July’s Backyard Prairie Adventures

“Oh, do you have time to linger for just a little while out of your busy and very important day…?” — Mary Oliver

*****

Come linger with me for a few moments in my backyard.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Let’s see what the last week of July is up to.

Unknown bee on cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Now, the heat rises from the ground; the air like a warm, soggy blanket out of the dryer that could have used an extra ten minutes. Dew beads the grass blades.

Dew on grass blade, Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I hear a buzz-whirr in my ear as a ruby-throated hummingbird zings by me, heading for sugar water. Ruby-throated hummingbirds appreciate my nectar feeder—-and they love the wildflowers in my garden.

Ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL (2016).

I planted scarlet runner beans, just for them.

Scarlet runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I delight in that kiss of red! More of this color is coming in the backyard. The hummingbirds will be glad when the cardinal flowers open. Almost there.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees enjoy the bee balm—-or if you prefer, wild bergamot—which blooms in wispy drifts across the garden.

Bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) with a backdrop of gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Myriad pollinators also visit the zinnias, which I have an abiding affection for, although zinnias aren’t native here in my corner of suburban Chicago.

Zinnia (Zinnia elegans), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Other flowers wrap up the business of blooming and begin moving toward seed production. Culver’s root candles are almost burned out. Only a few sparks remain.

Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The bird-sown asparagus has a single seed.

Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Other flowers are just beginning their cycle of bud, bloom, go to seed. Obedient plant’s green spike is a promise of pretty pinky-purple flowers to come.

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I enjoy the July transitions.

A giant sunflower is a magnet for the squirrels and chipmunks. They assess. Climb. Nibble. Any day now, I expect to find the stalk snapped.

Sunflower (Helianthus), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Skipper butterflies patrol the garden, ready to plunder the flowers.

Peck’s Skipper (Polites peckius), Crosby backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

Black swallowtail caterpiIlars munch on the parsley. I don’t begrudge them a few plants when I know how lovely the butterflies will be. I watch for monarch caterpillars without luck on my butterfly milkweed and common milkweed plants. Where are they this year? What I do see are hordes of oleander aphids that gang up on my whorled milkweed.

Oleander aphids (Aphis nerii Boyer de Fonscolombe) on whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I don’t control these non-native aphids. I let them be. If I did try to get rid of them, it would be with a strong spray of water rather than a pesticide. Whorled milkweed is a host for monarch butterfly caterpillars, just like its better-known milkweed kin in Illinois. The leaves are un-milkweed-ish, but the flowers are a give-away.

Whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticallis), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

In my larger prairie planting, tiny eastern forktail damselflies chase even tinier insects for their breakfast. The damselflies’ bright green heads and neon blue abdominal tips help me track them through the grasses. I’m reminded of a morning last week when I waded through Willoway Brook on the prairie, and oh! The abundance of damselflies that I found. So many damselflies! American rubyspots. Stream bluets. Ebony jewelwings.

Ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

I stood in my hip waders, knee-deep, for about ten minutes, watching a variable dancer damselfly toy with a small bubble of dew.

Variable dancer damselfly (Argia fumipennis), Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL.

Damselflies don’t play with dew drops. Do they? Perhaps not. But it was difficult to characterize the damselfly’s actions as anything other than playful as it batted the droplet back and forth along the grass blade. Think of all these wonders happening every second of every hour of every day.

If only we could be present to them all.

In the backyard, a low thrumming of insects pulses through the prairie patch. Uh, oh. It looks like Queen Anne’s lace has infiltrated part of the prairie planting. I need to pay attention before it takes over.

Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), Joe pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), and cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

The cup plants—topping six feet now—are awash with lemon-colored blooms. Each flower is a platform for jostling insects, from honeybees to … well… tiny bees I can’t identify. I try checking them my phone app, iNaturalist, which seems as perplexed about them as I am.

Cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum), with a couple of bees, Crosby backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

So many insects! So many different bees. How will I ever learn them all? A lifetime isn’t long enough, and following my birthday last week, one of the big ones, I’m aware of the window of time closing.

Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

It’s a reminder that each walk in the garden—each hike on the prairie—is time worth savoring.

Mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

I want to look back on my life and remember that I paid attention.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium), with gray-headed coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), Crosby’s backyard, Glen Ellyn, IL.

You, too?

*****

The opening lines are from the poem “Invitation” by the late poet Mary Oliver (1935-2019), part of a collection from her book Devotions. Listen to her read one of my favorite poems, “The Wild Geese,” here.

*****

Join Cindy for a class or program this summer!

Tallgrass Prairie Ecology Online: Work through online materials and post your stories about prairie to the discussion boards beginning August 2; learn from other prairie stewards and volunteers about their challenges and success stories.  Join a Live Zoom with Cindy on Wednesday, August 11, from noon-1 p.m. CDT. The coursework is available for 60 days. Learn more and register here.

August 17, 7-8:30 pm —in person —“The Tallgrass Prairie: Illinois Original Garden” Bloomingdale Garden Club, Bloomingdale, IL. Please visit http://www.bloomingdalegardenclub.org/events-new/ for more information and Covid safety protocol for the event.

*****

Cindy’s book, Chasing Dragonflies, is on sale at Northwestern University Press for 40% off the cover price until July 31! Click here to order β€” be sure and use Code SUN40 at checkout. Limit 5. See website for full details!

Chasing Dragonflies

6 responses to “July’s Backyard Prairie Adventures

  1. My gosh, so many good things in this one, Cindy!

    When you said, “the air like a warm, soggy blanket out of the dryer that could have used an extra ten minutes,” I could instantly feel and smell that air.

    And a damselfly ‘playing’ with a dewdrop made me well up with joy at the possibility that could really be what you witnessed. Who knows, maybe all that chasing around the ponds we’re watching isn’t always about mating or territories…maybe they’re playing tag sometimes!

    And lastly, bee identification, sigh. Like you, I photograph so many little bees in my garden and struggle to figure out their species with iNat. I’ve got wonderful resources from Heather Holm, and I suppose I could learn to get better at it, but I just haven’t gotten around to focusing on bees yet. The world is chock full of SO many amazing things to learn…we’re so blessed to live on this amazing planet. Thanks so much for all you do to share its wonders with us!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello, Kim — what a lovely note. Thank you for taking time to read, and then, to write such specific comments! I had such a good time watching that variable dancer roll that droplet around. No matter what the reason, it was a hoot! I too felt that “joy!” I use beespotter (USFW) to try and ID, and also bugguide.net, but admit I’ve lost my energy for trying to figure them out. There is a lot commanding our attention out there in July, isn’t there? We are so fortunate to have this beautiful world to enjoy. Thanks for all you do to introduce people to it. Folks, check out Kim’s blog at “Nature is My Therapy!” You’ll be glad you did. https://natureismytherapy.com/ Thank you, Kim, for your note and encouragement! Enjoy these last days of July. Cindy πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Cathy Streett

    Happy Belated Birthday Cindy! I too celebrated a “milestone” birthday last week with the reminder that there is so much more to do in this life.

    I have grown scarlet runner bean for a few years and shared the tip that the hummingbirds love the flowers while sharing the seed with many this season. I called them “magic beans” when sharing with children to inspired them to watch them grow and support all types of pollinators. They are easy to grow and lots of fun viewing the hummingbirds dart in and out fighting for the nectar.

    I also suffer from zinnia love – but have many of the same natives you featured today in my home prairie as well.

    Enjoy your week….Cathy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Cathy, you are so kind! Thank you. Congratulations on your milestone birthday, and I hope it was a happy day for you! I love the moniker “Magic Beans” for kids! I will remember that with my own six grandkiddos. I’m also glad I’m not the only native plants gardener obsessed with Zinnias. They are such a great nectar source, even if they aren’t hosting the butterflies. Thank you for taking time to read, and for sending me this note! I hope the last few days of July are wonderful for you. Cindy πŸ™‚

      Like

  3. like fine wine…lingering and savoring. Happy Birthday Cindy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mike —
      Ha! Thank you for that encouragement — there has been some “fine whining” around here about the aches and pains brought on by getting older! πŸ™‚ I love to celebrate birthdays, though, and I’m grateful for each year that brings me new and interesting things outdoors to investigate and enjoy. Have a great weekend, Mike, and thanks—as always—for reading and dropping me a note. Cindy πŸ™‚

      Like

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