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.
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!!
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.
I have challenged myself to document and report all of the flowering plants on my property for they year. I will be sharing my findings as they happen throughout the flowering season.
Spring in Minnesota is full of extremes as the weather seems to go through mood swings, personalities and extremes all within several weeks. This spring started very early with nearly a week of very above normal temperatures. But in true spring fashion, the warmth was short=lived and the cold returned for several weeks. For us humans this is not a big deal as we just have to put on the winter jacket again and wait out the cold. But plants have much more at stake.
Each spring plants play the odds for when to withdraw from their energy reserves and begin to produce leaves and flowers. Those who bud out too soon risk losing their investment with late frosts. Those who bud out too late miss out on valuable solar energy to capture.
Plants also risk missing their pollinators if they bloom at the wrong time. Many plants rely on insects to transfer pollen from one flower to another increasing genetic diversity within the population and producing the next generation of the species. Because of climate change we are now witnessing an upset in some of these relationships. Some species of plants are blooming before their pollinators are present. This may not seem like a big deal but the very survival of some species is on the line.
And now here are some of those early gamblers:
April 2, 2016
Slippery Elm, Ulmus rubra
These small flowers have been nipped by the frost. Notice the wilting on the stamen and the damage to the bud scales. This tree took a hit but I think the gamble ultimately paid off. This is a tree species that I did not realize I had on my property and was a new one to identify as well!
April 14, 2016
Crocus, Crocus sativus
April 16, 2016
Pussy Willow, Salix discolor
Here is an example of how one species prevents self-fertilization. The first picture is the flower bud taken on March 26, 2016. The second and third pictures are from two different trees. The second picture is the male stage of the flower with the flamboyant male stamen spreading their pollen. In the third picture, the stamen have wilted and the female stigma has matured to receive pollen from another tree.
Boxelder, Acer negundo
Boxelder trees are short lived, water loving members of the maple family. They produce samaras (the helicopter seeds) like other maples. Growing up my favorite climbing tree was a boxelder.
Eastern Cottonwood, Populus deltoides
I have a love-hate relationship with cottonwoods. Their rapid and impressive growth make 50-year-old cottonwoods look like giants compared to other species 3 times their age. Because they are a member of the Poplar family they have very soft wood and will often drop branches or limbs during storms. As the name suggests they also produce cotton that will infiltrate every crack and crevice around the house, cars,and your own body. The yellow bud scales that protected the flower before it bloomed are quite sticky and will readily be tracked through the house on my feet, socks and shoes. I always seem to find them stuck in places well after the flowers have finished blooming.
Siberian Squill, Scilla siberica
Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea
Ground Ivy, commonly called Creeping Charlie, is a very common weed in many yards and lawns. Despite its negative reputation as a weed, this plant serves as an important early spring food source for many insects. The trumpet-shaped flowers are a product of coevolution with the insects that pollinate them. The shape forces the insect to enter the flower to access the nectar deep in the trumpet. In doing so the insect becomes covered with pollen, which is then transferred to another flower. Flowers are, for all intents and purposes, billboards for insects. They are advertisements that have evolved in response to pollinators. Each flower is adapted to a specific set of pollinators and each pollinator is adapted to a specific set of flowers. Which bears the question which came first?
The gamble of making energy demanding flowers is the dependence on the pollinator to complete the act of pollination. Without the pollinators, the plants would not be able to reproduce. This subtle relationship is often taken for granted but our very existence depends on it.
I have two more flowers I have yet to identify. New post coming soon!