Lobelia at Harvest Time

It’s the beginning of Autumn and we’re driving along country roads in central Pennsylvania. Everywhere we see bright swaths of goldenrods in the fallow fields next to the fields growing corn or soybeans. Corn harvesting is just getting started and the soy has yet to fully ripen.

We don’t always use the most modern equipment around these parts. Guess it’s just not needed. Who even needs rubber tires?

A team of four horses pull this cart for harvesting the fields.

A team of four horses pull this cart for harvesting the fields.

We see cows everywhere we go. Say Hello to Ferdinand, my favorite horned cow who lives down the road.

Ferdinand standing watch over the herd.

Ferdinand standing watch over the herd.

At the roadside of a soybean field was this nice patch of Lobelia.

Lobelia along a curve on a country road.

Lobelia along a curve on a country road.

The Lobelia was growing in a ditch that had standing water in it. Not sure what species of lobelia it is but I think I’d like to go back and collect a few seed pods. We could spread the seeds along the water drainage areas of our lane.

Lobelia looks nice in a grouping.

Lobelia looks nice in a grouping.

Lobelia is a close relative of the Cardinal Flower, which I have seen growing next to a freshwater pond. It would be dazzling to have both of these members of the Bluebell Family in a garden of native plants.

Lobelia, member of the Bluebell Family.
Lobelia, member of the Bluebell Family.

Faded Cone Flowers and a Blue Morning Sky

The sun glinting off the clouds drew me outside this morning. I think I’ll use this photo as a desktop background for a while. Just breathe in the cool morning air!

Beautiful morning sky in the mountains of southcentral Pennsylvania.

Beautiful morning sky in the mountains of southcentral Pennsylvania.

I can’t seem to catch this garden spider on the other side of her net. I’m sure many people kill this lovely Argiope spider because of its scary size, but I’ll leave her to catch lots of other visitors that we don’t want chewing on the plants or buzzing around our heads.

The yellow and black orb spider tends her web.
The yellow and black orb spider tends her web.

The giant blue hyssop is doing well, even though it was squeezed into the garden. There must be a dozen flowering tops now.

Giant blue hyssop flowering tops.

Giant blue hyssop flowering tops.

The catnip at the end of the flagstone walkway is flowering nicely. It draws the honeybees and bumblebees, and the cats!

Terminal flowers of catnip are blooming.

Terminal flowers of catnip are blooming.

The purple cone flowers are fading quickly. The color is draining from the flower petals and grasshoppers and such are nibbling on the petals and leaves.

Grasshopper shopping for a little lunch among the purple cone flowers.

Grasshopper shopping for a little lunch among the purple cone flowers.

Faded purple cone flower is now a light pink.

Faded purple cone flower is now a light pink.

The cone flower stems are still erect because we used a small tomato cage to contain them. In Spring before the Echinacea put out a lot of growth, we put a cage over this cone flower plant. As the plant grew the stems were guided inside the cage and pretty soon the leaves covered the cage to hide it from view. The cage supported the stems as they gained height and really showed the coneflowers at their best.

We’ll leave the seed heads on the purple cone flowers over the winter. It seems to be a favorite stopping place for the goldfinches.

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.