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Conservation In Mind – Late summer’s native wildflower glory

By Frances Lamberts

“There is drama in nature, in every one of its bushes and flowers if you can see it.” The statement by Aldo Leopold comes to mind as a range of colorful wildflowers delight us in late summer, as does their special relationships with the insects which maintain nature’s abundance.

Yellow tones predominate, such as of Black-Eyed Susan, Orange Coneflower and Cup Plant, the last eagerly visited by Tiger Swallowtail butterflies while the first is pollinated by beetles, bees, flies, wasps and many other insects. Tennessee Coneflower still holds its pink-purplish corona forward to the sun while goldfinches have begun to work the Purple Coneflower’s seed heads. Our official state wildflower, the Passionflower vine, has unfolded its large, strikingly beautiful circle of purple, white and yellow flower parts; it is scoured for nectar by bumblebees and awaiting visits by two fritillary butterflies for whom its foliage is the larval food.

Tubular flowers of Trumpet Honeysuckle, Anise-scented Sage and Cardinal Flower are favorite nectar sources for the hummingbird while the latter two also attract bumblebees and butterflies. A few of the fall asters, like New York Ironweed and the Wood Aster are beginning to show, respectively, deep purple and white flowers; the intricate, crowded white flowers of the Virgin’s Bower vine attract butterflies and other insects.

Clearwing Sphinx day-flying moths and Monarch butterflies make many landings on Cosmos and Zinnia, important food sources for the Monarch on its long southward trek to wintering grounds in Mexico. It now is laying eggs and its larvae are beginning to be found on the leaves of the Common Milkweed plant.

No wildflower seems more prized by insects, though, than the Hoary Mountain Mint. On sunny days, comings and goings amid its dense arrays of tiny white flowers reveal crowds of them. In an observation spanning some 20 minutes, naturalist Larry McDaniel noted many members of five butterflies species alighting, along with carpenter and honey and sweat bees, Tachinid and Crane and Blow flies, a “true bug” member and small beetles, dauber wasps and yet others. They perform the pollination, waste-disposal, pest control and other service functions on which continuance of our landscape plants and food supply depends.

When enough men note the sense of thriving-life adventure amid our flowering plants, Leopold wrote, it will make conservationists of all. Then “we need fear no indifference to bushes, or birds, or soil, or trees,” he said since we will have conservation, “the thing itself.”