Leaf of the Day: Balloon Plant and a Good Bug

After 6 months of visiting Leu Gardens and recording my haphazard finds, I have written about and sketched over 120 of the different plants, flowers and trees. However if I were ever to feel at all pleased with what I have done, the amount still to do, see, discover and record is overwhelming. Sometimes I forget there are 50 acres of land ranging from neat and tidy rose garden to the gloriously unruly, tropical jungle.
My trip to Leu on Thursday took me to areas of the garden I don’t often visit. The South Woods are very quiet and secluded with tall majestic oaks, pines, sweet gums, hickories and scores of camellias The gardens are well known for their camellias, over 2000 species. There is nothing obviously showy here at this time of year but it is a lovely place to wander and on Thursday I saw 7 different oaks, discovered the second Sausage tree, watched the squirrels and woodpeckers busy in the tree tops, and I even found a Butcher’s Broom plant (see post here) which was a complete surprise. The perimeter paths are the least busy and I must have walked for an hour without seeing one other person. Here two ancient Live oaks arch over one of the South Woods paths.

I then revisited the Horror Tree to see if there was evidence of the “bones”. There were quite a few old leaf stalks around and I even found the soggy and rotting remains of 2 pods which I brought back with me. They are outside drying, in the hopes that one or two seeds may be still intact.

The Butterfly Garden is always on my rounds too at some point. It is more or less at the heart of the garden and a pretty place to sit for a while and watch the many different fluttering beauties which are attracted there. Very often I meet Joel who looks after this particular garden and takes care of the caterpillars which as gardeners know are something of a mixed blessing. But, when I say “takes care” I mean very much in the caring sense. On Thursday he walked past with a handful of passion flower leaves and I saw bouncing around on the back of his cart half a dozen big stripy caterpillars.”Gotta get these little fellas off to the nursery”, he said.
The pretty Balloon Milkweed Asclepias physocarpa grows in the butterfly garden too. Its unfortunate green hairy pods will ensure giggles and have secured it some blunt but fair colloquial names, Devils balls, Family jewels etc. In a vain attempt to deflect attention from its obvious attributes it is also optimistically called the Swan plant. The pods are a light as, well.. a balloon, and contain fine downy seeds which float round the garden and self seed, so it can be found popping up almost anywhere.

It is much loved by the Monarch butterfly caterpillar, but also it seems, by the delightful red and black assassin bugs. I have seen them before on the other Asclepias flower I drew, the beautiful Crown Flower here. They come under the category of beneficial bugs patrolling the garden to keep down the insect pests including aphids, and mosquitoes. They also eat caterpillars, so I guess Joel has divided loyalties. nothing in the garden is straightforward is it!
If you like bugs, Whats that Bug site here is fascinating and some particularly gruesome photographs.
The actual milkweed flowers have a very unusual structure and pollination method which I will return to another time as I intend to go back to the crown flower to make a colour study.


Balloon Milkweed and Bug