Atteva aurea, Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Atteva aurea, Ailanthus Webworm Moth, on Pycnanthemum, Mountain-Mint, in my garden last weekend. The intense colors are believed to be aposematic, a warning coloration to deter predators, probably because they would be distasteful.
Atteva aurea, Ailanthus Webworm Moth, on Pycnanthemum, Mountain-Mint

The larvae - caterpillars - feed in communal aggregations, like tent caterpillars. Around the globe, caterpillars in the genus Atteva are known to feed on plants from at least a half-dozen plant families. But they favor plants in the Simaroubaceae, the Quassia Family.


Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail

Update 2012-09-10: Only one caterpillar remains.

The morning of the day we left on our last road trip - which led us to the Adirondack Hudson, among other places - I saw this in one of our vegetable beds:
Papilio polyxenes, Eastern Black Swallowtail

This is a female Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio polyxenes. I caught her at the moment she discovered our group of parsley plants (Petroselinum hortense, or P. crispum). She was laying eggs, carefully placing just one under separate leaves of two of the plants.


A Hudson River Riparian Plant Community

Part of the eastern bank of the Hudson River, just south of the Route 8 bridge at Riparius/Riverside in the Adirondacks of New York. A year ago, this was all underwater, inundated by flood waters from Hurricane Irene.
Riparian Plant Community, Hudson River, Riparius, NY


Trichopoda pennipes, Feather-legged Fly

Trichopoda pennipes, Feather-legged Fly, on Pycnanthemum, Mountain-Mint, in my garden yesterday. Although it's widespread and common, occurring throughout North America, this was the first time I've noticed this species in my garden.
Trichopoda pennipes, Feather-legged Fly, on Pycnanthemum, Mountain-Mint
This photo shows several of the keys to identifying this species:
  • "Feathered" fringes on the hindlegs, true of Trichopoda.
  • Orange abdomen. Females have a black-tipped abdomen. Males, such as this one, have a completely orange abdomen. 
  • Wings are completely black. This species has a transparent margin to the wing.
Trichopoda is a parasitoid of Hempitera, true bugs, including many agricultural and garden pests, such as squash bugs and stinkbugs. For this reason, it's considered a "beneficial" insect:

Each female fly lays on average 100 eggs, which are placed singly on the body of a large nymph or adult bug. Most of the small, white or gray, oval eggs are placed on the underside of the thorax or abdomen, but they can occur on almost any part of the bug. Many eggs may be laid on the same host, but only one larva will survive in each bug. The young larva that hatches from the egg bores directly into the host body. The maggot feeds on the body fluids of the host for about two weeks, during which time it increases to a size almost equal to that of the body cavity of its host. When it has completed its development, the cream-colored third instar maggot emerges from the bug between the posterior abdominal segments. The bug dies after emergence of the fly, not from the parasitoid feeding, but from the mechanical injury to its body. The maggot pupates about an inch down in the soil in a dark reddish-brown puparium formed from the last larval skin, and an adult fly emerges about two weeks later. There can be three generations per year depending on location.

The fly overwinters as a second instar larva within the body of the overwintering host bug. Adult flies emerge in late spring or early summer. The only bugs large enough to parasitize at this time are overwintered adults. Subsequent generations develop on both nymphs and adults of the next generation.
- Trichopodes pennipes, Parasitoid of True Bugs
Trichopoda pennipes, Feather-legged Fly, on Pycnanthemum, Mountain-Mint

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Flickr photo set: Trichopoda pennipes, Feather-Legged Fly


BugGuide: Trichopoda pennipes
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Entomology, Midwest Biological Control News, Trichopodes pennipes, Parasitoid of True Bugs
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, Dept. of Entomology, Biological Control Information Center, Trichopoda pennipes


Scolia dubia, Blue-Winged Digger Wasp

Scolia dubia, Blue-winged Digger Wasp, on Pycnanthemum, Mountain-Mint, in my garden.
Scolia dubia, Blue-winged Digger Wasp, on Pycnanthemum, Mountain-Mint

Another little jewel of a wasp that is new to me this year. I've been seeing it on the Pycnanthemum, but was unable to get decent photos of it until yesterday. I've also seen it on the Clethra alnifolia, Summersweet in my garden, which just started blooming in the past week.


Patent Lies: What's "Native"? And What's Not.

Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower, growing in my urban backyard native plant garden.
Echinacea pallida, Pale Coneflower

I was appalled to see the National Wildlife Federation publish on their Web site, without qualification or counter-point, a press piece by the "Brand Manager for American Beauties Native Plants." (Appalled, but unfortunately, not shocked, given NWF's mishandling of their Monsanto-Scotts-MiracleGro sell-out, and their ham-handed retraction only in the face of public outrage and opposition.)

The Brand Manager's puff piece includes this statement:
At American Beauties Native Plants, we take a slightly broader view in our definition of native plants–we include cultivars. A cultivar is a plant that has been selected and cultivated because of some unique quality, such as disease resistance, cold hardiness, height, flower form or color. Sometimes interesting varieties are found in nature and brought into cultivation making them cultivated varieties or cultivars. In my years as a research horticulturist I observed pollinators, birds and other wildlife interacting freely with cultivated plants.
This paragraph is immediately followed by a photograph of "[Echinacea] ‘Tiki Torch’ is a hybrid of Echinacea paradoxa and a cultivar of Echinacea purpurea."

A cultivar is a vegetatively propagated selection - a clone - of an individual from a population. But a hybrid is not a cultivar. More than that, 'Tiki Torch' is a patented plant. By definition, anything that is patented must be man-made, NOT natural, not native. One cannot obtain a patent on something that occurs naturally in the wild, even if you select it, propagate, and promote it as a cultivar. American Beauties greenwashing "native" with so broad a brush that they include patented plants is deceptive marketing. NWF blindly supporting such an association by publishing it unchallenged on their Web site is, at best, cluelessness.

In my urban backyard native plant garden, I grow plants from a range of sources, including cultivars, unnamed straight species of unknown geographic origins, and - my most-prized specimens - local ecotypes propagated by the Greenbelt Native Plant Center from wild populations in and around New York City. I also grow in container a beautiful specimen of the patented Heuchera 'Caramel' in this (otherwise) native plant garden. I use it to illustrate what is NOT native.

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Greenbelt Native Plant Center
Native Plants


What Is a Native Plant?, Peggy Anne Montgomery, Brand Manager for American Beauties Native Plants, National Wildlife Federation


Native plants blooming in my garden today

Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet Honeysuckle, blooming in my urban backyard native plant garden and wildlife habitat this afternoon.
Lonicera sempervirens, Trumpet Honeysuckle
My little urban backyard native plant garden is in its peak Spring bloom:
  • Amsonia tabernaemontana, eastern bluestar
  • Aquilegia canadensis, eastern red columbine
  • Arisaema triphyllum, Jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Asarum canadense, wild ginger
  • Chrysogonum virginianum, green-and-gold 
  • Cornus stolonifera 'Cardinal'
  • Dicentra eximia, fringed bleeding heart
  • Fragaria virginiana, Virginia strawberry 
  • Geranium maculatum, spotted geranium (just starting)
  • Iris cristata, dwarf crested iris
  • Lonicera sempervirens, trumpet honeysuckle
  • Phlox stolonifera, creeping phlox
  • Photinia pyrifolia (Aronia), red shokeberry (just finishing)
  • Podophyllum peltatum, mayapple
  • Polygonatum biflorum, Solomon's seal
  • Sedum ternatum, woodland stonecrop
  • Tiarella cordifolia, foamflower
  • Trillium (various)
  • Vaccinium angustifolium, lowbush blueberry
  • Vaccinium corymbosum, highbush blueberry
  • Viola sororia, dooryard violet, common blue violet
  • Viola striata, striped cream violet
  • Zizea aurea, golden alexander
Phlox stolonifera, Creeping Phlox. These appear blue on-screen, not at all like the purple they carry in the garden.
Phlox stolonifera, Creeping Phlox

Fragaria virginiana, Virginia Strawberry
Fragaria virginiana, Virginia Strawberry

Zizia aurea, Golden Alexander
Zizia aurea, Golden Alexander

Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis, Eastern Red Columbine

Vaccinium corymbosum, Highbush Blueberry
Vaccinium corymbosum, Highbush Blueberry

Chrysogonum virginianum, Green-and-Gold
Chrysogonum virginianum, Green-and-Gold

Amsonia tabernaemontana, Eastern Bluestar
Amsonia tabernaemontana, Eastern Bluestar

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My Native Plant Garden


Rest for Winter's Dead

2019-04-07: Additions and link corrections

Amelanchier Flower Buds
Flower Buds, Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'

With a score or so species, subspecies, and natural hybrids native to northeastern North America, the genus Amelanchier goes by several common names, many of which represent the plants' phenology:
It blooms - blows - when the shad are running.
The edible, dark-purple fruit ripen in June.
It blooms now, when the ground has thawed enough to dig new graves, and services can be held for those who died during the Winter.

Alosa sapidissima, American Shad, print by Shermon Foote Denton, First Annual Report of the Commissioners of Fisheries, Game, and Forests of the State of New York (1896)


County-level map of Amelanchier distribution, Biota of North America Program (BONAP)

County-level map of Amelanchier distribution, Biota of North America Program (BONAP)

There are examples of Amelanchier blooming all around us, if you know what to look for. Unfortunately, you're more likely to encounter Pyrus calleryana, Callery Pear, alien and invasive, and widely planted as street trees. This year, they started blooming before the Serviceberries.

Serviceberries, to my eye, are more elegant, with widely-spaced branches, and feathery flowers held in elongated clusters. My specimen, Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance', finally bloomed two days ago. It's opening unevenly, still a day or two away from full bloom. Perhaps it's as suspicious of our early Spring as I am, hoarding its treasures lest they all be squandered at once to a hard frost.

Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'


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Native Plant Profile: Amelanchier x grandiflora


Wikipedia: Amelanchier
BONAP: Amelanchier



Our unseasonably warm weather has turned the phenology dial up to 11 in my urban backyard native plant / wildlife habitat garden.

Last Wednesday, the furry buds of Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance' were extending.
Flower Buds, Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'

Yesterday, four days later, the shoots have turned upright, and individual flower buds are visible. Bloom is imminent.
Buds, Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance'

Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed, NYC-local Ecotype. This plant already needs dividing, something I wasn't expecting to do for another month.
Helenium autumnale, Sneezeweed, NYC-local Ecotype

Podophyllum peltatum, Mayapple
Podophyllum peltatum, Mayapple

Trillium (cuneatum?)
Trillium cuneatum(?)

Mertensia virginica, Virgina Bluebells, is already tall and full of sky-blue flower buds.
Mertensia virginica, Virgina Bluebells

Flower Buds, Vaccinium corymbosum, Highbush Blueberry, NYC-local ecotype. This also seems extremely early. Maybe I'll get blueberries in May this year.
Flower Buds, Vaccinium, Blueberry

Allium tricoccum, Ramps
Allium tricoccum, Ramps

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My Garden