crownbeard is easy to spot in the autumn sun — just
look for flower clusters that look like ragged yellow
native perennial thrives in woodlands, meadows and
fields and along roadsides, as well as in home gardens,
from Maryland south to Florida and Texas. Known
scientifically as Verbesina occidentalis, the plant is
commonly seen throughout Virginia and North Carolina.
plant is prolific and long blooming, adding a mass of
golden color to the late fall garden," says Helen
Hamilton, author of "Wildflowers and Grasses of
Virginia’s Coastal Plain" at (
notes,."It is somewhat unkempt and needs some space
since it can grow to 9 feet tall."
are two other species of Verbesina — wingstem (V.
alternifolia), and white crownbeard (V. virginica).
plants are all members of the aster family, with usually
sterile ray flowers and a central disk packed with tiny
flowers, just like sunflowers and asters. Many insects
probe the fused flower petals for nectar and pollen. The
disk flowers of Verbesina are fewer and loosely arranged
and seem to be particularly attractive to soldier
beetles, often seen mating even while the female is
beetles are beneficial in the home garden since both the
adults and the larvae are predatory and feed on other
insects, according to Hamilton. The adults eat aphids,
caterpillars, grasshopper eggs, mites and other small
pests. They feed on nectar and pollen in late summer and
early fall plants, but do not damage foliage.
bright yellow to red with brown or black wings and trim,
the beetles are reminiscent of British uniforms, which
is why they are commonly called soldier beetles. The
black-and-yellow coloration, somewhat resembling wasps,
may protect them for predation by birds, and they
secrete a chemical that makes them distasteful. They are
also called "leatherwings" for their soft,
cloth-like wing covers.
resemble lightning bugs but cannot produce flashes of
light in the late June evening." Hamilton says.
all beetles, soldier beetles go through a complete
metamorphosis — proceeding through egg, larval, papal
and adult stages, she adds.
late summer, females deposit eggs in moist soil or in
leaf litter. They soon hatch into larvae and overwinter
in that form. In the spring, the larvae hatch and prey
on insect eggs, larvae, worms, slugs, snails, and other
small organisms in leaf litter, plant debris, loose
soil, and other areas of high humidity.
larvae are long, slender and worm-like with indentations
in each body segment. They are dark brown or gray and
appear velvety because of tiny dense bristles all over.
Larvae overwinter in damp soil or debris or under loose
bark. In the fall, they may seek to migrate indoors,
seeking a protected place for the winter; if you see
them in your house, just sweep them up and discard
outdoors. Weather stripping and caulking can be used to
seal openings they may use.
early summer, the larvae pupate and emerge as adults in
late July, which is the first time gardeners will see
these beneficial insects — larvae and pupae are rarely
seen. The adults are active through August and
September, feeding on nectar and pollen in fall garden
plants and preying on aphids, which have been
parasitized by wasps, mealy bugs, and other garden
is a rich and important community at the soil level
where the soldier beetle larvae live and feed,"
help soldier beetles and other beneficial insects
survive, provide them with perennial plantings with
undisturbed, mulched soil, and add organic materials as