One of my favorite spring flowers is heal-all (Prunella vulgaris). Over the years, whenever I have participated in the Annual Spring Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count my count team always find butterflies nectaring on this stunning wild plant.
Two years ago, I rescued a few plants from a spot that stood the chance of soon being destroyed by a bulldozer. I rescued a few of these plants and my wife planted them in a large container. Under her skillful care, the plants survived and flourished.
The next year the plants sprouted and grew far larger than they had been the previous year. In fact, they spread and filled the container. To top it all off, they bloomed creating an incredibly beautiful bouquet of light lavender blossoms. The flowers also attracted butterflies.
When the flowers and plants eventually withered during the summer, she scattered seed she had collected from these plants and scattered them in another container.
This spring heal-all plants reappeared in the original container. In addition, the seeds sown in the second container sprouted. Those plants are rapidly growing. We hope that they will bloom this year. Meanwhile, some of the plants growing in the original container are already beginning to bloom.
It does appear that heal-all is one of the many wild plants that thrives in containers. By growing them in pots, my wife and I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the plants themselves, as well as the butterflies, and other pollenators that visit them. This would have been much more difficult if we had to rely on occasional observations made when stumbling across heal-all in the wild.
Our next experiment is to see if we can establish a stand of heal-all on our property. I hope I will be able to report the success of our efforts next spring.
For more information on this fascinating plant, go to the search engine bubble on the right side of the blog page and type in Heal-All. Immediately the blog I wrote concerning this plant will immediately appear.
Those of us that are fans of the monarch were hoping that the news from the butterfly’s winter home in Mexico would show an upswing in the colorful butterfly’s population. Sadly, this did not prove the case.
Recently the report of the results of surveys conducted by the World Wildlife Fund-Telemex Foundation Alliance and the National Commission of Protected Areas in Mexico was released. According to the report, researchers found 145 acres of the monarch’s wintering habitat was degraded during the past year. This was a significant increase over the 47 acres that rendered uninhabitable by monarchs in 2021.
This year’s report also stated that the amount of forested wintering habitat used by the birds this past winter plummeted 22%. In other words, monarchs were found occupying only 54.6 acres this past winter whereas they occupied 7.03 acres during the winter of 2021-2022.
It is obvious that we are going to be seeing fewer monarch butterflies flying about Georgia this year.
One of the first butterflies to emergence each year in my neck of the woods (Middle Georgia) is the spring azure (Celastrina ladon). For the past couple of weeks these tiny butterflies have been patrolling the yard between my house and office.
The small (1-inch) butterfly has only one brood a year. As its name implies, its flight takes place in the spring. However, some years I have seen one as early as February.
From above, the butterfly appears to be powdery blue. One the other hand, the underside is light gray and sprinkled with black dots.
This butterfly is most common in the Georgia Mountains. However, it is less abundant in the Piedmont and rarer still in the Coastal Plain.
During its brief life (measured in days), females must locate a suitable host plant and lay its tiny green eggs. Chickasaw plum, coral honeysuckle and flowering dogwood are all spring azure caterpillar host plants.
It is interesting to note that during the time leading up time the females laying their eggs some observers have reported seeing spring azures circling around a host plant for long periods.
One of the most fascinating things about the life history of this butterfly is its caterpillars are often protected by ants. Apparently, the caterpillars secrete a substance that is attractive to ants. After the ants have eaten this odd food, they make no attempt to harm the caterpillars. Meanwhile, predators that find ants are so distasteful to some predators they will stay clear of the ants and caterpillars.
Who would have thought that ants would serve as bodyguards for the helpless caterpillars? Better yet, who would imagine that it could take place in your yard?
One final note, recent research suggests it is not as easy as it used to be to separate a spring azure from the similar summer azure. However, I will leave that story for another day.
Often folks stop feeding birds once spring arrives. However, I am one of those bird-feeding enthusiasts that feeds birds throughout the year. As such, quite some time ago, I learned there are unexpected benefits to feeding birds after winter has released its icy grip on the land. Here are a couple of the reasons why my feeders remain full of seeds well after many winter residents have departed.
For the past weeks, every day my wife and I have been relishing the opportunity to watch male American goldfinches bedecked in rich black and bright yellow breeding plumage dining on sunflower seeds in our backyard. They are indeed far more colorful than they are in winter when they wear muted drab olive- green plumage. Every day we see at least a dozen or more of these birds. When we open the door to our deck and cause the birds to fly toward a weeping cherry growing in the back of the yard, the sight is indescribable. Then when they land, you have the impression you are leave you gazing at glowing yellow Christmas lights nestled in the tree’s green foliage to.
Spring feeding also gives us a chance to see two species of birds we only visit our yard in spring. The birds I am referring to are the blue grosbeak and indigo bunting.
The stunning blue plumages of the male blue grosbeak and the bright blue of the male indigo bunting are breathtaking. Although both birds nest throughout our county, we would never seem them in our yard unless we stocked our feeders with seeds throughout the spring. After a few days, they scatter across the county and settle in their respective breeding habitats.
If you ceased feeding birds a few weeks ago, restock your feeders and see what happens. Who knows? You just might see the three species I have just mentioned, or another migrant rarely seen in your yard.
As for me, I am waiting for the rare opportunity to take a photo the males of all three species feeding side by side. Now that would be a picture!
There is no better time to attend a festival dedicated to flowers than spring. One of the most unique flower festivals staged in Georgia is The Flower Fantasy at Paneola – Dreams.
This annual event will take place at Paneola Farms situated close to Ft. Valley. The dates of 2023 edition of the festival are April 22-23.
The Magnolia Garden Club sponsors the event. Proceeds will benefit the Garden Club of Georgia Scholarship Fund.
The centerpiece of this special event is a circa 1865 home adorned with some of the most unique floral arrangements you will ever see. Each room has a different theme that boggles the mind.
If that is not enough, you must tour the gorgeous grounds surrounding the house. The highlights of your leisurely stroll are visits to a number of gardens, full of a wide variety of flowers that attract butterflies, hummingbirds and other wildlife.
Two of the presentations scheduled for this year’s event should be of interest to backyard wildlife enthusiasts. Mary Ann Johnson from Growing Old will talk about the benefits of pollinators, what to plant in your garden, and how to care for them. This presentation will take place Saturday at 2 pm.
I have the honor of speaking Sunday at 2pm. The name of the presentation is Attracting Hummingbirds—A Recipe for Success.
For more information about this special event, Google… The Flower Fantasy at Pineola Farms – Dream.
For the next several weeks, chances are migratory songbirds will be returning from their wintering grounds to your neck of the woods to begin their nesting season. With that in mind, have you ever wondered how many of these birds have nested in or nearby yard the previous year?
As it turns out, the chances are good that they will indeed nest in the same area. As you might expect, it varies from species to species. However, here are the percentages for three of these species: American robin – 70%, purple martin – 50% and male wood thrush – 60%.
It is interesting to note that research suggests that anywhere for 20-60% of the migratory songbirds are likely to nest in the same area for at least two years in a row.
I should also mention that birds seem to be more likely to nest in an area from year to year, if they successfully nested there before.
Spring is an exciting time for those of us that enjoy watching birds in our backyards. At this time of the year scores of songbirds, visit our backyards that we rarely see at any other time of the year. Ornithologists have long believed that migrating songbirds use stopover areas, like our backyards, to simply rest and refuel before resuming their arduous migration back their breeding grounds. However, the results of research conducted by Swedish and German biologists suggest there is another important reason why birds drop in and stay in a location before moving on.
Ornithologists have long realized that the rest stops used by migratory birds provide an opportunity to replenish fat needed to complete their journeys. At these stops, birds try to consume as much food as possible in a least amount of time. They also use this time to rejuvenate tired muscles and reduce their heart rates. Researchers have recently discovered that the birds use these rest stops to build up their immune systems as well.
This is the conclusion made by researchers with Sweden’s Lund University and the Institute of Avian Research in Germany.
This finding is based on blood samples taken from a number of different species during migration. When they compared the immune systems of birds soon after they arrived at a stopover site with those of birds that have rested and refueled for a as little as a few days, they found the birds were able to restore many parameters of their immune systems. This, in turn, helps the birds maintain good health.
Arne Hegemann, a biologist from Lund University put it this way, “It is fascinating just how much we are still to learn about avian migration and exciting things emerge regularly. This provides an important part of the puzzle of how migratory birds cope with the physiological challenges they are faced with on their long journeys.”