By Master Gardener Volunteer Lesley Arrandale
I have had a small potted citrus tree — shrub, really — for quite a few years. It’s a limequat, a cross between a kumquat and a Key lime. This year it began flowering a few months ago and I had hopes of some fruit, but all the flowers fell. It was then I noticed that some leaves had been chewed ragged, and I found the culprit was a bright green American grasshopper (Schistocerca americana). It wasn’t an insect that I had seen before, but I found a second one a few weeks later in among my tomato plants. This creature varies in color before it reaches its adult stage, depending on the number of them in proximity, and thankfully green ones don’t occur in large numbers: http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/field/american_grasshopper.htm. When you see multicolored grasshoppers, the population will be larger and you should be vigilant to protect your plants. I caught both of mine and disposed of them — underneath a brick!
Watching zebra longwing butterflies in my yard has been a wonderful diversion, but I hadn’t given their lifecycle much thought. Yes, they lay tiny yellow eggs on young passion vine shoots, which hatch into white caterpillars with black spines that then pupate and form dark crinkly chrysalides with appendages like horns at the bottom. When they emerge, or eclose, the new butterflies rest while their wings expand fully and then they go on their way, to breed, lay eggs, and so on: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN80500.pdf. Most butterflies’ lives follow the same pattern, but the food for their caterpillars will vary from species to species. It wasn’t until my husband asked me how long they live that I took a closer look, and I was surprised to learn that zebra longwings can live up to six weeks, and the reason is that their diet includes nutrient-rich pollen as well as nectar, which is highly unusual. One chrysalis formed outside my kitchen window and my attention was drawn to it by the behavior of other zebra longwings: two or three at a time would flutter around it, as if they were checking it out, and further research told me that they probably were. Males of the species are known to mate with females while they are still in their chrysalides. Finally I saw two butterflies resting on each side of the chrysalis, and they remained there for several hours at least, so perhaps the female had emerged to join her mate: www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/100years/zebra-longwing/.
It’s truly summer, with temperatures in the ‘90s and high humidity, and when our days are rainy it’s great not to have to water so much. This is a gentle reminder, particularly for anyone with an automated irrigation system, to make sure it is operating efficiently, and preferably employs a soil moisture meter to prevent the system coming on unnecessarily: https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/care/irrigation/. Overwatering is a major cause of lawns succumbing to disease, overgrowth of weeds, and even insect damage. Visual signs to indicate a thirsty lawn can include a slightly blue cast, folded leaf blades, and the impression of footprints remaining when it’s walked on. It’s also worth noting that lawns have different needs for water than do shrubs and flowerbeds, so make sure an irrigation system runs in zones accordingly.
Check out the latest New Leaf – Yard and Garden newsletter (https://tinyurl.com/yxuhw2qq) for topical information and advice.
Stay safe and keep cool.