Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, June 5, 2008

It's True, I have A Lukwarm Relationship With A Wildflower!



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)

Let's recap:

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?

Gail

*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

33 comments:

  1. Gail, I've always wondered when I have read some of your posts and others' about wildflowers whether I had inadvertently been pulling out the wildflowers I had, thinking they were weeds. This is one I probably would have pulled. I'm glad you were more patient to show it to us and give us all this interesting info about it. Its bloom reminds me somewhat of a petunia.
    (It's still early AM which explains my first thought when I read "hummingbird moth": hmm, I didn't know hummingbirds hatched from moths...Then the caffeine kicked in:)

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  2. Rose,

    When I was younger, older gardeners (my age now) always called Ruellia...wild petunia. It has a similar flower but it turns out not to be in the same family...Oh those botanists!

    Some people are probably wondering why I haven't yanked this weed out!

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  3. I just saw a bunch of these in a friend's wildflower garden. She had them growing in a sea of Indian Pinks. The color contrast was nice. I had never seen them and I must say, I really liked them. I did not notice the veining though, thanks for showing that! If I had it, I would keep it for sure.

    I have seen many hummingbird moths, even one this year already. They are pretty neat and welcomed here. You have a good pic of one.

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  4. This is a great post, of the important role of plants beyond just their beauty in the garden. They are part of an intricate web. When we plant a garden we literally connect our yard to all of nature.
    I also like the close look at an interesting feature we might not take the time to notice, nectar guides.

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  5. Tina,

    I knew you would like him! If I took the time to walk around and cut him back he would probably be bushier.

    gail

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  6. northern shade,

    Thank you...it is one of the reasons I am a strong advocate of native plantings for those very reasons. Elizabeth Lawrence was my first garden guru, but Sara Stein, Ken Druse, Sally and Andy Wasowski continue to influenc me! Am I preaching to the choir!!!

    Gail

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  7. Gail, I thought this looked very similar to a Ruellia growing in my garden. Sure enough, your R. strepens and my R. caroliniensis are close siblings:
    http://www.nearctica.com/flowers/a/Rstrep.htm

    Like yours, mine doesn't put on a big show but it's such a charming little flower, I can forgive it that lapse. Your post made me wonder if mine had any faunal value, so I Googled it and learned that it's a host plant for Common Buckeye butterflies! Thanks for prompting me to look and giving me another reason to grow it.

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  8. Cindy,

    Your very welcome! I am glad you explored your wildflower...have you tried shearing him for fullness...I did read that but haven't tried it yet!

    gail

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  9. Hi Gail, your ruellia is sort of nice, in a pollinator kind of way, but no where near the PPPP. I have ruellia brittonia? very tall and blooms so late it nearly is frost time here, but with a purple color that is welcome at that time of year. Yours looks like the better choice.

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  10. Frances,

    You are teasing me aren't you...daring me to show that PPPP has some bloom left! It does!

    It's an interesting little wildflower that a lot of time I think of as a weed!

    Have a wonderful time with the family.

    Gail

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  11. I think she is teasing you Gail. :)

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  12. Tina,

    Of course she is she's Frances and she's preparing for the Fairies!

    gail

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  13. If we don't look for the good qualities they often get overlooked (in flowers AND in people). It's sad, but we tend to dwell on the negatives. I'm glad you took the time to find out what this annoyance was good for. Everyone is welcome in my garden, I'm sure we can make the room.

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  14. cinj,

    That is a great philosophy for gardens and people.

    Gail

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  15. That is a gorgeous lavender color... too bad it only lasts for a short period of time... It would be nice if there were more wildflowers that popped up in all the greenery.

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  16. This is one of those post that makes you think---I need to study more. I learned a lot. Thank you for all the time and effort. I love Elizabeth Lawrence too from NC course! Your photos are coming along beautifully. The detail on this flower is perfect. I could see the life inside.

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  17. DP,

    I think it is a lovely color and wouldn't it be beautiful covered in the lavender!

    Gail

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  18. You have reminded me to look beyond the bloom. A valuable lesson which should be re-vistied periodically. I have no Ruellia currently but I did pick up some wine cups, Callirhoe, just because our Austin blogger friends have them and that is reason enough so I will put Ruellia on the list. Maybe seeds!

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  19. Anna,

    Thank you...Occasionally, I do ok with a photo! Isn't that interesting inside the guy. Now when I look at flowers I look to see the nectar guides.

    EL was pretty incredible, have you been to her old garden?

    Gail

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  20. layanee,

    I will let some go to seed and see if I can capture some for you! If you have a wilder section...it looks nice there...I love the look of winecups...the list is ever growing isn't it?!

    Gail

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  21. Thanks for the information Gail! I probably have tons of the stuff on the hillside here. Anything the bees like is good to me. They're doing a good job pollinating stuff for me so I should support them. They do good work! That's an interesting moth.

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  22. What a pretty wildflower, and how in the world did you manage a pic of blue eyed grass, mine are just setting flowers, so tiny!

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  23. Dave,

    You probably do have treasures on your hillside! I found a mullein in the ditch in front of someone's house and am very tempted to dig it up...it looks very much like the one I just paid $10 for!

    Gail

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  24. Dawn,

    It was luck all luck, if I tried to do it again...wouldn't happen!

    gail

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  25. Just checking to see if anonymous visitors can post....Hoping so! Gail

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  26. Oh, Gail, you're not giving this plant what it needs! Mine blooms profusely & for such a long time. Now everybody thinks this is a lame-o plant. My photographic rebuttal will have to wait a few weeks, as there are no buds yet on mine. The one drawback to this plant is its tendency to seed itself in the lawn.

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  27. That moth is amazing .. and scary .. I have a thing about moths .. long Freudian story from childhood .. LOL
    It is amazing how nature sets purposes to everything .. I understand why you have a lukewarm un-fuzzy ? feeling for this character .. one or two flowers that drop in a day ? .. I just couldn't have the patience .. but your gardens are much bigger than mine .. and you have so much more to offer the beneficial insects (ok .. the bad guys too .. I know .. haha) ..
    Joy ; )

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  28. mmd,

    What does it need and I will give it to him! I'm not selfish! Compost? Money? I did read that I ought to prune him for bushiness.

    Gail

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  29. joy,

    I haven't ever seen the moth up close and personal..this is someone else's photo....I would like to see them though...

    I can deal with it if it brings the beneficial insects...Mr McGregor's Daughter has better luck with hers and maybe she can tell me how to improve his looks!

    Gail

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  30. I have three types of Ruellia in my garden. Two are wildings (a tall and a short one) and one is a passalong cultivar with larger flowers. I don't really like any of them very much but I let them grow in the unplanted sections of my yard because they manage well in heat and drought and are often one of the few things flowering this time of year. (I'm very lackadaisical, that way; if it flowers, let it grow.)

    I do have lots of hummingbird moths, although I saw them mostly in March and April before the Ruellia began blooming.

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  31. mss,

    Lackadaisical, that's pretty much me in relation to Ruellia....it helps that he attracts some beneficial insects. I can't imagine what MMD does to get it looking better, but I hope she tells me!

    We are having hot weather here, it feels like July and August, not good.

    I am going to pay attention to the moths that visit...I see some in the day time but the garden is thick with mosquitoes and I avoid going out after dusk.

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  32. Sorry about being so late with the Ruellia advice. My kids are out of school now & driving me nuts!
    It looks like your Ruellia is surrounded by other plants. Mine grows in very dry soil in full sun right at the edge of the driveway. I don't mulch it or fertilize it. I (try to) keep other plants away from it so it gets good air circulation & direct sunlight. I hope that helps.

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  33. mmd,

    I will give a stand of it these conditions and see what happens, thanks...

    Gail

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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