Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Oh, the horror!

We have a horror film showing right out in our garden. Really.

Here’s my young associate to tell you all about it:

 Aaagh! Giant wasp!

This is the wasp that inspired such terror. 
No really, he's bigger than he appears here.
Flying drunkenly through the bridal wreath, (Spiraea prunifolia) it cruised through the salvias, (Salvia coccinea) then dropped to the ground like a rock. Feeling like a maiden in distress, I leaped onto the porch, screaming “aaaaaahhgg!!!” in my head over and over again. We had seen this humongous wasp before, but not up close, like this.

The man of the house decided it was a tarantula hawk wasp (Pepsis thisbe/Pepsis formosa). I didn’t care what it was, it had a huge stinger, so keep it away!!!!!!! It turns out this formidable creature was something like a horror movie character. One researcher cited on Wikipedia described the wasps’ sting, “Immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything except scream.” Apparently, the intense pain lasts only about 3 minutes, but hey, I’m not one to test theories. Luckily, unless harassed, they usually don’t sting

Here’s how the tarantula hawk wasp got its name:

Imagine this…

It’s a muggy late August evening in Texas. The scent of fermented fruit and rain drifts lazily to you. A fat male black wasp with rust colored wings sits on top of a tall salvia bush. This, you know, is called hill-topping. Suddenly a female wasp drifts lazily through the path of flowers. The male, needing a mate, chooses this fine feminine wasp.

Shortly after we identified the wasp, my young associate noticed 
a motionless tarantula beside the path - which was soon joined by 
a tarantula hawk, which then dragged the tarantula away. 
Both these photos were taken by my associate.
After a few days, this female locates a tarantula. Diving in on the tarantula, the battle begins!!  The tarantula wheels up on the wasp, ready to defend itself. The wasp seizes her chance and stings the tarantula under the belly, touching a nerve, and paralyzing it. Unable to fight back, the tarantula is dragged to a hole in the ground, and, rudely, it can be his or her own hole! Talk about unwanted visitors!!

The female wasp then lays a solitary egg in the tarantula and covers the hole. She then leaves the hole to who-knows-where.  The larvae hatches, and begins feeding on the almost dead, paralyzed tarantula.

According to Wikipedia, after a few weeks, the larvae pupates. Then, it breaks free!!!!

And if you happen to see a tarantula hawk wasp drifting drunkenly around, remember this: fruit for the wasps is like alcohol for us humans. Too much makes them drunk!

Favorite spot in the garden:

As a said on the last post and will say on the next, the garden looks very grim. One bright spot is the volunteer morning glories. We planted this lovely deep purple variety last year. The new seeds I planted this year did not survive, but the offspring  of last year’s plant are doing very well. I am slowly training them to head up the porch posts, but without rain it is slow growing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Brown is the new green!

The latest issue of our local newspaper proclaimed “A Brown Lawn is a Water Conscious Lawn.” Hey, I am so there.

This morning I mowed the front yard for the – I kid you not – FIRST TIME this year.  One huge benefit to being in a months-long drought: grass does not grow. You can infer from this statement that I do not water the yard.

Mowing the aforementioned front lawn went something like this:  clouds of dust billowing and greenhouse gas emissions spewing while I trotted round and round mowing down sparse dead seed stalks of weeds that sprouted after the last rain of substance (in June). Afterwards, I was probably unrecognizable. The sweat coating my body combined with flying dust to create - mud.

Twice I have planted native grass seed out front. Alas, because of my stinginess with water, the tenacity of the King Ranch bluestem, and the scarcity of soil, the native grasses have not flourished. Even if they had, they would be dormant and brown under our current conditions.

Instead I have clumps of dormant KR, a few withered wildflowers, lots of bare dirt, assorted bones scattered by the dog, and of course, rocks. Lovely!

I find that I’m scanning lawns as I drive through towns, proud when I see parched grass. I’d like to stop and put a gold star on the front doors of those houses. But I guess that would be strange.

When I visited my youngest sister in an Austin suburb yesterday (she is also an avid gardener), I found that she, too, has been stingy with water. Her rationale:  she recently bought a Prius, so she has to be green now.

In my ‘hood, we are all on wells and very few people water lawns. Generally, you cannot see yards from the street (we’re a private bunch). There is no pressure to produce that perfect verdant lawn. In fact, there might be more pressure here to let that grass turn brown. We are all scared of dry wells.

So hey, brown is the new green! Be proud of that brown grass! And while you’re surveying your brown lawn, revel in the money you are saving on water bills, fertilizer and gas to power the mower. Enjoy doing something else on Saturday morning. More importantly, know that you are conserving water and doing your part for the planet!

And if you find a gold star on your door, you’ll know what it means.

Favorite spot in the garden:

Well, the garden is hurting. But this little plant got a drink recently, and looks pretty today. I really like the dainty little blooms and tiny red berries, and the leaves have an interesting frilly shape. Pigeonberry (Rivina humilis) is a Texas native, and birds like the berries.