Daisy fleabane (Erigeron strigosus) is considered by many people to be a weed. It’s a biennial with very pretty, albeit small, daisy-like flowers that flourishes when the dominant plants around it have been weakened. As a prairie manager, I’ve always appreciated daisy fleabane as an indicator that we’ve created conditions for new wildflowers (short- and long-lived) to insert themselves between the grasses in our sites.
Last Friday evening, I took my camera for a walk in a small prairie here in town and found quite a few daisy fleabane plants growing along the trail. I wasn’t the only one enjoying them – I saw numerous small bees and flies feeding on the pollen, and a few crab spiders hoping one of those pollinators waiting to ambush those same small pollinators.
The first crab spider I noticed slipped over the edge of the flower to hide when it spotted me coming toward it. I turned away to photograph something else nearby. When I looked back, the spider was back on the flower. I adjusted my position very slightly and the spider slipped back to its hiding place. Argh. Stubbornly, I decided I was going to photograph that spider if I had to wait all evening to do so. I didn’t have to wait quite that long, but it felt like it. I got my tripod positioned so that I could take the photo when/if the spider reappeared. Holding perfectly still, (with sweat running down my nose and mosquitoes feeding on my neck) I stayed in position for at least 5-10 minutes until the spider finally showed itself again. Got it!
A little further up the trail, I saw another crab spider that had caught a fly. I figured it too would make a run for cover when I got close, so I came in low and slow. I’m not sure it would have mattered – this spider showed none of the anxiety of the first one, and sat very still while I set up the tripod and waited for the breeze to pause long enough to get a good shot. Maybe this spider was too distracted by its meal to care about me (though that’s not been my experience in the past). I wasn’t sure whether to be grateful to the second spider for its cooperation or mad at the first one for all the mosquito bites on my neck.
I can understand why people might think of daisy fleabane as a weedy little plant, but its just filling an important role. When the grasses are weak, something has to take advantage of the temporarily available resources around and between them. There are numerous species that can do that, including a few that can cause real problems if they become established. Given the choices, I’m always happy to see the pretty little daisy flowers and the diverse tiny creatures they attract.