Bee Line…

Beeline … to the Northern Hi-lights Azalea, a hybrid that was a favorite of Jeff’s sister who had passed away from cancer a number of years ago now. We dug it up and brought it to CT. It seems to have a following when in bloom.

Metallic Epauletted-Sweat Bee, Augochloropsis metallica

As you can see this Metallic Epauletted-Sweat Bee seems happy to carry off some pollen, the Silver-spotted Skipper and Hummingbird Clearwing both spent some time visiting as well. Not all plants are created equal and there are studies being done on the nutritional value of assorted plant species.

Silver-spotted Skipper Epargyreus clarus

Not all plants are designed to have pollen and nectar readily available to pollinators. Just a couple of things to consider when planning your garden this year.

Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe

Plant Native! The plants and insects have sustained each other for a long time along with all sorts of other wildlife in that food pyramid. Now they need a bit of help from us so they can continue to thrive as their habitats have been lost or altered with introduced or invasive species.

Hummingbird Clearwing, Hemaris thysbe

Check out your local native nurseries for advice. I’ve found all the folks at Earth Tones Native Plant Nursery in Woodbury, CT amazingly talented and a pleasure to visit with. The opening is Earth Day and their 2021 plant & price list is available.

Petals of Milkweed

My pollinator garden thoughts started as growing only those plant species natives to CT. That didn’t last too long as I started incorporating a few of the species that were native to the surrounding states. Naturally, that expanded out just a bit further as thoughts of climate change and wildlife species moving further than normal started to enter the thoughts. Swamp Milkweed, both pink and white, and Butterfly Weed were of course included in plantings along with the much loved, and heavily promoted for Monarch conservation, Common Milkweed. This year I’ve purchased seeds for planting Whorled Milkweed and Poke Milkweed. It will be interesting to see who visits!

Monarch Caterpillar, the reason for the milkweed madness

In just a few blocks from my home, there are two beekeepers that I am aware of. Since water is available the Western Honey Bees are a very common visitor! So much so that no one could get near one of the fountains. Luckily I was allowed to carry on refilling and cleaning chores without too many worries of being stung.

The Western Honey Bee and the Common Milkweed. A true love affair.

The variety of visiting species to the Common Milkweed was many! I’ve started organizing them for the book that has gone from thoughts to writing this year. Besides the butterflies, there also skippers that are always fun to see and photograph.

What would a milkweed be without a Milkweed Beetle or two! In all honesty, we gardeners know just how abundant these red beauties are!

Cutting through the leaf spine is a way of stopping the flow of the toxic white sap in order to move above and safely nibble away.

There are a number of species of Milkweed that, depending on where you live, can be planted. A native nursery is worth a visit as are browsing the varieties and information from some of the reputable seed distributors, such as Prairie Moon Nursery which offers both seeds and plants. . Another worthy place for checking native varieties and plant species data is the USDA and U.S. Forest Service. For some of the “Plants of the Week” visit and scroll down to Asclepias for plant profiles and data on some of their highlighted varieties.

Think Spring! Let the planning and planting begin! Before planting exotics that have coexisted with insects and wild critters that do not inhabit our area, why not take a closer look at planting species that will benefit the wild ones we share our landscapes with?

Warning. Gardening can be very addictive. Another garden can always be started in an unused section of the yard. What better way to spend time at home than wandering among the scents and beauty of flowers and the birds and insects that they will attract.

For the Curious, iNaturalist is a great place to set up an account, upload images, see what the identification possibilities may be, and receive confirmation and/or identification from experts. It is also an easy way to assist in some of the science projects out there.

The Mountain Mint and the Macrosiagon limbata

A bit of a taste test just to see what may be found

Mountain mints, or any of our native mints, are often overlooked when we pick out our pollinator plants. This past year Basil Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum clinopodioides, was on my rare and endangered plant survey list and I was thrilled to find a nice population of them! No photos as any metadata info could possibly give away their location and since they are endangered that is a definite NO!

A very intent look at this flower

These images are of native Broad-leaved mountain mint, Pycnanthemum muticum, and a Macrosiagon limbata, one of our native beetles, seemed to really enjoy sticking its head into a flower.

The dive right into that mint flower

These wedge-shaped beetles are in the Ripiphoridae family. They are active in the summer months and can easily be skipped over as they are 5.0-12.0 mm. The beetles also enjoy elderberry flowers, bee balm, and goldenrod. The adult beetles lay their eggs on flowers and when they hatch the young adhere to solitary bees that visit the plants for pollen. These little predators are carried back to the nest where they prey on bee larvae. Such is the way of the wild that has been happening for a very long time. Plant natives and the natives will find their way!

Star-of-Bethlehem and Andrena in Early Spring

Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, are white flowers, a mere ¾ inch, with a pleasant scent that adds a two-week carpet of white to the mornings of the early spring garden. This aggressive little ornamental was introduced from its native range in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A handful of bulbs were brought to my yard by a friend many years ago. I’ve been pulling plants out of my garden ever since.

Was it just pollen or also a nibble that this Andrena was after?

The name Ornithogalum means “bird’s milk” and a number of common names also hint at its significance with having been around dating back 2000 years. “Bird’s milk” and “dove dung” bring to mind a resemblance to bird poop, “White Field Onion” due to similarities to onion and garlic species, “nap-at-noon” as the flowers close in the afternoon, and “snowflake” because of the number of white flowers in the patch. It is said there are references in the Bible of trading bulbs during the famine, a source of food during the Crusades, or souvenirs of pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Star-of-Bethlehem also has uses in Turkish cuisine, medicines in India, and herbals in Britain. So just to make things confusing, this ‘edible’ plant can be baked into bread, used in aromatherapy, or as a treatment for congestive heart failure but it is also known to be toxic to humans and livestock. O. umbellatum also appears in Leonardo da Vinci’s Leda and the Swan painting. With such a long history maybe I should leave some in my garden?

I imagine the little mining bees of the Andrena species that venture out of their ground tunnels when temperatures reach between 40-50 degrees don’t mind. They do need a bit of sunshine and some lounging on a warm rock or pile of leaves to warm their bodies to 50-60 degrees for flight and going about foraging and pollinating the early plants. There are some 550 species of Andrena in the United States and 700 species in Europe and northern Asia. They range in size from small (1/4”) to medium (¾) and with colors from gray to brown to red. Some of these Andrena are generalists, some specialists, and some strict specialists in their flower or vegetation choices. There are those that visit trees, such as maples and willows, those that like only certain sunflowers or those that visit any species of sunflower, and those that visit the blueberries, apples, cranberries, and onions that we enjoy in our diets. I don’t know what species of Andrena may have been on my Star-of-Bethlehem and whether it was what took the bite of the petal. Possibly someday I’ll take some time to see if I can narrow in but until then I am okay with simply Andrena. I imagine since all my years of pulling have not diminished the density of the flowers in my garden, they need not worry about having some plants to visit in my yard. Now that I know I just may leave a few more bulbs for them to enjoy than I have in years past.

Star of Bethlehem in UV light
Star of Bethlehem is beautiful under ultraviolet light

Bee in Love! With Phlox!

Yes, I’ve posted “Bee in Love” before but it fluttered by as I was doing a cleanup this morning. I do like this image! Phlox is a plant that can be found in many gardens. It is enjoyed by butterflies, skippers, moths, Syrphid flies, some beetles, caterpillars, possibly a rabbit, groundhog or deer, and yes bees. Take a look at the varieties listed on Go Botany and see the native and non-native to CT varieties. When I first decided on planting native I found it harder than I’d imagined. I often found myself extending out to include those varieties in nearby states and those possibly moving on up as our climate changes to include the warmth they enjoy. Stay well!

Phlox on Go Botany:

To see some additional insect images visit my website. Excuse the messiness as I’ve let it go without updates and organization for too long. Oh, the list of images “to file” is still long, so visit again as they will be uploaded soon! SophieZylaPhotoSZ: are available as prints on assorted papers and in a variety of sizes as well as greeting cards. Message me for info or order from my website. Sophie Zyla/All rights reserved

World Views: Jacob’s Ladder & Pollinators

If only we could see the world as wild ones do, would we dare to care?

Jacob’s Ladder is such a dainty beauty in a color I love. Plant it and they will come I’ve heard. That early and still a bit chilly May morning when I first sat with this plant I watched as the tiny bees did make their visits! Not all bees visit all plants. There are over 300 species of bees in CT so getting to know them all is a challenging task, especially with sizes ranging down to so tiny they are hard to distinguish. Yet, they are such an important part of keeping an ecosystem going, and unfortunately, they are declining. To learn more click on the link to “Pollinators in Connecticut” from the DEEP.…/Lear…/Pollinators-in-Connecticut

Some of the visitors to Jacob’s Ladder include honeybees, bumblebees, little carpenter bees, mason bees, cuckoo bees, Halictid bees, Andrenid bees, Giant Bee Fly, butterflies, skippers, moths, and aphids. Think Spring! Plan your gardens with at least some native perennials to enjoy through the changing seasons. Shop native at places like Earth Tones Nursery when they open in the spring or order seeds from such as Prairie Moon where you can see a map of natives for your area.

Explore the Native Plant Trust website where you can find so much information!

This morning I’m sitting at my computer by my second-floor window listening to the Red-shouldered Hawk call in the distance and watching the birds at my bird feeders. There is so much in our immediate area to keep us busy, safe from covid, and distracted from a world that has gone mad which we have little control over. Stay safe and well and enjoy all our blessings.

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