Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin

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Garden Bloggers' Wildlife Day, October Edition

It's time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day again, but I still don't have much blooming. That's not to say that the garden is looking bad; the clustered field sedge and turkey-tangle fogfruit have certainly filled in quite a bit since last year. Of course, three of the shrubs in that picture from October 2010 are dead now (the blue elderberry, the coffeeberry, and the ocean spray), but on the whole, I think this October looks better than last October did.

Many of the plants in the picture from last October were just barely in the ground, purchased in the previous week or two at the annual fall sales of the California Native Plant Society Sacramento Valley Chapter and Redbud Chapter. This year's October garden has not had the benefit of those sales, because I didn't go to either one of them. Susan and I have been shopping for a house, and it seemed a little silly to be buying new plants while simultaneously shopping for a new home elsewhere. Besides that, when I took my car in for an oil change the day before the Redbud Chapter sale, the people changing the oil said I had a completely flat tire. They refilled the tire but warned me that it probably had a hole in it. All the tire stores had already closed for the evening, and I wasn't comfortable driving the car an hour away for the plant sale until the tire was checked. Susan took my car to a tire store the next day, and the tire store people couldn't find anything wrong with the tire at all - but by then I had already missed the plant sale.

Anyway, the garden is doing all right with its current plants. The hayfield tarweed (Hemizonia congesta) has been docilely covering the ground with charming little white flowers ever since I chopped off its monstrous six-foot-tall flower spike that had not been charming at all. Here it is with the California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) next to the front sidewalk.

The new bush mallows (Malacothamnus fremontii) have settled in nicely and started to bloom.

And the Hooker's evening-primrose (Oenothera elata ssp. hookeri) has produced a completely unexpected show of fall color. These flower spikes are right next to the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and now bear a strong resemblance to the cardinal flower's spikes, so at first I mistook them for the cardinal flower. But no - these are spikes of the Hooker's evening-primrose, which produces yellow flowers, not red. The buds surrounding the flowers, however, and also the leaves on the flower spikes, have suddenly turned stop-sign red for the fall.

Only the one Hooker's evening-primrose plant that is growing next to the cardinal flower is producing the unexpected show of red. The other Hooker's evening-primroses remain plain green with touches of brown. I spotted this ladybug on one of those.

In the front yard, a male praying mantis has lately taken up seemingly permanent residence in the fading remains of the common tarweed (Madia elegans).

In the back yard, I snapped a few pictures of a Mylitta crescent butterfly (Phyciodes mylitta) on the turkey-tangle fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). This species of butterfly breeds on thistles, so it should be pretty unhappy with my garden. There were weedy thistles in the yard before I started gardening here, but now there are no thistles left. I have extremely little tolerance for plants that try to hurt me, even if the butterflies do like them.

But the most exciting wildlife in the garden this month was a salt marsh caterpillar (Estigmene acrea). The only caterpillar-like creatures I've seen in the garden before have been some dull grey, hairless, rather small things that I'm not sure are actually caterpillars at all; they may be larvae of some other insect. But the salt marsh caterpillar was unmistakably a caterpillar, and it was just sitting on top of the California asters one day when I went outside. This species of caterpillar starts out pale in color. As it ages, it darkens in color and (unlike most other caterpillar species) wanders off alone, away from the other caterpillars it hatched with, in search of new sources of food and a place to pupate.

This one was a mature caterpillar, approaching the time to pupate. Some studies have found that caterpillars typically remain at this stage for about eight days before they pupate. This one remained in our yard for about five days, stuffing its face with asters and yarrow all day and all night.

It was a thoroughly delightful guest. But a few days ago, it was suddenly gone. I don't know what happened to it, but I'm hoping that it's still out there in the garden somewhere, just curled into a well-hidden cocoon where I can't see it anymore.

When it re-emerges, it will be a salt marsh moth.
Tags: native plants, photographs
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