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

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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

Japanese beetles

I thought that the Japanese beetle outbreak wasn’t so bad this year (compared to previous years).

one Japanese beetle facing the camera on common milkweed, as if posing

I was wrong.

one beetle climbing downward on fleabane

They started out slowly, with just one or two showing up seemingly randomly on basically every kind of plant in the yard — no surprise, since there is a list of about 300 plants that they like. But then they found the grapevine

about a dozen beetles on two grapevine leaves, not much damage yet

and the purple giant hyssop

dozens of hyssop stems, the closest two each with many beetles

and on both of those plants, they really cluster.

two dozen beetles on one grapevine leaf, with holes chewed in about half

Japanese beetles are an invasive species that arrived on the east coast of the United States just over 100 years ago, and they’ve been moving westward ever since.

beetle climbing off a pearly everlasting bud onto the leaf

They are considered a major agricultural pest, destroying turf grass (which, sorry, I don’t care for anyway) and defoliating shrubs and trees.

beetle upright in the cone of a black-eyed susan

They’re actually quite attractive bugs, with their metallic coloring…

beetle in the center of an unopened purple coneflower

and maybe they’re even a little cute, with their “eyelashes.”

beetle clutching pearly everlasting leaves, with its antennae clearly visible

My current method of control is to walk around the garden with a small container of soapy water and to knock the beetles into the container, where they drown. This is mostly but not completely effective because some will fly away, and it is even a little bit fun (but only because it’s an invasive species) as long as the beetles don’t end up in my hair, which happens at least once a night. I sometimes find them there hours later, which is rarely a happy event.

clear-plastic container with several dead Japanese beetles floating in clear water, viewed from above

With the large size of my garden, this collecting activity leads to some pretty full, and pretty yucky, containers.

similar container with several layers dead Japanese beetles floating in dark, murky water, viewed from the side

These ones were pretty smart in picking a super-sharp thistle, where I’m not about to go after them.

four beetles deep in the heart of a thistle

I have heard from a couple of in-person and Instagram friends that chickens love these beetles, but unfortunately I do not have access to chickens. And Japanese beetles don’t have enough natural predators to really control their numbers in Minnesota — though I did catch this interesting altercation between a candy-stripe spider and a Japanese beetle on a common milkweed plant last year. The beetle put up a really good fight, but the spider eventually won.

first of a series of five photos of a white spider with a pink spot on its abdomen, pulling a beetle down off a leaf and wrapping it up

The end of a Japanese beetle at the hands of a candy-stripe spider, the same night — possibly the same pair, though on a joe-pye weed 10 feet away:

candy-stripe spider with a dead Japanese beetle on a joe-pye weed that is partially folded over, connected at the top by a spiderweb

Bee balm color variation

We’ve been growing bee balm (or wild bergamot, or monarda) for many years. It started as one large clump, and then we divided it into two sections. Each year it’s been the same pale purple color.

side view of dozens of light-purple bee balm, the second-closest with a bumblebee on the bottom

Last year there were a couple of volunteer blossoms, but this summer new growth is popping up all over. The first new plants were purple, too, but then I noticed a pink flower…

closeup of one blossom that is much pinker, several of the petals still closed tubes

…which turned into a pink patch.

10 blossoms from the side, the closest 3 in focus

Later I found a nearly white patch, then several more clusters like this.

closeup of one white blossom with dozens of open petals, some in the middle turning brown

9 white blossoms of various widths, most with lots of petals but some with only a few

And finally, I found a couple of blossoms that were a darker purple.

two large darker purple blossoms, past peak and losing their petals

Those are all the color possibilities that minnesotawildflowers.info lists for bee balm, all right in our own front yard.

Plant source: To the best of my memory, Roseville arboretum end-of-summer sale, 2011

Fleabane forest

It started with a small patch of fleabane that popped up in the lawn right behind the house in early June.

a narrow strip of three clumps of plants about two feet tall in the middle of a patchy lawn

Two weeks later came several right at the edge of the railing in the most shady spot of the front yard. There have been a couple here before, but this year they really took off. I called it a “fleabane forest” on Instagram.

up-close view from the side of many fleabane plants

dozens of small daisy-like flowers viewed from above

Little did I know that it would be nothing compared to what happened in the backyard in July: a roughly six feet-by-six feet spot of solid fleabane.

the entire patch of fleabane in the sun, standing far enough back to not have any individual flowers in focus

same clump of flowers but zoomed way in to focus on several in front, with many more blurred in a sunny background

I don’t care that it’s considered weedy; it’s cheery, and it is native.

similar photo but closer in so there are fewer fleabane flowers in the frame

fleabane, zoomed out to where individual flowers are recognizable but there are so many that none are really in focus

Minnesotawildflowers.info recognizes three kinds of fleabane in Minnesota. I am pretty sure the early ones were Philadelphia fleabane. I’m leaning toward prairie fleabane for both of the other locations, and perhaps the difference in bloom time is simply because of different amounts of sunlight. All three varieties that grow in Minnesota are native, though, so I’m not overly concerned about getting the correct identification.