Archive for the 'Pollinator' Category

Larkspurs in November

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Last Saturday at the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge along the Mississippi River we were surprised to find several larkspur (Delphinium sp.) plants among a dense stand of dried goldenrods. They were in the open woodland near the new visitors’ center on the bluff looking down into the flood plain.

Native larkspurs are mostly known to bloom in May, June and July. We are not certain of the species because the plants were 3 to 3 1/2 feet (a meter and a bit) tall. The Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) that we see in the spring are about 1/3 that tall.

To find several healthy green plants with gorgeous blooms on November 12 is very unusual. Climate changes that have led to such a warm autumn are confusing other plants. We found some Common Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) still blooming in our yard yesterday. Its normal bloom time is April into July.

Yesterday the Astronomy Picture of the Day site hosted by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had a picture showing the Temperature Departure From Average for much of the Northern Hemisphere for November 14, 2016. Here in Iowa the temperature looked like it was 10 to 18 degrees F. above normal. Over the North Pole it was 36 degrees F. above normal for this time of year. Some areas of the map were cooler than normal but great swaths were much warmer than they typically are.

As much as we enjoy beautiful flowers, their blooms at the wrong time of year will mean they bloom in vain. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds headed south in September. The long-tongued bees and butterflies that also pollinate larkspurs may no be longer around so they may not set seeds.

Keeping Cool on a Hot Day

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

It was 94 degrees F. (34 degrees C.) in the shade of the steep-sided road cut through an algific talus formation but our ankles and tripod legs were cool. We were in a ditch along the road which had the rare threatened Northern Wild Monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense) flowers growing from along the ditch up the steep slope. There were cracks and openings all over the cliff-like cut. The largest were near the bottom along the ditch. Little gusts of cool air (algific) emanated from these openings.

Algific talus slopes are rare and fragile landforms, found in the Driftless Area of northeast Iowa, southeast Minnesota, southwest Wisconsin and northwest Illinois. Driftless indicated that the last glaciers, some 12,000 years ago, did not cover this area. Ordinarily natural algific talus slopes are north facing.

The road cut through the talus (broken rocks) faces west. The cracks deep in the hillside hold water which freezes in the winter and cools the soil  and air so that highly specialized rare plants can survive and in this case prosper. We suspect there must be large ice blocks deep in this hillside to keep this garden of Northern Wild Monkshood and the ice age relict Canada Yew thriving.

We try to both document and make small works of art with some of our images. This shows a maturing bud, an open blossom and several seed pods. The background is softened by the very shallow depth of field and the fact that this plant reached out away from the slope. Getting the tripod at a useful position in the ditch without disturbing the plant was the challenge.

Algific talus slopes are very fragile and easily damaged. That is why we were so pleased to be in a location where we could photograph these lovely plants.  Interestingly several other species not ordinarily found in these cold locations were also on the road cut – among them, columbines. They were closer to the top of the slope but still among the monkshood.

We were able to do a couple of images reminiscent of one in our book Deep Nature; Photographs from Iowa. Bumble bees are a major pollinator of Northern Wild Monkshood and there was one very busy bee systematically moving among the flowers. It would pick one plant and then move around the plant and enter almost all of the flowers. Then it would go to another. It sometimes came back to a plant to check.

When we finished and headed back to our car, we quickly became aware of how nice and cool the ditch had been. Our equipment felt damp and cool from the condensation that had occurred while in natural refrigeration.

Obedient Plant

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

The Obedient Plant (also called False Dragonhead because of its resemblance to snapdragons) is a recent addition to our front yard among the black-eyed susans and other prairie  plants. There are about a dozen spires of pretty pink flowers much  appreciated by the bumble bees. Physostegia virginiana  is called Obedient Plant because when individual blossoms are gently bent left of right, the blossom will stay in that position.

We noticed that when big bumble bees push a blossom in one direction or another, the blossom is inclined to stay. This one is certainly stretching the blossom.

It is a member of the mint family with a square stem. Obedient Plants are showy and bloom in late summer so are a North American native that is recommended to gardeners. It does sometimes take over an area and can be considered a “tall groundcover,” They are said to be good cut flowers.

Some flower spikes open from top to bottom and others mature from bottom to top. The Obedient Plant’s flowers open from bottom to top. This is called acropital maturation.  The opposite is called basipetal. The bottom ones here are starting to fade and turn brown while those above are fresh. The buds are getting ready to be replacements in lock step order.

We think documentary photos like the bottom one can be attractive as well as informative. Photography is an art and a science.

Uncommonly Lovely

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

Common Milkweed

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is coming into flower. The large round clusters of blossoms look like pom-poms when fully open. One of the plants we saw earlier this week was just starting to open its candy colored buds.  It was a chance to make an out-of-the-ordinary image of an ordinary plant.

This single open blossom causes one to stop and really look at this common summer flower. Clemants and Gracie in their Wildflowers in the Field and Forest describe their reflexed petals as a “cluster of hoods with horns.” The flowers’ shape and arrangement fit nicely with the legs and bodies of pollinator insects as they move from one blossom to another.

Most milkweed species have pink, red or purplish blossoms. There are also orange, yellow, white and green flowered species. The most vivid ones we have seen were in south central Mexico when we visited the Monarch Preserves several years ago. They were a vivid red-orange.

Milkweeds are important in the life cycle of Monarch Butterflies. As our small flock of caterpillars has grown, we bring home milkweed stalks to feed them. Four have made chrysalises. One is in position to do so tonight. We lost one to an unseen parasite which ate it from the inside. We are still considering whether to put a photo of the remains and comment in a blog post. The last of the current group is still munching away. We brought six home as eggs and one as a very tiny caterpillar. It is the one that succombed – most certainly parasitized when newly hatched.

Perhaps we should make more images of single blossoms among the many that make up a composite or cluster. The special beauty of the part can be more interesting than the whole.

Bumble Bee at Work

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Bumble Bee

The importance of bees and other pollinators is sometimes an abstract idea when not observed up close. Bumble Bees are large enough to see pollen sticking to their furry bodies and sleek legs. Pollinators have a variety of ways of carrying pollen for their own food and for distributing it to the next plant they visit. We have several species of native flowers including these Grey-headed Coneflowers which serve as good stages for photographing the bees, butterflies and other insects that visit our garden.

One of the organizations working to increase awareness and assist those individuals and groups involved in pollinator conservation is the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. A series of workshops is being held throughout the country, conducted by Jennifer Hopwood, to teach the “latest science-based approaches to reversing the trend of pollinator declines.” (from Xerces Society announcements) The hope is that more people will become involved in improving pollinator habitats and in learning how to conserve pollinators while managing land for agriculture and conservation uses.

Bumble Bee

We are seeing even fewer bee species and fewer bees in our garden this summer than last. Each one is celebrated. And if we can get a good image, even more so.