Late Spring Sunflowers

 Wyethia angustifolia, blooming on the mitigation seasonal wet meadow.
A large number of Narrow leaf mule ears bloomed this year and the pollinators appreciated them!
This native bumble bee, Bombus vasrienskii, the Yellow faced bumble, I was able to tell it was a male because of the lack of pollen sacks on its back legs.
This metallic dark blue-black small native bee is one of the Metallic mason bees, a member of the Osmia genus. If you look carefully you can see the brush of hairs under the abdomen full of pollen.
Narrow leaf mule ears are in the sunflower family and have a composite flower, containing ray flowers and disc flowers.
This beautiful Anise swallowtail butterfly, Papilio zelicaon, enjoys abundant nectar from the flowers of the mule ears.
Another Bombus spp. of bumble bee enjoying the nectar from the mule ears.
A fast moving whitish-grey and fuzzy small bee, this Digger bee,  Anthophora spp., seemed to be a common bee in the meadow.

June 14th, 2021

As this very dry and unusual spring comes to an end there are still some beautiful wildflowers that I am enjoying. The narrow leaf mule ears, Wyethia angustifolia, is one of my favorites and even though I wrote a blog on it in 2019, I am going to give some new (and some old) information on it! East of the viaduct on the mitigation property, there is a tract of land called “Benbow” that has hundreds of these beauties. Even with our reduced rainfall, the bloom this year is spectacular.

This is a drought tolerant plant that is found in seasonally wet meadows, moist hillsides, and in dry open slopes at low to mid elevations from southern Washington through the Willamette Valley in Oregon and Central California. It is recognized by its long lanceolate leaves which are usually entire, quite narrow, and tapered at both ends. It is a typical member of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, with a composite of ray flowers and disc flowers that can be up to 1.5 inches across. The plant can grow to be 1 to 3 feet tall and can be 1 to 3 feet wide. As in this valley, they often grow in colonies with many hundreds of plants.

It is a useful plant for humans and for wildlife. The seeds can be cooked and used as pinole, or dried and powdered and put in soup as a thickener. It can also be added to other cereal grains for making bread. The young stems and shoots can be eaten also. The Ohlone people use this plant as a poultice for drawing out blisters and to treat fevers. A lemon-yellow dye can be obtained from the flowers. If the flowers, leaves, and stems are used, a gold to brass dye can be made.

Mule ears are great pollinator plants, and I observed a variety of native insects use the flowers as a source of nectar and pollen. Bumble bees, Digger bees, Metallic Mason bees, small wasps, and butterflies including the Anise Swallowtail, were all benefiting from this important plant. I could see some male bumbles that did not have the pollen sacks on their legs just eating the nectar. Other bees, such as the Metallic Mason bees, were carrying the pollen on their “brushy” abdomens. Some of the bees observed had large yellow pollen sacks on their back legs. I did not get a photo of these bees to show you this.

American and Lesser goldfinches, as well as Song sparrows and California quail, eat the seeds along with insects such as weevils and other beetles. Many small mammals like Gophers and Meadow voles also eat the seeds for winter sustenance.

When I researched the possibility of growing this plant in my garden, many nurseries said it could be grown from seed but needs stratification and soaking. This means putting the seeds in the refrigerator 2 to 3 months before trying to germinate them. Once the seeds have begun sprouting, they will need well-drained soil. I look forward to trying to get a few of these plants growing in my garden and spread their good work in the world.