Entries in native plants (9)

Monday
Jan272014

Planting a Wildlife Habitat

After wandering around my garden, a visitor once turned to me and exclaimed, "The birds are so happy!"

That made me very happy, too. I get great joy watching the many birds, squirrels, rabbits, and even occasional foxes who visit my garden. I love lizards, butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, and bees. I feel good that so many creatures choose to live in my garden. A healthy garden is one that is full of life.A few of the creatures that call my garden home, clockwise from top left: A green Anole lizard; Bumblebee, Chipmunk (Ground squirrel); Barred owl.

If we create an environment that is good for wildlife, often that garden will be a place that is pleasing to us as well. There are a number of things a gardener can do to make a habitat that is friendly to wildlife. 

If you are serious about attracting wildlife to your garden, be sure to use only organic products, rather than artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides that can harm wildlife. I cringe at those products that have a nuke-em approach, promising to get rid of every bug. Many insects are good guys who eat other bugs that damage our gardens, and insects are an important food source for many birds and other forms of wildlife.This Eastern Bluebird is enjoying a tasty meal.

Also, plant a variety of both evergreen and deciduous plants in your garden. This is the best way to insure that your garden will become a wildlife habitat.A diversity of plantings will provide shelter throughout the year, as well as places for birds to nest and raise their young. Cardinals have nested in this forsythia bush every year since we moved here in 1985.Trees and shrubs that produce berries - for example: hollies, dogwood, viburnum, hawthorn, and serviceberries - as well as flowering plants that are allowed to go to seed, will provide sustenance.A robin eats dogwood berries in winter.Clockwise from top left are some of the berry-producing plants in my own garden: Burford holly; Mapleleaf viburnum; Weeping yaupon holly; Serviceberry treeRose hips and Coneflower seeds are only a couple of the many types of seed heads that birds and other wildlife consume through the winter.

Many of us enjoy watching the aerial acrobatics of hummingbirds. Yes, hummingbirds do perch!If you want to attract these amazing creatures, plant brightly colored, nectar-rich flowers that have funnel-shaped blooms as well as those that have distinct “landing zones”. Trumpet creeper, Campsis radicans; Trumpet honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens; Bee Balm, Monarda didyma; Indian Pink, Spigelia marilandica; and Red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, are some of our native plants that attract hummingbirds. Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus; Pineapple sage, Salvia elegans; Shrub verbena, Lantana camera; Giant blue sage, Salvia guaranitca; and Butterfly bush, Buddleja davidii are a few of the non-natives that attract hummingbirds. Spearleaf swampmallow, Pavonia hastata, which is in the hibiscus family, is a favorite in my own garden. Often hummingbirds will ignore the nearby hummingbird feeder and fight over this!In my own garden, hummingbirds prefer Trumpet honeysuckle and Pavonia hastata.

Butterflies are also welcome inhabitants of our gardens. They are attracted to colorful perennials and annuals such as Zinnia: Pentas:Cosmos:Below, clockwise from top left, are more butterfly magnets: Coneflower, Echinacea; Blue mist shrub, Caryopteris; Butterfly weed, Asclepsias; and of course, Butterfly bush, Buddleja.

Butterflies are also drawn to asters, salvia, and to many flowering shrubs, such as azaleas.

Remember that a water source is important to wildlife, even through the winter. I dream of a pond or a stream, but for now I maintain a couple of birdbaths.I managed to get a rear view of this mockingbird enjoying a birdbath.Many natural wildlife habitats are perishing as modern society expands. We gardeners should do more than just make our yards pretty for ourselves. We can help preserve the local ecology by providing safe and healthy environments for garden creatures. Ultimately, we are benefitting our own lives, as well.

"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care." Matthew 10:29

Thursday
Jan262012

Crane-fly Orchid in the Woodlands

For years I have noticed some distinctive corrugated leaves which push up in the woodlands in the fall and persist through the winter and into spring, then vanishing by summer. The leaves are blue-green on top and a rich wine color underneath:These lovely Crane-fly Orchid leaves are growing in the Woodland Garden.It's a wild plant, but definitely not weedy. I had no idea what it was; even after searching through garden books I could not find anything like it.

Then yesterday while browsing the internet (Do you remember the world before the internet?) I came across a photo of my wildflower, and I finally had an identification: Tiliparia discolor, also known as Crippled Crane-fly or Crane-fly orchid. 

I have orchids growing in my woodlands!

You may have some type of native orchid growing near you, too. The orchid family is huge, with almost thirty-thousand naturally occurring species of orchids growing worldwide. There are also over a hundred thousand man-made orchid species! The family is extremely diverse. Orchids may be tiny wildflowers, or they may be showy prize-winners grown in hot houses, but they all have a couple of things in common. First, they all have three sepals that form the calyx of the flower. The calyx is the protective layer around the flower in bud. When one looks at a flower bud, one is looking at the calyx. All orchids also have three flower petals. One of the petals is dramatically different from the other two and is called the lip. The lip is the most attractive part of the plant. It draws in pollinators, pointing the way to the central reproductive organ, called the column, which contains both male and female parts.

The Crane-fly orchid is a native plant to the eastern half of the United States, growing from Texas to New York and Massachusetts, hardiness zones 4-10. It grows in the woodland setting and requires mychorrhizal fungus to grow along its roots to survive. The symbiotic relationship is interesting. The fungus gains carbohydrates from the orchid's roots, while the orchid draws water and mineral nutrients from the fungi. This is especially helpful in poor, shallow soils of dry woodlands. In some areas it is a rare or endangered species. Each Crane-fly orchid has a single leaf, which can be either smooth or corrugated, and they tend to grow in clumps. After the leaf dies back in summer, the orchid sends up a single purple stem about one to two feet tall. Each stem has a couple dozen greenish-purple, translucent flowers.This is a public domain photo of a Crane-fly orchid. I hope to make photos of my own this summer!The thin stems and small flowers are easy to miss in the woodland setting, but I think I have seen these! I did not know what I was looking at and did not associate them with the pretty leaves that had disappeared in early summer. Night flying moths don't overlook these flowers, however. They are drawn to the pale flowers and the sweet nectar and are the primary pollinators of this native plant.

Now I am looking forward to the hot, muggy days of late summer, when I will be outside, searching for Crane-fly orchid flowers.