To Love Winter: Striped Wintergreen

It may be winter in the northern hemisphere (at least some days), but there is still plenty to see if you go for a walk in the woods. Some plants may be easier to spot in winter than they are during the growing season, because they have less competition for light, and for your attention.  Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) is one of those plants.  Striped Wintergreen can be seen in woodlands, skimming just above the fallen leaves.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in fruit

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in fruit

A clue that winter is the perfect time to look for this plant is found in the translation of its genus, ‘Chimaphila’, whose origins are the Greek words ‘cheima’, which means ‘winter’ and ‘phileo’, which translates as ‘to love’.   Plants of this genus are named for their love of winter.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata)

Why do they love winter? Striped Wintergreen is an evergreen perennial of the forest understory, growing to a height of about 4 – 12 inches (10 – 30 cm).  Somewhat woody at the base of the stem, botanists classify this species as a shrub or subshrub.  Its green and white striped leaves make it easy to spot in the winter months when leaves have fallen from the deciduous trees and shrubs that tower over this diminutive plant.  During the growing season, its taller neighbors often obscure Striped Wintergreen from view, as well as from the sun’s rays.  But throughout winter, Striped Wintergreen’s evergreen leaves have unfettered access to the sun’s energy.  They can photosynthesize, store the energy, and make it available to support Striped Wintergreen’s summertime reproductive efforts.

Striped Wintergreen is known by many other aliases (common names), including Spotted Wintergreen, Pipsissewa, and Rheumatism Root. Some of these names refer to the medicinal uses of this plant. Striped Wintergreen contains chemical compounds with antiseptic, antibacterial, and astringent properties, among others.  One of the compounds, ursolic acid, is effective in treating arthritis and other causes of pain and inflammation.  Striped Wintergreen and a close relative that is also called Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) have been used to treat urinary tract infections and kidney stones.  The name Pipsissewa is derived from a Creek Native American word that means ‘to break into small pieces’, referring to stones in the urinary tract.

Is it just lucky happenstance that Striped Wintergreen contains compounds that have beneficial medicinal effects for humans? Not completely.  Striped Wintergreen faces some of the same pressures that humans do from bacteria, fungi and microbes, all of which are present in the thousands in the fallen leaves with which Striped Wintergreen lives, and that are working to break down the leaves until they become the next layer of nutrient-filled soil.  Striped Wintergreen has evolved to produce chemical compounds to protect itself from this efficient recycling team surrounding it.  What is lucky for us is that these chemical constituents also have a positive effect in human bodies.

Striped Wintergreen blooms in summer, usually sometime from June through August.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in bloom. Fruit capsule from previous season is visible on the left.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in bloom. Fruit capsule from previous season is visible on the left.

When fully open, the flowers with their recurved petals resemble crowns, a possible explanation for another common name for this plant, Striped Prince’s Pine.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) flower. Notice its resemblance to a tiny crown.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) flower. Notice its resemblance to a tiny crown.

Striped Wintergreen’s primary pollinators are Bumble Bees (Bombus species), but Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) may also be enticed by nectar to visit the flowers.  If the bees help Striped Wintergreen successfully achieve pollination, the resulting fruit is visible throughout the winter.  These dry fruit capsules look like tiny turbans, or miniature winter squash split open at the seams to release the seeds inside.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) fruit capsules.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) fruit capsules.

The chemical compounds present in Striped Wintergreen, along with leathery, waxy-coated leaves, are generally effective in deterring herbivores. Deer don’t typically browse this plant, even though it’s one of only a few that are green in the winter.  But the photo below shows that someone, probably a Leaf-cutter Bee (Megachile species), has figured out a way to use parts of the leaves.  Leaf-cutter bees harvest regularly-shaped oval, circular or semi-circular pieces of leaves to construct cells in their nests.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) with semi-circles removed from the leaf edges, probably by a Leaf-cutter Bee.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) with semi-circles removed from the leaf edges, probably by a Leaf-cutter Bee.

Striped Wintergreen’s native range is the eastern third of the United States, north to a few locations in southern Ontario and Quebec provinces in Canada. It’s rare at the edges of its range, and is listed as endangered in Illinois, Maine, Ontario and Quebec, and exploitably vulnerable in New York state.

Experience some ‘Winter Love’ (another common name for Chimaphila maculata).  Look for Striped Wintergreen in winter, and you’ll know where to find it during the summer months when it’s in bloom.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in bloom.

Striped Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) in bloom.

More Reasons to Love Winter

Reasons to Love Winter

An Orchid in Winter

Coralberry – A Winter Standout

What Winter Reveals:  Hoptrees

Late Winter Bird Food

A Winter Garden Can Be a Wildlife Habitat

Resources

Buhner, Stephen Harrod. Pipsissewa.  From Planting the Future, Saving Our Medicinal Herbs, edited by Gladstar, Rosemary and Hirsch, Pamela.  2000.

Eaton, Eric R.; Kauffman, Ken. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.  2007.

Eiseman, Charley; Charney, Noah. Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates. 2010.

Foster, Steven; Duke, James A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America.  2000.

Martin, Laura C. Wildflower Folklore.  1984.

Rhoads, Ann Fowler; Block, Timothy A. The Plants of Pennsylvania.  2007

Evergreen Native Plant Database

Illinois Wildflowers

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Native American Ethnobotany Database

USDA NRCS Plants Database

 

 

A Holiday Break

If you feel the need for a little break from all the holiday shopping and festivities, I recommend a walk in the woods.

If the ground isn’t snow-covered, you might look for Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) while you are out walking. It’s a low evergreen perennial that creeps across the forest floor, resembling strings of tiny holiday garlands.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

Patridgeberry may be peeking out from under fallen leaves.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens)

Look closely at a patch of moss, and you might find Patridgeberry interspersed with it.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) mixed with mosses

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) mixed with mosses

Patridgeberry’s bright red fruit usually persists on the plant throughout the winter and even into spring.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) in spring, with fruit from the previous year still present.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) in spring, with fruit from the previous year still present.

It may actually be easier to find Patridgeberry in the winter than it is during the growing season, depending on its situation. This diminutive ground cover may be hidden by taller herbaceous plants and shrubs in the late spring when it begins to bloom.  If you find it in winter, you’ll know where to look to see the flowers, probably sometime in late May or June.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) in bloom, partially hidden by taller plants

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) in bloom, partially hidden by taller plants

Bumble Bees are the primary pollinators of Patridgeberry’s tiny trumpet-shaped flowers. The flowers are always in pairs; in fact, they are actually joined.

Patridgeberry's (Mitchella repens) paired flowers in bloom.

Patridgeberry’s (Mitchella repens) paired flowers in bloom.

The two flowers share a single ovary, the part of the flower from which a fruit develops.  As a result, no more than one berry is produced for every pair of flowers.  You might think of this as analogous to conjoined twins that share a body part.  In recognition of this trait, another common name for this plant is Twinberry.  If you look closely at the fruit in the photo below, you can see two dimples, each with a somewhat jagged edge.  This is where each individual flower was joined to the ovary.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) fruit. Notice the jagged edged 'dimples' where the two flowers were attached to their shared ovary.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) fruit. Notice the jagged edged ‘dimples’ where the two flowers were attached to their shared ovary.

Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Bobwhite, White-footed Mice, Red Fox and Eastern Chipmunks are among the animals that eat Patridgeberry fruits. The animals subsequently disperse Patridgeberry’s seeds, which are accompanied by natural fertilizer (the animal’s excrement) to give the seeds a good start.

Native American tribes have used various parts of Patridgeberry, sometimes in combination with other plants, as a gynecological aid and pain reliever, as well as to treat rashes and urinary tract problems, among other problems.

Patridgeberry can be found in the woods of the eastern half of the United States, and in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and parts of Newfoundland & Labrador.

For the holidays, do whatever best renews your spirit. A walk in the woods will do it for me.

If the ground is snow-covered, there will be other holiday decorations to see, courtesy of nature. Nothing you have to put up, or take down.  No muss, no fuss.  Just beauty.

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) mixed with mosses and mushrooms

Patridgeberry (Mitchella repens) mixed with mosses and mushrooms

Related Posts

A Holiday Display, Courtesy of Nature

Resources

Capon, Brian. Botany for Gardeners.  2005

Foster, Steven; Duke, James A. A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America.  2000.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.  2003.

Martin, Alexander C.; Zim, Herbert S.; Nelson, Arnold L. American Wildlife & Plants A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits.  1951.

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany.  1998.

Rhoads, Ann Fowler; Block, Timothy A. The Plants of Pennsylvania.  2007

Illinois Wildflowers

Missouri Botanical Garden

USDA NRCS Plant Database

 

Bountiful Blue Wood Aster

Blue Wood or Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) began its seasonal bloom in late September, and amazingly, at the end of November it’s still possible to find some blossoms.

Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) with Sweat Bee (Halictus species)

Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) with Sweat Bee (Halictus species)

Like all Aster (Asteraceae) family members, each flower ‘head’ of Blue Wood Aster consists of many tiny flowers that bloom gradually over a period of several weeks, offering nectar and pollen to a variety of flower visitors.  Each Blue Wood Aster flower head has an outer ring of ice blue petal-like ray flowers designed to advertise this feast. Tiny tubular disk flowers form the center of the display; this is where Blue Wood Aster makes its bountiful food available in hope that while dining, visitors will pick up pollen and transfer it to another plant of the same species, enabling pollination to occur.

Blue Wood Aster’s disk flowers are pale yellow when they’re in bud and when they first open. They turn pink or magenta as they age, and when they have been successfully pollinated.  This color change is a signal to pollinators, directing them to the receptive yellow flowers which are not yet pollinated and that will reward them with nectar, and steering them away from blossoms that are already satisfactorily pollinated and will not produce a nectar reward.  This evolutionary adaptation makes the most efficient use of both the plant’s and the potential pollinator’s efforts.

To share in the bounty offered by Blue Wood Aster, I invite you to a virtual time-lapse visit to our garden in central New Jersey.  You can see the last Blue Wood Aster blossoms for this year, and a selection of the many of the visitors that this lovely plant hosted throughout the season. Notice that the potential pollinators are generally visiting the yellow disk flowers, those that are still open for business, not the pinkish flowers that have shut down their nectar production.

Bumble Bees are the most frequent visitors.

Bumble Bee (Bombus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Bumble Bee (Bombus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

An athletic Bee drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium). I'm not completely sure whether it's a Bumble Bee or an Eastern Carpenter Bee.

An athletic Bee drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium). I’m not completely sure whether it’s a Bumble Bee or an Eastern Carpenter Bee.

But many species of Sweat Bees (Halictid bees), and even Honey Bees dine on Blue Wood Aster nectar and pollen.

Sweat Bee (Halictus species) with Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Sweat Bee (Halictus species) with Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Sweat Bee (Halictus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Sweat Bee (Halictus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A gang of Sweat Bees (Halictus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A gang of Sweat Bees (Halictus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Sweat Bees (Halictid bees) of two different species visiting Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Sweat Bees (Halictid bees) of two different species visiting Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Sweat Bee (Halictid bee) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Sweat Bee (Halictid bee) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Sweat Bee (Augochlorella species) investigating Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Sweat Bee (Augochlorella species) investigating Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Sweat Bee (Augochlorella species) investigating Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Sweat Bee (Augochlorella species) investigating Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) nectaring from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) nectaring from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Mason Wasp stopped by for nourishment.

A Mason Wasp (Ancistrocerus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Mason Wasp (Ancistrocerus species) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Many fly species paused to drink, most disguised as bees or wasps in an attempt to appear threatening to potential predators.

A Syrphid or Flower fly drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower fly drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Toxomerous geminatus) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Toxomerous geminatus) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Syrphus ribesii) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Syrphus ribesii) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Sericomyia chrysotoxoides) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Sericomyia chrysotoxoides) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Eristalis tenax) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

A Syrphid or Flower Fly (Eristalis tenax) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Greenbottle Fly (Lucilia sericata) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Greenbottle Fly (Lucilia sericata) drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Even late season butterflies and moths were able to refuel on Blue Wood Aster nectar.

A Clouded Sulphur butterfly drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium). Notice the heart-shaped leaves that are characteristic of this species.

A Clouded Sulphur butterfly drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium). Notice the heart-shaped leaves that are characteristic of this species.

A Pearl Crescent butterfly drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium). Not only do these butterflies benefit from the nectar, but their caterpillars dine on the foliage of several aster species.

A Pearl Crescent butterfly drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium). Not only do these butterflies benefit from the nectar, but their caterpillars dine on the foliage of several aster species.

A Corn Earworm Moth drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium).

A Corn Earworm Moth drinking nectar from Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium).

A Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) and Bumble Bee on Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium).

A Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis) and Bumble Bee on Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium).

Meanwhile, a Brown-hooded Owlet Moth caterpillar dined on the leaves and spent flowers of Blue Wood Aster.

Brown-hooded Owlet caterpillar eating Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) leaves and flowers.

Brown-hooded Owlet caterpillar eating Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) leaves and flowers.

Blue Wood Aster is native in much of the eastern half of the United States, and in British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia in Canada. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, meadows and roadsides.  There may still be some blooming near you!

 

Related Posts

Asters Yield a Treasure Trove!

New England Asters – A Hotbed of Activity!

Mysterious Bumble Bee Behavior

Resources

Eaton, Eric R.; Kauffman, Ken. Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America.  2007.

Eastman, John. The Book of Forest and Thicket.  1992.

Mader, Eric; Shepherd, Matthew; Vaughan, Mace; Black, Scott Hoffman; LeBuhn, Gretchen. Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America’s Bees and Butterflies. 2011.

Rhoads, Ann Fowler; Block, Timothy A. The Plants of Pennsylvania.  2007

Wagner, David L.; Caterpillars of Eastern North America, 2005.

Wilson, Joseph S.; Carril, Olivia Messinger. The Bees in Your Backyard. 2016.

USDA NRCS Plant Database

 

Mysterious Bumble Bee Behavior

On a cool day in early November, my husband spotted a cluster of Bumble Bees on Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) in the garden outside our living room window.  A queen bee was at the center of the group.  She was clinging to a flower, with as many as four other bees grasping her.  Amazingly, the queen was supporting the weight of the entire group.

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens)) on Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens)) on Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

We watched for about an hour.  During that time the number of bees clutching the queen varied a bit as some of the bees came and went.

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens) on Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens) on Blue Wood Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

It was a puzzle trying to figure out what was going on. Since the temperatures were fairly low, could they just be huddling together for warmth?

Later, when I looked at the photos I had taken, an explanation for their behavior presented itself. The smaller bees appeared to be males, one actively mating with the queen, with the others doggedly hoping for their turn.  (A bunch of hangers-on and wanna-bees. Sorry!)

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens), one mating with the queen.

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens), one mating with the queen.

In the Bumble Bee world, the only females that mate are queens. The primary role of male Bumble Bees is to pass on their genes if chosen by a queen for a chance to mate.  Queen Bumble Bees decide who their mating partners will be.  When a queen is ready she’ll chose the lucky male that will be the recipient of this honor.

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens), one mating with the queen.

Bumble Bees (probably Common Eastern Bumble Bees (Bombus impatiens), one mating with the queen.

This gathering may have been the male bees’ last chance to pass on their genes. The males, any non-breeding females and the old queen from a colony will die as the cold winter temperatures set in.

Only newly emerged queen Bumble Bees survive through the winter. Soon after successful mating, this new queen will seek an underground winter hibernation shelter. If she survives the stresses of winter, she will be among the first bees we see next spring, foraging on spring ephemerals.  She’ll look for a nest site, provision it with nectar and pollen, and begin laying eggs for the new Bumble Bee generation.

Queen Bumble Bee in spring on Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

Queen Bumble Bee in spring on Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Dr. Randi Eickel of Toadshade Wildflower Farm for help identifying the bees and their behavior.

Thanks to Jeff Worthington for ‘wanna-bees’.

Resources

Goulson, Dave. A Sting in the Tale.  2015.

Heinrich, Bernd. Bumblebee Economics.  2004.

Colla, Sheila; Richardson, Leif; Williams, Paul. Bumble Bees of the Eastern United States.  2011.

Bumblebee Conservation Trust – The Bumblebee Lifecycle

 

 

 

Swamp Rose Mallow – for Bees, Butterflies, Beetles, Birds and Beauty

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

The huge, showy blossoms of Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), a member of the Mallow (Malvaceae) family, begin to appear in mid-summer, and continue into early fall.  The flowers are most often pink

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

or white, sometimes with a red throat, inspiring a different common name, Crimsoneyed Rose Mallow.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

But deeper shades of pink and even red are possible.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Insects like the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in the photo above are enticed to visit Swamp Rose Mallow’s flowers for the nectar accessible through slits at the base of the flower.

In addition to seeking nectar, bees visit to harvest the abundant pollen the flowers offer. Bees eat pollen, and female bees gather it to provision their nests with this nutritious food for their larvae.  The Rose Mallow Bee (Ptilothrix bombiformis) is a specialist forager that only eats the pollen of plants in this genus (Hibiscus) and one other, Morning Glories (Ipomoea).

Bees harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the pollen grains all over their bodies.

Bees harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the pollen grains all over their bodies.

Numerous stamens (the male reproductive parts) form a tube that encircles the pistils (female reproductive parts). Each stamen is topped by an anther that releases pollen.  At the tips of the pistils are the stigmas, the receptive part of the pistil where the pollen must be deposited in order to initiate pollination.  The stigmas extend significantly beyond the stamens, separating them from the flower’s own pollen, thus decreasing the chances that the flower will be self-pollinated.

Bee harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the stigmas to the left of the bee.

Bee harvesting pollen from Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). Note the stigmas to the left of the bee.

Bees are thought to be the primary pollinators of Swamp Rose Mallow, in spite of the fact that they devour vast quantities of its pollen.  It also seems plausible that large butterflies such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail are effective pollinators of Swamp Rose Mallow. Butterflies visit the flowers purely for nectar; they have no interest in consuming pollen.  Butterflies head for the nectaries, accessed through slits at the throat of the flower.  As the butterflies drink, their bodies brush against the anthers, picking up pollen.  When the butterfly moves on to a different flower, some of that pollen may adhere to the stigmas of the new flower, triggering pollination.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly's wings and body brush against the anthers, picking up pollen.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly’s wings and body brush against the anthers, picking up pollen.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly's wings and body brush against the flower's stigmas, depositing pollen, then against the anthers, picking up pollen.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail nectaring at Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos). The butterfly’s wings and body brush against the flower’s stigmas, depositing pollen, then against the anthers, picking up pollen.

There isn’t much waste in nature.  Bees even scavenge pollen that has fallen onto the flower petals.  Beetles join the bees at this pollen feast.  Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci) are primarily interested in eating the seeds of Swamp Rose Mallow and other related species, but while they wait for the seeds to become available, they also consume pollen.  As an additional benefit, cruising the flowers is an effective way for the beetles to hook up with members of the opposite sex!

Bee and Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci) scavenging for pollen that has fallen onto the petals of a Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) flower.

Bee and Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci) scavenging for pollen that has fallen onto the petals of a Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) flower.

Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci)

Hibiscus Seed Beetles (Althaeus hibisci)

Swamp Rose Mallow benefits butterflies in other ways.  It is a potential food plant for the caterpillars of several butterflies, including the Gray Hairstreak, Common Checkered-skipper, and Painted Lady.

Gray Hairstreak on goldenrod. The caterpillars of the Gray Hairstreak butterfly eat the foliage of members of the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, as well as some other plants.

Gray Hairstreak on goldenrod. The caterpillars of the Gray Hairstreak butterfly eat the foliage of members of the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, as well as some other plants.

Common Checkered-skipper on aster. The caterpillars of the Common Checkered-skipper butterfly have evolved to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) family.

Common Checkered-skipper on aster. The caterpillars of the Common Checkered-skipper butterfly have evolved to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) family.

Painted Lady on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). The Painted Lady is the most widespread butterfly in the world. It is a generalist, with its caterpillars able to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, along with thistles, sunflowers and many other plants.

Painted Lady on Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). The Painted Lady is the most widespread butterfly in the world. It is a generalist, with its caterpillars able to eat plants from the Mallow (Malvaceae) and Pea (Fabaceae) families, along with thistles, sunflowers and many other plants.

Birds also benefit from the presence of Swamp Rose Mallow. Red-winged Blackbirds may use it as a nesting site.

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Male Red-winged Blackbird

Swamp Rose Mallow’s seeds are a fall and winter source of food for birds,

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) fruit capsules open to release their seeds.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) fruit capsules open to release their seeds.

including Northern Pintails, Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal.

Northern Pintails with Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in winter

Northern Pintails with Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in winter

Wood Duck pair in non-breeding plumage. (Female left, male right.)

Wood Duck pair in non-breeding plumage. (Female left, male right.)

Blue-winged Teals

Blue-winged Teals

Swamp Rose Mallow is native from Ontario, New York and Massachusetts in the north, south to the southeastern and south central United States. It can grow to a height of about 6.5 feet (2 meters).  Swamp Rose Mallow’s natural habitats are primarily wetlands, include swamps and marshes

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) at the Abbott Marshlands, Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) at the Abbott Marshlands, Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey

and wet meadows.

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in the meadow at Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, New Hope, PA

Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) in the meadow at Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve, New Hope, PA

Resources

Cech, Rick; Tudor, Guy. Butterflies of the East Coast.  2005.

Rhoads, Ann Fowler; Block, Timothy A. The Plants of Pennsylvania.  2007

Willmer, Pat. Pollination and Floral Ecology. 2011

Illinois Wildflowers

Shimamura, Ryouji; Kachi, Naoki; Kudoh, Hiroshi; Whigham, Dennis F. Visitation of a specialist pollen feeder Althaeus hibisci Olivier (Coleoptera: Bruchidae) to flowers of Hibiscus moscheutos L. (Malvaceae). 2004.

USDA NRCS Plant Database

U.S. Forest Service Database

Klips, Robert A.; Sweeney, Patricia M.; Bauman, Elisabeth K. F.; Snow, Allison A. Temporal and Geographic Variation in Predispersal Seed Predation on Hibiscus moscheutos L. (Malvaceae) in Ohio and Maryland, USA. 2005.