Lantana for Pollinators

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I went out to pick my green beans this morning and discovered my lantana covered in bumble bees.

This is the first time I have grown lantana in a couple of years. I try to grow it on a regular basis in some container because I know that in the past I have seen both hummingbirds and Eastern swallowtail butterflies flocking to it every time I do grow it.

But this was the first time I had seen so many bumble bees on the plant at the same time. A couple seemed to be hanging out and drying out–there had been rain the night before. But several more were actively visiting, looking for pollen. It was nice to see.

I know that in warmer parts of the United States lantana can be an invasive plant, so, as always, know before you grow!

Airborne Marvels

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Unfortunately with all our rain, this photo doesn’t do justice to what’s really happening here.

Every year, for about a month or so, the timing of which seems to coordinate with the maturing of the periodic dog day cicadas, of course, eastern cicada killer wasps (sphecius speciosus)make tunnels (hence the large opening and the disturbed soil in the photo).

The cicada killer wasp is the largest wasp in my part of the world and it’s a fearsome looking creature. It looks pretty much like a giant hornet or yellow jacket–and when I say “giant” I am not kidding. They can be up to 2″ long (which doesn’t sound long until you are walking along and all of these wasps are burrowing and flying around at you!)

Despite their size, in general, they are gentle and non-stinging (although as with all stinging insects, if something happens to annoy them, they will defend themselves. The Spoiler once managed to get stung by a bumble bee! I wasn’t sure that was really possible. I now know it is.)

What these wasps are doing is making a tunnel nest for an egg. They then grab a cicada, take it down into the nest for the egg to eat when it hatches, and fly away. Nothing very scary. The whole process takes about a month.

Our cicada killers at this site have returned every year for decades and to the best of my knowledge, despite the building’s public use, no one has ever been stung.

There are lots more fun and interesting facts about our largest wasp (in North America, at least) at this site about Cicadas.

If you encounter them–or their tunnels–don’t be afraid. Just watch and enjoy.

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.

Crop Circle?

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This first appeared in my lawn about a month ago. It was followed by something that looked like this.

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I was really mystified.

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And then I saw this. The rabbit is a little far away to see–she’s underneath the crab apple and quite alert to my presence. That’s why I didn’t want to get too close (although she does hop into my rose garden if I even dare to drive up the driveway)

So yes, by now you’ve guessed it–this isn’t an alien invasion after all–it’s a rabbit’s nest. And what I feared was destruction by a predator in the second photo (and may in fact have been) didn’t mean that the baby bunnies weren’t still alive–you can see the tunnel in the lawn. I presume they were in there. That’s why the “Mama” was so attentive and so reluctant to leave them in my last photo.

This nest has been used twice so far this summer. We’ll see how many more times it gets used before it us ultimately abandoned–or before nature takes its course and predators do get it.

Herbs for Pollinators?

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I have posted about herbs for bees before, when I was talking about self-cleaning annuals. But I think this group of plants gets over-looked as a pollinator source and it shouldn’t.

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Not only are the blossoms some of the prettiest around (these are chives, from earlier in the season, and yes, they are edible, although you don’t want to put a whole chive blossom on your salad. Better to break it into pieces,) but their colors are the right colors usually for bees and butterflies–purples and blues and whites.

The photo at the top is oregano.

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This is cilantro, going to seed and forming coriander seeds.

And sage (mine got too winter-killed to bloom this year) blooms in a lovely blue.

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Finally, this is anise hyssop (agastache) which is an herb in the mint family. Most folks just grow it as an ornamental perennial but it can be used for tea if it has been grown organically.

So in addition to growing herbs for use, why not grow some for the pollinators too?