Monday, May 25, 2020

Memories of Flowers and Bugs, Part I

I was surprised to see Farewell-to-Spring blooming this early on my way to Gilson Creek from Oakland Camp.  I don't remember the year, but the day I first photographed this plant then learned what it was, was the last day of spring, probably ten years ago. It's Clarkia dudleyana, the genus name from William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition during the Jefferson presidency. It's cousin, Clarkia rhomboidea, or Diamond Clarkia, should be blooming soon.
Over a week ago, this specimen of Purple or Heart-leaf Milkweed, had but one blossom.  Now it has a few more, but all the ones in this particular spot look rather emaciated, possibly from the several recent years of drought. Asclepias cordifolia.
The Showy Milkweeds in this same area and mostly just showing leaves and a few have buds. They should be blooming in another week or so with the hot weather forecast. Asclepias speciosa is host to many bugs, famously the Monarch butterly. Click on this photo and you might spot a tiny beetle to the right of my thumb.
I came in a little closer.for this shot. The beetle was only about 1/4" inch long. i haven't yet identified it.
One of my favorites is the beautiful Small Milkweed Bug which I've seen on all three local species of Asclepias. This one was probably busy sucking juices from the leaf as it did not run away as I approached.  Buds forming to the right of the bug.
The Blue Gilia are already plentiful  Many of them are white at this time so they are hard to spot in areas of tall grass and other weeds. The more typical blue specimens are easier to spot.
A new one to me this year is the Meadow Lotus, Lotus oblongifolius. The large patch I spotted in a meadow off Chandler Road was beyond a barbed-wire fence, but I found a few at the edge of the pavement. It's in the Pea family, a legume.  The family name used to be Leguminosae but is now Fabaceae. Reason for the name change is explained in an earlier blog post.

There's a Part II to this brief adventure. I'll post the photos and text later today.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Beautiful Drama

I approached the butterfly from the left, getting closer and closer, and wondering why it was not scared away. Then I moved a bit to the left and found out.  Its innards were being drained by a Goldenrod Crab spider. This took place on a shrub of Labrador Tea, but I've seen this same drama a number of times on the flowers of Spreading Dogbane, as described in my previous post, and also on several species of Asteraceae such as Salsify and Daisies. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Milkweeds and Miscellany

 Now that the Milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae, has been combined with the Dogbane family, Apocynaceae, I loosely call all of them Milkweeds even though the Dogbane family name prevails. Thee are five local species that I follow every spring and early summer, and the first to bloom is always the Purple or Heartleaf Milkweed, Asclepias cordifolia, above and below. I find the flower shape of the Asclepias species amazingly beautiful.
 Usually the second Asclepias to bloom around these parts is A. fascicularis, (below) and the several patches I follow are just beginning to show buds. You can see in this photo how it gets its common name. The flowers are built along the same lines as the above A. cordifolia, but are tiny in comparison, approximately 1/4" in diameter. A hand lens needed to fully appreciate.
 A third local Asclepias is the Showy Milkweed, A. speciosa, a favorite haunt of the Monarch Butterfly and my favorite local bug, the Red Milkweed Beetle. More about those when they arrive in a few weeks.
 The Indian Hemp (above) is showing some leaves and bright purple stems, but is a long way from blooming.  More about its natural history and spectacular insect visitors when they bloom and reach heights of 3 to 5 feel. One insect visitor I am always excited to see is the Thread-waisted Wasp. The Hemp is Apocynum cannabinum. SpellCheck is constantly making me nervous by underling many oif these words in red, including waisted, but so far, I don't think I've made any errors.
 Another in the Hemp group is Apocynum androsaemifolium. I'm surprised that wasn't doubly underlined in red! This one is commonly known as Bitter Dogbane , Spreading Dogbane, or Fly-trap Dogbane. You might deduce from the common names that this plant is not well-liked. It is one of my favorites because it's a kind of bug magnet. For a sample of the drama I've seen on these plants, go to my June, 2016 blog post by Googling "Crab spider and Checkerspot on Dogbane. That old photo shows the drama taking place on the flowers of a Labrador Tea bush, but I've seen the same drama many times on the Dogbane along the so-called Mt. Hough Trail. Thanks to the so-called Trail Stewardship, one of the best patches of this Dogbane in the area has been decimated by a bicycle freeway.
 In the miscellany category and a few other first (for me) of the season blooms. The Salsify (above) is also known as Goat's Beard or Tragopogon dubius. 
 There are many local species of Arnica (above) and I have not yet learned to tell them apart. They and the Salsify are in the Aster Family, Asteraceae, formerly known as the Compositae.
Last, but not least, is Wild Hyacinth, formerly known as a Lily in the Liliacae, but now in the Family Themadaceae and specifically, Dichelostemma multiflprum. There are many species of Lily-like flowers that were once in the Family Liliaceae but are now in several other families. Also, there are other plants, such as in the genus Camassia that are known as Wild Hyacinth.  If not their names, enjoy their beauty.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Red Larkspur, Delphinium nudicaule, blooming at the roadside near the orchids featured in the previous post. Known by many as Delphinium, it's one of the plants like Magnolia and Iris, whose common nae in many areas is the same as the scientific generic name. The leaves are very easy to recognize so I anticipate quote a few new blooms in this area in another week or two.  The weather forecast is perfect for quite a lot of blooming before the first of June.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

They're back!

 Found near Oakland Feather River Camp on May 13, 2020. I've been back several times during the past week.  It's such a compelling plant, I keep wanting to capture the ultimate photo.  Can't really
improve on nature though. Every now and then I've seen a small insect inside the white, bulbous flower and wondered about the plant's reproductive life. I've seen tiny winged insects as well as beetles.  The latter are also winged, but spend most of their time with the wing covers hiding the
actual wings.  I typed Mountain Lady's Slipper into my browser and found many websites that describe locations where this orchid may be found, it's status as far as threats to its existence are
concerned, etc., etc., but very little information about its natural history, reproduction in particular.  Until I finally found a 50+ page technical paper that satisfied my curiosity. It turns out a number of different insects might venture inside through the hole at the top of the flower, but only certain specific species are capable of successfully pollinating the plant.  The very tiny bees that can accomplish this know about (or are lured into a very small exit hole on the underside of the flower. On the way out, they manage to drag pollen from the anthers of the flower, or a previously-visited flower, through a narrow space that can deposit the pollen on the sticky stigma which contains the opening of the tube that leads to the female cell.  The pollen (male cell) and female cell (ovum) unit to form a seed.  The seeds are so tiny that each flower produces thousands that are a lot small than grains of sand.  I relating these tidbits from memory of the article I read several days ago.  I'll read it again and correct any gross errors that I discover. Meanwhile, it's the beauty of these orchids and the setting where I find them that keeps me coming back.  In a couple of weeks, they'll be gone for the season.
Speaking of the setting, one of the most beautiful companions of the orchids at this particular location and the Western Dog Violet. These photos are almost a week old, and, yes, I photographed both species again today (5/19), along with some new ones. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Oakland Feather River Camp in May

 Here's the Western Dog Violet, Viola adunca, alluded to in my previous post.  I found just a few near Oakland Camp in a shady spot where I always look for the Mountain Lady Slippers, which have not yet bloomed, and the Spotted Coral Root.  A few days later, hiking in the forest near Meadow Valley, I found hundreds of Dog Violets near the creek in an area probably not often visited.
 Back at Oakland Camp, and many other places around Quincy, the Spreading Phlox, Phlox difusa, are having a great year. Those picturred here are at approximately 3,400' elevation, but I've been finding meadows crowded with them above 5,000 feet on Mt. Hough and other mountains in the area.
 Also at Oakland Camp, the Purple or Heartleaf Milkweed is about to bloom.
 The above butterfly (or possibly a moth) is in a group of many species look-alikes that are always moving too fast for me to identify or get great close-ups.  Still fun to watch as they seek edges of puddles or neighboring damp soil to get a drink.  Many have underwing colors quite different from the top surfaces..
The Spotted Coralroots are out in abundance near the place where I'm on the lookout for Mountain Lady's Slippers.
The Scarlet Fritillary seem to be having a great year.  I've found them in at least a half dozen locations near Quincy.