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?