If there's any flower that should be crowned "Autumn's Majesty," that would be the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), aka "Torch."
A member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), it carries "the torch of life" throughout spring, summer and autumn, but it's especially important in autumn when few plants offer sustenance to insects, especially to migrating monarchs. The colorful annual has been blooming in our yard since April, reaching 10-to 15-foot heights (thanks, drip irrigation).
What loves this delightful orange blossom, besides the human beings who grow it?
Over a weeklong period, we photographed dozens of autumn critters, including monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, hover flies, honey bees and crab spiders.
Every bee garden needs an "Autumn Majesty" and the Mexican sunflower fills the bill. When it goes to seed, finches and other birds will take what's left.
It's National Pollinator Week!
Do you know where your pollinators are?
Or better yet, do you know how to attract them and protect them?
Pollinator Partnership has announced that June 19-25 has been designated National Pollinator Week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Talk about alliteration: pollinators can be bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles. (And many other species, including flies.)
We stepped into our pollinator garden this morning (before the heat shot up to 107 degrees) to check for butterfly diversity.
- A Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanillae, flutter over to the pink mallow.
- A mournful duskywing, Erynnis tristis,warm itself on the butterfly bush.
- And a cabbage white butterfly, Pieris rapae, linger on the lavender.
They're all pollinators.
Of course, the larvae of the cabbage white is considered a pest (see UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management website), but the adult looks like a lady in white.
The adult cabbage white butterfly can yield you a prize--a pitcher of beer or its equivalent--if you collect the first one of the year in the annual Beer-for-a-Butterfly Contest, hosted by Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology. The bug must be collected in the three-county area of Solano, Yolo or Sacramento.
Shapiro, who has studied butterflies of Central California for more than four decades and posts research information on his website, usually wins. Read why he sponsors the contest and where he found the first one of 2017 on Bug Squad.
Erected in 1852, this historic building was ostensibly intended for Benicia City Hall. Offered as the state capitol and promptly accepted, it had that honor from February 4, 1853 to February 25, 1854. Deeded to the state in 1951, it was one of the four locations of the 'Capitol on Wheels.' California Registered Historical Landmark No. 153.
Another sign informs us: "This historic state capitol building dedicated to TRUTH - LIBERTY-TOLERATION by the Native Sons of the Golden West, March 5, 1958."
Still another sign pays tribute to Joseph Fischer of Switzerland who immigrated to New York in 1845, and to Benicia in 1849 "and purchased this lot on July 1, 1858." His home, now known as the Fischer-Hanlon House, is a California Registered Historical Landmark.
Visitors stop to read the signs and see the signs of life: the flora and the fauna...from a double-blossom pomegranate tree to the fluttering butterflies.
Today, on June 14, Flag Day, a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) spread its wings on a bush, and a Gulf Fritilliary (Agraulis vanillae) nectared on lantana.
Our California legislators probably enjoyed the flora and fauna, too.
The conversation usually starts like this:
"I saw this huge, huge bumble bee with yellow on its back. It was buzzing like crazy."
Often it's not a bumble bee, but the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta, that's been foraging on the blooms of the passionflower vine (Passiflora).
The yellow "markings?" Tiny yellow grains of pollen.
Valley carpenter bees are passionate about the passionflower vine, a robust climbing vine that's the host plant of the Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae).
The Valley carpenter bees are large (about the size of a queen bumble bee). The females are solid black, while the males are golden/buff-colored with green eyes. If you're lucky, you'll see both on your passionflower vine.
Planting Passiflora will usually result in a diversity of visiting species, from butterflies to honey bees to carpenter bees. You'll see Gulf Frits laying their eggs on the leaves and tendrils.
Yes, the vine will cover your fence, but not for long. The Gulf Frit caterpillars will skeletonize the plant. (And that's why we plant ours--for the Gulf Frits.)
Well, also for the other insects, too!
So here's this gravid praying mantis perched on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in a Vacaville pollinator garden.
She's in a butterfly state-of-mind, a picture of patience and persistence, a predator like no other.
She doesn't have long to wait.
A migrating monarch butterfly drops down to sip some nectar, a little flight fuel to continue his journey to an overwintering site along the California coast, perhaps 113 miles to Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, he lands on a Mexican sunflower right next to the praying mantis.
The mantis is as still as a stone. She holds her spiked forelegs in the "ready" position, ready to strike. She knows what she wants. She's in a butterfly state-of-mind.
Suddenly, the monarch looks up and notices that the gray "twig" next to him is not part of the flower. In a winged frenzy, he escapes.
And you wonder why many migrating monarch butterflies don't make it to their overwintering sites?