Along with the heat and sunlight this July, we see plenty of roadside flowers in bloom. The daisy and hawkweed abundance of June may still be lingering this month, but many are being replaced by summer flora that will continue throughout the coming warm weeks.
The yellows of hawkweeds are giving way to black-eyed Susans and oxeye sunflowers. Cow parsnip with white umbels, maybe 8 feet tall, stands above others on the roadsides. Blends of purple are seen in Canada thistles, fireweeds and milkweeds.
Whether it is the plants of June still present or those of July, roadsides and fields reveal plenty of color each day.
I find that walking the same route regularly is far from boring and I see a new story each time I come by. These wildflowers have my attention and as I look closer, I see that I’m not the only one to be attracted to these colorful summer bouquets. Myriads of insects gather here, too, for various reasons.
Plants buzz with activity of bees, wasps, flies, moths and butterflies. From sunrise to sunset, these open flowers host plenty of visitors. Most come to take nectar, often with pollen as well. Others, predators, take advantage of the insect gathering for some hunting. The patches of flowers also abound with the flight antics of dragonflies.
Recently, when I took a field flora walk in the sunlight and heat, I stopped often to look over the scene. Insects gathering nectar were oblivious of me and I closely observed them. Their potential predators surveyed the region, too. Dragonflies seen included pennants, corporals, whitefaces, emeralds, gomphids and darners.
These winged hunters were joined by crab spiders that stayed on the rays of daisies and black-eyed Susans. (These spiders that were white on the daisies of June are now mostly yellow on the black-eyed Susans of July.)
The flowers were not the only colors out here today. Fluttering over them are colorful insects — about a dozen kinds of butterflies. The two largest, yellow tiger swallowtails and orange monarchs, were easy to see. But there is plenty more.
Midsized, but also colorful, are the checkered black-orange fritillaries. I see two kinds: atlantis and silver-bordered. Nearby is the white and black: white admiral. Smaller orange butterflies — crescents, checkerspots and skippers — were frequent flyers and feeders as well. Easy to overlook were the brown ones.
We expect colorful insects when seeking butterflies, and they are (even sometimes called flying flowers), but some not as colorful are also flying now. During my walk, I found three kinds of brown butterflies. Two of them, little wood satyr and northern pearly-eye, were along the wooded trail that I took to get to the field.
But out here among the blooming field flowers I also see the orange-brown common ringlets. Midsized butterflies, these less-colorfuls are closely related to the brighter ones. When the other two brown butterflies in the woods were feeding on rotted material and sap, ringlets chose nectar.
Many butterflies open wings while basking in sunlight, but not so for the ringlets. They are lateral baskers — wings remain closed as they feed and sit in the sun.
We’ll see many more kinds of butterflies among the flowers this summer month. They will be various colors, many quite bright, but let’s not overlook the ringlets and other brown butterflies also flying now.