At this time of the year, as summer wanes, the rim of Puget Sound is ringed in bright yellow flowers of Puget Sound gumweed (Grindelia integrafolia). The gumweed seems to thrive in the breezy salt air and sandy soil that fringes the Sound. It is a harbinger of fall and of the dull gray days to come.
The lives of gumweed and a drab grayish brown moth known as the Hooded Mountain Owlet (Cucullia montanae) are intertwined. It was the colorful caterpillar curled inside a flower that caught my eye as I walked the sandy flats at Meadowdale Beach.
The Hooded Mountain Owlet moth flies in July and August. The caterpillars feed on gumweed then pupate underground. There is only one generation per year.
Puget Sound gumweed ranges from British Columbia to northern California, seldom straying too far from salt water. It is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), whose members include such familiar plants as dandelions and many others.