Category Archives: Stuff In My Yard

Still Life With Katydid

By | Insects, Stuff In My Yard | One Comment

Heading out tomorrow at the crack of godawful, to visit my parents, do a gallery opening, all that good stuff. I am already tired, so this may be the Death March of the Wombat. We’ll see.

I shall leave you with a katydid.


This is called a “Broad-Tipped Conehead Katydid.”

Seriously, check out that face.


You can’t tell me he isn’t plotting something.

Also, I got a barred owl in the backyard last night, and that is just cool beyond all reason. And a life bird. At the moment, I am having enormous fun just finding new species in my yard, but perhaps the wilds of Upper Michigan will have some late migrants for me. Or some interesting ducks.

And then at least I get to be home for a little while, until it’s time to go sign copies of Digger. And then I’m not traveling again for anything less than Disneyworld or an act of God until May.

Spiny Oak Slug

By | Insects, Stuff In My Yard | 4 Comments

Dude! Dude! Check this guy out!


I’m a Spiny Oak Slug! If you touch me, you will regret it!

Happened to be looking in exactly the right spot while building my swale and went “Wait a minute, that’s not a normal leaf…”

This is Euclea delphinii. He will turn into a brown moth with big green spots on his wings.

While trying to learn more about him, I ran smack into the wall of our vast ignorance. He probably eats oak. Probably. Maybe some other stuff. Nobody’s sure. And I literally cannot tell you if they are as common as dirt or desperately endangered, because their conservation status has never been evaluated. (My guess is that they are reasonably common because—well, obviously, I’m seeing one! And there are plenty of sightings on the various websites about bugs.)

We do know that they sting, and if you put your hand on one, you will need to use scotch tape to extract the spines from your skin. And if you’re very unlucky, you will have an allergic reaction and need to head to the hospital or at least load up on Benadryl.

Still, this kinda thing honestly freaks me out a little. That there are things so common that they are in my garden—and yet, we know almost nothing about them. Do they need to be protected? Can they live in cities? How far do they travel? What all do they eat?

Well, a new one for the yardlist, anyhow. So that’s something.

Random Things In The Garden

By | Insects, Stuff In My Yard | One Comment

So my hickory tree—the big one outside my window—is being systematically defoliated by a pack of walnut caterpillars. They are large and look stingy, with their long white hairs, they congregate in groups, and they are quite large. Even a relentless friend of wildlife such as myself will admit to bein’ a little squicked out. Given their size and how actively they move, it’s kind of like having a group of boneless, elongated mice crawling along the tree.

They are also going to be eaten by more or less everything, so that’s okay.

In happier news, new species keep on appearing in the garden—I’ve added the Rosy Maple Moth, Hoary Skipper (very similar to the far more common Silver-Spotted Skipper) and check out what volunteered in the pasture area up front! (Some day I will hire somebody to mow an edge around it so it looks more intentional and less like Two People Who Don’t Give A Shit Live Here,* but honestly, the neighbor on that side is a beekeeper AND has rusted trucks in his yard, so frankly, he doesn’t care. And the soggy area down at the bottom is getting increasingly interesting. I put in the Joe Pye Weed and the Swamp Sunflower, but this stuff showed up all on its own.)


Common Rose Pink, aka Sabatia angularis aka Rose Gentian aka Bitterbloom

It’s a biennial and will hopefully seed enough to return in a year or two, as I am perfectly delighted to have it in residence.

The starry rosinweed continues to host All The Butterflies All The Time.


Om nom nom nom nectar nom nom imsopretty nom

And I found this little guy on the dwarf ironweed. He looked…pointy. If anybody knows what he is, give a yell!


I steeeng you!

*Not that this isn’t true.

Grapevine Beetle

By | Insects, Stuff In My Yard | One Comment

Pelidnota punctuata — Grapevine Beetle

A handsome member of the scarab family, this rather large beetle showed up on the side of my garage. They eat wild and domestic grapes and Virginia creeper, although the damage they cause is so minor that most authorities suggest it’s not worth bothering controlling them. As we have no domestic grapes here, I’ve got no reason to worry about them.

The larvae eat rotting hardwood underground, and are considered somewhat beneficial as a result, since they’re breaking down diseased stumps and dead tree roots and whatnot. All in all, this bug is neither particularly good nor particularly bad, but they are certainly quite pretty as beetles go. (They also, for unknown reasons, sometimes fill Japanese beetles with unspeakable lust. Japanese beetles are much smaller but will attempt to mate with what must appear to them to be a GIGANTIC FEMALE SEX-GODDESS. There is no word on how the grapevine beetle feels about this, but this leads to some people thinking these are, in fact, giant Japanese beetles and killing them as a result, which is about as sad a case of victim blaming as one can imagine in the insect world.)

One word of caution—this beetle is very docile but has very sharp feet. If you pick one up and handle it, you may get stabbed, a circumstance probably as upsetting to the poor beetle as to you.

Oh my freakin’ god.

By | Stuff In My Yard | 6 Comments

So apparently the world is divided into two groups.

People who know that lawn crayfish exist, and people who go “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!”

Up until an hour ago, I belonged to the latter group.

And then I was idly raking leaves off some tender plants in the narrow, soggy flowerbed alongside the garage wall, and I happened to glance down into the burrow.

The burrow that has been there since last year. The burrow that I thought had some kind of rodent in it.

There was a crustacean claw in it.

Attached to a crustacean.

Apparently this is a thing in the South.

Well, what else was I going to name him?

I can’t tell the species. At a guess, it’s either a devil crayfish or a Greensboro burrowing crayfish, which are the two good color matches, or it’s one of a dozen crayfish that have no common names and not much in the way of photos but exist in lawns throughout the South. (It is not the common red crayfish, as he is murky gray-brown.)

I did what anybody does when they learn that an aquatic creature is living in their flowerbed–I went to Twitter screaming “HOW IS THIS MY LIFE!?!”

Several people informed me that yes. This is a thing that happens.

Everyone else on earth assumed I was drunk or insane or being an artist or engaging in some obscure form of collaborative fiction, possibly with Seanan McGuire. (Which would be awesome, don’t get me wrong, but no. The crayfish really exists.)

Some species, apparently, live in lawns. Anywhere with a high water table, say. And at night they come out and walk around the lawn.

There is a five-inch crayfish walking around my garden on ten legs right this minute while I’m typing.

Not gonna lie. That kinda squicks me out a little. I mean, I love animals well beyond the point of sanity and reason, but…dude, it is walking around out there. A freakin’ LOBSTER is WALKING in my garden.

(I poked a stick down the hole. It grabbed the stick. I pulled it partway out. It is a good five inches long. No, I’m not going to eat him.)

So. Um. South? Are you listening?

Nobody else knows you have burrowing crayfish.

This is not like having gophers or rats or pigeons. This is…like…NOBODY has lawn crayfish. Nobody in the rest of the country thinks this is a thing. You need to TELL people this is a thing. Preferably when they enter the state. There should be signs posted on the “Welcome to North Carolina” sign that says “BY THE WAY, WE HAVE LAWN CRAYFISH.”

It would be like having a tree octopus. Or squid that roost in the attic like bats. It is not a thing that the rest of the country is aware of. It is weird.


That said, I guess he’s been there for a year now, and he’s not hurting anything, near as I can tell. They appear to mostly cause cosmetic damage to lawns (which I don’t have) and they are also apparently nearly impossible to remove, and if this is a Greensboro burrowing crayfish, it’s a species of Special Concern that may actually be endangered except we don’ t know enough to get good data, so…well…

I guess I have a crayfish.

And this is my life.


By | plants, Stuff In My Yard | No Comments

Stumbled over this while putting up Redneck Flowerbeds along the fence. (Ingredients–one 2 x 8, two metal stakes, one mallet, one chain link fence. Add dirt and mulch, plant vines along fence line so that you don’t have to keep staring at the @[email protected]#!&! chain link.)

What am I?

My botanical knowledge is pretty extensive in some very specific areas, but “proper names of leaves so you can look them up” is not one of them. So I have no idea what this is. The leaves look a little like plantain and a little like lady’s slipper and are probably something else entirely.

I’m interested because it appears to be coming up RIGHT NOW and it’s January, ergo this is an evergreen or an ephemeral or very very confused.

Seasonally dry woods, hard clay, some leaf litter, North Carolina Piedmont. Nothing else grows in this area except honeysuckle and sweet gum seedlings, so I’m curious as much because that is one tough little bugger as anything else.

Anybody got any ideas?


ETA: Ellen Honeycutt, who is obviously amazing, managed to ID this puppy for me — it’s “Crane-fly Orchid,” a peculiar native orchid that puts up leaves in fall, then flower in summer (after the leaves are dead.) The plant may have been there for years, but it’s so unobtrusive I might never have noticed if I hadn’t been stomping around by the fence line. As each corm puts up a single leaf, there’s clearly a clump of corms here, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for flowers in summer.  Crane-fly orchid is endangered in several parts of its range, but secure in North Carolina.

Stuff In My Yard: Pineapple Sage

By | plants, Stuff In My Yard | 44 Comments

Salvia elegans, taken with iPhone

Salvia elegans

It’s fall, definitely and thoroughly fall, and the real show-stopper in the garden at the moment is the pineapple sage.

My mother grew pineapple sage, and I remember it fondly as a small potted annual herb, pleasant-smelling and vigorous, but not particularly large, and I’m not sure if it ever actually flowered.

Now I live in the South.

Pineapple sage is a shrub down here. It may or may not overwinter here in Zone 7b–luck and placement is a factor–but it hardly matters because it grows to massive proportions in a single season. The one in the picture (cultivar “Golden Delicious” which I highly recommend for the foliage color) comes up past my shoulders, is covered in flowers, and I spend most of the summer hacking it back to keep it from eating the rest of the plants.

Originally from the highlands of Mexico and, as I said, VERY vigorous, it’d be an odd plant for me to grow, but it’s actually got some really good points. It flowers very late, when the days have gotten short, and offers a last good meal to late-migrating hummingbirds and a serious nosh for Cloudless Sulphurs and other butterflies.  (I’ve seen a whole flock of the butterflies…flight? swarm? flurry? hovering over it in the last few weeks.) It’s a very low seed producer–I’ve grown multiple plants for multiple years and yanked all of one seedling in that time.  And all that pruning in summer is actually kinda useful, because I can use it as what’s known in permaculture as a “mulch crop” either dropping it on top of the soil or using it as a layer in a sheet mulch bed.  (Half the beds I’ve built are based on a layer of pineapple sage cuttings.)

Plus you can cook with it–apparently it’s a marvelous spice–use it in iced tea and fruit salad, and it’s used extensively in Mexican folk medicine and treats anxiety in mice. (I do not have any anxious mice to treat, and honestly haven’t tried cooking with it, but it’s nice to have the option.) And it’s gorgeous, of course, and a heckuva final show in a garden winding down for autumn.

In fall, I stop hacking it back and just let it go, whereupon it flowers like crazy and then, when winter hits, becomes a tangle of stems under the birdfeeder (I like to grow it under–and around–the birdfeeder) which provides cover for the juncos and sparrows, who treat it like a jungle gym.

Full sun, takes clay soil very well, handles humidity with ease, and is semi-drought tolerant once established, although it gets pretty wilty and is a bit of water-hog in a pot.  It’s propagated vegetatively–it doesn’t run or it’d be entirely too vigorous for me to plant, but you could root a cutting of the stuff on the surface of Venus, and lots of people bring it inside for the winter, where it continues to flower happily for quite a long time.  I yanked some up that was eating its neighbors and shoved it rather carelessly into the ground at the edge of the driveway, which is packed clay and gravel, and then watered it twice and forgot it was there. It survived a solid month of drought in seriously punishing soil and while it’s not nearly as pretty as the stuff under the birdfeeder, it is very much alive and growing. This stuff is like iron.

Pickerel Frog

By | Animals, Stuff In My Yard | 3 Comments

Photo taken with iPhone

Well, look at you!

This handsome little fellow hopped out from under one of my bags of topsoil, and I managed to snap a few photos. (He was happy to just hang out on the dirt for awhile, perhaps hoping that I would go away.) I believe he’s a pickerel frog–he’s a little bigger than a quarter, and has squarer spots than a leopard frog. According to the internet, he eats a whole bunch of different bugs, and we’re at the southern end of his range. Happily, his species is not suffering serious declines at the moment, unlike the majority of amphibians, so as long as I keep bringing in the bugs and don’t slather pesticides around, Pickerel Bob should be a common visitor to the yard.

Stuff In My Yard: Shrubby St. John’s Wort

By | plants, Stuff In My Yard | 2 Comments

Shrubby St. John’s Wort

Hypericum prolificum

Despite the name, shrubby St. John’s wort is not the same as the stuff you get in bottles to treat the blues, nor the one that makes cows get weird sunburns. That’s a noxious weed. This, however, is a North American native, a compact, not-terribly-large shrub found throughout the east, although it’s currently endangered in New York and New Jersey. Clearly we need better nomenclature, because seriously–you want to grow this plant.

I planted this shrub on faith, as I plant many things, and I gotta say–this is one that abundantly rewarded me. The label said that pollinators liked it and that it was good food for the larvae of various hairstreak butterflies. That was good enough for me. I had no idea what the flowers would look like. I plunked it into the prairie planting, as one of the anchors on the end, and it’s been a low maintenance, tough little plant, drought tolerant, a good grower, and absolutely covered in these fascinating yellow flowers. Massively exceeded my expectations, can’t recommend this little guy enough.

The ones I’ve seen at the Botantical Gardens get maybe six or seven feet high, but those were really well established and even then were loose, open, not-very-large plants. Mine is about thigh-high at the moment–if it gets really huge, I’ll probably move it over a few feet, but it’s not giving indications of shooting up that high. Not a screening plant at all, but it’d be a perfectly good plant for the back of a bed, or the middle of an island bed, you could probably even grow other plants up through it. They like full sun, but I’ve seen them growing in part shade without any apparent ill-effects.

Haven’t seen any caterpillars hosting on it yes, but the pollinators are indeed attracted to it–I watched bumblebees rolling in the flowers like puppies on a freshly vacuumed carpet. Also, it’s deer-resistant. Does it get any better than this?