Star-of-Bethlehem and Andrena in Early Spring

Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, are white flowers, a mere ¾ inch, with a pleasant scent that adds a two-week carpet of white to the mornings of the early spring garden. This aggressive little ornamental was introduced from its native range in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A handful of bulbs were brought to my yard by a friend many years ago. I’ve been pulling plants out of my garden ever since.

Was it just pollen or also a nibble that this Andrena was after?

The name Ornithogalum means “bird’s milk” and a number of common names also hint at its significance with having been around dating back 2000 years. “Bird’s milk” and “dove dung” bring to mind a resemblance to bird poop, “White Field Onion” due to similarities to onion and garlic species, “nap-at-noon” as the flowers close in the afternoon, and “snowflake” because of the number of white flowers in the patch. It is said there are references in the Bible of trading bulbs during the famine, a source of food during the Crusades, or souvenirs of pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Star-of-Bethlehem also has uses in Turkish cuisine, medicines in India, and herbals in Britain. So just to make things confusing, this ‘edible’ plant can be baked into bread, used in aromatherapy, or as a treatment for congestive heart failure but it is also known to be toxic to humans and livestock. O. umbellatum also appears in Leonardo da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan painting. With such a long history maybe I should leave some in my garden?

I imagine the little mining bees of the Andrena species that venture out of their ground tunnels when temperatures reach between 40-50 degrees don’t mind. They do need a bit of sunshine and some lounging on a warm rock or pile of leaves to warm their bodies to 50-60 degrees for flight and going about foraging and pollinating the early plants. There are some 550 species of Andrena in the United States and 700 species in Europe and northern Asia. They range in size from small (1/4”) to medium (¾) and with colors from gray to brown to red. Some of these Andrena are generalists, some specialists, and some strict specialists in their flower or vegetation choices. There are those that visit trees, such as maples and willows, those that like only certain sunflowers or those that visit any species of sunflower, and those that visit the blueberries, apples, cranberries, and onions that we enjoy in our diets. I don’t know what species of Andrena may have been on my Star-of-Bethlehem and whether it was what took the bite of the petal. Possibly someday I’ll take some time to see if I can narrow in but until then I am okay with simply Andrena. I imagine since all my years of pulling have not diminished the density of the flowers in my garden, they need not worry about having some plants to visit in my yard. Now that I know I just may leave a few more bulbs for them to enjoy than I have in years past.

Star of Bethlehem in UV light
Star of Bethlehem is beautiful under ultraviolet light

NYC Women’s March January 21, 2017

Just 4 years ago on this day. We went to NYC to march for so many reasons. For human rights, for women’s rights, for the environment, for the planet, for safety from gun violence, for peace. Black Lives Matter. Police Lives Matter. All Lives Matter.

There were no riots, no broken windows, no arrests, no anger, no violence. We were many people and races. Estimates in NYC were 400,000. Washington D.C. 500,000.

We did not go away these past 4 years, we have been here not just stressing over all the injustices facing people, our environment, our climate, and our wildlife but working toward making things right. It has surely been a tough road. But here we are. A huge win yesterday and in 2018.

Just 4 years ago today we marched not just in NYC or Washington D.C. but in so many places around the world. The world watched and it is still watching.

Thank You to all who have fought this fight as each and every person matters. Stay vigilant and keep up the good work as there remains much to do. I was lucky enough to score a pink hat and a Kitty Mit!

A Cloud of Red-winged Blackbirds is not a Dance of Sandhill Cranes


One of the amazing sights of being in New Mexico during the Sandhill Crane Festival was the huge number of birds. A couple hundred thousand of so many species including Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes, and Red-winged Blackbirds.

Sandhill Cranes and Red-winged Blackbirds foraging together.
So many Red-winged Blackbirds in flight!


Bee in Love! With Phlox!

Yes, I’ve posted “Bee in Love” before but it fluttered by as I was doing a cleanup this morning. I do like this image! Phlox is a plant that can be found in many gardens. It is enjoyed by butterflies, skippers, moths, Syrphid flies, some beetles, caterpillars, possibly a rabbit, groundhog or deer, and yes bees. Take a look at the varieties listed on Go Botany and see the native and non-native to CT varieties. When I first decided on planting native I found it harder than I’d imagined. I often found myself extending out to include those varieties in nearby states and those possibly moving on up as our climate changes to include the warmth they enjoy. Stay well!

Phlox on Go Botany:

To see some additional insect images visit my website. Excuse the messiness as I’ve let it go without updates and organization for too long. Oh, the list of images “to file” is still long, so visit again as they will be uploaded soon! SophieZylaPhotoSZ: are available as prints on assorted papers and in a variety of sizes as well as greeting cards. Message me for info or order from my website. Sophie Zyla/All rights reserved

Star of Bethlehem: Beautiful Alien

Star-of-Bethlehem came into my garden when our swimming pool first came down and I was in need of some plants. A gardener I’d known brought these invasive little beauties over. I’d told her I really wanted native and things that would not take over but she claimed the bulbs are so easy to simply pull up. Well years later they continue to spread and I continue to pull. Pretty? Yes, but possibly they should remain in Europe and the Mediterranean where they originally came from.

Star-of-Bethlehem is not part of my ultraviolet exhibit as the focus is on plants that are native to New England, or at least the adjacent states. It sure is pretty and it is thought bees are the pollinators. While that may sound good keep in mind not all nectar is created equal. We would not consider orange juice and soda to have the same nutritional value. Nor should we assume it attracts all or at least some beneficial insects as they can be fussy about what they want to taste.

I will have to gather my camera gear and take a closer look at visitors in April when these once again take up their mission of conquering all the open garden space they can.

It is always a surprise to see the world through the ultraviolet light that our wild ones would see. The commonplace green foliage and white flower transform into something hard to predict or imagine.

I am presently in the midst of a website overhaul and updating so excuse the messiness. If you would like to see a few more of the series they are found at:…/G0000ARKh.ktD_Z0

Prints are available on a variety of papers. For the exhibit, I used a Hahnemuhle metallic cotton rag baryta because of the way the brilliant flowers stood out against the black and the edges tear nicely into jagged edges. Message any questions.

2021: The Year We Dare to Care

Well here we are. 2021 is not off to a start where hopes, dreams, accomplishments, and visions of a bright future are easily envisioned. 2020 surely had unexpected, and unpleasant, twists and turns that no one imagined or would have been prepared for. COVID-19 loomed large over all, believers with masks and non-believers fighting for their right to die and take others with them. A president hell-bent on destroying all that came before him with a cult of angry followers happy to do his bidding. Threats to the normal we knew and loved were many. The president and his cult became increasingly unhinged as many watched in horror. If you are on my site I imagine we are of like minds. If not please feel free to silently slip away as I’ve no consideration or patience for the hate, vindictiveness, racism, and so much more that you stand behind. We are what we associate with after all. Birds of a feather flock together.

The shutdown of 2020 left me far from bored. I managed to bird, hike, kayak, and take photographs in places that were less crowded. Rare plant surveys were done and wildlife rescue and transport was at times relentless. Gardens went untended, books unwritten, and photo exhibit plans set aside. I made face masks. Lots and lots of face masks. The majority of some 800 were donated and others sold to allow the donations to continue. It was my little part in doing something positive to help keep people well.  Wildlife rescues were sometimes challenging and rewarding and, too often, heartbreaking. The lessons of the year were many.  I was stronger, wiser, and more intuitive than I’d given myself credit for. Unexpected car issues left me with time to reflect on what had been set aside: Conservation Photography and Conservation Photojournalism.

I will never forget the takeover of the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The day is etched in my memory with the horrors of 9/11, Sandy Hook, and Stoneman Douglas High School. This is who we are? The future is uncertain, although the President is Joe Biden and Vice President is Kamala Harris. They House and Senate are strong with Democratic winnings. There is hope and there is fear with the trump cult growing increasingly unhinged each day. All I can do is watch from the sidelines, pray for humanity to find a way to safety from COVID-19, and security of a country we once believed to be filled with less hate than we have now. The world is watching. At this moment, we are flailing and failing. God help us get through this with integrity and find ourselves morally and spiritually better. The opposite would be a nightmare of proportions known to those of that have seen the horrors that are unfathomable to many.

2021 brings a renewal of projects neglected. It is what I’ve labeled as The Year We Dear to Care. World Views has morphed into World Views: If we could see the world aa others do, would we dare to care? The addition of a White-fronted Amazon Parrot opened a door to Willow’s World: Life of a White-fronted Amazon Parrot as it is, as it was, as it should be.

Let the blog, exhibit planning, and books move forward into fruition at the end of 2021! Stay virulent well, and safe.

Today’s sentiment: We are tired. We are sick. We are horrified. Yet we must be vigilant. We are at a crossroads and we desperately need to follow the road with integrity to a resolution that will not leave us all in great peril. Too often I’m feeling like doomsday is before us! God help us.

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