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Tiny Treasures – under the mower blades!

By Julie d'Ablaing, Houston Audubon Natives Nursery Volunteer

As we are both educated and encouraged to increase the diversity of native plants in our home landscapes to support the wide range of pollinators and birds that are under threat, one overlooked niche may be under the mower blades!  

As a beekeeper, I am thankful for the early flowering clovers, in grassy areas in my neighborhood, although they are frowned upon by many residents as weeds in their lawns!  They help sustain the earliest of our nectar seekers.  As a naturalist I note the Herbertia, Sabatia, and the sprawling legumes, Neptunia and Mimosa spp., that are native “weeds”  supporting the more specialist native bees and butterflies.

Tropical Puff (Neptunia pubescens), a host plant for the Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus) butterfly.

On the almost desolate, non-irrigated mowed grass areas of the Copperfield Trail, dominated by Bermuda grass, Tropical Puff (Neptunia pubescens), a creeping herb with small yellow flowers manages to thrive.  This plant, is in the pea family, and has sensitive leaflets that close when touched (NB. Never ending entertainment for kids and adults alike!).  It is drought tolerant, probably due to a significant tap root. 

I have recently been trying to reach out to my neighbours who walk along this gas easement mowed wasteland to challenge them to notice these little treasures; both the plant and the associated butterfly with a short article tucked into the Landscape Committee section of the free local newspaper.  

“……Just as Monarch Butterflies need native milkweeds to lay their eggs on and to raise their caterpillars, so the Ceraunus Blue (Hemiargus ceraunus) butterflies use these plants as a host plant.  This beautiful butterfly is tiny, smaller than a dime! So on your next walk along the Copperfield Trail take a closer look for these tiny treasures!”

The challenge continues to be to increase awareness of the ecological value of our landscaping, while maintaining the aesthetics that all expect. 

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