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

Our Pals The Pollinators

Pollinators aren’t just pretty things fluttering around our gardens and buzzing past as we hike on trails, they are critical to the health and survival of ecosystems throughout the world.  Bees of a variety of species pollinate the plants that supply a large percentage of the world’s food supply and about 1,000 plants used by humans for food and other supplies are pollinated by bees and other pollinating animals. Additionally, 90% of wild plants are pollinated by wild bees of many species.  Bats and birds contribute greatly to the pollination of wild plants and agricultural crops, while butterflies and moths pollinate flowering native plants in every ecosystem.


Habitat loss, over-reliance and misuse of pesticides and herbicides, invasive species, as well as disease and parasite infections are leading causes of the startling decline of all pollinator animals worldwide.

In the United States, over 40% of honeybee hives were lost last year.


Though wild bees haven’t been studied to the extent that honeybees have, nor do they suffer from the disease/parasite issues common to the honeybee, we know they are declining.


The beloved North American Monarch butterfly has declined by 90% in the past 20 years.  The process to list the Monarch as an endangered species has started, with plans formulating for the expansion of its migration habitat, though unfortunately, no limits were placed on the use of the herbicide Roundup, which is the primary culprit in the decimated Monarch populations.


I could go on (and on) lamenting the problems that wildlife, and nature in general, are experiencing, but what the average gardener, homeowner, and citizen should know is that nothing in this world exists without balance. In all parts of the world, preservation of wild space is vital to all life.

Fortunately, understanding about the threats posed to pollinators is beginning to find way into the mainstream consciousness of people and their governments and perhaps it’s not too late to prevent a catastrophic decline in the pollinator partners whose work is requisite for human existence.


Pollinators should be appreciated for their contribution to a healthy and vibrant  ecosystem, their role in plant preservation and evolution, and their beauty.


They deserve to exist.


As I was thinking about Pollinator Week and what I wanted to say, this lovely, simple, but profound post from Forest Garden  popped up in my email.

I can’t add anything to this, in either text or visuals.

What to do?

Well, there are the usual things: walk, bike, carpool and take public transportation when you can–make that a lifestyle change to lessen your carbon impact. Recycle and reuse when possible–there’s enough junk in the world.  Avoid the use of home chemicals and support companies/products that are cognizant of the dire consequences resulting from unfettered and irresponsible industrialization.  Through volunteerism and/or donations, support the many organizations that are educating and lobbying for those who cannot speak for themselves.


Vote for public servants who are friendly to the idea that our society must set aside more public space for pollinators–and other wildlife. Whether it’s supporting the dedication of a swath of land bordering I-35 from Minnesota south to Mexico thus enabling the Monarchs to continue their remarkable migration, or setting aside more land as green space in cities and towns, or recovering and protecting natural habitats–of all sorts–support leaders who promote these endeavors with your time, money, and votes.


Also, if you own or rent a single family home, commit to removing that stretch of boring, wasteful, high-maintenance lawn and instead, prepare and install a wildlife friendly garden or pollinator garden. You won’t be sorry you did.


The American love affair of the lawn is baffling to me.  Most people don’t even do anything with their lawn, except to walk on it when they mow. The traditional expanse of lawn feeds almost nothing, except for some grubs and other problematic insects. The lawn requires much watering, fertilizing and mowing and that is unsustainable. I guess one positive aspect to lawns is that the maintenance employs people.

To paraphrase: Love the mower, hate the mowing.

A more efficient, environmentally appropriate, and attractive use of outdoor space is to plant for pollinators and other wildlife.  Nature isn’t over there, but indeed, should be welcomed and nurtured in your own backyard–and front yard. Additionally, a well-planned, established pollinator garden is not only more beautiful than a lawn, but also less work in the long run.



A wildlife or pollinator garden requires some planning and thought and like a good paint job, preparation is key.  Dig out the existing grass and/or solarize, so that you begin your soon-to-be-stunning garden with a blank slate.  If you have poor soil, some soil amendments are recommended; home-grown compost is probably the best thing you can add to a garden.  If you’re gardening on thin soil with rock, you might build raised beds, either with rock, wood, or steel edging.



Some general design elements are practical to remember:  addition of trees, large and small, are important, and larger plants are best placed toward the back, medium and smaller plants, toward the front of a garden.

Planting for blooms throughout the year means choosing a variety of different plants.   Mix reseeding annuals with perennials, if you like.   Many plants can be purchased in four-inch pots and as seeds and that lessens the cost of a yard transformation. Share plants with friends and neighbors.  If possible, choose plants that are native to your region.  Native plants require less water and effort because they belong where you live and will attract the wild bees and other pollinators that you’re aiming to support.  There is a direct link between native plants and their pollinators. Locally owned nurseries are usually at the front line of providing invaluable information for what to plant for your particular area.  Also, check out the “Resources” tab on this blog to link to organizations such as the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and Wildseed Farms.  Beloved plants such as roses, daylilies and the like can certainly be in the palette of the well-designed pollinator garden, so you don’t have to give up the plant that your grandparents grew and that you would love to add to your garden.


Finally, start small.  You don’t have convert the entire landscape THIS YEAR.  Add a bit of garden each year and before you know it, your space with be a living garden–full of life, color, pollinators, and all manner of beauty.  Your outdoor space will be more enjoyable and less onerous to maintain than the grass that you removed.


If you live in an apartment, townhouse or condominium, encourage the owners and /or managers  to do all of the above instead of having the mowing crew show up, once-per-week, spewing hydrocarbons and noise.

Most of us are granted only a small part in helping to heal the world.  But if many step up, speak up, and change the “yard” maintenance paradigm from wasteful lawn to wildlife/pollinator habitat and garden, what a difference that could make.


Start small.


Spread the word.


Change the world, one garden at a time.


Foliage Follow-Up, June 2015

It’s been awhile since I’ve participated in showing off foliage after bragging about blooms, but today I’m glad to join in with Pam at Digging for Foliage Follow-Up. Additionally, June 15-21 is Pollinator Week and along with fab foliage, we’ll take a look at a few of the many pollinators that happily and diligently work for free in the garden.

Many of my native Texas perennials shoot forth in foliage growth during wet years and this year is no exception to that general rule. The leaves of Turk’s Cap, Malvaviscus arboreus, are wide and lush and a bit holey, due to munching insects abundant this spring and summer.



I don’t really mind the chunks taken out because those eating machines do little damage to the plant as a whole.  The Turk’s Cap flowers are good for pollinators like this hummingbird who happily nectared last fall in preparation for migration.


Turk’s Cap foliage complements other interesting foliage, like the slender, bright leaves of Flame  AcanthusAnisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii,



…and the gray, aromatic leaves of Heartleaf SkullcapScutellaria ovata.


 Both Flame Acanthus and Heartleaf Skullcap are excellent pollinator plants.


Oops!  That damselfly visiting the Flame Acanthus is a beneficial insect in the garden, but not a pollinator.

On the other hand, Ms. Honeybee, nectaring on the Skullcap, is certainly a pollinator worth cheering on.



The sandpaper-rough, dark foliage of the perennial GoldeneyeViguiera dentata, pairs nicely with the soft, ruffly foliage of Globe MallowSphaeralcea ambigua.  


Goldeneye flowers,


…and Globemallow flowers,


…attract all kinds of pollinators and both are favored by native bees.


Mountain LaurelSophora secundiflora, is a beautiful tree year-round. Waxy, softly rounded, evergreen foliage perfectly augments the lusciously drooping clusters of spring flowers, which are visited by many kinds of pollinators.


After the blooms have ended, the foliage is attractive–really attractive.


Mountain Laurel blooms are stunning, but the abundant and verdant foliage, as well as the graceful form of this tree is its selling point for me.


Mountain Laurel is a winner–in the urban garden or viewing on a hike in the Texas Hill Country.

Finally, this ‘Sparkler’Carex phyllocephala, has no value to pollinators that I’m aware of.


But I’ve welcomed it and two more to my gardens.  It’s cheery–downright sparkly–evergreen and white, as well as drought tolerant.  What more could you ask from a foliage-driven plant?

What are your leafy greens (or maybe purples? reds?) doing this June?  Show them off and then pop over to Digging for a look at foliage shared by other gardeners.