butterflies from scratch

Charles Allen started working at Ft. Polk, the Army owned part of Kisatchie National Forest, about ten years ago. It was his chance to live his dream of moving back to the country. He wanted to reach back to his roots.

When he and His wife Susan were house hunting, they stumbled on a property that turned out to be perfect to set-up shop. It was a house with twenty five acres of sandy farm land, adjoining Kisatchie National Forest with just a short hike to the meandering Ouiska Chitto creek. After they took ownership of the new digs, Charles immediately got busy with building gardens. Over time, he has created a desitnation for winged critters, with a series of wonderfully managed, purposeful and function-based gardens.

Charles likes to laugh. His gardens express the creative side of his personality.

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above: a vista of Globe Amaranth extends from the guest house with gardens, full with porterweed, in the distance

If you really want to take-in all of the very special, delightfully-themed gardens, you have to be there at different times of the day. Morning brings well-rested hummerbirds and countless bees find a good day’s work in the flowering plants that are in season. As morning turns to afternoon, Butterflies and Skippers partake in the  The sky is scattered with Dragonflies that hover and swoop with aerial dexterity. And dusk brings the Hummingbird moths who come for the specially designed gardens with nocturnal plants chosen just for this purpose. Is there a better treat than to sit with a glass of cool iced tea and sip as the Hummingbird Moths start to roll in. This amazing specialized creature is so unique and fun to watch. It kind of hovers and feels its way around the flowers by way of its probiscus, imbibing the “sweet tea” concoction of Moonvine, Nicotiana, Night blooming Luffa, Datura metel and Datura stramonium. It samples the nectar and then it goes stumbling off to catch its breath but it is sure to make a quick return for another drink.

(click on photos to enlarge)

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above: the Daturas in the Moon Garden with night-opening flowers ready for nectaring nocturnals: Moonvine (Ipomoea alba), Nicotiana species, Night blooming Luffa and Horn of Plenty (Datura metel) and Datura stramonium (Jimson weed).

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above: the Hummingbird Moth (Maduca rustica) feeding on Four O’clocks, an attracting staple-plant at the B and B gardens.

Even though he is a native plant authority, Charles doesn’t exclude non-native plants in the gardens. Exotic and natives alike are used for very specific purposes. He has quite the extensive horticultural collection.

Large portions of the house specialty-species, Porterweed ((Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), are served-up all over the B and B Gardens, as Charles dishes out cuttings by the potfull each year via a tiny self-built greenhouse. Porterweed, Charles says, is one of the best butterfly attracting plants.

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above: porterweed: butterfly magnet

You may not see all of the finer points of the gardening effort without Dr Allen’s personal tour. He’ll walk with you along the paths discussing the purpose of particular Paw Paw tree, planted as a host plant for raising Zebra Swallowtail caterpillars.  And if you time your visit just right, you’ll find yourself there on a crisp October morning when the Morning Glory flower crop is peaking, providing you a three dimensional horse-shoe-shaped tunnel of gloriously colored trumpets to stroll through.

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Good morning, Glory!

Allen has built and maintained woodland trails leading to the quite of the Ouiskachitto. Along one trail a garden called the Succession Wheel, provides an opportunity to see the stages in which land is naturally revegetated. The “wheel” is a large circle designated in the landscape that demonstrates eight successive years of growth all in one small area. This one of my favorite of the B and B Gardens.

For a brief description of how the wheel is designed and managed, see the link below of a a very short essay written by Dr. Allen on the garden design

https://marcpastorek.wordpress.com/natural-ecological-succession/

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above: Dr. Allen standing in the center of an eight year, fully cycled Succession Wheel garden.

Continuing west past the succession wheel is the resident-sharecropping Leaf Cutter ant colony, working hard on their land diligently.  By the hundreds, these ants bring pieces of leaves underground to be cultivated in their fungus gardens. The fungus that grows on the leaves is the food that sustains the colony. These are said to be typically found in sandy soils and this land has plenty of that.

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above: cutters at work, carrying burden

click the link below and watch the first seconds of the youtube video. Its rad.

On summer nights, Charles regularly uses this route to the Creek for counting and documenting fireflies: one of his summer nocturnal pleasures. As a citizen-scientist, he and many volunteers in the eastern U.S., by documenting the numbers of sightings, are helping the scientists at the Museum of Science, Boston, understand what is happening to this dissapearing species. see the link below for info on firefly watch.

https://legacy.mos.org/fireflywatch/

For high entertainment on a particularly special night, Charles will set up night viewing equipment for viewing nocturnal insects, looking for the interesting night flyers, like the Luna Moths or Sphinx Moths and other associated cohorts that come out after dark.

(click photos)

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banded sphinx moth

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catalpa sphinx moth

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azalea sphinx moth

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i o Moth

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hieroglyphic moth

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rosy maple moth

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imperial moth

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golden looper night nectaring on globe amaranth

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the laughter moth (Charandra diridens)     hahahaha!

(photos by Sue and Charles Allen)

One thing is sure, not a garden is as unique in the state. And not a more dedicated and caring gardening couple is there in Sue and Charles Allen. Its a lesson that teaches us that gardens can be as varied as the gardeners that toil in them.

Visit the B and B gardens and see the fruits of their good work when the Allens host the annual event that is the Allen Acres “Butterfly Blast” on September 27-29, east of Deridder, about fifteen miles, in a tiny community just west of the metropolis of Pitkin, Louisiana. You’ll have a blast!

for more on the blast see

http://lnps.org/event/butterflyallenacres.pdf

http://www.nativeventures.net/

http://www.lnps.org/

……..enjoy!

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