Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bulbs and Floral Visitors

Crocus vernus 'Pickwick'
To date, I have had more crocus pest problems this year than any years prior. Deer are the number one problem, particularly with the crocuses, yet slugs are a close second, favoring the nearly opened flowers. You are lucky to see this, it may already be gone. The deer have been particularly famished this year (apparently), and I am ready for a family of cougars to come clear my garden of the bastards. Black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) prefer the forest edges, which happens to be where my garden is, and thus like to sample every plant in my garden. If they don't like it, they spitefully pull the plant out and leave it on the ground, like a used contraceptive, especially fond of leaving the chewed-up nearly-developed flower bud there for me to discover. So enjoy the flower, while you can.

Crocus tommasinianus
Crocus tommasinians is the species most notable for use in the lawn, particularly for the late developing leaves. The leaves don't fully elongate until the flowers have faded, thus are well adapted for mowing (surely evolution had lawn mowers in mind). Other species, like C. vernus, have leaves that can grow in excess of ten inches, if not longer where there are high levels of nitrogen, an obvious disadvantage to a well kept lawn (which mine is not).

Crocus chrysanthus
This is apparently very tasty to slugs, because they've eaten most of these early bloomers. Enter Sodium Ferric Ethylenediaminetetraacetate. Exit slugs.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Clause'
This is a fine selection of C. chrysanthus planted near my beehives. It is speculated to be a sterile variety, no seed has been set by me or anyone I know, though it does reproduce vegetatively as evident by the small bunch of plants here, knowing that I only planted these as single corms (easier to do without disturbing large areas of soil and existing vegetation).

Crocus vernus 'Pickwick' attracts a small dance fly (Family Empididae)
Dance flies aka dagger flies of various genera have been attracted to the crocuses for pollen, and perhaps nectar. These depend on moist undisturbed soils to grow into adults, and will hunt other Diptera (flies) as adults. This naturally occurring biological pest control is something to be encouraged. By curbing our instincts as gardeners to fork and turn soils before planting, we are encouraging microbes of various types (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, etc.) as well as arthropods (including fly larvae) to flourish and improve soil structure. The result of not disturbing our soils is improved nutrient cycling without the use of fertilizers, and proliferation of many types of beneficial predatory and parasitic insects.

Where there are flies, there are spiders
Spiders, regardless of whether you are afraid of them or not, are indeed very beneficial. In most instances, they are more likely to run from you or not care than they are to attack. Compared to the estimated number of spiders in an average chemical-free garden (gotta be in the hundreds, though you'd see very few), very few bites occur, and the rate of bites in the US must be incredibly low compared to the total number of spiders. Personally, I prefer the spiders to the masses of pest insects. Even if the spiders are attacking beneficial species, their presence is a sign that prey insects are in good supply. High biodiversity is a good thing, helping to prevent population explosions of any one pest that could otherwise destroy a garden/farm.

A male cluster fly (Pollenia sp.) on C. vernus 'Pickwick'
The genus Pollenia have a fascinating, and yet highly disturbing life cycle. They have clearly been highly attracted to the crocuses, and must contyribute significantly to pollination since the weather has been unfavorable for bees (too cold and wet). Strangely, I have seen only a single bumblebee this year, although in past years I have seen bumblebee queens as early as January. Peculiar.

A quote from last year's post A Year of Pollinators: Flies!:
The genus Pollenia feed mostly on plant products (fruit) and their secretions (nectar, sap), as well as feces and meat [thus are beneficial recyclers as well as pollinators]. The larvae, once hatched on the ground under dense vegetation where humidity is high, proceed to seek out earthworms by following the natural pores in the soil. After finding one, they burrow inside and feed on its insides before pupating.

Scilla siberica
A single Siberian squill is far beyond the rest, flowering before the others have even emerged from the soil. These are valuable flowers, blooming over a long period, and ignored by pests. I have yet to assess whether or not the bulbs are truly pest resistant, as voles plowed through the bulb beds last year after they went into dormancy. Along with related species and genera Chionodoxa and Puschkinia, they are typically touted as resistant to herbivores in literature, yet I have learned over the past few years of observations that literature is often regionally specific. I suspect that most of what is written in books about hardiness, pollinators, and pest resistance is in fact true wherever the author(s) live or grow, yet not so everywhere. Another reason most herbivore lists claim plants are resistant to deer (squirrels, etc.) and not deer proof.

Iris reticulata
A good deer resistant bulb, the reticulated irises do quite well here growing where the ground dries out and gets figuratively sun-baked in the Summer. Deer seem to ignore them, though they may occasionally browse, yet it seems voles will eat them if they are planted where the soil is friable.

A honeybee is suckered into visiting a daffodil
Typically considered deer-proof, Narcissus are occasionally "sampled" by deer with bad memories of the foul taste and toxicity (hopefully resulting in some gastric distress). They are rarely, however, "sampled" by honeybees. There are a number of surprising things going on here. First, there is but a single daffodil blooming now, honeybees typically prefer many flowers in bloom at once of a single species to be attracted to it. Second, they typically avoid Narcissus even when blooming en masse. It has been speculated that they simply don't like Narcissus pollen, or perhaps like some Ranunculus the pollen contains toxic constituents like the rest of the plant. I will be exploring the pollination of Narcissus (backed with a whole lot of research) in a future post, pending more observations this year as more of them bloom.

For now, please enjoy this brief recording I made of a honeybee in a daffodil:

Note that after the bee exits the corona, it cannot figure out how to get back in. Before she found her way in, she struggled for like five minutes trying to access the nectar from outside the corona, much to my amusement. She found the entrance, no help from the apparently misleading perianth, and attained some pollen. She then packed it into her corbicula, and went on her way. The apparent confusion of the bee is perplexing, chiefly because trumpet/large cupped daffodils are known to be pollinated specifically by bees (short cupped Narcissus pollinated by moths/butterflies). More on that later, stay tuned!

Cynoglossum grande
Not really a bulb, but worthy of mention due to its ephemeral nature, the Pacific hound's tongue (Boraginaceae) grows from a very long and very deep woody black taproot. In some years, it is the first native wildflower to bloom. It grows where there is deep leaf litter, and incidentally where there are a lot of trees. It is primarily bumblebee pollinated, the pollen requiring mechanical removal in the form of sharp vibration (accomplished by the vibrating flight muscles of bumblebees). They had emerged much earlier last year, no doubt in response to the cold winter we had this year and the extremely mild winter we had last year.

Erythronium hendersonii in bud
The local fawn lily is here at last, easily one of my favorite wildflowers. Growing from a bulb, it is situated much deeper than one would suspect to a depth exceeding ten inches. I find this species superior to many other species, perhaps in result of some personal pride that they grow in my backyard, but more so because they have deeply mottled leaves, delicately intricate flower colors, and a lot of variability which is apparently regional. To me, this species nearly equally beautiful in all stages of growth, including the dry seed capsules.

Dodecatheon (Primula) hendersonii
In my view these are allied with Erythronium hendersonii due to their occasionally overlapping bloom periods, and very distant superficial similarity (both have purplish reflexed petals, best compared with blurred vision). Dodecatheon hendersonii, or rather Primula hendersonii, exhibit a very wide range of variables including petal shape, height, bloom period, and color.

Dodecatheon bud detail

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