Friday, August 26, 2011

Late Summer Garden's Bounty

Powell Gardens is alive with plants in every size and hue despite the vicious heat and lack of rain of July. The gardens are designed in our prairie meets woodland "spirit of place" and this natural style holds up well through the routine rigors of our climate.

Petunias are flowers that usually quit flowering in summer's heat but Vista Bubblegum Petunia sure shrugged it off and looks great next to frothy white Diamond Frost Euphorbia.

The theme of summer's annuals and tropicals around the Visitor Center was "texture" this year and this study of 3 container plants shows that off to a tee: bold Alocasia "Elephant Ears" surrounded by fine textured ferns; all in a rich green hue.

I found this planting of gold French Marigolds a delight with self-sown yellow Helenium amarum (a Missouri native annual) on the border edge and self-sown purple Verbena bonariensis sprinkled throughout. Annual flowers in a prairie-esque planting.

The groundcover Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) has really come into full bloom with its rich blue flowers. We still feel this plant is underutilized as a groundcover in full sun to light shade.

The Conifer Garden north of the Visitor Center is a wonderful study of textures: here with blue-needled 'Candicans' Concolor Fir (Abies concolor 'Candicans') and golden-needled Golden Ghost Pine (Pinus densiflora 'Golden Ghost') with a backdrop of a Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum). Only a very few of the golden conifers suffered a bit of foliage burn from the extreme heat.

The Perennial Garden is going into its late summer prime time with splashes of gold, white and purple so typical of a prairie's primary colors.

There are botanical treasures in every nook of the Perennial Garden like our collection of rare Chinese hardy amarylis (Lycoris spp.) -- the common form called "naked ladies" because it blooms on bare stems with no foliage. There are many other species and hybrids like this rare Lycoris radiata var. pumila x Lycoris longituba with NO common name but is a hybrid between red and white species.

White "blooming" Snow-on-the-Mountain (Euphorbia corollata) is a self-sowing annual native to the Great Plains and combines well here with perennial, golden-yellow Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) and self-sown Verbena bonariensis. This wonderful verbena also has no common name though bonariensis translates to Buenos Aires as this plant is native to Argentina.

The Encore Azaleas continue to bloom in between the Perennial Garden and the Rock & Waterfall Garden. Autumn Lilac (Rhododendron 'Robles') is currently in full encore bloom! As a reminder our planting is of the 10 hardiest selections for reliability in a zone 6 climate. Check them out!

The Rock & Waterfall Garden is as lush as ever and the some of the dinosaurs have not yet been sent on their way... Here is the north stream with a bold whorl of foliage of an Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) left and the dinosaur-ish Butterbur (Petasites japonicus) in the background.

Check out the containers of succulents around the chapel -- succulents are a hot commodity for containers as they are far less demanding of every day watering!

The Island Garden's middle pool is at its peak with gorgeous waterlilies in every hue surrounded by billowing masses of Gaura, Verbena bonariensis and feathery Arkansas Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii).

The Island Garden's large lower pool is a unique study of giant Victoria Waterlilies which are now blooming along with Papyrus (foreground) and Red-stemmed Thalia soon to display its towering sprays of tiny purple flowers.

All the Butterflybushes (Buddleia davidii) are loaded with the butterflies throughout the garden. Here a "flock" of Viceroys drinks from this 'Three-in-One' Butterflybush that is currently blooming almost solely white but can set out sprays of lavender, pink or even dark purple flowers at random!

The Fountain Garden is lush with pink Vinca, yellow 'Carefree Sunshine' roses and Limelight Hydrangeas in the background. It's still a great place to cool off and get wet on a warm late summer visit to the gardens.

The Menu Garden at the entrance to the Heartland Harvest Garden is at peak late summer productiveness. Be sure to check out this amazing edible landscape and how many of its trees and shrubs have grown over the summer.

Thanks to the generous donation of a volunteer, the fence long-specified to go around Fun Food Farm's Seed to Plate garden is almost completed as of today. It really delineates this "children's" garden where student visitors can sow, tend, harvest, prepare and compost seasonal edible plants.

Clemson Spineless Okra caught my attention with its lovely flowers that show its close relation to Hibiscus. These can be seen in Author Barbara Damrosch's demonstration garden.

Nothing denotes the season finer than the glowing velvety orange flowers of the Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). This annual is very nectar rich and attracts numerous butterflies and hummingbirds wherever planted.

It is also the season for the beautiful native thistles to bloom like this one next to the Chapel in the prairie. This is the native thistle (Cirsium discolor) with true lavender blooms that are very nectar-rich and provide food for many beneficial pollinating insects like the iridescent green Sweat Bee. It is the imported Bull, Musk and Canadian thistles that are the noxious weeds.

Powell Gardens is a great place to visit at the end of summer and weathered the wild summer well. Come see some of its beautiful and bountiful treasures and relax in its natural landscapes under our fantastic skies. All photos taken August 26, 2011 by Alan Branhagen at Powell Gardens.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Moths of the 2011 Festival of Butterflies

I hope you got to see the phenomenal moths of this year's Festival of Butterflies. Here's a quick overview in case you missed them and we hope to have them back again next year.

Rothschild's Silkmoth (Rothschildia lebeau) from Costa Rica was spectacular with its four windowed wings and pink frosting hi-lights.

The Luna Moth (Actias luna) (left) from North America and the African Moon Moth (Argema mimosae) from Africa were both in good view in our display. Yes they are related and similar species of "moon" or "comet" moths occur around the world and among the favorite of all moths. Luna Moth was hands down the favorite native moth by those viewing our native moth collections in the Caterpillar Experience.

The stars of the Conservatory Display were the HUGE female Atlas Moths (Attacus atlas) which had wingspans of 12". I never did capture the astounded faces of visitors seeing this huge moth for the first time! The female has larger wings to transport it larger body full of 100's of eggs for the next generation.

The male Atlas Moths were much smaller with more elongated wingtips -- the wingtips apparently look like snake heads as a defense against predators. This Atlas Moth had a particularly rich cherry brown coloration.

We hope you plan to attend 2012's Festival of Butterflies and see these phenomenal moths in person next year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Festival of Butterflies 2011

Here's some scenes from Powell Gardens during our 15th annual Festival of Butterflies. The festival opens Friday at 9:00a.m. (August 12) and runs daily through Sunday (August 14) from 9am to 6pm.

A Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides) visits overripe fruit treats in the conservatory and color echos stunningly with a bromeliad bloom which is just one of many tropical plants on display too. (photo by Betsy Betros)

Blue Morpho's colors are from grooved scales on their wings that refract light -- that is why they appear to shimmer. The scale structure on their wings has helped us create better digital photography technology (like your camera phone!).

When Blue Morphos land they usually keep their wings closed and show this unique pattern of browns and eye spots. Many visitors pause to see if resting butterflies will open their wings for a photo opportunity.

Our Bird-of-Paradise is in bloom in the conservatory so look for its stunning flower as well -- the national flower of South Africa where it grows wild. (photo by Betsy Betros)

Yes we have unique tropical moths in the Conservatory like this Rothschild Silkmoth (Rothschildia lebeau) from Costa Rica. Its Spanish name translates to "Four Windows" as the center of each wing has a large eye spot that is like celophane. We do have a few Atlas Moths but none has emerged yet -- we will post that occasion on Facebook and Twitter as soon as one is out! (photo by Betsy Betros)

This is a picture of one of our figs (Ficus carica) outside in the Heartland Harvest Garden but you can see that under a leaf is a Zebra Swallowtail resting during one of our rainy spells during the festival. Most butterflies find shelter like this during rain or inclement weather. (photo by Betsy Betros)

Visitors peruse our collection of butterflies and moths on display in the Caterpillar Experience room. (photo by Betsy Betros)

Brett Budach (volunteer) visits with guests about some of our many live caterpillars on display in the Caterpillar Experience. (photo by Betsy Betros)

Here visitors are enamored by our Carolina Sphinx caterpillars; a.k.a. "tobacco hornworms." We had the complete life cycle of these unique moth from egg to caterpillar, pupae and moth on display. (photo by Betsy Betros)

Don't miss the parade each festival day at 11:00 a.m. and walk with our Caterpillar float that was created by volunteer Master Naturalist Linda Williams. It is in the likeness of the Cecropia Moth caterpillar which is the largest moth in North America. You can see the real live caterpillar in both the Caterpillar Experience and Caterpillar Petting Zoo. (photo by Betsy Betros)

We still are a botanical garden and the grounds abound with flowers even after the blazing heat and drought we are and have experienced. Here are some pink and white Queen Anne's-lace (Daucus carota) blooming near the Chapel trolley stop.

This Vertigo (TM) Fountain Grass (Pennisetum hybrid) outside the cafe is also a stunning plant surviving the harsh season and being one of the finest foliage grasses we've ever seen.

Crape Myrtles are another flowering plant that relished our HOT weather and are currently in bloom around the gardens. This is the cultivar 'Hopi' near the south side of the Visitor Center.

Sweet Coneflowers (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) are a native wildflower that has also done well through this hot, dry spell and are in bloom in the "insectary" gardens around the Fountain.

A visit to Powell Gardens during the Festival of Butterflies guarantees a close encounter with a butterfly or moth and any of its miraculous metamorphosis stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis or cocoon, and the adult butterfly or moth). Be sure and enjoy the Dinosaurs of our Jurassic Journey as it there last weekend on display (Sunday is the LAST day for dinosaurs); and don't forget to just enjoy the beauty and bounty of the gardens from a trip to the Heartland Harvest Garden's observation silo to a splash in the Fountain Garden, peak bloom of waterlilies on the Island Garden, to a bit of solace in our E. Fay Jones designed Chapel -- what better place to spend one of the last days of summer!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Exotic Moth Emerges

Our first exotic moth: an African Moon Moth has emerged for display at the Festival of Butterflies which opens at 9a.m. on Friday (August 5th).

African Moon Moths (Argema mimosae) are simply spectacular and must be seen alive and in person! The unique lemon-lime green quickly fades as it is pigment and not refracted light like the everlasting blues of the morpho. Their exceptionally long streamer tails are just hindwing extentions and give this moth another name: the comet moth. They are related to our native Luna Moths but are much larger with a wing span of 7 inches.

The African Moon Moth cocoons arrived last Friday. We have special USDA permits to display them and have a strict protocol on their preparation and display. The cocoons are smaller than hen's eggs. The caterpillar had spun them on the side of a twig and I glued them to a wooden dowel at the same connection where the twig was. The origin of these moth was from "butterfly farms" in Kenya.

Here's me with a dowel of African Moon Moth cocoons. We received 45 cocoons in this first shipment. (photo by receptionist Roland Thibault) Yes, we wear lab coats in the receiving room as part of our USDA protocol.

I showed off the cocoons to some young visitors on the way to their emergence cases in the conservatory (photo by Roland Thibault).

Our first African Moon Moth is held by Horticulturist Anne Wildeboor this morning. They are not easily handled and act jumpy just like our native Luna Moths. We will do our best to make sure a few of these spectacular moths are in easy view for a reasonably close encounter and photo opportunity during the Festival of Butterflies.

We also received cocoons of the Rothschild Silkmoth (Rothschildia lebeau) from Costa Rica and still plan to receive a fresh shipment of Atlas Moths (Attacus atlas -- the world's largest moth) from Southeast Asia (the shipment last week was delayed by a typhoon!). We look forward to sharing these as well as Blue Morphos from Costa Rica and butterflies from Florida in the Conservatory. The breezeways will be full of locally raised native butterflies and the wild butterflies in the gardens are putting on a great show too. Be sure and stop by the "Caterpillar Experience" to view some of the many unique caterpillars found in our area. See you on Friday!