ASK THE EXPERTS
Q We saw these ducks while at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex last October. What kind are they?
Roy and Debbie Pardee UKIAH, CONNECTICUT
Kenn and Kimberly: The short answer is that these are escaped domestic ducks, but the long answer is more interesting. Most domestic ducks are descended from either mallards or Muscovy ducks, and those in your photo are in the mallard line. Over the last several centuries, people have developed many distinctive breeds of these ducks, ranging from all white to glossy greenish black, and many colors in between. These two look most similar to a rare breed called the Ancona duck, but they are not completely typical. When domestic ducks escape from captivity, they may wander in the wild for years, causing confusion for bird watchers.
Q This butterfly visited my garden last fall. Can you identify it? Helen Fojtik WHARTON, TEXAS
Kenn and Kimberly: What a treat to see this in your garden! It’s a tropical butterfly, the Julia heliconian, sometimes called Julia longwing. In the U.S., it lives mainly in southern Texas and Florida. Ordinarily, it is recognized by its long wings and overall plain orange color. The individual you photographed is even more unusual because of those very pale patches on the wings, a rare variation on the normal color. If you grow passion vine, you might attract more Julias or other kinds of longwings because that is the food plant for their caterpillars.
Q My mystery plant has produced a flower for the first time in 15 years. What is it?
Elaine Comarella MARION, NEW YORK
Melinda: Your plant is a type of crinum lily. As you discovered, it takes several years to reach maturity and begin blooming. Grow crinum lilies in a sunny location with moist, well-draining soil. And be patient. Some crinum lilies are hardy and survive winters north of New York City. Gardeners in cold regions should plant hardier types suited to their climate in a sheltered location and mulch for winter to increase the chance of overwintering success. Reduce watering once the flowers fade to encourage the plant to enter dormancy. Other crinum lilies are hardy only to Zones 7 or warmer and need to be moved indoors for winter. Dig the bulbs out of the ground or move the container indoors once the leaves die back. Store in a 50-degree location.