Life Lately | Mid-June 2020


Thinking:
I’m cranky.

People are idiots. It starts at the leadership, for one. Let’s open everything up! No, you don’t need a mask! Who needs masks? We won’t force our citizens to care for their fellow citizens. Nope, no way!

And what happens?

Increasing COVID-19 cases across many states, including Texas. Recording breaking numbers this month, multiple days in a row. Spikes here, spikes there, everywhere a spike! Spike for you, and you, and you!

I went to the grocery store again this month for our big trip and it was nearly the opposite of how it was three weeks prior. Three weeks prior 70% were wearing masks. This time, 70% weren’t. I just…cue head explosion.

I may have said I was cranky but that’s really anger. I’m beyond angry because hell, I want to run around without a mask like it is February 2020! I’d like to not think twice about walking into a store, running errands, doing a Target run with a Starbucks in hand. Nothing sounds better than sitting at a restaurant so we don’t have to cook and do dishes. Relaxing on the patio of our local Tex-Mex restaurant while Forest plays in the grassy, fenced off area with other kids—sounds delightful! Popping up to visit my parents or having them come down here? Fun!! Seeing friends?? More fun! Heading to the beach and having a leisurely weekend at a hotel? Planning a vacation? WOULD LOVE TO!

I’m not doing any of those things because THERE’S A PANDEMIC GOING ON. Forest is supposed to go to Kindergarten this fall. Every person I talk to with kids in school can’t tell me what their districts are doing BECAUSE NO ONE KNOWS! Are we going to do faux homeschool for Kindergarten? Is Forest going to miss out on that first year of socialization at a new school? Or are we going to send all our kids to school for a month to see another spike in this first wave (it’s not a second wave, y’all…we never finished the first one) and have to close schools again?

Anger and Despair. That’s where I’m at these days. With little bits of joy tucked in here and there because my kid is really cool!

Gardening:
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I hate deer and I hate birds.

The deer for their usual crap in the garden, plus deciding to expand their palate to salvia this year. Like, every other year salvia is disgusting, but this year? Sounds tasty to them!

The birds because they’ve decided that pecking my tomatoes jussssstttt as they turn ripe is the bees knees.

That said, the garden is doing pretty good at the moment. I’m having to hand water the edible garden about every other day right now because we’re in a dry spell at the moment.

I will do a garden post soon to share more. I effed up in the garden this evening—we have several thriving pumpkin vines and were finally getting a couple of small pumpkins forming. I noticed one of them probably needed to start having some support so until I could get something to sling it up in I was going to adjust the pumpkin to rest on the trellis. Except I cracked the stem. I thought it was salvageable for about ten seconds and then realized I’d screwed up and just broke it off the rest of the way. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Loving:

+Live Rootbeer Kombucha

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+days in the inflatable pool
+summer! I LOVE SUMMER!
+blackberry season
+our flats of milkweed on the potting bench
+that at least three turtles from the pond came up to nest in the yard! Keeping an eye on the nests for when they hatch!
+bike riding! I’ve been bike riding nearly every day since late April.
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+ This kid, of course!

Reading:
I keep telling myself, “This week I’m going to put the phone down and read in my downtime!” That hasn’t been happening too much lately. I am trying to catch up on a backlog of magazines, though. And am reading scattered books here and there.

Making:
Art! I’ve gotten into pour painting and have made a few small pieces. It is very fun and messy! I’m also working on a few other pieces as well.
Here’s some of what I’ve done recently:
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This one is Forest’s with tempera paint.

Watching & Listening:
I go through spells where I don’t watch much but I’ve been watching a few things recently.
+Sweet Magnolias and Virgin River on Netflix—two light and fluffy series.
+Tara Road – a movie from 2005 that feels like it was 1995 but makes you nostalgic for the Before Times.
+The Hustle – So, funny story. Our tv upstairs is a smart tv and had been doing mysterious things back in May, like randomly turning on at odd times of the day and changing to different languages while watching tv. Chris unplugged it and reset it and it seemed better but then I watched this movie. I didn’t realize until later when I tried to watch another movie that something had been wrong. So, apparently I watched this movie with audio closed captioning on! An external narrator came on and would talk through the entire movie that didn’t have dialogue, including the introduction. It actually kinda went with the movie because it was a bit slapstick and a comedy and I only realized something was wrong when I went to watch another movie and it did the same thing! So, funky tv doing funky things!

Looking Forward:
Middle Age starts July 11th!

Seward to Anchorage by Alaska Rail


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There were multiple ways we could disembark the cruise ship when we reached Seward, Alaska. We could disembark on our own and figure out our own way to Anchorage or wherever we wanted to go, we could take a bus to the airport or to another drop off destination in downtown Anchorage, or we could ride the Alaska Rail into Anchorage to the airport. Chris did the research and said that the latter sounded like a really cool trip and that it would be worth doing, despite about a four hour ride on the train to Anchorage. Plus, it meant disembarking first!

We woke very early so that we could finalize packing—we’d left our main bags out in the hall overnight to be loaded and bused back to Anchorage—and had a very early breakfast down at the buffet. Then we made our way to the theater on the ship to wait until we were allowed to disembark the ship and get onto the train. As you see the photo above, it was dark when all of this was happening and daybreak was only barely beginning to happen when the train pulled away from Seward.

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We shared our table with an older woman whom I cannot recall many details about now, 10 months later. She was friendly and mostly read her book while taking moments to look out the window and take photos. We got underway and each car had their own waiter who would serve drinks and some meals as well as talk about the history and surroundings as we went along. He was an older gentleman who had retired and would come up and work the route during the summers! Sounded like a pretty enjoyable summer job to me!

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As we got going and the light began to break we saw a very autumn-like atmosphere outside. It was cloudy with fog and a bit of rain in the area. Felt very much like November and not early September—well, a lower 48 November, not an Alaskan November!

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Eventually I was able to order coffee in a special coffee mug that you could refill for free throughout the course of the trip with any beverage. I got my fill of coffee and Chris had a Coke later on once we ordered our salmon chowder! And surprisingly this was probably my second favorite salmon chowder of the entire trip! I have a photo down at the bottom. It was so good!

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Along the way there were more glimpses of glaciers as we entered a roadless area after Moose Pass. We’d paralleled the road for the beginning of the trip and then detoured off for about an hour and a half or so.

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Unlike the smaller train we took in Skagway, this train didn’t allow for any popping outside to take in the scenes and scents of the area.

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Fireweed past its peak. Sometime around this point we actually slowed down and pulled off onto an adjacent rail to allow an oncoming train to pass before we backed up and continued on our way.

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We slowly descended towards the valley, the terrain changing quite a bit, leaving the mountains to the background.

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Glimpses of the Chugach Mountains…

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And then we were at the Turnagain Arm, where we saw the beluga whales, which are still probably one of the highlights of this trip for me! Never would I have imagined ever getting to see a beluga whale! I’m still bummed our later efforts to find them again failed.

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And then the terrain flattened out even more as we went past marshes and then soon we were in Anchorage itself, passing roads, cars, subdivisions. I must say it was quite jarring to arrive into Anchorage and feel as it I was in the middle of a Houston suburb. Sure, it had its own flair but after being in actual small-town Alaska for the last week, seeing Anchorage was eye opening!

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My delicious (and sideways) salmon chowder. I could really got for a bowl of this now!

Again, if you find yourself on a cruise that ends in Seward, take the train to Anchorage! It was very much worth it!

I will say the only downside is retriveing your luggage at the airport. We had quite a walk into the airport to get to the room where the luggage was stored and for us, there was not a really organized method of getting in and no formal lines. It was a bit chaotic and that was the worst part of the experience.

The Sundew Trail | Big Thicket National Preserve


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Rhynchosia sp.
The Sundew Trail was our last stop during our East Texas adventures back over Memorial Day weekend. It seems like it was last weekend and also about three months ago. I don’t recall having hiked the entire Sundew Trail in previous visits but I will say that I think I enjoyed it more than the Pitcher Plant Trail!

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Swamp Darner, Epiaeschna hero
Dragonflies and damselflies are two insects that I am slowly (very) trying to learn a bit better. They aren’t nearly as showy as butterflies but they are just as curious and interesting to watch.

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Forest started going along the boardwalk section of the trails and calling each area by a certain “type”—kind of like he did back in the fall on our backpacking trip to Sam Houston NF. Each area was a “room” back then. On this trip we had Fern World and then White Flower World and moved on to other things as we continued down the boardwalk.

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Swamp Titi, Cyrilla racemiflora
I have to say, every time I see titi I think of our Florida Trail hike through north Florida and the titi swamps up there. Thickets of titi with water in between…yep, a wet adventure!

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Arnoglossum sp.

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More of that gorgeous Yellow Meadowbeauty, Rhexia lutea—seriously want this plant! I wonder how tasty it is to deer?

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A short glimpse of a zebra swallowtail—this was the one that gave us the idea she was laying eggs and to start looking for caterpillars.

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Swamp Rose Mallow, Hibiscus moscheutos

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Golden Miller’s-Maid/colicroot, Aletris aurea

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Some kind of wild allium but I haven’t been able to identify it.

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Round-leaved Boneset, Eupatorium rotundifolium

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Purple Pleatleaf, Alophia drummondii

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Hairy Skullcap, Scutellaria elliptica going to seed.

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Multi-bloom Tephrosia, Tephrosia onobrychoides–shortly after this we had a light sun shower come through for a few minutes, enough to dampen our clothing and offer a slight cool off.

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I think this is another colicroot but I’m not for certain.

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Sanguine Purple Coneflower, Echinacea sanguinea

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Gulf Skullcap, Scutellaria cardiophylla

I’m glad we added in the Sundew Trail to our list of places to visit while over in east Texas. I have one more post from Watson Preserve to share and then that brief trip will be wrapped up here on the blog.

Watson Native Plant Preserve | Part I


Posts from 2011: Part I, Part II, and Part III—I’ve noticed a few mis-identifications on those old posts and need to go back and fix them.

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Small-Flower Pawpaw, Asimina parviflora
We arrived to Watson Preserve mid-morning before the heat started setting in. And honestly, as I’m writing this two weeks later, it is much hotter and more humid now than it was then. Someone pulled in not long after we arrived, an older couple, who asked if we’d visited before. They didn’t stay long and I don’t even know that they saw the back part of the preserve with the bog!

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We started off on the boardwalk that eventually winds itself down to parallel with Lake Hyatt. My Texas plant knowledge is far better than the first time I came here in 2011 so I recognized far more plants than I did back then, but looking back at my previous posts I gave it a good try!

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Jack-in-the-pulpits cascading over the boardwalk.

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A rhododendron I believe but I’m not sure…

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Round-leaved Boneset, Eupatorium rotundifolium
Of course there were plenty of plants I didn’t recognize because I just spend so little time over in this part of Texas.

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Red Milkweed, Asclepias rubra

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Tuberous Grasspink, Calopogon tuberosus
The grasspink orchids were blooming all over the place. Almost anywhere you turned you could find one blooming.

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Pale Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia alata

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Yellow Meadowbeauty, Rhexia lutea
I don’t remember this plant from last time and I had never seen one before (that I recall) but I am in love! Now I want to find seeds or some in the nursery trade (fat chance!) to add to the garden. They are so lovely!

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Pineland Hibiscus, Hibiscus aculeatus — I wish these had been in bloom!

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Pencil Flower, Stylosanthes biflora

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Sanguine Purple Coneflower, Echinacea sanguinea

I’ll leave the post with these lovely coneflowers which were planted adjacent to Geraldine’s house. Part II coming soon!

Lauren’s Grape Poppy | Flower Friday


Lauren's Grape Poppy

Lauren's Grape Poppy

Lauren's Grape Poppy

Lauren's Grape Poppy

Lauren's Grape Poppy

Lauren's Grape Poppy

Lauren's Grape Poppy

Several years ago now we had a great bloom of Lauren’s Grape Poppy in the flower garden. I’ve always wanted to recreate that year but have never been successful. This year a single poppy came up, I think from seeds I dispersed last year, and proceeded to put on blooms! It was so beautiful and reminded me of why I love this particular variety so much. I believe it comes true from saved seed so I will be saving what seed we get this year and sowing them again next year! Maybe I’ll get the large flush of blooms I was hoping for again.

The Pitcher Plant Trail | Big Thicket National Preserve


Things are quite heavy in the US at the moment. I have thoughts, of course, but I’m going to sit on them a few more days and hopefully incorporate them into my usual monthly Life Lately posts later this weekend. For now we will re-wind back to two weeks ago when we visited the Pitcher Plant Bog in the Big Thicket. I have a lot of posts coming in the next week because I edited a bunch of photos, so hold tight!

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Southern Leopard Frog, Lithobates sphenocephalus

I hadn’t been out to the Pitcher Plant Bog since December of 2013. It was right before I got pregnant with Forest and I was out helping coworkers as we did a plant and wetland survey out there for the BTNP. It was my last field job for quite a while. Being that it was winter the scenery was a bit different than we found it in late May.

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Pitcher plants, yellow meadowbeauty, and sandswamp whitetop sedge dot the landscape.

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Yellow Meadowbeauty, Rhexia lutea

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Pale Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia alata

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Sandswamp Whitetop Sedge, Rhynchospora latifolia —I really want to find some of this plant in cultivation or manage to snag seeds of it somewhere. I love it so much!

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We came to the bog after we’d visited Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve. When we arrived we’d intended to sit at a picnic table near the parking lot but another group of folks coming off the trails managed to snag it before we could. Chris remembered a bench being at the bog on the boardwalk so we made our way there only to be thwarted by two dudes coming down the trail the other way. Any other time we would have shared the area with them but being that this is the time of COVID-19, we stopped along the boardwalk to wait. Forest did not like that because he was hungry and looking forward to sitting on the bench. I went ahead and ate my lunch in the shade of a small cypress tree on the boardwalk while the other two patiently waited for about 10 minutes for the guys to leave.

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Virginia Chainfern, Woodwardia virginica

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Small Butterwort, Pinguicula pumila —despite the seemingly insignificance of this plant, this is a carnivorous plant! “Insects can become trapped in the numerous sticky glads that cover the leaves, and the plant will secrete enzymes to digest them. Over time, the plant assimilates organic nitrogen and other nutrients from the decaying insect into its own tissues.” – from iNaturalist.

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We followed the Pitcher Plant Trail to the junction of the Turkey Creek Trail where we used it to make a loop with the southern section of the PP Trail. It is much shader in this section with a more ‘thicket’ like atmosphere, full of a yaupon holly understory, among other vegetation.

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This little oxalis stood out to me because so much of our oxalis in my area are dominated by an exotic species or the more common yellow woodsorrels. This one is Violet Woodsorrel, Oxalis violacea.

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Sanguine Purple Coneflower, Echinacea sanguinea

These coneflowers were blooming all over Watson Preserve and then again along so many of the roadsides in the area. I was glad they were blooming adajcent to the parking lot so I could get some photos of them. I would love to have these in the garden if the deer didn’t chomp them to pieces!

We opted to cut our hike short here in favor of going over to the Sundew Trail in another unit before we headed home for the day. Some day we will manage to hike the entire 15-mile long Turkey Creek Trail!

Variegated Fritillary (Euptoieta claudia) caterpillar | Wildlife Wednesday


Variegated frtitillary Euptoieta claudia

Variegated frtitillary Euptoieta claudia

Variegated frtitillary Euptoieta claudia

A few weeks ago I was deep into one of the edible perimeter beds by the blackberries, weeding. I’ve let a small crop of native violets grow in there because they are edible and also pretty. I’ve been transplanting some of the ones that crop up in other parts of the garden to the flower garden but the deer come and browse on those which is another reason I keep the ones tucked inside the edible garden.

I noticed a caterpillar. It resembled a gulf frittilary but those munch on passiflora vines. I took a few phone photos and then went to grab my dSLR and reverse macro lens and came back out to take photos. I was somewhat convinced this was a gulf frittilary for a while because I saw one note on one website mentioning violets as a host plant. But then I did more digging and saw that variegated frittilaries use violets. I may have seen an adult flying around in passing but honestly didn’t think we had any sort of population going on in the garden but apparently there is. I compared the caterpillars again and saw the slight differences and determined it was indeed a variegated frittilary instead.

I have not been able to see this caterpillar again after that day so I can only hope it crawled away and pupated and was not eaten by a bird or insect!

Just the other day I got to witness a giant swallowtail ovipositing on my rue. That was something I’ve been hoping would happen for a while. I bought the rue to use as a place to move giant swallowtail caterpillars who use our citrus trees in an attempt to keep them from defoliating the trees so much, however I hadn’t seen any use of the rue until then! Which reminds me, I need to check on the couple of eggs I saw to see if any caterpillars have emerged!

Late May in the Garden


blackberry harvest
Yesterday I spent the majority of the day moving a load of mulch and doing various gardening tidying activities. I had wanted to move this particular load of mulch back in March after we moved a different load of mulch but then everything shut down and that didn’t happen. I was getting tired of weeds appearing in many of the unmulched areas over the last two months so I asked Chris to get another load for me now that things are open again. I’m only disappointed that it did not come with a couple of kolaches for breakfast from Kolache Factory as it typically did in the Before Times. Such is life these days and after a breakfast of whatever we had in the house, I got to moving mulch.

Forest helped me with his little electric car he drives around the yard. Handily, it is a John Deere brand so I shoveled some mulch into the back of his dumping bed and he moved two very small loads of mulch for me before deciding he was done moving mulch. Subsequently we had many hours left to go in the mulch moving.

Breaks were had for lunch and the SpaceX Crew Dragon launch at Cape Canaveral but by the end of the day both Forest and I were filthy with mulch. He was filthy because of course he thought playing in the truck bed was fun and during the process even had a imaginary playground situation with his friends from school. Oh, do I wish we felt comfortable enough taking him to daycare again but with Texas having a record high number of cases last week I am still unsure when that will be.

My answer for Forest to get a bit clean in the middle of the day was to drag the kiddie pool out to the edible garden and let him play in that while I continued weeding and moving the last barrow full of mulch.

In all, the gardens are looking in decent shape after this last week of weeding and mulching. I still need to work on the flower garden paths and do a few spots out in the edible garden but it all looks good for the moment!

Here’s a short tour of the garden via photos from my phone over the last couple of weeks, most before a lot of the tidying up happened.

As you see above, blackberry season is beginning now!

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A bit has changed since I took this photo as the beans are heavily climbing the trellis now and are also putting on flowers.

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Pumpkin vine
Sadly, this particular pumpkin vine had escaped the confines of the extra layer of protection from the wire mesh fencing and the deer came and chomped it in half. The vine is now recovering again but I’m trying to guide it to stay within the mesh so no more chomping occurs.

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Even the cucumbers are in a much more vining stage at the moment than they were when this was taken.

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Comfrey in bloom

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I think this is my Echinacea tennesseensis but I’ll know for sure when it blooms. Bought from a nursery at some point in the last two years. I cannot keep echinacea in the main flower garden because they are a delicacy for the deer.

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Forest having a moment with the Lauren’s Grape Poppy flowers.

Hypoxis hirsuta
Always loving my Hypoxis hirsuta. When I bought a large pot of it last year I divided it into three clumps and they are thriving. I might have to divide one of the clumps again later this year.

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Aristolochia fimbriata

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The garden looks even better now with so much more growth than in this photo from just two weeks ago.

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Foxgloves

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It was a very successful monarch raising season, raising 15 butterflies in all. I raised them entirely on green milkweed, Asclepias virdis from the lot around the corner (let’s pretend it didn’t get mowed last week right when seed pods were forming, monarchs were still visiting, and who knows what caterpillars and chrysalides were on plants. Later in the week a For Sale sign appeared…I knew it was coming but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t livid nor in tears…anyway…). It was a success with 100% of the butterflies making it to adult, no issues with deformed wings, malformations while trying to pupate, or tachnid fly issues. Forest had a lot of fun releasing them with me and I am very glad I decided to raise them again this spring.

We’ll see what happens for the fall this year.

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Coastal germander,Teucrium cubense—I’ve been nothing but pleased with this plant since we bought it in a tiny pot last spring. It flowers almost non-stop and has spread well. I even managed to get a cutting to root and have since placed it in another spot in the garden. A lovely native that I’m glad we added to the garden.

That’s it for now. I’m going to go around with my dSLR and take better photos over the next week or two as things really get into the summer growing season and share more soon!

Zebra Swallowtail Caterpillar (Eurytides marcellus) | Wildlife Wednesday


zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

zebra swallowtail caterpillar

Our trip to east Texas last weekend had us visiting the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve and two Big Thicket National Preserve units, the Turkey Creek Unit (and the Pitcher Plant Trail) and the Hickory Creek Savannah Unit (and the Sundew Trail).

I can’t recall where we saw the first zebra swallowtail adult fly by but we did end up seeing several along the Sundew Trail. One of them was flying slow and low to the ground, which at first had us thinking it was searching for nectar plants. But it avoided several flowering plants and I finally decided it was looking for pawpaws to lay eggs! From then Chris started looking for pawpaws and evidence of caterpillars. We were nearly done with the hike when he stopped us and said he had found one!

I got out my macro lens and started being a naturalist paparazzi and had some fun chatting with this sweet being. They were none too pleased with me when I tried to shoo a few harvestmen out of the picture and showed me their osmeteria, the two orange horn-like appendages on their head. Chris and Forest continued meandering down the trail and I proceeded to take out my camera and take a lot of photos, switching lenses for the macro lens to get up close.

The only other zebra swallowtail I have seen in Texas (or recall seeing) was one that darted around us at Huntsville State Park last spring. That state park and where we are in NW Houston is the far western end of their range. They are not common at all around here. But dig a bit further into east Texas and they start appearing a lot more, which is a lovely sight to see! I was tinkering around on iNaturalist to log my sighting and noticed someone had logged one in central Texas near Caldwell. That’s between College Station and Austin! I had to comment to make sure it was legit and even ran an reverse Google Image Search (I once found a fake entry in Houston for a butterfly that exists in Britain by using that technique) and nothing else showed up. The person who logged the entry mentioned they thought it was strange but there was apparently a stray zebra swallowtail well out of its range over there. It happens, of course, but still a bit odd! That said, if one appeared in my yard I’d do a happy dance! I’m still waiting for the occasional sighting of a zebra longwing to happen in my yard. They are transient in the Houston area, more commonly seen in Austin and San Antonio and of course closer to south Texas. But they are known to show up in Houston from time to time. I’ve got the passiflora to make them happy!

Definitely a great lifer caterpillar to add to the list!

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