The Violet Fern

A Colorful Tale of a Garden in the Making


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I Need to Croak Out a Confession

In my seven years (we moved into our home in October of 2007 so I don’t count the first winter) gardening here in the Violet Fern garden, I have never spied even one toad or frog! Me, little Miss-let’s-build-a-wildlife-habitat in a village, hasn’t found but one toad or frog in her garden … until TODAY! I am giddy – doesn’t take much. I was walking back from the Potager with some fresh basil for breakfast pizza (hey, it’s a holiday, I’m celebrating my freedom to choose), when something hopped. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There right beside me was the most beautiful frog I have ever seen because it is the first frog I’ve ever seen in my garden! 

Wouldn’t you agree she is beautiful?

I say she because she is pretty large and her ears look to be about the same size as her eyes and I believe she is a Northern Leopard Frog. Males are usually smaller with ears larger than their eyes. According to Wikipedia and various other sources, Northern Leopard Frogs abandon their ponds in summer for grassy areas and are thus also known as Meadow frogs. They can be found up to a mile away from a water source! Well, we are only a block away from the St. Lawrence River, and she is sitting in the grassy (weedy) lawn path between the Bird & Butterfly and Woodland Edge gardens.

Northern Leopard Frogs have been declining since 1970 most likely due to habitat loss/fragmentation, environmental contaminants/pollution, introduced fish … Seeing a trend here? They are eaten by raccoons, other frogs, snakes, Blue Herons (I’m waiting for the day one stalks the Violet Fern Garden as they are common along the River), and human lawn mowers. The frog you dissected in high school was most likely a Northern Leopard Frog. I am ashamed to say (shhh I mean whisper – I don’t want her to hear), I probably ate Northern Leopard Frog legs when I was a little girl at the Elk’s Club in Wausau, WI.

They eat snails! (read below) and almost any kind of insect – crickets, spiders, and ants – yippee!

I think she’s heard me discussing building a pond for the past two years. Now I just HAVE to get that pond in this year!

Don’t you just love how the garden gives back and surprises? I remember spotting my first snail and being excited because I felt I was building something right – that I was in fact, creating a little ecosystem habitat. Now, of course, I have snails everywhere. Now, I also have frogs!


Sources: Wikipedia, National Geographic, EPA


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Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

I had to share this wonderful blog with all of you. You may recognize Loret from Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens or Beautiful Wildlife Garden. I stumbled upon this blog while in Florida and it is a wonderful way to learn about the plants and “critters” in that region. I look at EVERY post!

Central Florida Critter of the Day

CENTRAL FLORIDA CRITTER OF THE DAY: Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

diet: mostly insects, but as can be seen here enjoys seeds as well. Has been known to eat acorns and this week is quite fond of my loquat fruits. Nests in dead trees, so leave those SNAGS! Fascinating to watch this beauty.

Learn: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-bellied_Woodpecker/id

Shown on Florida Native Plant: LONGLEAF PINE TREE (Pinus palustris)

My take: http://www.beautifulwildlifegarden.com/pa-rum-pum-pum-pum-little-drummer-bird.html

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There are Butterflies Here …

Why am I so surprised? Of course there are butterflies. It’s not (literally) freezing, there is sunshine for extra warmth, there are flowers for food. There is something absurdly wonderful walking with butterflies fluttering about in January for this Northern girl. I am fascinated by one in particular with bold yellow stripes and an exotic flair. I had to look it up on one of my favorite sites, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and discovered that what I am seeing is the Florida State Butterfly, a Zebra Longwing. A spectacular beauty! Reading up on them, I learned that Passion Vines (specifically Passiflora suberosa, P. lutea, P. affinis) are their host plant. There are plenty of vines here but none that I see in flower and I am not adept enough on Florida Flora & Fauna to recognize by leaves only. Oh, how I would love to see the beautiful blooms of Passion Vine! I tried to start some from seed last summer but they take months to germinate and I wasn’t patient enough. I think I will invest in a plant start this year. I also learned Shepherd’s Needle, Bidens Alba (check! plenty of that around) and Lantana (check! see that around, too) are their favorite foods. What’s interesting is that they forage on a route or “trapline” (trapline foraging). I spent weeks trying to capture a picture of one and had I known this interesting behavior I could have simply learned one of their routes. However, on a cooler day, I lucked out while visiting the Shell Mound, one rested long enough for me to aim and focus! I suppose in this pocket of sun the gravel-shell base felt warm.

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Zebra Longwing

The Shell Mound is one of the largest preserved on the West coast of Florida. It is literally, a shell mound, made up of discarded oyster and clam shells – the food source of the Eastern Woodland Indians.

View from the top of the Shell Mound

There are also Sulphur Butterflies that I have not managed to capture but there really isn’t any mistaking their beautiful color. Lantana – check! – is on their nectar list, too. Then there are also orange butterflies flitting about. At first I wasn’t sure what they were. One day I was able to get a closer look and confirm it with the flap of a wing – Gulf Fritillaries. Passion vines are also their choice of host, specifically Passiflora incarnata (my choice, too, to grow), and P. foetida. They also like nectar from Shepherd’s Needle and, yes, Lantana, as well as a few others. They aren’t as camera shy as those Longwings and lo and behold here is one on Shepherd’s Needle.

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But Fritillaries are not the only orangish butterflies here! There are MONARCHS! There are more Monarchs here than I’ve seen the past few years in my own garden up North. At first I thought, I must be mistaken, maybe these are Viceroys. But a real close view with my binoculars and it’s confirmed – honest to goodness Monarchs! (Learn to tell the difference between Viceroy and Monarch Butterflies). I am not sure how to look up or who to ask about them overwintering here. They aren’t in large numbers. Every now and then one just happily floats by. Here is one who posed for me on Goldenrod. They also will nectar on … you guessed it, Lantana! Lantana is a plant that all these butterflies share in common!

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There are plenty of Cedar trees here in Cedar Key, of course – perhaps a good night roost? I know I’ve read about Monarchs resting overnight in Cedar trees on their migration. “Often pine, fir and cedar trees are chosen for roosting. These trees have thick canopies that moderate the temperature and humidity at the roost site.”* I’ve also learned, to add to my surprise, from Butterflies and Moths of North America and a few other online sources that “A few overwinter along the Gulf coast or south Atlantic coast.” WELL, that’s where I am! Along the Gulf Coast! It is such a wonderful treat to see these beauties floating about. I wonder if people here find it extraordinary and special that Monarchs overwinter in Cedar Key? I sure do! It shouldn’t surprise me, Cedar Key is a special place immersed in nature. It is a very special place indeed.

*Source: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/Monarch_Butterfly/migration/index.shtml