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Enchantment with a native plant and insects

When Aldo Leopold declared that “there is drama in every bush, if you can see it,” he meant that life on a farm or any other natural setting is never dull.
This vision could have included a perennial flower patch, in bloom for some weeks at the Ardinna Woods Arboretum in Jonesborough.
There, during sunny afternoon hours, the crowded landings and leavings, nectaring and predation activities of diverse insects is a drama to behold, not unlike, perhaps, the immensity of traffic on Manhattan streets might impress a first-time visitor to New York City.
The flower is an herbaceous perennial in the mint family, first described by French botanist Andre Michaux when he explored the Appalachian region’s splendorous plant diversity in the late 18th century.
The Hoary Mountain Mint’s genus name — Pycnanthemum — means “dense blossoms” and these, terminally arrayed atop a roughly 2-foot stem and in the axils of many branches, are clustered in radial flower heads amid white-haired upper leaves with a silvery sheen.
The flowers themselves, though minute, are showy in the way mint flowers are structured.
The corolla’s upper lip prominently projects stamens and the stigma while the lower lip, dotted with purple spots to guide insects to the nectar chamber, extends forward as for a landing pad.
The white petals are fused in a downward tube from which long-tongued insects can retrieve their honey reward for pollinating the flower.
Various insects’ dense traffic seemed like Leopold’s drama to naturalist Larry McDaniel as he viewed the Pycnanthemum incanum in early August.
A 20-minute observation noted many members of five butterfly species alighting.
There were carpenter and honey and sweat bees present, the latter crucially important pollinators of agricultural crops, including our blueberries.
There were dark-winged Tachinid flies with stout bristles covering almost the entire, stocky body, including legs and antennae, which the Audubon Society credits with “great economic importance” for biological control purposes in keeping down certain insect pests.
Very different in shape, color differentiation or ecological function were other fly visitors — the Crane fly with such skinny body and long legs to be often mistaken for mosquitoes, a thick-headed species with yellow-banded, narrow body resembling wasps and the Blow Fly with metallic green body which might seek food from garbage cans or rotting fruit when not finding nectar.
A “true bug” member and a small beetle were also busy on the patch, along with three different types of the solitary dauber wasps which, in nests in hollow stems or burrows underground will tuck away cockroaches, spiders, ground crickets or other, paralyzed insects as provision for their progeny.
A sense of the thriving-life adventure on a single shrub, or, in this case, a small patch of a single, native flowering plant would be enough, Leopold thought, to make conservationists of all men.
“When enough men know this,” he wrote, “we need fear no indifference to bushes, or birds, or soil, or trees. We shall then have no need for the word conservation, for we shall have the thing itself.”