Saturday, November 21, 2015

Blue Hearts

This perennial flower is more purple than blue, but still it is called Blue Heart.

Blue Heart and Honey Bee

The Blue Heart is part of the Figwort Family. The scientific Genus name, Scrophularia, comes from the plant’s traditional use in Europe as a remedy for scrofula, a glandular swelling in the neck. The plants were also used to treat hemorrhoids, which were commonly called “figs”.


Blue Heart in bloom Greenwood County

The Kansas Blue Heart blooms for three months from June until August. The plant and flowers may appear massed in groups or as isolated stems throughout the prairie fields. Where the grass is short, the leaves and flowers remain close to the ground, but in the taller short grasses of the prairie fields the flowers will rise up to three feet to signal their presence to the bees and flies.

The flowers on the stem appear in order from the base of the stem, finally flowering at the end.

Blue Heart florets on a single stem

Time for a botany lesson.

Generally, a flower consists of four whorls, specialized rings of leaves: the calyx on the outside; the corolla lying inside the calyx; the stamens enclosed by the corolla, and the pistil in the center of the flower. The calyx consists of green sepals, separated or fused, which form a cup to protect and enclose the corolla. The corolla is the part of the flower we normally think of as pretty, made up of petals that again, like the calyx may be separated or fused. The stamens are the long tender filament we call the male reproductive element producing pollen that bees and flies pick up and transfer to other flowers. Finally, at the heart of the flower is the pistil, the female reproductive organ from which a long and slender style arises. The stigma is found at the tip of the style trapping pollen transferred by bees and flies.

a mass of Blue Heart flowers in Greenwood County

Here is how the Kansas Wildflowers describes the Blue Heart flower:

“Calyx tubular, sepals partially united, 1/4 to 1/3 inch long; … corolla with lobes spread widely at end of narrow tube, violet to purplish, 3/5 to 1 inch long, soft hairy within; lobes 5, nearly equal, oblong, 1/5 to 2/5 inch long…; stamens 4, included in tube; filaments short; … stigma entire, club-shaped.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

Argiope aurantia - Yellow Garden Spider

Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia) 

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey when all of the sudden along came a yellow garden spider who sat down beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away. 

Yellow Garden Spider (Argiope aurantia)

The Yellow Garden Spider is common throughout Kansas in the late fall. It is fairly large by spider standards; its body can be the size of a dime when the female is full of eggs. I found this yellow and black spider under the eave of a bridge, but you are just as likely to come face to face with them in tall weeds in open fields where they stretch out their webs to catch unwary insects, such as aphids, flies, grasshoppers, wasps, and bees. 

As for Miss Muffet, the spider rarely bites unless bothered and then its bite is annoysome rather than deadly. Then too, don’t we wonder why Miss Muffet was eating her curds and whey - cottage cheese to you and me - outside in the garden where her tuffet was likely to get soiled and dirty, rather than at the kitchen table where proper young girls should be? 

Unlike our dirty Miss Muffet, the Yellow Garden Spider is very neat and orderly. In a nightly ritual, she eats the circular interior part of the web and rebuilds it each morning with fresh new silk. 

Have you figured out yet that a tuffet is another name for an ottoman?


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Curlycup Gumweed

The common Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa, grows along paths and roadsides from June through fall. 

Curlycup Gumweed

Native Americans used the Curlycup Gumweed as a wash to treat poison ivy and burns and as an ointment to manage asthma and bronchitis, and also as a common cough remedy. Cowboys used the dried flower heads as fixin’s in cigarettes to treat asthma. The gooey white leaf sap is a substitute for chewing gum. The yellow flowering heads and seed pods produce a yellow dye.  The flower blooms from August throughout the fall.

Curlycup Gumweed and friend

Sunday, September 6, 2015

From May til September

It is the first week of September in Kansas. 

Wingstem and Flesh Fly

The chiggers and horseflies are still biting. The trees are just beginning to turn yellow and red. We had more rain than we should expect this summer, and so the summer grasses are taller and greener. Grasshoppers, crickets and bees are still to be found in the fields. The sounds of nature are softer and one hears the gentle rustle of the cool wind.

Pawnee Prairie Park on the western edge of Wichita, off Kellogg and next to the airport, is a lovely place to walk with the dogs. Plumlee Trails follows Cowskin Creek (5 miles more or less with 3 loops and dozens of turn-offs, a popular trail for horses). The cool weather brings to mind William Cullen Bryant's observation, “Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile."

Kansas wildflowers are still to be found. The Kansas Sunflower is everywhere in bloom, but so too the spiky, purple Thistle is in abundance, and Snow-on-the Mountain, with its showy white and green leaves. There are "lesser" flowers whose names are not so commonplace - the wingstem and curly cup gumweed for example.

curly cup gumweed

With my Iphone I captured a pic of a Pennsylvania leatherwing beetle camped out on the snow-on-the-mountain searching for aphids. 

Surely, Winter is not far away.


Rod Stewart's Maggie May comes to mind:

Wake up Maggie I think I got something to say to you
It's late September and I really should be back at school
I know I keep you amused but I feel I'm being used
Oh Maggie I couldn't have tried any more
You lured me away from home just to save you from being alone
You stole my heart and that's what really hurt



Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Believe it or not, the Coreopsis, aka calliopsis and tickseed, is a member of the Daisy family, Asteraceae. Its pretty yellow flower sometimes has red rays that emanate from the center. Coreopsis are used as food plants by the caterpillars of some butterflies. 

Coreopsis was designated the state wildflower of Florida.

Coreopsis in Kansas

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why is this dragonfly called the "widow skimmer"?

widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa), Kansas

Why is this dragonfly called the "widow skimmer"?

The widow skimmer (Libellula luctuosa) is found throughout the United States and right here in Wichita, Kansas around ponds and marshy areas.

I have looked online for explanations of its name, widow skimmer, but, pretty much, drawn a blank.

So, here goes. The Latin name is Libellula luctuosa, which translates as "water-level" and "mournful". In English, we transpose the words and come up with mournful water skimmer. Okay, the water skimmer makes sense for these insects that love to hover over marshes and lakes and grab other insects, but what about "widow"?

Here is my guess. Look at the two pairs of black stripes or bands on the wings. Long before Carl Linenaeus and modern taxonomy, women in mourning and widows wore black clothing in grief after the death of a loved one, and her grieving orphans wore a makeshift black armband.

perching widow skimmer

Makes sense, but it is only a guess.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Milkweed Bug

Milkweed Bug

The Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, is orange to orange-red and black in color, making our bug look somewhat like an escaped prison inmate.

Milkweed Bug, Sedgwick County, Kansas

Milkweed Bugs feed on the Milkweed plant. This helps to make these insects safe from predators, just like the Monarch butterfly whose larvae feed on Milkweed, as the sap in the Milkweed latex contains cardiac glycosides, a type of cardenolide, which is a heart-stopping steroid.

The Milkweed Bug is a true-bug, meaning they feed not with a mouth but with their long proboscis, which pierces and sucks on the seed pods, leaves, and stems of milkweed.

The sex of the insect can be determined by examining the abdomen. On the male, counting down from the thorax on the ventral side (abdomen), the fourth abdominal segment bears a black band, and on the female there are two identifiable black spots.

Abdomen of Milkweed Bug, female on the bottom has proboscis retracted

Females lay eggs ("oviposit" if you want the fancy zoological term), about 30 eggs a day or 2000 in a lifetime of approximately a month, depositing the eggs between the pods of the Milkweed plant.  In about four days (as the temperature warms to 80 degrees Fahrenheit) the nymphs hatch. The young nymphs resemble adults, but do not have wings or reproductive organs. Nymphs grow by stages called instars, each stage lasting approximately a week.

Females mate 5 to 12 days after the last molt for females and males two to three days. Copulation may last up to 10 hours.

Mating Milkweed Bugs on Milkweed

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Black-eyed Susans

Every poem has a story, every flower, every creature has a purpose. Susan in Wordsworth's poem is a country girl come to London.

The Black-eyed Susan is found mainly in the eastern half of Kansas, along gravel roadsides next to the wheat fields ready for harvest, in disturbed prairies, and in waste areas, blooming from June until September.

Black-eyed Susan

Poor Susan by William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads, 1798

At the corner of Wood-Street, when day-light appears,
There's a Thrush that sings loud, it has sung for three years:
Poor Susan has pass'd by the spot and has heard
In the silence of morning the song of the bird.

'Tis a note of enchantment; what ails her? She sees
A mountain ascending, a vision of trees;
Bright volumes of vapour through Lothbury glide,
And a river flows on through the vale of Cheapside.

Green pastures she views in the midst of the dale,
Down which she so often has tripp'd with her pail,
And a single small cottage, a nest like a Jove's,
The only one dwelling on earth that she loves.

She looks, and her heart is in Heaven, but they fade,
The mist and the river, the hill and the shade;
The stream will not flow, and the hill will not rise,
And the colours have all pass'd away from her eyes.

Poor Outcast! return--to receive thee once more
The house of thy Father will open its door,
And thou once again, in thy plain russet gown,
May'st hear the thrush sing from a tree of its own.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dame's Rocket

This road side flower tucked at the verge of woodland and field is beautiful in spring. 

Dames's Rocket

It goes by many names including: dame's rocket, damask violet, dame's-violet, dames-wort, dame's gilliflower, night-scented gilliflower, queen's gilliflower, rogue's gilliflower, and summer lilac. It is conspicuous for its tall spires with numerous blossoms, which have four purple petals. At evening, it gives off a scented smell.

This flower blooms at the same time as the Purple Phlox, but is distinguished by its height and four petals. The flower is normally a biennial with the blooms appearing the second year.