- Established 1982 -


1-4 September 2020

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If you're a plant, one sure way to attract attention of a curious naturalist--and even more importantly, a pollinator--is to have a bright, white flower against the green background of nature. Another approach is to bear a flower with four petals instead of the more familiar three or five parts. Turns out an unfamiliar little plant now blooming just outside the office window at Hilton Pond Center displays both these attributes and sent us straight to Manual of Vascular Flora of the Carolinas and Virginia--our tried-and-true, hard copy, heavily worn go-to source for things botanical.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Based on flower structure, we determined this little half-inch inflorescence was from a huge plant group with more than 13,500 species. It's in the Rubiaceae (Madder or Bedstraw Family), which means our backyard discovery is related to Coffee trees! We finally narrowed our specimen down to Diodia virginiana--commonly known as Virginia Buttonweed (aka Poor Joe) --a "new" native herbaceous species we'd not previously observed at the Center. It was described by famed taxonomist Carolus Linnaeus in 1753.(You may be familiar with another four-petaled wildflower called Bluets or Quaker Ladies, Houstonia caerulea, at left. It, too, is in the Rubiaceae.)

Our Virginia Buttonweed was growing in a small cluster about a foot in diameter with several fuzzy flowers amid its lance-shaped leaves; it was right beneath one of our platform bird feeders. We're not sure where our backyard immigrant came from (perhaps accidentally mixed in with birdseed?), but we feel certain it was not growing and blooming in that spot last year.

Subsequent to finding this floristic gem we discovered another larger Virginia Buttonweed colony flourishing in a shallow roadside ditch in front of the Center. Maybe those particular plants got to that locale via highway department equipment that periodically cuts grass along the highway. Since we groom those same shoulders with a riding mower, we inadvertently may have brought buttonweed seeds into the backyard on our own equipment. (NOTE: The plant also disseminates easily from stem fragments that could stick to mower blades and be dispersed elsewhere. It propagates further by underground rhizomes and, believe it or not, by self-pollinating flowers that remain BELOW ground!)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

The tiny tubular flowers of Virginia Buttonweed are covered with even tinier hairs (above) and are attractive as nectar and pollen sources for both Long-tongued (Anthophorid) and Short-tongued (Halictid) Bees. Nonetheless, these industrious insects are essentially superfluous; the plant's ABOVE-ground flowers are also self-pollinating, which enhances its overall fecundity even more. (And did we mention it's a perennial, with each established plant living several years?) To top it all off, buttonweed's seeds float on water, allowing them to disperse easily across a yard or downstream. It's an easy matter for a seed to end up in a crack in the walkway, as below, and to start a whole new mat-like colony. With all these sexual and asexual ways of propagating, we suspect buttonweed is one of those plants destined to survive.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

Virginia Buttonweed is quite common in the Southeast but is considered rare in northern parts of its range; it is absent north of Pennsylvania and is not native west of the Great Plains. Buttonweed's "most natural" habitats are "swamps, wet meadows, marshes, coastal prairies, and in mud along streams and ponds"--or, these days, in well-watered, over-fertilized front lawns where it tolerates close mowing. Although buttonweed leaves are usually deep green, as summer progresses they're often afflicted by Diodia Vein Chlorosis Virus, apparently transmitted by minuscule whiteflies. It destroys chlorophyll so that foliage becomes mottled with yellow, causing buttonweed to stand out in a verdant patch of grass--much to the homeowner's chagrin.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

We find it sad this little plant with delicate white flowers is condemned by some as a "difficult," "troublesome," "tormenting" plant that according to several sources is "the most invasive weed that infests turfgrass in the South." (Type "Virginia Buttonweed" into your computer search engine and you'll get page after page of anti-buttonweed diatribes and ways to eradicate it.) To vanquish this native species that "can overtake your lawn, 'stealing' vital nutrients from your grass," various lawnmeisters recommend repeated applications of post-emergent broadleaf herbicides such as 2,4-D, dicamba, mecoprop, carfentrazone, or metsulfuron. If such a cocktail doesn't sound scary for humans and other living things we don't know what does!

In our judgment, the grassmavens have priorities that are misplaced--even dangerous. We counter their pro-lawn, anti-buttonweed criticisms with a different position: Bermuda Grass, Centipede Grass, Tall Fescue, Zoysia, and St. Augustine Grass are among ""the most invasive monocultures infesting former native habitats in the South." In other words, where once there were meadows and woodlands, there are now vast expanses of grass. We support Virginia Buttonweed and disdain (actually, run from) the turf-tenders' prescribed chemical treatments for manicured lawns as hazards to one's personal and environmental health. (Y'know, there's a reason the skull and crossbones symbol belongs on all these yard chemicals.)

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center
Fireflies photo courtesy Great Smoky Mountains National Park

In summary, we always like to say: "Down With Lawns," and up with Virginia Buttonweed and other native plants. If you're not into botany, remember that lawn chemicals and backyard pesticides also kill lightning bugs--and EVERYbody cares about lightning bugs.

All text, maps, charts & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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Don't forget to scroll down for Nature Notes & Photos,
plus lists of all birds banded or recaptured during the period.

"This Week at Hilton Pond" is written and photographed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., executive director of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History

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Thanks to the following fine folks for recent gifts in support of Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History and/or Operation RubyThroat: The Hummingbird Project. Your tax-deductible contributions allow us, among other things, to continue writing, photographing, and sharing "This Week at Hilton Pond" with students, teachers, and the general public. Please see Support or scroll below if you'd like to make a gift of your own.

We're pleased folks are thinking about the work of the Center and making donations. Those listed below made contributions received during the period. Please join them if you can in coming weeks.

Gifts can be made via PayPal (; credit card via Network for Good (see link below); or personal check (c/o Hilton Pond Center, 1432 DeVinney Road, York SC 29745). You can also donate through our Facebook fundraising page.

The following made thoughtful and generous contributions to Hilton Pond Center during the period 1-4 September 2020:

  • Maymie Higgins (via Network for Good)
  • The following friends contributed via the "Donate" button on one of the Center's Facebook postings or fund-raisers; some may be repeat contributors via Facebook or other means. None this week. :-(

    (* = past participant in Operation RubyThroat Neotropical Hummingbird expedition)
If you enjoy "This Week at Hilton Pond," please help support
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If you like shopping on-line please become a member of iGive, through which 1,800+ on-line stores from Amazon to Lands' End and even iTunes donate a percentage of your purchase price to support Hilton Pond Center. ..Every new member who registers with iGive and makes a purchase through them earns an ADDITIONAL $5 for the Center. You can even do Web searches through iGive and earn a penny per search--sometimes TWO--for the cause! Please enroll by going to the iGive Web site. It's a painless, important way for YOU to support our on-going work in conservation, education, and research. Add the iGive Toolbar to your browser and register Operation RubyThroat as your preferred charity to make it even easier to help Hilton Pond Center when you shop.

The Piedmont Naturalist--Vol. 1--1986 (Hilton Pond Press) is an award-winning collection of newspaper columns that first appeared in The Herald in Rock Hill SC. Optimized for tablets such as iPad and Kindle, electronic downloads of the now out-of-print volume are available by clicking on the links below. The digital version includes pen-and-ink drawings from the original edition--plus lots of new color photos. All sales go
to support the work of
Hilton Pond Center.

1-4 September 2020

Ruby-throated Hummingbird--11

Acadian Flycatcher--1

Northern Cardinal--2
Summer Tanager--1
House Finch--3
Mourning Dove--1

* = new banded species for 2020

6 species
19 individuals

56 species (39-yr. avg. = 64.8)

1,044 individuals
(39-yr. avg. =

179 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

(Banding began 28 June 1982; since then 171 species have been observed on or over the property.)
127 species banded
70,734individuals banded

6,534 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded

(with original banding date, sex, and current age):
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
None this week

Tufted Titmouse (1)
10/13/18--3rd year female

--As of 4 Sep, the Center's 2020 Yard List stood at 87--about 51% of 171 avian species encountered locally since 1982. (Incidentally, 85 species so far this year have been observed from the windows or porches of our old farmhouse! If you're not keeping a Yard List for your own property we encourage you to do so, and to report your sightings via eBird. You, too, can be a "citizen scientist.") New species observed locally during the period: Common Nighthawk

--Our immediate past installment of "This Week at Hilton Pond" was about birds that were either late breeders or early migrants. It's archived and always available on our Web site as Installment #727.

All text & photos © Hilton Pond Center

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sightings of
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

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Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History is a non-profit research, conservation & education organization in York, South Carolina USA; phone (803) 684-5852. Directed by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr., aka "The Piedmont Naturalist," it is parent organization for Operation RubyThroat. Web site contents--including text and photos--may NOT be duplicated, modified, or used in any way except with express written permission of Hilton Pond Center. All rights reserved worldwide. To request permission for use or for further assistance, please contact Webmaster.