Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Patch of Wildflowers

Nemophila, Lamium, and Chlorogalum
On my way home from work this past week, a large mass of white caught my eye. It was off to the side of a frontage road with little traffic, so I turned around to take a look. It was on the edge of a young Oak woodland on a bank by the road, butterflies and bee flies (Bombylius major) as well as tiny black bees and hover flies were everywhere! Unfortunately I was unable to stay and observe the full extent of pollinators that were feeding on these plants, but here's what I could photograph in five minutes!

Nemophila parviflora
The most abundant of the wildflowers was the annual small-flowered nemophila. This was the favorite of the butterflies. Nemophila along with Phacelia is in the Hydrophylloideae (waterleaf family), a subfamily within the Boraginaceae (borage family). Like "the borages" the Hydrophylloideae have a five lobed corolla, often fused at the base, with reproductive parts in fives. I would add that most of the genera contained in both family produce ample amounts of nectar and are highly useful pollinator plants. Many of the larger flowered genera also have protective hairs at the bases of the petals to exclude tiny insects from the nectar, reserving the reward for larger insects like Apoidea (bees) and Lepidoptera.

Nemophila parviflora
I identified this before posting it by a few defining characteristics. First, I observed that this flower had five petals, white, fused at the base (together known as the corolla). Next I observed the five conspicuous anthers, blueish. Observing flower parts is paramount to narrowing down a long list of possible identities, but then I looked at the leaves, hairy, pointed and lobed. I have done this enough that it doesn't take long to narrow a plant down to the Order, then the Family, then Genus, and if I'm really lucky to the Species. Sometimes I find nothing and I have no clue. 

Claytonia sp.
I think this is miner's lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata, but I'm not certain. It doesn't matter how tiny the flowers are, they all add to the diversity of a wildflower patch like this. The more variety of flowers are available, the bigger variety of pollinators will be attracted to the area. The more pollinators in the area, more seed is produced perpetuating the plant cycle. Also, larger critters feed on the pollinators, think of the food web. Diversity attracts diversity. This is why I love plants.

Lamium amplexicaule
Henbit is native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and is not native here. However, I have never seen it in large swaths, and so I wonder what harm is really done by this plant growing here? I know, Native Plant Society members are probably groaning right now, but is this not what has happened before? Birds, glaciations, and wind have spread plants to new lands long before humans were even able to cross oceans. We have certainly sped up the process, but is it really that bad? Yes, with Rubus armeniacus, Pueraria, Eichhornia, Lythrum, Cytisus and many others the situation is very bad. Compared to these ruthless invaders, Lamium amplexicaule isn't so bad.

Lamium purpureum
Another mundane Lamium, purple archangel is a common weed here. I find it is not highly aggressive, and is easy to manage (though it will spread). It is reminiscent of the Himalayan rhubarb, Rheum nobile, which grows to six feet with translucent overlapping bracts protecting the flowers from the variable weather of the alpine environment. I wonder if the leaves of this small Lamium serve a similar purpose?

Dichelostemma capitatum
An early blooming species of Dichelostemma, many of these were found to be in flower, and even more were in bud. They grow from a corm, like Crocus. D. capitatum is similar to D. congestum in flower but blooms much earlier, and the whitish appendages surrounding the sexual organs is also unique to each species. The species is native from Arizona west to California and north into Oregon.

Dichelostemma capitatum
Though I didn't have a lot of time to observe, I did manage to watch a syrphid fly visit one of the flowers until I scared it away attempting to photograph it. All around the plants and into the oak wooded area were new red leaves of poison oak (Toxicodendron sp.). Getting in close, at least two inches for the best photo, was difficult at best. Totally worth the trouble!

Plagiobothrys nothofulvus
This tiny borage relative was here and there. It is a plant almost easy to dismiss as a glare from the sun, so small and insignificant. Yet it is really worth getting in close to inspect its details (below shows my hand for scale). The flowers are similar to Myosotis in form, with five petals fused to form a tube, borne in a scorpioid cyme, with five yellow appendages surrounding the opening to the corolla which contains the reproductive organs. I am not sure if this plant has a pollinator, or if it reproduces with some form of self-fertility?

Plagiobothrys nothofulvus

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