tiger swallowtail and obedient plant

Tiger swallowtail on obedient plant flower

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” – Jane Austen

What a strange summer we have had so far in New England! I almost thought of going to Florida to escape the heat and humidity. It has been hot and humid, no doubt, but it is August after all, and things are coming along nicely in the out- of-doors. This time of year there is enough good stuff going on in the landscape to overcome any weather difficulties we may be experiencing, so let’s plod on out and see what’s happening.

Horsebarn Hill on a foggy July morning

foggy morning on Horsebarn Hill UConn

 

 

As we head on into the mid= summer, most garden buffs are by now reveling in the abundance of hydrangeas that are now in bloom. The dwarf ‘Little Lime’ is one of several panicle Hydrangeas that have nice full-bodied lime green flowers that pack a visual punch in the landscape. ‘Little Lamb’ is another of the smaller panicle hydrangeas, this one also having a compact form with pure white, ethereal blooms that give it its name.

little lambs hydrangea

‘Little lamb’ panicle hydrangea

Hibiscus are also blooming now, with their outstanding large, colorful flowers that really provide some visual excitement in the garden. I came across a nice hedgerow type planting that made a nice privacy screen along a sidewalk. I am not really a hibiscus fan, but a pink- flowered one popped up in my garden, and looks so great there that I guess it can stay. I wonder if someone snuck it in there to get me to have kinder thoughts toward these plants…

hibiscus border

Hibiscus

On the wild side, the sweet- smelling Clethra alnifolia is in full bloom and is attracting all types of bees, beetles and butterflies. Look for this small clump-forming shrub in any areas where soils are moist. The white flower spikes are very fragrant, so you can tell where Clethra are long before you actually see them. Groundnut vine is also blooming now, with its pea-like pink flower clusters dangling from its twining stems. Often found twining itself around goldenrods and blue vervain, it is always fun to come across this plant.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Red spotted purple butterfly on Clethra

The barn swallows that are partial to building their nests on the eaves of our equipment building have had their second brood of the year, as have bluebirds. Hopefully that will exit the nest soon and mom and dad can have a much needed rest in the near future. There was a female wood duck taking her brood on a tour in a large beaver pond the other day.

barn swallows ready to leave nest

barn swallows ready to fledge

female and male juvenile wood ducks Early August Airline Trail marsh Pamm Cooper photo

Juvenile wood ducks

I came across a wild grape that had one leaf covered with interesting cone- like galls formed by the grape tube gallmaker midge (Schizomyia viticola). This is a harmless gall, and only affected one leaf on the entire grape plant. Looks like a bunch of tall red, skinny gnome caps were set on the leaf.

grape tube gallmaker on grape leaf

grape tube galls

Combing through garden centers for great plants is always enjoyable when you find something like the Blackberry or leopard Lily Belamcanda chinensis. Star shaped flowers only 2 inches wide are heavily spotted with red, while foliage is sword- shaped. The flowers appear in late summer and bloom until frost, so this is a good plant to spiff up areas where other perennials are fading into the sunset.

leopard li;ly Belamcando chinensis

leopard lily Belamcando chinensis

Interesting plants suitable for containers are agave and other succulents. I saw a good size Agave colorata recently which was very striking in appearance. Its leaves are thick and powdery blue- gray with unusual cross- banding designs on them, plus leaf edges have brown teeth tipped with spines. A spectacular plant!

Agaave colorata

Agave colorata

pattern on agave leaves

patterns on Agave colorata leaves

Caterpillars this time of year are larger and, in my opinion, more interesting than the early season caterpillars. One favorite is the brown- hooded owlet, which is a sports a rich array orange, blue, yellow and red. Look for this caterpillar on goldenrods, where it feeds on flowers and flower buds.

brown-hooded-owlet-caterpillar

brown-hooded owlet

If you want a nice surprise, with a little careful handling you can check inside folded stinging nettle leaf shelters and may find either caterpillars of the comma or red admiral butterflies, or the chrysalis of the red admiral.

red admiral chrysalis inside nettle leaf shelter

red admiral butterfly chrysalis inside a leaf shelter on stinging nettle

 

The skies can provide some viewing that is better than any television show. Thunderhead clouds can provide some drama as they develop on hot and humid afternoons, and may provide further excitement in the form of thunder and lightning, and rainbows may follow. We can have remarkable sunsets any time of year, so don’t forget to have a look at the sky around sunset. August is also a great time for early morning fogs as well, especially when we have had a humid night. Getting up early does have its good points…

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Thunderhead developing on a hot and humid afternoon

 

Pamm Cooper

One of my favorite plants in our yard is a large wisteria that wends its way through and around our back deck. Planted in the early 2008 this woody, non-native climbing vine was slow to flower. Although a hardy, fast-growing plant, wisteria usually doesn’t produce flowers until it establishes itself and matures so it was a few years before the first blooms appeared in May of 2011, the image on the left. The center image is from May, 2013 and the image on the right is from the same perspective but in May of 2017.

In early May, before most of the foliage leafs out, the flowers will begin to open, starting at the base and gradually working towards the tip. The 6-12” long drooping racemes of wisteria bloom from basal buds on last year’s growth of wood. It will continue to bloom through the summer when it has full sun and well-drained soil.

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Wisteria vines can become very heavy and need a strong structure such as a trellis, arbor, pergola, or in our case, a deck to provide support. The twining of the stems can be used to identify the species, depending on whether they twine clockwise or counter-clockwise when viewed from above. Our wisteria twines counter-clockwise so it is a Wisteria sinensis, Chinese wisteria. Wisteria that twines clockwise is Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria.

I usually prune it in the early spring when I also give it a low nitrogen-fertilizer. If it sends out unruly new growth during the spring and summer I just break them off by hand. Likewise, with any adventitious shoots that appear at the base of the plant. It’s a low-maintenance plant otherwise with practically no pests or diseases. The bees and other pollinators love it and I saw a hummingbird visiting it this week. One of the few pests that are ever on it are Japanese beetles.

JB

As you can see by the oval white egg on the surface of its green thorax this beetle has been parasitized by a tachinid fly, Istocheta aldrichi. These tiny flies attach a solitary egg to the Japanese beetle. It will hatch a week later and then the tiny larvae will burrow its way into the body to feed. The larvae will consume the beetle from the inside causing its ultimate death, exiting the body to pupate. If you see a Japanese beetle with one of these eggs on it, let it be. It is already on death row and the new fly that it is nourishing will go on to parasitize other beetles in the future.

As I walked past the wisteria earlier this week I noticed bees among its beautiful pendulous violet flowers. I took out my phone to get a picture and as I focused on the buzzing bee I noticed how the individual blooms of wisteria are so like the blossoms of the different beans in the vegetable garden.

Bee on wisteria bloom.jpg

Like bean and pea flowers, the blossoms of wisteria are zygomorphic. ‘Zygomorphic’ means that the flower is only symmetrical when divided along one axis, in this case vertically, unlike the radial symmetry of a flower such as a daisy which is the same on either axis. Clockwise from the top these are the blossoms of a wisteria , a purple sugar snap pea, a pole bean, and a yard-long bean.

Wisteria and beans share many traits with the almost 18,000 other species in the Fabaceae family, also known as Leguminosae, making it the third largest family of flowering plants. Grown world-wide, this group contains trees, shrubs, vines, and herbs that bear fruit called legumes. Many legumes are grown to eat, such as the edible pods of freshly-picked snow and sugar peas and beans, the edible seeds of peas and peanuts, or dried pulses such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, beans, and lupin.

I never connected the ornamental lupin, Lupinus polyphyllus, that grow in our flower beds with the salty lupini beans, Lupinus albus, that accompany many antipasto platters. But when you look at the seed pods of an herbaceous lupin the similarity to other legume seed pods becomes apparent. The images are, clockwise from the upper left, wisteria, lupin, purple snow pea, sugar snap peas, and yard-long beans.

Fun fact about another legume: in a method called geocarpy, the seed pods of peanuts develop underground. This gives rise to its other moniker, the groundnut. Post-fertilization, the yellowish-orange peanut bloom sends out a ‘peg’ that grows down to the soil where the ovary at the tip matures into a peanut seed pod.  Like most other legumes, peanuts have nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia in their root nodules. This capacity to take inert atmospheric nitrogen from the soil means legumes require less nitrogen fertilizer. When the plants die they can improve soil fertility for future crops by releasing that fixed nitrogen.

Scarlet runner beans blossoms

Scarlet runner beans

Any home gardener can benefit from growing legumes, whether they enjoy the beautiful blooms, the healthful benefits derived from eating these high protein and fiber foods or to enrich their garden soil for future plantings.

Susan Pelton

UConn Home & Garden Education Center, 2018

All images by Susan Pelton

While kayaking on the Farmington River in Connecticut last weekend, two fun plants were seen along the way. One is common buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) and the other is dodder (Cuscuta sp.), a parasitic plant. Both are native to this area and have unique characteristics.

buttonbush.farmingtonriver.jallenThe buttonbush really does look like it could also be called a snowball bush. From a distance, the ball-shaped flowers look just like that: white balls or fruits. But upon closer inspection you can see that they are really a pretty and intricate cluster of tiny flowers.

The individual fruits are achenes which form a ball shaped reddish aggregate. Another well-known plant with achene fruits is the strawberry. Take a peek below to have a look at both flowers and fruits of this interesting and striking plant.

buttonbushflower-farmingtonriver-jallen.jpgImage result for buttonbush fruit

Flower photo: J. Allen, UConn         Fruit photo: http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info

Buttonbush is native to the eastern half of North American and parts of Central American and there are isolated occurrences in the west. It is common along riverbanks and other bodies of water and prefers moist sites. It is commercially available for use as a landscape plant and will do well as long as it’s not too dry.

This plant is a food source for some water and other birds, deer and insects. It’s a good option for butterfly gardens on moister sites. It has been used in plantings to prevent erosion. Buttonbush is in the same plant family, Rubiaceae, as coffee and cinchona, the source of quinine. Other members of the family are used for dyes and as ornamentals.

Dodder would not be quite so welcome in the landscape. As a parasitic plant, it gets its nutrients from a host plant that it attaches too where their stems come into contact, weakening the host. Dodder is most often found in moist environments and can parasitize a broad range of plants. The dodder observed on the Farmington River was dining on jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).  As you can sort of see in the photo below, the jewelweed is growing where enough organic matter and debris has accumulated on fallen trees to provide a place to grow over the river.

dodder.farmingtonriver.jallen

Orange, stringy dodder growing on jewelweed along the Farmington River. J. Allen photo.

Dodder is a flowering plant and produces seed from tiny white flowers. This dodder was not flowering yet. Seeds overwinter and germinate the next summer. The young seedlings have rudimentary rootlets that anchor them while they ‘search’ for a suitable host plant using both chemical and physical stimuli. They actually rotate a bit to facilitate finding a host plant. Once that is successful, the dodder stems grow by twining around the host plants and their stems. Where the dodder contacts the host stem, a tiny structure is inserted and allows the dodder to obtain water and nutrients from its neighbor. When dodder grows in landscape plantings or other managed sites, it can be very difficult to eradicate, especially once it’s established for a while. This is because the seeds can survive in the soil for up to five years or more, meaning it will keep coming back for some time even if you manage to get rid of it one season. Another challenge is posed by the fact that herbicides effective for dodder would also be toxic to the host plant. So, if you see dodder where it’s not wanted, get it out of there before it gets established.

Here’s a closer photo of the above plant.

dodder-farmingtonriver2-jallen.jpg

Dodder (photo by J. Allen, UConn)

Wikipedia lists the following common names for dodder: “strangle tare, scaldweed, beggarweed, lady’s laces, fireweed, wizard’s net, devil’s guts, devil’s hair, devil’s ringlet, goldthread, hailweed, hairweed, hellbine, love vine, pull-down, strangleweed, angel hair, and witch’s hair.” A pretty fun list. I hope you’ve enjoyed a look at a couple of amazing members of the plant kingdom.

J. Allen

When I first started gardening in earnest, years ago, it was so delightful to have plants take to their new quarters and spread with abandon. Money was tight and moving successively into three homes with minimal landscaping left a lot of garden and foundation planting space to fill. Plants were donated by friends, purchased at garden club plant sales, at end of season sales at garden centers and started from seed.

The first gardens at my present location were started 29 years ago. Just as I have grown older, and I hate to say it but broader, so have my gardens. That 6-inch Gentsch white hemlock in the White Garden is now close to 15 feet; same with the Rose of Sharon seedling from my sister’s garden. Annemarie’s one red-leaved canna now forms a perimeter around the porch and Flora’s Tatarian aster is now duking it out with the hibiscus. What’s a gardener to do?

Gentsch white hemlock

Gentsch white hemlock. Photo by dmp, UConn

There are two ways to look at this situation and each probably has equal merit. Let the plants have their ways and the fittest will survive. If anything, larger or more robust plants will crowd out underperformers and surely form a dense enough patch to keep most weeds at bay.

On the other hand, there is something to be said for “A place for everything, everything in its place”, Ben Franklin (1706-1790). Depending on the plants and the particular situation, some have to go, others be reduced in volume, and some can just be appreciated for their expansive nature.

It is good to be tolerant of many things but even tolerance has its limits when a particular plants tries to usurp land from its neighbors. These overachievers need to be monitored and banned from certain garden situations, including a few in my yard.

There are several plants in particular that I’ve been waging war on over the years. The first is a magenta spiderwort (Tradescantia). There are two very well behaved spiderworts in my gardens, one white and one light purple. They are relatively upright clump formers. The purple one even reblooms. So at our garden club’s plant sale, I picked up a magenta one thinking it could be a companion to the evening primroses with their ruby tipped foliage and sunny yellow flowers. Then, the magenta spiderwort started popping up all over the place – in with the purple spiderwort, amongst the epimediums, and into the sedums. The stalks are a brighter green than the purple spiderwort so several times a year I have gone through this bed trying to weed out the magenta plants but it is almost impossible to get out the whole rootstock and I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole bed just needs to be dug up and replanted.

Spiderwort and hosta

Purple spiderwort with a magenta stem poking through the hosta. Photo by dmp, UConn.

Another plant I brought home from our plant sale a few years ago was a doronicum, commonly called Leopard’s Bane. I thought the early, bright, lemon yellow, daisy-like flowers would liven up my woodland garden. The person who brought it assured me that it did not spread that rapidly and it was easy to pluck out any unwanted divisions. I had even checked in a few books and on a couple of websites, and the ruling was this plant was non-invasive. I beg to disagree. While not positive, I believe it is D. caucasium, with its heart-shaped leaves, rhizomes and 18-inch tall flower stems. One single plant has now taken over at least 400 square feet and I never know until the next spring where more plants will pop up. Since there are established azaleas in this bed, I just keep weeding these out. Perhaps a different species or cultivar would give me cheery yellow spring color without taking over the neighborhood.

Doronicum

Leopard’s bane or doronicum spreading through the woodland garden. Photo by dmp, UConn.

An herbalist friend thought that a butterbur (Petasites) would be a striking plant next to the small pond in the corner of our property. The large, silvery-green rhubarb-sized leaves definitely are eye-catching. The unique early season flower stalks are curiously but delightfully covered with buds that look like button mushrooms. My friend said this plant was used to treat headaches but with its spreading tendencies, it is giving me one. Like all plants, it is expanding logarithmetically and I’ve been pulling up the new starts as they begin wandering off their allotted acreage.

Butterbur leaves

Butterbur leaves. Photo by dmp, UConn.

In the white garden, I designated a sizable piece of property, around 6 by 6 feet to a white snakeroot or bugbane (Cimicifuga). It has pest-free (as you might guess from the name), attractive, compound leaves and stems, and spires of bottlebrush, creamy white flowers that mature to creamy white, poisonous berries. This plant is native and attracts quite a few pollinators when in bloom even though the flowers are not the most pleasant smelling to us humans. Supposedly, a clump former, it too is migrating into the sweet Cicely and the goat’s-beard and has to be constantly kept in check.

white baneberry actea

White snakeroot with white berries. Photo by dmp, UConn.

Other plants I am constantly trying to contain include lily of the valley, a red-leaved, yellow flowering lysimachia and a white meadow anemone to mention a few. I guess I should be coming up with some garden renovation plans for next spring and also, more carefully researching future plant purchases.

Happy Gardening!

Dawn

praying mantid 2

Praying mantids have hatched and are busy staking their claim in all areas of the garden looking for any insect to eat. They are fun to watch and photograph. So glad I noticed their egg masses and relocated them when cutting back the garden last fall.

clove current berries

The clove currant is producing berries, first green then ripening to black. The birds are eating them faster than I can take a photo them almost. Good plant for wildlife, and a hand-me-down plant from my husband’s grandmother’s home. The Latin name is Ribes odoratum for those doing a search to find one.

swallowtail butterfly

This swallowtail butterfly was very busy feeding on the nectar of the very floriferous bottlebrush buckeye blooming on campus. Bottlebrush buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, is a fabulous, large shrub which sends up panicles of white flowers with red anthers and pinkish filaments.

spinach bolting 2

The summer’s heat is causing the cool weather crops of the spring to bolt and go to seed. Once this happens, the leaves become bitter and plants should be pulled and composted. Planting fall crops of carrots, beets, peas, kale or beans make good use of then now available space in the garden.

Robber fly

This robber fly was resting in the garden, probably waiting for an easy insect meal. They are predatory on all types of insects and considered a beneficial insect.

cross striped caterpillar on cale

If your kale or other cole crops are being eaten and showing a lacy appearance of holy leaves, look for the cross-striped cabbage worm. One caterpillar can eat quite a lot. Bt is a good control measure when they are small, or insecticidal soap. Rotate where brassica plants are located next year, and grow under a row cover to keep the adult moth from laying her eggs on the leaves.

garlic

Garlic is ready to be harvested during July, once half of the leaves have turned brown. After carefully loosening the soil with a spade, pull the garlic bulbs by the stems and dry on an open rack in out of the sun and under cover for three weeks. A shed or garage are best for the drying. After they are dry, brush off the dirt, cut off the roots close to the bottom of the bulb, and cut back the stem end leaving about one inch. Store in the home in a dry, dark spot. Save the largest bulbs for planting next October through November.

gypsym moth females and egg masses

Gypsy moth adults are busy mating. Females do not fly, only able to crawl. The males are flitting around, flying to females to mate. Females will lay the buff colored egg masses which will last through the fall, winter and spring, to hatch next summer. Egg masses can be  crushed or scraped into a container of soapy water.

-Carol Quish

All photos are copyrighted by Carol Quish, UConn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

catalpa flowers 6-25-18 Pamm Cooper photo

Flowers of the Catalpa tree

 “ Nature gives to every  time and season some beauties of its own

– Charles Dickens

After a cool, wet spring and a similar June, July came in like a jalapeno pepper and is staying that way for a while, at least. It is a good thing that our native plants are adaptable to the swings in both temperature and water availability fluctuations. I am also a native New England carbon-based anatomical wonder, but I have a more difficult time with excessive heat coupled with high humidity. The one good thing about this time of year, though, is the wealth of interesting flora and fauna that provide a little excitement, if that is what you need, as you venture outside.

Bittersweet and an old truck

Bittersweet growing through the cab of an abandoned truck

Some of the most spectacular caterpillars are works of progress at this time, and also in late summer and early fall. Daggers, sphinx and prominent caterpillars are always interesting finds for me. They get larger than spring-feeding caterpillars, and often have warts, knobs, hairs and colors that make them stand out. Furculas, for instance, are prominents that have anal prolegs that act more like tails. When disturbed, they flail them about and that action may drive predators away. Sphinx caterpillars usually have horns on the rear end and may get quite large before they pupate. Most are not pests, but beware of the tobacco hornworm if you grow tomatoes.

wavy lined heterocampa lookimg toward the sky Pamm Cooper copyrighted

A wavy-lined heteocampa, a prominent moth caterpillar, looking toward the sky

early instar blinded sphinx July 4 2018 Pamm Cooper photo

Very small blinded sphinx caterpillar

Most milkweeds bloom Between June and late July. This year common milkweed is almost done none in many areas. Soon the swamp milkweeds will bloom, though. Milkweeds are important sources of nectar and pollen for many bees, moths and butterflies, and many other insects feed on the foliage and flowers. Check any of the milkweeds, including native and non-native butterfly weed, for the monarch butterfly caterpillars.

fritillary and skippers 7-11-14 on swamp milkweed

Fritillary and skipper butterflies on swamp milkweed in July

Most birds have raised their first broods, and many are started a second one. pIleated woodpeckers may be seen directing their young to food sources. These include trees and logs in which carpenter ants are actively feeding. Although  pileateds are very large, if not for their raucous calls and loud drumming that give them away, they can be elusive to find unless you know where they live.

Pileated Case Mountain Pamm Cooper photo

Pileated woodpecker

Butterflies have not been as abundant as last year, especially the red admirals and painted ladies. Since these are migratory, one wonders if they were held up in the southern areas and now the second generation be arrive later on.  Hairstreaks and skippers also were few and far between, but now the summer ones are starting to put in an appearance. I was delighted and surprised to have a white admiral butterfly visit the flowers in my backyard gardens this week. In all the time I have spent in the outdoors, I have only ever seen three of these, and this one was a hybrid, likely a result of a red-spotted purple/white admiral matchup.

white admiral cross backyard bush honeysuckle 6-30-2018 IIPamm Cooper

White admiral hybrid

Some summer flowering trees like the exotic mimosa, or hardy silk tree, should bloom in July. We are glad to have one of these on the UConn Campus, just outside of the Wilbur Cross building. Its flowers are pink, fragrant and showy, and to my mind look like fluffs of cotton candy. Catalpa trees finish blooming in early July, dropping their white flowers to the ground like a summer snow.

hardy silk tree UConn Wilbur

Hardy silk tree, or Mimosa

Wildflowers that begin bloom in July include the Canada lily, Lilium canadense, and the wood lily. Both attract butterflies and are a striking hint of color among ferns and herbaceous plants in sunny areas. In the woods, look for Indian pipe, a surprising member of the blueberry family which has no chlorophyll. White in color, you can see how it got its nickname- the ghost plant.

indian pipe

Indian pipe

Canada Lily Lilium canadense 7-14-13

Canada lily Lilium canadense

Fawns are here, being carefully trained by their mothers to be sure to sample hostas, yews, phlox and other tasty garden plants. Knowing this behavior inspired me to put plants that the deer are known not to like, at least for this moment in time, on the edges of my garden beds. I tuck the plants they seem to like to nibble on far enough behind the plants they will not eat, that so far- three years now- they leave stuff alone.

When we get afternoon or early evening thunderstorms, remember to look for rainbows once the sun starts to shine again. If there is going to be a rainbow, it will appear where the storm is still passing through, but the sun has to be behind you.  We can get some great clouds any time of year, so don’t forget to look up now and then, especially in the early morning and late evening around sunset.

rainbow with faint double above

Rainbow over Bolton, Ct. July 3, 2018

Enjoy your time outdoors, even if it is time spent in your own backyard. You can see good and interesting things on nature shows and the weather channels, but it is far better to see it for yourself. The excitement never ends…

Pamm Cooper

feed me Pamm Coope rphoto

Don’t forget to stay cool!

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“Fortunate is the man who knows how to use yarrow in the last days”
Attributed to Brigham Young

Brigham Young was born into a farming community in Whitingham, Vermont in 1802. Like many people at that time he would have been well-acquainted with the use of plants for medicinal purposes. Yarrow in particular has many medicinal and culinary purposes that have used for centuries. Its astringent properties led to it being used to reduce the flow of blood from wounds and the names herbal militaris, staunchweed, allheal, and bloodwort. In fact, legend says that it was used by Achilles’s soldiers on the battleground of Troy. It is that legend that gave us the Latin name for yarrow: Achillea millefolium.

It interested me to learn that since the second century BC yarrow has been used by the Chinese for divination of the I Ching. Diviners prefer dried stalks from locally gathered yarrow as they feel they will be more in-tune with it. Even better are stalks harvested from spiritually important sites such as a Confucian temple. This practice of divination is still widely used today.

In North America yarrow was used by many Native American peoples. The Navajo chewed it to relieve earaches, the Cherokee made a tea to reduce fever and aid sleep, and the Ojibwe, in addition to those uses, burned it for ceremonial purposes. They also gave it to their horses as a stimulant although the ASPCA says that yarrow is toxic to horses, dogs, and cats. For a small number of humans, it occasionally causes allergic skin irritations and photosensitivity.

For the rest of the population, yarrow has so many diverse uses. Let me start with its attractiveness to pollinators. As an umbrellated plant, that is one that has a flower head that is in the form of an open, flat-topped cluster, it is a convenient landing pad for many insects.

These white, yellow, or pink flower heads contain masses of minute, 5-petaled flowers. It is this that gives yarrow the second part of its Latin name, millefolium, or thousand-leaf or petal.

Millefolium can also refer to the many very fine, feathery leaves that adorn the yarrow plant. These lacy alternately arranged, fern-like leaves, can be dried and then steeped in hot water for a ‘tea’. The stripped stems can be boiled in water for 20 minutes and then sautéed in butter as an addition to a salad.  Yarrow leaves and flowers were part of an herbal mixture called gruit that was used as a substitute for hops in the production of beer during the Middle Ages, mostly in the Netherlands, Belgium, and western Germany.

Leaf close-up

In researching yarrow, I came across several mentions of yarrow jelly so of course I needed to make it. I harvested 2 cups of flower heads early one morning, rinsing them and then placing them into a steeping carafe along with freshly boiled water.

I let the mixture brew for an hour before draining it through two layers of cheesecloth. No need for any little insects to be involved in the jelly-making process.

The jelly-making method that I use calls for adding lemon juice and calcium water to the strained liquid. To my astonishment, as I stirred in the lemon juice into the yarrow ‘tea’ the color changed from a dull amber to pink! It turns out that the acid in lemon juice will turn pink when a molecule called an anthocyanin is introduced to it.  Anthocyanin is present in red, blue, and purple flowers including the deep pink yarrow that I used.

Unfortunately, the resulting cooked jelly did not retain that pink color that I love in the blossoms and that is so attractive to insects like the drone and hover flies that recently visited.

A tiny grasshopper nymph  in the species Melanoplus let me get very close to capture his image, jumping away only at the last second.

Grasshopper nymph

Looking a bit lower and deeper into the foliage I saw the tiniest of field ants moving among the feathery leaves. He was not alone.

Field ant (Formica spp).

Nestled in the leaf axil was a spittlebug. No bigger than the head of a pin, the adult Clastoptera lineatocollis was well hidden.

Spit bug 3

The video is of a spittlebug nymph feeding on another plant, covering itself with the foamed-up plant sap.

The foamy ‘spit’ not only hides the nymph from predators and parasites it provides a unique protection from the light that might dry it out.

Further up, an Eastern harvestman spider, Leiobunum vittatum, lay in wait for an unsuspecting red spider mite, Tetranychus urticae. I hope that the harvestman enjoyed his lunch for although one spider mite won’t do too much damage as it sucks out the contents of individual plant cells, an infestation of hundreds can seriously affect the vigor of a plant. Its good to see that a beneficial spider is taking care of that for me. Other beneficial insects that are attracted to yarrow include lady beetles and parasitic wasps such as the Braconid wasp.

If you don’t have yarrow in your flower beds yet I recommend it as a lovely, delicate-looking perennial that brings a touch of antiquity to any site. And here is one more thought from Brigham Young that speaks to the gardener in all of us:

“Beautify your gardens, your houses, your farms; beautify the city. This will make us happy, and produce plenty.”

Susan Pelton