It Pays to Look Down or: I Found a Swan Flower

By Sue Ann Kendall

You never know when you’ll make an interesting nature observation. Today I was walking in my neighbor’s field, getting ready to watch her horse do some dressage. I had noticed some day flowers and sorrel, so my head was down, checking for more flowers. The field was mowed, but not too low.

I saw something new to my eyes, so I took a closer look. It was a most unusual plant and flower, one I’d never seen before. It looked sort of like a jack-in-the-pulpit.

Hmm.

I immediately uploaded my photo to iNaturalist, though I figured it was probably some common plant I’d just missed. But, no! I’d found a swan flower, Aristolochia erecta.

This plant only grows here in Texas. Donna Lewis will be happy to know it’s important for her pipevine swallowtails. Here’s info from the Wildflower Center:

How cool!

I had no idea these guys existed, but now I know what the host for all the pipevine swallowtails I see around here must be! Here’s another cool fact about this observation—it looks like this is one of the northernmost observations of the swan flower. Wow!

That’s us, up at the top.

I’m thrilled to make this pretty plant’s acquaintance and to learn about it. I found another specimen that wasn’t in bloom, and I’ll be on the lookout for more.

Swan flower, looking for butterflies.

Milkweed…the ones I planted and the ones Mother Nature planted

by Donna Lewis

I wanted to show you what milkweed is growing on our property here in Central Texas.  The biggest issue is that some of these plants came up very late in the year and by now, all the monarchs have already left the area. That is not too good.   

Hopefully, this does not start becoming normal. The plants are reacting to the climate, but the monarchs are reacting to their instincts.  The plants and the butterflies need to be ready at the same time.

The first photo is Asclepias asperula or Spider Milkweed.  This plant was awarded by a grant to our chapter.  Our member Cathy Johnson applied for the grant. It was a lot of paperwork.

I started with twenty-four small plants. I put them in several areas around our pastures.

This is the only one that has returned this year.  The rest did not come up.

Photo #2 is the seed pod on the plant, which is about to let loose its seeds.

Photo #3  shows the same plant in our back pasture.

Photo#4  This is another area where we had the plants return for two years, but not this year.  There were gophers under the plant.   I guess they were hungry.

Photo#5  This shows Zizotes Milkweed on our gravel drive where they just came up on their own.  Volunteers for sure.  There are three plants near our backdoor.

#6  This is another Zizotes in the pasture that just showed up.

#7  Another Zizotes in a different part of the pasture.

#8  Tropical Milkweed in my garden.  This needed to be bigger before now. Tropical milkweed is from Mexico.

You’re too late, milkweed plants.  The last monarch I saw here on our property was on 5-17-2022.  You can see where the monarchs are by viewing Journey North, monarchs’ migration.  It is a great site.

We will have to pay attention and see what happens to both the milkweed and the monarchs over the next few years.

Still, we need to keep on planting the native milkweed to try to help out.

Not a Funnel Cake, a Funnel Spider Web

by Donna Lewis

Just before it rained the other day, I saw this very interesting spider web under a tree, wound up in a Turk’s Cap plant.

I was not about to get too close as it looked like something that if I were a small insect, I would enter and never come out again. I think they make horror movies about these kinds of things.

But I was also struck by how intricate and, yes, beautiful it was. How can a tiny insect have the mind to construct something like this? Another one of nature’s secrets.

I sent the photo to Master Naturalist Eric Neubauer, who we are fortunate to have as a member of our Chapter to identify what spider made this. He said it was either in the family of Agelenopsis or  Agelenidae Funnel Spider.

They look similar to a Wolf Spider.  But I am not going to get that close to ask it.

The lesson is as usual, look around at nature and you will see wonderful things.

Roadrunner Sighting

by Donna Lewis

Boy was I amazed and lucky this afternoon!  I was talking to my sister on the phone and I looked out our southern facing windows.  I saw something dark on one of the metal fence posts.  So, I opened the curtains and there were two roadrunners, each sitting on a fence post!!

I hardly ever see them anymore, but to see two…WOW!

I went as fast as I could to get my camera. One bird was still there when I got back to the window.  Just as I started to focus my camera it jumped off the post, but I did get a photo.  So, I didn’t just imagine it.

You just don’t get to see things like this too often. It makes you feel so good.

The Peterson Field Guide (written in 2009) says these large birds are common. I don’t believe that is true nowadays. That is sad.

But this day, I was sure a happy camper.

By the way, roadrunners have unusual feet in that they have two toes forward and two toes backward.   I bet it’s hard to find shoes that fit. They eat caterpillars, insects, reptiles, other small birds and fruit. Pretty versatile in the food area.

And of course, they can run really fast.

Lucky me.

Hey, our blogger, Suna told me that she and her husband have seen more of them than usual this year, which is a good sign, for sure. They also enjoyed watching a very large jackrabbit bounding across a field near their property. We are always glad to see the wildlife that’s been dwindling around here when they make an appearance.

Pipevine Butterflies and Their Caterpillars

by Donna Lewis

So, for a while I have been talking about the really neat caterpillars of the Pipevine butterfly.  Their host plant is the Pipevine plant.  I have a naturalized Pipevine in my garden called  Aristolochia fimbriata that originally came from Brazil.  There are native ones in our area, which are very hard to see and find.

Black!

My plant is a groundcover plant not a vine.  The caterpillars will eat the plant leaves and stems down to the ground overnight once they hatch.

Then in about three weeks, the little plant regrows, and this happens four times during the summer months.  It is amazingly fast how this happens.

Black!

The Pipe-vine Butterfly produces two different colors of caterpillars!  Crazy! I do not know of another butterfly that does this.

I have looked up tons of information from many groups on this color issue. I have found that the older field guides and published books believe as the caterpillars aged, they changed colors. I do not think that is correct, after watching them for many years.

The newest theory from several universities including the latest study from The University of Virginia is that hot weather causes the red color to emerge rather than the black color. This is the current theory.

Red!

So let me throw a wrench on this theory.  Right now, today May 20th, 2022, it is really hot in my garden.  It is hot everywhere in Central Texas. And I have a grouping of both the red caterpillars and the black ones.

So how does that fit into the current findings? A real puzzle.   We will just have to keep watching and see if nature will tell us her secret.

Red!

Nature is more amazing than anything mankind can produce, and they don’t even need a computer.  Wow.

Who are you gardening for?


Sorry for the delay in blog publishing. Your poor blogger has been working too hard at her paid job and has been dealing with world events, like the rest of us. There will be catch-up blogs coming in the next few days.