Sunday, August 7, 2011

Love and Death Among the Flowers

It's goldenrod season in earnest, now, and there's no better place to see this gorgeous flower in splendid array than the Hawk Road trails at Moreau Lake State Park. That's where I went today, and sure enough, I found magnificent stands of Canada Goldenrod just now opening their flamboyant sprays.

These trails are in the Warren County part of the park, and they can be reached by daring drivers willing to risk the undercarriages of their cars on a narrow sharp-rocked road to a parking area. Every time I bump and swerve up this road, I wonder what possesses me to attempt to access this site. Only fellow flower nerds would understand. This is the only place I know where to find Purple Milkwort (Polygala sanguinea). Now, this is not a rare plant, and flower atlases show that it grows in most counties of New York State. I wonder why I don't find it more often? Why does it grow on this side of the Hudson but not on the Saratoga County side? Could it be that the bedrock over here creates a different mineral concentration in the soil?

I almost didn't find it today, in fact. There were only a few plants where in other years I have found abundant numbers, and most of these were shriveled and dry, with only the bleached-out remnants of their clover-like flowerheads hanging down. I guess the recent heat simply cooked them where they grow among flat rocks that hold the heat of the sun. I did manage to find one puny little plant that still had green leaves and the blossoming flowerhead you can see in the photo above. Those tiny little yellow dots are the actual flowers, while the showy purple parts are the flower bracts.

Another flower that I find only here among these rocks is American Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegiodes). This is a Mint Family plant whose pungent minty odor is easier to detect than its minuscule lavender flowers.

The wonderful thing about Queen Anne's Lace is that it thrives through drought and heatwaves just as happily as it endures long spells of rainy cold. All kinds of insects appear to find its pollen to their liking, for I rarely find a blossom without its attendant critters. Today the flowerhead was serving as a nuptial bed for this pair of love bugs. I think they may be some kind of flower beetle.

Now, I didn't mean to pry too closely here, but once I blew up this photo on my computer screen, I couldn't help but notice the clear appendage that seems to be joining this copulatory couple. I'm not at all up on insect anatomy. Could that possibly be the male's penis?

Another sturdy native plant of open roadsides is Boneset, which is just now starting to open its flower clusters, offering a banquet of pollen to visiting hordes of bees and wasps and butterflies. When I saw this Pearl Crescent Butterfly on a Boneset bloom, I hurried over to try to capture a photo of this usually elusive creature. But this one didn't move. Didn't budge, even when my camera lens nearly touched it. But then I saw something else move down inside the flowerhead, and next I was startled to see a flash of bright yellow as this brilliantly colored Goldenrod Crab Spider tried to pull its prey ever deeper into hiding. Fascinated, I peered even closer, only to see a second spider emerge from another part of the flower and tussle a bit with the first one. I wonder if it was trying to steal its prey.

Well, that first spider never released its hold on the back of the butterfly's neck, even when I manipulated the flower for a clearer view. I guess its fangs were plunged pretty deeply in.

The second spider dropped off when I touched its perch, but I could still see its bright yellow self scurrying through the grass. These spiders must have only recently moved from the yellow goldenrod to the greenish-ivory Boneset, since their color had yet to change to match their new lurking place. Goldenrod Spiders are able to do that, but it does take some time. At any rate, the lack of camouflage did not seem to hamper this spider's hunting prowess. Poor butterfly!


greentangle said...

Nice photos. Yesterday I was out for a little walk and took a few casual shots of a butterfly on a thistle flower. Wasn't until I got home and was checking the sharpness of the photos that I noticed the spider lurking on the backside of the flower. Same story everywhere, I guess.

squirrel said...

Sure was a lot of drama going on in your area. Thanks for sharing.

Louise said...

Oh, poor butterfly! It's the way of Nature, I guess.

Raining Iguanas said...

JD, your post is that fun science class field trip with the great teacher. The down side is, you make it very hard to go to work knowing what mother nature has waiting for us just around the corner.
Your photos are "Naturific"

suep said...

hmm, now you have piqued my curiousity about those beetles ...
(returning after five minutes on google: lord help me if the authorities ever see fit to confiscate my computer, they will find a record of google searches such as "flower beetle clear penis" --!)
Seriously though, the buggy world is beautiful and scary at the same time, if you get up close enough - which you did !

Jacqueline Donnelly said...

Hi greentangle. Isn't it wonderful that our cameras can help us see things we would otherwise miss altogether?

Yes, indeed, Squirrel! I never know what excitement may await me each time I venture out.

You said it, Louise. All God's chillun gotta eat.

What sweet praise from you, Raining Iguanas! Sure wish I'd had a science teacher like that.

Yes, suep, I think those with prurient interest in our computer files would surely be disappointed with what they would find. I check the stats of my blog sometimes, and see what search-words people use that lead them to my blog, and a frequent term is "acrobatic sex," which takes them to my posts about how male dragonflies grab their mates by the backs of their heads. I'll bet that's not what the seekers had in mind!