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The rain we’ve been having lately has popped a bunch of seedlings in our yard.

lupine seedling

I’m always excited to see these seedlings coming up, because I know in a few short months the seedlings will grow into showy flowers called lupines.

lupines
Lupines are fun because they self-seed readily. I first planted these over 15 years ago and they have come up every year since. On the other hand, they have not spread aggressively to other areas; they stay right where I put them.

The name lupine is thought to come from the idea that lupines were like “wolves” (lupus) eating all the nutrients out of the soil, because they always seem to grow in poor soil. Now people have realized that these members of the pea family can make their own nutrients in conjunction with bacteria found in nodules on their roots.  Thus lupines can grow in soils that are too poor for other plants rather than causing the soil to be poor. I’m not sure what that says about our yard. ☺

lupine seedling

Lupines are fascinating to children because the hairs on the leaves catch raindrops and leave perfectly round droplets of water shining like gems.

lupine seedling

Down side:  If you are thinking of planting lupines, be aware that the foliage of some types are poisonous.

Check the color of these flowers.

lupines

Now look at the centers of these.

lupines

Are they a different species? No, lupine flowers change color when they have been pollinated. Bees are attracted by the white centers of un-pollinated flowers, but ignore the red-centered ones (bees don’t see red). Lupines “talking to” bees, cool!

The sight of the lupines coming up always reminds me of the book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. In this popular book, the main character spreads lupine seeds so that the flowers bloom everywhere. So check out a copy and you can enjoy the beauty of lupines any time.

Today is overcast and windy, and most insects are settled in for the day. When I went out to search for the bug of the week, I was lucky to find this large insect resting on our milkweed plant. Being cloudy with gusty winds, it wasn’t easy getting a photo that was in focus. Here’s my best shot.

tarantula hawk

Check out the beautiful orange colors on the wings and the spiny legs. If you don’t recognize it, this is a tarantula hawk wasp. Belonging to the family of wasps known as the spider wasps, the tarantula hawk female searches for large spiders. When she finds one, she stings it and then drags it to a burrow she has prepared. Inside the burrow, the wasp lays eggs on the spider. The spider is still alive, but paralyzed. Over time it becomes baby wasp lunch.

Now take a look a something else. Can you see the yellow bit hanging from one of its feet? It isn’t in focus, so it may not look like much.

Here is a photo of another tarantula hawk wasp I took last year. Maybe you can see the bright yellow bits on the tips of its front legs more clearly. They are in pairs, and curve sort of like tiny maple keys.

The tarantula hawk has a special relationship with the desert milkweed plant. Its slender legs fit into special grooves in the flower while it is drinking nectar. The grooves contain bundles of pollen called pollinia. The pollinia catch on the wasp’s legs. When the wasp flies to another milkweed plant, the pollen is transferred and the plant is pollinated.

If you look closely at this wasp you might be able to see the mud on its body where it has been digging its burrow, or perhaps from when it emerged from the burrow its mom built.

For some live action videos, go to You Tube and search for tarantula hawk wasp. In one video, tarantula hawk wasp vs. wolf spider, you can see a wasp trying to drag its spider back to its burrow. Now, that is quite a sight!

Believe it or not, flies are not my favorite insects, but there is an abundance of them in my garden right now. Do I have garbage out there? No, some very unusual flowers are attracting the flies, like the flower shown here. If you were sitting where I was to take this photo, you would think there was a garbage pile nearby. The odor was quite unpleasant.

euphorbia

This plant is a succulent in the genus Euphorbia. The plant deceives carrion and dung flies by producing odors that mimic decay. The flies are expecting to find some yummy rotting flesh or droppings to eat and lay their eggs on, but instead only find a devious plant.

Here is a fly that has been tricked:

fly on euphorbia

As it turns out, another similar plant is also flowering in my yard this week. This plant has bizarre red, star-shaped flowers. It is called Stapelia. It also mimics carrion.

flystapelia

Here is a green bottle fly that has been fooled. I have often seen thin white eggs in the centers of the Stapelia flower, laid by confused flies.

Take a look at this close up. You can see the pollen on the bottle fly’s thorax (behind the head). These plants are misleading the flies in order to be pollinated, and it seems to be working.

greenbottlefly

Carrion-mimicking flowers can go to real extremes to attract their pollinators. Two of the largest flowers in the world are big stinkers. The Rafflesia flower can be three feet wide, making it the biggest flower. The titan arum is definitely the tallest, reaching up to seven feet! Check the Library of Congress for some amazing pictures.

Hopefully the backyard jungle will smell better next week.