Sterile versus “Fruitful” Flowers

We all think about planting for bees and other pollinators most of the time, I think. It’s constantly in the news that our pollinators are in trouble, so if we have the choice of planting a shrub, perennial or even an annual that will provide some nectar, why wouldn’t we?

At first glance, these two flowers seem fairly similar, don’t they? Yes, one is a single form and one is a double. One has green leaves and one has variegated leaves. Those are the obvious differences.

What’s not so obvious–and what took me a few years to figure out–is that the flower on the right–the double variegated form (Sugar Tip Rose of Sharon or hibiscus syriacus ‘America Irene Scott’) was sterile–in other words, it made no pollen for the bees.

This is a double edged sword because for those of you who know the characteristics of a typical rose of sharon, you know that unless you deadhead them after bloom, you will have fields of seedlings to contend with. And they root deeply too.

But the bees–and even hummingbirds–do love them. That pollen laden cone (made up of anther, stamens and filaments), in the center of the flower is generally covered in bees. This particular variety even has a red eye to draw in the hummingbirds. (This variety is Lil Kim, or
hibiscus syriacus ‘Antong Two.’)

So what to do? Does that mean you shouldn’t plant Sugar Tip? Well, obviously, I wouldn’t be taking my advice if I said “no!” I planted it in a spot where I clearly didn’t want a lot of self-sowing seedlings from another sort of hibiscus and that’s worked out quite nicely.

It does sort of break my heart when I see the bees visiting, though, looking for nectar that I know they won’t find.

4 thoughts on “Sterile versus “Fruitful” Flowers

  1. tonytomeo August 1, 2018 / 11:09 pm

    Oh my! Thank you for saying so. I had planned on writing about this same sort of thing, along with other issues with planting for pollinators, but have not yet done so.

  2. gardendaze August 2, 2018 / 5:14 am

    But you have plenty of time left, Tony. My “summer” is over despite the fact that my “low” here is a soupy 75 this morning. I still prefer that to snow, thanks! Some of our maples are already showing a bit of early color. And of course the mums are in the box stores–not necessarily a bad thing if we want to try to give the annual type ones a chance at over-wintering.


  3. marco satta August 30, 2018 / 1:32 pm

    I have to learn a lot about gardening! Thanks a lot for this post 

    • gardendaze August 30, 2018 / 2:45 pm

      Delighted to help, Marco. Just have fun. That’s the best way to learn.


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