Sorrel and Giant Blue Hyssop

I had been wanting to try out some new herbs this summer, so I planted quite a number of them in flats with some great potting soil. Being surrounded by trees the sun that we do have tends to move around a lot from the morning to the afternoon. I kept moving the flats so they would feel the heat of the sun. Perhaps the shifting of the soil in the tray was not appreciated as only a couple seeds sprouted. Perhaps I purchased a bunch of crappy seeds. Anyway, having waited three weeks time, I figured no other seeds were going to sprout so I dumped the flats into the vegetable garden between a couple rows of Walla Walla onions.

Two plants emerged from this planting disaster — sorrel and giant blue hyssop.

Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, actually belongs in the vegetable garden. Its leaves attain great size and serve as a nice addition to garden salads. The great oval shaped leaves are a foot long or longer and at least a few inches wide. One leaf is quite enough to add some zest to a lettuce salad or to place on a couple sandwiches.

Sorrel leaves ready to pick for a salad.
Sorrel leaves ready to pick for a salad.

Giant Blue Hyssop, Agastache foeniculum, is also called anise hyssop because of the anise flavor of its leaves and flowers. I enjoyed adding a couple blossoms to a tomato and cucumber vinegar salad.

Young anise hyssop just starting to flower.
Young anise hyssop just starting to flower.
Flowering top of giant blue hyssop.
Flowering top of giant blue hyssop.

Here’s a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers that we brought in from out back. May your day be as sunny!

Sunny happy sunflowers!

Sunny happy sunflowers!

No Hornworms on Stevia

Beautiful stevia. Nary a leaf on the Sweet Leaf plant is touched by munching insects.

Stevia or sweet leaf plant with leaves intact.

Stevia or sweet leaf plant with leaves intact.

Predatory insects may lie and wait among the symmetrical leaves of Stevia. Ambush predators, that’s what they are!

Wheel bug waits on stevia leaf for an unsuspecting passerby.

Wheel bug waits on stevia leaf for an unsuspecting passerby.

Stevia is not completely resistant to pests, but not many pests appreciate Stevia’s extremely sweet taste.

Young grasshopper on stevia leaf.

Young grasshopper on stevia leaf.

Inspecting the vegetable and herb gardens this morning I came across this still bumblebee. He was hanging on to the underside of a leaf from the pepper plant, near the basil he must have supped from the previous day. Those tiny little crampons on his feet just held him in place, all night? The warmth of the morning sun had not yet shone on his boudoir, so he must have been still sleeping!

Sleeping bumblebee under a pepper leaf.

Sleeping bumblebee under a pepper leaf.

The season is about done for the Japanese beetles. They have been terrorizing my peach trees, ornamental maple tree, sassafras trees, and dahlias, too. This morning I captured quit a few from the basil flowers. In they went into a jar of soapy water. Held the jar below the branch and knocked them off. Sometimes they flew away, but the majority was captured.

Japanese beetles on basil flowers.

Japanese beetles on basil flowers.

A family of phoebes has been helping me combat the hordes of flying beetles and bugs this summer. Their nest was built atop a lamp that is attached to the house near a garage doorway. They have a habit of sitting at one spot on a branch or post, flying off to catch an insect in mid-air, and then flying back to the same spot on the same branch. Maybe they choose branches with a great view of the insect action, or maybe just high enough to keep the cats in site?

Another pest that we don’t mind seeing around here is the braconid wasp that takes care of a nasty garden pest. Tomato Hornworms are really bad for the tomato eater. These caterpillars grow very quickly and can decimate a tomato or pepper plant very fast! Not only do they eat the leaves, I am mean the entire leaf, they eat the fruits. Your tomato plants will look like sticks if these nasty hornworms are not taken care of. Nature comes to the rescue in the lifecycle of the Braconid wasps. Females lay their eggs in the tomato hornworm caterpillar from which they take nourishment. The hornworm stops feeding and soon dries up to a little black reminant of itself.

Wasp eggs on tomato horn worm on a tomato plant.

Wasp silk cocoons laid in tomato horn worm on a tomato plant.

To combat the hornworms we pick off any caterpillars that do not have wasp parasites. The caterpillars that are infested with the wasps are left alone to encourage the growth of more wasps. This tactic should help to shift the balance of power to the wasps.

Flowering Catnip, Basil and Oregano Herbs

Wandering around the mountain top didn’t take me very far today. Here’s a few snaps of some flowering herbs. These herbs are growing in a protected area next to the house that gets morning and early afternoon sun.

Basil is one of my favorite herbs. The aroma of a crushed basil leaf awakens the senses. Basil can dress up any regular garden salad and goes exceptionally well with tomatoes. Basil has relatively large leaves for an herb, measuring 2 or more inches in length and an inch or so in width. The light green basil leaves feel very pliable and smooth and are arranged opposite one another going up the stem.

Light green opposite leaves of basil.

Light green opposite leaves of basil.

Flowering tops of basil are easily recognized as they appear like groups of little circular canopies with small white blossoms hanging underneath each awning. Circlets of basil blooms are separated by half and inch or more and there will be 10-12 groups of blooms on the terminal portion of the basil stem. Below you can see half a dozen basil flower spikes.

Terminal flower spikes in basil.

Terminal flower spikes in basil.

The oregano is flowering now and has tiny white blossoms. The leaves next to the flowering tops are tiny compared to the typical leaves, perhaps a tenth the size. Below the flowering oregano tops are seen in the foreground and regular oregano leaves in the background.

Flowering tops of oregano with very tiny white blossoms and tiny leaves.

Flowering tops of oregano with very tiny white blossoms and tiny leaves.

Catnip grows wild here in southcentral Pennsylvania and we make sure to spread a few seeds around to please the kitties. I like cats a lot more than I like mice and other rodents! The catnip plant here volunteered next to the flagstone walkway just outside the garage. Whenever leaving or entering the garage the scent of catnip fills the air as the car brushes past. Here, we see a bumblebee pollinating the small white catnip flowers.

Bumblebee pollinating the catnip blossoms.

Bumblebee pollinating the catnip blossoms.

Catnip, Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family having opposite leaves that are somewhat arrow shaped. The main stem in the image below was snipped to induce bushiness and indeed, new stems arose from the leaf axils. The new stems now have terminal flower clusters with many small white-to-pinkish flowers.

Pruning the tops of catnip stems will produce a bushier plant.

Pruning the tops of catnip stems will produce a bushier plant.

Catnip leaves feel somewhat soft and have a distinct shape. At the base the leaves are squared off, have a jagged appearance, and attach to the main stem with their own short stem. The best indicator that you have found catnip is to crush a leaf and smell the minty aroma. Rub a leaf on your pants or sleeves to act as a bug repellent. Scientists are studying a compound found in catnip, called nepetalactone, for its pest resisting properties. Most catnip leaves are left untouched by chewing insects.

Pinkish to white blossoms of catnip are packed together at the top of stems.

Pinkish to white blossoms of catnip are packed together at the top of stems.

The one wild flower I did capture today was the Asiatic Dayflower, Commelina communis, an alien that appears in wasteplaces and along roadsides or other disturbed areas. We have a few batches growing at the edge of woods and along the lane. A member of the spiderwort family the Dayflower has radially symmetrical flowers having three petals, two blue petals on top and a third petal below that is white. The simple leaves are alternate and wrap around the stem at the leaf base giving it a sheath-like appearance.

Asiatic Dayflowers last for only one day!

Asiatic Dayflowers last for only one day!

Fritillary Poses and A Double Tiger Lily

Since I spend a bit of my time appreciating wild flowers and garden flowers, it makes sense that I would notice a lot of butterflies and other pollinators. Many of us design gardens or flower beds with the intention of attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The Image Gallery of Butterflies and Moths of North America is a great resource for identification help.

A common butterfly for us here in south central Pennsylvania is the Great Spangled Fritillary. Here, one butterfly poses rather bat-like.

Bat-like fritillary butterfly.
Bat-like fritillary butterfly.

The inside butterfly wing patterns usually differ from the outer wing designs.

Inside butterfly wing patterns.
Inside butterfly wing patterns.

This butterfly might be missed when you look at it on edge.

Butterfly on edge.
Butterfly on edge.

Typically, we don’t see this view of a butterfly.

Butterfly from the rear view.
Butterfly from the rear view.

Side view of the great spangled fritillary butterfly.

Side of the fritillary butterfly.
Side of the fritillary butterfly.

Frontal view of the great spangled fritillary butterfly.

Full frontal fritillary.
Full frontal fritillary.

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly head shot. Check out those eyes!

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly Head Shot.
Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly Head Shot.

In case you’re butterflied out, here’s a double tiger lily with a visitor lurking in the shadows.

Beautiful orange double tiger lily.

Beautiful orange double tiger lily.

The Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly Ballet

In the heat of the summer we watched a fritillary butterfly ballet atop the purple cone flowers. The most common butterfly we have observed in the last few days has been the Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly.

The fritillary butterfly ballet begins!
The fritillary butterfly ballet begins!

While one butterfly seems interested in the nectar from the purple cone flower, the other butterfly seem interested in some other nectar!

Butterflies seeking nectar.
Butterflies seeking nectar.

With probocis’ curled, noone is drinking in the flower’s nectar at this moment.

Curled sippers at the moment.

Curled sippers at the moment.

The hind wing on this butterfly shows a reflection of the flower’s petal color. Notice the pink cast to the usually white or silver spots. This could be a means of blending in with the environment for the sake of avoiding predators.

Silvery spots reflect the colors of the flower petals.
Silvery spots reflect the colors of the flower petals.

As one butterfly repositions on the head of the cone flower his wings open to retain balance.

Wings are spread to maintain balance.

Wings are spread to maintain balance.

The forewing patterns are different between the male and female of this species. The male has mostly black spots and lines on an orange background, while the female has a lighter tan background and white spots near the edge of the wing with black lines on the inner part of the forewing. Notice how the female holds her hindwing in a more forward position than the male. Is this a submissive posture or an invitation?

Forewing patterns are different between the sexes.
Forewing patterns are different between the sexes.

We never actually caught these two in the act, but I assure you that plenty of butterfly love is happening all around the cone flowers and the purple-flowered butterfly bush, too!

Lariope, Statice, Dahlias and Greystokes

These sunflowers aren’t a giant variety, but they ARE pretty big, and they really draw the goldfinches. Sunflowers can get so tall and the leaves grow so big.

Sunflowers with several large blossoms.

Sunflowers with several large blossoms.

Now that's a large sunflower leaf!

Now that’s a large sunflower leaf!

Dahlias sport many colors, ranging from light, lemony yellow to a salmon red and a variegated purple and white.

Lemony yellow dahlia.

Lemony yellow dahlia.

Salmony red dahlia.

Salmony red dahlia.

Deep purple and white variegated dahlia.

Deep purple and white variegated dahlia.

Lariope grass from North Carolina is about to bloom. The spike of light purple flowers will be opening soon. I hope the seeds will help to establish this plant as a border for this flower garden. In any case it seems that some of the plants have adapted to the conditions here in Pennsylvania.

Lariope blooms in spike of light purple flowers.

Lariope blooms in a spike of light purple flowers.

Statice is an unusual plant. The stems are rather flattened and sort of strange looking and they arise from a rosette of deeply cleft leaves at its base. The variety of colors makes statice a sought-after bloom for dried flower arrangements. In our small sampling we have yellow, blue, white and purple hues represented.

Statice blooms in many colors which makes it a nice flower for dried arrangements.

Statice blooms in many colors which makes it a nice flower for dried arrangements.

Spikes of statice flowers atop a basal rosette of green leaves.

Spikes of statice flowers atop a basal rosette of green leaves.

The pink oxalis from North Carolina is doing well. Here you can see the five-petaled flowers and the leaves that clasp the stem from opposite sides.

Pink flowering oxalis.

Pink flowering oxalis.

Gee, I was wondering why we don’t see any birds at the birdbath!

Greystokes taking a drink at the birdbath.

Greystokes taking a drink at the birdbath.

Sunflowers, Giant Hyssop and Stevia

Tending to the garden this morning, I couldn’t help see the frenzied cabbage butterflies as they flit about the place. We saw two cabbage butterflies mating on a tomato leaf.

Butterflies mating on a tomato leaf.

Butterflies mating on a tomato leaf.

Then we saw two more butterflies mating on the same tomato leaf!

Two others using the same leaf!

Two others using the same leaf!

Sunflowers are composite flowers of many blooms. See the individual blossoms near the center in the close up.

Individual blooms in the composite sunflower.

Individual blooms in the composite sunflower.

Beautiful symmetry in this sunny flower.

Beautiful symmetry in this sunny flower.

Blue giant hyssop is growing in the garden from seeds planted a few weeks ago. It is not yet giant, nor blue. The flowers will appear next month and should attract butterflies and bees. The leaves of giant hyssop have an anise-like taste and can be used in salads.

Giant blue hyssop will flower in the late summer.

Giant blue hyssop will flower in the late summer.

Peppers are maturing in the vegetable garden. Summer salads await! Baby cucumbers are hiding under their canopy of cucumber leaves.

Baby cucumbers still attached to their yellow blossoms.
Baby cucumbers still attached to their yellow blossoms.

The Stevia plant that was purchased at a local greenhouse is doing quite well in the garden and now is about two feet tall. No visible signs of bugs eating this Sweet Leaf plant. Not a single chew! This member of the mint family can be used as a natural bug repellant by rubbing the leaves on your skin. Certainly worth a try as the smell of DEET is very offensive.

Stevia, or Sweet Leaf, growing in the garden.

Stevia, or Sweet Leaf, growing in the garden.

Closeup of sweet leaf.
Close-up of sweet leaf.

The Japanese beetles would probably like my girl’s pesto judging by their appetite for the basil blossoms and leaves. For fun around here we go around knocking beetles off the plants into a vessel of soapy water so they never to return to their nasty habit!

Basil leaves and flowers are devoured by Japanese beetles.

Basil leaves and flowers are devoured by Japanese beetles.

Basil flowers and holey leaves.
Basil flowers and holey leaves.

The Roma tomatoes are green and looking very delicious.

Green Roma tomatoes will soon be at the top of the dinner menu.
Roma tomatoes will soon be at the top of the dinner menu.

The greenery of the Canna Lilies is about two feet tall and it’s not quite immune to the culinary tastes of the Japanese beetles. The canna lily bright red blossoms should attract a few hummingbirds later in the summertime.

Bee-Balm is Oswego-Tea

Even though this blog concentrates on wildflowers, I can’t help but add some comments on the garden flowers and animals that we observe here in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

A small group of about a dozen turkeys were wandering around the edge of the woods around noontime today. The group appeared to be a couple mature females and some young ones. They were pecking at bugs and probably taking in a few stones from the gravel lane. At the slightest noise the turkeys scampered back into the woods.

The indoor plants are doing well in the warm conditions upstairs. The diffenbachia is blooming and showing off its pure white spathe.

Diffenbachia sporting a pure white blossom.

Diffenbachia sporting a pure white blossom.

A mushroom appeared in the clay pot that holds a Norwegian pine. Never saw that before!

Norwegian pine pot with a yellow mushroom.

Norwegian pine pot with a yellow mushroom.

Driving along a country road we found a nice batch of Bee-Balm, Monarda didyma, growing near the edge of the road. The hummingbirds have to like this stuff — the blossoms are so red!

Bee balm by the roadside.

Bee balm by the roadside.

Monarda didyma flowers are brilliant red.

Monarda didyma flowers are brilliant red.

Identifying characters for Bee-Balm are that the blossoms are scarlet red and the bracts are red, too. Even some of the leaves have red coloration where they attach to the stems. Bee balm is a beautiful addition to any flower garden with the added benefit that it is a plant native to America.

Bee balm bracts are scarlet red.

Bee balm bracts are scarlet red.

Bee balm is also known as Oswego-Tea. A tea made from the leaves was used by Native Americans to treat colds, fevers, stomachaches, and colic, among other maladies.

Garden poppies have pretty much died out with the heat coming on in July, but they are being replaced by the zinnias, marigolds, dahlias and sunflowers.