This summer I decided to look into getting my yard certified as wildlife-friendly through the National Wildlife Federation. I'd seen the occasional "Certified Wildlife Habitat" yard sign, and thought it was pretty cool. Plus, the entire City of Rockville, MD, where I live, is trying to get certified, so I thought I'd do my part.
Photo by Rachel Shaw
Certification, it turns out, is not that hard. It is a self-certification process, relying on you to honestly report whether you meet certain criteria. These include such things as providing sources of food, water, cover, etc.; there are various ways you can meet these criteria. There is a $20 fee for certification, and a $30 fee if you want the standard yard sign. To me it was well worth it, just for the value of being able to say, yes, this is important to me; I want my yard to be a haven for wildlife.
My blue lobelia, Lobelia siphilicata, has always seemed a rather raggedy plant compared to the Lobelia cardinalis, or cardinal flower, which the hummingbirds love. By mid-summer the blue lobelia looks a bit dried up and not terribly attractive. Perhaps, I thought, it's less robust than the cardinal flower, which seems to handle drought pretty well for a water-loving plant.
While the cardinal flower happily seeds itself in throughout the yard, the blue lobelia has not reproduced at all...until this year. I was actually on the verge of pulling it out, when I discovered a flock of low growing, flowering new lobelias around the mother plant. Not only were they quite pretty, they also included some white flowers as well as the usual blue.
I realized that what I seeing must be the result of a mutation. Now I'm fascinated. What will happen next year? Will I have more white plants? And is the much shorter height also a mutation? I don't recall that in its first year of flowering the parent plant was short like these. For now, the blue lobelia stays!
The bottle gentian, Gentiana clausa, is a fall-blooming plant; the deep blue flowers provide a welcome splash of color as the summer-blooming plants die back Also known as closed gentian, the mature flower looks like it is about to open but never does.
I wondered how such a flower was pollinated, and read that it is done by bumblebees, the only pollinators strong enough to force open the flowers. So I started watching. I had assumed that the bees would force the flower open from the top. But from what I observed, the bees clasp the bottom of the flower, facing downward to get pollen from the base. Fascinating!