Hummingbird or Butterfly? The Sphinx Moth is Unique

 

Hummingbird Moth   by Larry Lamsa - Hummingbird MothUploaded by PDTillman

Hummingbird Moth
by Larry Lamsa – Hummingbird MothUploaded by PDTillman

Darting through brightly colored flowers in mid-summer,  Sphinx Moths or Hummingbird Moths are often spotted and mistaken for hummingbirds. The video below captured a Snowberry Clearwing Moth, Hemaris diffinis, one type of Sphinx moth commonly seen in the mid-Atlantic region. It is a bumblebee mimic, with yellow and black segments, and measuring between 1 1/2 to 2 inches in length, but much faster. The name Snowberry, identifies the host for the larvae stage as the Snowberry, Symphoricarpos, which is a shrub that bears white berries. Additional plant hosts are honeysuckle (Lonicera), dogbane (Apocynum), and dwarf bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera). The host plant that occurs on my property is honeysuckle.

At first glance, the adult hummingbird moths look exactly like hummingbirds. They hover near nectar filled flowers around dusk and insert long, specialized mouthparts into blossoms in search of their sugar harvest. They move quickly, so quickly that it is hard to catch a good glimpse of them. But if you take a closer look you’ll see that they’re not a hummingbird, but a moth, a member of a group of moths known as hummingbird moths.

"White-lined sphinx" by ZooFari - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

“White-lined sphinx” by ZooFari – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 The moths are strong and fast fliers, with a rapid wing beat. Most species in the group act like hummingbirds, highly acrobatic, able to fly backwards, and hovering in front of a flower and sipping nectar through the extended proboscis. The proboscis rolls up when not in use. Hawk or hummingbird moths have the world’s longest tongues of any other moth or butterfly (some up to 14 inches long). Charles Darwin knew of the star orchids (Angraecum spp.) from Madagascar that had nectar spurs over a foot in length. Darwin was ridiculed by other scientists of his day for predicting that these orchids would be pollinated by hawk moths. After his death, hawk moths with tongues long enough to sip the nectar produced by the star orchids were discovered on the island of Madagascar. This discovery was a triumph of the theory of evolution.

Snowberry Clearwing moth

Snowberry Clearwing moth

 

The larvae caterpillar stage is green, black, and yellow, depending on the species of the moth, and they burrow into soil to pupate, where they remain for 2–3 weeks before they emerge as adults.  I was shocked to discover that the larvae caterpillar of one type of sphinx moth is the dreaded tomato hornworm!

Tomato hornworm being parasitized by braconid wasp larvae

Tomato hornworm being parasitized by braconid wasp larvae

See my post at A Tomato Grower’s Best Friend  for more information on this pest. As adult moths, sphinx moths eat nectar from flowers including lantana, dwarf bush honeysuckle, snowberry, orange hawkweed, thistles, lilac, and Canada violet. They range from Maine to Florida east of the continental divide, and west of the divide are a slightly different species.

Sphinx moth feeding on monarda, or bee balm

Sphinx moth feeding on monarda, or bee balm

 They are “accidental” pollinators, picking up pollen on their legs while visiting flowers for nectar, and perform a valuable pollination service. See my post on pollinators, Sex in the Garden.

"Hyles lineata larva and egg" by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org - This image is Image Number 5211020 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service.

“Hyles lineata larva and egg” by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org – This image is Image Number 5211020 at Insect Images, a source for entomological images operated by The Bugwood Network at the University of Georgia and the USDA Forest Service.

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Squash Birth Control- Squash Blossom Latkes

Pizza with squash and blossoms attached and grille corn-Yum!!

Pizza with squash and blossoms attached and grilled corn-Yum!!

If you never have eaten a squash blossom, go down to the nearest farmers market and pick up a bag and try them out. They are a wonderful addition to summer menus. I grow squash, not only for the vegetable,  but for the flower. And when you pick the young squash at a certain point, you get both the veggie and the blossom, and that is the best of both worlds!

Picked fresh from the garden

Picked fresh from the garden

To eat them, I slice the squash in half and fry them up, put them on pizza, stuff the blossoms with goat cheese, and make latkes.  You could also cut them up into ribbons and drape on top of a pasta dish. There are countless ways to enjoy the yellow trumpets that emerge from the plants all summer. Also, consider this as birth control for squash! It reduces your yield tremendously when you really don’t need another 20 zucchini cluttering up your refrigerator.

The trick is to catch the squash when it is only a day or two old, has the blossom attached, and is still tender.

Young squash with flower still attached

Young squash with flower still attached

The blossom is pretty fragile so carefully snip it off, and I like to give it a quick rinse as insects like to lay their eggs on the blossom, namely squash bugs. Also ants like to hide inside. Place the blossom in the fridge wrapped in damp paper towels for no more than 24 hours to use in your favorite recipe.  Here are some suggestions for recipes : http://www.thekitchn.com/five-ways-to-eat-squash-blosso-87564

Squash blossom with sleepy bee inside- Knock him out!

Squash blossom with sleepy bee inside- Knock him out!

Pick the blossoms early in the morning since the heat of the day will wilt them. Shake out any bees that spent the night curled at the base and collect as many as you can.  I use both winter and summer squash blossoms. I have taken out flowers from my fridge that still have buzzing bees in them that awaken when taken out into warm air!

Open the flower, and snip off the stamen in the center as this can be tough.

Cut off the tough bitter tasting stamen in the center

Cut off the tough bitter tasting stamen in the center

At this point, you can stuff them with goat cheese or just batter and fry them. They are sublime as a pizza topping. My favorite treatment though is Squash Latkes/Fritters.

Squash blossom latke recipe

Squash blossom latke recipe

 

Chop them up- I like the squash chunky

Chop them up – I like the squash chunky

Make your batter

Mix your batter

Add Chopped squash to batter

Add chopped squash to batter

Mix together

Lightly fold veggies into batter

Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil

Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil

Fry 3 minutes on each side

Fry 3 minutes on each side

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

 

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Escape to Surreybrooke – A Destination Garden Center

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 I hesitate calling Surreybrooke http://www.surreybrooke.com/  in Middleton, Maryland , a “garden center”.  It is so much more -  a destination for garden enthusiasts as well as photographers, children, artists, and everything in between.

Unique containers were available for sale and with great prices; this one contains Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’

Brimming with unusual flowers, whimsical containers, historic log buildings, mazes, flower borders bursting with color, water features, garden art, and winding pathways leading to surprises around each corner- there is something that will appeal to everyone.

S view of a garden border with the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance

S view of a garden border with the Blue Ridge mountains in the distance

I first stopped by Surreybrooke over 20 years ago, drawn by the beautiful one-of-a-kind dried arrangements and wreaths, that owner Nancy Walz creates. I rediscovered it about 5 years ago and was impressed with all the improvements. By chance I was in the Frederick area last week and remembered to check in. I was thrilled with how Surreybrooke has turned out!

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This is a garden center that pales in comparison with any others that I have been to, even “Annies Annuals” in San Francisco! See Annies Annuals-The Ultimate Road Trip. The history, the ambience, and attention to detail are all on display as soon as you stroll in. I caught Nancy Walz busy watering everything by hand in the blazing sun last week and she modestly declined my request to take a picture. She exclaimed “Take pictures of the flowers, colors, baskets, and views -that is the important thing!”

The outbuildings were charming and functional

The outbuildings were charming and functional

The plant selection was great even this late in the season, and when Nancy checked my selections out, she mentioned that a sale of “buy one, get one free” was going on. I was in heaven!

Old brick pathway up to the cottage antique shop

Old brick pathway up to the cottage antique shop

Clematis at base of bird house

Clematis at base of bird house

Long before “Fairy Gardens” became popular, Nancy Walz was selling fairy accessories and she has an impressive selection. I loved her quaint fairy cottages fabricated out of hypertufa!!  I am going to try to make one of these. See my post on Hypertufa-Making Mud Pies to see how to create containers out of a mixture of Portland cement, peat moss, and perlite.

Fairy accessories on display

 

Some examples of unique containers

Some examples of unique containers

 Turned into a plant lover’s paradise, Surreybrooke was a dairy farm in a former life.  Specializing in herbs, hard to find alpines, perennials, antique roses, and unusual annuals, a gardener could wander for hours. Artifacts were used as props to showcase the plants. As my daughter exclaimed when she first entered the gardens “It is like American Pickers meets a garden center!” Seamlessly intermingling antiques and plants was done artfully and with care.

Antiques are everywhere at Surreybrooke

Antiques are everywhere at Surreybrooke

Children and gardening is a natural combination with Surreybrooke and they have found a niche by introducing kids to the wonders of gardening, with fairies, tea parties, Easter egg hunts, mazes, and pizza gardens. What a fun way to acquaint kids with gardening!

In the children's cottage is this charming tea party set up

In the children’s cottage is this charming tea party set up

Intrigued by the candle making room, I noticed racks and racks of freshly dipped candles for sale.  The former summer kitchen turned into a candle making house has a complete set up with a cauldron for melting wax and candle dipping apparatus. It look well used!

Candle making room

Candle making room

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Instead of lining up plant selections on benches like most greenhouses and garden centers, Surrybrooke displays plants in vignettes which give you great ideas on what to buy and what looks good together.

The plant selections were wonderful and the perennials were enticing. I was attracted to this Coreopsis, called Rt. 66 and took one home.

 

Coreopsis Rt 66

Coreopsis Rt 66

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Hillside Makeover-Transforming an Ordinary Slope into a Waterfall Oasis

 

Hillside Waterfall, 5 years later

Hillside Waterfall, 5 years later

One of my favorite design jobs landed in my lap about 5 years ago. I really didn’t know what to expect when I first visited the property – a modest home set on a busy road with a huge level back yard. There was a  small steep slope out the back door with some ancient concrete steps. Seeing this slope for the first time with a crumbling deck and  scrubby perennials dotting the hillside, I was struck with the possibilities right away. Turning a liability of a steep slope into an asset of a beautiful waterfall was right up my alley! This was a perfect solution to a problem area.

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Original slope with garage door opening out to a wooden deck and steps

For the slope immediately below the deck, I designed two terraced walls of Western Maryland fieldstone, a native stone that blends in nicely with its colors of greys and tans. Using two lower height walls are preferable to one high wall, and each one ended up being about 2 1/2 feet high and curved around following the natural contour of the hill. After removing the deck, a new stone patio with a curving front face to match the walls was built, covered with the same stone. Carefully excavating around the existing large maple tree and keeping any extra soil away from the trunk was critical to maintain the health of the existing tree during construction.

Sweet Box planted under large tree

Sweet Box planted under large tree

Changing the location of the steps from an awkward area on the left side of the original deck to an uninterrupted pathway that starts in the front yard cleaned up the traffic flow.

View of steps from top of the hill

View of steps from top of the hill

Traffic flow, or the way you move around a property, is critical for pathway layout and convenience. Perennial plantings on either side of the steps gave added interest. This area was deer browsed, so plant selection was critical. Go to http://thegardendiaries.wordpress.com/2014/06/06/deer-combat-using-deer-proof-plants-is-the-best-strategy/ to see a variety of plants that will work.

Installing a pond with liner

Installing a pond with liner

 Installed with a black butyl liner, the pond and waterfall were built of fieldstone to match the walls. River jack, a rounded rock that is good for aquatic life, covered the bottom and hid the liner. Installation of an electrical outlet close by for the filter and pump, and convenient to the lower patio completed the pond set up.

Teak bench with steppable plants

Teak bench with steppable plants

The original lower covered patio area was cracked cement and low concrete block walls. We covered everything in bluestone and Western Maryland stone to match the other walls below the upper patio. The walls became wide sitting walls, perfect for lounging on!

Lower patio area

Lower patio area

Shade container under the lower patio

Shade container under the lower patio

To complete the transformation, the white wood work and supports were painted a fresh coat and the exterior of the house was given a parge coat in a color to match the stone. The finishing touch was installing a ceiling fan for a cooling breeze on a hot day.

Overall view of pond and waterfall

Overall view of pond and waterfall

Now my client can sit comfortably on the upper or lower patio, or the conveniently placed bench and overlook the flowering plants, fish, and other wildlife that the flowers entice to the garden.

Looking down towards the pond area from the upper patio

Looking down towards the pond area from the upper patio

Butterfly Bushes, Iris, Nepeta, Salvias, Creeping Junipers, Creeping Thyme, Geranium, Caryopteris, Ferns, Variegated Boxwood, Dianthus, Chrysogonum, and Hellebores were all used to give multi-season interest as well as being unappetizing to the deer population.

 

Pond area in spring with blooming thyme and Dianthus

Pond area in spring with blooming thyme and Dianthus

I think when the Iris bloom is my favorite time to visit and take pictures.

Iris blooming in the pond

Iris blooming in the pond

'Black Gamecock' Louisiana Iris

‘Black Gamecock’ Louisiana Iris

 

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Dance With Bees-Honey Bee Communication

Honeybees on comb

Honeybees on comb

Honey bee dancing is one of the most fascinating behaviors in animal life and a model of animal communication. Performed by a worker bee that has returned to the honey comb with pollen or nectar, the “dances” or movements constitute a language that “tells” other workers where the food is. By signaling both distance and direction with particular movements, the worker bee uses dance language to recruit and direct other workers in gathering pollen and nectar.

Dancing bee

Dancing bee

The late Karl von Frisch, a professor of zoology at the Universityof Munich in Germany, is credited with discovering and interpreting the meaning of honey bee dance movements in 1947. After decades of research, he and his students documented and described the different parts of each dance.

Waggle Dance

Waggle Dance

Using glass-walled observation hives and paint-marked bee foragers, they  trained the foragers to find food at sources placed at known distances from the colony. When the bees returned from gathering food from those sources, the duration and angle of the dances was carefully measured.  Their findings led them to the concept of a dance language. Von Frisch’s work eventually earned him the Nobel Prize in 1973.

The waggling is done so quickly, that it looks not like a figure eight, but a “waggle” of the rear end. Check out my video of bees doing the waggle dance. Look closely and you will see several instances of it happening. The first one starts around 30 seconds in.

 

When an experienced forager returns to the colony with a load of nectar or pollen that is worth a return journey, she performs a dance on the surface of the honey comb to tell other foragers where to locate the food. The dancer “spells out” two items of information—distance and direction—to the target. Recruits then leave the hive to find the nectar or pollen. There are two types of dances – the round dance and the waggle dance- with the round dance being a shorter version of the waggle and indicating food is nearby.

Honeybee pollinating a hellebore

Honeybee pollinating a hellebore

Distance and direction are relayed in different ways in the dance and now it is believed that odor plays a large part of this behavior.  Some scientist believe that the dance is only to get attention, and then the accompanying odor gives more exact information.

As the distance to the food source increases, the duration of the waggling portion of the dance (the “waggle run”) also increases. The relationship is roughly linear. For example, a forager that performs a waggle run that lasts 2.5 seconds is recruiting for a food source located about 2,625 meters away.

 

Bee dance, Wikipedia

Bee dance, Wikipedia

The orientation of the dancing bee during the straight portion of her waggle dance indicates the location of the food source relative to the sun. The angle that the bee adopts, represents the angle to the flowers relative to the direction of the sun outside the hive. In other words, the dancing bee transposes the solar angle into the gravitational angle. Fascinating stuff!

Waggle Dance, Wikipedia

Waggle Dance, Wikipedia

All the known species of honeybees perform these dances in some form that varies slightly from species to species. Such species-specific behavior suggests that this form of communication does not depend on learning but is rather determined genetically.

Honey comb formations in my hive

Honey comb formations in my hive

 

 

 

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