Blue, Too

While the monarch butterfly I discovered sipping nectar atop a fading blue sage was lovely, the flower itself deserves a second look. Blue sage (Salvia azurea), a tall, vibrant prairie plant, pleases the human eye as surely as it attracts pollinators.

The monarch, it seemed, wasn’t alone in being attracted to the flowers. A  bend atop a still-fresh spike of flowers revealed threads of silk attached at several points along the stem. While monarchs and fritillaries stopped and sipped at nearly every blue sage, I never saw a butterfly approach this flower-laden stalk. Perhaps they saw the silk, assumed a spider, and chose to avoid the complications they might present.


Comments always are welcome.


52 thoughts on “Blue, Too

    1. Blue never has been my favorite flower color, but I must say these are lovely. I’m glad I found them when I did, as their field’s suffered the effects of very cold (perhaps even freezing) weather, and a bit of snow. Now, it’s the flowerless field that might be feeling a little blue. As for the mysterious injury, it’s healed completely and I’m happy to be back to what passes for normal.

  1. Until checking just now, I didn’t realize what a broad distribution the species has, including parts of Iowa and Long Island. I’m accustomed to thinking of this wildflower’s world as north Austin and south Round Rock.

    You raise an interesting question. I wonder if entomologists have studied the extent to which different insects can see spiderwebs. It’s clear that not all can, at least not all the time, or else web-making spiders would die out. Low light must be a great friend to those spiders.

    1. Most of the time it’s the unusual bend in a plant that catches my attention; finding the spider’s silk can require a little extra effort. Light does have to catch those strands just right to make them visible, which surely is an advantage for the spider. In the second photo, the oval formed by the top of the stem and the silk curving down from the top was filled with fishnet-like webbing, but I couldn’t manage to capture it all.

      I’d hoped to find the spider lurking about too, but that didn’t happen this time.

  2. I’ve seen plants and seeds of S. azurea for sale here in Austin, but have never purchased it. With my limited full-sun garden, they wouldn’t work. I love blue flowers and get my fix mostly through the S. farinacea, which thrives in sun, but is tolerant of some shade. I’m glad you profiled this gorgeous salvia–your photo shows its beauty. Glad you’re mended!

    1. I’ve always enjoyed the Salvia farinacea, too. It was so prolific in the Kerrville/Comfort/Medina area a couple of years ago you could drive for miles without seeing a break in the blooms. It’s interesting that you mention its shade tolerance. I hadn’t thought of that, but I did find some lovely stands of it around oak trees. This was my first year to find this plant outside of a garden: funny how they come and go. Unpredictability, thy name is flower!

      I am mended, indeed. When something like a pulled tendon comes along, it amuses me that I never know whether it happened at work or at play.

  3. Too bad you didn’t manage to also “capture” the web’s maker. but such a fabulous colour, Linda! The bloom type strongly resembles one of my favourites, Lobelia cardinalis, the Cardinal Flower and the colour of Lobelia erinus. With a wide range of form and colour, they’re popular up here as bedding plants and often used in hanging baskets.

    1. After looking at the cardinal flower and the L. erinus, I went digging in my files and found that I have exactly two photos of this little gem. There were about a half dozen plants hidden away off the edge of a boardwalk at a local nature center, and I haven’t known what they were. Now, I’m sure they were Lobelia puberula, or downy lobelia. They’re in the Campanulaceae, or bellflower family, while the blue sage is in the Lamiaceae, or mint family.

      I’ve finally figured out that my new favorite field guide is not only divided by color, each color section is arranged alphabetically by family. Being able to identify a family by a common characteristic — like the leaves of plants in the pea family — certainly is making it easier to ID plants: if not easy!

      1. More on that… While the quote is in reference to L. syphlitica, (and here in the age of the Internet, seeing photographs of all these many species side-by-side; apparently my eyes don’t lie; ) plus we in this here-and-now just have it SO much easier to compare… “The family name for this plant is changing based on the work of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group; many sources, including Minnesota authorities at the U of M Herbarium, now list this plant in the Lobeliaceae family whereas USDA still maintains it in the Bellflower family (Campanulaceae).”

        1. Oh! It’s Michael Eason’s Wildflowers of Texas. There are little touches throughout that I really appreciate, like the ruler on the back cover, line drawings of leaf shapes and margins, a small glossary, and a description of the various plant families. Not only that, it has a good binding.

          How much do I love it? In a fit of enthusiasm, I bought a second copy so I can keep one in the car and one at my desk. I mean — you never know when a bit of color is going to catch your eye at a stop sign. Right?

          1. You’ve just reminded me that I never did get a chance to stop and see about seed being on a plant at a very busy intersection… And, if there was any, it’s probably been either been rattled away or carried to the ground by all the very early (like 4 WEEKS early) snow/sleet windy winter crap we’ve been so generously “gifted” with this year:/

    1. There’s nothing like a flower to cheer things up. Sunflowers are good, but they’re not the only ones that can do the trick. I’m glad these brightened your day a bit.

  4. I have some pale blue flowers in my backyard. I think they’re just weeds, but I like them and refuse to cut them. Like one of your readers said, you don’t see blue flowers very often.

    1. You’d be surprised by the number of co-called ‘weeds’ that are perfectly respectable wildflowers, GP. My theory is that if they’re pretty, and you like them, they deserve to stay right where they are. I suspect they make your pollinators happy, too, so there’s another reason to let them be!

    1. This is a lovely, ‘true’ blue, isn’t it? It reminds me of the blue of the bachelor button, or chicory. So often the blues can verge toward purple, or even have some pink lurking around, but this is nice. They’re sweet flowers; I’m glad you thought the shots were sweet, too.

    1. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Judy. Now that the flowers are fading, we’re going to have to depend on our birds for some color. I saw my first group of roseate spoonbills last weekend: faux flamingos, as we like to call them!

  5. Smart butterflies! Thought of you yesterday morning when I was having breakfast at an outdoor restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. The grackles were stealing sugar packets off to tables so they could break them open and eat the sugar. Now I am watching frigate birds fly overhead. Beautiful, streamlined birds. Do you have them in Texas, Linda. –Curt

    1. We do have frigate birds. The most common species here is the magnificent frigate bird; they show up near the coast and over pelagic waters between May-September.

      There are some great stories about them from saltwater fishermen. I love this: “[The frigate bird has been] long used as a fish finder by near and offshore anglers, but anglers throwing topwaters while one hovers a hundred or more feet above should be wary, as it can and will dive vertically at awesome speed to snatch up a topwater. The magnificent frigatebird seems fond of bone Super Spooks [a bait] — just ask Capt. David Rowsey.” Capt. Rowsey fishes south of here, down around the Laguna Madre, and he can tell the tales.

      I don’t know if you’ve read my story of the grackle who used to board the boat every morning for his bit of toast. It doesn’t surprise me at all that one would be a sugar stealer. They’re bold birds.

      1. Coming back from a fishing trip out of Mazatlan once where my first wife and I had caught a marling and several mahi-mahi, our captain threw the leftover bait up in the air to amuse us. There were pelicans, gulls and frigate birds galore. The frigate birds insisted on stealing the bait out of the mouths of the Pelicans. Boy were they fast.
        Didn’t catch that particular post on grackles, but not surprised. They are clever birds. There is one staring at me right now. –Curt

        1. It’s common to see the seagulls trying to steal from pelicans down here. Nearly every pelican on the water has a ‘buddy’ right alongside, who’ll try to pull fish from that pouch. The pelicans, of course, are having none of it, but the seagulls persevere.

  6. Lovely image and thanks for the name. I have a couple of shots of this same Salvia, but it seemed there were several very similar blue ones and I think Salvia azurea is the name I need.

    1. It can be hard to sort them out. I just glanced in my Texas wildflowers book and found eight species that are blue: although not all of them are in my area.

      I was surprised that you have these in your area, but I found this, on a Woodbridge Nursery page: “This frost hardy variety from the prairies of USA competes well amongst miscanthus, asters, euphorbias and late summer blooming perennials. Useful where a good clear sky blue is required, the plant looks best when grown tightly amongst other perennials to keep it upright and well behaved. Cut back hard like perovskias or penstemons once established.”

      It certainly is frost hardy, and now you’ve seen it in its native, prairie setting.

  7. I like blue flowers, especially on a hot day, when red ones just make you feel hotter. Well, it’s not just the flower that’s sage, the butterflies are smart enough to remember that Linda Ronstadt song:
    Silken threads and golden nectar cannot trap this butterfly
    And I dare not drown my sorrows, or I will surely die

    1. My gracious — I even know the tune to that Ronstadt song! Very clever, and entirely apropos. It’s clear that the butterflies know how to be butterflies, even if we can’t always interpret their behavior. And who knows? They may even sing that song from time to time.

    1. It’s a beauty, for sure. I see that it creeps into Colorado and Utah, but it doesn’t make it into your area. I like the name, too. I think it’s because azurea reminds me of blue skies and tropical waters.

  8. I remembered reading about the different Salvias last year when we had masses of both red and different shades of blue Salvias towering above everything else in our garden. The Salvia divinorum is supposed to be on a prohibitive list of plants, and banned in some US states.
    I am not suggesting that the Monarch butterfly is obeying the law by just concentrating on the legal salvia azuria. ( without spider’s web)
    I don’t think any Salvia is banned in Texas.

    1. That’s interesting about the Salvia divinorum . It’s not native anywhere in the U.S.; it’s endemic to the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, and not very widespread there. I confess I’ve never heard of it, but psychotropic drugs don’t interest me, so that probably explains that. As of 2013, it was legal here in only eight states. In Texas, it’s not against the law to possess live plants, but ‘products’ from those plants are illegal.

      Like the butterflies, I’ll stick with the natives. They provide a different kind of natural high.

    1. I think that’s one of the prettiest greens there is. The vibrant, deep greens of summer, or the yellow green of early spring growth are delightful, but the just-ready-to-begin-turning of autumn grasses, that touch of grayish green, is delightful. Can’t you imagine one of those big balls of yarn that shades from this green to this blue?

  9. I wonder what the spider was hoping to catch for dinner. Perhaps a fly, rather than a butterfly. Whatever was on the menu I must compliment the spider on its table setting. A meal always tastes better in beautiful surroundings,and with the right table setting. ( I am personally very fond of white and blue) I hope you will be dining in equally beautiful surroundings for Thanksgiving, and in good company. Happy Thanksgiving.

    1. I think you’re right that smaller prey is often the intent. For proof, we need only remember the beginning of the old verse: “Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly…” I’m not sure I’ve ever read the entire poem before, but here it is.

      In my archives, I found a photo of a similar piece of spider-work, where the entire web is visible. I’ll see if I can spiff it up enough to make it presentable for posting; I took it in the first months of having my camera, when I knew almost nothing about how to make the thing work. I’m always wishing I could go back and take the same photo again — but that’s just another of life’s little impossibilities.

      It’s beautiful today, and Thanksgiving day is forecast to be sunny and nice, as well. My contribution to the feast will be a pair of pecan pies, which I’ll make tonight. Coincidentally, my first post on the Weather Underground blog page — long before WordPress — included my pecan pie recipe. At the time, I had no idea blogging would turn out to be as tasty as the pie.

        1. She was quite a woman, wasn’t she? One thing I learned is that “The Lobster Quadrille” from Alice in Wonderland” is a parody of “The Spider and the Fly.” It would be interesting to look into some of her other writings, just to see what they’re like: especially what appear to be nature writings. The whole family was hob-nobbing with some interesting people, too. People of that time certainly did get around.

  10. Such a beautiful plant! I love the shape of the lower petal. It’s interesting that the butterflies seemed to avoid that stalk – good for them! Let the spider find another meal.

    1. Here’s a closeup of a couple of those petals. At first, I couldn’t see the ‘three lobes’ that always are mentioned, but in the photo they’re more obvious: one large, two smaller. And the flower on the left shows that little trigger mechanism that helps to dust pollinators with pollen — so neat. Imagining how all of these plants evolved over the eons is just amazing.

  11. I think your guess about the butterflies sensing the webbing as a threat is a good one. They don’t survive by blundering into every trap set out for them (or some other insect).

    1. This past weekend, every one of those sunflowers and salvias were gonzo: the result of cold weather and wind. On the other hand, I saw some new goldenrod blooming, and plenty of our common sunflower (Helianthus annuus). Granted, the sunflowers were as ragged as the butterflies feeding on them — mostly queens and one buckeye – but they were there, and they were covered with spider webs again.

      I found something this past weekend that’s still a total mystery to me. I need to get some photos over to BugGuide. First I thought it was a spittle bug, and then I thought it was a spider’s egg case, and then I got a better look here at home, and it looked like a combination of frozen water droplets and cattail fluff. Stay tuned!

      1. I’ll look forward to seeing your mystery something. It’s funny to hear about plants continuing to flower there while everything that needs warmth here is gonzo. Although, one of my Facebook friends told me during a discussion about my health that she still had mosquitoes about 20 miles north of here. Boooo.

        1. You know, our folk wisdom is that a freeze will knock out the little beasties, but apparently that only applies to one generation. We go from warm to cold to warm so often this time of year that I suppose the larvae can hatch and start the process over. I must say, between the Picaridan lotion and spray, and the permethrin treated clothing, I’m mostly protected — although I did manage to get one in my mouth last weekend. The good news is that it died.

    1. Lucky you to have had it. It is a beautiful plant, and quite a treat for the butterflies and such. I hope it comes back with enthusiasm, and lures even more butterflies your way.

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