Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Bona Fide Butterfly Magnet

I've been doing some recent research on pollination which is quite fascinating.  With the second year of our "Pollinator's Paradise" theme occurring in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden, I'm examining more plant options for that garden and am amazed by the value of pollination and the variability of pollinators (over 200,000 species of pollinators with 1,000 of those species being birds, bats and small mammals).  I've also been asked to give some presentations on creating a pollinator-friendly garden and have enjoyed looking further in to this topic.  Did you know that 75% of all flowering plant species need help from pollinators to reproduce and that 1/3 of all foods and beverages worldwide produced are reliant on pollinators?  Look in to the research further in order to create a friendly garden for a wide range of pollinators that also avoids the use of chemicals and pesticides.  A great website to start with is www.pollinator.org.  Our "Pollinator's Paradise" was very effective last year and there were no shortage of butterflies and hummingbirds out in that space.  The three swallowtail photos taken (2013) below were from our volunteer, Marsha M. who captured a lot of this amazing activity.  I've recently blogged about the annual Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) as a butterfly magnet but the annual South American verbena (Verbena bonariensis) was also one of our most popular butterfly magnets in that space.  This taller verbena can be seen above and throughout this blog.  I've also observed plenty of monarchs on this species (see fourth photo down...).

It was another frigid day and my vehicle thermometer read -12 degrees F as I left for work this morning.  It was a sunny day but brutal enough to force many school closings, business closings, event postponements and the closure of RBG today.  I came in to the Horticulture Center to continue the juggling act of seed ordering, plant records updating, event preparations (WPT Garden Expo coming up soon!, see www.wigardenexpo.com/ for details), etc.  Both Pat and Dr. Gredler came in to paint obelisks.  The obelisks are trickling in from Holiday Lights Show use and once the lights are removed, they get their new 2014 color.  Janice and Pat R. came in to work on some office projects in the afternoon.  We also saw Bill O., Ruth and Big John.  

This South American verbena (Verbena bonariensis) is hardy between zones 7 and 11 but certainly an annual for us.  This taller verbena, native to tropical South America, is quite statuesque with a height between 3' and 5' depending on location and soils.  The plant form is open enough to be wind tolerant and the stems are quite strong (we rarely have to stake this species).  Adaptable to a wide range of soils, this species (like all verbenas) prefers full sun and combines well with plants where the flowers can hover and be enjoyed by humans and pollinators alike.  Other common names for this species include purpletop vervain, clustertop verbena and upright verbena.  This annual blooms from June until frost and continues branching on square stems and producing more flowers on long stalks branching at a 45 degree angle from the older stem.  I've grown this species for 20 years and always enjoyed the show with butterfly visitation a solid guarantee.  However, this species also seeds readily and you will see babies each year.  Naturalized in the Southern United States, this species is on the invasive list in the State of Washington.  It has also been quite aggressive in other countries and there is concern about its ability to rampantly reproduce.  You should know that it will be back and adjust accordingly.  We occasionally leave seedlings here and there or are vigilant about "culling the herd" in spring and summer as seeds continue to germinate over a long period.  Almost every seed catalog carries this species which can be started early, sown the previous fall season or sown in spring once the soil warms above 70 degrees F (early June in our area).  See further below for some uses of the South American verbena which will be making a return engagement to our Pollinator's Paradise in 2014!

see the floating clusters both above and below

Verbena bonariensis with 'Flamingo Feather Pink' celosia (Celosia spicata) in the foreground and 'King Tut' papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) in the back
Verbena bonariensis in the North point garden in 2012.  Note the impact of a mass planting (we're still pulling out seedlings though!)
same as above
"Pollinator's Paradise" in the Nancy Yahr Memorial Children's Garden (RBG) in 2013.  Note the way the Verbena bonariensis floats above neighbors in this setting that provides plenty of variety for our pollinators (both above and below)

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