Sunday, June 19, 2016

Watching the Gardens Evolve: Florida Scrub Skullcap

Sometimes I really irritate myself.  When I went to look for a picture of how an area of the garden looked when we first planted it earlier this spring, I realized that I had taken exactly zero closeup photos.  I remember thinking that the garden looked much too bare to be worth photographing.  Good grief - SURELY by now I would know how much fun it is to watch the evolution of growing things throughout the seasons!

Anyway, here is the best I can do:  a greatly enlarged (and therefore fuzzy) "closeup" of one corner of my newly planted front flower beds, taken on April 17th of this spring....

I want you to notice the 3 plants that are right at the corner, in the center of the photo.  The tall, rather leggy plant is Ohio spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis).   The 2 shorties in front of it are Florida scrub skullcaps (Scutellaria arenicola) that I purchased, on a whim, from Dara at 7 Pines Native Plant Nursery.

I love skullcaps, but I knew nothing about this particular species except what Dara told me.  Since I really didn't know what I was getting, my hopes were high, but my expectations were pretty low.  Frankly, I'd be happy if these 2 plants liked where I planted them enough to survive without looking too bedraggled.

Here's what those 3 plants look like right now.  I've been enjoying the Ohio spiderwort, which has been blooming every day for weeks and weeks.  That shade of blue just lifts my spirits.  I had literally forgotten about the scrub skullcap, so I was shocked to realize, yesterday morning, that some of the blue in that corner of the garden was actually coming from a bloom spike on the Florida scrub skullcaps.  How exciting!

Looking at this closer photo, the skullcap bloom spike is going diagonally from the lower right hand corner to about 2/3 of the way to the upper left hand corner.  The blue in the background at the top comes from the spiderwort blossoms.

I do need to get a closer photo of the blossoms for you..... 

Comparing my plants to those I see in pictures online, I think these 2 individuals may be getting a little too much water.  The plants seem taller than expected and rather floppy, which I didn't anticipate, and the bloom spike a little too elongated.  Greg's wanting to get our grass up to a reasonable standard, since we're living in a neighborhood, so we're using the sprinkler system that was here when we purchased our home.  I don't think these plants need or particularly want the extra water, but hopefully it won't hurt them too much either.  Certainly you don't get much better drainage than our highly sandy soil.

I'll be watching these guys a lot more carefully in the upcoming days.  What a great surprise on a hot and humid mid-June morning!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rain Lily Rescue

About a week before the house down the street from us was due to be torn down, due to terminal decrepitude, I noticed several pink trumpets peeking out from under the base of a large popcorn tree seedling in the badly overgrown yard.  On the day that demolition began, and despite a neighbor assuring me that "they won't care", I finally called the company name on the sign out front and asked for permission to dig these plants.  I was pretty sure they were pink rain lilies.

The male voice on the other end of the phone authoritatively told me that I was welcome to have any plants that I wanted to dig, anywhere in the yard.  I gave him my name, to be sure that he knew who I was, and decided to come back that evening after the demolition had stopped for the day.

That evening Greg and I drove down and parked in front of the now-cordoned-off yard.  A middle-aged man and his 10 year old son were on the sidewalk, examining the now partially demolished house.  When Greg and I ducked under the tape and started to dig, they decided it was okay if they ducked under the tape, too, and they proceeded to walk all around the partially wrecked house, looking at it closely.

As I started digging, I noticed there were more rain lilies than I had estimated, but I saw no reason to leave any of them to be scraped away and hauled to the landfill.  While I dug and Greg held the popcorn tree sapling back for me, the man and his son started asking questions and continued to poke around.  I warned them that I had called to get permission to rescue the plants, but there was no change in the man's behavior.  It was dusk, so I couldn't afford to wait any longer and I kept digging.

It wasn't long before another car drove up and a man rather heatedly got out and came towards us, asking what we were doing.  I explained that I was rescuing the rain lilies, with permission and with my husband's help.  The other man just started asking questions about why the house was being demolished.

It turned out that the house had been purchased by a pair of brothers, one of whom had given me verbal permission over the phone and the other of whom was confronting us.  My only mistake was in not asking for the name of the man I was talking with on the phone that morning.

Before long, 2 other neighbors had joined us, including one who knew both me and the owner of the house.  We all just stood and talked for a while before I left the group and went over to finish my rescue operation before it got dark.  When I was done, I had 7 plastic grocery bags with healthy clumps of rain lilies in them.  I had also seen a few rattlesnake weed tubers fall out of the sandy soil as I dug, so I knew I was "rescuing" rattlesnake weed*, too.

Once I had the bags of rain lilies in the car and had put away my shovel, all without walking through the remains of the house or hurting myself, the owner visibly seemed to relax.  He told me that he'd been afraid someone was trying to salvage copper pipe from the house and that we'd get hurt in the wreckage.  When I asked if I could check out the back yard, too, to see if there were any plants worth salvaging, he readily gave his permission, with the caveat that I wait until demolition was complete.

Despite my good intentions, I haven't explored that back yard yet.  Frankly, it took quite a while just to get all of the pink rain lilies that I rescued safely tucked in.

Because of the rattlesnake weed issue, I decided that I needed to remove all of the "native soil" and plant just the bare bulbs, even though this isn't a good time of year to transplant rain lilies.  I put 4 groups of 7-10 bulbs of varying sizes around the yard - and I still had 6 plastic bags of rain lilies left.

At that point, I decided that I needed to approach this differently, so I set up a potting assembly area and started taking the bulbs out of the "contaminated" soil and planting them into nursery pots.  When I finally got to the last plastic bag, I opened it to find blooms trying desperately to reach the open air.

That clump of bulbs went directly into a big pot, rattlesnake weed be damned (for now).

For most of the time, as I pulled the rain lily bulbs out, I hand-sifted the soil, looking for small bulblets and rattlesnake weed tubers, which I carefully sorted out.  The rattlesnake weed tubers are in the upper left corner of the cookie sheet;  you can see how the plant gets its name.  The other piles are every other lump I came across, most of them small rain lily bulbs.  Sometimes it was hard to distinguish which was which, so I separated them all. then lumped like bulbets together and planted the questionable little bulbs in a separate pot, allowing me to monitor them more carefully. 

I lost count of all the rain lily bulbs I ended up with.

I now have the 4 clumps of rain lilies in the ground, plus 2 pots of bulbs that I simply filled with unsifted clumps that were sending up bloom spikes again, including the clump above.  That pair of pots probably has some rattlesnake weed in them, so I'm planning on emptying them during the winter and replanting just the rain lily bulbs.  I don't currently have rattlesnake weed in the yard, and I'd prefer to keep it that way if I can.

Besides those 6 groups, I ended up with one large clay dish and 14 one-gallon nursery pots filled with 5+ rain lily bulbs each, plus 2 pots chock full of bulbets and 1 pot of probable bulbets.

I also found several centipedes, a couple slugs, a piece of old brick, and half a dozen old "mummified" acorns while I was sifting.  The living animals were released into the garden.

Some of the rain lilies put on a flush of blooms while I was planting them.  Now there are quite a few new bloom spikes coming up again, a week later.

As the blooms have come and gone, I've been able to give my plants a more definitive identification:  Rosepink Zephyrlily, Zephyranthes grandiflora, according to the USDA Plant Database.  Most of the time, this species is simply called pink rain lilies.  I was correct in my original, tentative identification.  The USDA Plants Profile shows them as spottily native to the Southeast, although not listed as native to Okaloosa County, FL.  Some sources believe this species is more truly native to Mexico, Central America, and Colombia.

These little beauties are not hardy where the soil freezes, but I have seen them treated as a potted plant and either kept indoors year round or put outside in the summer and brought into a basement or semi-heated garage for the winter.

When all's said and done, I'm super happy with the results of my plant rescue - despite the few dicey moments when we were actually out digging.  My take home from that is, in the future, to be sure to get the name of anyone I receive permission from!

*Rattlesnake weed is also known as Florida betony.  Although it is a native plant, it is considered an extremely obnoxious lawn weed and is very difficult to eradicate.

Tall Grass Clumps By Lake - Weed or Not?

Over the course of the last year, Greg and I have been watching clumps of grass growing down by the lake on the lowest terrace.  He's been after me to get rid of them, arguing that they are weeds;  I've been resisting, feeling that they may be good plants with structural and wildlife value.  They do seem to form discrete clumps and the clumps are quite graceful and attractive.

I haven't been able to find a good grass site to identify them, however, and I don't have a good grass book for reference either.  The above photos were taken in early May.

This photo, of the ligule and sheath, was taken in early April.

For some reason, today has been the day that this identification problem has suddenly felt critical.  I e-mailed the local horticulture agent with the photos of the grass from April and May, but I haven't heard back from him.  So I started to write this blog post, asking for help from the blogging community.  Before I did that, however, I decided that I needed current  photos.

So I went down by the lake and took them.

Here's a different clump of the same species, showing the overall structure, ....

here are the ligules and sheaths,...

and here are the seed heads.

Upon looking at the pictures of the seed heads closely, my mind suddenly told me, "Paspalum."   It didn't tell me which Paspalum, though, so I went to the USDA Plant Profile Database and looked up the genus, checking the ranges given and photographs, if any.

I am sad to report that Greg was probably correct.

I am now pretty certain that this grass is Vasey Grass, Paspalum urvillei.  It is a native of South America and is considered invasive in Hawaii.  It is fairly widespread across the southern U.S. (not including Arizona and New Mexico) and is becoming a problem pasture weed in the Florida panhandle.

A weed is a plant that's out of place - and Vasey Grass is out of place in my yard.

So I've got some hot, sweaty work that needs to be done:  cutting off and bagging all the seedheads before the seeds drop, then rooting out the plants and freeing the soil for other, more desireable species.

On the plus side, though, I really like how the tall clump grass looks along the water's edge.  Now, what more desireable species can I plant there?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Smiling at Wasps

Just outside our kitchen window are the lower branches of a pignut hickory tree.  The leaves are typical for hickory in June - bright green, compound, and in pretty good condition, but nothing showy or unusual.  Often, when I look out the window, I see a wasp or two flying in and out of the leaves, seeming to inspect them top and bottom.

A few years ago I would have freaked out a bit.  Where was the wasp nest?  Would I get stung as I was changing out the hummingbird feeder water or emptying and refilling the small birdbath just below these branches?  What is that wasp DOING out there?!

Now I relax...and quietly thank each wasp I see.  Why this change in my attitude?

After living on this Earth for almost 60 years, I finally realized that wasps weren't my enemies, they were my friends.  The wasps I see inspecting the hickory leaves are looking for caterpillars to paralyze and take to their nest as food for their progeny.  Those very wasps are probably almost completely responsible for the fact that the hickory leaves still look good, even this early in the growing season.  To my knowledge, all wasp young are raised on meat, a.k.a. caterpillars and other insects/arthropods.  Some wasp species hunt cicadas, some wasp species hunt grasshoppers, some wasp species hunt spiders...and many wasp species hunt caterpillars.

Meanwhile, most adult wasps feed on nectar and/or pollen.  You can often see them feeding on flowers, as in my photo from Kansas, taken in October, 2014.

It's only in defense of their nest - their eggs and young and queen - that wasps generally get nasty-tempered, and many wasps are solitary nesters, so they don't get nasty-tempered even then.

Meanwhile, the female wasps patrol our yards and gardens all day long, hunting for the caterpillars or even grasshoppers munching on our plants.

Will I happily allow a paper wasp nest to be built right outside a commonly used doorway?  No.  However, I do allow mud daubers to build there, since they are solitary wasps and not aggressive.  Now, too, I allow paper wasp nests to be built in out-of-the-way places, although I do note carefully where they are, so I can steer clear of them.

It never ceases to amaze me how well "nature" works when we get out of its way.  It's never as scary as it seems before we take the time to realize what's actually going on.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Spanish Moss, Gray Beards on the Trees

Softening the branches on many of the trees in our neighborhood, Spanish moss drapes lazily down, creating a mood redolent of heat, humidity and southern tranquility.  I love it.  The streamers of Spanish moss were one of the features I fell in love with when I first drove down this street.

So I was rather shocked when one of our neighbors started talking about how he needed to find someone to take the moss out of his trees, because it was killing them.  I knew from my time in Mobile, Alabama, that Spanish moss is an epiphyte, a plant without roots that does NOT take nutrients from the plant that it is living on.  Epiphytes get all their water and nutrients directly from the air, rain and dust.  They are NOT parasitic, as mistletoe is, despite their similar location in the canopies of trees.

How could anyone not like this beautiful, graceful, gray-green plant that waves so softly in the slightest breeze?

It turns out that there are several serious, fairly widespread misconceptions about Spanish moss.  One of the saddest and most damaging of these misconceptions is that it will harm your trees.  The truth is that Spanish moss will often colonize trees that are already beginning to decline, growing more rapidly than on nearby, healthier trees due to the increased light that occurs in the thinning canopies of the trees that are already dying.  This has made it all too easy to blame the trees' decline on the Spanish moss.

The only "damage" that Spanish moss will actually do to a healthy tree is to partially shade the leaves of the lower branches and, if it's heavily festooning a tree, increase the wind resistance should the tree be in an area unlucky enough to be hit by a hurricane.  The photo above is the canopy of the same tree in the previous photo. The tree is healthy and actively growing, despite having a large amount of Spanish moss growing on it.

Even the concern that large collections of Spanish moss can "weigh down" a branch and cause it to fall appear to be mistaken - Spanish moss is very lightweight and branches that have fallen are almost always found to have other structural weaknesses that brought them down.

So what is this odd plant?  Is it, indeed, even a plant?

Yes, indeed, Spanish moss IS a plant.  Going by the scientific name of Tillandsia usneoides, Spanish moss is actually a flowering plant in the pineapple family!  It is NOT a moss and it is NOT Spanish.  Apparently, if you look really closely during the summer months, you can see small blooms that are variously reported to be green, bluish, or yellow.  Not having looked for said blossoms, I hadn't noticed them before...but I looked for them today and I found them.   Do you see the bloom in the photo above?  Here is a closeup of it....

They are apparently even mildly fragrant.  Here is another flower, more of a true yellow in color.

Although one of the primary structures of Spanish moss is its long stem, which can reach 20 feet or more in length, there is no functional xylem or phloem in the plant.  Each cell either gathers its nutrients and moisture directly from the air and photosynthesizes energy itself or it gets its resources from a neighboring cell.  There are small, very narrow leaves.  Both the stems and leaves are covered with overlapping gray scales that are important in capturing the airborne water and nutrients that sustain this plant.

Not surprisingly since it's native to this area, Spanish moss is actually an important plant for wildlife.  Several birds use it extensively for nesting material, including the Baltimore Oriole.  The Northern Parula (warbler) is said to nest where Spanish moss and other similar lichens occur, building its nest inside the hanging festoons.  There is even a spider that lives only in Spanish moss; many other animals use it for shelter or as foraging grounds.

Looking straight up into the middle of hanging Spanish moss, you can see how nests could be hidden in the larger clumps.

Humans have traditionally used Spanish moss, too.  Native Americans made a tea from it to help cure fever and chills, and they used Spanish moss fibers in clothing, bedding, and to make rope.  They added Spanish moss to clay to make bricks and pottery stronger, and they used it to help start fires and to fire pottery.  The European settlers came to use Spanish moss, too.  Surprisingly, I learned that the seats of Model T Fords were actually stuffed with Spanish moss, as were other types of cushions and mattresses.  It was sometimes used as insulation in homes.

Even today, Spanish moss is used frequently in floral arrangements and for craft projects.  It is said to make an excellent mulch for plant beds, which I intend to try out.  It is common here to see piles of Spanish moss put out for the city waste trucks to pick up;  why not scavenge some of it, keeping it from the landfill in the process?  It's free, it's a beautiful gray-green color, and it's organic.  What's not to like?

As I did research for this post, I saw one final use mentioned for Spanish moss:  apparently in some locales it is draped from fences or wires as a privacy screen between neighbors!  I haven't seen that on Pinterest yet, but I'll bet some artful soul could really make an interesting backyard feature using the general concept.

Speaking of Spanish moss and landscape features, Mobile, Alabama, apparently used to be known for the gracious live oaks, heavily festooned with Spanish moss, that lined many of its streets.  When we lived there, we were told that the Spanish moss was declining, though, due to air pollution.  Certainly there is not much Spanish moss left in Mobile.  What little I've seen there tends to be on the back streets, which fits well with the idea that air pollution decreases its viability.

Of course, when I think about it, Spanish moss IS an epiphyte - a plant that gets all its nutrients and water from the air, rain and dust.  Is it so surprising, then, that poor air quality would decrease its health and therefore its ability to survive and reproduce?

How does Spanish moss actually reproduce?  It seems atmospheric, not reproductively vibrant.  However, as mentioned above, it's a flowering plant.  Thus, it produces (tiny) seeds that can and do produce new plants.  More frequently, though, Spanish moss probably spreads by wind or by animals such as birds, which carry small pieces of the plant from tree to tree as they move around.

Spreading across the landscape as if by magic, creating a mystical feeling by its very presence, Spanish moss is a special plant that creates a unique sense of place as it grows.  I'm excited to be able to encourage it here in our own personal landscape. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Continuing to Learn the Local Natives

When you watch a garden, day by day, it can seem like little changes in it, but if you go away for a week or two, when you come back, it's obvious how big the changes are.

The same phenomenon occurs when you walk a wild area regularly.  Greg and I went for a walk on Eglin AFB this morning, following the same trail that Anna and I took almost 2 weeks ago.  We had both dogs with us and only limited time available, so Greg and I didn't walk as far as Anna and I had, but we still got to see quite a few of the same plants, as well as a couple new bloomers.

Some plants are harder than others to identify, even when they are in full bloom. This little cutie caught my eye 2 weeks ago and it was even prettier today, but I still have no idea what it is.  It's about 6-8" tall, found in a sandhill/mixed pine and oak forest along a roughly maintained road.

The big, smooth stem in the foreground of this photo is probably a VERY healthy Smilax shoot;  it's about 1/2" in diameter, to give you a sense of scale.  Whatever it was, it hadn't leafed out yet. Here are some of the blooms from my mystery plant...

...and a closeup of one of the bloom spikes. 

If anyone can help me with the identification, I would be extremely grateful.  I doubt this plant is in the hort trade, as it is much too small to have any sort of visual impact in the landscape, but its daintiness and bright, cheery color appeal to me.

Not too far down the trail from my mysterious, little, pink charmer, we came across this healthy looking Gopherweed, Baptisia lanceolata.

Gopherweed is a horrible name for an attractive perennial, and I can find nothing about the genesis of or the rationale for the name to justify its use. Surely this pleasant plant, especially with its importance to native bees, deserves a pleasanter name!

Anyway, while the flowers aren't particularly showy, the foliage is pretty and the plant shape is nice. Like all Baptisias, Gopherweed is a nitrogen fixer for the soil, so it can be a good plant to have in the garden, especially here in sandy soil country.

Next on our wildflower discovery tour was a repeat specimen from my last visit, a pinewoods milkweed, Asclepias humistrata.  This individual was one of the only pinewoods milkweeds with fully open blooms 2 weeks ago - now it is developing a couple seed pods, but the blooms appear to be almost done.

It will be interesting to see if this plant reblooms, or if a single bloom is all that occurs, since seed will apparently develop.

Beyond the milkweed was a small, but extremely attractive, bloomer who was almost hidden behind a small, fallen branch and some other foliage.

I knew from the shape of the blooms and from the compound leaves that this plant was in the pea/bean family, but I had to come home and look it up to determine its identity.  Even after looking it up, I'm not sure what to call it.  The scientific name is Tephrosia virginica.  That's pretty straightforward.  However, there are multiple common names.  The USDA Plant Database calls it Virginia Tephrosia, so I assume that's its official common name.  It was, however, most commonly referred to as Goat's Rue.  Other common names are Devil's Shoestrings (apparently referring to its long, tough, stringy roots), Catgut, Rabbit Pea, Hoary Pea, Wild Sweetpea, and North American Turkey Pea.  That's EIGHT different common names.  Thank goodness for scientific nomenclature!

I found several other specimens of Goat's Rue further along the trail, including a couple that seemed to be small colonies, but this little individual, nestled by the reindeer moss, was my favorite.

Goat's Rue has a fairly wide range, including most of the eastern U.S., and it appears to have been a well known medicinal plant to Native Americans.  Multiple sources mentioned that its roots contain rotenone, a chemical that has been used as an organic insecticide and as a fish poison.  Probably not a plant to think about munching on.

Providing a sudden change from the spring-like colors of pink, white and yellow that I'd been seeing so far along the trail, the bright scarlet blooms of Red Basil (Calamintha coccinea) actually surprised me.

I thought this plant was primarily a fall bloomer...but apparently it will bloom at least sporadically throughout the growing season.  It's another plant I'm hoping to find a source for and then add to our yardscape - low-growing, gorgeous flowers, evergreen foliage.  The foliage is very fine textured and rather sparse, but I still think the plant is quite attractive, and in full bloom it is quite stunning.

With our truncated walk, we didn't see much wildlife:  tracks of deer, boar, and raccoon, a male towhee, and the lacy spider web....

...of a funnel spider.  The spider, as is normal for funnel spiders, kept herself hidden deep in her funnel, but the web was beautiful - a true, lacy, fairy's handkerchief. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Learning the Local Native Plants

Ashamedly, I have to admit that it took me living here for over 10 months to get off my duff and go back out to the nearby wild area for a walk-about to look for native plants.  Even then, my friend Anna had to initiate the outing.  I can't believe I waited this long - and I'm kicking myself about all the interesting sights I have been missing.

On Monday morning, Anna and I sallied forth to the same road/trail that my family and I visited 18 months ago.  I blogged about our finds in "We're Not in Kansas Any More!" as well as two subsequent posts about specific plants.  Walking on Monday, I actually recognized the American holly tree that I talked about in that original post, but otherwise my attention was generally drawn to very different plants this time.

We were scouting for lupine, which Anna had seen along this sand road just a week or two earlier.  Unfortunately, in the intervening time, some "maintenance" had been done on the trail by a bulldozer, carelessly and messily widening it, and we found no trace of the lupine.  We did, however, discover some other treasures.

One of the first plants we noticed was Pinewoods Milkweed, Asclepias humistrata.

This plant is also known by the common names of sandhill milkweed, for its preferred habitat, and pink-veined milkweed or purple milkweed for rather obvious reasons.  This is a plant that I would love to grow in my yard, as I find the leaves gorgeous just by themselves. 

Add in the attractive pinkish flowers and its function as food for monarch caterpillars and this plant becomes almost irresistible.

Another attractive plant that we noticed was this little white-flowered beauty with its beautifully shaped, dark green leaves.

As I researched to figure out what we were seeing, I was very glad that we didn't try to pick any of the flowers we saw, just to save us from picking this one.  This plant is called Tread-Softly, Cnidoscolus stimulosus, and all of the green, above-ground parts of the plant are covered with stinging hairs.  While this isn't not a true nettle, it is sometimes called bull nettle or spurge nettle.  Another name for it is finger rot, which makes my imagination run wild in all sorts of nasty ways.  Needless to say, this is NOT a plant that I plan on trying to import into our yard!   Ironically, at least one source said that the tuberous roots are edible...but getting to those roots might take some serious caution.

Silphium is a genus that I became somewhat familiar with on the prairie, where one of its most famous members is Compass Plant, Silphium laciniatum.  As soon as I saw the leaves of this basal rosette, my mind yelled, "Silphium!", and I think that instinctive reaction is probably correct.

While I won't know for sure until later in the year when I see it bloom, I think this beautiful little clump of big, bright green leaves belongs to Kidneyleaf Rosinweed, Silphium compositum.   I'm not sure you could dream up a much uglier name for a plant.  Despite its ugly name, I hope to find a source for this species, since I think the leaves would look really nice in a native flower bed, adding some dramatic size and visual texture to the overall mix.

There were two flowers that we found that I haven't been able to identify yet.  First was this pinky-purple little beauty.

That's reindeer moss nestled beside it, to give you a sense of scale.  We saw several of these plants blooming and they were all less than 12" tall.

Second was this yellow-green, almost abstract bloomer that I suspect is in the Euphorbiaceae family. We saw several;  they seemed to run about 15-18" tall.

If anyone knows the identity of either of these plants, I would love to know what they are.

Another plant we noticed was this silvery, quiet-looking plant.

A little research gave me the identity, Healing Croton, Croton argyranthemus

What I haven't been able to determine is why it's been given the common name of Healing Croton.  It is the larval food for a pretty little butterfly known as a goatweed leafwing.   I haven't seen a goatweed leafwing since moving here to Florida, although they do occur here, but here are photos of one in Kansas, taken in September 2013.

Speaking of butterflies, at one point we found this large chrysalis hanging from a bare branch.  I don't know enough about such things to begin to guess what species made this chrysalis, but I think it's cool.

Another insect sighting was this black and white wasp, working busily to deal with a caterpillar, presumably extracted from this stitched together clump of leaves.

At the time, I was concerned that it might be a bald-faced hornet, so I didn't get too close. 

When I got home and downloaded the photos, I realized that this little beauty is actually a potter or mason wasp, a solitary wasp, presumably collecting caterpillars to paralyze and store for its young to eat as it grows.

Reindeer moss, sparkleberry, blooming yaupon, black cherry, beach rosemary.....  We saw a lot of other things that entranced us.  I'll leave you with a photo of the sky through the pine trees - a slice of heaven.