Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Serendipity and Clouded Crimsons

Other than the fact that the temperature was already up to 80 and the wind was blowing quite a bit (making it hard to take closeups of insects on waving plant stems), this morning's walk was full of interesting sights.

This has been such a hard summer that a lot of plants are blooming "out of season". I noticed a series of Bradford pears, for example, blooming in a road median just a couple days ago. Here at home, the green antelopehorn (Asclepias viridis) have been putting out blossoms. Normally they bloom in May. The grass seed heads that you see airily clustering around the blooms are sand lovegrass (Eragrostis trichodes).

The Missouri goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis) is beginning to bloom - the first of my "wild" species of goldenrod each year. I rather like this juxtaposition of goldenrod intermingled with white sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) leaves.

The most interesting find of the morning was this velvetleaf gaura (Gaura mollis), loaded with caterpillars. I didn't recognize the caterpillars but, looking them up once I got back to the house, I learned they are clouded crimsons. Isn't that a wonderful name? The adults are actually moths, colored pink, deep magenta, tan and cream. I actually think the caterpillars look rather similar to monarchs, but they are smaller, skinnier, and don't have the black "horns". Clouded crimson larvae are specific to gaura species and gaura is even in their scientific name, Schinia gaurae. (Note to self: See there ARE annuals that are very worth having around!)

To tell the truth, I really like velvetleaf gaura. It's too gangly for a cultivated garden bed, but in a "wild" area it's great. The flowers are small and rather uninteresting, but I love the texture of its leaves. The plant is very well named and it looks quite pretty early in the season, when the leaves are still forming a basal rosette.

Sometimes when I take a photo, I discover things in it later that I didn't notice while I was taking it. This picture is one of those. I took it to record one of the 5 caterpillars I noticed on the gaura. When I uploaded it and looked more closely, I found the largest of the clouded crimson caterpillars in the screen and in focus too, as well as a tiny caterpillar right beside the "main" subject, 2 more caterpillars up to the far left upper corner, and a true bug (Hemipteran) of some sort in the top center of the photo. Unfortunately, that last guy is too out of focus to identify it more than that. Serendipitous!

The last find of the morning is the blooms on the side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). They may be small, but they sure pack a punch of color!


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Gaia Gardener: said...