Daisies, elderberries and lightning bugs

IN MEADOWS AND along roadsides is a wonderful bloom of daisies. The daisy so prevalent now is the oxeye daisy, a European native. A hardy wildflower, its beauty is tempered by its invasive nature, displacing native wildflowers and reducing crop and pasture yields. It spread so rapidly across North America in the early 1900s that it is now often mistaken as a native wildflower.

The elderberry is blooming in stream bottoms and lowland areas. The elderberry bush can have multiple stems, grow to 20 feet and can live for hundreds of years. The purple fruit that develops in August is valuable food for many birds, and many butterflies and moths feed on the leaves during their larval stage. The fruit is mildly poisonous when eaten raw, but when cooked, elderberries are used for pies, jams, tea, wine and other liqueurs.

Birds enjoy arrow-wood’s fall fruit

Photo by Mike Kay

Arrowwood viburnum is a common native shrub found in moist, well-drained sites throughout the region. Arrowwood gets its name from American Indians who used the straight-growing stem as arrow shafts. The fall fruits make excellent food for birds at a time of year when food is less than plentiful. Arrowwood has dense growth and few insect or disease pests. As such, arrowwood has become an important cultivar used in landscaping for screens and in wildlife plantings. The attractive flowers are an additional benefit.

Another shrub that comes into bloom in June is the common ninebark, a fast-growing shrub that prefers moist areas with moderate sunshine. The ninebark has flaky, peeling brown bark that can be removed in layers. It produces a leathery red fruit that turns to a straw color when it is ripe. American Indians utilized ninebark for medicinal purposes. Many cultivars of ninebark have been produced, some with yellowish- to purple-colored foliage.

Silky dogwood is fairly common naturally and is widely planted during stream and wetland restoration projects. The dogwood family contains many species, including the native flowering dogwood. The silky dogwood is a multiple-stemmed shrubby species that can grow to 15 feet and become quite wide. In late summer, its bluish fruit with white mottling is quickly devoured by many birds. The stems turn a reddish crimson when it is dormant, providing color in the winter landscape.

Lightning bugs

Fireflies, or lightning bug beetles, are luminescent insects. There are over 100 different species in the U.S. Their yellowgreen light is generated by special organs in the abdomen. Fireflies produce short rhythmic flashes to signal potential mates. The flashes also are a protective mechanism to repel predators.

The pattern of flashes is based on the time between the male’s burst of light and the female’s response. Males flash about every five seconds; females flash about every two seconds. The firefly larvae overwinter in the soil, emerge in the spring to feed and then pupate in the soil. After two and a half weeks, they emerge as adults to illuminate summer nights.

Nature Note for 7/6/2008