This next one is a cultivar of the native woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca 'Improved Rugen'). It's a brand-new plant that was already blooming when I received it in the mail. I also have an older woodland strawberry that is not a cultivar. The non-cultivar is very healthy-looking but is not blooming at all. It's also shorter and wider than the cultivar, and has smaller leaves than the cultivar. Woodland strawberry is native to most of the United States and Canada, excluding the Deep South and far northern Canada.
Below, I was trying to capture the juxtaposition of two aster-family plants at the peak of their bloom seasons: rosilla (Helenium puberulum) in the foreground, with its yellow flowers that have been going strong all summer and show no sign of slowing down, and California aster (Symphyotrichum chilense) in the background, with lavender-colored flowers that bloom only in the fall. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get them both in focus at once. There are also some old brown husks of another aster-family plant visible: hairy gumplant (Grindelia hirsutula), which does have a few new yellow flowers near its base right now, but is definitely long past its spring-blooming peak.
Here's a closeup of the California aster, which will never look this good in any other month of the year. Actually, this is a different California aster than the one above. They are both the self-sown babies of my original California aster plant that I bought in August 2009. California aster is also called Pacific aster, because it is native from California north to British Columbia.
My original California aster plant is also still alive and in full bloom. You can see just a corner of it filling up the background in this picture of my new ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor). The ocean spray seems very satisfied with the new home I've provided for it. It's only been in the ground for a few weeks, but it's already putting out hundreds of tiny new lime-green leaves.
California poppies (Eschscholzia californica) were blooming until the end of September, when I took the picture below. This particular plant shriveled up and died last week, but there are some very large California poppy seedlings in the drainage ditch that may bloom soon, provided that the ditch doesn't fill up with rain and drown them first. California poppies are native to a remarkable portion of the United States and Canada, as shown on the map here.
My Western redbud tree (Cercis occidentalis) has opened a few of its first-ever flowers, but it's still mostly just budding.
Tons of my plants are budding right now, including two others that have never bloomed for me before: Mojave buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) and California fuchsia (Epilobium canum 'Calistoga' hybrid). Below is the California fuchsia.
My sacred datura (Datura wrightii) bloomed in August 2009, shortly after I purchased it, but showed no sign of blooming in July, August, or even September of 2010. I had just about given up on it ever blooming again, when it announced - rather loudly, by producing two three-inch-long buds simultaneously - that it most definitely does intend to bloom in October. I think the this plant enjoys deliberately confounding all expectations. This plant is native to most of the United States - from California and Washington east to Florida and Maine.
I have three foothill beardtongue plants (all Penstemon heterophyllus'Blue Springs'), which bloom reliably in spring and less reliably until midsummer. One of them - the one that's been receiving the most water - is also budding out now, in October. The other two are not. Foothill beardtongues can tolerate a surprising amount of water in the summer; it's winter water that seems to really hurt them. The more waterlogged they get in the winter, the more susceptible they are to frost damage. The leaves of the two I have in the back yard turn almost entirely black every winter as a result, even though the species is perfectly capable of tolerating considerably lower temperatures when it has better drainage. (I'm in USDA zone 9A; foothill beardtongue survives in USDA zone 6, where winters are 30 °F colder than my winters are.)
My non-native scarlet mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) hasn't stopped blooming since I got it last spring. My blue elderberry bloomed last spring and is budding again now. Two of my new plants that were blooming when I brought them home from this fall's native plant sales have since stopped blooming: the blue witch Solanum umbelliferum) dropped all its flowers within a week of when I planted it, and the California goldenrod (Solidago californica) has subtly faded from flowers to seedheads. My new figwort (Scrophularia californica) had only buds when I bought it and has only buds now, although in the intervening time, it did open two tiny, short-lived flowers. And the flower stalks of my alkali sacaton grass (Sporobolus airoides), which have decorated it so delightfully all summer, are increasingly falling off the plant now - though not before I found the time to collect some seeds and plant them in pots. Here is my attempt to capture the way that, when its flower stalks are caught by the narrow beams of sunlight cast between the fence slats by the setting sun, this grass reminds me of fireworks. (This grass is native from California north to British Columbia and east to Missouri and Arkansas, plus scattered appearances in New York and South Carolina.)
That's it for this month's flower inventory. But let's do a quick wildlife inventory, since the butterfly population here seems to peak in the fall. I hardly saw a single butterfly all summer, but now the California asters almost always have one or two on them. Here's an Acmon blue butterfly (Plebejus acmon). The males are blue on the upper side of their wings where this one is black, so this one is a female.
Both sexes have pale undersides to their wings.
Below is a gray hairstreak butterfly (Strymon melinus). It's in the same family as the Acmon blue (the gossamer-wing family) and bears some resemblance to it.
This next one is a common checkered-skipper butterfly (Pyrgus communis). It's in the skipper family.
Below is a fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus), which is also in the skipper family. This is the butterfly species that I remember seeing most often when I was a little kid growing up in the suburbs of Sacramento.
This is the same butterfly. As a general rule, one way to tell butterflies from moths is that butterflies tend to perch with their wings held vertically, while moths perch with their wings held horizontally. However, butterflies in the skipper family bear a strong resemblance to moths, which is why I caught the common checkered-skipper with its wings out flat. The fiery skipper can move the upper and lower portions of its wings independently, holding two of its wings vertically and the other two horizontally, as it is doing below.
I also have plenty of ladybugs in my garden, and ladybug mating season seems to be in full swing right now. I counted something like ten ladybugs at once on my single clump of alkali sacaton grass one recent evening, and many of those were in pairs like these. These two are on the narrowleaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis). You can see rows of tiny yellow aphids among the foliage below them, which are of course what attracts them to the plants.
A rather less pleasant form of wildlife that is currently thriving in my garden is the common garden snail. These snails are non-native and have very few predators here to keep their populations in check. They were apparently introduced to California intentionally as a source of food. But not enough people here eat them, so they just breed and torment gardeners. I'm pretty sure the once in my yard have been having babies recently, because the yard is suddenly completely covered with snails, many of which are only a millimeter or two across, as shown here. Although snails are supposed to be visible mostly at night, I can go outside at high noon and pick fifteen snails each off the elderberry and the buttonbush (both of which are constantly as festooned with snails as if they were Christmas trees festooned with colored glass balls) and another thirty or more snails off the back fence. Considering the size of the population, I suppose it's rather amazing that they're not doing more visible damage to the plants. Still, they're an alien pest species serving no useful purpose in the ecosystem. I'm going to start being more diligent about squishing them regularly.
I also have non-native indoor wildlife, but Stardust does not pose any threat to the ecosystem. Some cats do, but she doesn't, because (a) she never goes outside, (b) she's terrified of outside and wants nothing to do with it, and (c) she has worse hunting skills than the average plush bunny rabbit. We've seen her attempting to hunt indoor insects often enough to know this for a fact.
She likes to sit in her cat carrier for much of the day. She's capable of scrunching herself way at the back so the carrier appears to be empty, but other times she prefers to fluff herself up gigantically and make it look like she fills up every square inch of space.
In closing, here are two pictures that Susan took of me scattering seeds in the front yard with the next-door neighbors' daughter. She's just started kindergarten, and her younger brother is three years old. Both of them are constantly begging to help me in the garden, and scattering seeds was one thing I figured a kindergartener could handle. In this picture, I'm pouring seeds into her hands from the glass jar in which I collected the seeds last spring.
And here I'm beginning to scatter the seeds, while she smiles for the camera.