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The Bee Meadow

The Bee Meadow plants are all arranged and Tim is ready to start putting them in the ground.

For some time now, I’ve been planning to plant a bee meadow.

I have been growing and accumulating prairie type wildflowers for this project.

I decided to plant the wildflowers in an area adjacent to my bee hives.

I know that these diverse native plants will attract all sorts of indigenous pollinators as well.

I figure that if an assortment of native bees, wasps and butterflies come to my backyard it will be easier to learn to identify them.

It’s all good.

The plan came together when my friend, Tim Kiphart, came to visit.

We spent a glorious week working on gardening projects.

The dogs were quite interested in the project.

Late Wednesday afternoon we started planting the bee meadow. We took a break to enjoy one of Richard’s delicious meals and get some sleep before finishing up around noon on Thursday.

It is an exciting project.

The plant medley included several species of asters and of false indigo (Baptisia spp.),  purple coneflower from local prairie stands (Echinacea purpurea), button snakeroot (Eryngium yuccafolium), coral bean (Erythrina herbacea), whirling butterflies (Gaura lindheimeri), false aloe (Manfreda virginica), lots and lots of bee balm (Monarda spp.), beard tongue (Penstemon spp.), prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum spp.), several species of black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.), wild blue sage (Salvia azurea), rosin weed (Silphium integrifolium) and several types of grasses including switch grass, big bluestem and little bluestem.

The dogs were so interested that we were inspired to define the area with flagging tape. This seems to make them think twice before running amok... so far anyway.

Most of the pots were well rooted.    Some were even busting out of the pots and look as if they are already growing.  There is rain in the forecast so our timing was perfect.

Maybe my imagination is running amok but it looks like this rosin weed rosette was already growing on Day 3.

Fall is the ideal season to plant perennial wildflower seed or plants in the south.  By the time that spring rolls around, the meadow should be full of robust rosettes ready to make a tremendous growth surge.

After the first year, the maintenance plan is to either mow or burn the Bee Meadow in late winter.

Other than that we’ll just sit back and watch it explode with color, fragrance and bugs! I’m certain that it will continue to be quite entertaining.


 

Maypops

Maypop or Passion Flower is a native vine with unique flowers.

 Maypop (Passiflora incarnata) is one of the flowers of my childhood.       

We often encountered maypop vines along fencerows and on roadsides or in abandoned fields.  We called the plant “maypops” because if you snagged the oval fleshy berry-like fruit and stomped it, the fruit “may pop”.       

The egg-shaped fruit is interesting but the flower is beautiful and fragrant.  The blooms are large (about 3 inches across) with 5  petals which may split and seem to form more.  The petals are fleshy and lavender to white above with green underneath.       

Maypops are one of the few flowers that have a corona.  The corona is an extra whorl or circle of flower parts. 

A maypop corona looks like a ring of fringe that hovers above the petals and below the raised stamens.  The thread-like corona segments are tinted with bands of lavender and white.     

The lovely Gulf Fritillary butterfly is drawn to maypop flowers but she is more interested in the bold lobed leaves.  This time of year, this beautiful orange and black butterfly visits maypop vines and lays her eggs.  The orange and black spiny Gulf Fritillary caterpillars soon emerge from the eggs and proceed to devour maypop leaves.     

When I was a teacher, I learned that the easiest way to teach about the butterfly life cycle is as follows:    

  • Step 1 – Find a maypop vine and search beneath the leaves until you locate a caterpillar.  The caterpillar looks spiny but does not sting.
  • Step 2 – Place the caterpillar in a large jar – at least quart sized.  Punch holes in the lid for ventilation.  Place a twig in the jar.
  • Step 3 – Pick several maypop leaves and put them in the jar to feed the caterpillar.  The caterpillar will also get water from the fresh foliage.
  • Step 4 – Add new maypop leaves each day until the larva begins to form a chrysalis.  The caterpillar will hang from the twig, become immobile and secrete a smooth covering.  A crysalis is similar to a cocoon but the covering is smooth rather than embedded with twigs and dead leaves.
  • Step 5 – Wait.  In about 2 weeks if all goes well, the chrysalis will split and an adult Gulf Fritillary butterfly will emerge.  As soon as the butterfly’s wings expand, it can be released into the wild.  The Gulf Fritillary butterfly is one of the few butterflies that can complete a life cycle so quickly.  In autumn this butterfly rapidly fosters new generations with the first frost as deadline. 

 

I was inspired to write this post because of the maypop vines that flourish in the disturbed soils on my land.  It is an amazingly versatile plant with stompable fruit and exotic flowers.  And even if you choose not to observe the metamorphosis inside a jar, maypops deserve kudos for providing habitat for the beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterfly.


 

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