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Wildlife Wednesday: Gardening With Native Wildflowers

Wildlife Wednesday: Gardening With Native Wildflowers

By the time you sit down to read this, Spring wildflowers will already be in bloom. Blessed as we are with temperate short winters, we are also blessed with an early and long blooming season for wildflowers in the Houston area. This is important to a wide variety of pollinators, animals who feed on flower nectar and pass pollen between flowers.  It’s Important to resident animals to sustain themselves, and to migrants on their migratory journeys North. This not only happens in the wild, but is something we can contribute to, by planting and maintaining native wildflowers in pollinator gardens around our homes and businesses. With that in mind, lets have a look at a few species you can easily grow in the garden.

First, let’s define the terms discussed here. “Wildflowers” refers to plants that normally grow on their own out in nature, without needing our care, and not flowers whose current forms have been developed in the nursery industry. For our purposes, if a flower is generally unchanged from its wild form, even if bought at a nursery, we’ll call it a wildflower.

“Native” simply means that its from this region (ie. “Texas native”). Native, and generally unchanged in form (unlike some nursery trade cultivars) is important, because many of our native pollinators already know how to use and feed from native plants, and may not know how to navigate certain flowers from elsewhere. This renders some garden plants as pretty, but generally unhelpful to wildlife.

Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) aka Firewheel is a colorful relative of  daisies and sunflowers. Popular with bees and butterflies, these showy flowers bloom from late February through December. The long blooming period of this annual, hardiness, and wide appeal to a variety of pollinators make it perfect for home gardens. They only grow 1 – 2 ft tall.

Butterfly Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri), as the name would suggest, is popular with a number of butterfly species. They grow tall flower stems topped with delicate white and pink flowers. It goes well behind other shorter plants, and is tolerant of full sun and part shade. Guara blooms from April to November.

Lemon Beebalm (Monarda citriodora) and  (Monarda punctata) are both very popular with large bees and butterflies, and they are gorgeous complex flowers. Beebalms grow from April – July. They’re in the mint family, and have a history of medicinal use. They are perennials, coming back from root stock the next season.

Winecups (Callirhoe involcrata) are native ground creeping mallow (Hibiscus) that grows open shallow wine colored flowers that are appealing to a wide variety of bees, beetles, an smaller butterflies that may not be able to feed from some larger or deeper flowers. Each plant grows 8-12 inches tall and spread out to 3 feet. Its a perennial that grows through the Spring, and again in late summer and early fall.

March is a good time to get these plants in the ground, or plant seeds for flowers coming up in late Spring, Summer, and Fall. Check your locally owned nurseries for native plants, and check out the leftover plants from last weekend’s Bellaire Garden Club plant sale, still available in our back 40 area, at the Nature Discovery Center.

Also, call the Center for more details about upcoming nature hikes at 713.667.6550.

Thanks for joining us, and see you out in the park!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

Photographs by Eric Duran (Top-most image is of Aquatic Milkweed, Asclepias perennis, a native milkweed, that is beginning to bloom at the edge of the pocket prairie garden in the park. It’s difficult to find for sale, but its worth planting for the Monarchs, if you do find it!)

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Wildlife Wednesday: The Glory of Mistflower

Wildlife Wednesday: The Glory of Mistflower

Purple Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) aka Blue Mistflower is a common late summer and autumn blooming wildflower, found over much of the state of Texas. This bushy showy wildflower is extremely popular with pollinators and other insects, because of the copious amounts of nectar it produces on its bounteous small flowers. Recently, our naturalists have been watching a wide variety cool and interesting insects visiting the plant, which has been blooming in the Pocket Prairie and wildflower gardens around the Nature Center. Here’s a little review of some of the creatures we’ve found out on our Mistflower.

People don’t usually think of beetles as pollinators, but we’ve recently found Spotted Cucumber Beetles (Diabrotica undecimpunctata) flying between the flowers in the park, feeding on nectar and pollen from a variety of Fall wildflowers, like Mistflower, Sunflowers, and Goldenrod. The tiny leaf beetles are only about .64 cm (.25 inches) long. There are 2 generations per breeding season in the South, and we are currently enjoying the 2nd generation of adults for the year. These adults will most like overwinter in forest and garden leaf litter. The name “cucumber beetle” comes from the larva’s habit of feeding on the roots of cucumber plants, as well as other gourd and melon species.

The tiny flowers of mistflower are very popular with smaller butterflies, like Skippers and Little Yellows (Pyrisitia lisa). This small butterfly is aptly named, reaching a wing span of only 4.4 cm (1.73 inches). We seem to get an influx of them this time of year, because of the eclosion (emergence from the pupal case/chrysalis) of the last brood of the season in this region, and migration of more northerly populations to the South. The caterpillars feed on Partridge Pea, a native legume that grows in prairies and grassy fields.

Wool Carder Bees (Anthidium maculosum) are solitary bees, and are just a bit shorter than honeybees, but thicker-bodied. Unlike honeybees, the males males are larger than the females and territorial, and they survive after mating. The females mate with various different males, and establish a nest to lay eggs and raise young by themselves. They are referred to as “carder bees”, because of their habit of gathering plant hairs and fibers to construct their nests.

Tiny little moths, like this Coffee-loving Pyrausta (Pyrausta tyralis) are also covering. These dainty colorful moths only reach a wingspan of 1.7 cm (.67 inches). Their numbers suddenly jump this time of year, here in Houston, along with many other newly emerging and migrating moths. This species gets its name from the larval host plant, Wild Coffee. They have many other similarly patterned and similarly sized relatives in the same genus.

Well, we hope you enjoyed our mini review of some of the insects that have been visiting our Mistflower, here at the Nature Discovery Center. Also, we hope you will consider this beautiful and robust plant for your own home garden, both as decoration and food for wild pollinators.

If you get a chance, come out to the park on a sunny day, and see for yourself whio is visiting the mistflower!

Thanks for joining us, and see you soon!

Eric Duran
Staff Naturalist

photographs:  Eric Duran | NDC; Little Yellow by Charles J. Sharp | Wiki; Wool Carder Bee by Jerry Friedman | Wiki; Pyrausta Moth by Thomas Shahan | Flickr

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