Late August is a time of tall plants at Blue Jay Barrens. One of the most conspicuous is Wingstem, which can easily reach nine feet tall. This year however, I’ve only found one plant that has been able to place its flowers above my head.
In a normal growing year, this view would have been blocked by towering Wingstem plants. When the early drought was at its worst, the young plants stopped growing and stood for days with their leaves hanging limp along the stems. The random rain showers restored them to vigor, but it was too late to put on any more height.
The display of flowers has been undiminished by the stress. I would almost say that there were more flowers than normal, but it may just be that I’m unused to seeing them at this angle. My normal view is from below.
Wingstem gets its name from the narrow projections running the length of the plant stalk.
Long, pointed leaves line the full length of the stalk. This aggressive native perennial uses height, shade and an expansive root system to maintain its place in the open field community. It declines in extremely dry conditions, so it’s not likely to be found growing in extremely shallow soils.
Some of the early flowers have already produced seeds. Birds will claim most of these. Finches in particular find Wingstem seeds to be especially desirable.
There won’t be any shortage of Wingstem seeds this year. New buds are still forming, so flowers should continue to bloom for the next several weeks.
Many of the regular insect visitors seem to be absent this year. I did find several of these Spotted Cucumber Beetles on the flowers. It’s been several years since I’ve seen this species around here.
Ailanthus Webworm Moths have suddenly appeared in large numbers. I was happy to learn that this moth feeds on several other deciduous trees besides Ailanthus. The presence of the moths kept making me think that the invasive Ailanthus was somewhere nearby. I know that Ailanthus will probably reach Blue Jay Barrens one day, but now I believe that it is actually farther away than I thought.
Bumblebees are the dominant flower visitors. Most were carrying full loads in the pollen baskets on their hind legs. I doubt that these tight masses of pollen are effective at transferring pollen to the stigma of the flower. Pollen carried on the bee’s body and leg hairs would more easily do the job of pollination. Bumblebees are the most commonly seen large pollinators at Blue Jay Barrens. They seem particularly abundant on large masses of flowers like those provided by the Wingstem.