Tag Archives: umbellifers

Laddie and the cats.

People who try to help out the butterflies by “raising” them in a protected location call the caterpillars cats. It took me a while to get used to this when I would browse the extensive Monarch Butterfly Garden website. After my experience last fall of losing the one caterpillar that I know hatched out on one of my milkweed plants, I had thought that if I found another this year, I’d try to feed it indoors.

But why not collect the eggs and protect even them from the beginning? The website tells you how to do that, too, and I did. Again, the Monarchs seem to prefer the Narrowleaf Milkweed; I found most, if not all, of the white oval eggs on those narrow leaves that had been ravaged by aphids. I cut pieces of leaf with eggs stuck on them and let them incubate in a plastic storage container. (I did remove the aphid that can be seen in the picture.) The first ones hatched in about four days, just about the time that my grandson Laddie arrived with his father from Colorado.

We had to use a magnifying glass to be able to see the caterpillars at first. Once I thought they had all died, because they were so small it was hard to see that they had any color, or that they were chewing. But within a couple of days they were big enough to see without the glass; by that time I had moved them into a mesh cage I’d hastily ordered, and I arranged a stem from the showy milkweed in a bowl with a florist’s frog so that the leaves I was feeding them wouldn’t dry out so fast. From the first I encouraged them to leave the narrow half-dead leaves and move on to the fat and nutritious ones I brought in.

How do you encourage a teensy caterpillar? I carefully laid each drying leaf upside down on a fresh leaf, and the next morning they were making holes in the showy milkweed leaves. Well, two or three of them were. I haven’t been able to keep track of these microscopic specimens and it appears that most of them didn’t make it. Even now, I think the active ones are mostly hidden on the undersides of the leaves, but if I look hard I can see a head on the edge of a ragged hole and a mouth making the hole bigger.

I will feel lucky if one or more of them gets to the stage where it spins a chrysalis. That almost happened with two other caterpillars I found on my Italian parsley. They didn’t look like Monarch cats, and I checked online to find that they weren’t the other butterfly I see around here, Painted Lady. I put them in a jar with more parsley and one of them did attach to a thick parsley stem I put in there for that purpose, but then he dried up. The other one kept trying out one or another place to hang, but he eventually lay on the bottom in the dead bug position. So.

Nearly invisible caterpillars aren’t very exciting to a five-year-old, so Laddie didn’t pay too much attention to the lives of insects; Soldier and Laddie and I, and some other friends and in-laws had many kinds of fun over a long weekend. They helped me pick beans, fix a toilet, wash the dirt and spiderwebs off my collection of outdoor trucks, and replace a taillight on my car. Bowling and hiking didn’t get photographed.

Meanwhile more caterpillars were busy in the garden; a very few newly-hatched green ones were sticking their heads out of beans, and one was found on a basil leaf — but Soldier and I studied the bean leaves a long time trying hard to discover what is turning many into skeletons. Eventually I saw one cucumber beetle, and one tiny insect I’d never seen before.

The bean crop is not affected so far; my second picking was 8 1/2 pounds, much of which I gave to neighbors. When Soldier and Laddie arrived, I was able to feed them quite a bit: first, steamed green beans slathered with basil pesto; then Turkish Green Beans. Laddie eats like a teenager, and his father said all the boys are like that. He had three helpings of everything, breakfast and dinner. I made a peach cobbler for them, too.

Maybe some of you recognized the parsley-eating caterpillar; finally tonight I caught my breath and looked it up online, to find that it is the caterpillar of the Black Swallowtail, a butterfly I don’t think I’ve ever seen. What do you know, they eat umbellifers! I hope that more than two of that butterfly’s cats were there in the vegetable box, and are now in the chrysalis stage. I’ll hope to see one next year.

The life force of words and wild things.

The Queen Anne’s Lace, or Daucus carota, one of the “wildflowers of the carrot family,” is in full glory this month along the creek near my house. It was a mild winter and a wet spring; though we are now well into the dry season, their plantation is lush.

Once before I posted a gallery of images of them, various angles and perspectives. This week my walk along the path was greatly extended and I explored the current neighborhood that has grown up, full of a unique assortment of plants and animals developing from this year’s natural and man-provoked conditions. That means a completely new gallery!

The picture just above shows a morning glory weed or bindweed (Convolvulus), which has twined around the stem of an opened flower, grown on through a bud, and is now reaching out into space. It has an opened flower just above the lower Queen Anne’s Lace bloom. And I just noticed a little seed of something, close to the bottom of the photo, and about to drop down, down… and make a contribution to next spring’s neighborhood.

Fennel in the background.

In my last gallery of Queen Anne’s Lace, I featured the red spots that are found in the center of many of the blooms. This year what were more eyecatching were insects and the other umbellifers.

I learned that word almost a year ago when Pippin and I were exploring wetlands together. As I walked along my nearby creek path I began to think about the flower form that Queen Anne’s Lace shares with the wild fennel nearby, and the word was struggling along my mind’s synapses for several minutes… and finally arrived where I could grab it. Today I researched its meaning again; it comes from the old name for the plant Family Apiaceae, which was Umbelliferae.

I found several helpful webpages besides the Wikipedia information. One has a timeline of North American invasive species: “We came on the Mayflower, too!“, where I learned that our wild fennel likely did come with those first pilgrims in 1620, and it spread all over the continent. That site also has lots of recipes for using wild plants, and I would be interested to try using the tender green fronds of fennel, or even the stems. But on the fennel page they were a little sloppy with their botany, telling me that fennel and anise are the same thing, which they are not.

Let’s start with fennel, which is my neighbor: its botanical name is  Foeniculum vulgare. Anise is Pimpinella anisum. They are both in the Apiaceae family but different genera. The fleshy bulb that is eaten as a vegetable is a fennel bulb. Anise looks very similar in the field, but I don’t ever see reference to eating the bulb.

On the Spiceography page I read a paragraph-long comparison of the seeds, which both contain the essential oil anethole. I found its guidelines confusing, and concluded that I will just try to use whichever seed a recipe calls for. By the way, two other plants with this flavor but completely unrelated and different in form are star anise and liquorice.

Anise is an ingredient in many alcoholic beverages traditional to the Mediterranean and Asia. At least one of them, absinthe, includes fennel as well. I was pleased to see a map showing the locales and the names of the drinks.

When I was in Turkey I did enjoy rakı. (Yes, that is an i without a dot. It designates a schwa or ə sound.) Usually it was served with water; you would pour a little rakı in your glass and then add water. It turned all milky then, as in this picture. No one ever tried to explain to me why this happened, and I doubt they could have if they knew, because when I read the explanation for it now it’s very complicated to my unscientific mind: The Ouzo Effect.

Fennel flower

I seem to have drifted from flowers to food and drink (passing quickly over insects). Truly this earth is full of enough animal, vegetable and mineral to keep us forever occupied examining, experimenting, cooking and brewing — and thanking our Father for putting us in a world so packed with beauty and life.

Studies in the drop of blood.

IMG_6969 QAL bridge 6-5-18

Not all Queen Anne’s Lace flowers have the bit of red in the middle. The story is told about how one of the queens Anne — no agreement on which — pricked her finger while sewing, and a drop of blood fell on her tatting. That’s where the red spot comes from! One of my readers told me this story, I thought Linda, but I can’t find the comment…

One day this spring I saw so many variations on this phenomenon, I made a collection. Today I photographed bees and a wasp on the same flowers, but I want to post these earlier pictures instead of bees for a change. They are in the order I snapped them.

No blood was spilled in the process of assembling this album.

Walking in the wetlands.

Here in the Land of Perpetual Drought, we still have wetlands! On Sunday Pippin and I found ourselves with a few hours for just the two of us, and we walked in a wetlands wildlife preserve. We saw snowy egrets, ducks, red-winged blackbirds and a few other birds we didn’t know the names of, as we walked a 2-mile loop in the afternoon.

I noticed that the docent-led tours of the site only go through June; is it because the birds aren’t as plentiful after that? Or is it the schoolchildren who are scarce then? In any case, the plants were easier for us to get close to than the birds, although they were also flying around in the wind, so I don’t have many good pictures, but I wanted to share a bit of what I did come home with.

These tall and long-stemmed plants were covered with little overlapping seed pods, in varying stages of maturity and color, from purple like this one to tan and near white. One of them was covered with black and green bugs who seemed to be close relations.

I got one focused profile picture of a green one, and my entomological identification skills are practically non-existent, so I am putting a blurry picture here, too, in case someone who knows things happens by and wants to instruct me.

It’s always a bit sad when one meets a fellow-creature and can’t greet them by name, or learn the name in anticipation of a next meeting. [Tipped off by a commenter below, I will call this fellow “Green Stink Bug” if I meet him again.] But I must prioritize, and probably should care more about that sadness as it pertains to the humans I meet…. Let’s see, what was the name of that woman I met at church Sunday?

The flowers above I had been walking briskly by, thinking unconsciously of Queen Anne’s Lace, and then suddenly I thought, No, they are most likely Parsley Family members, but the flower head is not the same, and they are so short… When I came home I looked up various hemlocks, etc, and didn’t come to any conclusions. 😦

In the process, though, I read on Wikipedia: “Apiaceae or Umbelliferae, is a family of mostly aromatic flowering plants named after the type genus Apium and commonly known as the celery, carrot or parsley family, or simply as umbellifers.” The word umbellifer made me laugh out loud; somehow it sounds like a group who would resist domination by naming and categorizing, and from now on I will just be happy if I can be on terms with them all friendly enough to say, “Hello, Umbellifer!”

Another mystery plant is this one:

…which did not always grow in a mound shape. It has long draping stems with bead-like buds:

At least, they appear to be about to open into flowers. I have to be content to remain ignorant and unknowing about more and more things, it seems, the longer I live.

Pippin is the perfect companion on a walk like this. She doesn’t mind my dullness or my stopping and staring; actually she encourages the latter, as she is always drawing my attention to something I was oblivious to. She had never been to this place before, and it had been years since I went with my husband. We were so glad to be together on a gorgeous and mild summer day in a natural oasis of sorts hidden away from most people — but the birds know!