Category Archives: July

National Moth Week 2015: Central Florida

Dateline: July 24, 2015*

Well, another year has passed and we are in the midst of National Moth Week. It started back in 2012 and I have reported on moths I find at my place each year (2012, 2013, 2014). In keeping with that tradition, I am reporting this year on some different moths that have made an appearance at my place for 2014/2015. While the list is not all-inclusive it will give you some idea of what I find and, if I know, what plants attract them to my garden. There are a great many of repeat visitors from years past and several that I haven’t had time and/or success in identifying.

Clouded Crimson Moth on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom

In 2014 I reported on my first encounter with an adult Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). The larval host has had a recent scientific name change to Oenothera simulans from Gaura angustifolia from which the butterfly species appears to have been named. Southern Beeblossom is still the common name. I just wonder if the poor butterfly is going to need identity therapy. 😉

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

Another new-to-me adult was the Palm Leaf Skeletonizer (Homaledra sabalella). Prior to this year I had only encountered the damage of the larvae to my Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto). Since I only have one of these trees I do clip off the severely affected fronds since it is a young tree and I don’t want it to meet its demise. I have been doing a little research on the moth and Chalcid Wasps are indicated as potential predators. I have seen adult Conura sp. wasps at my place and Horismenus ignotus is reported as “likely the primary parasite of the larva” (source: Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington pg. 76-7) and a Tachinid fly may be a parasite of the larva. I’m on the lookout now for these natural predators with my fingers crossed.

A second Palm Skelentonizer shows the antenna
Palm Leaf Skeletonizer can do extensive damage to the fronds of cabbage palms

This week I spotted a Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) shown at the start of this article. A brightly colored and diurnal (day flying) moth that is another personal favorite. According to HOSTS database, larval hosts are in the Rubiaceae family of plants, including Spermacoce brachysepala and S. tetraquetra. While I don’t have those specific species at my place, I do have two similar buttonweed species in that genus.

As with many moths, getting a photo of the Florella Moth was somewhat tricky. Many moth species are inclined to land on the underside of plant leaves and are quick to fly when the big bad photographer stoops down to get a shot. I lucked out that after a three minute chase, it landed on the leaf of some Bidens alba which was somewhat taller so I didn’t have to bend so far.

Mournful Sphinx on Bidens alba

Mournful Sphinx Moth (Enyo lugubris) larvae feed on plants in the grape family (Vitaceae) including Vitus, Ampelopsis, and Cissus species. Still haven’t found a caterpillar for this species, but I see where HOSTS database also includes Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) as a potential host, so I’ll have to start paying close attention since that native vine is also growing at my place.

Diaphania Moth

Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula). This poor preyed-upon specimen is still the only one I have encountered.

Puss Moth Caterpillar DON’T TOUCH!

Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) a.k.a. Puss or Asp caterpillar moth is polyphagous (eating many different species of plants) including oak, citrus, and at my place: wax myrtle or the redbud that is shown in the picture. The caterpillars of this species contain toxic spines so I remove them from the areas of the yard that the dogs have access to in order to prevent potential envenomation. I tried to raise one in a breeding container and it moved to cocoon stage, but never emerged and the cocoon began to disintegrate. Perhaps I’ll see an adult some time in the future.


Groundsel Plume Moth (Hellinsia balanotes) a.k.a. Baccharis Borer Plume Moth uses Groundsel Bush a.k.a. Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) as the host. I’ve plenty of larval hosts for these babies.

Samea sp. Nectaring on Bidens Alba

This Samea sp. may be a Salvinia Stem-borer (S. multiplicalis) or Assembly Moth (S. ecclesialis). Both are found in my locality and are difficult to distinguish.

common name of the caterpillars is grapeleaf roller

A Crambid Snout Moth (Desmia sp.) is another hard to identify to species. It may be D. funeralis or D. maculalis which use the same species of hosts as the above mentioned Mournful Sphinx. D. deploralis is another possibility since I have Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa), a Florida Native Plant which was documented as a host via a bugguide.net entry.

Coffee anyone?

Since I mentioned Wild Coffee, always happy to share a photo of the tiny and beautiful Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) moth that also feeds on it. Here it is nectaring on Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), the state wildflower of Florida.

This Puss Moth caterpillar cocoon never produced an emerged adult.

There are thousands of beautiful moths, so check out what native plants fuel their needs and if you have the appropriate habitat, begin adding them to your beautiful wildlife garden to encourage these important beneficials who then fuel those higher up in the food chain.

Not yet identified. Do you recognize me?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 24, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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Just in Time for National Moth Week 2014

Dateline:  July 25, 2014*

The third annual National Moth Week is winding down.  This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014.  The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article.

Positioning the rearing container next to a nectar source for release

Moths serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats in adult and larval stages. In addition, the caterpillars host many species of wasps. With their vast numbers (scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species), they are major players in the food chain.
The pretty Clouded Crimson Moth climbs aboard

The last week in July has been designated as National Moth week. In my 2013 article, in addition to adult forms, I included pictures of two of the more unique caterpillars.  One was of the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae).  That caterpillar looks like a very thin Monarch Butterfly larva.
Caterpillar on Southern Beeblossom

At that point in time I had never encountered an adult Crimson Moth. They apparently are nocturnal and I’m not up for the shining of lights on sheets in order to attract the swarms of moths that fly at night. I tend to attract more mosquitoes with that method and I can do without them. That isn’t to say that at some point I won’t be out there once I’ve photographed all the daytime members of the Lepidoptera order of Insects. If you see me dressed up in mosquito netting, you’ll know my night moth urge has arrived.

seems more interested in the petals than the nectar part
I spent all year trying to see if I could encounter the crimson moth, having seen countless caterpillars on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom (Oenothera simulans). I hoped to spot an adult laying eggs on this tall lanky wildflower that is native to the Southeast. Its range is from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mississippi.

I was frustrated as all pictures showed me that this was one of the more beautiful moths and I so wanted to see one in the flesh.  So, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put one of the caterpillars in a rearing container.

preparing for release
For the most part I am against captive home raising of butterflies and moths in order to try to “save them”. My belief is that a better way to save our insects is to plant native plants in the garden and stop all pesticide use.

I do however, believe it is a good thing to raise specimens of Lepidoptera for educational purposes.  Two reasons I can think of would be to determine what species a caterpillar will become or to show children the process of metamorphosis. If you only do it occasionally and release them when they emerge, you aren’t upsetting the natural life cycle and/or food chain.

So, I fed my captive caterpillar friend fresh flowers and leaves daily until it disappeared into the provided dirt and leaf litter in the bottom of the container.  While some moths spin their cocoons and hang from branches, this is one of many that pupate on the ground.

Doesn’t mind sharing with the other pollinators

I kept the screened container in a natural environment on the patio.  I checked daily to be sure that the paper towel I placed in the container was damp.  The afternoon rains pretty much splashed enough water onto the screen that my job of providing moisture for this stage of development was easy.

I was rewarded in about 10 days by the arrival of the most beautiful pink and white moth with enchanting big green eyes. The white and yellow headdress is pretty fancy too!

Just look at those BIG green eyes

After a brief photo shoot, I released it onto some Bidens alba that is an excellent pollen source.  After 15 minutes or so, I ushered it over onto the Beeblossom so it would feel at home.
This is a stem of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host. The coloring matches so will be a great hiding place

I’m thrilled I got to see the adult and hopefully I’ll see another some evening when I am outside and the lights are on.
hanging out a new growth of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host

When setting up your beautiful wildlife garden, think beyond the “butterfly” garden and consider the many other pollinators.  Determine which native plants will serve as hosts for moths, nectar for bees and flies and you might just get to see a moth that will give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
Another view on the new growth of its larval host

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Meet the Moths: It’s National Moth Week 2013

Dateline:  July 19, 2013*

National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.

New this week: Spurge Spanworm Moth – (Oxydia vesulia) landed on the recycle bin

For 2013, that is July 20-28, 2013.  As you know, I love my bugs and reported on last years’ inaugural celebration of these important players in a garden.  Recently I have identified a few of my unknown moths and a couple of old standbys showed up for a photoshoot.

A favorite colorful, diurnal moth is Syngamia florella, the Red-waisted Florella Moth visits Bidens alba

I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day.  Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) colors could rival most butterflies

I’ve talked about the importance of the caterpillars to the survival of other arthropods.  Judy Burris also highlighted some pretty interesting caterpillars recently.

Pale-edged Selenisa Moth (Selenisa sueroides) caterpillar is a favorite food for nesting wasps
But some survive to turn into interesting medium size moths (Pale-edged Selenisa) adult

There are tiny moths.

Stained Lophosis Moth (Lophosis labeculata)

There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.

Large Maple Spanworm (Prochoerodes lineola), tattered but still flying (note: not a silk moth)

And there are shiny moths:

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)

I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.

Bagworm Moth caterpillars cover themselves with debris to try and fit in with the landscape colors. Easily hand-picked and disposed of

How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.

Some moth caterpillars emulate butterfly cats, such as this Clouded Crimson Flower Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae) who looks like anorexic monarch larvae

There are moths that have unusual shapes:

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

And some that have interesting markings:

Plume Moth

Some are in love:

Mating Plume Moths

Moth caterpillars feed birds, host wasps, and perform many important duties in the natural scheme of things. Adult moths serve as a food source for not only birds but for spiders and others as well.

Yellow Mocis Moth (Mocis disseverans)

Plant a few oaks, some wax myrtles and look up what other native plants in your location will serve as a larval plant for the deserving and beneficial moth.  And put on your party hat to join the festivities.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

National Moth Week

Dateline: July 27, 2012*

Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) is quite beautiful

It’s about time. This week we celebrate the First National Moth Week (July 23-29, 2012). Butterflies always get the Lepidoptera glory with their flashy colorful dazzle, but there are many more moth species than butterflies. A good many are nocturnal, there also are the diurnal, and some of them can give your basic butterfly a run for their money in terms of being colorful.

Many different angles of a looper moth. You can see how feathery the antenna of moths can be

Moths have feathery antenna, which is one of the ways they can be distinguished from the butterfly, which have clubbed antenna.

Coffee- Loving Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) works on pollination duties

Moths help with pollination, serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats so they certainly have their place in a biodiverse food chain and are deserving of their own special week to bring their importance in a wildlife garden to the forefront.

Ornate markings make some moths special

Take some time and turn on an outdoor light and explore our nighttime flying creatures. Or walk around the garden with an eye to the shrubs and ground and you might find some of the more beautiful day moths. They are cagey though. Moths tend to land upside down, under the leaves, making for a challenging photo op. Given the shear numbers of species, it can often be quite a challenge to identify them as well.

Turn on a light and you might attract some pretty beautiful noctural moths such as this IO Moth

Raising a silk moth can be quite an educational experience, as our own Ellen Sousa has documented. Our own Ursula Vernon has been privy to being in the presence of Imperial royalty. These are two of the more beautiful species.

Some moths oddly, don’t look like moths, such as this Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)

So, pick a moth, any moth, and determine what its host plant might be. Just like butterflies, moths are generally quite specific about what the caterpillars will eat. Then provide the host plant and sit back and enjoy another of our wonderful winged creatures.  You’ll see the light!

Small Frosted Wave Moth (Scopula lautaria)

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

World Snake Day…And Me Without My Pungi*

Guarding the trash

I find is fascinating how coincidences just seem to automatically happen to me. Today I was headed out to put some cans and bottles into the recycling bin when I was startled by a visitor lounging atop my trash can.

closer look

Although this black racer snake is harmless in that it is of the non-venomous variety, I immediately called Jorja, my English Setter girl and put her inside since I wanted to take some photos and I knew she’d scare my sleek friend away. I did my photo shoot and took a video with my phone.

oh good. He’s into recycling too!

Excited by my encounter I posted the video to Twitter and alerted my good friend Cindy. I was actually kinda proud because she had posted a video of a spider who was doing laps around her lampshade just the day before and I was pleased to have an “action” post of my own.

A bit later in the day Cindy alerted me to the fact that it is actually World Snake Day. Seems there is a day for everything. But how coincidental is it that my buddy showed up on this particular day?

He was maneuvering around the mess on the patio

I’ve written about black racers a couple of times in the past highlighting in one article that they are cannibalistic after watching an encounter with my very own eyes].

climbing the walls

This one seemed intent on catching the exotic brown anoles along the brick skirting around the house. That is encouraging because those exotics take habitat away from our native anoles. Then it started to climb up the side of the house and I thought that was a pretty good idea since (s)he seemed to want to crawl behind the shutters where I know the invasive Cuban tree frogs lurk during daylight. Nothing I like more than my native friends keeping pesky invaders in check.

He did his best imitation of a venomous cottonmouth by flattening his head

The racer did slither along the fence providing more great entertainment and making for a really happy World Snake Day. Hope you enjoyed yours as well.

* Pungi is a wind instrument played by snake charmers on the Indian subcontinent.

Yellow and Blue make Beauty in the Garden

Dateline: July 11, 2014*

Female Ceraunus Blue butterfly (Hemiargus ceraunus)

When I see the bright yellow flowers of the Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista* fasciculata) I tend to think of Sulphur butterflies because it is a larval host for several members of the Sulphur butterfly family.

Partridge Pea

The other day I was out enjoying the diversity of insect activity on the Partridge Pea plants back in my pond area, when I saw a Ceraunus Blue butterfly (Hemiargus ceraunus). This lovely lady was laying eggs on the partridge pea.

Preparing to lay eggs

I had nearly forgotten that this Florida native plant serves as a larval host for this species of butterfly. Two other hosts are hairy indigo (Indigofera hirsuta) and creeping indigo (Indigofera spicata) both of which are not native to Florida.

Partidge Pea is native to the midwest and eastern United States from as far north as Massachusetts and Minnesota to as far south as Texas, New Mexico and Florida.

Female

The Ceraunus Blue butterfly is tiny and would be easily overlooked except for the mad fluttering of a hint of blue close to the ground. It is sure to attract your attention.  The males’ wings (dorsal side) are the most vivid blue whereas the ladies’ wings are a darker brownish grey.

The ventral side is usually what you get to see

Most of the time the Blue will alight only showing its ventral sides. But, every now and again it will open up to reveal the very pretty dorsal display.

Male Ceraunus Blue butterfly nectaring on Frogfruit

In April 2012, the Ceraunus Blue butterfly was listed on the Federal Register as Threatened Due to Similarity of Appearance to the endangered Miami Blue Butterfly in Coastal South and Central Florida. I’m pleased to report that in my Central Florida beautiful wildlife garden, the numbers of Ceraunus Blue butterflies are secure.

Although I wasn’t able to find any eggs (where ARE my reading glasses??), they are described as blue-green, flattened, laid singly on host flower buds. Larva is variable; green to red with pink markings and the Chrysalis is green. I’m keeping my eyes open and hope to find the various stages to photograph.

Laying egg on flower bud.

Larvae feed on the new growth, buds and flowers of the host plant and there is PLENTY to eat at my place.

So plant Partridge Pea for a sea of yellow beauty which will attract a hint of blue to your beautiful wildlife garden.

*synonym: Cassia

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 11, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Florida State Butterfly: Zebra Longwing

Dateline: July 6, 2012*

Florida’s State Butterfly, the Zebra Longwing

I got a treat this past week when I saw the wide, lazy flapping of long black and yellow wings. A Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charithonia) butterfly was making the rounds near my passionvine. I’ve only been graced with this beauty of a butterfly on one prior occasion and it was only a fly-through. Hard freezes in recent years have relegated our state butterfly back further south, but I was assured by butterfly expert Jaret C. Daniels of the Florida Museum of Natural History that it was just a matter of time before this beauty made a comeback in our area. He came and spoke to our chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society several months back.

It has been worth the wait!

This larval host planted in shade will attract the Longwings

There is a trick to attracting this butterfly. While having passionvine available as the host plant, it needs a further step. This butterfly will not lay eggs on passionvine that is in the sun. It needs shade. After a couple of years of meandering around my property with a mind of its own, my Passiflora incarnata has snaked it’s way behind the shed and now is creeping up the tiedown on the west side of the shed. It is sheltered enough from the sun to FINALLY get one of these beautiful butterflies to lay some eggs.

lusters of eggs on new leaf growth

The Zebra Longwing is the state butterfly of Florida. Not every state has a designated butterfly, but many do. There are a few interesting things about this particular species. They are the only butterflies that eat pollen. The butterflies themselves will gather in groups to rest much like the monarchs do when they return to Mexico . I patiently await the emergence of many so I can witness this phenomenon.

early instar caterpillar can be mistaken for gulf fritillary larvae

They lay clusters of eggs on fresh new leaf growth. Early instars of the caterpillars resemble the gulf fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) larvae, which also use passionvine as a larval host. However, rather than the brash orange of the frits, the orange of the Longwings cats is just a slightly milkier white in color. Later instars will be the recognizable black and white.

later instars are easily recognizable as to species

Sometimes it just takes patience to attract wildlife to your garden. Research what is required to attract the particular species you are interested in. Keep in mind that you need to determine if they are compatible with your conditions. Do they belong in your area? Do you have the correct plants? Are those plants situated in proper conditions such as sun or shade?

Laying eggs….hopefully long into the future

I’ve waited 5 years while the P. incarnata set into the correct conditions to attract those that have added to my species life list this week. Other plants that will host this butterfly are yellow passion flower (Passiflora lutea) and corky-stemmed passion flower (Passiflora suberosa).  If you plant it right, they will come.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 6, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Pearl Crescent Butterfly

Dateline: July 29, 2011*

Female nectaring on Bidens alba (photo from 2015)

A while back I was enthralled watching a pair of Crescent Butterflies fluttering around, preparing to mate so I made a video slideshow (1 minute 28 seconds) with a “tongue-in-cheek” caption narrative of my photoshoot.

The Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) is in the Nymphalidae Family, Subfamily: Nymphalinae which are commonly known as the True Brushfoots. It is a small butterfly with a wingspan of about one to 1.5 inches. The larval host for this butterfly includes several species of smooth-leaved true asters (Aster spp. aka Symphyotrichum spp.) For nectar they like Bidens alba, Blackeyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and, as can be seen in the video, Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora).

“One of the most abundant small butterflies in eastern North America, the pearl crescent is fond of most open locations, including old fields, roadsides, and pastures. It flies quickly and low to the ground, and often perches in low vegetation. The pearl crescent is orange above with numerous black markings and black wing borders. Females are slightly larger than males and have more pattern elements. The hind wings below vary depending on the temperature and daylength the developing larvae go through. Cool-season forms tend to be darker and more heavily marked.”

shown on Sentitive pea, Asters are the larval host for Pearl Crescent Butterflies

Try adding asters and some of their favorite nectar sources to attract this fun butterfly. I hope you enjoy the show!

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 29, 2011 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Winging It for Pollinators

Dateline:  July 13, 2012*

Wet location? consider Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum)
Wet location? consider Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum)

Central Florida.  I guess most of my property would be considered a huge rain garden. During rainy season large sections are inundated with water, the pond spills out over the banks and the garden takes on a beauty all its own as nature provides endless amounts of native wetland offerings and the insects those natives provide for. As I sloshed around the other day in my clunky boots, I wandered toward a patch of Winged Loosestrife (Lythrum alatum var. lanceolatum) and was enthralled by the abundance of diversity contained within.

Bees seem to prefer the winged loosestrife over other flowers in the garden at this time of year.
Bees seem to prefer the winged loosestrife over other flowers in the garden at this time of year.

I can always count of a bounty of honeybees at the Loosestrife and although bumblebees are few and far between these days in my neck of the woods, if they are around, you can be sure they will be hanging around close to the Loosestrife.

If I need to find a bumblebee in the garden, I just need to head to the patch of Winged Loosestrife
If I need to find a bumblebee in the garden, I just need to head to the patch of Winged Loosestrife

Now don’t get in a tizzy…it’s PURPLE, and it’s LOOSESTRIFE, but this isn’t the horrid exotic Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) which has invaded most of our country. Surprisingly, Florida is thus far unscathed.

Butterflies are attractive to this native beauty
Butterflies are attracted to this native beauty

While the maddening horticultural industry insists on creating “sterile” versions of invasives for some unknown reasons, they would do better to cultivate and get people to embrace the perfectly functional and beautiful species that are already NATIVE to our locales.

How sweet is the nectar? Must be pretty sweet with all these “takers”
How sweet is the nectar? Must be pretty sweet with all these “takers”

L. alatum is a nice wetland plant native to most of the country east of the Rockies. Dainty, pretty and amazingly attractive to numerous creatures that hide within the pretty green foliage. Although it has a “weed” symbol on part of the USDA map, I don’t find it to be overly aggressive. I’ve moved some around my place and it seems to stay within the immediate confines of the new location. It also appears to be threatened in some parts of its range.

This Carolina Mantid knew exactly where to hang out for a free meal
This Carolina Mantid knew exactly where to hang out for a free meal

I was eyeing a skipper butterfly, intent on getting a photo. He flitted around quickly and then I saw him rather sedate so I zeroed in for the snapshot. AHHHHHHAAAA! I found why he was so subdued. Caught in the clutches of a Carolina Mantis (Stagmomantis carolina). Well, a “man”tis has to eat, now don’t he?

Seems the green lynx spider took a page from the Mantis’ menu and captured a bee
Seems the green lynx spider took a page from the Mantis’ menu and captured a bee

I spotted a couple of Green Lynx Spiders (Peucetia viridans), one with a bee in a “doggie bag”. There was a bagworm munching away.

Larval host for moths in the Psychidae family
Larval host for moths in the Psychidae family

In a different section there was a Scoliid Wasp (Campsomeris plumipes) which is beneficial not only as a pollinator, but also as a parasite on grubs.

Scoliid Wasp
Scoliid Wasp

I’m not sure what is the main attraction of L. alatum but you can always be sure to find multiple pollinators…be they bees, flies, spiders, moth caterpillars or butterflies. A worthy addition to your rain garden sure to attract a crowd of arthropods which will in turn bring in a crowd of our avian and reptilian friends.

*This is an update from an article originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 13, 2012 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Christmas in July: Wild Poinsettia

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 14, 2015 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Paintedleaf (Poinsettia cyathophora; synonym: Euphorbia cyathophora)
Paintedleaf (Poinsettia cyathophora; synonym: Euphorbia cyathophora)

Next to the patio I have a patch of Paintedleaf a.k.a. Fire-On-The-Mountain a.k.a. Wild Poinsettia (Poinsettia cyathophora;  synonym: Euphorbia cyathophora).  This area gets morning sun and begins to move into the shadow of the carport in early afternoon.  It is amazing the amount of activity that takes place each day at this beautiful native plant in my garden.

Flowers are small and greenish yellow. The red is coloring on a leaf bract
Flowers are small and greenish yellow. The red is coloring on a leaf bract

Last evening I was greeted by a hummingbird that stopped for a sip of nectar from this pretty bedding plant.  I’m too slow to have gotten a photo since the hummingbird and I both were quite surprised by our close encounter.  Birdie didn’t stick around very long once it noticed this human with the camera in hand.

It looks great as a mass bedding plant
It looks great as a mass bedding plant

Wild Poinsettia, a native cousin to the exotic species sold at Christmas-time is a member of the spurge family (EUPHORBIACEAE). “The colorful and showy “flower” is actually a cluster of modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are small and clustered in the centers of the bracts.”

Loved by halictid bees
Loved by halictid bees
male Agapostemon splendens stops by for a drink
male Agapostemon splendens stops by for a drink

It has a wide native range within the United States. Wild Poinsettia thrives in “full or partial sun, moist to dry-mesic conditions, and a rather infertile soil containing sand, gravel, or rocky material.”

A variety of wasps visit daily
A variety of wasps visit daily
Mason wasps don’t mind sharing with pesty stink bug species
Mason wasps don’t mind sharing with pesty stink bug species
Predatory Stink bugs such as this Spined Soldier Bug (Podisus maculiventris) will hopefully take care of any pest species of stinkers.
Predatory Stink bugs such as this Spined Soldier Bug (Podisus maculiventris) will hopefully take care of any pest species of stinkers.
Black Stink Bug (Proxys punctulatus) eats plants but also insects so damage is plant damage is minimal
Black Stink Bug (Proxys punctulatus) eats plants but also insects so damage is plant damage is minimal

Propagate from seed or herbaceous stem cuttings and it readily self-seeds. It is for the most part an annual but may be aggressive in certain situations.  “Mature plants can eject seeds up to three feet from the parent by a mechanism triggered by drying of the capsule.” Source: FNPS Spring 1985 Palmetto

miniscule diptera pollinators visit the cups of flowers
miniscule diptera pollinators visit the cups of flowers
As do some of their medium size cousins. Great little pollinators
As do some of their medium size cousins. Great little pollinators

I have it popping up here and there which is fine in my natural landscape setting since it has a healthy competition from the numerous native plants that call my place home.  No one plant has the upper hand, although I often have to remind the blackberry (Rubus spp.) with a clip and a tug to keep it in check.

I love the bright coloring against the white brick around the base of the house
I love the bright coloring against the white brick around the base of the house

The second area that the Wild Poinsettia has chosen is on the West side of the house over the septic system.  This area gets only afternoon sun.  The plant looks pretty against the white brick skirting around the house.   I rarely find it elsewhere and if it does encroach on an out-of-bounds area, it is easily weeded out by a gentle tug.

spiders such as this male Jumping Spider (Hentzia palmarum) know there is sure to be lots of food on this pollinator magnet
spiders such as this male Jumping Spider (Hentzia palmarum) know there is sure to be lots of food on this pollinator magnet

Wild Poinsettia can be incorporated into a green roof. One major caveat: the milky sap may cause skin irritation in some people so handle with care.

And a Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) waits too.
And a Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) waits too.

It is a larval host for the Ello Sphinx Moth Caterpillars and leafroller moths (Platynota spp.)   I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a caterpillar chewing, but I have seen adult moths flying so it seems that plant damage is minimal.

A male Red and Black Mason Wasp (Pachodynerus sp.)
A male Red and Black Mason Wasp (Pachodynerus sp.)

As you can see from the photos, it also provides habitat and nourishment for wide range of pollinators and insect predators that are sure to draw in birds and others up the food chain.

Definitely a worthwhile addition to your Native Plant and Wildlife Garden.