The sun was within minutes of slipping below the horizon, the last of its warm golden light washing horizontally across the tops of the coneflowers and big bluestem. Already I could feel the air temperature starting to cool. Wading through thick stands of tall vegetation under a hot July sun is sweaty, stifling work when the mercury tops the 90˚F mark and there's not a breath of breeze to be found. After an hour of poking about with my camera, I was grateful for the smallest measure of relief.
A Viceroy butterfly on the white bloom spike of a nearby Culver's root caught my eye.
Viceroys are those Monarch look-alikes. The two butterflies are dressed in almost identical markings of orange-and-black, with similar black wing edging patterned with white. The easiest way to tell the difference is by a black band which runs across the hind wings of the Viceroy, but is lacking in the Monarch. Also, Viceroys flutter while Monarchs, being larger and stronger, tend to flap and glide.
I know this and still occasionally get it momentarily wrong at first glance when I'm not really paying attention—once again reiterating to myself that looking and seeing are two entirely different things.
Incidentally, Culver's root, a native plant, was once used as a strong purgative—both as a laxative and an emetic. Indians used the plant to help cleanse the blood. Herbalists employed it to increase the flow of bile from the liver. I've read that in 1716, Puritan leader Cotton Mather requested that Culver's root be used as a treatment for his daughter's tuberculosis—which some historians think may actually have led to the little girl's death soon thereafter.
Nevertheless, Culver's root in bloom is a pretty plant…and prettier still with a Viceroy butterfly perched on its top.