Monday, October 28, 2013

The King of the Beautyberry

Every morning and evening for the past few weeks, my beautyberry has been guarded by a very possessive mockingbird who does not want to share the luscious purple berries with any other bird.  When a blue jay comes near, this cheeky fellow chases him away. When another mockingbird approaches the beautyberry, the two engage in an elaborate mock duel on the ground, hopping to and fro and all around each other. If they had tiny swords, they would look like exactly like they were fencing. En garde, monsieur! The "King" always emerges from these non-contact scuffles victorious, and immediately returns to his tree to plunder the berries. 

No matter that there are plenty of berries to go around. Mockingbirds are very territorial, not to mention fearless -- who hasn't been strafed by an angry mocker during nesting season? Apparently they don't play well with others when it comes to berries.

I have always said watching my yard is better than watching any nature documentary. This mockingbird is an endless source of entertainment. I look for him every day and will miss him when the berry bonanza comes to an end, or he has had his fill. 

For those unfamiliar with beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), it's a large shrub native to Florida with soft, velvety leaves. Beautyberry produces dainty clusters of white flowers in the spring that give way to berries that turn a lush vibrant purple by early fall. It flourishes in shady spots and is very drought-tolerant. Left to its own devices, it can get very sprawly and leggy, but doesn't mind pruning. I prune mine pretty heavily in the early Spring, giving it plenty of time to recover before berry-setting time in the late summer.

Some years my beautyberry doesn't get much attention from the birds until after Christmas. One year it seemed to be ignored completely. But this year there is early and intense interest in the berries (the 2013 crop must be exceptional) and this one determined mockingbird has decided the bush is his, all his!
I have bird feeders in my yard, as so many of us do, and I provide suet to help my feathered friends through the hardest part of the winter. But I always get more satisfactionfrom being able to provide natural food for the wild critters that share my urban yard, whether they are pollinators, possums, frogs or my new favorite, The King of the Beautyberry.

What plants have you provided for wildlife to eat in your garden?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Passion For Purple

Yep, I admit it. I'm passionate about purple.

So are pollinators, especially when Fall begins to softly, subtly tickle our senses in Florida. That would be right about now in my neck of the peninsula.

Just like males of many bird species -- and females of our own -- bright colors like reds, pinks, blues and purples are used to attract suitors. But plants aren't courting mates; they are enticing bees, wasps, butterflies and moths to come calling. The insects get food in the form of nectar and in return help the plants pollinate.

Purple and blue are especially popular with bees and wasps. But the butterflies and moths don't turn up their proboscis at them either!

Here are some of the purple bloomers my yard is "wearing" now. Please leave a comment and share your own fall favorites!

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Luscious clusters of purple berries grace this lovely but leggy native shrub from fall through the winter. Pruning keeps beautyberry looking spiffy rather sprawly. A shade lover, it is deciduous but in my Zone 9B landscape it never completely loses its leaves. Mockingbirds are among the birds that pluck the berries. Speaking of "pluck," I have a greedy mockingbird that has been guarding my beautyberry lately, and driving away others that want to share the bounty. 

Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha)

Salvias are great pollinator plants, and this one is no exception. Growing to 4 feet high and equally wide, it needs space to look its best. The violet blooms are borne on long erect stems, and they feel like velvet! Mexican sage thrives in blazing sun and heat, and will return in the spring after a frosty winter. This sage makes a great cutting flower for vase arrangements, especially when paired with a yellow companion like sunflowers or rosinweed.


Purple porterweed (Stachytarpheta urticifolia

A long-tailed skipper on porterweed
Porterweed needs room to grow
The porterweed pictured here is not the native species, S. jamaicensis. The native is a low-growing groundcover; the upright version is a woody shrub that can reach 5 feet in height. I have both in my yard, but the upright porterweed is more heavily visited (perhaps because it's tall and easier to see). Bees, zebra longwings and especially skippers sip nectar from the tiny purple blooms all day long. I can look out my window at virtually any time and see pollinators on this plant!

Purple Majesty Salvia (Salvia guarantica x gesneraeflora)

This hybrid salvia has rich purple blooms on long spikes, like all salvias. I've read that hummingbirds like this plant, but in my yard the bees and butterflies use it extensively. It can grow to be 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, so give it some space and you'll be rewarded. This another plant that the little skipper butterflies adore.

Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum)

Late sleepers are out of luck with this native wildflower. The flowers open only in the morning and then wither by late day, with new blooms appearing the next morning. This plant dies back in colder areas of Florida during the winter, and frankly isn't much of a looker except when it blooms in the early fall. I find its delicate, curly blossoms irresistible. It will reseed prolifically -- no exaggeration -- but I just pull up most of the babies and share the curly-cuteness with others.
Curly cuteness at work!

Happy Fall Floridays everyone!