Secret Lives of Flowers: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and Milkweed

Purple Coneflowers are one of our beloved species of meadow flowers in Cambridge. A common garden plant, coneflowers are found at Fresh Pond Reservation and elsewhere—including in the Honk! parade.

These flowers are cross-pollinated by long-tongued bees, bee flies, Halictid bees, butterflies, and skippers. Among long-tongued bees, are such visitors as honeybees, bumblebees, digger bees (Melissodes spp.), and leaf-cutting bees (Megachile spp.). Butterfly visitors include Monarchs, Fritillaries, Painted Ladies, Swallowtails, Sulfurs, and Whites. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) feed on the foliage, while the caterpillars of several moths feed on the flowerheads. These latter species include Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria (Blackberry Looper), Eupithecia miserulata (Common Eupithecia), Synchlora aerata (Wavy-Lined Emerald), and Homoeosoma electella (Sunflower Moth). A small songbird, the Eastern Goldfinch, occasionally eats the seeds during the summer and early fall.

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Purple coneflower hats are part of the Cambridge Wildlife costumes at the Honk! parade every year.

Source: Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).

Milkweed is an important host plant as well, with a specific relationship with Monarch caterpillars eating only milkweed species. Check out the red milkweed beetles on this plant, next time you are in a meadow!

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A Single Species: An End-of-January Investigation

There is sometimes too much, or too little, simplification that goes on when “environmental education” takes hold. Starting with a single species, as Fresh Pond Reservation staff in Cambridge, Mass., will do on January 31st with “The Secret Life of White Oaks,” can make a path for kids, families, anyone, to start small and grow curious from there.

White oaks are the ones with rounded lobes on their leaves; and oaks, in general are trees that keep their leaves well into the winter.

Information about the Secret Life of White Oaks walkabout at Fresh Pond Reservation

What’s your single favorite or familiar species—the one that drew you in to a fascination with nature more broadly, or that you still hold in your mind’s eye, or that’s a talisman in everyday life? Flora or fauna notwithstanding, a single species is a direct line from the human to the natural world.