Monday, July 16, 2012

Early Summer Blooms

Bees visit American Bellflower in both sunny
and shady locations
Now that we are getting into the hot days of summer, blooming of many native plants and the associated pollinator activity are picking up.  Here at home I saw my first Monarch Butterfly in many years.  You'll have to take my work for it, since it was gone by the time I got my camera.

One plant that has been blooming for awhile is the American Bellflower, Campanulastrum americanum.  This is particularly attractive to a medium sized black bee, probably a Miner Bee.  This plant blooms nearly as well in the shade as it does in the sun.

This Miner Bee is the primary visitor to the Bellflower
This Miner Bee draws nectar from the open face of the flower.  To do this it lands on the stamen and style of the flower.  Apparently the flower's stigma is situated to receive pollen from the bee as it makes its approach to the flower.

Nearby, on the sunny side of the driveway the Echinacea is in full bloom.  These attract a variety of pollinators, such as this Green Sweat Bee.  The Meadowsweet, Spiraea latifoia, has finished it's first round of blooms.  This year I cut some of the plants back significantly to keep the growth in check.  (I'm pretty sure it will put out a second growth.)  So for now the bees will be visiting other flowers for pollen and nectar.

It's interesting to note that with all the activity on the native flowers, I have seen very few insects visiting the flowers on my nearby shrub rose (other than a couple of Japanese Beetles).

Another early bloomer in the dry shade of my Norway Maple is Rosin Weed, Silphium integrifolium.  I chose this species of of Silphium because it does not get as big as the more familiar Cup Plant, S. perfoliatum.  This plant has slowly been expanding its mass, but I have not seen it show up in other parts of the garden.

A Hover Fly monitoring a cluster of Rosinweed blooms.

The flowers on this particular plant tend to form on the shady side.
This makes for a difficult photograph.

A new native annual that I'm trying out this year is Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.  This plant will grow in poor, dryish soils.  So far I'm favorably impressed.  One grouping that I planted near a highway is growing and blooming, despite receiving no additional moisture, other than the small amount of rain this summer.  Like its relative the Sensitive Plant, its leaves will fold up when the plant is handled roughly.  The leaves also fold up when it gets dark.  I wonder if this behavior helps it to survive under dry conditions (by limiting transpiration).

Some drifts are still intact, like the lavender-color Beebalm, Monarda fistulosa;
the orange Butterflyweed has blown over from another part of the
Wildflower Meadow at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
A Monarch Butterfly passing over
some Beebalm and Hoary Vervain

Over at Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, MA, there is a good sized native wildflower meadow installed about 5 years ago.  Here I have seen many more butterflies than in my urban backyard.  This meadow features a number of native grasses as well as many showy flowering plants.  The original planting had the plants arranged in drifts, but the management plan is to let the plants move around as they will, to create a dynamic garden with plants finding there best locations.

In another part of the cemetery I noticed this Bottlebrush Buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, in full bloom.  While native to the Southeastern US, this shrub is very attractive to the bees up in the Northeast.  I spent some time watching how the bees interacted with the flower.  It was more like a mugging than a gentle approach to sip some nectar.  The bee grabs onto to the outside of the flower and extracts nectar from between the petals and the calyx.  In the process the bee's abdomen rubs all over the anthers and the stigma, thus achieving pollination of the flower.  

This bee on the Buckeye flower is about 1.5" long.

Other flowers are about to open up here, like the Scarlet Sage, Woodland Sunflower and Prairie Coneflower, so the show has only just begun.

Monday, July 2, 2012

North American Natives for a Patio Container

Last year I had spotty results using the combination of Mealy-cup Sage (Salvia farinacea), Phlox drummondii, and Bidens ferulifolia to do a Native-species planting box scheme using primary colors.  The sage performed well, but the Phlox didn't transplant well and the Bidens bloomed in cycles, so I rarely had all three color blooming at once.  This year I stuck with the Salvia (cultivar 'Victoria Blue') as my tall plant and used a Lantana cultivar 'Bandana-Rose Improved' as the 'spiller' and Zinnias from the 'Profusion' series as 'fillers.'

This Lantana starts out yellow and ages to a pinkish-red.
The Zinnias had not bloomed yet.

In this flower box I also got a surprize.  A Drummond Phlox reseeded itself and has grown much better than the ones I grew indoors last year.  This past winter was mild enough to allow the seeds of this Texas species to overwinter in the flower box.  I also got a bunch of Salvia reseeding themselves as well.  This was great, I got bonus plants for free!

Native species that I have found to work well in a sunny flower box are native to Mexico and the Southwest US.  The hot and often dry conditions encountered in these containers is not unlike their native environment.  At first, I hesitated to use the Zinnias.  They have been highly bred and manipulated, but then I remembered the these plants actually have their origins in the North America, Mexico to be more specific.  The ones you see in the garden centers have been horticulturally improved for features like color, long bloom and resistance to powdery mildew, to name a few.

The 'Profusion Series' are hybrids of Zinnia elegans (the common tall Zinnia) and Z. angustifolia (Narrow-leaf Zinnia).  They tend to be about a foot tall with 1.5 inch flowers in a wide variety of colors that are supposed to bloom all summer.  I am using the cherry- and the white-flowered cultivars.  So far the cherry-form matured more quickly and is a little larger than the white-flowered form.

In checking out the progress of this Zinnia the first thing I noticed was the intricacy of the flower bud.  Maybe all Zinnia buds look like this, but this is the first time I noticed.  So now I'll watch and see if these Zinnias keeps pace with their neighbors.

I was happy to see that this cultivar still has fertile flowers
 - a bonus for the pollinators.
In another sunny area a random selection of blooms caught my eye.  Here the magenta-colored Wine-cups (Callirhoe involucrata) have encroached on a new planting of 'Apricot Sparkles' Day lily (yes, not everything I have is native).  To these, some self-seeded Wild petunias (Ruellia humilis) have also popped up.  I don't think I would have planned on this color combination, but the three taken together work for me.

I don't think the Daylily and the pale lavender Petunia would work
together if it weren't for the intense color of the  Wine-cups.