One more time, I think to myself, one last walk to see some blooming flowers before the year stretches inevitably to its conclusion and color vanishes from the fields until spring. It is late in November, but I know where some asters, a group well-known for their persistence, are likely to still be in flower.
The Andre Bluemel Meadow is on land once owned and farmed by George Washington, who gave it the name ‘River Farm.’ It’s just up the Potomac from Mt. Vernon. The American Horticultural Society owns it now, and uses it as their headquarters. In 2004, four acres around the farmhouse there was transformed from a thirsty, fertilizer-craving lawn needing constant mowing into a sustainable, wildlife-friendly meadow consisting of native plants.
Fortunately, the meadow was indeed sporting asters, pale blue drifts amid a brown tapestry of grasses crowned with graceful seedheads. And I was not the only one who had come seeking them out! A veritable party of late pollinators had convened in this hospitable spot featuring the native plants that would nurture them.
The buckeye butterfly, Junonis coenia was present in large numbers. This butterfly has an interesting set of defenses. They use host plants containing compounds known as iridoid glycosides that protect the caterpillars, but then are metabolized during the pupal stage and are gone by the time the adult emerges. The adult, instead of a chemical defense, must depend on its eye spots to fool predators into thinking it is actually something big and scary.
A number of bees and wasps were pushing one another aside for space on preferred blossoms. A solitary skipper butterfly by some miracle held still long enough for a photo.
I leave the meadow as refreshed and revitalized as the busy pollinators. Driving home past knock-out roses and pampas grass, I was so glad the natives were there for us all!
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