Lobelia cardinalis, the cardinal flower, is in bloom along stream banks. This species uses hummingbirds as its main pollinator and the flowers have all the classic characteristics of a bird-pollinated plant: bright red flowers, nectar buried at the base of a long tube, pollen delivered to the top of the bird’s head from curved anthers, and no scent. Swallowtail butterflies are one of the few insects whose tongues are long enough to reach into the nectar. But butterflies hang low on the flower and pick up no pollen. They are nectar thieves.
The timing of the cardinal flowers’ bloom is no accident. All the hummingbirds from Canada and the north-eastern U.S. are starting to move through our region on their way to the tropics.
Nobody suspects the butterfly.
Some do suspect, but lack direct evidence.