WARNING! This blog post contains explicit images of mucivory.
Every year, and every season, is different in the garden. This year has been cool and wet, and some plants have really benefited like the arrow leaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), and some are having a tougher time like bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva). That is why diversity in the garden is so important; and interesting. The biggest benefactor, this year seems to be the aphids, though I am not sure why. The abundance and diversity of aphids this year is incredible (on our native plants that is, not on our eggplants and peppers).
A few years ago I was excited to find the red goldenrod aphids had finally colonized a little patch of goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis). Last year though, none were in sight.
This year it seems there are aphids on many species, different aphids on each of our goldenrod species (S. missouriensis, S. canadensis, and S. ridgida).
Not just goldenrods, though. There are aphids on our big basin sage (Artemisia tridentata - though they are there every year), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea),
chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and
Wilcox’s penstemon (Penstomon wilcoxii).
This is even the first year I’ve seen aphids on our Ponderosa pines (Pinus ponderosa). There are over 350 species of aphids, and most are host-plant specific. That is, they only feed on a species of plant or plants that share a common genus.
Compared to when our eggplants or peppers get aphids, when our native plants get colonized by a lot of aphids, it rarely results in damage to the plant. Actually, our big basin sage seems to thrive in the presence of aphids.
On our Ponderosa pines we have the giant conifer aphids (Cinara spp.). These feed on the branches and stems, not on the leaves, and few arborists even consider these a threat.
All these aphids, though are really providing a lot of food for all the birds in the garden that glean insects from the leaves. Also a benefactor is all the insects that feed on their soft bodies, which I am learning about thanks to my latest project- my insect collection.
So far that has been a wonderful experience, and I am learning so much, even more than I expected (thanks again to Jen Marangelo from the Missoula Butterfly House and Insectarium ). I am simply amazed by the diversity of bees, and flies that are wasp- and bee-mimics. I am even really impressed by all the species of ladybird beetles in the garden- the sworn, mortal enemy of the aphid.