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Featured Species: Roadside Flowers
Both asters and goldenrods dominate roadsides and old fields at this time of year. While each group is very easily identified by either their small, sunflower-like, purple, violet or white flowers (asters), or their sprigs of tiny, yellow-gold flowers (goldenrods), there may be several to many species in your area. Goldenrods in particular have gotten a bad, and completely undeserved, reputation as a cause of hay fever, or fall allergies. In fact, the culprit is usually lurking at the base of these showy flowers: Common Ragweed. While goldenrod species have a heavy pollen carried by insects (thus the showy flowers), the inconspicuous ragweed flowers produce millions of light, spiky pollen grains designed to be carried on the wind, only a few of which are enough to cause allergy symptoms. Interestingly, ragweed is also in the aster family.
These flowers anchor a diverse food web which includes Honey Bees, wasps, long-horned beetles, soldier beetles, ambush bugs, Monarch Butterflies, Goldenrod Spiders and hoverflies, which mimic bees or wasps. Another fly attracted to goldenrod, in particular Tall Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis var. scabra), is the Goldenrod Gall Fly (Eurosta solidaginis), a highly-adapted fruit fly which lays its eggs in the plant’s stem, producing galls within which the larvae develop and overwinter (they are very common along our roadsides now). There is only one larva per gall, but a stem may have more than one gall. Before entering diapause (a form of dormancy) for the winter the larvae will eat a route out (leaving the ‘skin’ of the gall intact) to use in the spring. Even inside this protective dome, the larva has perils and is preyed on by parasitic wasp and beetle larvae. We will add to the larvae’s predators come winter time.
One of two snappers to lay eggs in our driveway. Screen enclosure protects nest until scent is gone.
Photo credit: Alan Crook. Permission is granted to reprint with attribution.