Thursday, October 28, 2010

Certified Wildlife Habitat

Photo by Rachel Shaw
 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.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

a white loblia

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!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bottle gentian and bees

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!