RANGER STEVE’S NATURE NICHE
By Ranger Steve Mueller
The field will soon be gold with value exceeding that of gold metal. Fields transforms in their own way without the aid of a forger pounding and engraving gold. Golden fields lift one’s spirits and hopes.
Unlike the engravings made by metal artisans, fields are ever changing to entice us to seek flower varieties. Currently, yellow and purple coneflowers, pink bergamot, blue vervain, white flowering spurge, and yellow black-eyed Susan’s dominate. Soon an almost solid gold will be waving in summer breezes.
After weeks of drought when plants seemed frozen in time, heavy rain soaked deep. Plants greedily took every drop possible to quench a long waiting thirst. Goldenrods will soon bloom in profusion hosting hungry insects with nectar and pollen. Waiting for the burst of gold, insects of great multitude will emerge to feast on flowers similar to the massive bloom of mosquitoes that followed the rains to feast on us and other animals. Butterfly numbers are flourishing with summer greening. Monarch numbers are greater this summer than in recent years.
Goldenrod flower nectar and pollen are more essential to life than a person’s quest for gold at the end of a rainbow. Like people seeking a pot of gold at rainbows end, insects seek the ephemeral gold of late summer. Many have their nature niche lives timed to its flowering. Bees and other insects are busy visiting current blooms. The nectar reward is not free. Insects exit flowers with a full stomach but are loaded with pollen they carry to neighboring flowers and goldenrods.
Goldenrod pollen is large and heavy. It does not drift on the wind like ragweed pollen. It requires a personal carrier to transport it to other flowers. When a goldfinch lands on a goldenrod stem in search of a tasty insect morsel, it undoubtedly knocks loose pollen. Instead of easily drifting on air currents to another flower, it falls to the ground. A number of ground creeping invertebrates consume the manna falling from the heavens.
Pollen eating insects are attracted to the flowers like people are attracted to “all you can eat restaurants”. Goldenrods like other members of the large aster family, produce in excess to ensure pollen grains fertilize other flowers. Insects at the smorgasbord are the dispersal agents departing with pollen covered bodies.
I was told by a honeybee keeper, that members of his profession do not appreciate goldenrod. Honey bees get rich feeding on goldenrod nectar but the honey produced is bitter. People desire sweeter honey like that from spotted knapweed that beekeepers like and prefer to call star thistle.
The value of gold is in the eye of the beholder. Bees are joyous with the concentrated fields of gold. Honey connoisseurs are dismayed. I am pleased with the variety of creatures found among goldenrods. Monarch’s golden orange glides gloriously over fields bringing joy. Pearl Crescents stand on flowers allowing us to see the silver pearl adorning its hindwing. The pearl is surrounded by the butterfly’s own version of muted gold.
Walk through a field of goldenrod and return home with stories to share at the dinner table before they are lost like nighttime dreams that vaporize with the breaking dawn.
Soldier beetles with gold and black wings find the massive flower heads perfect beds for copulation. Net-winged beetles have their own version of gold and black on differently shaped wing elytra, with the tail end of wings widening to create a triangular appearance.
It is always good to have a field guide at the ready to help identify unknowns. Many people find cell phone photos useful. Increasingly, apps can narrow an identification search to a few likely flowers or insects in a manner like facial recognition programs. Many of us are more comfortable flipping field guide pages to identify flowers and insects. Apps are available to capture flower images and provide a tentative identification. Explore Michigan Flora online or other guides to determine the exact species.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at [email protected] – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.
Top photo: Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, Elmer Verhasselt, Bugwood.org
Bottom photo: Showy Goldenrod, Solidago speciosa, Ruth Oldenburg