The Un-Buddleia

Most folks have grown butterfly bushes in the genus buddleia, yet few garden visitors recognize this fascinating species from our 1994 botanizing trip to Northern Mexico. I should add that most buddleias on the market are developed from the Asian species, and virtually none from the less colorful North American species.

Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella grows in rocky, bone-dry hillsides in the mountains of Northern Mexico near the town of Los Lirios at 7,000′ elevation. I was only able to find a single seed, but fortunately, it sprouted, and 28 years later, this amazing specimen is the result.

One of the cool things about Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella is the insanely fragrant flowers, which start for us in early fall, and continue all winter…a trait you won’t find in any other temperate shrub of which we’re aware. As you can imagine, it is awash with an array of pollinator insects The flower color is a dusty white, so this will never be a plant that will make it to the shelves of your favorite box store. That said, it’s a plant we wouldn’t be without in our garden.

Image of Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella blooming in the garden.
Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella

Dinner Jackets

This week, we fielded a call from our garden staff that there were large yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons) nests in several arborvitae near where they were working. Knowing how aggressive and toxic the stings of these native vespid wasps can be for humans, they had requested help in getting the nests eliminated.

When Patrick arrived to check out the problem, he noticed that instead of finding nests, the yellow jackets were actually feeding on the arborvitae. Since this species of arborvitae was currently in the midst of pollen and cone production, there also appears to be some type of resin being exuded at the same time, which is a delicacy for the yellow jackets.

We estimate there were between 100 and 200 yellow jackets per plant. Because they were busy feeding, they had no interest in us, despite our close up study of their behavior. Our entomologist, Bill Reynolds, who had observed this phenomenon before with vespid wasps and arborvitae, showed us that we could actually touch the yellow jackets without drawing their ire. This is certainly not the case if you’ve ever been anywhere near a yellow jacket nesting site.

The other interesting phenomenon is that despite being Eastern US natives, the yellow jackets were only interested in the Asian arborvitae species, Platycladus (Thuja) orientalis. Growing adjacent was the East Coast and West Coast arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis and Thuja plicata, but neither attracted a single insect. This is another nail in the coffin of that oft repeated myth that only native plants feed native pollinators. One of many lessons here, but it’s especially important not to spray first and ask questions later.

Wide view photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills'
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’
Up close photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills' hosting a yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’
Up close photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills' hosting a yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’

I bee Sleeping

As fall temperatures drop, it’s not unusual to find our native bees asleep in some of the most interesting places. We caught this carpenter bee fast asleep on the job this week, clinging tightly to the spines of an Agave parryi.

Reveling with Ravenel

I’d grown quite a few eryngiums…49 different ones, in fact, before Patrick shared Eryngium ravenelii with us in 2015. Who knew we were missing one of the best eryngiums in the entire genus! Today, Eryngium ravenelii holds several places of honor in our garden, where we can watch the myriad of pollinators who regularly stop by for a nectar snack during flowering season (mid-August to late September).

Eryngium ravenelii was named for American botanist, Henry William¬†Ravenel¬†(1814-1887). In the wild, Eryngium ravenelii grows in standing water in flooded ditches, alongside sarracenias (see bottom photo). We’ve now seen them in the wild in both North Florida and South Carolina, where they grow in calcareous-formed soils. In the garden, they thrive in an array of slightly acidic soils as long as the soil is reasonably moist.

Eryngium ravenelii being visited by a pollinator
Eryngium ravenelii
 Eryngium ravenelii flowering
Eryngium ravenelii
Eryngium ravenelii in bog-like conditions
Eryngium ravenelii

Big Blues

Looking fabulous in the garden now is the perennial Salvia ‘Big Blue’. This amazing sage has been in flower since spring, and has yet to slow down. It’s also a favorite of the native bumblebees.

A large clump of Salvia Big Blue
Salvia ‘Big Blue’