Wild Sunflower and Lady Beetle
Helianthus decapetalus and Harmonia axyridis
The lady beetle is a legal immigrant and a predator, a descendant of insectile field hands brought from Japan to the USA in the nineteen-sixties and seventies to battle aphids in commercial pecan groves and apple orchards of the southeast and northwest. The beetle's presence on a slender petal of the wild Thinleaf Sunflower, a natural act of momentary import, one I witnessed and captured nine months past in a field beside a rural West Virginia highway, becomes in deep retrospect the inspiration for tonight's inquiry, launched from the solitude of Crow's Cottage, late summer to late spring on a quickening passage.
I'll admit, it's not easy. Something important has gone missing here at the cottage, some hard-to-define rational underpinning to the soundness of thought. It used to be there, this important but elusive thing on the mental landscape, but I can't find it anymore. Crawling from one phrase to another and believing that Yes, the stitched-together phrases do make sense, is a strange and formidable perception. I must record it here and now, whether it fits or doesn't fit, or else . . . risk . . . falling into silence.
If we accept the premise that memory is non-linear, that recollections of moments past are comingled with impressions gathered from an endless now, right there before us, borne on eyes and ears into the mix,
"That's what we fight, the dissolution," said the mistress of the hacienda, having heard the exhortation. "Constantly. The despair at knowing it's the natural progression toward inertia and entropy — old age — and the determination not to give in to it."
Flowers, I suppose, don't experience angst. Perennials like the sunflower rise from the warming soil as a delicate shoot, then climb and bud and blossom before going to seed without pause for self-reflection or occasion to appraise the territory and compare notes.
Botanists claim to have identified almost seventy distinct species of Helianthus — heli = sun and anthus = flower in the Greek of scientific classification. As best I can figure, the specimen displayed here is a Helianthus decapetalus — deca = ten and petalus = petals, thus the common name "Ten Petals Sunflower," aka the Thinleaf, aka the Pale Sunflower. (OK, it could be a Helianthus strumosus, the Paleleaf Woodland Sunflower — the experts tell us it is often misidentified as a decapetalus, or vice versa — the two are known to change from one species to the other through natural hybridation, the gradual intergrading from one form to the other — but choose we must, and I have.)
Whence the designation Ten Petals? Two (x) times the five points of the pentagonal aster, the Greek star? Genus Sunflower is a member of the Asteraceae family, closely related to the daisy, lettuce, chicory, mum, and dandelion. I wish I could return to the wildflower field way back in West Virginia, drift into lost time, count the number of rays on the Thinleaf specimens thriving there in the hot noon of August. As best I can discern, the golden-yellow representative I photographed has eight petals, but there appears to be space for two more. The instant of light from nine months ago, which is saved and displayed here, came late in the wildflower's life. Maybe a couple of the petals broke loose and fell to Earth. Maybe they were eaten by a moth or caterpillar.
Look closely, just behind the left hindquarters of the ladybug at the top of the page, and you'll see a dark gray seed emerging from one of the tubular anthers in the cluster of stamens on the flower's head. The close-up image to the left shows a different Thinleaf Sunflower with several seeds bursting forth. Seeds? I base the observation on thoughtful speculation, not on the certain knowledge of a specialist's training and expertise. But playing the role of amateur naturalist is a central purpose of the exercise, designed to nurture curiosity and sharpen mental acuity. If we leave something of value behind for the community to enjoy, then all the better.
As symbol and metaphor, the sunflower evokes tantalizing possibilities — Van Gogh's bold and brilliant masterpieces in oil on canvass, or ancient icons representing the Inca sun god Apu Inti, or twenty-five foot heliotropic giants following the path of Sol across the heavens. . . . But, given the lateness of the hour, we won't go there tonight, stopping at the mere mention, and maybe seeding a dream.
The Thinleaf Sunflower
The Asian Lady Beetle
N O T E : The Asian Lady Beetle is not the cute little ladybug popular among children in USA and Europe. And the experiment that brought it to bear on aphids afflicting the groves and orchards of ag business has reportedly proved successful.
L I N K S
The Multi-Colored Asian Lady Beetle
Dining at the Black-Eyed Susan
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010