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 camouflaged looper caterpillar.)

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I garden without paying much attention to where plants are supposed to grow. I’ll try most flowers once, and if they don’t like the spot, I don’t usually try again. With some notable exceptions (bloodroot keeps breaking my heart), plants will grow in my yard, whether in full sun in the front or in part-shade to mostly-shade in the back.

With that said, and perhaps not surprisingly, I’ve noticed that most of the summer prairie flowers in my yard bloom earlier and more vigorously in full sun.

All comparison photos were taken on July 24; sun first, then shade.

Bee balm was the plant that made me think of comparing the locations:

Yellow coneflower:

Joe-pye weed, just opening up in both spots, but a little further ahead in the full sun:

Pearly everlasting — all over in the front yard, but struggling to make it through all the creeping charlie in the backyard:

Dramatic difference for the black-eyed susan — a huge cluster in the front yard, but just one small plant in the backyard:

(Much more to come about the black-eyed susan situation in the front yard.)

Purple coneflower — not even a comparison because at that point, there were none in the backyard (and even today, August 8, there is just one).

about a dozen large purple coneflowers

I’m not ready to attribute all of the front-yard success to amount of sunlight alone. For example, in the case of the black-eyed susan, in previous years the results were reversed (few in the sun, many in the shade).

And even in part shade, the flowers usually do grow, just later, like the same backyard bee balm location, taken on August 7:

a dozen bee balm flowers, just past peak

Every summer when the common milkweed is in full bloom, I find insects trapped in its blossoms. They can’t get their legs out because they’re caught in a slit in the flower or on a bundle of pollen called pollinia.

honeybee that appears to be visiting but is stuck on the underside of a cluster

I sometimes see honeybees struggling, like this one from two years ago…

honeybee, out of focus at the bottom of a cluster, hanging by one of its back legs

…and then if they fight enough, they’re often able to get away. I’ve even seen honeybees get stuck, struggle, free themselves, and then immediately get stuck again on another flower.

same honeybee has righted itself, and its wings are beating so fast they look like a blurred circle

But sometimes, they aren’t able to get free. I assume this one struggled so much that it got turned around and found itself in a cage. When I find them, I help them escape. It may be interfering with nature, but I can’t sit by and watch them suffer.

honeybee inside a blossom, viewed from underneath, and the individual flower stalks look like a cage

For the insects that can’t escape, if I don’t find in time, that’s how their story ends. I’ve found many dead insects with their legs stuck in the flowers.

honeybee stuck at the bottom of a cluster

Honeybees, flies, and moths are the only insects I’ve found trapped; bumblebees and other bees, as well as butterflies, apparently are strong enough that this isn’t an issue.

fly with its front two legs trapped in one flower and at least one back leg trapped in another

I found these two moths about two feet apart one morning.

small white moths with a bit of brown stripes, one with its wings open and the other with wings straight behind

The one on the left even lost a leg in the ordeal; you can see it in the first picture too.

facing straight into a blossom, with a white insect leg bent in one of the flowers

Learn more about this phenomenon

I think the title pretty much says it all.

Painted lady:

side view of butterfly facing right underneath a pale-pink cluster, nearly blending in with the flower color

Eastern tiger swallowtail:

facing left under a flower cluster, wings partly open, back wing only partly visible
Red admiral with wings closed:

side view of butterfly facing left, hanging off the bottom right side of the flower cluster

Same butterfly with wings open:

same position, with the wing on the right visible and the wing on the left straight on with the camera

Comma butterfly — wings closed, with the white C / backwards comma visible:

mottled brown butterfly with a small white c, facing up to the right under the flower

Same butterfly with wings open:

wings flat, top wings hanging below the blossom, antennae in an upside-down V

Mourning cloak (taken from the “wrong” side of the sunlight, so it’s in shadow):

facing left underneath a flower cluster, antennae to the left, proboscis in a flower

Monarch:

butterfly hanging underneath a blossom, facing right, taken from far away, showing a lot of the plant

And though this one isn’t a butterfly yet, it will be one day, and it’s my favorite photo of the year so far, so I’m including it in this set. Monarch caterpillar in common milkweed:

nearly round blossom, a few flowers moved from the left front to show a caterpillar with its head at the bottom left and its end up near the middle