The white flower heads of Wild Quinine seem to echo back the white cumulonimbus clouds of a hot summer afternoon.
by Trish Beckjord, RLA
High summer has arrived. We move through blazing heat, hope for a breeze and shade, and every day hear a lawn mower going somewhere. I haven’t heard the crickets yet - which are more obvious to me later in the season - but one sign of high summer I appreciate is the shining white of Wild Quinine
I added a few last year to enhance the garden between the fading of Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida), Sand Coreopsis(Coreopsis lanceolata) and Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), and the coming on of Blazing Stars (Liatris ssp.) and Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).
Its flowers are now coming into full bloom. Others are starting too: Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis) – which I thought had given up its space to others - is now finding a place, Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea) is showing its magenta hues and the milkweeds are in all their glory. (Asclepias ssp.)
Honestly, what’s not to love about an Illinois native summer garden! It is so filled with life. I got out early a few days ago and watched two Monarchs flitting around while I finished breakfast and refreshed the bird baths. They sometimes flew alone, sometimes chased each other in a spiral dance. Being territorial? Courting? I couldn’t tell if they were male and female or not. I kept trying to see if one would land on any of the Milkweed to lay an egg but these things somehow don’t seem to happen when your eye is on them. So I gave up trying to catch them in the act. It is sufficient that they are here. I left the House Wrens in peace so they could stand down on their warning calls from above and went back inside to the cool of the house.
One thing that has been extra special this year is the number of fireflies I am seeing in the garden.
And I swear, although this is purely anecdotal, that there are more fireflies in my garden than there are in neighboring yards. They are hard to count of course but it really seems as though I am seeing 10-15 times as many as across the street or next door! Honestly, I think I will always be moved by their magic.
Knowing this is a mating call does not take my appreciation away but rather increases it. How wonderful to stand witness to their silent call and response, “Pick me, pick me!” and “I do, I do!” Mother Nature Network tells us there are more than 2,000 species of fireflies worldwide but only some of them create light.
If you are planning to move to California, be prepared to give up the opportunity to see this magical dance. You’re better off moving closer to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park where one species of firefly synchronizes its flashing. There are even tours to see this special event! In fact there is a lottery to get parking passes to see the show. And if you think you are not likely to get to Tennessee where the population of this particular species is highest, then you can watch a wonderful video filmed by the BBC here.
The Smithsonian tells us that, yes, you can capture and keep fireflies in a jar BUT… only if the lid has holes for air and the jar has a moist towel for humidity. Most importantly, you must release the fireflies after only a day or two. Afterall, they worked for 1-2 years to grow to this point and are only alive for about three weeks, so they are working hard to find a mate.
Like many other species, firefly populations are declining most probably due to light pollution and habitat destruction. Fireflies in the larval form are carniverous. As mating adults some eat pollen and nectar while some don’t eat at all.
So maybe my observation that my native garden is supporting more fireflies is accurate! How are they in your garden this year? I hope you get out and enjoy their magic. I will leave the whale to its pod, the bird to its flock, the goose to its gaggle and the lion to its pride, and enjoy the quiet blinking starlight in my garden… what I like to call a blessing of fireflies.