August’s warm, sunny days hum with insect activity. Many kinds of bees and wasps, butterflies and grasshoppers inhabit the colorful swaths of wildflowers and grasses along country roads. The buzzing of bees is soft against the louder trills and whirs of crickets, grasshoppers and gray tree frogs. Scents of sweet clover and grass fill the air. Here is a sampling of the beauty my husband and I enjoyed when we walked along the road near our cabin in east central Minnesota last weekend.
Great spangled frilillary (Speyeria cybele) on native monarda.
Woodland sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) grow in dappled sun along the road.
Spotted jewelweed or spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis).
Native big bluestem (Andropogon gerardi) is also called turkeyfoot grass due to the shape of its seed heads.
This common wood-nymph’s (Cercyonis pegala) bright eyespot caught my attention.
Non-native rabbit-clover (Trifolium arvense) is a low-growing plant that provides color along dusty country roads.
The native field thistle (Cirsium discolor) is a favorite of bees and butterflies.
Field thistle’s “down” is used by the American goldfinch to line its nest and the seeds are a favorite goldfinch food.
A white-faced meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum) watches for prey.
Swamp or blue vervain (Verbena hastata) prefers moist, loamy soil and lots of sun.
Black-eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) or sweet coneflower and a few early-blooming asters.
Priarie or western ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).
Hog peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) is a member of the pea family.
Eastern-tailed blue (Cupido comyntas).
European bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) with bumble bee.
First buds of sweet Joe-Pye (Eutrochium purpureum) begin to open.
Male American redstart warbler (Setophaga ruticilla).
Hummingbird clearwing moths favor native monarda in our garden.
Next time you think you see a small hummingbird zip around your garden, take a closer look — it just might be a hummingbird clearwing moth. People usually think of moths as nocturnal creatures attracted to lights. But clearwing moths are colorful daytime visitors to flowers. Only about half the size of a hummingbird, this moth has a thick, heavy body in comparison to many moths, large, clear wings with reddish-brown borders, and a long proboscis for sipping nectar. In our garden, they seem to prefer monarda or bee balm, in particular the native variety (Monarda fistulosa). I’ve also seen them sip nectar from garden phlox, petunias and common milkweed.
Hummingbird clearwing moths are white underneath and have pale-colored legs.
Two species of clearwing moth are common in the eastern half of North America: the snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) and the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe). The two species are easy to tell apart because (H. diffinis) mimics bumblebees with primarily yellow and black coloration and black legs. (H. thysbe) is typically olive with maroon or rust, and the legs are yellowish or pale-colored. A third variety, (Hemaris thetis) lives primarily in western North America.
The caterpillars of both clearwing moths are green, although sometimes the hummingbird clearwing’s can be reddish. Both species’ caterpillars have a horn on one end. The hummingbird clearwing caterpillar is sprinkled with tiny white dots and the horn is bluish. It feeds on honeysuckle, cherry, plum, snowberry and European viburnum plants. The snowberry clearwing caterpillar has black spots on its sides and the horn is black with a yellow base. Common host plants for this caterpillar are honeysuckle, snowberry and dogbane. Cocoons of both species overwinter in leaf litter on the ground and become adult moths the following spring.
Harebells grow on the bank of the Snake River in east central Minnesota.
I first saw harebell flowers as a young teen hiking the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. They grew out of a tiny crevice in the lichen-covered basalt slabs along the lake, and the delicate blossoms mirrored the violet-blue water on that sunny midsummer day. Next to them, in the shallow depressions in the rock, were pools of water in which tiny tadpoles swam. I was enchanted by all of it. Years later when my family built a cabin near the Snake River in east central Minnesota, I was delighted to find harebells growing on the riverbank and along the woodland edges.
Harebells are also known as thimbles, bluebells, bluebells of Scotland, wind bells and heath bells.
Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) are native to the northern regions of the United States, Europe and Asia. They grow on slender upright stalks ranging in height between 6 and 20 inches. Narrow grass-like leaves cover most of the stalk; round leaves at the base of the plant often die before the flowers bloom. Milky sap in the stems is another identifying characteristic. The delicate bells begin blooming in June and continue through the summer. We usually see a modest second bloom in the fall. Besides being beautiful, harebells are a source of nectar to many species of bees during the summer and I’ve noticed bumblebees frequenting them during the second bloom in autumn. Other common names for harebells include: thimbles, wind bells, heath bells, bluebells and bluebells of Scotland.
Harebells blossom from June through summer, and often bloom again in autumn.