A Bit of High Desert Botany

The high desert near Albuqurque, NM.  is an alien landscape for a native Northeasterner. The trip was taken in the fall,  for the birds, but the plants demanded attention..everything is of interest to an eclectic naturalist.. On a jeep tour, I asked what the “bushes” were..

A Pinyon, Juniper and Oak forest..

A Pinyon, Juniper and Oak forest..Sandia Mountains in the distance.

A lovely, larger tree of the Juniper genus. I do not know the species.

A lovely, larger tree of the Juniper genus. I do not know the species.

Lovely juniper berries.

Beautiful blue juniper berries feed wildlife.

Cholla Cactus and  Rabbitbrush on the plains.

Cholla Cactus and Rabbitbrush on the plains.

Because my time was limited, and there was no botanist along, I can only say with certainty that this catctus, along with the Prickly Pear is of the Opuntia genus..and the Rabbitbrush, or Chamisa is of the family Asteraceae and genus Ericameria..

A larger Chamisa in a more hospitable locale. They can reach 7 ft.

A larger Chamisa in a more hospitable locale. They can reach 7 ft.

Going to seed..

Going to seed..a pollen source for insects in late summer..

A closer look at a fruiting Cholla. In the spring I am told they cover the dessert with pruple flowers

A closer look at a fruiting Cholla. In the spring am told they cover the dessert with purple flowers

The fruit, even closer.

The fruit, even closer.

Prickly Pear in autumn hues, Opuntia genus.

Prickly Pear in autumn hues, Opuntia genus.

The pads of the Prickly Pear are modified stems (the Cholla’s look more stem-like) and the thorns, as with the Cholla are modified leaves. The Prickly Pear also has tiny spines called glochids, either yellow or red and hard to see as well as to remove from the skin, hence “prickly pear”..

Beware the Prickly Pear.

Beware the Prickly Pear.

Decorating a cliff, in a more southerly location.

Decorating a cliff, in a more southerly location.

There were wild horses in the hills..what were they eating?

There were wild horses in the hills..what were they eating?

Gramma Grass

Blue Grama Grass

Flowering in the southerly Magdelena Mountains.

Flowering in the southerly Magdelena Mountains.

Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis) is  important  grass because its dense, shallow root mass can quickly absorb any rain that might fall and holds down the soil to keeps it from blowing away.

Skull and Yucca still life..there isn't always enough grama grass..

Skull and Yucca still life..there isn’t always enough grama grass..

Yucca is in the same family as asparagus..Asparagaceae..

Another Yucca and a plant I was unable to identify..

Another Yucca and a plant I was unable to identify..

But thought very beautiful, If anyone can ID this plant, please let me know.

But thought very beautiful, If anyone can ID this plant, please let me  know.

A very common plant is the Four Wing Saltbush, Atriplex canescens, seen here along Highway 25, covered in its eponymous fruits, which have four wings..


Covered in fruit!

Covered in fruit!

 “Saltbush” refers to the alkaline soil it prefers, the salty toil it can tolerate..and the somewhat salty taste of its stems. The family name Chenopodiaceae is derived from the Greek words meaning Khen meaning “goose” and pous meaning “foot;  some memebers of this family have “goosefoot” shaped leaves. Four Wing Saltbush is a good browse for wildlife and livestock..

I did not have the presence of mind to take a close-up of the fruit..

Four Wing Saltbush Fruit, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Four Wing Saltbush Fruit, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 This brief botany shall end with an image, which sums up the resilience of desert life:

Wild Columbine (aqquilegia genus) in the Magdelena Mountains.

Wild Columbine (aqquilegia genus) in the Magdelena Mountains.

I thought of the wilderness we had left behind us, joyous in its plenitude and simplicity, perfect yet vulnerable, unaware of what is coming, defended by nothing, guarded by no one~ Edward Abbey

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Kirstenbosch Gardens: Cape Floral Kingdom

An April trip to South Africa found me most entranced, not just with the animals, but with the plants. I was unaware that an entire floral kingdom and its associated fauna existed here and nowhere else.

My introduction to this kingdom occurred when I visited the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Capetown.  Later I briefly saw this kingdom in its natural fall glory at Cape Point National Park.. I can only wish for another trip..and much more time to explore these fascinating plants.

The Cape Floral Kingdom or Fynbos is a fire-climax shrubland, with an amazing diversity of plant species including the Protea family (proteaceae), The Heath family (Ericaceae) and the Reed family (Restionaceae). Proteas are the national flower of South Africa.

Protea repens-True Sugarbush..A syrup was once made from the nectar of Protea flowers

I arrived at the garden not knowing what to expect, and was like a kid in a candy store..first thing that caught my eye was the endangered and rare plant exhibit..and so I began there.. 

Erica verticulata

A few blossoms left

The last collection of Erica verticulata in the wild was recorded in 1908. Cuttings from all over the world were returned to Kirstenbosch and genetically tested, to obtain this endemic variety, now growing there.

Rare Stokes Bush Iris (Nivenia stokoie)

Stokes Bush Iris, or Woody Bush Iris, is found only in an area called Kogelberg. It has underground stems allowing it to escape fire, and is pollinated by long tonuge flies.

Silver Leaf Spur Flowers (Plecanthus ortendhali) are rare, and could easily be wiped out.

Aloe cilaris in front of fading Pineapple Lillies (Eucomis). These are survivors.

I could not resist applying the pastel filter..

I moved on from the entrance exhibits…not taking time for the fragrance garden..

Enticing paths..

Birds everywhere, tho’ most weren’t kind enough to pose. Cape Robin Chat.

African Monarch on African Forget-Me-Not

Acrea horta on an unidentified flower.

Hard not to bee happy..

Camphor Tree Walk
(Cinnamomum camphora)


Lion’s Tail (Leonatus leonurus) or Wild Daga.

Lion’s Tail is a broadleaf evergreen shrub in the mint family (Lamiacea). It has found it’s way into cultivation..You may have seen it in your local garden center.

Lion’s Tail attracts nectovorious birds, such as this sunbird. Sunbirds are the iconic species of the garden.

Protea mimetes has tiny feathery flowers and colorful bracts.

Showing the shrub habit of Protea mimetes

An unusual, handsome Protea which I was unable to further identify. *A kind commenter has informed me that this is Oldenburgia, an Asteraceae.

An example of the Reed Family, Restionaceae

The second plant from the left is the Restionaceae, Thamnochortus spicigerus, native to the transveld.

Another member of the Heath Family, Ericacaea

Erica Cruenta, Crimson Heath, endemic to the Mountain Fynbos.

Some large birds that stood still to pose, also graced the gardens:

A Helmeted Guinea Fowl

A Cape Spur Fowl

A Hadeda Ibis


This little beauty was so busy feeding on grasses, he let me get quite close.

I left the gardens thoroughly enchanted, but gardens are, after all, plant zoos, no matter how well conceived, and it was not until I saw, briefly, a swath of untamed Fynbos at Cape Point National Park, that I understood the true complexity and grandeur of this floral kingdom..Alas, the sun was setting when I arrived and there was little time to explore..I can only hope to return someday.

Cape Point Fynbos

Protea  in front, Vygies behind. Vygie means “small fig” for its fig-like fruits.

Young Baboon feeding on a plant of the Erica genus.

Vygies and the wild sea, near a stormy sunset.

TheBird of Time has but a little way To fly—and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing~ Omar Khayyam

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Autumn Ramble

It is winter now, flowers & flowering shrubs are resting.. so there is time to look back & appreciate their last hurrah in autumn.

We are accustomed to admiring a plant’s prime blooms, but the end game, while more muted is also lovely. The pictures below are of native plants taken in early November at Assateague National Seashore in MD & VA (http://www.nps.gov/asis/index.htm)

Some were still in bloom..

Grass-Leaved Golden Top

Grass-Leaved Golden Top, or Euthamia graminifolia  (grass-leaf) is in the Aster family, and for 100 years was incorrectly classified as a goldenrod.

Bur Marigold, Bidens Aristosata

Likes wet feet.

Winged Sumac, Rhus copallium was having a last fling

The Rose Mallow was fallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Groundsel Tree, Baccharis halimifolia (Soft-leaf)

Groundsel is also known as Sea Myrtle and can be most easily distinguished by their leaves: the groundsel’s leaves alternate along the stem and are duck-foot-shaped with several irregular teeth along the upper edges..

Groundsel Tree earlier in the season taken in Connecticut.

The Cattails (Typha genus) were disintegrating into bird-nest fluff.

The Dog Fennel, Eupatorium capillifolium (small-leaf), doggedly held on..

Dog Fennel, though considered weedy and invasive in some locations, is actually endangered. It belongs to the Aster family and is related to a garden favorite Eupatorium purpea (Joe Pye Weed).

And now that winter is here, and flowers are silent and the bones of trees laid bare, we are left with the light and dark, and the lovely textures of tree bark.

Have you ever noticed how Dog Wood bark fracures as it ages?

Loblolly Pine, Pinus taeda

Loblolly means “low wet places”, appropriate for trees growing on a barrier island.

Loblolly pines were formerly known as Oldfield Pine due to its easy colonization of abandonned fields.

And so I leave you with the fine form of Loblolly Pines in the distance, to your winter musings.

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show. ~Andrew Wyeth

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A Tale of Two Plants

As I mature as a gardener, I find that the relationships between plants and insects are most important to me in the garden. This discovery was facilitated by listening to Doug Tallamy speak, and I highly recommend his book Bringing Nature Home. Mr. Tallamy clarified for me, the host-specfic relationships between plants and insects. I spent this summer watching which plants were most frequented by insects, and no surprise..it was native plants; but not always. So here is a tale of two plants. The first is non-native.

Bronze Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare

Fennel hails from the Mediterranean. In Ancient Greece it was known as Marathon, lending  it’s name to the famous Battle of Marathon, 490 BC.  Although not shown above..the blooms of this plant were covered in tiny pollinators for the summer season. It is in the Apiacea family, formerly Umbelliferae, and is close enough in chemistry to native plants in that family, that its major contribution to my local ecosytem, was to host upwards of thirty Black Swallowtail caterpillars.

Fennel self-seeds readliy so best to deadhead..also probably best to plant native Apiacea if you can, see: Hosts for Black Swallowtail http://www.ecosystemgardening.com/what-did-black-swallowtails-eat-before-we-brought-in-parsley-dill-and-queen-annes-lace.html

But this plant was a gift and an experiment and here is what I saw..

Black Swallowtails have instars, or developmental stages. They molt in between, this is a second instar.

This is a third instar. Looks pretty much the same, only bigger.

Fourth instar hiding in an umbel. Very close to full grown, but stripes not green yet.

Fifth instars.

Just about ready to pupate.

These caterpillars migrate  away from the host plant to pupate and I have yet to see a chrysalis..still looking..

The Tale of the Native

Asclepias incarnata: Swamp Milkweed. As soon as the blossoms open they attract pollinators.

Swamp Milkweed is a native plant on Long Island. The special talent of plants in the Milkweed, now the Asclepiadoideae family,  is that they are the only larval host of the Monarch Butterfly. I’ve had  these plants many years..they self seed and move about..but I have never had the pleasure of Monarch caterpillars before. I had been told that the larvae preferred young tender shoots and to cut plants back..which I did, but  the caterpillars below are feasting on a young plant, that self-started mid-season. There were seven caterpillars at last count.

Monarch caterpillars are not sedate, as are Black Swallowtail caterpillars. They are very active.

Which was my front end again?

Pas de Deux with seedpod.

Munch, munch.

 The milkweed will not be through however, even once the caterpillars have their fill. The seeds host a variety of milkweed bugs. Milkweed bugs have a long proboscis that they use to pierce the seed and inject salivary enzymes to digest their food. These are Large Milkweed Bugs.

We are "True Bugs", order Hemiptera. See the triangle on our backs? We hang together to enhance our warning coloration; we don't taste good.

My goal is to have as many native plants in my garden as possible, and it would seem that  the milkweed does contribute more fully to the local ecosystem: blossoms, leaves and seeds. However, since there cannot be too many butterflies in the world, Bronze Fennel will continue to find a place in my garden, until native hosts can be located and tried. Immigrants are welcome when they feed the butterflies.

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A Patch Of Echinacea

Echinacea Purpea is, luckily, a native plant often found in gardens. The more the merrier, as Echinacea is another plant beloved by our winged friends, the butterflies, bees and birds. Pollinators busily sip its nectar, and in the fall,  Goldfinches are particularly fond of its seed. Echinacea belongs to the Asteracea or Composite family, and what looks like one flower is actually made up of many flowers, in the case of Echinacea, both ray and disc flowers http://montana.plant-life.org/families/Asteraceae.htm. The genus Echinacea is native to all but the nine westernmost states, and the species purpea is native to the most, 28 states. It is endangered in Florida and extirpated in Michigan. Source: US Wildflowers http://uswildflowers.com/detail.php?SName=Echinacea%20purpurea

I watch my patch of Coneflowers daily and am rarely disappointed in finding butterflies out and about. If not butterflies, there are always bees! This Tiger Swallowtail sipped from the flowers for nearly an hour.

An American Painted Lady stopped by for awhile.

Of course butterflies do not live by nectar alone, if you truly want to help butterflies survive, larval hosts belong in your garden. Although more specific for the Black Swallowtail, I regularly find Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars on Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and Parsley. I have recently planted Pearly Everlasting, Anapahalis genus, a Long Island native forb, favored by the American Painted Lady. The plants were being devoured by American Painted Lady caterpillars when I brought them home from the Long Island Native Plant Initiative..and so these blooms are courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Pearly Everlasting, Wikipedia Commons

Black Swallowtail

The larval Milkweed hosts, Asclepias Tuberosa (Orange Butterfly Weed) and Asclepias Incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) are also present in my garden, but I have not been blessed with Monarch Caterpillars in many moons. I have been told to cut back the Swamp Milweed, as the tender shoots are preferred. The lovely butterfly however, has recently visited the Echinacea.

With a bonus bee..

Probing a disc flower..yum!

Butterfly don't fly away, fly away..

Echinacea and native friends, Liatris Spicata and Rudbeckia Hirta (Black eyed Suzies)

 There can never be too many native plants in your garden!

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One Patch Of Butterfly Weed

As the summer season ripens I search all over grown fields for Asclepias tuberosa, that very special butterfly magnet. It is getting more scarce, as we lawn up and Round-up.. A recent NewYork time’s article describes the loss of milkweeds in farm fields as we mono-crop w/ GMO Round-Up-Ready crops http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/12/science/12butterfly.html.

Most are aware that Monarch butterfly caterpillars are chemically adapted only to milkweeds as their host plants, but perhaps are not  aware that it is a boon to many pollinators. It is also drop-dead gorgeous & belongs in the garden of anyone who has dry, sunny conditions & cares about the ecosystem. It is a native to the lower 48~ (USDA).

As I approached this patch of Orange Butterfly Weed, I thought ha! If I’m lucky, there will be a Monarch butterfly. Here is what I found on one patch of Orange Butterfly Weed

There was the requisite Monarch, to my delight!

and a Silvery Checkerspot

or two..

Coral Hairsteaks..

Thread-Waisted Wasps..Amphila genus

and a Little Copper


Sometimes they shared,

flew away..

or rested.

A stunning display of beauty, hosted by a "weed".

I hope there will be some “weeds” in your garden soon!


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Montauk Native Wildflowers: Early June

The American Littoral Society hosted a Montauk Spring Weekend, the first weekend in June.

Monatuk Vista

We visited several nature preserves on the Montauk Penninsula and were well guided by Don Riepe, manager of the Jamaica bay wildlife refuge and founder of  the Northeast Chapter of the Littoral Society, Mike Bottini, Long Island Wildlife Biologist and Mickey Cohen, former Long Island High School Geology teacher.

Our first visit was to Shadmoor State Park, a Moorland Ecosystem, boasting beach, bluffs, fresh-water wetlands and of course the eponymous Shadbush..named for timing its bloom with the Shad run. Two members of the Iridacea family were found in bloom.

Blue Eyed Grass edged the paths..

Sysirichium angustifolium

And the star of Shadmoor, found along a bridge over a stream:

Iris versicolor

Norther, Larger or Harlequin Blue Flag Iris

A particularly unique ecosytem in Montauk is the Walking Dunes, classified as an interdunal swale environment. These  large dunes move with the wind, covering the trees in their path. Forty foot Red Maple crowns were visible as ‘bushes’ on the dunes, whilst their roots were in ground water way below. Four native wildflowers were found in this environment.

The first, blanketing the back dune habitat

Beach Heather

Hudsonia tomentosa

Sand heather, Woody Hudsonia. False heather, Woody Beach Heather

Beach Heather is not adapted to salt spray, and is thus on the back dunes. It roots associate with blue-green algae, allowing it to live in poor soils.


Sandwort, genus Arenia, is also adapted to this environment




Lower in the dunes, much closer to the water table, this gem was discovered.

Tuberous Grass Pink

Calpodon Tuberosa, Orchidacea family

Can you see now that this is an orchid?

The plant is endangered in some states, and is classified as “exploitively vulnerable” in New York..don’t pick it..


And a few feet from the orchid, as the sun was heading towards the western horizon, two Sundews appeared:

Droseria filiformus

The sticky hairs on the filaments trap insects to supplement its meager diet.


Farewell, walking dunes..

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Cranberry Bog Reserve: May Wildflowers

Back water of Swezey Pond

The Cranberry Bog Reserve in Riverhead, N.Y. comprises about 400 acres in the Pine Barrens;wetlands and woodlands. There ia a  a 3/4 mile trail around Sweezy Pond.  The reserve is a unique haven for plant and animal life, probably the only  habitat of this type remaining on Long Island. From 1875-1930 there was a cranberry farm in the wetlands. A mid-May walk around the pond turned up some delightful woodland wild flowers.

Nutall Lobelia (Lobelia nuttallii )


May Star (Trientalis borealis )

The genus name means one-third of
a foot, refering to the height of the plant.

And  the  Pièce de résistance

Cypripedium acaule

Moccasin Flower

Lady Slipper

There were several of these beauties, each photo is a portrait of a different lady. What a thrill to see these orchids!

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