You probably associate summer solstice with warm, sunny days conducive to lying about on beaches soaking up the sunshine. Not so here at the northern tip of Sweden, on the road to Narvik, Norway. Spring hasn’t even made an appearance here yet, and it’s mid-summer!
The harsh climate takes its toll on life on mountain slopes at 68 degrees north latitude. Above the treeline, there is a lot of exposed rock, covered in places with lichen. A miniature forest about I inch high clings to rock crevices where moisture is greater, and what flowers are present, are tiny miniature copies of lusher vegetation down below.
Russia!! More specifically, St. Petersburg, what a gorgeous and hospitable city. A two-day, whirlwind tour of palaces, gardens, city sights, museums, etc., but no biology, unfortunately. What contrasts from new, modern skyscrapers and malls to old Soviet style offices and huge apartment complexes to 18th century or earlier palace constructions. It’s definitely spring here, and we hit two of the 9 sunny days they average here each summer.
South of Tucson, Arizona, Saguaro cactus dominate the landscape with their giant trunks and arms reaching up, like those wacky, inflatable tube men you see along the highways, advertising a big sale of some sort.
Saguaro are not only a dominant plant form in the Sonoran desert, but an integral part of the life cycle of this community. It’s flowers provide nectar and pollen to insects, birds, and mammals, and its fruits are sought after by humans as well as many other desert animals.
After Gila Woodpeckers have drilled out nest cavities in the dense wood of the Saguaro, a variety of other bird species may use the nest holes as protection from the sun’s heat and for their own nests.
And of course, they make wonderful subjects for aspiring photographers…
Brief glimpses of sun between rain clouds overhead made the spring flowers sparkle as I was walking around Los Gators Creek park in San Jose, CA the other day. Here’s another taste of spring for those still mired in the gray blahs of winter.
Even though the landscape looks (and feels) arid, southern Arizona seems to be a mecca for butterflies, perhaps because of the diversity of vegetation and flowers there. Although we were busy photographing birds, the colorful four-winged flyers demanded our attention as well.
Another good reason to visit beautiful southern Arizona!
We wait all summer for New England Aster to show off its beautiful lilac-purple to bright pinkish flowers, and it never disappoints.
Besides being a very attractive addition to the garden, New England Aster is an important late-season resource for pollinators, especially Monarch butterflies as they fatten up before fall migration. Flower nectar and pollen are energetically harvested by lots of bee species, as they top off their hive or overwinter nest supplies.
Honeybees and bumblebees are particularly good dispersers of flower pollen, as it easily attaches to the spines on their legs or hairs on their heads and bodies, as seen in the photo above. The smooth exoskeletons of the body and legs of the hoverflies and sweat bees make them far less effective in transferring pollen from one plant to another.
If you live east of the Rocky Mountains where New England Aster grows, you might have noticed the profusion of aster flowers that has suddenly occurred over the past couple of weeks. I assume synchronous blooming like this over widespread areas is probably triggered by the changing daylength, and is advantageous in pulling in large number of pollinators to maximize pollination and seedset in these asters.
In late September, there are far fewer flowers for the bees and birds to visit — the bees to collect those last remaining dregs of pollen and nectar before the snow flies, and the birds to harvest what seed might still be remaining in flowers that bloomed more than two months ago.
Giant Hyssop is a favorite of the bumblebees these days; its profuse blooms always attract a variety of pollinators, especially when the sunshine can get through the clouds to warm up the air a little.
Flower stalks already being worked by one bee seem to be off-limits; there would probably be little nectar left in the flowers in that case. But every so often, a couple of bees try working the same flower patch…
Overlooking this busy bumblebee activity was a mixed flock of Goldfinches, House Finches, and White-throated Sparrows, all of which were much more interested in the seeds left in the wildflower garden than the flowers there.
What do you see when you look at a patch of flowers?
Maybe not — let’s take a closer look.
Sunflowers, coneflowers and other members of the Compositae (or Asteraceae) plant family actually have two types of flowers on their floral structure. The colorful petals are sterile ray flowers (produce no sexual structures) designed to attract insect pollinators, while the tiny yellow projections from the central cone are the disk flowers that project first male (pollen), and then female (ovary) sexual structures. When fertilized, each ovary houses developing seeds, which cause the central cone to swell in size and in height.
Leaving a tightly packed seed head, ready to be harvested by hungry seed-eaters.
By the third day of hiking, you’re supposed to feel more acclimated and used to the altitude. Hah! The air just kept getting thinner as we climbed, but the views kept getting more and more spectacular.