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Evening primrose is one of the July wildflowers

An evening primrose stands with its flowers open on a July morning. Note the four petals. (Photo by Larry Weber)1 / 3
A close look at an evening primrose flower reveals a pink-yellow moth in the center, a fairly common sight among these flowers. (Photo by Larry Weber)2 / 3
Larry Weber3 / 3

The middle of July is probably best known for its heat. It seems as though the hottest days of the whole summer in the Northland frequently occur during the middle to the end of this month. And our talk of weather during this time is one of heat and not cold; that we are best known for. I find the mercury climbs to its peak in the afternoon following the pleasant readings in the early mornings. Walks in the morning in mid-July are usually quite mild.

The dawn hour is normally calm and in the 50s when I walk. It is easy to hear the few birds that are still singing. With the young out of the nests and growing as fledglings, the home territories are no longer needed and the adult birds sing less, or not at all, to proclaim their ownership. A few birds linger, and as I walk I hear the repetitious songs of red-eyed vireos and indigo buntings along with some by the veeries, wood peewees, yellowthroats and chestnut-sided warblers from the woods. Swamp sparrows and red-winged blackbirds, singing here since March, sporadically call in the wetlands. In the fields, a savannah sparrow buzzes. At the lake, the loons still call and keep guard over their young.

The summer frogs, mink and green frogs, continually proclaim their mating and territorial calls. On the nearby trail, I see recently-emerged frogs and toads, miniatures of the adults, hopping into their next phase of life.

Thanks to July rains, more mushrooms are growing here in the woods at this time. Only a few kinds of shade-tolerant summer flowers, such as pyrolas and Indian pipes, are blooming here now.

As I walk along the road, I'm met by the prevailing roadside wildflowers of July. As in June, many of the colorful blossoms of the open spaces are those of non-native flowers, often considered weeds. And we have a few more of these in July, namely the tansies and thistles. But it is the widespread growths and flowering of several native plants that I find so interesting in the July heat. Three yellow composites of the sunflower type—black-eyed susans, oxeyes and tall sunflowers—are blooming now, taking the place of the daisies that are beginning to fade. The last of these lives up to its name and may reach 8 feet tall. With some searching, I find early goldenrods with their numerous small florets that begin the season for these flowers of late summer. The giant cow parsnips, with flat umbels of tiny white flowers and the large maple-like leaves, are hard to miss in the roadsides. A couple of terrific purple flowering plants are here now, too. Milkweeds, with their clusters of small, odorous florets, delight these spaces. And nearby, fireweeds tell us new stories each day with their spike of four-petaled flowers that change daily as we go through this month. Blossoms with four petals are not that common with our flowering flora, but not only do the fireweeds show this situation, so does another member of its family — the evening primroses.

As the name implies, the four-petaled yellow flowers open up late in the day. While most of the summertime flowers take advantage of the warmth and sunlight hours to bloom and attract the attention of diurnal insects such as bees, wasps, flies and butterflies that abound in the heat, evening primroses respond to the nocturnal world. Plants grow tall, often 3-4 feet, with numerous lance-shaped leaves and flowers growing from the main stalk. When fully open, the individual florets are frequently 2 inches across. And it is these open flowers that I see when I walk in the early morning. Plants, including petals, are often draped in dew reflecting the cooling temperatures at this time. Opening in the evening and staying open all night, they will close later in the forenoon. It is during the early hours that I find many in bloom; closed or faded by afternoon.

Flowering at night, the plant takes advantage of the large numbers of insects active in the dark hours. Fireflies may be what we would see at this time, but it is the moths that the flowers attract. Last week, one night, I left the porch light on all night, and by morning the wall nearby was filled with dozens of these nocturnal cousins of the butterflies.

Moths stop by the flowers to feed or mate, and in doing so they help to pollinate the plant, as diurnal insects also do. One moth, however, often stays. As I look over the open evening primroses in the early morning, it is not uncommon to see a moth among the petals, pistils and stamen. These colorful pink-yellow moths are such a part of this plant's life that they are called evening primrose moths. Not only do these night-flying insects visit for a nectar meal, but they also lay their eggs here. The green caterpillars, looking much like the evening primrose seed pods, feed and grow here. The evening primrose adds its flowers and fragrance to that of the other summer wild flowers to these hot days and nights of mid-July.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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