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Heath Aster Feeds Insects

Asters and goldenrods are fall wildflowers that produce nectar and pollen for many insects that are preparing for the upcoming winter. Heath aster is one of wildflower that blooms in the fall. Its heath-like growth and white daisy-like blossoms is what makes this aster stand out from other types.

Bumble bees, honey bees, wasps, butterflies, skippers, beetles, and moths are just some of the insects that harvest the nectar and pollen the aster produces.

The heath aster thrives throughout North America including Canada and the U.S. It is just one of many species of aster that blooms in the fall. Some are white, some are blue, some are purple and some are yellow. I will highlight a couple of other species in future posts.


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Six-legged Sex

Stepping out my front door, I walk right into an orgy of sex. I am surrounded by couples attached abdomen to abdomen. Crawling entangled bodies writhe in a mass next to the front window of the porch. It is late summer in Florida and the love bug mating season is upon us.

Love bugs are short lived. Their whole purpose as an adult is to breed. Everywhere I look male and female love bugs, attached abdomen to abdomen crawl on the front door, on the exterior house walls and on the shrubs. Some, still connected, fly in tandem, the male refusing to let go to prevent other males from having sex with its mate.

Piles of dead love bug bodies are strewn on the porch floor having lived out their three days of life. Fertilized females lay up to 350 eggs in the leaf litter, grasses and wood chips. She, too, will then die. In about three weeks the larvae will hatch from the eggs and will eat dead decaying plant matter until they grow large enough to pupate through the winter.

Next spring adult love bugs will emerge from their pupae and the six-legged sex orgy will begin again.


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The Last Big Harvest

Fall is the time of year when goldenrods brighten the fields and roadsides with showy yellow blossoms. It is the time for the last major harvesting of nectar and pollen by bees, wasps, migrating butterflies  and many other insects. Nectar gathered by bumblebees and honeybees will help these insects survive the winter. Pollen is also eaten by several species of beetles.

One species of goldenrod is the downy goldenrod. It has bottlebrush-like spikes of yellow flowers and with a magnifier you will see fine hairs on its stems and leaves. Its stems are  dark purple-brow.. The downy goldenrod grows in the eastern U. S.

People often have allergies in the fall from a different plant called ragweed. Unlike goldenrods that depend on insects for cross pollination, ragweed depends on the wind to blow pollen from plant to plant. Its pollen is so light that it is carried into the atmosphere where it is breathed in by people, some have severe allergies to it. Often ragweed grows alongside goldenrods, but because goldenrods are showy and ragweed is not, goldenrods get the blame for people’s allergies.

Goldenrods are not the only fall wildflower to provide pollen and nectar for insect. The aster is another another prolific plant in fall landscapes that many insects depend on for their fall harvest.

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The Desirable Wildflower

Black-eyed Susan is a native North American wildflower that thrives in sun lit prairies, fields and roadsides. It was originally thought to have spread from the Great Plains eastward, but recent research indicates it was native to colonial towns in Maryland. It was the colonists who named the plant black-eyed Susan featured in an English poem by John Gray:

l in the downs, the fleet was moored,

Banners waving in the wind,

When Black-Eyed Susan came aboard

And eyed the burly men.

“Tell me ye sailors, tell me true

Does my Sweet William, sail with you?”


Black-eyed Susans are one of the first plants to grow in an area damaged by fire. These pretty wildflowers are desirable by gardeners who plant them in their home landscapes.

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The Odiferous Plant

Musk mallow is a strong scented wildflower native to Europe that was brought to America as an ornamental plant of America’s gardens. It escaped cultivation and is now a weedy plant of the northeast U.S.  It gets its name from its strong musky odor when tis leaves are crushed. You can find this plant growing along roadsides, in fields and waste places.

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The Plant That Collects Frost

In the summer woods in the pine barrens on Long Island, New York you might spot this yellow flower growing single on a single stem in fields and along the edges of fore lines. Frostweed gets its name from the formation of ice crystals at the bottom of its stem. It is a pretty flower that only blooms for one day. It prefers open sunny areas along the edges of oak woodlands. It is secure in most areas in the eastern U.S. Since there are other plants that are also called frostweed, I give you its scientific name: Helianthemum canadensis.

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Endangered in New York, Extirpated from Pennsylvania

Walking through a pine barren habitat where pitch pine, oak trees and heaths dominate the landscape, I came upon a disturbed area where the sandy soils were saturated with water and sedges, rushes and grasses dominated the opening. There were dozens of orange flowers on short stems along with sundews where the vegetation was less dense. Upon closer examination, it was orange milkwort, an endangered plant in New York where it has reached its northernmost range.

This is a wildflower of the coastal plain from the Mid-Atlantic states south to Florida. It needs full sunlight to flourish so it is often found in disturbed open areas growing in wet acidic sandy soils and bogs. It is called milkwort not because it has milky sap, but folklore says that when animals eat the plant, they are able to produce more milk.

Orange milkwort is an indicator species for identifying wetlands and that is where the threat to this species exists. Although wetlands are often protected, there is still development of wetlands in some areas and that has the potential to imperil this plant. Although the plant is extremely rare in New York, will climate change change that? As it becomes warmer in the north will this plant begin to thrive? Time will tell.

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