The Biodiversity of a Single Native Plant

My thistle is blooming this week so I thought it was a good time to dust off an old article about this great beneficial plant.

Dateline: April 19, 2013*

Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii)

In my garden, I always savor the often unheralded plants.  Plants that many remove from their own landscapes because they are unattractive “weeds”.  If you remove Thistle (Cirsium spp.), you are missing out on experiences better than any action movie.

About 5 foot tall

Meet Nuttall’s Thistle (Cirsium nuttallii) a resident of my landscape.  This guy took forever to bloom, starting out with dirt hugging basal leaves about 12 inches in diameter.  Slowly it began reaching for the skies, eventually becoming eye to eye with me.  Five foot tall (or short depending on who’s doing the measuring).

A plethora of wasps were seen

I patiently waited as this larval host for Painted Lady Butterflies (Vanessa cardui)  and the little Metalmark butterfly (Calephelis virginiensis) slowly grew to produce one of the most abundant food provider of any Florida Native Plant I have encountered in my garden.  I’m still searching daily for caterpillars, but they are elusive at this point, that or with the way this plant can stick you, I’m reluctant to get stabbed in the search.

A delicate native meadow flower, but watch out, the spines hurt!

What I did find is somewhat awe-inspiring.   I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Aphids

Some consider aphids pests, but they feed many up the food chain

Ladybugs eggs

Ladybugs lay their eggs where they know there will be an adequate supply of aphids to feed the young

lady bug larvae

The ladybug larvae have voracious appetites

ladybug pupa

Turning from larvae to adult is this ladybug pupa

small ladybugs

tiny ladybugs

big lady bugs

Big ladybugs

spotless lady bugs

Big spotless ladybugs (technically lady beetles)

Assassin bugs

Jagged Ambush Bugs (Phymata fasciata)

Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata fasciata) munches on another tiny anthropod

Wasps of various shapes and sizes

Paper Wasp

Paper wasps

Ichneumon Wasp (Therion morio) use moth larvae as its host.

Ichneumon Wasp (Therion morio)

Cuckoo Wasps:

Cuckoo Wasps stand out with their pretty blue coloring

Some type of Diptera, likely a flesh fly whose Larvae parasitize bees, cicadas, termites, grasshoppers/locusts, millipedes, earthworms, and snails. Adults have a sweet tooth choosing nectar, sap, fruit juices and as this guy likely is, honeydew produced by the aphids.

Flies

Chalcidid Wasp (possibly Conura spp.) use butterfly and moth pupa as diet, but also will parasitize beetles and flies and some are secondary parasites of Ichneumon and Braconid Wasps.

Chalcid wasp

Velvet ants (Dasymutilla spp.) are not ants, they are wasps.

Leaf-footed Bugs (Leptoglossus phyllopus) are a common visitor to thistle, and while a pest, if it hangs out on the thistle, it isn’t sucking the life out of your citrus.

There are always some pests, but other beneficials keep them in check

Various stink bugs, both pests and predatory beneficials.

Pesty
predatory stink bugs GOOD GUYS!

There are sure to be more species to come and I’ll venture to guess that the birds are waiting in the wings, so to speak, too reap the benefits of this amazing provider.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on April 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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