One of the reasons I enjoy watching wildlife in my yard is every time I walk out the backdoor I have a chance of making a new discovery. It does not matter whether or not anybody else has made this discovery elsewhere. The important thing is it is new to me. Finding it in my own yard makes it extra special.
I would like to take a moment to tell you about my most recent discovery.
Each year my wife scatters globe amaranth seeds in large containers sitting on our deck. She grows globe amaranth because it bears beautiful flowers that attract a bevy of different wild pollinators such as butterflies. In addition, the plant does not require a lot of water, plant pests rarely bother it, and it blooms profusely from summer into autumn.
For weeks, we have been noticing the papery remains of tiny amaranth blooms littering the deck and nearby rail alongside one of our pots containing globe amaranth plants. We suspected that birds were the responsible for the scattered flowers. Our suspicion proved to be correct. Recently while I was drinking my second cup of coffee and gazing out the window over the kitchen sink, I saw a group of globe amaranth plants violently shaking. When I focused my attention on those particular plants I realized a female cardinal had landed on them and was pulling apart their globe shaped flower heads. After tearing apart several blossoms to reach the tiny seeds hidden inside, the bird snipped off an entire flower head and flew away. Shortly thereafter a male cardinal arrived and ate his fare share of the globe amaranth seeds.
Wow! To say the least, we are elated to find that a container full of globe amaranth plants provides foods for butterflies, bees, butterflies, and cardinals. Who knows what else is visiting our globe amaranth plants? What I do know is we are going continue watching the plants in hopes of discovering if anything else is benefitting from them.
In our quest for native plants that are attractive and valuable to a variety of wildlife, we often overlook partridge pea. In fact, it may already be growing in an unmanicured spot in your yard.
In case you are unfamiliar with partridge pea, it is a native, annual legume that grows across the entire state of Georgia. Seven species of partridge pea grow in the Southeast.
Its attractive feathery leaves are dark green. The plant bears bright yellow flowers from May into September and beyond. After the flowers bloom, a crop of flat, pea like pods appears. Encased inside each pod are 4-20 black seeds.
Since the hard seeds persist into spring, they are a source of seeds for northern bobwhites, turkeys, songbirds, and even small mammals. One reason the seeds are so valuable is that they provide wildlife with a source of food throughout the winter, a time when seeds are often scarce.
Unfortunately, we often overlook the fact that the plant is the larval host for moths and butterflies like the io moth, gray hairstreak, cloudless sulphur, and sleepy orange.
Partridge pea also draws a host of nectar feeding insects. It is interesting to note that this hardy native’s blossoms produce pollen but not nectar. Nectar is generated in what botanists call extrafloral nectaries located at the base of its leaves.
Many pollinators are attracted to the partridge pea. It is especially important to the honeybees. In fact, beekeepers often plant partridge pea near their hives. Other insects that dine at partridge pea include a variety of native bees and wasps, ants, and even the so-called velvet ant, which is actually a wingless wasp.
It is unlikely you are going to find partridge pea plants at a nursery at this time of the year. However, if you take a walk about your yard, you just might find partridge pea plants living along the fringes of your yard. Since plant grows in a variety of soil types, you might find it in places where little else grows.
If you locate it, don’t cut it down. All you have to do help ensure that it will not disappear is leave it alone. With a little luck, it may reseed itself next spring.
If you cannot find any partridge pea plants growing in your yard, one way that you can get it started is to collect some seeds pods from plants growing along a highway. When the pods ripen, they will split open and release the seeds. Then scatter the seeds on the ground during the fall.
Keep in mind this plant will spread from where it was planted. Consequently, carefully choose the places you want to try to establish it.
Years ago, I learned that one of the best ways to attract a variety of birds to your yard is to provide them with a variety of wildlife foods. In an attempt to accomplish this goal, I now offer my feathered neighbors a variety of seeds, and suet, in addition to mix of seeds, fruits and berries produced on a number of native trees and shrubs growing about the yard. One of these shrubs is American beautyberry.
A northern mockingbird was the first bird that I saw feeding on the shrub’s bright purple berries. Since then I have kept track of the different species of birds that I have witnessed dining on these uniquely colored berries. Up until this year, the list included the gray catbird, house finch, northern cardinal and brown thrasher.
In the last few days, I have enjoyed watching cardinals hopscotching around the bird feeding area located in front of my home office my yard eating suet, sunflower seeds as well as the berries of an American beautyberry growing nearby. Meanwhile, brown thrashers have divided their time between eating suet, pieces of bread. and beautyberries.
Yesterday, I just happened to notice the bush’s foliage shaking. I stopped what I was doing and waited to see if a bird would appear. Much to my surprise, the bird causing the leaves to shudder was a female summer tanager. For several minutes, the bird moved about the bush eating a several beautyberries before moving on to the next cluster of bead-like berries. Then, just as quickly as she appeared, she flew away.
When she vanished into the foliage of a nearby oak tree, I had a new addition the list of birds I have personally seen feeding on American beautyberries in my yard. Better yet, I also now possess an unforgettable memory.
If you would like more information on American beautyberries, type American beautyberry in the Search bubble found on the right of the screen. When you press the return button, a number of former blogs dealing with beautyberries will appear.
If you are concerned about the plight of Georgia’s pollinators, I urge you to become a citizen scientist and take part in the Great Georgia Pollinator Census. This year’s count will be staged August 20 and 21.
This will mark the third year the census has been conducted. Last year, in spite of Covid-19, 3,755 Georgians representing 124 counties took part in the survey. Their efforts resulted in data collected on almost 82,000 individual pollinators.
The counts have been carefully designed so that Georgians of all ages and skill levels can take part. There is no participation fee and a census requires only 15 minutes of your time. Most counts are held in yards. However, a number of teachers and other youth leaders involve young people in counts held in such locations as school grounds.
The survey is conducted by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Becky Griffin is the Project Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The information gathered is being utilized by UGA researchers for economic valuation studies of pollinators.
For details regarding the count, go to Great Georgia Pollinator Census (http://ggapc.org). When you visit the site, take the time to download the fantastic, full-color pollinator guide.
The juniper hairstreak is one of our more elusive butterflies; in spite of the fact, it ranges across most of the state except in portions of Southwest Georgia. This is unfortunate because this small (wingspan roughly one-inch), butterfly possesses unique beauty. When you see a juniper hairstreak, the thing that jumps out at you is the jewel-like olive green color that covers most of its wings.
Juniper hairstreaks are often difficult to find anywhere, let alone in backyards. However, last summer I saw more juniper hairstreaks in my yard than I had seen in my entire life. My good fortune is appears linked to my transplanting mountain mint plants in four locations in my backyard. During much of August 2020, I could consistently find juniper hairstreaks nectaring at the mountain mint’s tiny blooms.
Prior to last summer, I would only occasionally find juniper hairstreaks nectaring on the blossoms of white clover in my backyard. However, I would often go a year or more without seeing one.
I did not understand why this is the case since several large red cedars grow in my large backyard. Red cedar is the juniper hairstreak’s host plant. It seems juniper hairstreaks do not venture far from the trees, preferring instead to spend the majority of its time in the trees aromatic foliage.
In fact, I have often read that the best way to see a juniper hairstreak is to flush one by shaking a limb or tossing a dead branch in the into the canopy of a red cedar. Although I have tried this trick many times, it only worked once.
The juniper hairstreak nectars on a variety of flowering plants, although for some reason, I have never seen a juniper hairstreak feed on any of the large array of nectar-bearing flowers in my yard. That is until I planted mountain mint.
If you long to see a juniper hairstreak and red cedars grow nearby, you might want to plant mountain mint in your yard. The native is hardy an easy to grow. If you do add this plant to your yard, set it out in a place where it will not compete with other nectar plants, as it will spread.
Once you spot the first juniper hairstreak in your yard, you will wish you had made its acquaintance a long time ago.
Butterfly bushes are truly butterfly magnets. However, if you want them to continue blooming from now until migrating monarchs pass through out state months down to road; you must deadhead the plant’s spent blossoms.
For reasons I do not understand, this spring my butterfly bushes have been covered with the largest clusters of flowers they have ever produced. Unfortunately, few butterflies were around to enjoy them. However, lots of bumblebees, honeybees, and carpenter bees constantly visited the nectar-rich blossoms while they were blooming.
Fortunately, butterfly bushes can be encouraged to produce a bounty of flowers throughout much of the growing season. All it takes is deadheading the bush’s flower clusters before they go to seed.
Recently I deadheaded my butterfly bushes for the first time this year. From experience, I know I will have to repeat this procedure many times. However, I realize that, if I am diligent, countless butterflies and other pollinators will benefit from the food produced by crop after crop of fresh flowers. In the past, I have been successful in prolonging the butterfly bushes’ blooming until the monarchs en route to their wintering home in Mexico. When they use my yard as a stopover area on their epic journey it is not uncommon to see anywhere from four to eight monarchs on a single butterfly bush.
When deadheading a cluster of flowers, remove the spent cluster down to the spot close to the point when the main flower stem joins two side branches. If this is done at the right time, the two side branches will quickly produce flowers too. When the blooms on the main branch and side branches have already turned brown simply, cut the stem just above the next juncture of side branches and the main stem.
This is definitely a case where a little time spent cutting back spent flowers will produce a beautiful bush and remain a source of nectar throughout the summer.
As odd as it may sound, many of our native bees are at least three times more efficient pollinators as the introduced honeybee.
Take for example the bumblebee: many of us grow blueberries in our yards. Many pollinators including honeybees and bumblebees visit the blueberry plant’s creamy white flowers. Studies have demonstrated that a honeybee would have to visit a blueberry flower four times to deposit the same amount of pollen as a bumblebee can in only one visit.
In addition, native bees are more common than honeybees in many of our yards. Unfortunately, few honey bees visit the flowers in my yard. Luckily, tiny solitary, bumble, and carpenter bees are routinely seen visiting a wide range of flowers found there.
This summer, as you walk around your flower and vegetable gardens take note of the bees you find pollinating your flowers. If you do, don’t be surprised if you see very few honeybees and an abundance of native bees hard at work pollinating the plants that provide you with food and a cascade of beautiful flowers.
I am convinced that we are guilty of underestimating the value of the 532 species of native bees that can be found flying throughout Georgia.
One of my favorite times of the year is when the mulberries begin to ripen on my backyard mulberry tree. While my wife and I enjoy eating the sweet juicy berries, what I enjoy even more is watching the parade of birds that flock to the devour every berry in sight.
Yesterday, my long wait for this special event ended when I noticed the tree is festooned with berries. Although most of the berries are not ripe, I have learned that the hungry birds begin devouring the berries well before they are fully ripe.
The birds that flock to mulberries are all card-carrying members of the bird world’s Who’s Who List. While I am not a usually a name-dropper, the list of a few of the birds that eat mulberries includes bird royalty such as the eastern bluebird, rose-breasted grosbeak, great crested flycatcher, scarlet and summer tanagers, wood thrush, red-eyed vireo, northern bobwhite and wild turkey.
One of the neatest things about the watching birds feeding in a mulberry tree is you are very likely to see multiple species of birds feeding at the same time. It is not impossible to a dozen more species of birds gorging on mulberries during a feeding orgy.
If you have a mulberry growing in your yard, you have probably witnessed the spring invasions of birds seeking mulberries. However, if your yard is not blessed with this magical tree, and is large (the tree can grow to a height of 60-70′ or more) enough to accommodate this fast-growing tree, plant one. While several introduced species of mulberries of mulberries grow in Georgia, the one you should buy is the red mulberry (Morus rubra) since it is the only mulberry native to Georgia.
This investment will pay dividends for decades to come.
Recently I participated in the Annual Spring Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge/Rum Creek Wildlife Management Area Butterfly Count. All of the participants I have talked to since the count have told me that they found more butterflies on a wildflower known as Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris) than any other plant.
Heal-all has long been recognized as a nectar plant used by butterflies, bees and other nectar feeders. However, many books dedicated to attracting butterflies either do not mention it at all, or, if they do, provide little information pertaining to the plant.
Depending on whom you talk to heal-all either is a native or naturalized plant in Georgia. However, at least three varieties of heal-all grow in Georgia.
During the count, we found the plant growing in sunny (the plant will also grow in partial shade) areas along roadsides, disturbed sites, and small unmowed tracts. In most cases, the plants were growing in dry soil.
In spite of its value as a nectar source, it is rarely planted in gardens. In years past, this was not the case. Back in the day, the plant was grown more as a medicinal plant that for its small, showy lavender flowers.
Blossoms appear on thick cylindrical spikes. The plant’s square stem-bearing flowers typically reach a height of a foot or more. The plants we encountered are now in full bloom. Deadheading the blossoms will extend the plant’s blooming period.
Those gardeners that utilize the plant for butterflies often incorporate it in natural gardens or use it in borders. Heal-all can even be grown in larger containers.
Plants can be divided in spring or grown from seed. If you want to prevent them from seeding, cut off the flower heads before they produce seeds.
If you have some unmowed spots on your property, you might find heal-all growing there. If you cannot find heal-all growing near your home, and want to see what it looks like drive slowly driving down country roads. Chances are you will find patches of heal-all. If you stop to look at one or more of the heal-all stands, do not be surprised if you find several species of butterflies feeding on heal-all nectar.
After you become acquainted with heal-all, you can see why I feel it is an underrated nectar plant.