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Mid and late summer flowers

RBy Ranger Steve Mueller

The progression of flower blooms advances faster than I can keep record or even identify. Grasses and sedges bloom with cryptic flowers. Many are fairly easy to identify but it takes practice. I should have taken a course to become more proficient. Biodiversity is massive and more than any one person can master. 

I recently presented study results on the moths and butterflies of the Bryce Canyon Ecosystem – Utah at the U of California Davis campus for scientists from around the world. I identified myself as “competently incompetent.” Scientists focus their life’s work on a narrow group of species to become competent with details of anatomy, physiology, DNA/RNA, and ecology of a particular group. 

College professors encouraged me to focus work on a small group if I hoped to make significant scientific contributions and become employable. I remained focused on broad spectrum biodiversity. It was beneficial for the career I selected as a nature center naturalist. I was able to assist visitors with discovery of species and ecological niches for most taxonomic groups. I did not become proficient with any one group, including plants. 

As spring burst upon us, many showy flowers captured our attention and enthusiasm. We became anxious to spend time outdoors in refreshingly warm weather. Some collect spring morels, others seeks edible leaves, flowers, and fruits, while many focus enjoyment on the pageant of beauty. Early summer flowers replace spring’s large flowers with smaller yet still showy flowers. 

We become engrossed in yard maintenance, summer family activities, and focus drifts away from the plants living in our yards. We could become enthralled with the insects that visit flowers for nectar. Any one plant has a cadre of insects that visit for preferred nectar. Predatory insects and spiders take residence among flowers where they wait for a meal to come to them. Some insects and predators focus lives among the vegetation. 

Ecological niche adaptations require a narrow focus of activities for survival and reproduction. Set a portable stool by early summer flowers to see what insects utilize particular plants. Some have strict use behaviors for a species or plant family while others will visit a variety of blooms. By observing areas with several species blooming, one can note different insects associated with plants. Adult insects are often generalists when seeking nectar but are specific when selecting host plants for egg laying and young development.

Some flowers have a shape that limits access to particular insects and it enhances pollination success. When insects visit many species of plants, they spread the incorrect pollen to the pistil and ovary. Plants with structures that require a specific insect increases reproductive success. Massive flowering increases success.

Flower timing is seasonal and so are attending insect species. Relax near early summer flowers to see what insects visit. Do the same with late summer flowers and insects. You will notice some insects are present during both flowering periods and some are restricted to one or the other. 

Some flowers attract a broad variety of pollinators. Many ornamental garden flowers have been bred for beautiful appearance but have lost the ability to serve insect pollinators. Use of native plants helps preserve local biodiversity. Another advantage for using native plants in gardens is it will save money. They have adaptations to local climate and require less watering, fertilizer, and pesticides. Chemicals reduce biodiversity.

Late summer blooms replace mid-summer blooms and different beautiful insects grace our yards. You might not recognize insects by name but that is not important. Enjoy their variety along with the variety of flowers. If you are like me, many flowers evade identification but that does not stop us enjoying them.

I have been seeing about 15 species of butterflies daily as mid and late summer flowers bloom at Ody Brook. Enhancing biodiversity for native plants enhances insect, bird, mammal and other organism survival.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319of  or call 616-696-1753.

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