Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spring Roadside

I’ve posted blogs on summer and fall roadside flowers before and now I’m inspired to post a bit about the spring ones. Native roadside flowers are important sources of pollen and nectar for native bees and butterflies. As we transform land into sterile acres of carefully clipped turf grasses, insects are running short on supplies.

Erigeron philadelphicus
Wild and free roadsides are thick with tiny white flowers this week with punctuations of blue and yellow. The white flowers are fleabane (Erigeron spp.), small white aster-like flowers that range in color from bright white to pale pinks and purples. They do belong to the Asteraceae family and therefore have both disk (center) and ray (outer) flowers.

Erigeron philadelphicus

I believe the one flowering in my area now is Erigeron philadelphicus, which is considered a biennial or perennial. We also have an annual species, Erigeron annuus, but several differences distinguish them. First of all, E. annuus blooms later in the spring, and second, E. philadelphicus  has leaves which clasp the stem.

Last weekend I visited Union County and had a chance to see a species which has become very popular at native plant sales: Erigeron pulchellus, known as Robin’s plantain. This species is a true perennial and the soft white-to-lavender colored flowers are quite lovely. The patch that I stopped to photograph was quite popular with bees.

Erigeron pulchellus - how many bees can you count?
As I wandered the back roads around my house, it was also clear which flowers the bees favored. The small bees were always on the Erigeron while the larger bees worked the tubular blue flowers of lyre-leaf sage (Salvia lyrata). Note: In the same area, non-native honeybees preferred the non-native ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) mixed in with the native flowers, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

Salvia lyrata
The tall blue flowers of the sage are gorgeous in large swaths, and they have a nice long bloom period. Given how adaptable it is on roadsides, you’d think people would want it for their low maintenance areas. The shape of the foliage, as indicated by its name, is also attractive.

Dashes of yellow are also lighting up some roadsides. In some cases, it is the non-native buttercup that most of us remember from our childhood. Taller yellow flowers might be golden ragwort (Packera anonyma). Ragwort is in the Asteraceae family and has disk and ray flowers.

Packera anonyma

Support the bees!

I hope more roadside flowers can hang around. Every time that I get a chance to look at them closely, I realize just how important they are to local insects.

Plus, they are a lot more attractive than clipped turf grass!

1 comment:

  1. I'm a big fan of the golden ragwort. I have quite a bit of it growing in our garden and see large patches of it around town in NE Ga. The fleabane always looks happy to me and it makes the littlest pollinator happy.