Milkweed filaments

A closeup of the hair-like filaments of a milkweed seed:

I like the design delicate, gossamer threads make. Not a lot of detail, but it has an airy look I like.

Asters

The seed heads of white asters are pretty when they first appear, tiny and fuzzy. I hadn’t noticed until a recent rain that they can close when wet, like some flowers do at the end of the day. As the seeds disperse, they change again:

These probably aren’t the same species, though the single and wet asters may be. Click an image to view a larger size.

Aster and bee

The same flower as last week’s post, this time with a halictid bee:

I found the bee on the flower, and was taken by the green/purple color combination. It crawled around the flower slowly (it was a cool afternoon), giving me a few opportunities. Then it took off, and I took last week’s image.

New England Aster

I was fortunate to get soft late afternoon light on this New England Aster:

The light made the anthers glow like candles. I look forward to seeing the purple of these asters each fall.

Willowherb seed pod

I found the seed pod of this plant in the same meadow where I found the globular coneflower recently:

The plant (an Epilobium spp, maybe Epilobium ciliatum) has slender seed pods that split and curl back in several sections, showing lines of seeds. This pod had just started to open, others had split and curled already. I had no idea what I was looking at, so I posted at the Native Plant Trust (the parent for Garden in the Woods), and a botanist wrote back with the willowherb identification, a plant in the evening primrose family. The curled back pod segments remind me of the evening primrose Oenothera biennis, a cousin of this plant. Now I’ll have to look out for the flower next year.

Common milkweed

The sticky white latex that flows from the leaf and stem of the plant gives common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) its name. People have used the latex topically to remove warts, and tried to use the latex in wartime as a substitute for rubber. For the plant, the latex is a defense mechanism. The stickiness deters insects from eating the leaves, and the cardenolide glycosides in the latex are toxic.  Milkweed is a poisonous plant to humans.

For insects that have evolved to make use of the toxins, the latex is a protection from predators. Birds that prey on Monarchs, the best-known of the milkweed insects, vomit after eating them. The curious thing about many milkweed insects is the red and black (or red and orange) coloring that they share, which biologists call aposematic coloration.

The milkweed plant is homely. The flowers and buds are attractive, but the thing that brings me back to milkweed again and again is the fruit: the pods, the seeds, and the floss. There’s something uncommonly beautiful about milkweed at this stage:

There’s more to show about milkweed – the butterflies and other insects that are attracted to the flowers. In my area, common milkweed flowers in July, hairstreaks, fritillaries, skippers, and moths all cluster on it. Just one example:

Milkweed is my longest-running photographic project. The photographs in this post go back a decade and more – and I finally got around to collecting my thoughts about the web of life and beauty surrounding this plant.

Half Dome

I just returned from Yosemite – here’s a late afternoon view of Half Dome reflected in the Merced River:

It’s a breathtakingly beautiful place. I’ll have to visit there again (in better light than this) to capture it better.

Bronze copper

Bronze copper is an uncommon to rare butterfly, local to a few places in my area:

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It’s the very end of the butterfly season here in the northeast – I saw three Bronze Copper in this spot, all on the same white aster, almost the last asters in bloom there.

Yellow globe

The flower head of a composite, similar to a Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), but with a yellow head. The rays (petals) had dropped:

From a planted wildflower meadow – earlier in the season, this meadow was packed with a dozen different types of Rudbeckia. Now that fall has come, there are white asters blooming, crowded with feeding bees, Painted Ladies, Cabbage Whites, and Clouded Sulphurs. The Rudbeckia are mostly long past, with a few remnants, including this flower.

Aster seeds

The meadows in my area are starting to go brown. There are numbers of asters flowering – white and blue asters (Symphyotrichum species), and New England Aster (same genus). These are seeds and floss of a tall aster or other composite that bloomed earlier in the season. As walk through the meadow, they look like bright cotton balls. As you get closer, you see the mass of fine floss and the seeds:

A fall leaf provided the background color.