Native Pollinators: A Close Up Look at The Humble Bumble Bee …

July 7th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Bumble Bee on Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ (Speedwell)

Now that summer is in full-swing, my garden is just buzzing; filled with pollinators of all kinds. And on warm, sunny mornings, the Wildflower Walk literally hums with the sound of bumble bees. This fuzzy, sweet-looking insect is rarely aggressive and only stings when it is threatened with harm. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very important pollinators of our agricultural crops and wild plants. But unlike the naturalized, European honeybee, our North American native bumble bee does not keep substantial quantities of honey in its hive. Because they only store enough food to support the colony for a couple of days, bumble bees must continuously forage when not in hibernation. All bees, including the bumble bee, are extremely sensitive to pesticides —including organic insecticides— and their health and welfare, so directly tied to our own, is critically dependent upon responsible garden and farm practices.

Bumble bees visit many kinds of flowers throughout the growing season. But like all pollinators, bumble bees do prefer some blossoms more than others. When certain plant species are blooming —particularly Ajuga reptans, Veronica, Salvia and Lespedeza— my garden is literally buzzing with activity. Like honeybees, bumble bees are very effective pollinators; gathering from one or two species at a time (this behavior is known as constancy, and it’s key to the pollination of fruits and vegetables we humans depend upon). Bumble bees and other bees communicate with one another in various ways. Ever wonder how a bee knows where to go for food? Bumble bees actually let one another know which flowers have already been visited by marking those blossoms with scent. These fascinating insects have a language all their own; one we are only just beginning to understand …

When I snapped the photo above —amused by the sight of a bumble bee raising one of its middle legs— I thought perhaps it was stretching. Surprise, surprise! I recently learned that this is a defensive behavior. The bumble bee was warning me to back off, because I (and my camera lens) got too close for comfort!

Recently, while out capturing images of early morning bumble bees visiting the blue Speedwell (Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’) along the Wildflower Walk, I noticed a bee raising one of its middle legs. It struck me as amusing, and as I came in closer for a shot, the bee extended its leg even further; looking a lot like a karate kick! After downloading the photos, curiosity got the better of me and —doing a bit of research on the fantastic bumblebee.org website— I discovered that by raising its leg, the bumble bee was actually trying tell me that I’d come a bit too close for its comfort. The bee wanted me to move away, but ignorant of its social cues, I came even closer! What I thought a fascinating experience was actually quite unpleasant for the bee, and it was striking a defensive pose. Sorry friend! I’ll pay much closer attention to your signals next time.

Do you enjoy listening to the hum of bumble bees on a summer day? Invite these native pollinators into your garden by providing a steady supply of blossoms throughout the growing season. Some early blooming spring flowers for bumble bees: Salix discolorHamamelis vernalis, Hamamelis x intermediaVacciniumViburnumCercisPierisEnkianthusAjuga reptans, CrocusRhododendron and spring blooming Erica and Calluna. And to attract bumble bees later in the season, try planting some of the following summer and fall blooming flowers for bumblers: Lupine, Aquilegia, Nepeta, Aesculus, CornusVeronica, Asclepias species, Perovskia, Lespedeza thunbergii, Clethera alnifolia, Hamamelis virginiana, Itea virginica, Sedum, Asteraceae, Monarda, Agastache, Penstemon, Lavendula, Mentha, Allium, Stachys, Althea (single flowered), Lavendula, Valeriana, Salvia, Thymus and most other herbs. Check out the links below for more flower lists and information on supporting bees of all kinds in your garden…

For more fascinating information about the humble bumble, visit the bumblebee.org website by clicking here.

And for information on the honeybee, and other bees —plus great tips and useful information for supporting all pollinators— visit thehoneybeeconservancy.org by clicking here.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Late Summer’s Garden Delight… Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’: Beautiful Bush Clover, Buzzing with Bees

September 3rd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’ (bi-colored bush clover)  A Bee’s Delight from Late Summer through Mid-Autumn

Ever notice how there always seems to be at least one hopping joint in every town, where the locals routinely gather for their morning coffee or to grab a quick bite at lunch? Yesterday afternoon, I met up with a friend at a just-such a café, and as usual, it was just buzzing with activity. I thought about that place this morning, when I went outside to water the pots on my terrace; noting that my garden has a similar hot-spot. Popular with all the busy bees, my bush clover, (Lespedeza thunbergii), is conveniently situated at a busy garden intersection, between the long perennial borders and the wildflower meadow. From dawn-to-dusk, this elegant-but-relaxed place is just packed with bees and butterflies. The nectar must be very sweet indeed…

Lespedeza thunbergii, ‘Edo Shibori’ – Bicolor blossoms

Lespedeza thunbergii, ‘Edo Shibori’

Of course, this is an undeniably gorgeous plant. And, I’ll readily admit that I planted Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Edo Shibori’ for purely selfish reasons. Five years ago, when I picked her up at the garden center, I was —and still am– smitten with her beautiful bi-colored blossoms and soft, graceful form. I also grow the more common cultivar, L. thunbergii ‘Gibralter’, which produces stunning, cobalt-violet hued blossoms; equally popular with the the cool-bees in my garden…

Bush clover softens the edge of my terrace here at Ferncliff

The graceful branches of bush clover sway beautifully in the breeze

Lespedeza thunbergii, which also goes by the name ‘bush clover’, is a relatively uncommon shrub —sometimes classified as a herbaceous perennial plant— native to Asia. Hardy in USDA zones 4-9, in colder climates —like mine— bush clover behaves similar to Russian sage (Perovskia antriplicifolia) and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii): it dies back to the ground, or nearly so, every winter. In spring, I cut the shrub back hard, and it rewards me each August with a beautiful, airy shape and cascades of tiny, pea-like blossoms from late August through the end of September (Vermont). Bush clover can reach a mature size of 36-48″ high x 48-72″ wide. There are many lovely cultivars, including L. thunbergii ‘Gibralter’ —a popular and beautiful, cultivar with cobalt-violet hued flowers. Bush clover is a non-native species, and although it was introduced to the United States as a valuable food-source to wildlife, it should be noted that this plant may be considered an invasive in some areas (mainly in the southeastern US). Be sure to check with your local cooperative extension system before ordering or planting bush clover if you are in a potentially-vulnerable area (check highlighted links above).

Lespedeza thunbergii is a constant swarm of bee activity in late summer and fall

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Article and Photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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