Monday, August 29, 2016

Beauty is Pain

In her latest post, Jean Godawa helps us to identify the caterpillars that will 
mature into beautiful butterflies. 

I've often heard the expression that beauty is pain. It's usually in relation to some cruel female fashion choices like waist-cinching corsets or high heels. But it is an accurate and helpful mantra for those of us who want to welcome some flittering wildlife into our gardens.

Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Of all the garden insect fauna, butterflies are most synonymous with beauty. Their delicate, colourful wings with striking patterns and their gentle flight as they move among garden plants make it hard to believe that these lovely beauties are in the same class as dung beetles or cockroaches.

In order for us to see the beauty of butterflies in our gardens, we must also put up with the pain of their immature forms. Caterpillars, the larval form of butterflies, are vilified as plant slayers, often for good reason. Their voracious appetite can severely damage garden plants. Large groups of them can defoliate a forest.

Defoliation in a Colorado aspen/poplar forest by western tent caterpillars (Malacosoma californicum)

In our enthusiasm to protect our plants from any leaf-munching critter, we pick caterpillars off plants, or worse, spray them with insecticide. In doing this, we might inadvertently destroy a beloved creature that would have otherwise been flitting about our garden a few weeks later, pollinating our flowers and adding to the beauty of the space.

Recognizing and identifying the larval forms of butterflies can help prevent this and ensure that these beautiful creatures continue to visit our gardens.

The easily recognizable monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is common throughout North America and is known for its ability to migrate thousands of kilometers to wintering sites in Mexico and California. This discovery and the subsequent work on monarch migration has alerted us to issues such as climate change, the overuse of pesticides and the destruction of sensitive habitats.

If you have any milkweed in your garden you may have seen the larva of the monarch butterfly munching away. It feeds on milkweed exclusively while the adult form feeds on nectar from a variety of flowers. Butterfly larvae have strong mandibles for chewing leaves while adult butterflies eat through a straw-like, nectar-sucking proboscis.

A similar butterfly, the viceroy (Limenitis archippus), is easily mistaken for a monarch. A black band across the hind wings of the viceroy distinguishes it from the monarch. The colour of these butterflies gives them a protective advantage. Monarchs are toxic to birds that eat them. While viceroys are not toxic, their colouring scares away potential predators.

Despite the viceroy butterfly's resemblance to the monarch, its larva is quite different. Viceroy larvae feed on fruit trees as well as birch and poplar.

The eastern black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius) is found throughout southern Canada, the eastern and mid U.S. and into the southwest and Mexico. The extensions on the hind wings give swallowtail butterflies their names. This species is only one of over 500 swallowtail species worldwide.

The young larva is black with a white "saddle" in the middle. As the larva matures, it becomes smoother in texture and its colouring becomes light green with black and white stripes while maintaining the orange spots. You may find these caterpillars in your dill, parsley or carrot plants. Healthy, mature plants can usually tolerate some caterpillar feeding. Keep an eye on your plants if you've seen one of these larvae on it. Chances are it will pupate before it causes any serious damage.

The spicebush swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus), which closely resembles the eastern swallowtail as an adult, has a very different larval form. The young larva looks a bit like bird droppings, making it unappetizing to predators.

As the larva eats and grows, it has a much different and striking appearance, with bright colouring and large eyespots. This creature typically feeds on trees in the Lauraceae family including sassafras and spicebush.

The question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) can be found east of the Rocky Mountains and it typically feeds on elm and basswood. It is named for the small, white question mark on the underside of each of its hind wings, visible when the butterfly's wings are upright.

Question mark larvae can look very intimidating with their spiny clubs. While some caterpillars with hairs or spikes release a venom when touched, the question mark caterpillar is harmless.

One of the  more common garden butterflies are the cabbage whites (Pieris rapae). As their name suggests, the larvae feed on cabbage plants as well as broccoli, cauliflower and other related vegetables. With their delicate, hairy wings, these butterflies are often mistaken for moths.

Both moths and butterflies belong to the same group - Lepidoptera, but there are a few ways to tell the difference between the two.
  • Butterflies generally have thin or wire-like antennae with knobs on the end while moth antennae are often feathery or hairy
  • Butterflies rest with their wings outstretched or folded up over their back so that the underside is visible; moths rest with their wings flat or tented over their body
  • Moths are typically nocturnal while butterflies are active through the day (diurnal)

Cabbage white larvae are serious pests to their host plants. This might be one of the "pains" that your garden should not endure. Hand remove these caterpillars from your veggies and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.

Buckeye Butterfly (Junonia coenia)

With well over 10,000 Lepidoptera species in North America alone, it can be challenging to identify the adult or larva in your garden. Before destroying a caterpillar, try to identify it. You may decide to put up with the little "pain" to have the "beauty" a few weeks later.

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About Jean GodawaJean is a science teacher and writer. She has been writing science-related articles for print and online publications for more than ten years. Jean holds a degree in biology and environmental science with a focus on entomology from the University of Toronto. She had conducted field research in the tropical rainforests of Asia and South America.

More information and Links:

There are some wonderful field guides available to help identify caterpillars. I have some well-worn books that I frequently use for insect identification. My favorite though is a very simple field guide for novice entomophiles: Peterson First Guides Caterpillars by Amy Bartlett Wright and Roger Tory Peterson. (Not an endorsement, just a personal preference. Jean).

Many thanks to the photographers who contributed photos to this post: Ken Sproule, Dan Flynn, Ansel Oommen, and William M. Ciesla of Forest Health Management International.

And the Winner is...

The dogs again oversaw the draw for the latest book giveaway.

First Scrap made sure that none of the names had been missed and 
everyone was included in the drawing. 

Then Piper moved in to verify that everything was in good order. 

And the winner is...

Congratulations Cathy! 

I had no sooner finished the drawing when someone moved in and 
attempted to chew the the slip of paper!


Cathy I will be in touch shortly to get your mailing address. I promise to send Culinary Herbal: Growing and Preserving 97 Flavourful Herbs to you minus any teeth marks.

If you weren't a winner this time, take heart, there will be another book draw coming up very shortly! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Daisy-Type Flowers of Mid to Late Summer (Along with some of their Best Friends)

"I will go pick daisies and have a happy heart." Kimber Annie Engstrom 

What would high summer be without some daisy-type flowers? They are pure happiness atop a flower stem! Mid to late summer offers a wide range of this simple flower shape. Let's take a look at a few of them.

This is my front garden back in 2013. I used to have loads of yellow Rudbeckia along the fence back then. 

I pulled half of it out looking to add room for early summer flowers, but now that I reflect back at this glorious August display, I am now rather sorry to have been quite so ruthless. Perhaps it is better to shine for a brief time than to look mediocre over the long haul of a gardening season! Sometimes we gardeners have to learn by making mistakes. Now, I'm thinking of swinging back the other way and restoring some of the Rudbeckia.

Yellow Rudbeckia, Pink colored Zinnias, Sweet Potato Vine and blue 
colored Floss Flower, Ageratum in a public park.

Floss Flower, Ageratum

Rudbeckia also looks great mixed in with annuals as you see here in this display at a local park. As with most plants you need a big patch of each type of flower to really have an impact.

I have two Rudbeckia cultivars to recommend you might try.

It wasn't labelled but, I am going to guess that this is the popular Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum'.

Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' has golden-yellow flowers with a black centre. It will easily grow in average garden soil. It likes sun but is also happy in light shade. Removing spent flowers will prolong the display of blooms into the autumn. This perennial has a slow spreading habit but is easy to remove where unwanted. Height: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Rudbeckia 'Little Goldstar' was bred to be an improvement on 'Goldstrum'. It blooms profusely on a more compact plant that stands just 14-16 inches tall. It's an easy-to-grow perennial that will prosper in average garden soil with normal moisture conditions. Height: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Echinacea at the Toronto Botanical Gardens.

Echinacea are butterfly magnets. They are also one of those perennials that the plant industry has bred into a zillion different color and flower forms. If you ask me, some of the older cultivars are still the best and most reliable plants, but here are a few of the newer cultivars to tempt you:

Echinacea in the Landscape Ontario Garden.

Echinacea Sombrero 'Adobe Orange' (top left) has overlapping orange petals and a rusty-red cone. It was bred to produce lots of flowers on a compact, sturdy plant. Average garden soil and moisture conditions are fine for this Echinacea. Full sun. Height: 60-65 cm ( 23-25 inches), Spread: 40-45 cm (16-18 inches). USDA zones: 5-9.

Echinacea 'Supreme Cantaloupe' (top right) As its name suggests, this echinacea has cantaloupe-colored petals with rosy-red ray petals at the centre of the flower. Full sun. Height: 55-65 cm (21-25 inches), Spread: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Echinacea Sombrero 'Kim's Knee High' (bottom centre) has coral-pink petals with an orange cone. This Echinacea has a compact, bushy habit making it perfect for the front of any flower bed. Full sun. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Sunflowers are synonymous with late summer. They are annuals but, they are such great self-seeders once you grow them, you almost always have them in your garden. 

Plant sunflowers for the birds. Goldfinches and little chick-a-dees adore eating the seeds.

And as an added bonus, sunflowers make great cut flowers!

Helenium and other perennials in a local park.

To be honest, I've struggled a little with this next plant. Where do you place a perennial that comes in such vivid shades of red, orange and yellow? I am still searching for the perfect place to relocate my Helenium to set it off to best advantage.

Perhaps the answer to that ideal spot lies in this next picture.

Heleniums seem to look great against a golden backdrop. That background could be created with an ornamental grass or maybe a non-invasive form of goldenrod. In this image, Helenium is paired with the yellow foliage of a Sumac.

Helenium 'Short 'n' Sassy'(on the left) This compact variety of helenium has orange and gold petals with a deep brown centre. Full sun and moist soil are best. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Helenium autumnale Mariachi 'Fuego' (on the right) is another compact variety of helenium. 'Fuego' has orange-red petals and a golden halo around a deep, coffee-colored centre. Full sun and moist soil are best. Height: 40-50 cm (16-20 inches), Spread: 50-60 cm (20-30 inches). USDA Zones: 3-9.

(Here is a link to an English website that will give you a good idea of the tremendous range of Helenium cultivars that are available.)

Blue salvia mixing nicely with Rudbeckia in a local public park.

Salvia farinacea 'Victoria Blue' is an annual you can find at almost any garden centre.

Rudbeckia hirta 

A few brief words on different varieties of Rudbeckia hirta. These are short-lived perennials that are often treated as annuals. They will sometimes survive a few winters but are more likely to live on by self-seeding.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy' at the Guelph trial garden.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy'

Rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisy' has golden-yellow daisies with a red eye and a black cone. It is fairly drought tolerant once established. Full sun. Height: 45-50 cm (18-20 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto Gold'

As well as the taller cultivars, there some more compact varieties of Rudbeckia hirta as well. Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto Gold' and Rudbeckia hirta 'Toto Lemon' are two good examples.

Donna's garden in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Pale yellow Coreopsis edges the flagstone pathway in my friend Donna's garden. It's a dainty little daisy-type flower that blooms for ages. Donna tells me she sheers her plants in mid to late July to encourage a fresh round of blooms.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' has soft yellow flowers and fine, ferny foliage. It tolerates heat and humidity well making it a good choice for edging a sunny border. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam'

Coreopsis is yet another plant with many variations on a color theme. It is important to note that not all of the new cultivars are as hardy and as reliable as older varieties like 'Moonbeam'. Many of are sterile, so they won't even reseed themselves. 

My advice is to confirm the hardiness zone on the plant tag before you make your purchase. If the cultivar in question isn't hardy in your area, think of it as an annual. Here are just a few of the many new cultivars available:

Big Bang Coreopsis 'Star Cluster' (top left) has creamy white daisies that sometimes develop a maroon-purple eye. 'Star Cluster' forms an upright mound of fine, narrow foliage. Plants may require some support if grown in good garden soil. Full sun and average moisture conditions. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 4-9.

Coreopsis Leading Lady 'Lauren' (top right) has single yellow flowers. It was bred to be floriferous, mildew resistant, cold and heat tolerant. 'Lauren' also blooms earlier than most Coreopsis. Full sun and average moisture conditions. Height: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Coreopsis 'Dream Catcher' has cool pink daisies with a maroon eye. Full sun and average moisture conditions. This variety is hardier than most pink forms. Full sun. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA Zones: 5-9.

Annual Zinnias make great companions for late summer daisies and grasses.

Zinnias in a local public park.

Gaillardia bloom for such an extended period in the summer, I regret not having any in my garden. There are many color variations available these days. They like hot, sunny sights and are drought tolerant once established. Dry conditions and normal or sandy soil are best. Here are just three:

Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Sun' (top left) has orange-red flower petals with yellow tips. Full sun. Height: 20-30 cm (8-12 inches), Spread: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Gaillardia aristata 'Arizona Red Shades' (top right) has orange-red flowers. Full sun. Height: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches), Spread: 25-30 cm (10-12 inches). USDA zones: 3-9.

Gaillardia x grandiflora Mesa 'Yellow' (bottom centre) has solid yellow petals and a large golden eye. Full sun. Height: 40-45 cm (18-23 inches), Spread: 40-45 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

These pictures have been pulled from a wide range of gardens. It just goes to show you how versatile daisy-type flowers can be.

I hope you have found a little inspiration for your garden in my many examples.

P.S. The latest book winner will be announced shortly!

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