Posts Tagged ‘flowers’

What’s the Buzz on Pollinators: Moths and Butterflies


Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Butterfly & Moth Pollination Facts:

Silver-spotted Skipper on a Buttonbush © Kent McFarland

Like hummingbirds, butterflies target brightly colored flowers because of their weak sense of smell. Butterflies go after clusters of the same flower, with a flat landing platform. When butterflies and moths feed on plants, the pollen sticks to their legs, which is then transferred to the next flower they feed on.

Video of Butterflies feeding and pollinating.

More Butterfly and Moth Facts:

1.) Butterflies actually use their feet in order to detect chemicals that signal whether or not a plant is the right to lay her eggs based on chemicals.

2.) Butterflies occasionally snack on mud! In order to get the minerals and salts necessary for their diet, butterflies sip from mud puddles.

3.) Ever wondered how butterflies got their name? Myths and legends say the Yellow Brimstone Butterfly of Europe was first seen in early spring also referred to as the “butter” season. Another myth says that witches transformed into butterflies to steal milk and butter.

4.) Butterflies have been idolized for centuries because of their beauty and grace. Dating back to the ancient Hopi, Mayan and Aztec culture, the butterfly is a recurrent theme in myths and legends.

Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) © Kent McFarland

5.) A flowers scent is similar to the pheromones that butterflies generate to appeal to the opposite sex. Naturally, butterflies are attracted to scented flowers.

6.) Monarch Butterflies feed on milkweed, which makes them distasteful to other predators. This is one of their biggest defenses along with their bright orange bodies.

7.) The Hawkmoth is well known for its long tongue, which is twice the length of its body and is used to retrieve nectar while hovering over the plant.

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) © Kent McFarland

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) © Kent McFarland

Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) © Kent McFarland

Flowers for Father’s Day


Monday, June 18th, 2012

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) by Jungle Pete

The Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve is a nine-mile long, third of a mile wide, linear strand of forest in Fort Myers, Florida. I assume the name “Nine Mile Cypress Slough Preserve” had already been taken. The 2500-acre preserve is home to a remarkable diversity of plants and wildlife, many of which can be seen on a two and half mile boardwalk.

My dad and I came out here years ago and while others were quick to speed around the circuit we stopped and sat on a bench. We watched Green Anoles flaring their dewlaps in a reptilian show of dominance. We watched a Yellow Rat Snake glide between cypress knees. We spotted a female Northern Cardinal flitting from branch to branch and we listened to a Carolina Wren belt out an unimaginably loud call for such a small bird. A couple of people walked by at a brisk pace and dejectedly remarked that there was nothing to see here. I’ve heard this complaint repeated many times through the years no matter where I go. I’m hoping they’re referring to the wildlife and not me.

I spent Father’s Day at the Six Mile Cypress this year. The rains have yet to fill the swamp and I found myself saying how little there was to see. Thinking about my visit with my father, my wife and baby stopped and took it all in.

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) by Jungle Pete

Clinging to a Pop Ash, about ten feet off the dry swamp floor was a beautiful Florida Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis). This bee pollinated epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant) gets its name from the way the flowers dance in the wind like butterflies. The relatively common orchid blooms from May through August from central Florida south through the Everglades. The plant is not parasitic but does get support from the tree and nutrients and water from its heightened position.

We spotted five different flowers in the preserve today which is five more than I’ve seen before here. It helped to have beautiful yellow flowers cast about in the breeze but I might have missed them had I not stopped to look up and around.

I couldn’t be with my father today but here are some flowers for Father’s Day.

Butterfly Orchid (Encyclia tampensis) by Jungle Pete

Prairie Smoke


Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Prairie Smoke by Jack Ballard

The return of the robin from its southern wintering grounds is thought to be an indication of spring to folks in many parts of the country. But in the northern Rockies the robins are often in error. They may show up in early March when there may still be many weeks of winter to come, regardless of when “spring” is technically designated on the calendar.

For me, the emergence of certain budding trees and flowering plants is a more reliable indication of milder days ahead. In the foothills and out on the plains, the appearance of Prairie Smoke (geum triflorum) seems to coincide predictably with real springtime weather.

Also known as “old man’s whiskers” or “three-flowered avens,” prairie smoke sports a flower that looks more like a bud and a seedhead that may look more like a flower. The “old man’s whiskers” moniker stems from the seedheads, which are pinkish-purple in color and quite feathery, resembling small tufts of whiskers. The name “prairie smoke” also references the seedheads, which remind some people of tiny puffs of smoke.

In the spring, prairie smoke flowers emerge from the plant’s erect stem that supports drooping buds and blossoms. Stands of prairie smoke are eye-catching in both the blossoming and seed-bearing stages, giving the plant a summer-long appeal. As such, it is sometimes cultivated for inclusion in flower gardens where it prefers plenty of sun and well-drained soil.

The War on Dandelions


Friday, May 18th, 2012

Common Dandelion by Lisa Densmore

Location: Chateaugay Lake, NY

I grasped the base of the plant below its jagged-edged leaves, urging its roots to release their tenacious hold on the dark brown soil. Gotcha! I gave the green and yellow clump a satisfying fling into a nearby wheelbarrow. Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) have always been the bane of my lawn. By late April, they’ve already poked their annoying yellow blooms above my otherwise green grass. For every dandelion I uproot, three sprout in its place. The cursed yellow flowers grow everywhere, not only around my house, but also along roads, in fields, along hiking trails, even in the sand at the beach! This could be a hopeless war, but I wasn’t ready to wave the white flag. As the general of my attack on dandelions, I decided to get more information about this enemy ground force.

As it turns out, the weed I’ve tried in vain to eradicate is a nutritious herb, valued in Europe and the sub-Indian continent for a myriad of medicinal uses. Though bitter when eaten alone, it is a nutritious enhancement in many recipes, loaded with vitamins A, C, K and B6, potassium, manganese and a number of other important nutrients.

Common Dandelion by Lisa Densmore

The Chinese and Indians gathered wild dandelions to treat boils, bronchitis, pneumonia and ulcers for centuries, though the Arabs were likely the first to cultivate them. As early as 900 AD, they used the root of the plant as a cure for liver disease. Today herbalists brew dandelions into tea, toast it, mixed it into tinctures, and dry it to derive various health benefits from this common plant such as reducing hypertension and stabilizing mood. Perhaps if I try eating the darn things my mood will improve when I pluck them from my yard.



Thursday, May 3rd, 2012
Weeping Willow Tree

Weeping Willow © Kent McFarland

As Fats Domino used to say: “The wind in the willows plays a sweet melody.” But their service to mankind is much more than musical. They provide crossword puzzlers with an easy answer. Every couple of weeks you’ll find the clue “willow” in a newspaper puzzle; if you don’t know the answer by now (osier), you are not paying enough attention to NY Times crosswords.

You probably also know that Acetylsalicylic acid, i.e., aspirin, comes from Salicin in willow bark. So, the next time you get a headache, give thanks to the willow.

Willows are also great for kids. The poet Robert Frost may have been a “swinger of birches”, but I was bouncer of willows when I was young. Because their limbs are close to the ground, they’re easy to climb onto. And the limbs are, well, limber rather than stiff; the bottom limb of a huge willow near my house was as close to a trampoline as I got at age ten.

I even convinced my dad to plant one in our backyard when we moved. But the shallow roots grew faster than the actual tree. When they spread under our fence and attacked the new swimming pool next-door, the tree was doomed. Our grumpy neighbor poisoned it.

Because they are so fast growing, willows (there are over 400 varieties!) are more beneficial than my neighbor and I imagined. They “sequester” carbon (especially when young), absorb nitrogen, soak up wastewater, and they can purify polluted soils by taking up heavy metals (a process called phyto-remediation, in case you ever get that as a crossword word). They’re as voracious and omnivorous as teenagers.

With their domed structure, their silvery bark, dangling branches and slender leaves, willows are beautiful summer trees. In springtime it’s a different matter. Their dangling, fragile flower clusters (“aments” – another good crossword word) fall to the ground on the easiest breeze. They make yard clean up an extended chore. Every May I remember why I like to look at them in other people’s yards. They’re beautiful, valuable nuisances.

Pasque Flower


Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

American Pasque by Lisa Densmore

Location: Red Lodge, MT

I declare it officially spring. Of course the calendar declared the start of spring at the March equinox, but for me, it happened two days ago. While taking an early evening walk around my neighborhood, I decided to cross a dry irrigation creek split in two by a 4-foot high narrow grassy ridge. Based on its flat, well-trodden crest, the local White-tailed Deer have used it as a walkway into a clump of tall shrubs about 50 feet away. Luckily, they haven’t strayed close to the edges. Just at the point where the ridge-top goes from flat to vertical, I spied a clump of lilac-colored Pasque flowers (Pulsatilla hirsutissima or Pulsatilla patens), then another and another. What a delight!


Pasque by Lisa Desnmore

This is my first spring in Montana. I had never seen a pasque flower, which is so named because it blooms around Passover and Easter. It’s also called a May Day flower for the same reason. It reminds me of an oversized version of the purple crocuses that poked their heads above the ground in my New Hampshire garden as the last crystals of snow melted into the earth, but they aren’t related. Pasque flowers are wild tundra anenomes, that blooms throughout the northwest and Alaska. It is the state flower of South Dakota. Though more than one flower stem can emerge from its woody taproot, it propagates by seed. If you look below this lavender beauty’s showy 3-inch flower, you can see its silky hairs along its short stem, which helps insulate it from the inevitable early spring cold snap.


American Pasque by Lisa Densmore

Pasque flowers were used by the early Blackfoot Indians to induce abortions and childbirth. Today, it is a homeopathic treatment for cataracts, but this is in the category of “don’t try this at home”. Excessive ingestion of this toxic plant can lead to heart failure. I would rather have my heart beat pick up a little whenever I see this ground hugging flower, not only for its colorful display, but also because it signals warmer weather and a greener landscape close at hand.


Pasque by Lisa Desnmore

Deception – Simpson’s Grass-Pink


Monday, April 16th, 2012

Simpson's Grass Pink by Jungle Pete

Cross-pollination is most commonly achieved by wind or insect. Pollen from the male part of the flower is transferred to the female part of another flower of the same species. Insects are lured in with the promise of nectar and are the ambivalent dupes of this well orchestrated exchange of genetic material. Not all promises are what they seem.

My good friends Milla and Richard and I were wildflower hunting on the CREW lands in Collier County, Florida recently. A prescribed fire and an extended drought have made conditions optimal for an amazing diversity of wildflowers, but there was one in particular that Milla insisted we had to find. She had seen it days before and she promised it wasn’t far from the parking lot.

How far?
“Near Lettuce Lake!”
Ok, that’s not far. I had an appointment and had to be somewhere as promised.

After an hour of stopping to photograph flowers I asked again “how far?”
“Just at the bend in the trail!”

Thirty minutes later the trail bent. There amongst a myriad of wildflowers, as promised, stood tall, a lone Simpson’s Grass-Pink (Calopogon tuberosus var. simpsonii), a terrestrial orchid variety only found in seasonally wet, marly soils. The genus Calopogon translates to “beautiful beard” and refers to the unique bristles on the upper lip of the three-petaled flower. The bristles give the appearance of stamen and a false promise of nectar. While attempting to land on the upper lip, heavier insects will cause it to bend, dipping them back onto a mass of pollen grains which can then be transferred to the next flower where cross-pollination is achieved.

This variety is distinguished from the common form, Grass Pink (Calopogon tuberosus) by a narrow and elongated upper lip and is found in grassy savannahs (at the bend in the trail!)

We found several more plants nearby, which all seemed to benefit from the recent fire and open canopy. It was well worth the walk and I was thankful for trusting in Milla’s promise. It did make me wonder how many insects have been tempted by the Grass Pink’s deception and how many have learned to turn around before wasting their time. I’m glad I didn’t.

On Borrowed Time


Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Albion Basin lies at the top of a dead-end canyon, a mile or so above the town of Alta. The high peaks surrounding it are well above timber line, rugged and beautiful. During electrical storms lightning strikes these peaks repeatedly and the thunder reverberates back and forth, bouncing off the bare rocks of one to the others like water sloshing in a shallow dish. The effect is awesome, overwhelming, perhaps a bit frightening but truly sublime. Today the sky is blue and the Basin is full of people enjoying the bright August sunshine.

Spring has finally come to the basin. It is not only lush and verdant but ablaze with an innumerable host of flowers, like a green night sky utterly awash with stars of red, yellow, blue, and violet. This tardiness is partly a function of elevation. The basin lies nearly a mile above the valley floor on which Salt Lake City resides. For every thousand feet of elevation gained the temperature drops by roughly four degrees Fahrenheit. It is almost 95 degrees in town this early afternoon but it is in the mid-seventies in the basin. When the breeze blows it can feel unexpectedly cool.

But there is something else to also consider. Albion Basin receives, on average, five hundred inches of snow each year. It takes a long time for the frozen water to melt and the earth to warm sufficiently for life to blossom. The summers are very short up here. Mother Nature must work quickly. As the crowds throng around me, enjoying the day, I recall the facts of the place, learned from decades of observation. The first snow of the season will fall in the basin some time in the next four weeks. When late summer rains fall in the valley, it often snows up here. By the end of September there will be permanent snow on the ground, mostly in the shadows and the deeper cracks and fissures in the cliffs and talus slopes. Emboldened by the shorter days and cooler nights of October the snow will spread, out of the shadows. It will also begin to accumulate. Eight weeks from today the greens and the riot of color will be a memory, replaced by the browns of the dead and dying. And in twelve short weeks the earth will sleep again beneath a deep and ever deepening blanket of snow while skiers schuss above in celebration.

I watch a calliope hummingbird flit from one flower to the next with seeming nonchalance, although it feels an urgency I cannot see. We both of us know a change is coming to the basin, just as certain as the turning of the earth.

Fence Posts and Flying Things


Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

There’s been abundant spring rain on the prairies and foothills around Red Lodge, Montana, the area I call home. Though the weather isn’t so great for sprouting garden seeds or setting out tomatoes, it’s nurtured thick, tall stands of grass on the hayfields and native prairies.

About this time of year, I like to putter down the backroads at dawn, on the lookout for wildlife, particularly the lark buntings, meadowlarks, upland sandpipers and American kestrels that frequent the grasslands. Though these species find their sustenance in the blooms, buds and bugs at or near ground level, that’s not where I usually spot them. They’re on the fence posts, and other man-made perches — things like tractors, center-pivot irrigation pipes and the occasional road sign.

The photographer in me fervently wishes that all fence posts were of the original variety, cut with axes, set in holes dug with shovels by homesteaders, some that have valiantly secured strands of barbwire for nearly a century. These posts came from native junipers with dense, aromatic, burnished red heartwood that resists rot for decades. They’re a much pretty perch for an upland sandpiper than a shiny aluminum irrigation pipe.

But even when their toes are clutching more modern articles of agriculture, I’m still delighted to see the birds.

Fantastic Fragrance-The Southern Magnolia


Monday, May 24th, 2010

On a muggy, May afternoon in Hillsborough River State Park in Thonotosassa, FL, I find myself wiping rivulets of sweat off my face. As we amble down the trail, I swat away an entourage of mosquitoes that gravitate towards me and retreat with every swing of an arm. There is a hypnotic fragrance that wafts through the woods on the slightest of breezes. I raise my shoulder to wipe away the sweat. I flail my arm at the marauding blood suckers. The motions become routine. But the sweet aroma that undulates on unseen air currents leads me by my nose to undiscovered treasures.

To describe a fragrance is as easy for me as tasting music. No description could do it justice. It’s a pleasant, sugared scent that distracts me from my sweat-soaked clothing, and blood-spattered, mosquito bitten skin. As we make our way through a forest of Bald Cypress and Live Oaks we arrive at a clearing spiked with half-a-dozen, 60 foot tall trees adorned with massive white blooms. There is no mistaking the identity of the Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).

Magnolias are named after French botanist Pierre Magnol and the species name “grandiflora” refers to the head-sized flowers they produce. The foot-wide bloom is decorated with a pineapple shaped structure that includes the female carpels and the male stamens at the base. Magnolias have been around since before the rise of bees and the trees were originally pollinated by beetles. The flowers evolved tough carpels to prevent damage from beetles crawling around on their surface. Today, bees and other flying pollinators assist beetles in propagating the species. Eventually the petals will fall away, the sweet scent will dissipate and by late summer the fruit will mature and spit out dozens of crimson, half-inch seeds.

We can’t linger long. The mosquitoes have caught up and the sun is blazing. I break the hypnotic hold the tree has on my olfactory senses and ponder the notion that I can’t remember what it smells like already. I just know when I smell it again I’ll like it.