Hot Bug Sex

July 20, 2010

Hot, hot and hot. The weather is hot, the leaves wilt, the flowers droop, dry and drop.

For the diamond-blazed bugs on my milkweed, though, this is the perfect time for them to have a hot (ahem) time themselves. At first, I thought there was one bug, one of those mad evolutionary modifications where it looks like it’s coming and going so a bird won’t know which end to grab. It was long and orange and black, with shining diamonds, waving antenna and flailing legs. The acrobatics accomplished were death-defying. This thing crawled in perfect sync up the milkweed blooms, over leaves, completely joined, never faltering. “Wow,” I thought. “I’m going to have to look this one up!”

Then I noticed the poor lonely heart bug, all by itself on another plant. “WOW,” I thought, looking back on the still-joined and still-meandering couple, “Now that is really some impressive mating!” When I looked it up (after many unsuccessful searches for “orange and black beetle” and “diamond orange beetle” and “black diamond beetle”, I finally just typed in “orange and black bug” and ta da! Google came through) and discovered it was a milkweed bug, I also found that they can stay coupled like that for up to 10 hours. Since this is a family blog, I will let that pass uncommented upon. But it does make me grin.

The hibiscus are gorgeous, dramatic and elegant, like an Asian geisha, white and pink and delicate. The bushes are abloom, two in the back and one coming in front, and I no longer have (much) envy for the enormous red hibiscus on the corner in my neighborhood (Well, okay, I still do. That red one is magnificent).

In the Tribune’s gardening section this past Sunday, there was an article about a woman who cultivates a large and lush shade garden. And of course, she made the obligatory comment about how she clips the flower stalks of the hostas immediately, as they aren’t that pretty. I’m really tired of hearing this remark. Hosta flowers remind me of bicycle flags, something that is unexpected and useful. The pale lavender trumpets feed the bees and the butterflies and the symmetry is stunning. As a designer, I love balance and I love surprises. Hostas, when flowering, do both. You have this long, thin stem from out of nowhere that reaches up and up, with flowers that are elegant, at a direct conflict with the ground-hugging, heavier foliage. What a delight for the eyes and the senses! When those flowers die, you get a perfectly spaced ladder of dried stamens, like quick brush strokes on a canvas. Really? I’m supposed to admire that you get rid of this before you get a chance to experience it? Not so much.

More (and more and more and more and…) zucchini! Roma tomatoes blooming, swelling and growing in multitudes. I trimmed back the watermelon, about 14 feet of vine and dozens of blossoms. I’m hoping this means all the energy will be concentrated into the vines and melons I left. The hanging watermelon is starting to bow the chicken wire and the panty hose swing needed to be adjusted. I hope that whole panel doesn’t crack from the weight. The purple runner beans (still such a let down every day when I cook a batch) are putting all their energy into the beans; the leaves and stems are drying and browning. The brussel sprouts get taller, the green peppers bigger and bigger. The upside down tomato continues to disappoint. The view of my porch was terrifically marred and for one stinking tomato.

Deadheading has become a frequent job, as the gaillardia stems are forked and each fork has the potential for two more flowers – but they are not always seen budding there. I must be careful with my pruners. The coneflower is also sensitive; I don’t want to cut off buds. The balloon flower could be (and often is) deadheaded twice a day, but those are simple to snap off with my fingers. While deadheading in the front, the pampas grass was rustling, sounding very much like a rattlesnake.

Hmmmmm….. it’s been a few hours. Wonder if those milkweed bugs are still going at it?

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