterpillar poo

Dainty but constant eaters, they almost cleaned out the potted flat parsley and moved on to curly parsley and dill in the garden.

They were plump and beautiful and ready to pupate when we left for a week’s vacation.

We returned home yesterday and I checked the parsley. All the caterpillars were gone, hopefully tucked securely in their chrysalis quite a distance from the host plant. How exciting to play a part in raising these beautiful butterflies!

I keep checking for an egg, but unfortunately no monarch butterfly has visited their host plant in our garden, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). At Rolling Green Nursery where I work, I have seen a few monarchs feeding on butterfly weed we have for sale. Let’s hope the female below left an egg on the plant. Just seeing the insect is encouraging for our diminishing population of monarchs.

monarch butterfly at Rolling Green Nursery, NH

 

Blowing in the Wind

Doesn’t it bring good luck to take a handful of milkweed seeds and toss them high on autumn breezes? At least that’s what I believed growing up. Make a wish and scatter the fluff to the wind.

The common milkweed seeds (Asclepius syriaca) are bursting forth on the walks we take. And judging from clumps of seeds and spiny pods on the trail, children are still practicing this custom of scattering seeds the best they can.

One of the biggest winners in the scattering of these seeds is the monarch butterfly who depends on the plant to complete its life cycle. It’s a prolific native that is too robust for the flower garden but useful when grown in the right spot. The plant is plentiful as we walk along our regular sunny pathway but I always take a handful of seeds and make some wishes further along on the trail.

common milkweed

common milkweedcommon milkweed

Hail to the Queen!

On our morning walks, I love seeing rich pink flowers of ‘Queen of the Meadow,’ Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (E. maculatum). It is just coming into bloom along the paths we regularly take each morning. In the midst of Queen Anne’s Lace and Grass-leaved Goldenrod, the rich pink of the blooms and the deep purple of the stem clearly mark the native Joe-Pye as royalty. Among its subjects who present themselves to polish off some royal nectar are butterflies, including the swallowtail butterflies, Monarch butterflies, the skippers, plus all sort of bees, wasps and perhaps a hummingbird or two.

Spotted Joe PyeSpotted Joe-Pye-weed, a member of the aster family, has ‘the widest geographical distribution and greatest morphological variability’ of all Joe-Pye weeds, according to the New England Wild Flower Society. A different variety grew with abandon in my mother’s Virginia garden but none of Joe-Pye grows in mine as it has a tendency to invade. I prefer to pay homage in meadows along my walk.

The ‘Queen of the Meadow’ will continue to delight into fall. The leaves will fade from green to a nice lemony yellow and the stems remain a spotted purple shade. The blooms will fade to a fluffy brown seed head attracting goldfinches and other birds to dine.

Actually, no one really knows for absolute certainty how the plant was named Joe-Pye but if you’re curious, click here to read one of the most interesting studies of who Joe Pye might be.

Photos of 2012

Fellow blogger Les over at A Tidewater Gardener posted 10 of his favorite photos from the year to close out 2012. Les is a talented photographer/blogger who can capture the beauty of water and sunsets like no other. I decided to follow suit and throw some 2012 photos on this blog. They may not be my fav photos but my fav memories of the year.

A week spent photographing on Star Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of NH gave me a unique opportunity to play with my camera from sunrise to sunset.

Star IslandStar IslandStar IslandStar IslandEveryone on the island gravitated to the West at sunset and we were usually richly rewarded.

gazebo on Star IslandThe seagulls of Star Island seemed to ham it up for anyone with a camera. They were always ready for an encore, too.

Star IslandYoung gull on Star IslandBack home in Durham, our neighborhood swan entertained us with his antics. He seemed to be aware of his good looks. Was he looking for food or checking out his reflection?

Swan-Mill Pond Rd.We just loved the hazy, lazy days of summer in New Hampshire. Grandchildren put away their tech toys and joined us for old fashioned entertainment and the joys of nature. No TV… it was water and hikes during the day and puzzles that kept their focus in the evenings.

MimiMister gardener and I discovered the benefits of walking again on the multitude of NH trails, something that he and our dog have continued to do throughout fall and winter, despite rain, snow, sleet. Not I. It’s cold outside!

mister gardner and MattieWe were regularly offered the loveliest of Nature’s gifts if we just took the time to look.

monarch butterfly

Fall in New HampshireWe’ve been renting in New Hampshire for one year, exploring, sampling, tasting, touching and photographing. We now know the state well and where we’d like to put down some new roots. More to come…..

Magnificent Monarchs

Male Monarch resting. Originally I thought this was a female but was corrected by Linda of socialbtrflies.com.  The black dots on the hind wings are ‘scent pouches,’ identifying him as a male.

Migration is underway. We’re beginning to see more of the monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) magically drifting southward on their August journey to Mexico.  One of the few insects able to make the trans-Atlantic crossing, the East Coast monarchs winter in Mexico, then make the amazing return journey back each spring.

Interestingly, monarchs only live a few short weeks and those born earlier in the summer do not make the southern journey. Those born at this time of the year, usually the 3rd or 4th generation of monarchs, are the ones to make that southern migration and survive the winter. It is amazing how instinct kicks in as a different butterfly makes the arduous journey each year, traveling up to 30 miles a day.

Illegal logging in Mexico has reduced the winter habitat for the insect however the Mexican government has begun to crack down on this problem. What can you do to help the monarch butterfly? Plant milkweed, folks. It’s the only plant the caterpillar can eat. Due to toxins absorbed from the milkweed plant as a caterpillar, the monarch does not have many predators. The bright colors the butterfly wears is an advertisement that says, “I’m poison.”  The viceroy butterfly has evolved to mimic the color and pattern of the monarch as a defense although it is non-toxic.

If you spot a monarch butterfly fluttering by, there are websites that would like to keep track of your sightings.  I report my sightings to Monarch Butterfly Journey North, a great website that provides migration updates with maps and provides excellent information on the life of  this special insect.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester