"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Zinnias and Fritillaries

From “Zinnia (Asteraceae)” in Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“Named after 18th-century German botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn, the genus includes 17 species, all found from the southern United States into South America, with the most diversity in Mexico. Zinnia species are found in open, often dry habitats. Their rapid growth and short lifespan (annual or short-lived non-clonal subshrubs) illustrate a stress-avoiding nature in harsh environments. Zinnia grandiflora is used in herbal medicine by several Native American communities in Mexico.

“The plants were grown by the Aztecs, and introduced into Europe by the Spanish in the late 18th century. A range of colours was known from early on, probably a legacy of Aztec breeding. Ancestral species vary in colour —
Zinnia elegans is purple, Z. peruviana red-orange, Z. angustifolia and Z. grandiflora yellow. One of the strong points of the plants as ornamentals is the ability to get vivid purple, pink, yellow, and orange, all from the same seed packet. They were very popular in the 19th century, suffered something of a decline in the late 20th, and now seem to be on the way up once again.”

From “Agraulis Vanillae” in Butterflies by Quantum Publishing/Oceana Books:

“This butterfly is bright orange with tadpolelike streaks of black throughout. There are three black-encircled white dots on the edge of the forewing. The underside is brown, orange at the base of the forewing, and both wings have elongated, iridescent silver spots. Males patrol for females, who lay eggs on many parts of the host plant….

“The Gulf Fritillary is often seen in flight over the Gulf of Mexico at some distance from any land. They fly throughout the year in south Florida and south Texas, and January to November in the North…. They inhabit pastures, open fields, second-growth subtropical forests and edges, and also city gardens.”


A couple of years ago, I posted a few photographs of some of the flowers shown below, three of which included some lovely orange butterflies. At the time, I didn’t know that the flowers were zinnias and simply called them “wildflowers” (see Ten Wildflowers and Three Butterflies), nor did I know (but learned from a comment on that post by Butterflies to Dragsters) the word “fritillary.” These days, I’m much more accustomed to trying to identify the correct names of plants and flowers using PlantNet; and I think I’ve accurately identified the butterflies in these new photos as Gulf Fritillaries — which have an affinity for zinnias and are very common in the southern and southeastern United States. The trio of white spots with black borders on each wing give them away.

The first image below shows one of the clusters of zinnias growing at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, those zinnias having expanded their territory quite a bit since the last time I photographed them. They thrive in a section of the gardens called Greenhouse Valley that’s located near the center of the property, part of which you can see from one of my autumn photographs from 2019. It’s one of the most delightfully appointed sections of the gardens, where you walk down a hilly, winding pathway from the shadows of trees into the sun, and are suddenly immersed in a fascinating group of architectural structures and plant varieties that give it a distinct appearance.

There was lots of light, very little breeze, and temperatures were in the 70s on the day I took these photos — and the fritillaries were plentiful in these weather conditions. At one point, I counted 20 of them flitting (or should I say “fritting”!?!) among the zinnias, each one showing a distinct preference for the larger red-orange zinnias (Z. peruviana), and spending a lot of time on the flowers enjoying their little drinks. They were all unfazed by my presence — some even briefly landed on the end of my lens — which gave me extra opportunities to concentrate on a few of them and get some decent photos. Their preference for the larger zinnias made things a little easier: I typically focused on and set exposure for one of the flower buds, then just waited until a butterfly landed. It was definitely one of those times when nature photography seemed to synchronize nature and photography into a pleasant, relaxing, and even transcendent experience.

I took this series of photos on September 25, then found the quotation from Garden Flora above, where the author states that zinnias may come in purple, pink, yellow, red, and orange; and the Wikipedia article that lists white, chartreuse, yellow, orange, red, purple, and lilac as zinnia colors. ‘Twas only then that I realized that I had taken photos of just the orange/red zinnias, because there is an ongoing construction project at the gardens to repair drainage culverts and repave roads, and many of the zinnias were inaccessible. I went back yesterday, and found that the rest of the zinnia section had reopened, so I’ll have more new photos of these multi-colored beauties (accompanied by some things I’ve learned about zinnias) in several upcoming posts.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Canna Lily ‘Cannova Orange Shades’

From “An Introduction to Cannas” in The Gardener’s Guide to Growing Cannas by Ian Cooke:

“Big, brash, bright and gaudy, cannas could be described as the clowns of the plant world. Most are not discreet; they flaunt their big floppy leaves in the breeze, and their huge flashy flowers stand proud and bold at the top of giant ramrod stems….

“If we could take a time-machine back a hundred years, we would find that cannas were highly fashionable and widely grown in both large and small gardens. Times and fashions changed and they lost their appeal but once again they have regained their popularity and are now talked about and grown by keen gardeners in many countries. Their exotic foliage and multi-coloured flowers have awarded them a new and well-deserved status as easy garden plants with instant appeal.

“The name is derived from the Greek
kanna, meaning a reed-like plant. Cannas are sometimes referred to as ‘canna lilies’, although they have no relationship to the lily family: the word is merely used here to suggest a large, exotic-looking flower….

“Cannas are tropical plants, essentially natives of the West Indies and subtropical areas such as South America, where they are found in both mountainous and lowland areas. However, as ornamentals, they have been developed mainly in the temperate climate of Europe. As such, they have, over the years, been selected to be tolerant of a wide range of conditions and, provided a few basic requirements are understood, they are easy and rewarding to grow.”


Last year, I posted a few photographs of Canna blooms from Canna Lily ‘Cannova Bronze Scarlet’ — plants named that way, I imagine, because of the bronze/gold stripes in their leaves and deep scarlet/red flower petals (see Scarlet Red Canna Lilies). They grew and bloomed well into December 2022, but then mostly melted away during our winter deep freeze. I had four of them at the time, two in large pots in my courtyard and two in my pond. One of those in the pond survived — surprise! — and is still growing though did not produce any flowers this year. That Cannas will grow in ponds is perhaps not as well-known; but one of my nearby garden centers was selling some as pond plants, and they seem to do well in plastic pots filled with aquatic planting media, submerged just below the surface of the pond’s water.

I tried to find the same variety again (because I really liked the bronze-striped leaves), but wasn’t successful so bought these orange-flowered ones instead. They’re called Canna Lily ‘Cannova Orange Shades’ and feature dark green leaves with yellow highlights, and various shades of orange and yellow throughout their flower petals. Even the blooming youngsters — as they start to emerge in the shape of some alien’s claw — show the bright mix of orange and yellow that will eventually fill out their flowers.

As a photographic subject, Cannas can be challenging. The blossoms are large, complex, top-heavy structures that tend to flop around in the slightest breeze and will bend the entire plant nearly to the ground after a rainstorm. To represent them at various blooming stages, I’ve included photos of unopened flowers below, along with some that are (mostly) fully opened, and a couple of photos at the end where unopened petals are revealed from a lower angle below a partially opened flower.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Black-Eyed and Brown-Eyed Susans (2 of 2)

From Kingdom of Plants: A Journey Through Their Evolution by Will Benson:

“Behavioural studies in the twenty-first century have sought to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms by which bees forage. We know now that they do not ‘see’ shapes or objects but instead detect parameters and recognise places, and by using their 300-degree vision they are able to triangulate on just a few clues in order to find food. The patterns that we see in the flowers around us have evolved to play to such perception, and as our understanding of both plant and pollinator increases we are able to gradually unfold more details of the complex relationships that have formed between them….

“The yellow and black of the Rudbeckia petals is a useful clue to help us understand how bees respond to the colour signals from plants, as it tells us that the contrast between colours plays a significant role. There appears to be yet more evidence for the importance of this colour contrast, in the way that non-floral parts of the plant are seen, or not seen, by bees. As the green parts of a plant must be able to absorb light from the sun in order to photosynthesise, much of the UV light that falls on the leaves and stem is absorbed by pigments such as flavanoids and chlorophyll. As a result, for an animal who sees predominantly in the UV region of the spectrum, green vegetation appears almost black. The effect of this is that the UV-reflecting parts of flowers are heightened by the black background, making them more obvious to certain pollinators.”


This is the second of two posts featuring a mix of Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba) from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The first post is Black-Eyed and Brown-Eyed Susans (1 of 2).

Thanks for taking a look!

Black-Eyed and Brown-Eyed Susans (1 of 2)

From “Rudbeckia (Asteraceae)” in Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“The name [Rudbeckia] was bestowed by Linnaeus, in honor of his teacher at Uppsala University in Sweden, Olof Rudbeck the Younger, and his father, Olof Rudbeck the Elder. It is the dark centres to these golden-yellow daisies which draw us to them — hence, the common name black-eyed Susans (coneflower is another). There are 23 species, all rapidly growing herbaceous perennials and all native to North America, largely the midwestern and eastern U.S. states….

“Rudbeckias are generalists, growing in a wide range of both open and lightly shaded habitats, from virgin prairie to waste ground, but preferring moister and more fertile soils. Of the species in cultivation, Rudbeckia hirta and R. triloba are short-lived non-clonal perennials, often members of pioneer communities; the remainder are clonal and competitive, often strongly spreading, although not always persistent. Rudbeckias have had a minor role in Native American medicine, sometimes as a substitute for echinacea.”


Last week I went hunting at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens for some of the tiny, colorful asters that I’ve previously photographed around this time of year (see, for example Autumn Asters (1 of 3), Autumn Asters (2 of 3), and Autumn Asters (3 of 3)). I was a little too early, as it turns out, finding only tiny buds not yet ready to open — but I did come across some substantial gatherings of the flowers featured in the images below. The first three photos will give you some idea of the flower volume: a bloom-forest teaming with moths, bees, and other wee pollinators bouncing among the “eyes” of these flowers.

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba) are members of the Asteraceae family — so I guess I actually did find asters, just not the ones I was looking for. Wikipedia lists other common names for the plants, including Coneflower, Brown Betty, Gloriosa Daisy, Golden Jerusalem, English Bull’s Eye, Poor-Land Daisy, Yellow Daisy, and Yellow Ox-eye Daisy — and many of these names likely have some fun historical roots and local usages. I did asked one of the AI tools if the name “Susan” in “Black-eyed Susan” once referred to any specific person, and here’s what I sort-of learned from ClaudeAI:

There are a few theories about the origin of the “Susan” part of the name Black-eyed Susan, but unfortunately there is no definitive evidence pinpointing exactly who Susan refers to. Here are some of the main theories:

  • One belief is that it was named after an English woman called Susan who frequently handed out flowers, including rudbeckias. This may explain the flower’s association with cheerfulness and hospitality.
  • A common legend says it was named by European settlers for a native Algonquin woman who helped them learn wildflower names. This speaks to its native North American origins.
  • Some think it may be biblical in origin and refer to Susanna from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament.
  • There are unverified references to individual women named Susan in colonial America for whom the flower was informally named.
  • It may simply refer generically to the archetype of a strong, plainspoken woman, as Susan sometimes represented in folk culture.

Unfortunately there is no solid evidence for any of these possibilities over the others. The name was in use by the late 1700s, but the exact inspiration remains mysterious. So while the “Susan” in Black-eyed Susan is vivid, the specific person or meaning behind it has been lost to history.

It was an overcast day when I took these photos, which made the flowers glow against their dark green backgrounds, and the filtered light accentuated a color shift from yellow toward a more saturated orange. The “eyes” actually vary in color and include both black and dark brown, which helped me differentiate Black-eyed from Brown-eyed Susans.  The brown eyes reflect more yellow or orange shades from the flower than the black ones, on which you may see bits of blue color along with the black.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (3 of 3)

From The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (Vol. 4) by Liberty Hyde Bailey:

“[Lantana] is not particular as to soil, provided the exposure is sunny, and also that the soil is well supplied with moisture at least until a fair growth has been made. When well established the plants do not seem to mind drought, and continue bright and attractive in the hottest weather. They should not be transplanted out in the open before danger of frost is over. If the old plants are wanted for propagation, cut them back and transfer to pots early in September, and when they start into new growth the soft wood will furnish cuttings that root easily. Keep young stock in a warm position through the winter months, and repot in April….

“Save the old plants, after frost has nipped their freshness late in autumn, prune severely back, remove them indoors, giving them a temperature anywhere above 40 degrees, and with a little attention and fresh soil, every plant will be a perfect specimen, covered with blooms in May.

“Gardeners train them into fine standards, as prim and shapely as need be.”

From “Verbenaceae” in Flowers of the Veld by Kay Linley:

“This family consists mainly of shrubs and trees, and many herbaceous members of the family are slightly shrubby in growth. Most of them have square stems and leaves in opposite pairs, and most of them are distinctly aromatic, having a strong smell when handled or crushed, sometimes a pleasant scent, and in some cases a disagreeable odour. One of the best known species in this country is Lantana camara, a straggling, very prickly bush, originally introduced from America; this has spread widely over large areas of the country and is now declared a noxious weed. It has quite pretty, circular heads of orange and red flowers followed by black berries, but it is held responsible for a number of cases of cattle poisoning. It is also encroaching rapidly onto grazing lands, and an effort is being made to eradicate it entirely.

Lantana angolensis is an erect, unbranched plant of up to fifty centimetres in height, flowering early in the year, and common in woodland clearings and on waste land. The stems are square, hairy, and woody towards the base, and the leaves grow on short stalks, either in pairs or in whorls of three around the stem. They are narrowly oval with a slight point, evenly toothed around the edges and hairy on both surfaces. The tiny, bright mauve flowers are borne in axillary and terminal clusters, half a dozen or so in a cluster surrounded by a ring of green bracts, the whole on a short, hairy stalk. More noticeable than the flowers and more attractive are the juicy, bright purple berries which follow them; these are much enjoyed by many kinds of birds.”


This is the last of three posts featuring lantana from my garden; the first post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (1 of 3) and the second post is Lantana camara ‘Mary Ann’ (2 of 3). Here I adjusted cropping and recast some of the previous photos on black backgrounds. They always look like colorful pieces of candy to me when rendered this way; and, as it turns out, there are lantana varieties with “candy” in the name — including cotton candy, candy crush, and candy-candy!

Thanks for taking a look!

%d bloggers like this: