Thursday, June 18, 2015

Floral Visitors 12

Rosa sp. with syrphid fly
The past few weeks have been dry and hot, temperatures nearing the 100's (F) with cool nights. Though many plants are in bloom, it seems to be a transitional period between the Spring flowering plants and the Summer bloomers. Many, including this wild rose, have all but stopped flowering by the time this is posted, mainly because the intense heat we've experienced had hastened the life of the flowers. This phenomenon has been apparent to me this year when I observed the earliest Narcissus flowers lasting at least two weeks, while the latest (Narcissus poeticus) lasting a matter of two or three warm days. No matter, insect and animal pollinators have been busy at work feeding, collecting, and foraging for their own survival and to feed their young.

Rosa sp. with native solitary bee
This wild rose, a possible hybrid between native or nonnative species, grows out in the field behind our house. Bees are very fond of it, as are a variety of other insects. It is unclear whether roses actually produce nectar like other members in their family (Prunus, Malus, etc.), but they do produce pollen in abundance as well as the fragrant floral oils. The doubled hybrid roses of horticulture are far less useful to pollinators for a few reasons. First, some have so many extra petals that it becomes mechanically difficult or impossible for all but the largest bees to pry open and enter. Second, consider that the extra petals of "double" flowers are actually caused by a mutation of the reproductive parts (usually the male parts) causing petals to form in the place of stamens. Looking at the photos above, imagine all the stamens being instead replaced by petals, and voila, a double flower, with less pollen available for the pollinators.

Wyethia amplexicaulis with beetle
The native "sunflowers", Wyethia is a perennial herb that grows to be about two feet tall when in flower. They grow in hot sunny sites among grasses and other herbs. The three inch wide flowers seem to attract little in the way of masses of pollinators, though I have seen over the years a small variety of bees visit them (though no honeybees). This beetle was the first non-bee I have seen on it, photographed early in the morning. The temp was fairly cool, and there was a layer of dew on everything. I suspect the beetle was sleeping here.

Eschscholzia with spider and prey
California poppies are common here, both as a weed and a wildflower. I am hesitant to call them "californica" simply because there are many species and I cannot reliably tell them apart. It also seems the plants are quite variable in appearance, advancing my confusion. Here I stumbled upon a spider and what I assume is its recently drained prey, a dead bee. Bees have been surprisingly difficult to photograph in these flowers, I wonder if the flower somehow cues the insects to my presence by reflecting some sort of indicator that I am hovering above attempting to catch them in the act with my camera.

Eschscholzia with a hairy flower beetle
A hairy beetle was clambering through the stamens of this flower. Beetles are fascinating pollinators, exhibiting a wide array of shapes and sizes, as well as motives for being in the flower. Many congregate on or in flowers to mate or for shelter, while others are there to eat. Some beetles eat the flower itself (and of these, some are actually pollinating the flowers despite destroying them), while some eat the pollen. Very few beetles forage for nectar. This beetle is somewhat hairy, suggesting to me that it would be a fine pollinator, able to inadvertently move pollen from one flower to the next. While they tend to visit fewer flowers than bees, the presence of hair on their bodies must greatly increase their efficiency as pollen vectors.

Eschscholzia with syrphid
Syrphid flies are the only flies I have observed interested in pollen. Fortunately, pollen is produced in abundance by CA poppies. It is unclear whether the flowers produce any nectar.

Field of Eschscholzia with my beehives
The photo does not do the scene justice, the orange and yellow flowers do not record properly. My two blue beehives are in the distance, though I have yet to see any honeybees visit CA poppies in the five or so years my wife and I have lived here.

Calendula officinalis
Another orange flower, native to the garden but not the native landscape, Calendula begins its long year of bloom. The flowers seem to be second rate to many pollinators, only being visited sporadically by bees and normally when there is a drop in flower production by surrounding species of plants. Lately, I have seen multitudes of these tiny beetle-like insects on most of the flowers in bloom now. Calendula are well suited to small insects because of the multitude of small shallow florets located in the middle. Related to sunflowers, Calendula flowers are composites being comprised of many tiny flowers together. The "petals" are actually modified (often sterile) ray florets, while the center is comprised of the fertile disk florets. Each fertile floret has its own stamen and pistol, its own ovary, and will produce a single seed.

Holodiscus discolor habitat
Driving home the past week I've seen these beautiful shrubs growing on the moist shady west facing bank which leads to Evans Creek (which then joins the Rogue River). The plants are oceanspray, aptly named by the wispy flower clusters. There are a lot of forest plants growing on this bank, including Trillium ovatum, Aquilegia formosa, and a variety of others.

Holodiscus discolor with native bees
Despite the wind and the poor light, I managed to snap a few somewhat decent pictures. Being on the side of the road, the wind blew like a hurricane every time a car drove past, making the endeavour a frustrating one. These small bees were the most common, and very active on the plants. They appeared to be collecting both pollen and nectar. Other small insects were present, such as small beetles and flies.

Physocarpus capitatus
Pacific ninebark, otherwise known as Physoparpus capitatus, grows in shaded moist areas at the forest edge, also commonly on the side of the road (a man made forest margin). Many of the floral visitors I saw at the time were mosquitoes, beetles, and other tiny insects like gnats and tiny beetles. These are large shrubs or trees, sometimes somewhat sprawling in habit with stems struggling to stay up from the weight of their own growth.

Achillea millefolium with multiple visitors
Yarrow is blooming now. The two to four foot sunflower relatives are a good source of nectar and pollen for many short-tongued pollinators. In this photo is a syrphid fly, a small beetle, and a pair of mosquitoes, each working their own personal flower.

Brodiaea elegans with small beetles
The last of the "themids" (currently in the family Brodioideae, formerly "Themidaceae" which was based on the defunct genus Themis), Brodiaea elegans is the largest flowered of the family in this region, Dichelostemma having the smallest flowers and Triteleia being somewhere inbetween. Despite the mass of flowering in some locations, pollinator visitation has appeared low. Besides this single observation of small beetles inside this flower, I have observed a single butterfly visit a flower. I have seen small bees visit the flowers in years past, but none this year.

Brodiaea elegans in habitat
On a nearby roadside bank that hosts a wide variety of other wildflowers, there is a large population of hundreds of individuals of Brodiaea elegans. As mentioned above, despite the large numbers, pollinator visitation has appeared low. This could just be due to lack of observations at the right time of day, all my observations out of necessity have been at the end of the day. It is possible, likely even, that they receive the most visits from bees (if at all) in the earlier part of the day before it gets to be too hot outside. Bees can easily die of dehydration, and on the hottest of days will be less active. This has appeared particularly true of native solitary bees, less so of the large Xylocopa and Bombus bees.

Campanula rotundifolia with bee and beetle
This small Campanula has received little to no visitation in years past, though this appears to be changing. This year marks the third year it has been in this location in my small rock garden. It has attained a larger size this year, and has so far been more floriferous than ever! Almost every flower contains small beetle-like insects like the one in the upper center, and I was lucky to catch a tiny bee in the act inside of this flower (just left of the center).

Echium vulgare with Xylocopa carpenter bee
Living up to its reputation, Echium vulgare (or, for some reason, vipers bugloss) has been an excellent bee plant. It is not uncommon to see three or four bees working the plant at a time. Bumblebees and Xylocopa bees, large and able to generate their own warmth, will work this plant until dusk.

Xylocopa and Apis bees on Echium
Echium vulgare grows between two and five feet high (I have a tall individual growing in a somewhat shaded site, it grows tall looking for the sun), and about two feet wide. When grown from seed, it produces a basal rosette of leaves the first year, flowering the second. It is said to be a short lived perennial, or biennial, so only time will tell how long it will survive in my garden. The presence of toxic alkaloids, or possibly the hairy leaves (typical of members of the family Boraginaceae) are unappetizing to deer, who have left the plants alone.

Black solitary bee on Echium vulgare
Besides honeybees and bumblebees, a variety of small solitary bees have flocked to these plants. This one, similar in size to a honeybee, was too fast to get a better photograph. This bee is apparently diving for the nectar which is produced in abundance, and is protected by dense hairs (trichomes) in the flower tube. These hairs protect the nectar from evaporation and exclude smaller insects from gaining access to it.

Thymus vulgaris with Musca vomitoria
Flies remain the most common visitors to the creeping thyme. On one afternoon, the scent given off from the flowers was reminiscent of dog poo, though on a closer sniff it was of a floral nature. Peculiar! Not to say that it smells like crap, these plants are still good in the garden and will not make your yard smell like poop.

Thymus serpyllum with tachinid fly
The most common visitors of the flies are what I have narrowed down to be tachinid flies, large, sometimes parasitic (of arthropods, don't worry), pollen and nectar eating flies. I have seen around five of these large flies, larger than typical houseflies, on the creeping thyme at a time.

Anchusa azurea with hummingbird
While photographing the creeping thyme, I was crouched down to get a better angle. Then I heard the characteristic "hum/whizz" of a hummingbird above my head, and there it was! Anchusa azurea, a large forget-me-not type plant in the Boraginaceae, shares the raised bed with the creeping thyme. I have seen hummingbirds visit the plants on numerous occasions, but I never had a good opportunity to photograph them.

Anchusa azurea with hummingbird
Contradictory to the theory of pollination syndromes, these hummingbirds are visiting a plant that doesn't have red tubular flowers, though the blue flowers do produce a fair amount of nectar. I have observed, with many of the plants in my garden that are in the family Boraginaceae (Borago, Pulmonaria, Cynoglossum, etc.) that the newly opened flowers are pinkish, or magenta. I wonder if the "reddishness" is still visible to the birds after the flowers turn blue?


Saturday, June 6, 2015


Hemerocallis hybrid
In the past, I was never a fan of Hemerocallis (daylilies). This plant, as well as a few others, were given to me at no cost by a local gardener at a local plant sale three or four years back. At the time, I did not know what I was doing, so they were planted in the wrong spot, a partially shaded bed with strong competition from coniferous tree roots (which were attracted by the extra water and rich soil). I nearly gave up on them, but when I replanted that bed I moved everything that was struggling out and planted it elsewhere, including these daylilies. They were planted in a new raised bed in a very sunny spot alongside our driveway, and this is the result!

Paying attention to your plants needs is the key to success, some plants are more forgiving, some die the instant their needs aren't met, and many are inbetween. What's important is to have an idea of what they plants need in general, but be able to consider your local conditions (climate, exposure, moisture in the air and in the ground, etc.). Take plant labels as suggestions, not as fact. Responding to your conditions may mean putting a "full sun" plant in the shade if your climate bakes in summer, or allowing more sun in wetter colder climates. It's a life of patience and experimentation, don't give up, keep trying. The successes weigh more than the failures.

Dichelostemma congestum
Dichelostemma congestum
Dichelostemma congestum, otherwise known by the strange name "forktooth ookow" is setting seed now, with some individuals in shadier aspects continuing to flower. Like it's close relatives Triteleia and Brodiaea, the pollinated flowers close around the swelling ovary which contains the black seeds. Any unpollinated florets will simply fall off, the ovaries drying and shriveling. The seed will develop for a few weeks, then the ovaries will dry out and split open, the seed being shaken out by wind or the shaking of the dried scape.

Triteleia hendersonii
One of my favorites, Triteleia hendersonii (or Henderson's stars) is a cormous perennial related distantly to Allium. These are quick to bloom and set seed, unlike the related Dichelostemma which are variable in bloom time (not to mention much more common). They all seem to bloom within a two week period, always a peculiar trait for plants.

Triteleia hendersonii
Similar to Dichelostemma, the pollinated flowers of Triteleia will close over the ovary, petals drying, and turn up while the seed is developed. Not much is known about the mating systems of Triteleia, except for a few species. Honeybees have been known to visit other species, but their native pollinators remain a mystery. Someday I'd like to spend some time studying this species and possibly discover (and photograph) the pollinators that visit it.

Toxicoscordion micranthum
Formerly Zigadenus, Toxicoscordion micranthum is a small species of "death camas". Maybe I just have an obsession with bulbs and native plants, but this plant inflicts a charm on me even though it is small and easy to miss. I think for me, the appeal of a plant is not just the way it looks (most of the time) but it's entire story and the way it lives and survives. Plants are some of the most durable forms of live on the planet, able to survive things that would easily kill a human (extreme heat, extreme dry, extreme cold, predation from insects and animals). Bulbs and other geophytes are particularly fascinating to me, perfectly adapted to living in places that have harsh conditions for part of the year.

Iris chrysophylla
One of the last of the wild Irises, I couldn't resist a few more pictures.

Allium bolanderi var. mirabile
Just in the past few days while collecting seed pods of Erythronium hendersonii, I noticed a few small groups of these small white lily-like flowers. The plants were no taller than 5", and the leaves have dried and were disintegrated. The flowers were about 1/8" wide, wider at the mouth, and about 3/8" long. When I crushed a floret there was the strong smell of garlic! It could only be an Allium!

Allium bolanderi var. mirabile
From a short distance, one can imagine they would be difficult to see from farther away. This could be an adaptation to herbivory, avoiding attention from deer by blending in.

Allium bolanderi var. mirabile
Piperia sp.
An orchid! This wild orchid is growing alongside a woodland path behind our house. It caught me by surprise! It got me thinking about the future. If we ever move, I would hope that a plant lover moved in. Being private land, these plants have no protection. What happens if they instead want a herd of cattle? Or a trailer park?

Piperia sp.
If anyone can tell me the species of this orchid, please enlighten me! I don't recall a scent.

Rupertia physodes syn. Psoralea physodes
With a strange name like forest scurfpea, it should be no surprise that Psoralea (or now Rupertia) is a legume. The name of this plant has eluded me for years, the plant not included in my identification books. However, some good friends from the Native Plant Society of Oregon came to the rescue!
Antennaria howellii
Would you believe me if I told you this is a sunflower relative? Well you have no choice because it is. Antennaria howellii, or Howell's pussytoes is a member of the Asteraceae (Sunflower family, everlasting tribe). The flowers are sometimes called "everlasting" because they are indistinguishable when in flower or setting seed from a distance, like standing. Here you can see the exerted styles and anthers. There's no need to worry, it's all white.

Madia sp.
It seems there are a number of species of Madia growing here. I believe this to be Madia gracilis, but the characteristics which separate the species of many genera of "daisies" is not an area of strength for me. These grow to around 16" in shady areas, mostly in a woodland setting (Madia elegans grows in an open field here), and is the first of the Madias to flower.

Wyethia amplexicaulis
The large native "sunflowers" of Wyethia light up the field behind our house. While there are only a few isolated clumps of this species growing here, their impact is huge. When I mow, I drive around any wildflowers I come across, hoping they will expand and set seed. Doing this also creates a clearer view of the flowers in the field from the house. Everybody wins!

Arnica discoidea
A rayless Arnica, this is the first time I've seen this plant in my yard. It is a single individual, so I hope to collect seed and propagate it. I've heard growing Arnica from seed is challenging, so wish me luck!

Eschscholzia sp.
I am hesitant to assume this is Eschscholzia californica rather than another species. Do they hybridize? Many of these plants grow in a few large patches behind our house. There is much variation is petal shape and color, ranging from yellow to deep orange. 

Eschscholzia sp.
Petal shape of the CA poppies ranges from flat on open flowers to cupped on flowers that don't fully open. Maybe there is a color change and shape change with age.

Aquilegia formosa
On the side of the road on a Northeast facing moist slope lives this! Every time I think I am familiar with the area and its plants I discover something like this, Aquilegia formosa (Western columbine). I am now patiently waiting for seed to be set. Oh yes, I will grow it.

Castilleja sp.
 I never tire of this.

Ceanothus integerrimus
The musky scented deerbrush, Ceanothus integerrimus (not to be confused with the earlier blooming buckbrush, Ceanothus cunneatus) has been in bloom for a few weeks now. The tiny florets are packed onto crowded spikes, themselves crowded on the plants. The plants are a common site on roadsides, much to my delight.

Ceanothus integerrimus
These shrubs grow at forest edges, often leaning into the light. This is most appreciated on roadside banks where the flowers are all leaning towards the road like in this photo. Bees, flies, beetles, and a variety of small invertebrates cherish the floriferous resource (more on that later).

Borago officinalis
Back to the garden, the borage is starting to flower. The plants are a bit shabby, but the flowers are worth it. They are edible, the mildly sweet nectar gives them a candy-like taste. They are a favorite of bees, and I have even seen the odd hummingbird show interest in borage.

Echium vulgare
Echium vulgare (Boraginaceae, borage family), common name vipers bugloss, is reputed as the best bee plant on earth. While I can't speak for the entire planet of nearly 8 billion people, it is definitely looking like an attractive plant to a variety of bees. But there will be more on that later. The flowers produce a lot of nectar, no matter the conditions, and protect it from evaporation by many small hairs (trichomes) inside the floral tube.

Echium vulgare
They are attractive plants, yet not generally available. I grew these from seed fairly easily. The seed looks like borage seed, and must be sown in the fall for germ in the spring. Do it.

Verbena lasiostachys
Lastly, a beautiful soft spoken wild vervain, growing luxuriantly in a raised bed. It flowers almost all year if given water and nutrients. Various bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds adore it.


I just want to say I really appreciate all of you, because without you this would really just be an elaborate way to talk to myself!