Archive for September, 2017

Munch, crunch, lunch: Hungry caterpillars in the Ripley Garden

For years I have been enamored with the Dutchman’s Pipe family – especially the large showy tropical varieties with their flamboyant flowers. Despite the cool features of these plants they are not palatable to our local Pipevine Swallowtails. Although the plant is in the right family for them to lay their eggs on, the larvae do not feed on it.

Swallowtail pic 1

Aristolochia gigantea ssp. Brasiliensis

Swallowtail pic 2

A. gigantea 

While I would love to have our native Pipevine in the Ripley Garden, I do not have the space for the east coast native Aristolochia macrophylla which can quickly take up 20-35 feet with each leaf being 12 inches across.  It is a big time real estate consumer!  Instead, I found that Aristolochia fimbriata is a perfect surrogate host for the wee caterpillars. This plant hails from regions of Brazil and northern Argentina and forms a low mass 6 inches tall by 2 feet wide of heart-shaped foliage with white venation.  The flowers of this beauty look like wonderfully small golden pipes with lovely fringed ‘eyebrows’ and are pollinated by fungus gnats. In the D.C. metro area, the plant is deciduous (meaning it sheds its leaves annually), but root hardy and happy in either full sun or dappled shade and is easy to grow from seed or stem cuttings.

Dutchman's Pipe, White Veined

Aristolochia fimbriata

Swallowtail pic 3

Leaves of Aristolochia fimbriata

I tried a couple of times to establish this plant in the Ripley Garden only to have it eaten to the ground by a single caterpillar. This year, seeds were started at the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility and the small plants were installed during the spring so that they had time to put on some growth before the butterflies arrived and started laying their eggs.

Swallowtail pic 4

Swallowtail eggs on the A. fimbriata

Once the plants were established, the female Pipevine swallowtails found them and started laying little masses of bright orange eggs. These then hatched out into caterpillars who started munching away on the foliage. The little ones stuck together at first, and then spread out among the foliage.  As the caterpillars go through various instars (phases between periods of molting), their appearance changes until they are about 4 inches long, with velvety dark purple-black coloring and bright orange markings down their back side.  They will then stop eating and find a place to create a chrysalis, or protective covering, which looks like dried leaves. At this point they will either metamorphosize into an adult butterfly, or stay in the chrysalis to overwinter. The whole process from egg to butterfly takes about 35 days.

I am delighted to see a profusion of Pipevine swallowtail butterflies flitting about the garden knowing that these beautiful creatures have found a safe home in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden!  You too can enhance your garden with this airborne wildlife, just by planting the food they need to survive.

Swallowtail pic 5

Caterpillars munch away on the Aristolochia foliage until they reach maturity. 

Swallowtail

Swallowtail butterfly 

Janet Draper – Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist 

September 26, 2017 at 1:00 pm 1 comment

Back to School with Community of Gardens

The phrase “back to school” conjures up the crisp scent of falling leaves, the feel of a heavy backpack laden with textbooks . . . and the taste of juicy, late season tomatoes? School gardens have a long history in the United States, from their beginnings in the Progressive era to Victory Gardens during the World Wars, to the raised beds and outdoor classrooms found across schoolyards today. School gardens provide students with access to healthy and fresh food and the space to spend time outside learning about science, history, and everything in between.

glass lantern slides of two students holding baskets of produce and flowers

School garden show hosted by the Summit Garden Club, New Jersey, circa 1900-1920. Hand-colored glass lantern slide, Archives of American Gardens.

As young people across the country head back to the classroom (if they haven’t already), here are a few school garden stories from our Community of Gardens digital archive to inspire teachers and students alike to find time to dig in the dirt and perhaps plant a seed or two this school year:

blooming flowers in the Chewonki garden

The Gardens at Chewonki in Wiscasset, Maine.

The Gardens at Chewonki

High school students, staff, and faculty tend the campus gardens and a saltwater farm with chickens, sheep, and a draft horse at this environmental organization on the coast of Maine. The farm produces 15,000 pounds of organic food each year.

girls hands holding a handful of cherry tomatoes

Thomas Jefferson Middle School Garden in Arlington, Virginia.

The Thomas Jefferson Middle School Garden

This Virginia school garden (right in our own backyard in the Washington, D.C. metro area!) was created by a local Girl Scout troop in 2012. Today it is a community resource, playing host to classes and community events, and a portion of the produce supports the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC).

raised garden beds and picnic tables next to a school

The Spartan Garden at White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Spartan Garden at White Station High School

A committed group of high school students in Memphis built their school garden from the ground up, raising money, negotiating with school administrators for space, and building raised beds, an herb garden, and an outdoor seating area.

Teachers, grow your curriculum toolkit with these online resources from Smithsonian Gardens for learning about—and celebrating—gardens this school year:

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

September 5, 2017 at 8:00 am Leave a comment


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