Six months apart

July 20:

blooming blue vervain, bee balm, black-eyed susans, purple coneflowers on a sunny day

January 20:

the same scene in winter, all of the flowers brown stems and seedheads

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Bees and turtlehead

I could watch bees crawl in and out of turtlehead flowers all day. Mostly it’s just bumblebees and honeybees that do this, because they’re big enough to open the flowers. And I see more bumblebees than honeybees here.

bumblebee that is almost all the way out of a dark-pink flower, viewing almost straight into the flower's opening

They force their way into the “mouth” of the “turtle” and rustle around inside for quite awhile, then exit and find another flower to repeat the process.

Video of a bumblebee from a few years ago:

Sometimes they need to stop and regroup after they exit, brushing the pollen off their antennae or eyes, I assume.

bumblebee with a small yellow pollen basket, holding on to a light-pink flower with a leg up near its eyes, viewed from the side

This flower has a honeybee inside, barely visible.

looking straight into the 'mouth' of a dark-pink flower, the bee is not distinguishable but the back of the flower is dark

This year, at first, I thought I had noticed a difference – bumblebees climb out backwards, while honeybees turn around and climb out face-first – but then I saw a bumblebee turn around, too. (And the video above shows a bumblebee that turns around, so I had seen that before.) In fact, I don’t seem to have any photos of bumblebees backing out. So much for that theory.

just the head of a bumblebee emerging from a light-pink flower

same bee a fraction of a second later, with its front two legs and its body visible to the thorax

This one is my favorite: looks like it was quite the effort to squeeze out of this blossom.

three light-pink blossoms, with a honeybee emerging from the lower right flower horizontally and tilted, looks like it's pulling itself out with its front two legs

Only a little hint of the insect inside.

one bumblebee leg sticking out of a light-pink blossom

Rudbeckia’s visitors

If I were giving out an award for the most social flower of the year, black-eyed susan would win. One fun day, I spent the morning checking and rechecking on them, noticing and admiring the diversity of insects that were attracted to the blossoms. About two-thirds of these photos are from that one day alone.

Bees:

likely a bumblebee on the right side of the center disk, facing downward

metallic green been in the same position

unidentified smaller bee on the left of the center disk, curled and facing downward

possibly a megachile, on top of the center disk, with legs full of orange pollen

Flies:

really big fly with hairs, possibly a tachinid, on top of the center disk

long-legged fly standing out on one of the petals

Flies that look like bees:

bee mimic with a wide abdomen

much smaller bee mimic, or hoverfly, hovering to the left of the center disk

Butterflies:

tattered monarch sitting on the right side of the flower

Eastern tiger swallowtail with wings outstretched, tilted toward the camera, on the right side of the flower

Bees and butterflies:

gray butterfly, possibly a hairstreak, on the left side, and a long-horned bee on the right, their antennae crossing in the middle

Lacewing:

sitting on a petal in the front of the picture, facing downward

Aphids:

a blurred stem with two large red aphids and several smaller red aphids, in front of a black-eyed susan

Beetle:

beetle perpendicular to a tall center disk, with a dark red body and wing shells that blend in with the flower disk

Japanese beetle doing the splits:

beetle on the petals facing up

Leafhopper:

small green insect tucked into the fold where the petal meets the flower's center

I don’t know what this is:

patterned brown insect with long antennae, climbing up a tall center disk

Inchworm:

skinny green caterpillar holding onto a petal with its head hidden behind the center disk

And my favorite find, a camouflaged looper inchworm:

curved brown caterpillar hanging off the right side of the center disk

(More about this one later.)

There was also this gruesome find — one dead bee on a petal, with two dead bees and one dead fly suspended below — but then again, a spider’s gotta eat, too. (I assume that’s what created this scene.)

tall image of a flower with four dead insects, three hanging below the flower but no visible spiderwebs

Rudbeckia irregularities

With so many dozens of black-eyed susans in our garden, we were bound to spot some flowers that didn’t grow quite perfectly. Here are some examples.

One petal that remained fused:

black-eyed susan in bright sunlight, the petal at the 3 o'clock position looks a bit like a cornucopia

Irregular center disks:

the brown center has eight growths, some pointed and some flat, around the circle, and a thin, curvy yellow growth out the middle

cone-shaped center disk, with a smaller one pointing to the left growing out of the left side

two cone-shaped centers on one flower, mostly connected but separated near the top

Another type of irregular center, a condition called fasciation that causes elongated growth that’s usually in the stem, which causes the flower to be elongated too:

a really large roundish center that's about double the normal width, with petals hanging below and a couple petals strangely growing out the top right

(I left this flower in the garden, since fasciation is not contagious.)

Aster yellows, an incurable condition caused by a bacteria that’s spread by leafhoppers:

black-eyed susan with narrow petals that are light green instead of yellow

six brown centers without any petals

(These affected sections of flowers were removed, because aster yellows is contagious.)

Curled petals that seem to be caused by the tear / hole near the tips:

yellow flower with some narrow red in the center of the petals, all but three of the petals curled under, viewed from above

It’s a pretty effect, but it happened to many flowers, so I’m curious whether it’s something to be concerned about. I haven’t been able to find any information about this yet.

mostly red flower with orange-ish tips, most of the petals curled under, viewed from the side so the flower looks flat

For further reading

Rudbeckia variety

Long petals, short petals. Skinny petals, wide petals. Single color, bicolor. You name it, we saw it somewhere in the garden this year.

The red ones likely came from a seed mix a few years ago. They started in a flower box and are now spreading on their own and may be intermingling with the native, solid-yellow, rudbeckia hirta. I think they’re called “gloriosa daisy” though which specific variety, I’m not sure; perhaps there are more than one, which is why there’s such variation.

Above and below the black-eyed susans

This was a banner season for the native black-eyed susans — especially after such a lackluster year in 2016. While last year there were only a few flowers, and not any until September 19, this year they started opening up on June 20, and dozens and dozens of them kept going for weeks.

sunny shot of many rudbeckia hirta, with one on the far right closer and tilted more toward the camera

closer view of fewer flowers, focusing mainly on three across the frame

One gorgeous Sunday afternoon, I waded in close to the cluster and crouched near the ground to look up at the blue sky.

more than a dozen of the same flowers, viewed from below, with mostly blue sky and a few wispy clouds in the background

Side-by-side comparison of one flower:

Here’s one more photo of the whole bunch for good measure, from the side.

three dozen or so rudbeckia hirta in bright sunshine, viewed from the side