Sunflower in its glory

“This morning, the sun endures past dawn. I realize that it is August: the summer’s last stand.”
― Sara Baume,

August is a favorite month for me as many things I have been looking forward to in the scene have now arrived. Whether in the garden or in the natural environment, there are plants, birds, insects and other things that seem to be more interesting to encounter later in the summer than earlier.

Late bloomers like Caryopteris (bluebeard), turtle head, goldenrods, boneset and spotted Joe-pye weed add interest to the garden and provide food for bees and butterflies before the cold weather sets in. Closed gentians put in a more subtle appearance hidden under shrubs and small trees along pond, stream and lake edges. As many bees are active right until cold weather sets in, these late bloomers are of special value.

wool carder bee at Hill Stead museum sunken garden 8-20-2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Wool carder bee at Hill Stead Museum sunken garden 8-20-2019

Canna lilies and Caladiums, great annuals for foliage color and texture, should be at their peak foliage development now. While still in bloom, check out hedges and borders of hibiscus, hydrangeas and rose-of-Sharon that can make attractive screens with their colorful flowers in August. The hardy hydrangeas will also continue to delight throughout the next month or so as their flowers change colors as they age.

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Sun backlighting ‘Calypso’ Canna lily leaves

hibiscus border

hibiscus border

‘Little lambs’ hydrangea

Numerous butterflies are out and about, although this year many species seemed few and far between. Monarchs, though were numerous. One butterfly that was an unexpected surprise-seen just about everywhere, it seems- is the common buckeye. Usually considered vagrants from the south, they were here as early as June and were breeding throughout the summer

 

Spicebush swallowtail on salvia

Two common buckeyes amid wild blue vervain and boneset August 2019

Check out Rudbeckia  flowers for the diminutive camouflage looper caterpillar which cuts flower petals and sticks them on its body to hide from potential predators. There are also many other small loopers that can be found on black-eyed Susan flowers.

Camouflaged looper with flower parts slapped on it to hide from predators

 

Sunflowers are a winsome addition to any garden and are easy to start from seed in June. There are many varieties to choose from, and some are pollen-less for cutting and floral arrangements. ‘Firecatcher’ has flowers that smell like Juicy Fruit™ gum.

Sunflowers can be started from seed and should be in full bloom by the end of August

Yellow sunflower

Orchards are having a terrific harvest this year. Rains were not as abundant as last year, but the sun was, so fruits like peaches and nectarines are especially sweet this August. Native trees and shrubs that ripen their fruit early include the sassafras and some viburnums, and birds will usually eat the fruits before they drop off to the ground.

sassafras fruit

Sassafras fruit

Along hiking trails, in open fields and in the woods, the caterpillars that are found from August until fall are usually more robust, colorful and generally larger than their spring and early summer counterparts. Sphinx, giant silkworm, dagger, tiger and prominent moth caterpillars are some of the more interesting ones. Generally not pests, several can occur in large enough numbers in the garden landscape to cause alarm, such as the Datanas, but in the wild, they are not a major concern. Slug caterpillars are small but many can inflict a painful sting if the urticating spines are touched. One of the more notorious is the spiffy looking saddleback caterpillar.

 

Early instar saddleback caterpillar August 2019

Northern pine sphinx

 

At any time of year check out the skies for colorful sunsets, sunriss and cloud formations. Indicative of weather to come, clouds and sky colors are good to learn about. A sweet little book on clouds and other phenomena of the skies is “The Cloud Collector’s Handbook” by Gavin Pretor-Pinney.  Like anything else, it takes practice and careful study to correctly identify anything, clouds being no exception.

August dawn with a crescent moon

August 28 2019 dawn with a crescent moon

I will be enjoying the rest of August and the upcoming September, which I hope will be warm. Keep your eyes open for migrating night hawks and tree swallows. which are starting their southern journey now. Large flocks of tree swallows were seen this last week of August week at Hammonasset Beach State Park.

tree swallows Hammonasset August 28 2019

tree swallows Hammonasset State Park August 28 2019

 

One last note- if you are hiking along a woodland trail and come across a single strand of spider silk running between two trees, follow it to the main web. It is likely a spiny orb weaver, Micrathena gracilis , which eats her web every day and builds a new one in an hour the next day.

Micrathena gracilis spider

 

Pamm Cooper

 

 

8 fritillaries on milkweed

Some milkweeds are still blooming. Look for butterflies, like these great spangled fritillaries , on the flowers

Taking a walk around the yard, garden and woods, we are never at a loss of finding interesting, and sometimes annoying, plants and insects. Below are a few favorite and fun things that we found last week.

wineberry upclose

Wineberries, Rubus phoenicolasius, are non-native plants with edible fruit.

Wineberry is native to China and Japan and is a relative of raspberry and blackberry. It was originally brought to this country in 1890 as breeding stock. Today it is classified as invasive due to its aggressive tendencies. https://www.massaudubon.org/learn/nature-wildlife/invasive-plants/wineberry

Tobacco hornworms shown above are actively feeding on tomato plants. If you find a stem of your tomato plant with few or no leaves, scout for this caterpillar. Remove and dispose of as you see fit.

Hibiscus border

This hibiscus border is colorful in August

Many plants can make a suitable border, as seen above on this property featuring a hibiscus border. Perennial hibiscus Hibiscus moscheutos is easy to grow and gives a tropical, colorful look in the summer.

Check undersides of squash leaves for the egg rafts of the squash bugs. If, found, you can crush or use the sticky side of tape to remove them from the leaf. Dispose of tape in the garbage.

red spotted purple on clethra alnifolia

Clethra alnifolia and red spotted purple butterfly

 CLethra alnifoilia is a native shrub often found on edges of ponds, streams or in other places where soils are wet. Flowers are very fragrant and attract many pollinators and butterflies.

 

juvenile red- tailed hawk on rock wall late summer

Juvenile red-tailed hawk

This juvenile red-tailed hawk has found an ideal spot on top of a stone wall to wait for prey like chipmunks, voles and squirrels. Young red-tails have blue eyes.

grapevine beetle 2019 Pamm Cooper photo

Grapevine beetle resting on a grape leaf

The grapevine beetle, Pelidnota punctata, is often found on or near wild or cultivated grape. The beetle is attracted to lights and is frequently found in swimming pools where lights are on for part of the night. Although it feeds on grape leaves, it is not considered a pest. Larvae feed on organic matter.

 

In the spirit of ” gung ho” (Gung ho!, motto (interpreted as meaning “work together”)  Carol Quish and  Pamm Cooper did this blog together

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

 

 

Hibiscus in bloom

Hibiscus ‘Luna Pink Swirl’

Many of the perennials in our flower beds provide us beautiful groupings of color and beauty; from the sunny tulips in the early spring to the irises that maintain their showy blooms for weeks in June to the phlox and hydrangea with their masses of blooms. But there are few that can compare with the oversized outrageousness of the blooms of the Hibiscus laevis, also known as the halberd-leaf rosemallow.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Hibiscus ‘Disco Belle’

Hibiscus are the genus of plants in the mallow family, Malvaceae. Other plants that are in this grouping may be familiar to you as ornamental species such as the China Rose (Hibiscus rose-sinensis), a tropical plant that is generally grown in containers in this zone, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), a plant that is grown as a large shrub or small tree, depending on the manner in which it is pruned, or Sterculia foetida, also known as the wild almond tree, whose name is derived from Sterculius, the Roman god of manure. The petioles of this plant exude a foul smell although the roasted seeds are edible. Makes you wonder who the first person was that thought “Yes, it stinks, but I’ll bet the seeds are yummy”.

Other more well-known edible members of the mallow family include okra (notice the similarity to the hibiscus flower buds), kola nut, and cacao. The baobabs have both fruit and leaves that are edible. A deep crimson herbal tea can be made from the sepals of the Hibiscus sabdariffa which contains vitamin c and minerals.

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Okra

Also in this family but in the genus Malva is the Common Mallow, Malva neglecta, whose edible seeds are high in protein and fat. It is sometimes considered an invasive weed although it does not appear on the Connecticut Invasive Plant Working Group (CIPWG) current listing. I like it for its translucent delicate light pink to almost white flowers and for its foliage which has a crinkly edge.

Common mallow

Common Mallow

Great golden digger wasp on mallow

Great Golden Digger Wasp on mallow

But back to the hibiscus that grow along a sunny fence in our yard. 20 years ago I had 4 different varieties that each produced a different color flower/throat combination in shades from white to deep red. Unfortunately only two of those original plants remain to produce the 7-8” blooms that are so stunning. To say that they are the size of a dinner plate is barely an exaggeration.

Hibiscus Disco Belle

Each apical bloom unfurls its showy magnificence from a very interesting-looking bud (it almost looks like it has a decorative cage around it) for only a day and then they collapse. There are many buds in each grouping though so the flowers appear to be non-stop. I do my best to remove the spent blooms so that the plant will keep producing until September. If you don’t do this then it will put its energy into the development of large seed pods.

Buds close up

Bud close-up

I found a Grape colaspis, Colaspis brunnea, feeding on the foliage. Hibiscus is not listed as a usual host plant for this fellow but okra (which we learned is in the Mallow family) is an alternate host. I felt that it had done enough damage so I am sorry to say that it wasn’t around for very long after this video was shot.

 

Feeding damage

The larvae of the hibiscus sawfly (Atomacera decepta) are a bigger pest as they will generally be present in larger numbers and can defoliate an entire plant. Control methods should be limited to non-systemics and only applied when the flowers are not in bloom. Shown below are a fruit fly and a tumbling flower beetle that were also spotted on the hibiscus.

The foliage and some of the more tender stalks of the hibiscus will die back with a heavy frost. I usually prune back any of the older, woody stems in the early spring before any new growth appears. You may think that the plant did not survive the winter as it is sometimes late May before you will begin to see the new growth but it will quickly make up for lost time and will soon provide you with an abundance of beautiful ephemeral blooms!

Susan Pelton