Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.

Hunting for caterpillars

Yesterday afternoon, Chris, Sidney and I went in hunt of a new air mattress for some upcoming camping trips. I was disappointed to find that Fancy Gap Outfitters in Mount Airy (N.C.) had closed. So we eventually made our way back up the mountain and stopped in at Magic Mart (Galax, Va.) where we found not only air mattresses, but cots, tarps and other camping gear. (We only needed and bought the mattress.)

While out and about, Chris insisted on stopping along the way to scope out milkweed for caterpillars, particularly monarch caterpillars. We started out in our backyard. Chris found several monarch caterpillars and, as usual, tons of tussock milkweed moth caterpillars:

Chris in our backyard.

Chris in our backyard.

A tusk (left) and monarch caterpillars on swamp milkweed in our backyard.

A tussock milkweed moth (left) and monarch caterpillars on swamp milkweed in our backyard.

Next up was the Emily B. Taylor Greenway in Mount Airy (N.C.). We didn’t see any caterpillars, though.

Emily B. Taylor Greenway

Emily B. Taylor Greenway. You can faintly see two dragonflies in the upper right of this photo.

Besides goldenrod, these beautiful flowers were in bloom.

Besides goldenrod, these beautiful flowers were in bloom.

Kudzu beetles on the underside of the kudzu leaf.

Kudzu beetles on the underside of the kudzu leaf.

On the way to Galax, we stopped at Devil’s Den (Fancy Gap, Va.), but someone had already mowed the meadow, which is sad. Just a couple of weeks ago this field was full of milkweed and there were lots of monarchs flitting around. Most of the monarch caterpillars won’t emerge from their chrysalis until late October. I wish the preserve would have waited until early November to mow.

Devil's Den Wildlife Preserve, Fancy Gap, Va.

Devil’s Den Wildlife Preserve, Fancy Gap, Va.

We did find this guy at one of the overlooks.

This fella is on a bench at one of the overlooks. I about sat on him.

This fella is on a bench at one of the overlooks. I about sat on him.

Top of caterpillar

Maybe another type of tussock moth caterpillar? Here’s a view of the overlook.

Overlook at Devil's Den.

Overlook at Devil’s Den.

I hope other people are finding tons of caterpillars this year!

Fern Valley, National Arboretum

The area called Fern Valley is filled with meadow and prairie plants. The trail also winds through a small wooded area, but we did not walk there. This was a beautiful garden to start our tour of the gardens. The garden had cattails, rose mallow, cup plant and other flowers and grasses. It was very enjoyable!

Here’s just a few photos:

Fern Valley

Bridge in Fern Valley meadow

Rose Mallow and Bee

A bee working on a rose mallow.

Bug on thistle

A bug on a thistle.

bee and flower

yellow meadow


U.S. National Arboretum

On our first full day in D.C., we started out with a visit to the U.S. National Arboretum, which is in the NE quadrant of D.C. There is plenty of parking or you can ride the Metro. The grounds are open Friday-Monday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and pups are allowed.

We walked around the majority of the 446 acre park. It was pretty cool. I really liked how many of the gardens weren’t overly formal and many areas were allowed to grow naturally. The sky looked like rain most of the morning, but the drops held off until the very last leg of our trip. The overcast morning was a welcome change from our hot, muggy day at Harpers Ferry.

There are several gardens throughout the park, but we chose to only visit a few. We made it to the National Capital Columns, Fern Valley Native Plant Collection, Washington Youth Garden, the Asian Collections, the Gotelli Collection of Dwarf and Slow Growing Conifers and the Conifer Collection and the National Herb Garden. We also walked by the Dogwood Collection, the Holly Magnolia Collection and some research gardens. There are more gardens, including the State Tree Collection and the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum (dogs aren’t allowed in the bonsai garden and museum), so there is tons more to see.

Besides education, the park also participates in research. The research gardens were comparing native and non-native plants’ susceptibility to pest damage. The hypothesis is that native plants would attract more native insect predators to help control pest damage. It would be interesting to learn the results! Other research plants included crepe myrtles.

One of two research gardens comparing native to non-native plants.

One of two research gardens comparing native to non-native plants.

Though the whole park was amazing, the herb and youth gardens were my favorites! I’ll share more about each of the gardens and pics in upcoming posts.

James F. Hoffman Memorial Prairie Gardens, Olney, Illinois

On our visit to Olney, Illinois, we visited the James F. Hoffman Memorial Prairie Gardens, which is located at the Olney Central College.

It’s a garden full of native prairie grasses and plants. On the day we visited there were tons of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects flying around. Here’s some photos for you:

Krohn Conservatory, Cincinnati, Ohio

We’ve visited the Krohn Conservatory before and it’s a great place to go, especially if it’s not too pleasant outside for outdoor activities. The beautiful Art Deco Krohn building houses exotic and gorgeous plants. Besides my favorite Orchid House, there are rooms dedicated to palms, tropical and desert plants.

For this visit we were there to visit the Butterflies of Brazil exhibit. Each spring, the Krohn features butterflies for a few months. It was really cool walking among hundreds of fluttering butterflies.

One butterfly landed on Chris’ arm as soon as we walked into the room.

Lots of kiddies had flat foam pieces they used to soak up water from the room’s fountain. They used the soaked foam to attract butterflies.

This girl was a pro! She had more than one butterfly on her foam at any given time.
She even had one of the larger butterflies hanging out on her arm.

Our visit would have been more enjoyable, however, if some parents controlled their kids better. There were a few boys running in between peoples’ legs, leaning across and shoving people out of the way in attempts to capture butterflies. One boy constantly invaded my personal space … even though I was sitting down! He also nearly stepped on many of the butterflies.

Though it was really cool and somewhat fun, my face hurt a lot from clenching my jaws and I had a pounding headache. I left wishing we’d learned about the adults only Happy Hour scheduled for later that day. Though we’d already had dinner plans, I would have loved watching the butterflies while listening to jazz.

It’s too bad that a few bad apples ruined the whole bunch. Just to be clear, most of the kids were well-behaved.

Though the room felt like chaos, Chris was able to get some great shots. Here’s some more:

Krohn Conservatory is an excellent place to stop if you’re ever in or near Cincinnati.

Big Bend Picnic Area, Big Walker Mountain, Wytheville, Va.

Updated: I had a plant mislabeled. See below

We’ve visited the Big Bend Picnic Area twice in the past couple of months. Though it’s a picnic site, we didn’t take a lunch with us. We were there to explore the Big Walker Mountain area.

A turk’s cap lily.
A mondara, or bee balm. A friend corrected me and said this is a “wild bergamot.” Oops!

Chris has lamented the lack of butterflies this year. He’s almost convinced they’re all hiding out here on the mountain. There are many butterflies and other insects along the dirt road by the picnic area.

The last time we visited, Chris was able to get a few good photos of butterflies, including the rare Diana fritillary.

This is a male Diana fritillary. The female is brown with blue. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Other areas to check out while you’re on Big Walker includes the country store and Monster Rock Trail, which has a trail head located behind the store.

There’s also Seven Sisters Trail and the Stony Fork Campground, which are both located at the foot of the mountain. The Seven Sisters Trail winds 4.8 miles up the mountain to the campground.


Cypress Gardens, Monck’s Corner, S.C.

I mentioned Cypress Gardens in an earlier post. This was probably my most favorite place during our trip to Charleston, S.C. It’s hard to believe this is a Berkeley County Parks and Recreation park!

There are 3.5 miles of trails, boat rides, a butterfly house, the Swamparium and lots of wildlife.

We were able to get in a boat ride before the sky opened up and dumped buckets of rain. You can take a free, self-guided boat ride or wait for a park employee to take you on a tour (cost $5). We opted to go it alone. Here’s some of what we saw:

There were lots of lily pads.
Our boat.
This guy was resting close to the boat house. (Look to the left of the pillar.)
We had to paddle or float under two foot bridges.
We got within about six feet of this lazy gator. Close enough to scare him off the log. Oops!

It was amazing paddling around in the water, especially when we could get up close and personal with some alligators. There was a photography club there the same time we were, and one lady asked to snap some photos of us in the boat. We tried to hold the boat steady as she snapped some photos of us from the side of the pond.

A friend used to live near Charleston and told us how snakes are known to fall out of the trees into boats at the park. Aaaggghhh! Luckily, I think, we were in the area much too soon for a snake attack. We also only saw a few gators and they were lazily laying on logs or at the foot of cypresses and other trees.

After the boat ride, it started raining and we dashed into the butterfly house, where we hung out until the rain slowed down and we could make it back to the visitor center/gift shop and then the car.

In the butterfly house we saw:

The resident wood duck, The Prince. He rules the butterfly house and what he says goes.
Butterflies and flowers

Cocoons, or chrysalis  

Most of the winged beauties were hanging out at the top of the building and we couldn’t see them that well.

David Davis, butterfly house director, talked with us about the plants, showed us the cocoon house and gave me some seeds for a Mexican flower vine that the butterflies love.

David Davis greets The Prince, who is sitting on top of the bee hive.

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Sidney had to stay in the car while we explored the park, but pets are allowed November-February.

This park most definitely should be on your To-Do list if you’re ever in or near Charleston.

I really wanted to walk around the gardens, but the rain wasn’t going to let up so we drove on up the road to our next stop — Conagree National Park, near Columbia, S.C.