Monday, August 30, 2010

Another Blazing Star, Liatris squarrulosa

 Blazing Stars, Liatris species, are widely used native plants with their distincive purple (and sometimes white) flower spikes. There are some 35 different species of Liatris native to the United States (not counting natural hybrids or variants). These can be broadly grouped into two flowering types, those with densely packed flower spikes and those with button-like flowers. A unique feature of both of these types is that the flower spikes begin opening from the top down, rather than from the base upwards.  In the nursery trade, the most commonly seen forms are those with the dense spikes, like Liatris spicata or Gayfeather. Many cultivars of Gayfeather are available, ‘Kolbold’ is used a lot in the Northeast. These types usually peak in early to mid-summer.

I would like to bring an example of a button-flowered type to your attention. In 2006, I planted two species of this type in a parking lot garden, the rare New England Blazing Star (L. scariosa Var. novae-angliae), the only Liatris native to all of New England, and Appalachian Blazing Star (L. squarrulosa Var. earlei). After 4 years, the New England Blazing Star has petered out, but the Appalachian Blazing Star is getting stronger. (Soil conditions on this site may be more attuned to the Appalachian species, whereas the New England species prefers sandy soils.) Besides being really drought resistant, this season it survived over 6 weeks of mid-summer temperatures on less than 2 inches of rain, it blooms several weeks later later than the spike-flowered forms.

This first photo shows it near the end of July, just beginning to open. The L. spicata had finished blooming a couple of weeks earlier. The second photo shows it still going strong at the end of August.


In the background is another native, Stiff Goldenrod, Solidago rigida (which has recently been changed to Oligoneuron rigidum). This is one of the earlier blooming of the goldenrods.**

This last photo is of the New England Blazing Star taken last year at the Wild Flower Meadow at Mount Auburn Cemetery. The conditions on this site are less severe than those experienced in the parking lot garden. One difference between these two species is that the flower heads are relatively broader than on the Appalachian blazing Star.  While the Cup-flowered Liatris are not what many people expect to see when they are asking for some Liatris for their garden, they are a way of extending the season for another 4-6 weeks, and the pollinators don't mind one bit.  Unfortunately, these plants are not broadly avalable at regular nurseries, I got mine from the New England Wildflower Society, an excellent source for native plants in the Boston area.

**Just a note about goldenrods. As I explained to a friend who asked about these plants today, Goldenrod pollen is not the cause autumn hayfeaver, its pollen grains are too heavy and sticky to float through the air. The main culprit for causing hayfever at this time of year is ragweed.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Some Surprising Finds this Week

As I was traveling through Mount Auburn Cemetery this week I was caught off guard by what appeared to be blooms on a Harlequin Glorybower, Clerodendron dichotomum. This was surprising to me because I recalled seeing it covered with pinkish blooms at the end of June. On closer examination I saw that these were actually bright red sepals surrounding a sapphire blue fruit (a drupe, actually). In a sense this shrub produces interesting ‘blooms’ twice in a season.

This Glorybower is not native to North America. It has it origins in China and Japan. It is cold hardy to Zone 6, and here in Boston it is approaching the northern limits of its range. Here at Mount Auburn, it has ‘died to the ground’ at least once, but as you can see it has regrown to a good sized shrub. For more information about this plant check out this link:

Growing next to the Glorybower is a native shrurb, Bottlebrush Buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, a southeastern native anyway. The delicate white brush-like flowers that topped this plant at the beginning of July have grown into golf ball sized nuts that hit the ground with a small thud. Sometimes I wonder how could a flower like that turn into that fruit that looks so different.

The last big surprise, botanically anyway, was when I nearly bumped into this old Common Honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos. This particular tree is the straight species, not the thornless variety that is used in the landscaping trade. These water sprouts give a close up view of the 3” thorns that characterize this species.

Most of the commercially available plants available today are derived from a naturally occurring thornless variety G. triacanthos var. inermis, native to the Eastern United States. If it were not for this variety, I can imagine that the Common Honeylocust would only rarely be seen on any landscaped properties.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Who is pollinating whom?

The past few weeks I have been watch may new plants to see what kind of pollinators they attract. Since most of these plants are new to the local area, they may not be normal fare for the local insects. It is quite likely that a plant that attracts many pollinator on its home turf, will be of little interest in a different region of the country.

 What I have seen so far is a mix of results. The Indian Blanket, Gaillardia pulchella, is a long way from its native range up here in Boston, but is quite popular with the native bumblebees. The beautiful bright red Drummond Phlox, Phlox drummondii, which is equally far from home, has had no visits from pollinators that I have seen.

Here are some photos of some of the insect pollinators that I have spied in the past 2 weeks. Somewhat disappointing to me is that other than a few cabbage moths, I can't recall having have seen any butterflies in my yard this year, save for one Firey Skipper.
These wasps really surprised me, both by their size (nearly 2”) and their excitement over the Spotted Beebalm, Monarda punctata. For the first few days of bloom there was no activity around these plants but now they are rarely without a wasp or two.

This Agastache did not appear to be getting much attention, then I realized that the insects were taking a short-cut to the nectar by feeding at the calyx tube at the base of the flower, rather than crawling down the long flower tube.

I have not noticed these Long-horned bees in past years. They really like the Coast Sunflower, Helianthus debilis, and Black-eyed Susans, Rudbeckia hirta, shown here.  These bees are hairier than many others and can get totally covered with pollen.


Hoverflys, shown here approaching the Red-Whiskered Clammyweed, Polanisia dedecandra, visit many of the smaller flowered plants, including American False Pennyroyal, Hedeoma pulegioides, and Snow-on-the-Mountain, Euphorbia marginata.

This Drone Fly, not a true bee, blends in quite well with the color scheme of the Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida. 

The Green Bee, shown below, is kind of flashy when the sun catches it.

I must admit that I really don’t know bugs that well and I may not be entirely correct in the ID’s I have provided. I have been very favorably impressed with the information and photos at the Bug Guide and would recommend it are a great place to get started to ID insects.