Friday, August 9, 2013

More BUM in your Garden Equals More Bees: Brassicas, Umbels, Mints

 After finishing up my fifth and final citizen scientist survey counting bees in Mount Pleasant Park and Community Garden, I have some insights about the common garden cultivars that bees love. First of all morphology, or the way flowers are shaped is very important. If you imagine flowers to tiny cups for bees, you start to see which cups bees prefer. Bees love the simple cross-shaped blossoms of brassicas, the tiny cups of umbels, and the miniature bilaterally symmetrical blooms of mint. The nectar rewards from  three kinds of plants can attract all sizes of native bees and honey bees.

Also, note the spearlike shape of the spearmint infloresence. This cone-shaped collection of florets is often attractive to bees.

 Pollen rewards are also important. As you can see here, this bumble bee has a big wodge of ivory or grey pollen on its hind legs. Pollen and nectar also contain the chemical constituents of the plant which affect it odor, flavor, and medicinal properties.

 You can see here in these fennel florets that they are shaped like tiny cups. Fennel pollen grains are quite large, turning the legs of this tiny pollen pants bee quite yellow, which is why I thought she was a wasp when I saw her first.

 But you can see here she does have quite a fuzzy head and thorax.

This plant is a new bee plant I'm growing for the first time in my back yard. It is a cultivar of Angelica Sylvestris called 'Vicar's Mead.'  I couldn't pass up a plant with a name like that! This past week it has been very popular with all sorts of bees. I asked a blogger named Marc Carlton from England about this plant since it was on his website and he kindly explained that this is a purple cultivar from a native British plant that is normally green. I highly recommend his website It has excellent information on gardening for bees and Carlton is an inspiring and lyrical writer. He has real experience of watching bees in his garden to see which plants are active. I love this quote from an article called "How to choose plants that support pollinators: creating a new paradigm for 'native'": 

"My pollinator border is a “terrestrial coral reef”, not only a mass of disparate shapes and colours, but alive with the movement of small creatures – but insects, not fish."

--Marc Carlton,

I have been thinking about that quote all summer and it has inspired me in ways I will share with you soon.

 I wonder if this little bee is collecting pollen here or from the adjacent fennel plant.

 My fennel is absolutely noisy with bees of all sizes. Then the shade hits the plant at dinner time and it falls silent. Bees go home to bed. They fly toward the Nasanov signals that their hive mates are using to call them back to the hive. The chemical constituents in the Nasanov perfume are some of the same that attract bees to flowers.

There's the phenology of blooms that affects whether bees will feed from them and also a floral clock of sorts. Bees seem to have an innate preference for certain types of flowers over others, but their choice is also determined by proximity to their home base, especially at night when they are topping up before they go home. I see hummingbirds heading for specific plants for a long feed: ie monarda, buddleia, and crocosmia, and then they top up with other various plants in the proximity before they head home. They seem to know how much food they'll need  before they head home and try to make it through the night on the food they've consumed.

Some plants have long bloom periods, but short nectar runs. It seems the same way with pollen, which is why this week I've finally seen bees on yarrow and marigolds, even though they have been blooming for months.

And on a completely different note my monarda is blooming! Can't you see this as part of a Hummingbird coral reef!

As is this wacky salvia which the tag told me was supposed to have blue flowers. Oh well. It's pretty amazing. And a reminder that many sages are also great bee and or hummingbird plants. Like mint, they have bilaterial blossoms. The salvia with larger longer nectaries suit hummingbirds and the smaller blooms suit bees.

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