Thursday, November 24, 2011

We Gather Together

Here in My Florida Backyard, holidays are generally pretty quiet affairs. Our families live many hundreds of miles away, so it's usually just us enjoying our holiday meal out on the back porch. Of course, plenty of wildlife is also around, feasting as well.

Who joined in your Thanksgiving feast? We hope it was as nice as ours was. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mexico Came Here

Fall in Florida is the season of purples. Asters, muhly, beautyberry - so many of fall's fantastic showstoppers here are purple. Another great example is Mexican Sage (Salvia leucantha), which begins blooming in early fall and lasts until first frost.

Though not native to Florida (it hails from Central American and Mexico), Mexican Sage is well-suited to our climate and shows no invasive tendencies. It has silvery green foliage that grows into almost shrub-like proportions by the end of summer (3 feet high and tall), when the flower stalks emerge and add another foot or so to the height. (Ours are still small - we planted them only a month or so ago when we got a great deal on the clearance rack at Lowe's.)

The stalks and calyxes are purple and fuzzy, while the blooms themselves are a soft white color. This late-bloomer is a favorite of pollinators like bees and butterflies, and is very easy to maintain. After the first flush of blooms has finished, cut back to the base (you'll see the new growth beneath) for continued blooming as long as the season permits.

Mexican Sage will likely die back to the ground if we have a hard frost, but will re-grow quickly once warmer weather arrives. We always love adding new salvia species to the butterfly garden in My Florida Backyard - especially those that add to the purple pageant of autumn!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Back Porch

Our screened-in back porch is probably our favorite part of the house here in My Florida Backyard. It gives us a place to sit and watch the wildlife world go by without being eaten alive by mosquitoes or drowned in the rain. In turn, the outside of the screen gives wildlife a place to hang out - lizards spend time there warming up in the sun, squirrels race across it on their way from one feeder to another, and insects rest there before heading back out into the world, like this furry brown moth we found the other day:

The world is full of PBMs - "plain brown moths", most of which are extremely difficult to identify, but the fun furry legs on this one led us to try anyway. We started at's Moth ID guide, which allows lets you check boxes and narrow down your options, but we still got too many possibilities. We tried some Google searches for things like "furry brown moth", but again - no luck. In the end, we found it by dumb luck while browsing brown moth images. It's a Florida Fern Moth (Callopistria floridensis), whose caterpillars feed on many kinds of ferns, and its native to Florida and the tropics.

Small discoveries like this aren't exciting to everyone, but they make days in My Florida Backyard a little more fun for us. Time spent on our back porch is never time wasted!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Mellow Yellow

Fall is the time of purple and gold in My Florida Backyard, and one of the brightest patches of yellow comes from the Winter Cassia (Cassia bicapsularis syn. Senna bicapsularis). This shrub provides a bright burst of color from now through the first frost with its unusual flowers, but that's not the only way it provides gold in the garden. You see, cassia species are host plants for sulphur caterpillars of several varieties. Normally, these caterpillars are the same green shade as the leaves they eat. But when the flowering season arrives, the caterpillars immediately begin to dine on this delicacy, and as a result - they turn bright yellow.

The species above is an Orange-Barred Sulphur caterpillar, but Cloudless Sulphur butterflies (shown below) will lay on cassia as well, along with the smaller Sleepy Orange. They generally lay far more eggs than will ever hatch - Winter Cassia is extremely attractive to ants, and while harvesting nectar the ants will also gobble up any sulphur eggs along the way. Fortunately, sulphur butterflies seem to haunt these bushes, laying eggs from spring to first frost, so their continued success is pretty well-assured.

It should be noted that some organizations place Cassia bicapsularis on invasive species lists, but other groups, like the University of Florida Extension, are not concerned and in fact continue to recommend this bush for planting. To add to the mess, C. bicapsularis is sometimes confused with Senna pendula, a similar and possibly more invasive species. You can use your own judgment on whether to include this non-native in your own landscape, but in My Florida Backyard, we feel comfortable enough with this plant to enjoy the incredible benefits it brings to the butterfly garden, including the bright yellow caterpillars of fall.

P.S. Nov. 7: A quick update - here's a good article from with more info about the differences between C. bicapsularis and S. pendula.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Have a Feast Here Tonight

Regular readers may remember that back in the spring, we installed a "squirrel feeder" in My Florida Backyard. This cleverly designed feeder looks like a corn stalk, and you just add dried corn on the cob to the stakes. Well, as much as we liked it, the squirrels spent the summer ignoring it, and we were getting ready to chalk it up to another "oh, well, we tried" situation.

But then a few weeks ago, the squirrels seemed to suddenly realize this feast of plenty of was free for the taking, and they quickly began to strip the cobs of the tasty little kernels. One squirrel loves to perch atop the fence nearby as he nibbles his dinner, while this little guy prefers to use the corncobs themselves for his seat (sorry for the poor image quality - we snapped this through the window so as not to scare him off):

It's nice to know this fun feeder is finally working out. Most likely, the squirrels spent the summer feasting on insects that were readily available, and as those populations began to dwindle, they looked around for easier food sources. While this doesn't necessarily keep them off the bird feeders nearby when there's sunflower seed to be had, it does at least provide ridiculously cute photo opportunities as they enjoy their tasty corn snacks in My Florida Backyard.