Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Purple False Foxglove

The short-grass prairies of Erie Sand Barrens State Nature Preserve, awash in golden and purple. The yellow flowers are those of Gray Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis; the purple belong to Purple False Foxglove, Agalinis purpurea.

I found myself at this obscure but stunning preserve in northern Ohio recently, and was pleased to see the place looking in fine shape. It had been twelve years, probably, since I had set foot here. A botanical highlight was the expansive drifts of the foxglove, and I was struck with the urge to bring some of the plants back, in pixelated form. Some of those efforts follow.

A luxuriant foxglove provides an elegant counterpoint to the pinnate leaves of Partridge-pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata. The Purple False Foxglove is not a weedy thing, tending to occur in higher quality meadows uninfested with nonnative fare and often surrounded by other interesting native flora.

Point blank down the gullet of a foxglove flower. Note how the inner corolla is striped, and stippled with reddish dots. These are nectar guides; neon signs advertising for pollinators.

And in comes one, perhaps Nature's premier pollinating machine, at least in this neck of the woods. A large fuzzy bumblebee in the genus Bombus; an animal that supposedly lacks the appropriate aeronautics and engineering to get aloft, if you were to computer-model the beast. But fly they do, albeit in a noisily bumbling fashion, from flower to flower.

The bumblebee forcefully plops onto the foxglove's bloom, and commences to douse itself with granular pollen dust. These winged bags of fur are every foxglove's dream - a sure ticket to pollen transfer and outcrossing.

Bumblebees are not the only insects drawn to the allure of the foxglove flowers. This is a flowerfly in the Syrphidae family, doing a remarkably good job of looking stingingly dangerous. It's a ruse - the fly is a mimic of a hornet, and even buzzes like one, but it packs no punch. It and the bumblebee were part of a long parade of interesting six-legged pollinators that were lining up for the foxgloves' nectar.

We even found a rare white form of the "purple" foxglove: Agalinis pupurea forma albiflora. This form has only the slightest rosaceous tint to the petals.

Places such as Erie Sand Barrens are vital repositories of biodiversity, their abundance of life all the more striking when compared to the monocultural wastelands of beans and corn that surround this site.

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1 comment:

Junior Barnes said...

The mention of the bumble bee, which according to all of our modern technology shouldn't be able to fly, clearly shows the ingenuity of the Creator of all things.