Four Years and Counting

In the opening scene of the popular and long-running Music Man, critics of con man Professor Harold Hill agree: he doesn’t know the territory. 

Knowing the territory can be as important for a flower seeker as for a salesman. Four years ago, when I found a substantial number of white spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.) blooming in a vacant lot, I was surprised. The following year, I returned to that bit of neighborhood territory to find an equal number of pretty white blooms, and the next year brought even more white flowers.

This year, I expected to find the flowers again, and I wasn’t disappointed. But this time, I wasn’t their only visitor. A variety of small bees, beetles, and hoverflies had gathered around them: perhaps engaged in their own process of getting to know some new territory.


Comments always are welcome.

60 thoughts on “Four Years and Counting

  1. Happy white spiderworts, especially for the fourth year in a row. It’s been ages since I found one.

    The little hoverfly in your closing picture appears to be in the genus Toxomerus, perhaps Toxomerus marginatus.

    1. When I looked up the hoverfly genus, I thought it interesting that their abdominal patterns were mentioned as being diagnostic for most species. They are handsome little things; I always enjoy catching a flash of the iridescence in their wings.

      More often than not, the white variants I find disappear fairly quickly, especially if there are only one or two flowers. As I understand it, there need to be enough of the flowers for white to pollinate white and keep the colony going. In this yard, although things are kept neat around the unoccupied house, the land is mowed only twice a year; I suspect that helps to maintain the white blooms.

  2. Woo Hoo! While I have photographed white spiderworts, none have been this almost entirely white. Mine are mostly white with blue stamens and sometimes a slight bluish tint hinting that they are whitish morphs of blue flowers. They certainly do attract lots if small insects, especially hover flies.
    It’s nice to know that you have a reliable spot for flowers you wish to visit annually. Lovely shots!

    1. I remember admiring some of your pale spiderworts. I found just one that was ice-blue with blue anthers this year; it was pretty, but these are my favorites. There are plenty of purple and blue ones in the yard, too. You can see a hint of their color in the first photo.

      1. Of course they are your favorites, you love white flowers. That was part of my “Woo Hoo”.

        I hope that lot remains vacant for you to continue visiting. Here in Amherst chances are it would be developed already. There are builders everywhere and their carpenters decide to be builders also and builders have to build. Just an observation, not a critique. I was very happy that the former golf course close to my home has been purchased by the town and for the most part will remain as is with the wild returning.

  3. Can you see the moon??? Was just outside trying to capture it with my iPad and iPhone cameras. Neither Canon or Olympus has a charged battery, as luck would have it seeing as how I have not used either in months. Lesson learned.

    BTW, the NYT wants bee photos for their Spelling Bee. I doubt they offer compensation though. Thanks for adding to my lovely morning. My avatar is the bee. I do love hover bees too!

    1. I missed the full moon. My desk faces east, so I get treated to sort-of-sunrises instead: not the sun itself, but at least a nice glow. It’s easier to photograph the moon than the sun, I think — at least, if our batteries are charged. I certainly have had that experience myself.

      I looked at the NYT article about their spelling bee and the forum. I’ll pass on submitting a photo, but it is a neat idea. I’m sure they’ll get a gazillion good photos, and I’m glad they’re using a variety of submissions.

    1. I’m not sure why I’m so taken with white flowers, or with the occasional white sport that appears, but they do appeal. These are especially pretty, and they certainly attract a variety of insects. Butterflies enjoy the nectar, while the hoverflies and such feed on the pollen.

    1. Good subjects make for good photos, Jeanie. The only time I printed any photos was for a native plant society project, but otherwise I just don’t. There’s the expense, and the time involved — and I’m out of wall space! I don’t enjoy clutter, and after all — I always can look at the photos on the computer.

  4. Linda, your post brought back memories…one of the spring musicals we performed in high school was Music Man. Now I’ve got earworms “Ya Got Trouble” and “Marian the Librarian” running through my brain…thanks.
    Oh yes, nice white spiderworts!

    1. When the musical came out in 1957, I swear every Iowan stood a little taller. We learned all the songs, that’s for sure. I still remember my dad buying the album when we got our first stereo — right after he picked up the demonstration record that had such gems as the ping-pong game that bounced the ball from one speaker to another. My favorite song might be “Iowa Stubborn.”

      Now I have a hankering for sweet corn.

    1. I especially like spiderwort buds. I was a little late for them this year, but I was glad to find a white one to add to my collection. My all-time favorite bud photo might be this one. I think they’re just so interesting structurally.

  5. Hopefully, it will remain a vacant lot. Vacant only by human standards of course; all those pollinators and other insects know differently.

    1. It’s actually fairly well tended; there’s an empty house on the lot, but I’ve seen tree trimming done before storm season. I suspect it might be a family place. It’s in a good location, and I’ve been surprised the property hasn’t been snatched up for commercial development. One of the best things about it is that it’s mowed only twice a year — or perhaps three times. Whatever flowers appear have time to seed out, rather than being cut down in midlife.

    1. The little insect is a hoverfly rather than a bee; it’s in an enormous genus, and the patterns vary substantially. I see this species quite often, and suspect it might be one of our most common hoverflies.

      I have a hard time distinguishing spiderwort species, except in the case of the ones that grow quite tall, or that are hairy. Sometimes, as in the case of these white ones, “pretty flower” is perfectly adequate for me.

    1. The last photo surprised me. I’d never before noticed the bead-like structure of the hairs on the stamens. Reading about the flower, I found this: “Each hair on the stamens consists of a chain of thin-walled cells; the hairs are a favorite subject for microscopic examination in biology classes because the flowing cytoplasm and nucleus can be seen easily.” Now I want a microscope as well as a macro lens!

  6. Delightfully white. White and gold are always a winning color combination. Are there other colors of spiderworts besides the white ones?

    1. There are other colors: blue, purple, and pink. Sometimes there are white ones with purple anthers, or pale pink with blue. Here’s a post that shows some nice pink and purple ones. The blooms last for only a day. By noon they start to fade, and they almost dissolve, becoming jelly-like instead of drying up.

    1. Many thanks, Jet. This lot is only about ten miles from my home — a good reminder that nature’s delights often are closer at hand than we imagine. Given today’s gas prices and general economic downturn, that’s a very good reminder, indeed!

    1. I’m sure they do, but when I looked through my spiderwort photos, I didn’t find a single spider lurking around. The flowers got their popular name because people thought the blooms themselves look like spiders. Personally, I don’t see it, but a lot of plant common names are a little mysterious.

      1. And there you have it!

        And to completely change the context, in brewing, a spider is a sieve that holds loose hops, and wort is unfermented beer.

  7. So happy the critters have found the buffet, too! Wonder why it took them four years … or perhaps they just happened to be there the day you were??

    1. I’m sure the insects have been around, and I just haven’t seen them. After all, something has been pollinating the flowers from year to year, or they would have disappeared!

      Another thing I’ve learned is that certain insects have predictable schedules. The bane of my existence — the ‘love bugs’ that fly into fresh varnish — get up around 10 in the morning and go to bed about 4 in the afternoon, so I try to time my varnishing accordingly! It may be that the hoverflies and such have “schedules” too, and I just miss them.

      1. Boy, do I remember those love bugs! Every time I’d have to drive anywhere, the entire front of my car would wind up covered in the things. That’s one thing I don’t miss, ha!

    1. ‘Lacy’ is a perfect word to describe these. The differently colored ones, like the purple, don’t seem so delicate to me, but with these, the fine details really do shine.

  8. Stunning set of shots of a really gorgeous flower. I’ve only seen pinks and purples in spiderwort, but your white is something else.

    1. Isn’t it fun? And so pretty. Most of the time these white variants are very much a now you see it, now you don’t, sort of thing, so it’s been special to be able to count on these. Honestly, I don’t expect the colony to last forever, simply because so many factors can affect its pollination, but while it’s around, I’ll always have a look when I’m driving by to see what’s emerged.

    1. Now and then I’ll see spiderworts that are the palest blue imaginable — almost an ice blue — but this is the only group of truly pure white flowers I’ve ever found. They’re just lovely, and easy enough to spot as I drive past the yard that I know when to stop and have a look. The property is on a highway I regularly drive on my way to somewhere else — no need to travel far when near is so productive!

    1. These are wonderfully attractive flowers. They would make a fine addition to a bouquet, but they last for only a day. By noon, they’re already on the decline, so they need to be appreciated early.

  9. Yes, yes! The bees do love spiderwort. My bumblebees come out in droves when mine are blooming.

    I have the usual blue blossom variety. Those white ones are lovely.

    1. They’re not only pretty, I think some of the details — like the hairs on the stamens and the texture of the petals — are more obvious, too. It could be my imagination, but it seems like the darker colors disguise the details a bit.

      If I remember correctly, you have a birthday coming up. Are you doing anything special for it on the weekend? Do you get Monday off? Whatever you do, I hope the weekend’s a good one!

  10. I just read an interesting story with photos that reminded me of you. A city in Europe turned miles and miles of the area between the sidewalks and the streets into native wildflower beds instead of grass. Saved money for mowing and the ground water from fertilizer runoff and is helping to maintain the bee population for their farmers.

    1. That’s really interesting. I’ve read of a movement that is promoting strips of native wildflowers between farm fields for the same reason; it’s an easy way to attract the pollinators that are so important for the crops. I can’t remember the exact figure, but scientists have figured out how far bees will fly to gather pollen, and there’s a group here that’s using that as the basis for getting neighborhoods to develop small pollinator gardens that are near enough to one another that the bees can make it from one to another. Step by step, good change can come.

    1. It is pollination that keeps variants like these white flowers going. If white flowers are pollinated from blue flowers, the blue will take over, but if the colony is large enough that white flowers get pollinated from other white flowers, they will continue to bloom white. That’s how I understand it, anyway. I have noticed that where only one or two white flowers pop up, it’s more likely than not that they won’t reappear the next day. So interesting!

    1. These have been a real treat, and this is the only location where I’ve found white ones. There may be more around, of course, but this is ‘my’ patch, and I love it.

    1. Thanks, Tom! It’s great fun to be able to share something that’s a little unusual, and these certainly qualify. They’re probably more common than I know, but these are the only ones I remember seeing, and it’s been great to have them reappear over so many years.

  11. I’m enthralled by the photographs. Sigh.

    In periodic fits of “know-it-all-ism”, I am confident as I head to a spot frequently visited that I “know the territory”. Invariably, Ma Nature takes me down several pegs by not offering what I expected or even providing a surprise. Humbleness returns.

    Off to the farmer’s stand to see if he has some of that golden fruit just harvested from those stalks as high as an elephant’s eye.

    Oh, what a beautiful morning!

    1. Of course, ‘knowing the territory’ is different than being able to predict exactly what will be seen. There always are surprises: some good, some disappointing.

      On the other hand, there’s this. Yesterday, at a nature spot edging the Gulf, I found exactly one blooming Texas Bluebell, aka Prairie Gentian. I’d never seen one there, but its appearance suggested it might have popped up elsewhere. I decided to swing by the Brazoria refuge, where I’ve been able to find them in the past, and there they were. The past two years, there have almost none in that spot — I don’t remember any from last year. This year, they’re everywhere. It’s clearly still their territory — and I knew it!

  12. Follow the flies! They have more wisdom than we typically give them credit for. Although in this case it’s almost as if they followed you. That’s a good sign as far as your wisdom goes.

    1. Well, there’s such a thing as convergent evolution — why not convergent floral visits? The hoverflies and I were seeking different things — pollen nectare, or a decent photo — and the good news is that we all were satisfied!

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