Bee Balm with Insects

During these last days of July our blooming bee balm plants (Monarda fistulosa) have been a hive of activity for insects and an occasional hummingbird. The hummingbirds were too skittish to capture in a photo, but the insects were too busy to notice my presence.

Two-spotted Bumblebees

When the sun is out two-spotted bumble bees (Bombus bimaculatus) are constantly working the bee balm flowers. This bumble bee is thriving in eastern North America. Unlike other species of bees its numbers are not declining. They typically nest below ground, commonly repurposing abandoned rodent burrows.

Clearwing Hummingbird Moth

The Clearwing Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe) Is also a frequent visitor to our bee balm. It is found in forests, meadows, and suburban gardens throughout North America, but is most common in the Eastern United States and Ontario, Canada. This moth is very similar to hummingbirds in appearance and feeding habits, it can easily be mistaken for a small hummingbird.

The petals of Bee Balm flowers are small tubes. The pollen and nectar of the flower are apparently within these tubes; the bumble bees go from petal to petal sticking their heads into each tube. The photos below of our domestic bee balm focus on illustrating the tubular shape of its petals.

Native Bee Balm

Native bee balm in our area is lavender, in contrast to the magenta flowers of domestic bee balm from the local nurseries.

Peonies

Peonies are beautiful garden flowers that bloom for a short time in late spring and early summer in temperate climates. Two peonies we planted last year in north-central Minnesota came through with gorgeous flowers in late June.

Peonies are known as the “king of flowers” in China, where they have been highly appreciated for over 1000 years. In a recent online poll in China asking which of 10 choices should be the national flower, the peony won the support of 79% of the voters. Peonies have also been a favorite subject for Renoir, and are a common motif in Japanese tattoos.

Giant Mayfly

Yesterday there were huge numbers of the Giant Mayfly (Hexagenia limbata) covering building surfaces facing the shoreline of Leech Lake in Walker Minnesota. The images below were taken on Walker’s public dock.

In the central image above, the Mayfly to the right is male and the one to the left is a female. Males typically are smaller, darker, and have larger eyes.

This species of Mayfly can be found throughout most of North America, but is most common in the Great Lakes region. There are several interesting facts about Mayflies.

  • Mayflies are one of the first insect species to evolve, appearing more than 300 million years ago.
  • As commonly known, they only live 1-2 days in their adult stage (imago), but can live up to two years in the nymph stage, and spend 2-3 days in a sub-adult stage (subimago).
  • The yearly emergence of Mayflies from nymph to subimago stages commonly happens over a very few days. This results in thick swarms of mayflies, so huge that the swarms can be mistaken for storms on weather radar.
  • Mayflies are a critical food source for fish in lakes and slow-moving streams, where they can comprise a significant proportion of the aquatic biomass.
  • Fly fishermen study the habits of Mayflies closely, in particular the Hexagenia, known by them as the “Hex”. Avid trout fishers flock to northern streams when the Hex emerges in late June and early July.

Magnolia and Mimosa

This is one more look at trees of SE Louisiana, where Magnolia and Mimosa trees bloom in the late spring. The next blog post will shift focus back to the lake country of Minnesota.

Magnolia

Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) are highly valued trees that are strongly associated with the southern United States. It is the state tree of Mississippi and the state flower of Louisiana.

The ancient genus Magnolia includes over 200 flowering plants. This genus was among the first flowering plants to evolve, around 95 million years ago. It is thought that the magnolia flower developed before bees were available as pollinators, which is likely why magnolias rely mainly on beetles for pollination.

The Magnolia genus is named for French botanist Pierre Magnol.

Mimosa

There are positive and negative aspects to the mimosa tree, also known as the Persian silk tree. As implied by the name, it is native to southwestern Asia.

In late spring and summer the beautiful pink flowers of the mimosa bloom with a pleasing scent attractive to butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. It is also a fast-growing tree with a spreading form that effectively provides shade.

On the negative side, the tree is weak and short-lived. It is also messy when it drops its blooms, and later when it drops its large seed pods. It is not native to North America and is restricted in some areas as an invasive species.

Gardenia and Star Jasmine

This is a fragrant time of year in Louisiana. Two of our most sweetly scented flowers are blooming, Gardenia and Star Jasmine.

Gardenia

There are over 200 varieties of gardenia in a wide variety of sizes that are available for landscaping. As pictured above, we have several types thriving in our backyard. The scientific name for gardenia is Gardenia jasminoides; it is also called Cape Jasmine. However, it is actually in the family of coffee plants, Rubiaceae, while true jasmine is in the olive family, Oleaceae. Gardenia is native to SE Asia, and is now used worldwide in gardens in temperate to subtropical climates.

Star Jasmine

Trachelospermum jasminoides has several common names; Star Jasmine, Confederate Jasmine, Asiatic Jasmine and several others. However this plant is not truly jasmine either. It is in the family Apocynaceae, a family known as “dogbane” because several members in it are poisonous to dogs. In our area Star Jasmine vines are commonly used to climb over residential fences.

Eastern Band-Winged Hover Fly on Gardenia bloom

The “Insect ID” app identifies the insect on this gardenia bloom as a Eastern Band-winged hover Fly, Ocyptamus fascipennis. Hoverflies have mimicked the body shape of wasps and hornets, but are actually harmless. They are beneficial to garden plants because they feed on aphids and serve as pollinators.

Cherrybark Oak

Cherrybark oak (Quercus pagoda) is a large and valued Red Oak found in the southern United States. They commonly attain heights well over 100 feet and can have trunk diameters of up to five feet. I have an awesome specimen of this tree in my backyard in SE Louisiana — because of it, my backyard is perpetually shaded in summer.

Cherrybark oak in November (left) and February (right). It gradually sheds leaves from late November through January and already in February next year’s leaves are budding. Also appearing in late February and early March are the flowers of the oak, called catkins — they are small but evident in the picture from February shown above.

Here is a closer view of the flowers (catkins) of the Cherrybark Oak, fallen and draped over a camellia bush. In early March catkins drop from the oak, creating quite a mess and filling the air with oak pollen.

Cherrybark oak’s name reflects that its bark is similar to that of the black cherry tree. Its bark, along with a fallen leaf is shown above in the photo to the left (December). A new leaf in spring (March) is shown in the photo on the right. The scientific name of the tree is Quercus pagoda. The term “pagoda” was used because the shape of the leaf somewhat resembles the roof of a pagoda.