Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tomato Hornworm

Tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata)The potted tomato plants are still growing and producing lots of tomatoes. Is it any wonder then that there are tomato hornworms about? The horn is on the rear end of the worm. These are caterpillars of hawk moths, and so may possibly be the progeny of the hummingbird moth or a close relative. There are several hornworms crawling around on the tomato plants. Soon most of the leaves will be eaten if the worms are not removed. Handpicking is the easiest way to remove them, they are slow moving and fairly easy to spot on the undersides of the leaves. No insecticides or chemicals are needed. But for this one, I do not even have to do that. The white cylindrical attachments are cocoons of a predatory wasp. When the cocoons hatch the caterpillar will die and the wasps will go on to lay eggs on other tomato hornworms and repeat the cycle. A very interesting situation to observe.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus and Peck's skipper (Polites coras)As you can see above, the butterfly bush is still in bloom and attracting butterflies. Today, the bush and the asters were full of painted ladies, sulphurs, and skippers. Butterflies are divided into two superfamilies, the Papilionoidea (true butterflies) and the Hesperioidea (skippers). All the butterflies mentioned previously on this blog have been members of the former, or true butterflies.

There are 62 species of skippers known in Illinois, out of a total of 260 or more in America north of Mexico. Skippers are differentiated from true butterflies by their clubbed antennae, widely separated at their base and many with a little curve at the end, by their stout hairy bodies, and proportionately smaller wings. They tend to beat their wings very fast resulting in fast, darting (or skipping) flight.

The photo above shows a silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) on the left and a Peck's skipper (Polites coras) on the right, with a busy bumblebee in between. The Peck's skipper is also shown below.Peck's skipper (Polites coras)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Prairie Dropseed

prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)On a windy day such as today it is interesting to watch the grasses in the front of the house. There are several clumps of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) in the front entrance bed. This short prairie grass is done blooming now so the three foot plumes of flowers are going to seed. Soon the foliage will be turning yellow but the flowering stalks will remain all winter. The seeds of dropseeds are an important food source for many ground feeding birds like juncos and sparrows. The seeds the birds don't get will readily reseed.

I need to collect some seed and plant in other areas of the property where there is none. A task for tomorrow if the wind dies down.

Friday, September 25, 2009


White aster (A. ericodes)
These asters are growing in the butterfly garden. This white flowering aster (A. ericodes) produces masses of flowers that attract a great number of insects and sulphur butterflies. The asters are one of the largest families of wildflowers in North America and they can be found in a variety of habitats from the sunny dry butterfly garden to the cool shady woodlands. There seems to be an aster for every place and identifying the abundant asters around here can be difficult. I did not plant these asters, like most of the asters on the property they just started appearing over the years.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gray Dogwood Berries

Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa)The white berries and red stalks of gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) are quite a site this time of year. This large shrub grows in thickets under various conditions at Habitat Home. Later this fall the leaves will turn a purplish-red. The berries are actually drupes, a seed covered by fleshy pulp. This fruit is eaten by at least 25 species of birds. It is also an important cover plant and the fine upper twigs of this dogwood provide excellent support for birds to build their nest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Buckeye (Junonia coenia)I have not seen any Buckeye butterflies (Junonia coenia) this year until late last week, soon after the goldenrod started to bloom. And then I have seen buckeyes only on goldenrod. Like this guy, who was hanging out in the tall grass prairie. With conspicuous eyespots on the upper side, and a preference for settling with the wings open, buckeyes are easily identified; they are unique, with no other similar species in Illinois. They are pretty skittish, though, and I had kind of a hard time shooting through and around some tall grass without upsetting it.

Speaking of goldenrod, I've been having a slightly worse allergy season this year, but everyone is now telling me that the goldenrod is not to blame, nor has it ever been. Apparently just the ragweed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Coleus and Begonias

Perhaps not the plants one would expect to find here at Habitat Home. But the deer have not browsed them and the squirrels and rodents and such have left them alone. I read that if the coleus is left to bloom that the blooms will attract some species of butterflies. I have not noticed this. Nothing ever seems to be hovering around these plants except me. I cannot resist the beautiful colored leaves and textures of these plants. They certainly brighten up a dull corner of our patio.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Big mantis

Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa)We are finally starting to see some grown praying mantis (Mantis religiosa). This one was out the other day patiently waiting for a tasty bug to come along. They will sit still for a long time and then at just the right moment, with amazing quickness, reach out that long spiny foreleg and grab an insect flying by. That is why the mantis is a symbol of patience and stillness in some cultures. Wonder what it means that the female will often eat the head of her male partner after mating.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bluebird Bath

We have so enjoyed the bluebird bathing going on each evening (see Bluebirds post), that we brought out the old Panasonic miniDV video camera and shot half an hour of splashing fun. Visiting the bath tonight were at least seven bluebirds, a mix of adults and juveniles. The black eyes on the left side of the bird bath belong to a ceramic frog. The birds seem to like the rough sides of the bird bath and the extra perches that the frog provides above the shallow water surface. These juveniles likely hatched and grew up on the property, but will be departing any day now for points south, perhaps only as far as southern Illinois.

Click on the play button in the window below to play the video which runs about 1 minute 50 seconds.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Black-eyed Susans

black-eyed susans and pearl crescents The black-eyed susans are fading fast. But these two pearl crescents have managed to find a small patch
to enjoy. I have been removing the ripe seed heads and placing them all around the property. The plant will readily self sow. If I had a small garden patch it would be best to remove most flowers before they go to seed, otherwise the garden will be overwhelmed with black-eyed susans. But here, they cannot spread fast enough for me so I aid them in their dispersal and carry off the seedheds to other areas of the property.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Sedum bloom and Painted LadySorry, I do not know which sedum this is. A friend passed it along and as happens with pass along plants, the name often gets left behind. But the butterfly is a painted lady and this sedum plant when in bloom usually has two or three painted ladies and several other insects on it. Although not a native plant, it does not become invasive and if I can keep the deer from eating it, the flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)This evening the dinner entertainment was watching six bluebirds at the birdbath. They seemed to have some order to the rotation in which they bathed, but at one point there were three in the bath at once! We have three similar simple bird baths located around the house but for some reason this one is the most popular. I added the wire bee sculpture this year and the birds readily perch on it and then hop into the birdbath. They actually splash quite a bit of water out so I need to remember to fill the bath tomorrow but not too full, as they prefer the bath when the water is very shallow.

See the following Friday Bluebird Bath post for a video of the splashing birds.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Wolf River Apple Tree

Wolf River apples In 1993, we planted three standard apple trees, Lodi, Honeygold and Wolf River. The Wolf River is the only one to have ever produced an apple crop. This year the tree produced so many apples that some branches broke and had to be removed. Wolf River trees are noted for the large sized apples that they produce which has not been a problem in the past. But this year, the combination of the size and number of apples was more than the tree could bear. Also, the animals seen eating the apples off the tree could have contributed to the damage. Raccoons have been spotted in the upper branches and deer can be seen standing on their two hind feet leaning against the branches to reach the apples.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Late last night, while reading in the living room we heard a terrible crashing sound in the woods by the house. The bright light of the flashlight revealed that another branch had fallen off a dead tree. We leave as many dead trees standing as possible and even leave them after they have fallen. Many species of wildlife use hollow logs or tree cavities during some part of their life. Some species prefer hollows in standing trees, others prefer them on the ground. These dead trees also harbor many insects for birds and reptiles. This one also harbors an interesting lichen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


One of the (relatively) unique features of HabitatHome is a 200 yard stretch of the Salt Fork River, a branch of the Little Vermillion. The River is home to several varieties of fish, turtles, frogs, mussels and crayfish. We were out wading last week looking for mussels, and although we didn't find any live ones, we did find these crayfish, a large one (top, about 2.5-3.0 inches), and a small one (bottom, maybe 1.5 inches) about 10 feet upstream.

We have no experience identifying crayfish (among other things), so if you have any specific knowledge, please add comments. Rob Kanter has a nice post on Appeciating Illinois Crayfish at the Environmental Almanac blog, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History maintains an extensive database, including information and many photos of Illinois speciescrayfishcrayfish

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rough Blazing Star

Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera)
There are over 40 species of blazing stars that occur in North America. This one, Liatris aspera, is a bit unusual because it likes a slightly drier site. Butterflies and bees are attracted to the flowers and finches relish the seeds. As you can see, it is a knock out in the garden. It is a late bloomer and notice that it blooms from the top down. This variety tends to be a bit wild for some gardens but that is what makes it so endearing for natural gardening.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rat Snake

Rat Snake (Elaphe obsoleta) How can anything so cute have a name like rat snake? Perhaps I will just learn the Latin name Elaphe obsoleta and call it by that. Lex found this little fella while mowing the front lawn. It is obviously a juvenile so it is a little hard to identify and please comment if I have identified it incorrectly. But the young hatch late July to September and I think this one just hatched recently. Rat snakes prefer a variety of forest, shrub, and edge habitats, so he should feel right at home. Carnivorous mammals and raptors prey upon these little snakes. Hope he survives!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chinese Lespedeza

Chinese Lespedeza (Lespedeza cuneata)At first I did not know what it was. Then I decided to identify it: Lespedeza cuneata. The literature states that it forms dense stands that prevent anything else from growing. But I thought it was rather attractive and after all it was originally introduced as quail food so perhaps other birds feed upon it. Really, how bad could it get? Well three years later, it is thick and spreading and has formed a large dense stand. So I am spraying it with a solution of Roundup. I no longer see any beauty in this plant! Remove this plant as soon as you see it. The younger plants are rather easy to pull up, avoiding the use of any chemicals, but these are beyond pulling!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Stan Hywet (Boston Trip Part 3)

On the drive home from Boston, we had a hard time deciding where to stop. The book Gardens Across America, Volume I East of the Mississippi is a great resource for finding gardens to visit while traveling.

We decided to stop and visit Stan Hywet and were not disappointed. This was the estate of F.A. Seiberling, the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. He built a magnificent 65 room Tudor Revival mansion on 75 acres where stone had once been quarried. The name Stan Hywet is old English for stone quarry.

The estate beautifully combines formal gardens, the cutting/vegetable gardens and orchard with the natural areas surrounding the estate. The birch allée vista is not to be missed nor the walled English garden pictured below.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mount Auburn (Boston Trip Part 2)

While in Boston we visited the gardens and arboretum of the Mount Auburn Cemetery. Yes, that is right, a cemetery! Mount Auburn is a designated National Historic Landmark, founded in 1831 on 175 acres of meadows, hills, ponds and woods in Cambridge. It was America's first landscaped cemetery. Today it continues in its role as a cemetery, as a beautiful landscaped park and now also as a bird sanctuary for migrating birds. The cemetery contains more that 5,500 trees of nearly 700 different taxa, most of which are labeled with common and scientific names. Twenty eight of the trees here are state champions. There are also graves of many noted Americans, beautiful cast-iron fences, an ornamental garden, the beautiful Bigelow chapel and many, many monuments, memorials and interesting gravestones. The view from Washington Tower is worth the climb. This photo was taken before we even walked up to the steps of the monument.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Inniswood (Boston Trip Part 1)

We have been traveling to Boston to visit our son. Along the way, we stopped at Inniswood Metro Gardens located in central Ohio. The gardens are nested in amongst 121 acres of a nature preserve, once part of a 37-acre estate of sisters Grace and Mary Innis who enjoyed nature and gardening. The sisters later donated the house, gardens and property to the Metro Parks, which now maintains the gardens along with Inniswoood Garden Society volunteers.

The sisters' garden is located in the area around the house and has been developed for children. "To Nurture the Nature of the Child in Everyone" is it's motto. This area contains a tree house, farm house, prairie, wetland, turtle mound, trellis cave, secret garden, circle maze and a wonderful story maze.

Some of the other gardens we enjoyed while at Inniswood were the circle, conifer, rose, cutting, memorial, white, woodland rock and the herb garden. The photo below shows the knot garden that is located in the herb garden. Like all the other gardens in this park, it is well designed and beautifully maintained.