A Cheer for Pollinators!

This week, June 18-24, marks National Pollinator Week, so proclaimed by the U. S. Senate in 2007.  The week’s educational activities focus on the importance of pollinators and on the pressing need to prevent further decline of this importance source of much of our food supply and their role in healthy ecosystems.  The devastating decline of pollinators is worldwide and bad– really bad–but today, I find it hard to post about pretty plants and home gardens while my own government is cruelly and nauseatingly separating families seeking a better life–which all of our own ancestors did–as they arrive at our southern border seeking asylum.

America is supposed to be better than this.

Clearly, we are not.  Please, please, if you are sickened by this current policy, contact your Senators, your Congress Representatives and the White House to express your outrage and to demand an immediate halt to these abhorrent family separations and offensive incarcerations of children.

 

The Butterfly

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone….
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
in the ghetto. 
-Pavel Friedmann, June 4, 1942, Theresienstadt concentration camp

 

The policy of criminalizing these families and setting them aside as “others” is a dangerous and slippery slope to be traveling upon and Americans should join together to end this abomination.

We should see butterflies–and bees, bats, moths, hummingbirds and a host of other critters–freely in our midst and forever, as they contribute their pollinating gifts to the world.  They might seem small and insignificant, but they are vital to our survival and deserve a place to exist and do their work.  Like people who are attempting to find a new home and contribute to our community, pollinators are part of the fabric of a healthy society.

In my garden work-horse pollinators are common and an integral part the garden.

Small leaf-cutter bee flying from bloom to bloom.

Possibly the same species of native bee, maybe a Melittidae or Striped Abdomen (oil-collecting bee), this one works diligently on a Zexmenia, Wedelia acapulcensis var. hispida.

 

A Small Carpenter Bee, Ceratina spp. Apidae, enjoying the bounty of a Shrubby skullcap, Scutellaria wrightii.

 

Resting from the hard work of pollinating is this unknown butterfly.  I think it’s some sort of checkerspot, but I can’t positively identify.  Regardless, its beauty and form enhance the garden; its pollination work restores the Earth.

 

A diminutive Gray Hairstreak, Strymon melinus, likes the petite blooms of an oregano.

Another fan of oregano is this Bordered Plant bug. Not well-known as a pollinator, it pollinates as it moves from bloom to bloom and plant to plant.

 

Ah, now there’s a pollinator we all know, the busy, buzzy Honeybee.

 

It’s rare that I get a decent shot of a hummingbird, but this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, complied with my photographic wishes while sipping from a Red yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora.  She’s a regular visitor to this plant, sharing the flowers with another female hummer.  Sharing, that is, when they aren’t chasing one another away from the plant!

It’s not a great shot, but check out her beak as she zoomed away from the flowers.  Is that yellow pollen coating her nose?

 

Another leaf-cutting bee, Megachile, rests on a leaf.  She’s got a load of pollen on her pollen pantaloons (my term!), also known as corbiculae (scientific term!), but I couldn’t tell if she was nibbling on the leaf.  Megachile bees pack their nests with leaf material mixed with soil and pollen.

 

Another native bee (Megachile?), works oregano blooms.

Oregano is a huge attractor of pollinating insects. I share my oregano with many kinds of pollinating insects.  Or, maybe it’s the other way around?

An autumn visitor and Mexican migrant, a Monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, nectars from the flowers of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica.  

 

Most of these insects require more than just pretty flowers to feed from.  This Black Swallowtail caterpillar, Papilio polyxenes, feeds fennel foliage.  It will feed until it’s ready to morph into the adult butterfly.  Yes, caterpillars of moths and butterflies munch on plants, but rarely do they munch to the plants’ deaths.  The key is to practice gardening patience and understand that munched foliage is often a sign of a vibrant ecosystem.

Aside from allowing larval insects to feed on foliage, what are other practices which encourage healthy pollinator gardens?  Well, avoiding the use of pesticides is an excellent beginning.  Instead, to limit insect damage, spritz unwanted critters from your plants with water.  Or, if you’re inclined, pick off beetles and slower bugs and pop them into soapy water.  It doesn’t take long to limit damage to the garden if you’re aware of who’s there and take action immediately.

Leave some part of your property a little bit messy.  Let leaves lie;  have some bare ground available for ground nesting bees and leave some wood out for those who prefer to raise their families in wood.  Build insect hotels; there are many plans available on the Internet and in gardening books and they’re easy to build.  Use native plants whenever and wherever you can!

If you plant ‘them’ or build ‘them’ or leave ‘it’ be–pollinators will come!

We have a beautiful country.  Let’s take care of it in all its varying forms.  Let’s encourage and work toward diversity in our natural landscapes and kindness and humanity in our human communities

Texas Truism

Ah, the smell of spring in the Texas air!

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Northwest face of my Mountain laurel.

The grape-soda-spring-in-the-air smell, that is.

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Southeast side

Texas mountain laurel, Sophora secundiflora, is at its peak of bloom in Austin and such a spring cliché, that I’m reluctant to add my photographic two-cents worth to the throngs of purple-powered photos appearing on FB, Nextdoor and elsewhere.

Clearly, I’ve overcome my hesitation.

Walking, riding my bike, and driving in the car, I frequently get a snoot-full of this heady, cloying fragrance, reminiscent of grape soda.

Texas mountain laurels are everywhere and why not?  They are beautiful small trees year-round and stunningly beautiful trees during their short spring bloom period. The blooms are early this year, along with the awakening of so many other plants. Mild-to-warm winters and weird premature spring action has become the norm over the past couple of decades in Austin. There was a time that mountain laurels bloomed consistently in March–sometimes earlier, sometimes later–but rarely in February.

Times have changed and the climate has changed.

I don’t mind an early spring, though that might mean an early summer and given the long, warm season in Texas, I don’t know many, myself included, eager for that particular scenario. But pollinators are pleased at the beginning of floral bounty and who can complain about that?

Honeybee

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Regardless, spring is here and there’s not too much we can do to slow the onslaught of new blooms-n-foliage.  Breathe deeply and enjoy!

Bees in Bloom

I suppose the title should read:  Bees in Blooms.

Bees of all stripes and wings are active in the late summer garden, sticking their probosces into the depths of flowers and reveling in pollen. This week, I’m crowning the honeybees as the winners of the bee beauty pageant. From a purely self-interested standpoint, honeybees are significantly easier to photograph, as they’re not speed fliers, nor teeny-tiny, like most of the native bees.

A preferred nectar source for honeybees are the charming blooms of the Coral Vine, Antigonon leptopus.

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I grow one small bit of this vine and from late summer into fall, the bees are all over it, all the time.  Tagged as an invasive plant here in Texas, as well as some other southern states, in all the years I’ve grown my vine I’ve only seen two or three seedlings develop. That said, I probably wouldn’t grow it if I live in a rural area and not smack-dab in the middle of a city, at some distance from a green belt.  Rural gardeners should steer clear of this plant and choose native-to-region plants instead.

Honeybees enjoy the flowerets of FrostweedVerbesina virginica, a native perennial best known as a migrating Monarch butterfly favorite and a post hard-freeze ice-sculpture plant.

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Majestic sageSalvia guaranitica, is lush with its royal blooms this wetter-than-normal summer.   Typically, I see one or two native bee species at this plant, but honeybees have shown interest in stealing nectar.

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ZexmeniaWedelia texensis, always hosts a variety of  native pollinators who work its cheery yellow blooms;  honeybees are included in that mix.

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Garlic chivesAllium tuberosum, recently began their short bloom cycle in my garden, but it didn’t take long for the honeys to find them.

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I wonder what garlic honey might taste like?  Mmmm!

 

Another perennial preference of honeybees and many other pollinators is the Rock rosePavonia lasiopetala.  I like this back-lit shot with the early morning sun, setting bee and bloom aglow.

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As well as this shot, which simply highlights both–and the foliage, as well.

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An impulse buy from a nursery a couple of years ago as I observed honeybees clamoring for nectar from its blooms, is this Shrubby blue sageSalvia ballotiflora.

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I’d say that the bee is busy and content with its bounty.  The Shrubby blue sage also attracts several species of native carpenter bees, as well as a variety of butterflies.

 

The native-to-South Texas, Yellow bellsTacoma stans, always has bee visitors, but rarely (or so it seems)  at the angle that I can easily photograph.  No bees at this bloom cluster, but these flowers always please.

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A bee-less photo, but of a great bloomer and nectar source for many different pollinators.

 

Another bee-less photo is of blooming Garlic chives and in the background, a purple blooming Autumn sageSalvia greggii.

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 Both typically have pollinators in attendance; I happened to catch the combo in a quiet moment.

I thank Carol at May Dreams Garden for hosting this monthly bloom bonanza known as Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.  Join in, share your garden pretties, then click over to her lovely blog to see and learn about blooms from many places.