Face to the Sun

I read somewhere the flower head (capitulum) of a sunflower will track the sun when it is young and growing, and will eventually face east when mature. Tracking the sun in this manner is called heliotropism. To me, it’s a bit of magic in the plant world.

WATERCOLOR OF SUNFLOWER

Many articles have been written about the common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and why the flower heads follow the sun. It’s believed there is unequal growth in the plant stem. The east side of the plant stem grows more during the day than the west side, and vice versa during the night, thus allowing the flower head to move. But that changes when the plant is mature and its stem stiffens; then the flower head will face the east.

I sometimes wonder whether it’s somewhat similar for humans. No, not that we grow more on one side than the other. But that we excel when we turn our face to the sun and feel the first morning light hit the face with a gentle warmth and a promise of the day to come. Is that fanciful? Perhaps.

But I know I experience a lift to my mood when the sun is shining. I also know I feel my mood elevate when I see the the extraordinarily beautiful creatures and plants that nature provides. Maybe, just maybe, that’s my equivalent of having my “face to the sun.” Here’s some of my face to the sun moments from earlier this week…

Just before I put on my sandals to go out for a walk, this glorious creature appeared on the bushes by the patio. It made me stop in my tracks and grab the cell phone for a quick photo. A very obliging creature I must say. It’s a female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. While males and females are both yellow, only the female has the blue wash of color near its tail. It’s even more miraculous to see considering its lifespan is only about two weeks.

EASTERN TIGER SWALLOWTAIL FEMALE

Okay, so I’m now on my way for a walk, and this creature greets me as I head out the front door. A Hummingbird Clearwing moth on another butterfly bush. Again, very accommodating to allow a cell phone so close for a photo. I’ve read these creatures only have one brood in northern states, laying small green eggs on the underside of leaves. Once hatched, they feed on plants and then drop to the ground to spin a cocoon and pupate where they will hide amongst leaf litter during the winter until they emerge in the spring. Yet another reason why allowing some leaves to remain on the ground can be a very good thing.

HUMMINGBIRD CLEARWING MOTH

Now, on with my tale…so I’m headed out for a walk when I also encounter this beautiful little Common Eastern bumblebee on a Great Blue Lobelia plant. The bee is a tiny female – only about half the size of what one normally thinks a bumblebee should be. She’s a great worker for the colony. See the yellow pollen on the hind leg? She sweeps the pollen off her legs and it collects in what’s known as the corbicula (pollen basket) on the hind legs. It’s how she carries this food back to the nest for the young.

COMMON EASTERN BUMBLEBEE ON GREAT BLUE LOBELIA

You never know what you’re going to see when you’re out walking. Some of the most amazing things we so easily overlook. Like this Chicory plant. It’s a pretty common sight. It grows quite readily along roadsides at this time of year. The flowers open in the morning, and close up in the early afternoon after a morning of sunshine. The bloom only lasts one day. And new blooms appear the next day. Amazing that this plant can so easily handle bad soil and road salt. I admire it for it’s toughness. And beauty.

CHICORY

We have a lot of Common Mullein growing along the bike trail this time of year. They’re huge, spiky looking plants, some easily reaching six feet tall. It’s an invasive plant in Ohio. But when you look very closely at the flowers, they’re amazing. This little Western Honey bee seems to think so. Easy to see the pollen collected on its hind legs.

WESTERN HONEY BEE ON COMMON MULLEIN

And finally, one more beautiful creature that also caught my attention and made me smile. A female Monarch butterfly on Purple Coneflowers. She’s a beautiful specimen. No torn or tattered wings. A Monarch will go from egg, to larvae, to pupa to adult butterfly in just about 30 days. And most likely she will soon be heading south for Mexico with the goal of reaching her destination in November, as I believe she may be fourth generation.

MONARCH ON PURPLE CONEFLOWER

There are so many beautiful things to observe in nature, just like the sunflower that turns its face to the sun tracking its warmth, growing tall and strong. I believe by observing and appreciating the beauty of nature around us every day that we too can experience the feeling of having our “face to the sun.”

Until next time, keep observing nature up close.

A Hidden Gem

Have you noticed how many people are out and about lately? Running. Walking. Biking. Pushing strollers with kids (or dogs, yes – not kidding). It’s a good thing, but it makes social distancing more of a challenge, which is why I’m always looking for interesting places to go to get my “nature fix” without joining the crowds.

This past week it was Chadwick Arboretum North.

I went on a Tuesday morning, and I saw five people in the two hours I was there. It’s truly a hidden gem in the middle of Columbus. Chadwick is a little nature oasis on The Ohio State campus, just off SR 315 and Lane Avenue (2235 Fred Taylor Drive). It boasts a 3.5 acre Research lake which allows fishing (catch and release) and lots of pollinator habitat, not to mention more dragonflies and damselflies than I could begin to count (or photograph).

I always have a camera in hand, hoping to catch that next great photo or find that particular camera angle that makes a scene eye-catching. I’m not so sure I’ve achieved that, but I do have a few that you might enjoy.

I always learn something new when I’m out in nature. That’s a given. On this day I found an Allegheny Monkeyflower that was on the edge of the lake. It’s a beautiful flower that looks a bit like a snapdragon but isn’t.

It gets its name because the bloom is supposed to look like a monkeys face – but I couldn’t see it no matter how I tried. It’s native and grows near water. It was about three feet tall and it spreads by both seeds and rhizomes. It attracts butterflies and is a larval host for the Common Buckeye and Baltimore Checkerspots. It’s a perennial and blooms June to September. It’s an endangered species in Maine.

I’ve been taking online pollinator classes this past spring and summer through the Ohio State University extension service, so this blog will be filled with a number of “critters” on flowers. It expands my education to not only identify what I’m seeing, but also understand a bit of its behavior and preferred environment. Plus, it’s just fun to do.

On this day the Brown-belted bumble bees (Bombus Griseocollis) were favoring the Coneflowers and Wild Bergamot/Bee Balm. Brown-belted bumble bees are recognizable (at least for me) for the brown belt that is on the T2 area of their back, which can be seen in the photo below.

BROWN-BELTED BUMBLE BEE

Of the bumble bees in Ohio, it is estimated that 19% are Brown-belted. The most common bumble bee (69%) is the Eastern Common bumble bee (Bombus Impatiens).

The Arboretum also had a number of Hibiscus flowers lining the lake. They had big, beautiful pink flowers that were filled with insects and bees, like this Hibiscus Turret bee (Ptilothrix bombiformus). It’s a solitary ground nesting bee. This one is has a bit of pollen on it, and I believe it’s a male that is waiting for a female to arrive for mating purposes.

Wasps were also enjoying the flowers. This may be a Metric Paper wasp (Polistes metricus) but am unsure of that identification. Due to the red coloration, it may be a female, but don’t quote me.

Here’s a cute little guy (a Western honey bee I believe but the photo isn’t good enough to confirm that). But what intrigued me was actually the flower that it was on – a Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus). A reed like wetland plant growing at the pond edge. They spread by rhizomes and can grow to four feet tall. While the flower is very pretty, it is an invasive plant in Ohio.

As mentioned earlier, there were a number of dragonflies and damselflies all around the pond area. Many dragonflies were doing great sweeping flights around the lake, but were too much for my poor camera to capture. I had to wait for those that would land on something. But a few did cooperate. Eastern Pondhawk dragonflies did quite a bit of posing that day. They’re pretty impressive due to size and color.

MALE EASTERN PONDHAWK DRAGONFLY
FEMALE EASTERN PONDHAWK DRAGONFLY

There were a couple of pennant dragonflies that were very colorful – the Halloween pennant and the Calico pennant. Both bright vivid bits of color that attract the eye.

HALLOWEEN PENNANT DRAGONFLY
CALICO PENNANT DRAGONFLY

And finally, here’s a male Twelve-spotted skimmer missing a wing, poor little thing. Most likely due to a close encounter with a predator. I’ve read that even with a damaged or missing wing they can still fly and find food. Obviously he wouldn’t be able to fly as well as an undamaged dragonfly.

And finally one last dragonfly I always find beautiful, the male Widow skimmer. Dramatically beautiful.

MALE WIDOW SKIMMER DRAGONFLY

I would be quite remiss if I didn’t give you one last look at Chadwick Arboretum North and encourage you to go for a visit. It’s a beautiful, peaceful area right in the middle of Columbus. And it always provides new nature wonders to explore.

CHADWICK ARBORETUM NORTH

Until next time, keep exploring nature up close.