Fritillary Fashion

IMG_2133One of the most colorful displays in the historic Charleston area this time of year is the Gulf Fritillary, a distinctive butterfly easily distinguished by its bright orange wings with black and white patterns and streaked veins. This tiny creature is native to this area, emerging from its caterpillar stage by late Summer to emerge with a fluttering frenzy in search of nectar from gardens, forests and roadside wildflowers.
Local gardeners plant shrub borders with Pentas, Lantana, and Honeysuckle, blooming with bright blooms that catch the Fritillary’s compound eyes, which can observe a 360-degree pattern without the butterfly having to move its head.
The tiny head has two sets of protruding sensors in the stub-like palpi and the long antennae, both of which can detect the scent of nectar being emitted by blooming plants.
With three pairs of legs to latch on to succulent blooms, the Fritillary loads its gas tank with a hollow protrusion called the probiscis, which sucks up the sweet nectar. Butterflies only ingest liquids, and will also lap up water, sweat, and even urine to absorb minerals and proteins.
The wings that make the Fritillary such an attractive creature are made up a thousands of paper-like scales. These are helpful in a number of ways: by absorbing heat the sun to give the constantly-moving butterfly extra energy; as a means of attracting other butterflies to mate; and, showing off color patterns that may warn predators in the natural world that the wings are toxic, as well as large, circular spots that can also deceive predators into observing the butterfly as something larger and more menacing.
So enjoy the Fritillary, it will be putting on this bright show for about another month.

Legare Street Lore

IMG_2114When sightseeing in the historic South of Broad district in downtown Charleston, tour visitors ask about Rainbow Row, the Four Corners of law, the Battery, and White Point Garden, but rarely ask to go by one of the most enchanting spots in the “Holy City” – 8 Legare Street.
This 1857 side-hall single house was built in Charleston’s antebellum heyday, and features the ironwork of the great Christopher Werner, as well as beautiful details in its stucco facade with grand, breezy piazzas.
It was home to a long line of traditional Charleston families, and in 1960, was purchased by a large family with many famous Charleston connections in the city’s storied past. The nearly 8500-square foot structure was just enough to hold the big family of nine, and among the children was a 7-year-old boy who was immensely curious about the nooks and crannies in the stately old house.
One day, he climbed through a dormer window above the third floor piazza, and walked out on the roof, over the crest of the gable and down to within inches of the 45-foot precipice on the northwestern edge of the house, which stretched down along aging brick and stucco, crafted by some pre-Civil War artisan into attractive quoins.
The young boy’s foot slipped, and he caught himself on the eave so high above, and nearly fell to his death. Fortunately, he did not, or you wouldn’t be reading this today, because I was that little boy, and part of the Trouche family which called the grand old house home for 30 years.
Sadly, after we’d all moved away as adults, the three-story climb of stairs to the master bedroom was too much for my father, and not needing so much house for only one couple, my parents asked if any of us wanted it. Even sadder, no one could afford the expense of such a monstrous structure, and it was sold to someone who’s name I’ve forgotten.

Cicada Chorus

IMG_2124A little information passed casually in an abstract way can actually be more confusing than helpful, and such it is with confusion over the Summer insect called the Periodical Cicada. This distinctive-looking creature, whose name is pronounced “Sikayda”, is better known for its shrill clicking sound that is made by males pounding their breast plates together, which attracts female Cicadas to mate. Swarming in large concentrations in oak and sycamore trees, these romancing little critters can emit an almost deafening sound.
Many people have heard about Cicadas, and are often told about the 17-year cycle in which eggs are laid in tree bark, hatch as larvae, and drop on the ground where the immature insects burrow beneath the soil to nourish themselves for a period of years before hatching as adults. There are actually a variety of Cicada cycles, with some lasting only a few years, but the common misconception is that these insects appear only once every number of years, which is absolutely untrue.
Even if all Cicadas were on 17-year cycles, the 1996 hatchlings would be coming out this year, the 1997 hatchlings next year, and so on. They hatch in huge numbers every Summer, and start the cycle all over again by digging from the soil and moving up into the trees, molting to from an outer skin to emerge as a winged, flying insect.
But there is little to the Cicada’s life besides making noise and making love, then laying eggs and dying, as everything quiets down until next Summer, when it starts all over again.

Dutch Town

IMG_2036The central and western part of Charleston’s peninsula were inhabited after the old city wall came down in the 1730’s, and a surge of immigrants came, attracted by the wealth and opportunity derived from exports of rice, timber and animal furs.
Many of the new immigrants were from the German and states, where turmoil throughout the 18th century sent families packing for better horizons. Typically, they landed in the Mid-Atlantic colonies and worked their way South, entering old Charleston by the highway known as the Broad Path, now King Street.
They crowded into the area known as Mazyck’s Lands just west of the Broad Path, along Archdale Street, named for the South Carolina’s only Quaker governor. As with most newly-arrived foreigners, the Germans were at first very insular, retaining religious and linguistic customs with the city’s first Lutheran congregation and distinctive sounds of “Deutsche”
To the predominant English population, the German language was quite a mystery with its inverted sentence structure where the verbs come last, and
in their lack of understanding, they interpreted “Deutsche” phonetically, referring to the Germans as Dutch.
Thus Archdale Street became the center of “Dutch Town”, where the oldest graves, homes and church of the German settlers still stand.