Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday: Venus's looking glass

Thank you to Clay and Limestone for hosting Wildflower Wednesday.  I've been wanting to contribute but the fourth Wednesday keeps slipping by without me realizing it.  Finally I caught one.

The wildflower I chose is Venus's looking glass, Triodanus perfoliata (Specularia perfoliata in my old guide).  This is an annual wildflower that pops up regularly in one spot in my garden.  It's small and many people probably consider it a weed, but I have a liberal weed policy when it comes to pretty native wildflowers.  To me, the flowers are very lovely and the plants themselves are even rather cute pre-bloom.  It is usually a single stalk about six inches to a foot tall, with small round leaves clasping the stem.  It looks a bit like a fairy wand might.  When it blooms, the flowers appear in the leaf axils all down the stem.  Usually I get only a few well spaced out stems, but this year in a newly cleared spot I found a small colony and the overall effect is fairly showy.  It's an annual and doesn't spread aggressively.

Here's a vocab word: oligolege.  I know from reading about gardening for butterflies that butterfly larvae (caterpillars) are very particular about the plants they eat.  The most familiar example is probably the monarch which eats only milkweed.  Now I have learned that some bee larvae have similarly picky tastes when it comes to pollen.  Some species eat the pollen of only a single genus (or even a single species).  This is called oligolecty.  According to the Illinois Wildflower site I was looking at to learn more about Venus's looking glass, there is a species of bee, Colletes brevicornis, that is an oligolege of the Venus's looking glass.  So if compulsive weeders were able to eradicate this lovely little gem of a wildflower, this species of bee would go, too.  That's a good reason not to be too neat in the garden, if you ask me.