We are coming towards the end of the rainy season here in the North East, we haven’t had as much rain as we need but the lagoons do at least look like lagoons again rather than the dry cracked pits they were a few months ago. The rain when it does come is heavy and often accompanied by rolling thunder, indeed I woke this morning to the echoing booms and rumbles coming from the sea, hopefully non of the fishermen were caught in the storm.
Thanks to the rain we’ve had, the garden is looking beautifully green, many of the plants which were uprooted when we built the wall have thankfully taken off in their new positions and some of the cuttings I took have also survived. A number of plants have found their own way to us, some welcome additions others less so, included are a variety of grasses, one or two look remarkably lawn like though admittedly only in random patches, other grasses are tall and delicately flowered, while one particularly rampant fellow is a type of burr grass (Cenchrus ciliatus) known as Capim-amoroso (loving grass) or as it is known more locally Carrapicho, it has vicious spiny burrs which embed in the skin, fur or feet and be painful to remove, though worse to leave in. We bring the horse in to the garden to act as a lawn mower, he seems quite fond of the grass, eating the burrs and all, in fact if he’s been out grazing on the dunes we often have to spend a considerable amount of time picking the burrs off him, as he will have found the densest patch of that grass to get in amongst and his head, legs and chest area will be covered in burrs.
The growth in the garden is matched by the growth in insect life, murrisocas (a type of mosquito) give a burning itchy bite causing much slapping of legs and arms in the evening when they are at their worst and keeping us awake at night with their high pitched zinging. Thankfully we get an almost constant breeze through the house which the mourisoccas don’t like, so we have less of a problem with them than some of our neighbours. Keeping the grass short helps keep their numbers down too, an evening walk out over the dunes through the dense vetch cover and the mourisoccas will swarm after you, dinnerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!
Another reason to keep the grass down is ticks, they are a very serious problem for us here and even if I was able to keep our garden tick free, which I suspect is impossible, we walk the dogs out over the dunes and in the woodlands so our dogs would still pick them up and bring them home. We have lost several dogs to a disease ticks carry, it causes blood poisoning leading to organ failure and can strike with incredible speed. Prompt treatment with antibiotics is essential but the early signs of the disease can be easily overlooked (I’ve learnt the hard way what to look out for now beginning with lethargy, then a lack of appetite, later a yellow discharge from the eye but not every dog will present like this and the symptoms (save for the last one) could easily be something far less serious, you have to know the dog and when it is not being it’s usual self). Even getting the dog early veterinary treatment is no guarantee of survival, dogs can appear to recover only to relapse and die, so tick control is a case of life or death for our dogs (cats don’t suffer from them) as much as for us (Lymes disease is carried by ticks). We use Frontline tick control, it’s expensive but worth it as it’s the only thing we have found that actually works and believe me we’ve tried everything.
Ok creepy insect alert, so if you don’t want to know just pass on to the next paragraph, skipping quickly over the photo below.
We have a plethora of insects to contend with, some are really gross, like the giant centipede called Piolho de Cobra (meaning snake-louse though centipedes have nothing to do with either snakes or lice) which is a carnivore and has a venomous bite, very painful for adults but potentially life threatening for a baby or young child.
Thankfully is not such a common visitor, well not since my daughter left home, they were strangely attracted to her poor thing and she had several nightmareish experiences with them. Possibly the worst was when she was washing over the bathroom sink prior to going to bed, having pulled out the plug she was rinsing her face with water running from the tap and opened her eyes to find one coming up through the drain pipe, waving its tentacles at her centimeters from her face Eeek! Thankfully she was never bitten but I’m sure she would rather forget all about them (sorry pet if you’re reading this). Then there are the cockroaches, spiders, wasps, ok, ok I’ll stop or no one will ever visit us again.
Some of our garden visitors are far more welcome, I’m talking about butterflies.
Of course having butterflies in abundance means we first have caterpillars and they do a damn good job of decimating the foliage in the garden but I try and be philosophical about it, so when the small caterpillar (I haven’t been able to identify the caterpillar) reduced the big leaves in my pumpkin patch to a series of bare stalks within a week, well there are only so many pumpkins we can eat anyway.
The lime bush became a series of twiggy thorns after being lunch and dinner to a caterpillar looking remarkably like bird poo, it then made a cocoon much smaller than it was (I watched it do this or I would never have believed one was related to the other) before transforming into a Giant swallow-tail (Papilio cresphontes).
Every now and then we get an influx of giant caterpillars which attack the frangipani leaves, each caterpillar is capable of eating several leaves in a day. I haven’t tried it but its said to have a disagreeable taste, making it unattractive to predators, hence when we get them we get lots of them. Having munched their way through the frangipani bushes they become the less dramatic, drab brown but appropriately named frangipani hornworm moth (Pseudosphinx tetrio) also known as tetrio sphinx, giant gray sphinx or plumeria. Although nothing like the colouring of the caterpillar, the moth is impressive for it’s size with adult females growing slightly larger than the males and reaching a wing span of 12 to 13 cm (Wikipedia).
Our coconut trees get munched on by the striped black, yellow and white caterpillar of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) after a heavy infestation the palm looks like it has a punk hairstyle with only the bare spines of the fronds left behind.
Click here to view a beautiful time lapse of the monarch caterpillar making it’s chrysalis. Thank you to Leah for sending me the link.
And here’s a few more of our regular visitors, some known many not, if you know what any of these are, or if I’ve got any wrong, please let me know.
All photos were taken by me in or around the house and are ©Claire Pattison Valente