Eldest offspring’s jalapeño plant was growing well and producing plenty of peppers until this big fellow showed up. Hornworms feed on a wide variety of solanaceous plants, so I’m keeping a close eye on my Brugmansia and tomato plants. On occasion, while prowling the garden at night with a headlamp, I have found adult moths visiting nocturnally fragrant Lilium formosanum and Crinum ‘Mrs. James Hendry’ flowers.
About a week ago, I noticed that something was cutting flaps in the leaves of my canna plants and stitching them shut with silk. Peeling the flaps open revealed the caterpillars of the Brazilian skipper. In late summer, my cannas are often infested with lesser canna leaf rollers (caterpillars of a nondescript moth, Geshna cannalis), but this is the first time I have seen greater leaf rollers. Brazilian skippers are tropical butterflies that sometimes stray to the NC piedmont,usually in late summer.
Unlike the greater canna leaf rollers, fall webworms are a familar late summer sight in my garden. They feed on a wide variety of hardwoods. This year, they’re on sweetgum and possumhaw. In previous years, I have found them on sourwood, black cherry, and American persimmon.
Youngest offspring and I found a nest of newly hatched Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus) in one of my hanging baskets. When we made clicking noises, they opened wide for dinner.
Carolina wrens are notorious for building nests in inappropriate places. I have found nests under the lid of our barbecue grill and, repeatedly, in open bags of potting soil. In comparison, a hanging basket is a surprisingly good choice, even if the chicks run the risk of being flooded whenever I water the plants.
While driving down our lane, I noticed a large, dark insect scuttling across the dusty gravel. It proved to be a mole cricket. As a child, I used to catch mole crickets in our garden in southwestern Iran, but I haven’t seen one in decades. This was like meeting an old friend.
There are several mole cricket species in the southeastern U.S., including some introduced species that are agricultural pests. I think this may be the native Neocurtilla hexadactyla (northern mole cricket), but I let it go instead of collecting it for definitive identification.
Mercer Botanical Gardens are located north of downtown Houston, very close to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. I had visited the gardens once before, about seventeen years ago, but remembered very little, so during our recent trip to Houston, I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance.
I had forgotten about Hurricane Harvey. During the flooding last year, the gardens were submerged under eight feet of muddy, polluted water. Clearly the floods did a lot of damage, and just as clearly the gardens employees and volunteers have been working very hard to repair the damage. This article from the Houston Chronicle describes the devastation, and a google image search will show you what the gardens once were. These six pictures will give you a little taste of what the gardens are now, and a hint of what they will be again.
1. Dead palm tree
Some of the garden grounds were still closed off, and in the open areas damaged plants were still visible. After the flooding, last winter included an unusually prolonged cold spell in the Houston area, which probably did not help the tender palms. Virtually all of those that were still alive had damaged fronds, but that damage is temporary. I’m not sure if this palm tree was left in the ground because the staff had been overwhelmed, or if they were waiting to see if it might resprout.
2. Zephyranthes (rain lilies)
Many of the plants that seemed to be in the best conditions were tropical bulbs and rhizomes, particularly those that tolerate wet soil (crinum, gingers, etc). Presumably, these plants resisted being washed away by the flood, and any top damage was easily replaced. I saw an enormous clump of Hymenocallis caribaea, unfortunately not blooming, that was in prime condition, but the best flowers were on these unlabeled Zephyranthes. They were blooming all by themselves in a rock garden area that appeared to have been recently renovated but not yet replanted.
3-5. Tropical shrubs and trees
Although many of the beds are thus far, still fairly barren, splashes of color from vigrous perennials and fast growing tropical trees and shrubs hint at how spectacular the gardens will be again in a few years.
6. Anolis sagrei (brown anole)
The gardens were swarming with little brown anoles. A. sagrei is native to Cuba and the Bahamas, and it is an invasive species in the southeastern U.S. where it often replaces the native Anolis carolinensis (green anole). My parents’ garden south of Houston still has green anoles, but I didn’t see a single native lizard at Mercer.
So, that’s Six on Saturday and a very brief look at Mercer as it is now. For more Six on Saturday, head over to the blog of The Propagator, who started this weekly exercise and collects links from other participants.