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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Thursday, June 22, 2017


Those of you familiar with the Eighties version of Little Shop of Horrors will remember Audrey, the carnivorous alien plant with a taste for human blood. Checking out the pollinator garden this afternoon, I discovered that one of our echinacea is sporting a bud with something of a resemblance to the fictional plant.

My plant
Audrey from the 1982 film

Well, maybe not that much of a resemblance, but this emerging flower is not your typical coneflower. This is the standard young echinacea blossom.

Given the internet's penchant for paranoia, a search for "daisies with double centers" brings up speculation about radiation from Fukushima, and I have no doubt that radiation can indeed cause mutation in plants. The truth, however, is that plants in the composite family are prone to anomalies in seed and bloom development. I took this photo of a caterpillar-like rudbeckia in 2011, before any radiation would have reached Ohio, if indeed it ever got here.

The phenomenon is common enough that it even has a name: conjoined daisies, though I have not been able to get much information on its cause(s). One thing to worry about is the disease aster yellows, which causes malformed plants and can hit anything in the composite family. For now, the plant with the odd bud looks healthy,

but I will need to watch it for signs of disease.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to seeing what Audrey looks like when she grows up.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

A new beauty

Returning from an early-evening walk by way of the Marietta Arboretum, I had to swung by the bottlebrush buckeye, one of my favorite shrubs, especially in full bloom. The ridiculously extravagant bloom spikes were of course working with a variety of bees, but my eye was drawn to something I had never seen before, a small black butterfly with eight bright white spots, flitting from spike to spike. My first thought was that it might be a Southern visitor like the zebra longwing spotted on my front-yard monarda a few years ago. Research was necessary.

It turns out that this little jewel is a day-flying moth, the eight-spotted forester, supposedly fairly common throughout most of its range, which includes a fair chunk of the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. (You can learn more about Alypia octomaculata here.) This photo comes from the unfortunately-no-longer active blog, Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio. Fortunately, its archive houses lots of good information and photographs.

This beautiful little moth has only one flight a year, and evidently it is peaking about now, at least in Ohio. Its caterpillars favor grape leaves as food, so if you are lucky (?) enough to live anywhere near some wild grape vines, you are in the forester's favored habitat. Anyone with a vineyard may not be so fond of these little moths.

I am going to hope to see more of them before their season ends.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Not quite an old haunt

This week finds me at the Advanced Placement test scoring in Tampa, staying at quite a nice hotel on the downtown Riverwalk. I lived mostly in Tampa from 1975-83, as a student, grad student, and bookstore management trainee (with an unfortunate six-week interlude attempting to sell hats and handbags at Montgomery Ward--not a good fit for my skills or interests). As a fortunately-not-quite-starving student and then a very junior employee, I lived in neighborhoods charitably described as "modest." Downtown Tampa these days is not modest. A new condo development near here sells two-bedroom units for a million dollars, not in our budget even now that we are not junior employees (just retirees on a fixed income). But the views from some of these apartments might have an appeal, even though I am not a big-city person.

From my perspective, the parks and gardens here on the Riverwalk are a bust--more concrete than plants, but lots of shady places to sit, watch the porpoises in the Hillsborough River, and enjoy the people-watching. This 3.5-mile motor-free path in the heart of downtown is a popular place with cyclists, walkers, runners, and dog walkers of all ages. The river itself is heavily traveled and has a certain romance (about which more in a later post), and its bridges are beautiful, particularly at night.

The tower on this one (a very workaday bridge which I crossed on my way to the grocery store, a most unromantic destination) reminds me of a medieval guard tower.

Tampa today is not the seedy, crime-ridden locale of my long-ago youth but rather an artsy, growing city attracting new residents and businesses all the time. But my favorite moment from this visit (thus far):

a snowy egret fishing under a bridge, using the white supports as camouflage.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Another guilty pleasure

Anyone who knows me knows that I try to avoid invasive plants whenever possible. Battling the English ivy, vinca, rose of sharon, and burning bush seedlings in our current inherited garden is an object lesson in why one might not wish to grow Plants That Escape. However, a confession: I truly love Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima) and grow it both in pots and in the ground.

Any grass that is this lush, this early in the summer, in the generally-inhospitable space between two sidewalks, a street, and a driveway, sets my plant-lover's heart to fluttering. The fact that it requires no supplemental watering or pruning is a real plus for the lazy gardener.

And who could not love that sweet wispiness behind the gaudy assertiveness of verbena and geranium?

Feather grass, when happy, can even form a low hedge--and it plays well with others, like coreopsis,

butterfly weed, and dwarf goldenrod.

What's not to love?

A cautionary note is, unfortunately, required: Nassella's native range in the US is confined to parts of Texas and New Mexico, and it has become a serious invasive in portions of California and the Southwest, where conservation organizations are asking gardeners not to plant it. It is listed as not hardy in zone 6, but it has perennialized for me in two gardens; our warmer winters may eventually allow it to naturalize. Having grown the plant for the last eight years, I have yet to see volunteers but know that I will have to watch to make sure it doesn't escape and threaten any of our area's lovely but later-flourishing grasses.

For now, I make time most days to watch the sun light up this favorite grass.