Today is hot and humid and the last thing most people are thinking about is snow and ice. Plants, however, operate on a different timeline. Even though it is simply uncomfortable to be outside many of the flowers that are blooming now will continue to bloom right through to the first frosts of fall. There aren’t going to be the explosions of flowers like we had in May and April, instead many of the final flowers of the season are in full bloom for as long as the weather will permit.
Those flowers who do not bloom until the frost will go to seed and supply enough energy for the seed to produce the next generation the following summer. As we sweat through the day just waiting for the heat to lift the plants all around us are already preparing for next year, thinking well beyond their own lives to ensure the perpetuation of their species. Perhaps we have quite a bit to learn from the humble flowers that bring us so much joy and beauty.
In an effort to keep up with the flowers exploding on my property. Here is a quick update of some blooms from July.
When I hear the word “flower” it brings to mind the day lilies, tulips, cone flowers and the other traditional flowers. We tend to think of flowers as objects of beauty rather than the functional sex organs that they are. We look out the window speeding past millions of sex organs, plain as day, in the ditches throughout the world. We even consume the immature sex organs of many different plants (your broccoli will never look the same).
My point is, flowers may seem intricately beautiful as if place here only for our pleasure, when in reality, they serve only to perpetuate the plant species in the most efficient manner possible.
So here are some of those sex organs that we see baring it all on the highway and others who want to get intimately close to you. Enjoy!
Curly dock has these very simple flower head that will turn into a heavy head of dark brown seeds that look almost like tobacco. I see these all over the roads here in Minnesota but have never known exactly what it was.
On the road of life, there are hitchhikers. Seeds will do best when they can get away from their parents. This leads to the samaras, or helicopters, on the maples, the light fluff of a dandelion or even the buoyant nature of a coconut. Other plants have a different strategy. The White Avens, pictured above, produces hook like seeds that will attach themselves to any passerby. I found this plant on a well-traveled deer trail in my backyard, quite literally a highway.
Here is the king of all the plant hitchhikers, the burdock. The little-hooked barbs of the seed are already formed on the flower. These aggressive seeds will create large mats of hair in any mammal unlucky enough to get snagged. I once found coyote tracks on my ice covered pond and you could clearly see where it had stopped and wiggled to remove 6 burdocks from its hindquarters, leaving only the seeds and a little hair behind. An annoyance for the coyote was free transportation for the burdock.
This small flower is another hitchhiker with the surname of stickseed (you know it means business). The seeds produced by the stickseed are small sticky burrs. The stem branches are nearly perpendicular to the ground and each branch is covered with tiny sticky seeds ready to hitch a free ride.
Not all plants we commonly see on the side of the road are hitchhikers, some simply take advantage of the good sun and reduce competition from habitual mowing.
Here are two examples of flowers in my yard that are common on roadsides as well. Unlike the hitchhikers these two thrive in the semi-maintained ditches across the Midwest because they offer the right light and reduced competition.
To finish here are a couple more pictures that don’t necessarily fit this theme but still need to be documented for my Year in my Yard project to document all the flowers on my property. Enjoy!
Summer has set in and the heat and humidity are making it known. The flurry of flowers between spring and early summer have come and gone while the familiar faces of summer are settling in for their turn.
As I am identifying the flowers on my property I am beginning to learn the history of the land. What I am finding is a story of disturbance and inconsistency. Many of the flowers I have photographed outside my manicured (used in the slighted use of the word) are either foreign invaders or natives that thrive with disturbance. These first two flowers are examples of each. The motherwort is a native that thrives and forest edges. In a natural setting, this would be in blowdowns, fires or other places the forest has opened up. Here I found it where my lawn meets the forest. The Canada Thistle is a foreign invader from our neighbors to the north. It also thrives and proliferates in disturbed soils, so much so that I have attempted to remove as many of the flowers, before they go to seed, as possible. This is a tough decision to make as the flowers serve as a valuable food source for pollinators.
June 21: Common Elderberry
Here is another native that thrives with disturbance. Each of these flowers will become a very edible berry after it is pollinated. The berries are good to eat provided you can beat the birds to them!
June 21-26: Echinacea
Here is one of the masters of the native plants, echinacea, the mighty cone flower. This flower and its allies dominated the native prairies, grasslands and savannahs for thousands of years before the plow. The pictures above are all of the same individual flower, taken over several days. The petals expand and fill with color as they mature. The bees, flies, butterflies and moths were eagerly awaiting the production of nectar, “testing” the flower from the moment it emerged.
June 21: Stinging Nettles
Here is a great example of different strategies flowers use to reproduce. Some flowers like the lily, pictured above, produce one large flower with a large reservoir of nectar and pollen. This single flower can produce multiple seeds. The Gaillardia, also pictured above, is a composite flower meaning that it is actually hundreds of tiny flowers pushed together. Each of these tiny flowers can only produce one seed each, but because they are numerous, one flower head can produce hundreds of tiny seeds. Yet another adaptation is exemplified by the stinging nettles. It too produces a plethora of small flowers but in less organized groups. Each small flower will produce a single seed.
This has to be the smallest flower I have seen all year. Each tiny bloom is only a couple of millimeters in diameter. These flowers must surely be pollinated by small flies as anything larger wouldn’t be able to land on the stem let alone access the nectar at the bottom of the flower.Cats as pollinators?? Think about that for a while….
Catnip is in the mint family. The flowers are clustered radially around the square stem. I have other members of the mint family coming in a future post so make a note to compare the flower shape, color, and patterns!
Is there another flower in this post that’s in the mint family? Go back and see if you can figure it out!!
Here are some more blooms from my yard for the month of June. No story or commentary, just pictures.
June 18: Foxglove Beardtongue
The ability to identify patterns is one trait that truly separates us from many other life forms. It is our innate ability to see patterns in nature that have given us an advantage over our competition. Instead of simple depressions in the ground our ancestors recognized the patterns of toes, hooves, and claws in tracks giving them the ability to meticulously track their prey. We also have the inborn ability to recognize faces (a pattern of eyes, nose and mouth) from birth. This unique ability explains why some claim to see Jesus or the Virgin Mary in their toast or a myriad of other objects. The ability to learn the patterns of nature is also the very foundation of science. Those individuals who are
The ability to learn the patterns of nature is also the very foundation of science. Those individuals who were the best at identifying patterns in the tracks were more successful than those who could not. The process of tracking involves an observation, hypothesis, test, peer-review, and conclusion; all of the steps of the, so called, scientific method. As our ancient ancestors began to live a more civilized life they began to notice more subtle patterns in nature. These patterns eventually developed into math.
The mathematical patterns found in nature are so ingrained that is often wondered if math was invented or discovered. As we uncover more about the natural world, down to the quantum level, we begin to see these same mathematical patterns repeated at an ever smaller scale.
One of the most famous patterns in nature is the Fibonocci Sequence (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13…). This sequence can be seen in snail shells, flowers, pinecones, and pineapples. The sequence is calculated by summing the two previous number in the sequence. This means the next number in the sequence above would be 8+13 or 21. The best example of this pattern can be seen in composite flowers like this daisy below.
And just because it’s a totally cliche picture….
Looking at the center of the daisies picture above we see an intersecting spiral pattern going in both a clockwise and counter-clockwise direction. The arc of each spiral fits the Fibonacci sequence as it spirals away from the center of the flower.
Check out another example of the same pattern in this coneflower.
Although a bit more subtle than the previous examples the clover pictured above has an abbreviated spiral pattern to its flower.
Fibonacci’s patterns are usually not obvious but once you know the pattern you will begin to see it everywhere. Finding an appreciating patterns in nature is more than looking at flowers and such, it is recognizing one of the fundamental abilities that define our species. Go outside, look for patterns, and appreciate your abilities.
An adaptation is any trait or behavior that improves survival and ultimately reproductive success of an individual. Adaptations are found in all living things and define how each species came to be and will change in response to its environment. Flowers have adapted to suit the needs of their pollinators while expending as little energy as possible. Flower color, shape, scent and time of blooming are adaptations to target the pollinators.
This post will illustrate some different adaptations found in flowers in my yard.
The wild geranium comes in pink. Through selective breeding, humans have created different breeds that have exploited the subtle variation existing in that wild populations (see above). Just like every person looks a little different every individual plant has slightly different characteristics. Humans have exploited those slight difference to create the variety of domestic plants and animals we see every day.
June 1: Baptista
In the natural world, those slight variations give slight reproductive advantages to individuals. The Baptista has a unique flower shape that forces the bee to open the petals to access the nectar. This prevents any free-loading insects from getting a free meal without pollinating. Those flowers that hold the door too tight don’t get pollinated, those who don’t hold it tight enough waste energy producing nectar without getting pollinated. Those flowers that are “just right” produce the most offspring.
Other flowers have a different approach. They have an all access policy that invites opportunistic pollinators. The picture above is the flower of legendary nightshade. The picture is a bit out of focus, I had my toddler hanging off my arm and couldn’t keep it steady.
The many different shapes, colors, sizes and scents of flowers are a direct result of 70 million years of relationships between plant and pollinator. The variation has increased throughout the generations leading to the variety flowers we see today.
Up Next: Patterns
Another installment of my Year in My Yard series.
When we think about flowers the first examples that come to mind are probably the big showy flowers like roses, tulips and such. In reality, flowers come in much more subtle sizes and shapes. The flowers blooming in my yard have been equally showy even when the flower is barely a centimeter in size.
The rose is amongst the showiest flowers in any garden. They are also some of the most demanding plants one can grow. The plant demands so much attention from humans to support their enormous flowers. In a natural setting, this wasted energy would serve no advantage to the plant.
The other flowers I highlight in this post will be the other guys, the flowers we easily miss or dismiss as weeds or other undesirables. What they lack in size and color they make up for in the delicate intricacies of their humble flowers.
I found all of these flowers off in the brush beyond the confines of my “manicured” and mowed lawn. Each of them is eeking out a living in a jungle of other plants, literally battling for survival. This same battle plays out in my lawn and gardens in other forms based on the purpose we have created for those blooms.
Unlike the previous flowers, the white clover has to eek out a living in my lawn. In order to conform to societal norms and city ordinances, I have to keep my lawn mowed to some degree. The white clover has adapted to this environment and serves as a free source of nitrogen in the soil. This unique feature of clovers to fix nitrogen is why fertilizer companies have marketed clover as a weed. (Why would they want the competition right?) Needless to say, I have a lot of clover in my yard and my lawn is greener because of it
The raspberry and asparagus represent two different examples of subtle flowers in my garden. The size of the flower illustrated how we use the plants as humans. The raspberry has larger bloom because we are consuming the product of the flower, the berry. Conversely, we eat the new shoots of the asparagus. Because we eat the shoots and not the fruits the asparagus flowers retain the small size of their wild ancestors.
As summer progresses keep an eye out for those little flowers that may otherwise go unnoticed. Take a moment to appreciate their simple beauty in subtle places.
Spring is waning and summer is fast approaching. As I have been documenting the flowering plants on my property this year I have noticed the progression of flowers seems to come in spurts of new blooms followed by relative pauses followed by another transition to a new group of flowers. These pauses could be explained by the amount of time each species blooms, is pollinated and then wilts. This post contains the last of the spring flowers and starts some of the early summer flowers.
My lone azalia has been browsed by the deer upt ot about 5 feet. The deer eat all the twigs and shoots in the winter leaving few flowers the following spring.
Strawberries are delicious for both humans and wildlife. This flower had a surprise to offer, a springtail (the small black dot left of center).
Springtails are amongst the smallest and most numerous insects on the planet. They get their name from a tail like appendenge they use to “spring” away from danger. They are so small they often go unnoticed despite their large populations in most areas. Each spring when snow is still on the ground you can often find crowds of springtails in tree wells where the snow has melted and the sun is warm.
Phlox is another one of those plants of which I am not fond. The attractive blooms are deceiving as the plants themselves will spread and quickly take over a given area. These phlox are in several openings in the forest around my house. If they ever get out of control I will keep the population in check!
We moved into our house 2 years ago. The former owners were ambitious gardeners and we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into with all the gardens and flowers. The first year was mostly about deer management. Anything the deer wanted, they ate. Many potential flowers ended up in the the bellies of our impressive local deer population. This meadow rue is one of those that finally made it past the deer and bloomed.
Above are a couple of different varieties of iris I found this year. The left is a native Blue Flag, the middle a mysterious yellow flag that I found blooming near the pond and the more domestic yellow iris on the right.
Peonies are huge. I’ve been challeged to take pictures of some ridiculously small flowers this year. Peonies are on the other end of that spectrum, they’re HUGE!
The flower of the chive looks like a single flower at first glance. A closer look reveals a composite mosaic of many smaller flowers. This creates a one stop shop for passing pollinators.
So this isn’t a flower….I think. Duckweed is the smallest flowering plant on the planet. The flower is little more than two small pistels with some pollen. No petals, not flare, just function. Each duckweed plant consists of two small leaves and several roots, there isn’t any extra energy to be invested in luxurious flowers.
A Year in my Yard has been successful and challenging thus far. I have been challenged to be aware of the changes of each plant and to keep a keen eye for flowers that may not be as large or colorful as I would expect. This first flower I spotted while mowing the lawn. I mowed around it and came back to identify and photograph the tiny flower that almost met my mower blade.
This is amongst the most diminuative and modest flowers I have found this year. Dispite their small size and unassuming color the flowers are quite attractive. Each bloom is about 3mm wide and can easily dissappear in the lawn.
This next flower is still small but a bit more showy.
This is a true wildflower native to my yard. Off the manicured lawn I have a small parcel of oaks and aspens. There are several oaks that are easily 150+ years old. This tells me that this land has not been plowed and the soil has been relativlely undisturbed since European settlement. This small flower is the decendent of the same flowers that bloomed when the oaks were saplings, when native Americans inhabited the area and followed the oaks north, chasing the retreating glaciers. Today these wildflowers struggle to keep up in the ever changing ecosystem with human disturbance and invasive species. This individual has held on.
May 19: Dwarf Crested Iris
Another small but showy flower on my property has a unique method of propagation. It grows in a slowly increasing ring year after year. This particular ring is about 4 feet in diameter bloom sychronously creating a purple flare in my front yard.
The Ohio Buckeye is not a native tree to Minnesota but it has adapted to the climate. I have several buckeys around my property most likely all related to largest and oldest tree in my front yard. Trees have a problem with reproducing. If thier offspring grow too close to the them they may be inadvertently shaded and killed. To overcome this setback many trees produce fruits, nuts or other modes of transporting thier seeds away from the parent. In the case of the buckey it produces large nuts that serve as a food source for animals of all kinds. Inevitably a squirrel will bury a nut and forget about it. Those forgotten stashed become new trees and the population spreads.
Survival doesn’t always involve playing by the convential rules. As the name suggests the wild geranium is a relative to the domesticated geraniums we see in a greenhouses and flower gardens. Despite the differences between the wild and domestic flowers they share many characteristics physical and genetic. In a way the wild gerenium has survived by being domesticated. It’s genetic legacy lives on through gardens and greenhouses.
The columbine is a delicate flower that is one of my favorites. I have found it very difficult to photograph due to its unique shape and structure. I found an angle that worked with this picture and I think it captures the flower’s personality well.
Here is a flower that I’m not exactly sure of. I think it is a member of the mustard family but I’m not entirely sure. This flower could have come from a wayward seed from my bird feeder or my vegetable garden. Wherever it came it from it eeked out a niche in one of my gardens. I let it go through its lifecycle to reproduce more seeds to explore the reaches of my yard.