When I was a kid, at the back of our backyard was a ditch along which, in the summer, plants with yellow flowers grew wild. After they were done blooming, the flowers grew into fat, translucent seed pods which would explode spectacularly when they were poked or squeezed. They were known universally among the neighborhood kids as “poppers” and as summer wore on we would occupy ourselves for hours with finding and popping the ripest seed pods.
In addition to simple-minded entertainment, these flowers gave me my first lightbulb moment about natural selection. While watching bumblebees visiting them one day I noticed that they were exactly the right size and shape for bumblebees to fit inside. In fact, a bee came and crawled into this flower briefly while I was taking photos, although I didn’t react fast enough to get a shot of it.
It wasn’t until much later that I would learn this plant’s proper name: jewelweed, or Impatiens capensis. (The touch-sensitive seed pods have also conferred on it the alternate name “touch-me-not.”) When the seedlings first emerge in the spring they’re very distinctive, with big, round cotyledons. They grow spectacularly and now they’re the size of shrubs. Some of my coworkers swear by jewelweed sap as a remedy for itchy bug bites, though I haven’t tried it myself.
Incidentally, while I was photographing jewelweed flowers a greenish-gray lump on the stem caught my eye. It was this.
And then when I started back along the trail I noticed something else, a big, pale shape among the leaves.
A luna moth, the size of my hand, settled down into torpor for the day. You never know what you’re going to find when you go for a walk in the woods!