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Posts Tagged ‘purple loosestrife’

Rose Mallow at the Falls of the Ohio

We have had some stellar days of late with the air so crystalline and fresh that it has been an added bonus to be outside.  The temps have been manageable as well.  I began this post more than a week ago, but put it on the back burner until now.  I am no doubt busier now than I ever have been (particularly at work), but I’m still finding the time to be involved with my own art.  And I must confess…if I have to prioritize whether to stay home and work on a blog article or go to the river and participate in life at that level…well, I think you know what my answer will be!  I have enjoyed blogging, but must admit to myself that what I do will never be most people’s’ idea of a good read, especially since there are now literally millions of blogs out there!  I do still hope, however, to occasionally connect with folks who are creative and just plain interested in nature.

Rose Mallow, red coloring variant, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Recently, I went to the river to find a wealth of Rose Mallows in bloom.  That is not always the case and there have been years when I did not see any.  They have become among my favorite flowers that I can find at the Falls of the Ohio.  Their blooms are huge and there is some variation in our native hibiscus.  In a relatively small area, I found a patch of Rose Mallows showing off those colors which can range from a solid hot pink, to a snow-white blossom.  Usually, most of the mallows will sport some combination of white or pink with a deep scarlet throat.  I couldn’t help collecting a few seed pods and scattering their seeds in other locations I frequent at the Falls.  I don’t think this is technically legal since there is a park rule against collecting wildflowers, but since none of their seeds went home with me…I’m hoping I’ll be okay to do this?

Red Admiral butterfly, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Late summer is also a good time to see which butterflies are around.  The Falls of the Ohio certainly has its regular species who inhabit its various ecological niches.  Here is one of the park’s Red Admirals and it is visiting a “willow lick” to drink up the sugary exudence seeping from a wound in this tree’s bark.  These wounds occur in various ways, but the most common one is with collisions with large floating logs that crash battering ram-style into these willows during flooding.  This happens mostly in late winter or early spring and it is not out of the ordinary to have these willow trees be completely submerged by the Ohio River.  These willow licks attract a variety of insects ranging from butterflies, ants, hornets, and many different types of flies.

butterflies on purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Of course, every year is different from the last one and so far I have to say I think this has been just an average year for butterflies.  Usually, one species will be found more commonly than the other species.  For example, I can remember certain years where the Viceroy was the most common butterfly.  I have also seen it when the small Pearly Crescent or the larger Buckeye Butterfly were the most plentiful individual species.  This year I can’t tell that one species is more numerous than another.  I like visiting the Purple Loosestrife stands particularly in the western section of the park during the height of their blooming period.  I know this plant is highly invasive, but it also attracts a large amount of insects and butterflies in particular.  Multiple species gravitate towards the nectar these plants produce.  It’s interesting to watch different species feeding on the same plant like in the above photo.   A skipper species (on top) and fritillary species (on the bottom) are coexisting on this flower because this resource is plentiful and the butterflies are focused.  What these loosestrife stands also attract are predators.  It’s common to come across large orb weaving spiders and praying mantises waiting to ambush a meal.  I have come to think of these loosestrife stands as being important feeding areas for the Monarch butterflies that migrate through our area and this has mitigated my feelings towards this invasive plant.

Installation view of show at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN....Aug. 2016

Gallery shot at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

View inside my exhibit at Artists' Own Gallery, Lafayette, IN, Aug. 2016

Another reason to be feel grateful is that I have another solo art exhibition and it is currently up at the Artists’ Own Gallery in Lafayette, Indiana.  It’s a co-op space and the duties of running the gallery fall upon the member artists.  I was invited by one of the members to show at their downtown, Main Street location.  The exhibit which is entitled “At the Intersection of Culture and Nature” features a selection of my Styrofoam sculptures along with a few more dye sublimation prints on aluminum I had made of site specific projects that are now gone.  It is all stuff I have found and experienced at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  On the morning the show opened, I gave an artist’s talk and had a nice group present to hear more about how this work came to be.  I even sold a few pieces to help offset the costs of printing my photos and renting a van to haul it all around!  I really liked having the opportunity to show off my “Crying Indian” sculpture once again and it looked completely different in a gallery context as compared to where it was first shown outdoors earlier this year at Hidden Hills Nursery and Sculpture Garden.  All the Artists’ Own artists I met were welcoming and I appreciated their hospitality!  The exhibit will remain up until mid September and so if you find yourself in the area…please stop by and enjoy all the great art on display throughout this beautiful gallery.  Meanwhile, back at the Falls of the Ohio…

Styrofoam stash at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Figure idea, head and body, found Styrofoam, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

On my first visit back to the river after my show opened, I had this general feeling of well-being.  I went over to my stash of Styrofoam that I had collected this year and starting putting shapes together.  I soon came up with the requisite head and body for a new and large figurative sculpture I wanted to make.  The large chunk of polystyrene that I used for the figure’s body had been collected months ago, however, it was still a bit waterlogged and heavy to move.

Head of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Head and shoulders of the Grateful Man, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Without doing any direct carving, I just accepted the forms that the river had provided for me and went with that.  I did make a few small holes to insert the found objects that would serve as this figure’s features.  The mouth is a piece of wood that looked like a “mouth” when I found it.  The eyes are part of the hull of a Black Walnut that I split in half and inserted into the head.  The nose is a bright orange, Styrofoam fishing float found that morning.  For the ears, I used parts of the sole of an old shoe and then I added a small plastic ring to separate the head from the body which has become my custom over the many years of doing this activity.  The rest is just driftwood picked up on site.Large Figure in Ecstasy, found materials from the Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

The resulting figure is much bigger than me and after I assembled it…I went scouting for a good location to make my pictures.  As you may remember, the large piece of Styrofoam that is the figure’s body was water-logged and so I set it up relatively close to my outdoor atelier.  Although the figure looks to be praying, what I was going for was a trance-like state of ecstasy?  I know I have felt this sensation of being outside one’s self where you feel a part of or kinship with the other living things around you.  Behind the figure is a large log with intact root mass that washed into here during the last good flood.  In this photo, a small flock of Canada Geese does a respectful flyover of their own.

A Canada Goose flyover, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2016

Large Figure in Ecstasy near downed tree, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

I seem to have started a personal blogging trend where my posts are getting on the long side!  So, this looks like as good a place to wrap this up as any.  By now, my ecstatic figure is probably history and martyred like so many other figures I have left in the park before.  I tell each piece I make and leave behind that this will likely be its fate unless some kind soul takes pity and takes it home with them.  These figures seem to understand.  It’s all about being present in the moment when we are at our most alive.  I have more stories to tell and art to share, but will hold of for now.  Until next time from the Falls of the Ohio.

Three Clouds with Figure in Ecstasy, Falls of the Ohio, August 2016

 

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purple loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

This post includes two recent trips to the Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) flowers in the western section of the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  I have made my peace with the fact that the Purple Loosestrife plant is an invasive species at this location. It is really successful at crowding out the other plants that gather in this wetlands area. Originally introduced from Europe, the Purple Loosestrife has spread across the United States.  Eradicating it is very difficult because millions of seeds are produced annually and the loosestrife can grow with just a fragment of root in the ground.  The loosestrife probably doesn’t realize that it has this poor reputation for it provides beauty to the landscape and food for a myriad of insects, particularly butterflies.  Surely, the loosestrife can be forgiven for being itself?  Can the same be said of our kind who after all perpetuated the Purple Loosestrife by planting it to begin with and then allowing it to escape into the larger environment?  The loosestrife arrived here floating down the river.  I can recall when there wasn’t any to be found in the park.

The Butterfly Man, 9/2010

Here’s a flashback from three years a go.  I remember it was my lavender-lipped friend, the Butterfly Guide, who introduced me to this loosestrife stand back in September of 2010.  We had a great time together and I managed a few nice butterfly images on that day.  Ever since the Butterfly Guide showed me the way, I’ve been returning on my own and observing and documenting what happens here.  I heard through the grapevine that my old friend has since passed on and is conducting tours in the great beyond.  He had a knack for revealing beauty to all who wanted to experience it.  Seeing his image again makes me feel nostalgic.

Eastern Checkerspot

This is an Eastern or Harris’ Checkerspot (Chlosyne harrisii) and was the most numerous butterfly I saw visiting the loosestrife flowers.  They were so intent on sipping nectar that it was easy to approach them as they fed.  Now for a few more checkerspot images.

Eastern Checkerspot feeding, Aug. 2013

Eastern Checkerspot, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Eastern Checkerspot, Aug. 2013, Falls of the Ohio

I found myself carefully wading into the flowers to get as close as possible.  Many of the flower bunches were in the six to seven feet tall range and it was humid walking among the plants.  We have been having a mild streak lately with lower than normal temperatures and regular precipitation.  Residents in our locality have had few reasons to complain about the heat.  The checkerspots are not the only butterflies out here.  Various swallowtail butterflies also enjoy these flowers.  Here are images of an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, (Papilio glaucus).

Tiger Swallowtail on purple loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Tiger Swallowtail on Purple Loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

We are fortunate to have many other species of swallowtails in our area.  Among the others I have associated with the loosestrife flowers include the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor), the American or Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), and the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus).  Here’s an image of a Spicebush Swallowtail feeding.

Spicebush Swallowtail on Purple Loosestrife, Aug. 2013

We have several different Skipper species present.  This is the Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus).  The white spot on its hind wing shines like mother-of-pearl when the light hits it just right.

Silver-spotted Skipper on Purple Loosestrife, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

Another regular visitor is the Cabbage Butterfly (Pieris rapae).

Cabbage Butterfly, Aug. 2013

Cabbage Butterfly caught by a spider, Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

I was struck by the unusual pose this Cabbage Butterfly was in and decided to get closer to check it out.  When it didn’t fly away…I knew something else was going on.  Although you can’t see it in this picture, a small spider has caught this butterfly by its head.  With so many insects feeding on the loosestrife, predators were sure to follow.  Large bumble bees also enjoy these flowers.  They are so heavy that they cause the loosestrife stems to bend upon landing on them.

Bumble Bee on loosestrife flowers, Aug. 2013

Over the years, I have watched the Purple Loosestrife become more common in the western section of the park.  The plant is now well established.  Typically, the loosestrife blooms continuously from July to September, but to my eye, it is looking like the blooms are starting to play out a bit?  Every year is different and some butterflies are more common in one year than another.  Missing from the loosestrife blooms this year are the Buckeyes, Monarchs, and their mimics…the Viceroy Butterflies.  Perhaps they will still make an appearance later on if the loosestrife flowers continue blooming.  I hope you have enjoyed wading through the loosestrife with me?  Next time, I will post something about the exhibition at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft that is featuring this blog in their show.  Now time for one final image before closing.Purple Loosestrife at the Falls of the Ohio, Aug. 2013

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At last we have some respite from the dreaded heat of this summer.  Today is gorgeous!  The air feels fresh, and there is a nice quality to the light.  I decide to spend my time in the western section of the park on the Indiana side.  I heard that the butterflies were plentiful on the loosestrife flowers and that this could be a good time to take pictures.  First, I needed to find an officially sanctioned butterfly guide to show me the way.  He’s supposed to be somewhere over here…yes, there he is right on time.

The strange-looking character said “Hello, are you the one who wants to see the butterflies?”  I replied that I was and we met face to face.

And what a memorable face he has with his mismatched eyes and lavender lips!  He told me to call him the Butterfly Man and that I had picked a good time to come to the river because it was now agreed that 2010 was a good year for butterflies in our area.  He also said that the place we wanted to go was a short walk ahead to where the purple flowers were growing.  Many different kinds of butterflies would be there.

Along the way, the Butterfly Man told me tidbits about the environment we were experiencing and what we might expect to see.  He explained that the loosestrife flowers are an invasive species and quickly take over these shallow wetlands.  Around here small springs trickle water down the bank towards the river and keep this area moist. These are perfect conditions for the loosestrife which has spread from last year.  Butterflies and other insects love the nectar from these flowers and if we encountered bees and wasps…not to be afraid because if you left them alone, they would do likewise.  Soon we were among the flowers and it didn’t take the Butterfly Man long to spot a terrific butterfly!

With its slightly elongated forewings and intense orange color the Gulf Fritillary ( Dione vanillae ) stands out among the loosestrife.  As the name suggests, this is a mostly southern species, but does venture north.  The ventral coloring sports mother of pearl and orange spots.  Not to far away on a different flower, Butterfly Man spotted a nice swallowtail.

This is the Eastern Black Swallowtail, ( Papilio polyxenes ) and I have come across a few of these and other swallowtails as well.  I have seen, but unable to get a photo of some of them because they never slowed down!  I saw a Giant Swallowtail, our largest butterfly, fly over my head and towards the river.  The Zebra Swallowtail, same thing, it was flying too fast and never alighted.  The Pipevine Swallowtail I saw was so ragged that I decided not to take a picture of it.  I’m sure over time I will get other chances.  Here’s an image I like of a very common butterfly.

This butterfly was introduced into North America in the 1860’s and has now spread over the continent.  The Cabbage White, ( Pieris rapae ) is the most common white butterfly that most people are likely to encounter.  At the Falls, we also find another immigrant, the European Skipper, ( Thymelicus lineola ) which was accidentally introduced in Ontario about 1910 and has since spread across the country.  These tiny gold skippers can be very hard to identify and probably depends on having one in hand.  I like the idea of capturing a photographic image because no harm is intended.  With their folded wings, many skippers don’t look like butterflies at all. 

After a while, the Butterfly Man said we should take a break.

He said he found something special earlier in the morning and it was somewhere in this vicinity.  There is another creature here taking advantage of the butterflies.  Sure enough a couple of bushes away we found her enjoying a snack.

We found such a beautiful and large spider sitting on her web!  The proof she selected the right location was entombed in silk.  I have seen other Black-and-yellow Argiope ( Argiope aurantia ) spiders at the Falls before.  This is the first for this year.  She’s a big spider and soon she will produce her egg case and die.  The baby spiders will overwinter in the case and emerge in the spring.  These orb weavers have a characteristic zig-zag silk pattern on the interior of their webs.  This spider has had luck catching Orange Sulphur and Viceroy butterflies.  I noticed many loose wings below the web.  There is an element of risk out here among the flowers after all.

 The Butterfly Man spotted a nice pair of Viceroys ( Limenitis archippus ) basking side by side on the same leaf.  There are many of these species currently out among the willow trees.  With their smaller size and black line crossing the veins of the dorsal hind wing they can be told apart from the Monarch butterflies ( Danaus plexippus ) which are also in the area flying down on their long migration to Mexico.

There was time for one last butterfly before turning for home.  Earlier I had spotted a few large yellow butterflies nectaring on the small Jewelweed vines .  I came across this Cloudless Giant Sulphur in a characteristic position with its wings folded together like a yellow leaf and created this composition.

After one final look at the loosestrife fields, I was reminded of French Impressionistic painting and thought this landscape worthy of a canvas or two for the purple colors and nice cloud formations.  You can also glimpse the fossil beds beyond the trees.

I left the Butterfly Man standing where I first met him by his home next to a downed tree.  I thanked him for taking the time to show me around and hoped to run into him again in another adventure at the Falls of the Ohio.

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