Once again I visited the Mt. Cuba Center for their yearly Wildflower Celebration. This is a yearly event I always try to partake of. It's always neat seeing how far along things are compared to my garden back in New Jersey. This year though they were actually a week or two behind, but I've come to realize the cold winters seem to only effect certain plants. For example Trilliums were way behind from where they were last year, and they actually had a clump of twinleaf still flowering which is one of the earliest wildflowers to bloom.
I was told the purpose is to analyze the pollen and see what the honeybees are working. Naturally this peaked my interest because I wrote a book titled "Native Plants for Honeybees." It's geared a little more for an Eastern US audience, and could probably be summarized simply by saying plant enough of something and honeybees will work it. But certain plants are favored compared to others depending on what the hive is foraging for. Some plants only take a few individuals while others require a field of it to be planted to get honeybee attention. Many plants aren't even bee pollinated, and the ones that are, don't necessarily produce enough nectar to really warrant swarms of foragers, but are worked just for their pollen instead. I'll be asking more about this project and hope they present their findings at some later date as I'm eager to learn what plants they really took to at the Mt. Cuba Center.
I'm expecting it to mostly be trees and shrubs at first, then a swift turn towards wildflowers as the year goes on. Right now there's probably few if any ephemerals being worked but I did notice the bees working a few there.
Honeybees hate pollen traps because pollen is fed to the developing larva. Thus forcing the bees to pass through a pollen trap is taking literally taking food from the young bees mouths'. I don't use them personally but if I recall right, you can actually have a hive population crash from over using them. I think three weeks is the maximum they can be on safely but honestly with five hives, they could just as well rotate which hives have the traps on them each week. Unless the idea is to see if all five hives are working the same plants? So hopefully they're taking them off every other week or so.
Alright on with the flowers. So seeing the honeybee hives was "great"
because I'm interested to learn what natives they're working. Actually
honeybees working native plants is not viewed as a good thing among conservationists,
especially in the south western US. We have lots of native bees that
specialize in pollinating specific species or genera of plants and they only
work those plants; but when you throw in a hive of honeybees, they're
actually stealing food from our native bees who's life cycle sinks up with the blooming of those plant species. Often the specialist
pollinator brood doesn't get the nutrition it needs from different
sources of pollen so its important they work those specific plants and not something else.
my book I argue another factor effecting native bee populations is
habitat loss. If we had more native plants, or even just flowers in
general we have more food for the bees. Natives are better because they
support more native bees and have the added benefit of other native
insects and are better for the environment as a while. Meanwhile,
honeybees pollinate a lot of the invasive plant species that contribute to habitat loss. Find a
stand of purple loosestrife in bloom and watch the honeybees go to town. They're
not totally to blame though, they're a generalist pollinator and you'll
see our native bumblebees working them just as hard.
They're in the lily family, they have a fair amount of pollen to offer, and there's even a little bit of nectar in the bottom of the flower. Now judging by the fact that no one has ever sold Lily Honey before, let alone Trillium Honey, it's probably just enough nectar to get the bee interested and not something a hive could stock pile. So this is really just a pollen source on par with our native roses. Willow trees are probably a far more superior option for this time of year, but if you happen to have a large forested area, or maybe an existing population of Trilliums on your land, it's worth it to keep them around. They don't work all Trillium species but they're still great plants to have around.
Ideally these plants should be covering the forest floor in huge numbers but sadly the deep population, logging, development, and plant poachers have really taken a toll on our native ephemerals.
This year's bloom cycle is so far behind that I was able to see the elusive Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale, in bloom. They are in every way similar to T. grandiflorum...
Sadly I was not early enough to see Trillium
pusillum flowering at its peak though. They actually do look very pretty when they first open. Give them a week though and the petals are quick to shrivel up and turn magenta. Even with the added color, they're surprisingly easy to miss, and their small size doesn't help.
The Mt. Cuba Center has a number of Trillium hybrids on display, only one of which was flowering on that day. Trillium
flexipes x erectrum. Due to their
slow rate of reproduction, populations of
different species have become isolated from one another. When grown
together though, perhaps in a garden setting, it seems some species are
better able to hybridize with one another. This specimen isn't the robust red
of T. erectum, and it has the cream white stigma of T. flexipes, which should otherwise be completely red!
true species of Trillium erecturm is a robust red color (though this
one is hinting a little magenta) and has a solid red stigma. The flower
also wreaks of rotting fish; thankfully one has to practically stick
their nose inside the flower to observe this fact.
Poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, is another of our native ephemerals who's
seeds are spread by ants. Unlike Trilliums and Trout Lily, and pretty much all the others that spread their seeds this way, this is perhaps the
easiest one to grow and spread by seed. Unfortunately, being a member of the poppy family, the flowers only produce pollen and nectar is too insignificant for honeybees to bother with. But it's another easy plant to cheer up the forest floor each spring.
ladder, Polemonium caeruleum, now this is another ephemeral I
noticed honeybees taking an interest in. Honestly I'm not sure about the nectar to pollen ratio. Plants that produce large quantities of nectar (that are easy to get at) are always favored by honeybees which is why they love the mint family so much. This is in the Jacob's Ladder/Phlox family though so I'm not sure where it falls. Honeybees don't seem to work Phlox so this was a neat find. Also note the cream white Trillium
flexipes in the photo.
Jacob's ladder, Polemonium caeruleum. Occasionally flowers hue more towards purple than blue.
I got to see Swamp
Pink, Helonias bullata, flowering. This is a rare and threatened species native to the
bogs of New Jersey and a few other locations along the east coast. The
deer treat these flowers like cotton candy.
Green Trillium, Trillium viridescens, is easily identified by its
bicolored petals which are rarely all purple. Often the tips are green
and they transition into a darker maroon-purple farther down,
sometimes abruptly so, but also as a soft transition as seen here.
This species is pollinated by
vinegar flies (called fruit flies by pet stores). As the sun starts
to go down, the flower produces smell somewhere between cyder and
rotting apples and this draws the flies right to the flower. Their simple walking around causes them to tread over the pollen anthers and as they fly from flower to flower they pollinate the plant.
Trillium, Trillium luteum, have green petals when they first open. They
slowly turn yellow over the course of two weeks, and unlike Trillium
viridescens (seen in the background) they produce a pleasant lemony
scent. To be honest, I'm not certain what pollinates this species but I'm sure the fragrance has to be produced for a purpose.
forest floor at the Mt. Cuba Center is coated in a default of Virginia
Bluebells, Woodland Poppy, Fernleaf Phacelia, and occasional patches of
Woodland Phlox, Jacob's Ladder, Bellwort, and Foam Flower. There's a scattering of
Ferns and Heucheras and populations of native Iris, Bloodroot and Trout Lily. Trilliums and
other specialty plants act as accents as they're harder to reproduce in
good numbers among the shrubs and trees. Someday I hope to grow enough of these plants to make my own seed mix.
Also forming a carpet of cloud-like flowers are Quaker Lady Bluets, Houstonia caerulea. When grown in mass and seen from afar almost create the illusion of a recent snowfall.
In years past, I had noticed the population had petered out. I believe they transplanted loads of them to other locations in the garden where they've since started to spread. This is pretty close to where it was the first year I saw it.
Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum, has a beautiful star shaped flower...
when it's open. Flowers only open up when in full sun and are quick to
close up on cloudy days or night fall.
is a wildflower probably best seen in the wild. Garden plants rarely produce flowers because they're a little finicky. I've been told it's best to plant them on top of rocky soil, or buried stones, because the ones that flower in nature are the oldest members of the population. Populations favor reproduction by division
and only produce a single leaf each year. It's only when a plant has
made a massive tap root that they bother to flower. Growing them in
containers might also work too, but I've never tried this myself.
This Trout Lily isn't getting enough sun so it's starting to close its flower for the day.
Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum. This is another ephemeral honeybees will work, but I didn't see any taking any interest to them on that day.
When viewed from below, it's easy
to see why this is considered a lily. The bright flower is to entice
insects in to pollinate the flower. Later in the year, a seed pod will
form at the end of the stem and slowly lay on the ground. Seeds are
coated in elaiosome which entice ants to take them back to the nest
where they're planted in the soil.
Root, Sanguinaria canadensis. This native poppy pushes up its flower
with the leaf clasping the stem before unfolding. Flowers are a tad
quick to shed their petals however, which is why double flowering
varieties can be popular among growers. Pictured here is the single flowering true species.
a double flowering variety. This plant has produced more flower petals
than typical in place of reproductive parts, usually the pollen anthers. Typically
double flowering plants produce fewer seeds.
Ginger, Asarum canadense, grows to form a thick ground cover of
leaves. Look beyond this dense of mat in the early spring though and
you'll likely find the flowers each plant produces. They're pollinated
by flies and carrion beetles, thus the flowers are not showy and simply
lay on the ground. Later on seed pods form and split open so ants can
take the seeds back to the nest and plant. This can be an aggressive
spreading plant though, and often seedlings don't require the aid of
being planted by ants to germinate.
Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides. These only produce pollen, and while honeybees can work them, they're not always at the top of the list. Honeybees work hard and they'd rather put their efforts toward a plant that at least gives them a little bit of nectar.
And of course their has been the great addition of the raptor bird demonstration that I look forward to every year. Here a Turkey Vulture was sunning itself on a Do Not Enter sign... I did not enter.
Actually this was a brief moment I managed to capture. All the birds are rescues that would otherwise be put down due to injuries (some mental and some physical). Some of the birds were hit by cars and unable to fly, others were illegally raised as chicks found by people who didn't think to call someone about it. The majority of the birds there didn't fly and were simply shown for educational purposes, which is more enjoyable than it sounds.
This is an Osprey which feeds exclusively on fish. Thus you only find them along rivers, bays and coastal areas.
He was actively flapping his wings to fly straight down at the earth.
After the first spell of doing this he did right himself up again. But as they took him away from the people he began to act up again.
All and all I had a wonderful time.