Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wild Turkey

We were pleased to find a few patches of what has to be the best-named wildflower out there growing near the lake in My Florida Backyard. It seems like such a nondescript little plant to have such a silly and fun name, but there it is... Phyla nodiflora, commonly known as "Turkey Tangle Fogfruit", or sometimes just Frogfruit.

This little native plant is actually pretty important for butterfly gardeners - the Common Buckeye, White Peacock, and Phaon Crescent all use it as a caterpillar host plant. Smaller butterflies nectar on the little purple and white flowers too, so a patch or two of this can be very valuable.

As for the fun and crazy name of this plant... well, that's anyone's guess. No amount of searching has turned up any clue as to who gave this wildflower its common name, or why they chose that of all names. If you have any clue, please drop us a comment. We really hate unsolved mysteries in My Florida Backyard!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Orange Wings

Even with the very dry weather we had leading up to our recent welcome rains, the Golden Dewdrop (Duranta erecta) has been putting on new growth and blooming happily in the butterfly garden, in soft shades almost reminiscent of an Impressionist painting.

The soft colors quickly fade to the background when the orange wings of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly appear, as they do throughout the day, every day, in My Florida Backyard. This is by far our most common butterfly visitor, and our most populous caterpillar, as the tattered state of our passionvine can attest.

The ever-changing palette of colors in My Florida Backyard is always worth watching, in wet weather and dry.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Live and Let Live

So, it's summer in Florida. It's hot. Really hot. The kind of hot where you sweat just thinking about going outside, and can suffer heat stroke on your way to the mailbox. Yup, it's hot. And, I'm sorry to say, that means we've been neglecting the gardens in My Florida Backyard. The time for new plantings is past for now, and we're relying on the gardens to do their best with what they have, which is why it was so nice to go outside the other day and discover that the Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) was flowering for the first time in months.

Echinacea is a little out of its range in Central Florida - something about our climate means that while the plants can survive, they certainly don't thrive like they do up north. Rather than growing to 3 or 4 feet tall, here they tend to top out around 12 inches or so. But given the right conditions, they do still flower well, and it seems that, without doing anything in particular, we've finally started providing the right conditions for our Echinacea. It's not very tall, but it has more flowers than ever before. Apparently, it thrives on benign neglect!

Our Echinacea is in the butterfly garden, where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. The soil there is dry and fairly poor. It's currently nearly buried by more robust plants nearby, and to be honest, we'd forgotten it was there. We had only a few anemic-looking blooms on it last year, and left it on its own. It's rewarding us by coming back with vigor, perhaps proving that whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!

Echinacea is well-known by both medicinal and butterfly gardeners, and it's nice to have it finally doing reasonably well. It will never be like the coneflower up north (see our pictures from Ohio last summer for proof), but we love it for doing the best it can in a very difficult environment!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Lily Was Here

In honor of the rain that finally fell in My Florida Backyard last night, today we're featuring the rain lily (Zephyranthes atamasca), a really great little Florida wildflower. Rain lilies, as their name implies, pop up after a good rainstorm in the spring and early summer. They are native to the eastern U.S. from Virginia down through northern Florida, and often seem to grow where no one remembers planting them, especially in the middle of grassy lawns.

Rain lilies grow from bulbs, and will definitely spread over time. If you have some growing randomly in your lawn and you'd like to move them to a new place, simply dig up the bulbs and transplant. You can expect several periods of bloom during the spring and summer, usually a few days after a heavy rain following a dry spell. They're the sort of flower you tend to forget is there until they suddenly surprise you with delicate color and subtle fragrance.

Rain lilies often figure fondly in the memories of long-time Florida residents. Because they're a native wildflower, they've been around since the early days of settlement, popping up just like fleabane or toadflax but with a more cultivated feel. The ones in My Florida Backyard are a soft rosy pink when they first bloom, fading to almost white in a few days. We like to snap off a handful and bring them inside to a small bud vase, where they'll last for several days.

If you don't have rain lilies in your yard, but would like to have them, you can purchase bulbs online from places like American Meadows. This is a simple, elegant, easy-to-grow flower that anyone can plant and enjoy. We're so glad to have them (and the rain that makes them bloom!) here in My Florida Backyard.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Empty Nest

For those who've been following the progress of the mockingbabies, we're sorry to report that they have all apparently been taken by predators as of this afternoon. While the nest was fine yesterday and feeding activity continued at high levels, today we discovered the nest is empty. The remains of one chick lay on the ground below, while the other two were nowhere to be seen, nor were their parents. Clearly, predators of some type, most likely hawks, were able to access the nest and take the young despite their parents' best efforts.

While nature lovers know that the circle of life is true and inevitable, it's still rather sad for us to see this nest that we've watched so closely end in failure. We hope the parents have lived to fly off and start again. As for us, My Florida Backyard seems strangely empty now, but we know that wildlife flourishes all around us and that there's plenty of life left to observe and love.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Daily Growing

The mockingbabies are about 5 days old now, and while we wouldn't say they're all that much cuter, they're definitely bigger! As of this morning, their eyes are open and they have begun making faint "cheeping" noises in response to sounds. They are also beginning to develop pin feathers on their wings. Still, they're mostly beak and fuzz, and they spend their days eating and sleeping... just like most babies. Here's a picture of the mockingparents - they take turns on food duty and watch duty pretty much all day long.

Here are the latest baby photos, and a short video in which you can hear some of their "first words". Enjoy, and check back early next week for another mockingbaby update!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hush Little Baby

A few weeks ago, we noticed an exciting event taking place in My Florida Backyard. For the first time since we've lived here, a pair of birds have decided to nest on our property! They're Northern Mockingbirds, and they've built their nest in the honeysuckle right off the back porch, giving us a front row view to all the action. We've been documenting the action over the last couple of weeks, and this morning, we found the hatchlings have emerged! Here's the lead-up to today's blessed event:

And here are the three unbelievably ugly babies! They are obviously very newly-hatched, possibly just today. Their eyes are not yet open, and they aren't chirping yet. While their parents are out foraging for food, the chicks just lay limply in the nest awaiting the next meal, at which point their little heads shoot up and their beaks open wide...

And finally, let's go to the videotape! We made some chirping sounds like their parents might to see their response... do you think these little guys are hungry?

We'll be documenting their growth in the days ahead. Check back often for updates on the mockingbabies!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Where Corn Don't Grow

One of the important parts of any wildlife habitat, even one that's only one tenth of an acre in suburbia, is offering food sources. We offer plenty of them in My Florida Backyard, like bird feeders, shrubs with berries, caterpillar host plants, and butterfly nectar plants. This week we added a new feeder, this one for creatures that most people have a love-hate relationship with... squirrels.

We got this fun feeder from Gardener's Supply Company, though there are other versions of it out there. We like how sturdy this one is, and the graceful design. So far, we haven't seen any squirrels visiting, but that's most likely because there's a pair of nesting mockingbirds about 10 yards away from this feeder, and they've been keeping everyone else out of the yard (more on that soon). We look forward to seeing if the squirrels eventually find and enjoy this new feeder just for them!