Limestone Wild Petunia or Ruellia strepens has made his appearance in the garden. I think the flower is lovely, a rather pretty lavender any girl could love.
It's true, I have a lukewarm relationship with this wildflower. Most of the time I tolerate his presence in the garden. I hoped he had some value...all wild flowers feed some creatures or the nectar they provide brings bees that pollinate other plants. So, I left him alone...despite his unattractive look most of the season.
See what I mean! His flower is sweet, but goodness, he is stingy! He produces a flower here and a flower there! They last one day and fall off!
Most of the time, he is a 2 to 3 foot green presence with no outstanding foliage or unusual qualities that make you want to find him and plant him in your yard. Actually, he's probably already there....you cut him done or weed him out! I do remove him occasionally...which means digging him up...he has an incredible fibrous root system that resists yanking!
It occurs to me that I am not making him attractive. Which is a shame on my part, he does have some interesting qualities. For instance, please take a closer look inside the corolla. (click to enlarge).
Can you see the darker veining? Those are nectar guides*...bees and other nectar gatherers use them to see their way into the corolla to reach the nectar. I love how the nectar guides are on the side petals of this flower, not at the bottom. Interesting isn't it? I haven't been able to find out why.
I wanted to do right by this wildflower so I researched him...
He has faunal associations! Just as I suspected! It seems he is a perfect flower for attracting bees and other pollinators:
He is full of nectar,
has a tubular shape (the nectars at the base),
has a landing pad,
is open during the day and,
is brightly colored.
Long tongued bees visit him for his nectar. The long tongued bees...miner bees, carpenter bees and parasitic bees are his primary pollinators. Limestone Wild Petunia and his primary pollinators have what is called Pollinator Syndrome: having co-evolved physical characteristics that make them interact successfully. The bees and their matched flowers are co-dependent... in a good way! They have been very successful in my garden, because his progeny is all over.
Leaf cutter bees have been observed to cut pieces of the corolla to use in their brood nests. I believe they layer it in the nest...seal it up and then die. The next generation is on its own!
If you click and enlarge this photo you can see that someone has cut a whole in the corolla...could it be a leaf cutting bee? I'd like to imagine so! Please note the absence of strong nectar guides from this side of the flower.
Short tongue bees (think sweat bees!) and Syrphid flies (you want these guys, they eat Aphids), also visit the flowers. They collect stray pollen but, are not effective pollinators. No Pollinator Syndrome here. But I like that they show up...I want as many predatory insects as I can possibly have working in the garden to keep aphids off my plants.
Finally, there are the unsubstantiated rumors that Sphinx moths and Hummingbird moths are attracted to the funnel shaped flowers. It is also rumored that the flowers are munched on by caterpillars of the butterfly Junonia coenia (Buckeye).
I hope these rumors prove true. Have you ever seen a Hummingbird moth or Sphinx moth?
Isn't this Clearwing sphinx moth incredible looking? (Mark Fagan Photograph)
He has a cute lavender flower,
with striking nectar guides that we can see,
a co-dependent relationship with bees, flies, moths and butterflies,
he attracts insects that eat aphids.
Ok, he gets to stay in my garden, what about yours?
*Although, you can clearly see the nectar guides in the Ruellia, it's not unusual for nectar guides (demonstration) to be invisible to the human eye in other plants.
"I love being asked to identify plants, and I don't know which gives me more pleasure: to know what they are or not to know what they are."...Elizabeth Lawrence, Through the Garden Gates, 1990