Sunday, October 17, 2021

Pine Barrens Gentians


I anticipate snowdrop flowers at the end of winter. I spend the spring and summer stalking wild orchids. And now at the end of the growing season are the pine barrens gentians.

These blue autumn flowers are natives of North American coastal pine barrens from South Carolina to New Jersey. These lovelies were photographed in the New Jersey pine barrens near the town of Chatsworth.

I know there are lots of other flowers blooming in the autumn fields, but I think of the gentians as the last flowers of the year. And that makes me think of a poem called The Last Flower by Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin, which begins: Rich the first flower's graces be, 
But dearer far the last to me...

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Pumpkin Time


Roadside farm markets are selling pumpkins, squash, and gourds right now. It's time to take a nice ride in the country. Try to decide among all the interesting colors and shapes. Like classic orange. 

Plain white.

Or the rainbow of pumpkin colors.
And fairy tale shapes.  

So many other kinds of vegetable loveliness.

Here are a few lines from The Pumpkin by John Greenleaf Whittier

"Oh, greenly and fair in the lands of the sun,
The vines of the gourd and the rich melon run,
And the rock and the tree and the cottage enfold,
With broad leaves all greenness and blossoms all gold," 


Just be careful to avoid the squash monsters among them.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Best Caterpillar Ever

October comes with thoughts of pumpkin spice lattes, cool nights, colored leaves, and plans for Halloween. On my list, also, is the hunt for stinging rose caterpillars. I trust that one look at the specimen above will explain why. Brightly colored, striped and spiked, it is a beautiful thing. Click to enlarge and admire. 

Stinging rose caterpillars come in shades from yellow through orange to brighter red. You can see stripes on the top and sides of this yellow one. Call me crazy, but they always make me think of fruit-flavored hard candies in all your favorite flavors.

These east coast caterpillars feed on rose foliage, which explains part of their common name -- though I have only ever found them on bayberry in sand dunes near the ocean. They also feed on dogwood, apple, cherry, hickory, maple, poplar, and oak according to the Arthropod Museum of the University of Arkansas.
You should not touch a stinging rose caterpillar because its spines contain toxins and can break off and irritate human skin, which explains the rest of its common name.   
 The hard-to-find stinging rose caterpillar. It is my favorite among all the caterpillars.   Is it not awesome?

Sunday, September 26, 2021

This Summer's Fruits

I spent five days picking fruit this summer. Strawberries first.

Then raspberries. Click to enlarge.

Here's the pretty raspberry patch.

Then blueberries on a very hot day in Hammonton, NJ. Hammonton is the blueberry capital of the world!

We picked a lot of them. 
Then big fat ripe juicy New Jersey peaches.

The trees were laden with fruit.

I made my signature peach upside down cake.

When the weather cooled in September it was time to pick Italian prune plums. Look at this beautiful orchard, beautiful day.

The plum trees also were covered with easy-to-reach fruit.

 Tasty, sweet, and juicy.

Picked a whole lot of them, too.

So here is my rainbow of fruit jams. Left to right: strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, peach, plum. Each of them like a little jar of summer. A very pleasant summer's work is done.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

A Wasp At Work


Here's a pretty paper wasp, the kind that makes those fan shaped nests of hexagonal cells you see under eaves and overhangs. It's scraping wood fibers from a fence post.

Click to enlarge and you can see under its chin the little ball of fibers it has accumulated. That gets broken down to a soft pulp in the wasp's mouth by saliva and will be used to build and expand a nest. 

Looks like hard work.

And here are a few wise words from Iris Shah: 

"A king who feared wasps once decreed they were abolished. As it happened, they did him no harm. But he was eventually stung to death by scorpions."

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Caterpillar Transfer


Have you ever had to perform an emergency caterpillar evacuation? This monarch butterfly caterpillar is relaxing in its new emergency quarters after being carried across the yard to this host plant.

The plant is an attractive low bushy kind of milkweed called butterfly weed or orange milkweed. In summer it's covered with orange flowers. Now it has pointy seed pods. I grew this from seeds and got it started in the yard a few years ago.

I wanted more of this milkweed, so this spring I planted it in another spot in the yard. The plants were puny, though, so I temporarily filled in around with marigolds. The milkweed did great. It flowered and got bushy. I never got the chance to take a picture of it because, suddenly a few days ago -- this. Do you see the bare stem sticking out of the marigolds? That's one of the new milkweed plants, completely defoliated!

What happened? Just enlarge this photo and count all of the munching monarch caterpillars. I think I see six of them.

Consider the area to the right of the caterpillar, full of fresh delicious milkweed leaves. And to the left, just naked stems. There were hardly any leaves left on this plant. The caterpillars were eating a dwindling supply and getting perilously close to stranding themselves in a sea of unpalatable marigold foliage, which they cannot eat.

So -- they all got carefully carried to the big bush on the other side of the yard where there is adequate food for them to finish their voracious eating stages. It was a long journey in caterpillar miles. Each of them curled up for the trip.

And each of them uncurled and stretched after a few moments in their new digs and recommenced eating. I've transferred eight of them so far. I''m looking forward to upcoming blogs about chrysalises and eclosions.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Happy Labor Day

I'm resting for Labor Day so no blog today, just this picture of hard-working monarch butterflies from a past migration. Click to enlarge. Happy Labor Day!