Monday, May 11, 2015

Garden Observations

Lupinus bicolor
This year, perhaps due to the mild Winter, has shown a marked increase in flower production of many plants. The annual lupine's, above, have been flowering in patches whereas last year I only found them as scattered individuals. Pollinator activity has also been good, but so has my work load (in all respects of life) so my availability to "catch them in the act" with my camera has been greatly diminished. It takes a lot of time to photograph pollinators on flowers, much of it seems to be luck. I have mentioned before that my presence alone may inhibit my chances of seeing any floral visitors to some plants, particularly when native bees are concerned. I have concluded that the best way to capture them is to walk around and try to catch them by surprise. In other words, waiting by a flower may be futile, as you yourself may be keeping them from approaching.

This web log (I really do not like the word "blog") has been as much for sharing with you what I have seen and learned as it is for my own personal records of what I have observed. In the past, I kept journals documenting my observations of floral visitation, but it proved cumbersome and difficult to keep up with, and ultimately I had to input all of my collected data into the computer anyway. Now, I am able to keep a good record of my observations in a way that is searchable. I hope you enjoy my random observations and comments, in reality these posts are a jumble of thoughts and memories of the recent past week or so that I have to struggle to organize and share in a coherent and hopefully pleasing manner (not a natural thing to do for some people, like myself). I only hope that you the readers can enjoy what is here and possibly take something from it, like a new perspective or something. At the core, what this is really about to me is the pursuit of continued optimism for the future, something that is challenged daily in the current world we live in (that is, if you follow the news). I hope to pass the optimism forward, so I hope you enjoy what is here!

Anchusa azurea
This is a species I grew from seed started last Spring from Horizon Herbs seed. Anchusa azurea, also known as Italian bugloss, is native to Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa, naturalized elsewhere. It is in the Boraginaceae, AKA the borage/forget-me-not family, and like most in the family is highly attractive to bees and is a good nectar producer. The flowers are about a half inch wide, five-lobed, with hairy trichomes (hairs) protecting the nectar. Bumblebees and, to my surprise, hummingbirds (!) love these plants.

Anchusa azurea
The plants grow to three feet in fertile moist (yet well drained) soil, but much shorter in drier soil. I planted several plants in several different locations to see how they would cope. Some were planted in dry soils and are now less than a foot tall in flower. One was planted in an irrigated bed on the SE side of the house (the hottest side) and is growing very well, two feet tall and flowering well (pictured above). Finally I planted one in a somewhat shaded irrigated bed on the NW side of the house, where it has reached over three feet tall and is now beginning to flower profusely. Time will tell how they cope, particularly in the summer. Some plants in the borage family tend to flop over once they start to set seed, so I may need to cut those ones to the ground once they do so. 

Delphinium nuttallianum
In a dry shaded area on the side of our shared driveway are a few individuals of this plant, Delphinium nuttallianum. or upland larkspur. The plants grow under pines, madrone's, and Arctostaphylos. This species is easily confused with D. menziesii, which it shares a close resemblance. D. nuttallianum differs from D. menziesii by distribution, the former is more common east of the Cascades while the latter to the west of the Cascades. This species also has more reflexed sepals and typically a shorter spur, though this may only be appreciated when the two are compared side by side.

Delphinium nuttallianum
Though I have not witnessed it myself, D. nuttallianum is surely likely to be bee pollinated, probably by relatively larger types of bees like Bombus or Eucera which would be able to pry open the petals to get into the flowers. The dense trichomes would also prevent smaller insects or short tongued flies from gaining access to the flowers.

Delphinium nuttallianum leaf
The leaves of the upland larkspur are highly attractive to me, appearing in late Winter. The highly divided lobed leaves reach around two inches across. While there may be a few leaves on the flowering stem, most of the leaves are basal (at the base). Stem leaves are smaller and less lobed, looking quite different than the basal leaves.

Leptosiphon bicolor
Bicolored flaxflower or babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor (syn. Linanthus bicolor), is an annual species native to the West Coast from Baja to British Columbia. It grows in dry soil with other tiny plants. Below shows how small they really are, in inches. The plants reach less than two inches in height.

Leptosiphon bicolor
Toxicodendron diversilobum flowers
Poison oak is in flower now. The tiny reflexed flowers resemble others in the Berberidaceae (barberry family). This group of flowers is about the size of a US quarter. Following the flowers, assuming they are pollinated, berries will form which are then spread by birds.

Toxicodendron diversilobum leaves
The leaves of poison oak are always in threes, less lobed than true oak (Quercus) but similarly reddish when they are newly emerged. The plants will grow as small mounds, sometimes reaching immense dimensions as six by six foot rounded shrubs (you wouldn't want to fall into one of those!) or as a parasitic vine clambering up neighboring oak trees. In the vine form, perhaps only spurred by the presence of a nearby tree, the plants grow up the side, sending roots directly into the bark.

Toxicodendron diversilobum with tiny bee 
Small red bees (possibly a type of wasp, I am not sure) have been highly interested in the flowers, seemingly for nectar. Normally I will get "up in there" with the camera, but I have not ever had a rash from poison oak and I would like to keep it that way for as long as possible, so the photo is a bit blurry. I did notice that these same bees (or whatever they are) were working the madrone flowers. I question whether they are bees or wasps because I do not see pollen carrying structures, but my inability to see them doesn't mean they aren't there.

Silene hookeri
This is a very variable perennial species, called Hooker's Indian pink. The plants can have white to deep pink flowers, with deep or shallow, thin or wide lobes. The plants in this area are like this one, light pink with fairly deep lobes. I would assume they are pollinated by moths based on their morphology (most Silene's are moth pollinated), but I have not seen this.

Epilobium minutum
A small barely noticeable community of the annual threadstem willowherb or desert willowherb (Epilobium minutum) in the gravel of my driveway. The reddish leaves of these plants (typically green) obscure them visually unless you are looking for them. The small flowers close as soon as they are in the shade, day or night. The plants have a vast distribution, from California Arizona (and maybe Mexico) north to British Columbia. They are typically prairie plants and are one of the first plants to flourish after wildfire. Perhaps it is because of the lack of competition after a fire that they grow so well, similar to the lack of competition on the gravel.

Lavandula stoechas
The Spanish lavender's are always in bloom long before the English types. In the past years I have only seen bumblebees on the flowers, but this year they have been covered with honeybees. The "flowers", or rather inflorescence's of Spanish lavender are interesting. The small dark purple parts on the sides are the true flowers, while the "rabbit ear" petal-like bracts on the top are actually sterile florets, perhaps to signal pollinators.  

Brassica oleracea, broccoli
Sometimes life gives you more work than you have time to accomplish (while still finding time to sleep and eat), as we were not on top of the garden maintenance and the broccoli bolted. The stalks, while still technically "edible" at this stage of growth, become tough and lose their sweetness (and this was some sweet broccoli). But it's no matter, the plants are covered in small flowers that I have recently observed small solitary bees working for nectar. This is why it is nice to be aware of the local pollinators, you will not feel as bad about accidentally letting your garden plants go to flower.

Alyssum montanum with skipper butterfly
I took this photo from inside the house, the garden bed here (my small rock garden) is located outside our bedroom window. This Alyssum continues to surprise me as it attracts yet a larger array of diverse pollinators. There were in fact two different species of butterflies working this plant at the time of this photo, yet this was the best of the pictures taken.

Vicia villosa
Though I have not seen any floral visitors on the hairy vetch (Vicia villosa) this year, it has been very popular with bumblebees in past years. It is also worth mentioning because it is covering entire hillsides at this time of year, being an agricultural escapee. Vetch's have long been used (like many "pea" crops) to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil in the form that plants can use. While there are many native vetch's in Oregon, this invader is one of the prettiest in my opinion.

Geranium macrorrhizum with ground nesting bee (possibly Eucera sp.)
Geranium's of all sorts (not to be confused with Pelargonium, often called "scented geranium") are blooming now. The most floriferous is G. macrorrhizum, a drought resistant, deer tolerant groundcover type that spreads slowly by rhizomes. The leaves have a slight "pine" smell when they are crushed, deer might not like it. When grown in large drifts or patches, bees of all sorts are attracted to the flowers. In fact, when the plants are done blooming, they can essentially be mowed down to initiate another bloom cycle, doubling the bloom season (for you and the bees).

Geranium sanguineum
Unlike Gerenium macrorrhizum, G. sanguineum (AKA bloody cranesbill) is eaten by deer, so I have it planted under some dead branches fallen from a hardwood tree. The branches act as a physical deterrent, blocking the deer's access to the "snack", as well as being an attractive garden feature in the Winter when the plants die to the ground.

Cornus sp. with fly
Dogwood's everywhere are blooming now, the tiny florets visible here are open and being actively pollinated. The most frequent visitors that I have observed were tiny beetles, as I predicted. Flies were next most common, while I did see a single small solitary bee foraging during a brief observation.

Syringa microphylla with large butterfly
When grown in full sun, lilac's are very attractive to a range of insects from bees to butterflies, as seen here. Bees will often "steal" the nectar by biting a hole at the base of the tube because most (if not all) do not have tongues long enough to reach the nectar. S. microphylla is easy to tell from S. vulgaris (below) by the flowers, more pointed and smaller in the case of the former compared to the latter. In S. vulgaris, the petals are wide and conceal the flower tubes.

Syringa vulgaris
Triteleia crocea
Triteleia crocea is native to Southern Oregon and Northern California. It is one of the many species of Triteleia here in the Rogue River area. Bees are the suspected pollinators of most Triteleia species, though there is a severe lack of evidence and documentation to support this. Interestingly, there is a small fly inside the flower on the right, and I do suspect in at least some cases, flies do contribute to the pollination of some species of Triteleia. Most of the closely related T. hendersonii in my yard set seed on almost all the flowers, signaling either efficient insect pollination regardless of infrequent pollinator visits, or possibly autogamy or apomixis are at work (self fertilization or asexual seed formation, respectively). If I had the time and resources I would set up cameras to record the plants for a few days of good weather to catch any pollinators "in the act".

Castilleja sp. (?)
Indian paintbrush, some of my favorite wildflowers, are coming into bloom now. They are semi-parasitic, obtaining additional nutrients from the roots of surrounding plants (trees or grasses, I am not sure which). They grow is a few small groups at the forest edge in a small area near our house. They are difficult for me to identify to the species level, I might have to dissect one to be sure and I'm not sure I'm willing to do that! They are likely hummingbird pollinated (or possibly moth/butterfly), based on the long red floral tubes (concealed in red bracts), typical morphology of bird pollinated flowers.

Calochortus tolmiei
Calochortus tolmiei is still in full bloom here, much more floriferous than in years past. Some plants I have seen have had at least four or even five flowers open at a time! I probably say this a lot, but this is one of my favorite wildflowers here. Seed pods (below) are forming now. The seeds develop quickly, and the pods open while still green making seed collection very difficult. In many native bulbs/corms, the pods open but do not automatically spill the seeds out like these do.
Calochortus tolmiei seed pods
Allium schoenoprasum with small bee
Also known as chives, this is one of the only (if not THE only) Allium native to both the Old and New World's. Incorrectly labelled as the "the smallest species of the onion genus" on Wikipedia (I can think of many that are smaller, including one in this post), it is a rhizomatous species that prefers regular garden soil that does not dry out, unlike some Allium species. Honeybees and small solitary bees were interested in the flowers. I have seen similar tiny blackish bees as pictures above on other Allium's in recent years, I will have to keep an eye on them to see if this species of bee is in fact the same type, and has a preference for Allium's.

Allium amplectens 'Graceful'
Allium amplectens is native to the Sierra Nevada in California and reportedly into Oregon and possibly Washington. I have not yet seen any floral visitors on this onion yet, though maybe as I grow my collection of ornamental onions, they will become more enticing to pollinators. My goal, over time, is to observe if Allium's differ in their attractiveness to pollinators, and if different types of bees or other pollinators have preferences for different species of Allium's.

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'
Allium hollandicum (syn. Allium aflatunense) is native to Iran and Kyrgyzstan, naturalized elsewhere. This is perhaps the most common of the ornamental onions, available wherever bulbs are typically sold in the Autumn. They do not seem to grow to well here, but it may be because I have them growing in a fairly dry area that doesn't receive irrigation consistently. I am sure this species needs regular moisture, as in a typical garden bed. I will have to remember to transplant it this fall.

I had collected some seed from this plant last year, and it germinated in late Autumn. The seedlings are still alive and well, and I am hoping they will stay alive until they reach flowering size which could be years from now. I was planning on collecting more seed, but my daughter, a flower lover as well, picked this flower ball a few days after the photo was taken (arg!), so no seed this year.

Allium trifoliatum 'Chameleon'
Allium trifoliatum is a pretty species native to much of the Mediterranean and north into France. This selection is on its way out, hopefully setting some seed for me to collect in the process. I did not see any bees visit the flowers, and the earliest individuals to bloom do not appear to have set any seed. I did however see some beeflies attaining nectar from them, though due to their disposition as "hoverers" there was probably a lack of contact between them and the anthers.

Allium oreophilum
Allium oreophilum is a small species from Central Asia, the smallest species I have (definitely smaller than chives!), though probably not the smallest species, reaches a height of five to six inches. I will attempt to collect seed from this as well, not surprisingly! Allium's are probably one of the easiest bulbs to start from seed, and to me a very rewarding one (though to date none that I have grown from seed have flowered). Seed scratched into the surface of the soil in a seed pot (no weed seeds, please!) in the late Autumn or Winter and left in the elements will most likely germinate well in the Spring, assuming it is one of the hardy species. The plants are not touched by deer, and at least here, not touched by rodents either. Hopefully next time I 'll have some more pics with floral visitors! That's all for now, cheers!

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