To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
 One clover, and a bee, And revery.
 The revery alone will do, If bees are few      – Emily Dickinson
bee on gold sedum late June - Copy

Tiny native bee on gold sedum

When I first moved in to my present residence, there were neglected flower gardens and poorly maintained landscapes that did not seem to attract nor support many insects or even birds. The expression “out goes the old and in comes the new” is an appropriate aphorism for what needed to be done. The not so modest enterprise my sister and I undertook was to establish a more useful environment for pollinators, butterflies and birds. The emphasis would be mostly on pollinators, as the birds already there seemed happy enough. As butterflies often share the same flowers with bees we assumed we would attract them as well.

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Out with the old…

We were able to rip out most of the plants, whether shrubs or perennials, that were really not important food sources for most pollinators, and we concentrated the first year on putting a majority of native plants like elderberry, currant, Joe-pye weed, boneset, blue curls, bloodroot, May-apple, trillium, blueberry, winterberry, Asclepias, Aronia (chokeberry), mountain mint, goldenrod and turtlehead. We also included non-native perennials that bees love like blue giant hyssop, Caryopteris (bluebeard) obedient plant, Veronicas, and yarrow.

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…in with the new

The first year we saw quite a few species of bees, especially sweat bees and all kinds of bumblebees. We also had the handsome Colletes inaequalis bees, who visited the early spring flowers like dandelions, henbit, willow and maple. They actually built their solitary ground nests in the neighbor’s sandy soils, but stopped by our nearby flowers. We also had honeybees, from who-knows where. Since bees active in the fall were already there, a couple of native witch hazels were also added.

Bluebeard caryopteris

Bluebeard, or Caryopteris, attracts all kinds of bees

native bee on blue giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum

Native bee on blue giant hyssop Agastache foeniculum

 

frittlary and bumblebee on white swamp milkweed

Fritillary and bumblebee on swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata

The second year we put in some annuals that flower from early summer through fall. Lantana, cosmos, Euphorbia (‘Diamond Dust’ and ‘Diamond Frost’ are really good cultivars), petunias, sweet alyssum, salvias (pink and black and blue varieties that really attract lots of bee species as well as hummingbirds) and zinnias. Non-native perennials yarrow, coreopsis and Echinacea were also added. Perennials are even better the second year, and many more species of bees were seen throughout the second season.

Bombus hortorum on milkw3eeedpg

Bombus ssp. on common milkweed

It is often difficult to tell native bee species apart. For instance, the tiny Halictidae family sweat bees that are metallic green can be hard to sort out. A good reference book for identifying bees and learning about the flowers they like and nesting sites they need is “ The Bees in Your Backyard” by Joseph S. Wilson and Olivia Messinger Carril. There are good photographs of the bees, and also maps showing where they can be found in North America. Good anecdotes are also a feature of this book. Douglas W. Tellamy wrote “Bringing Nature Home’, a must-read for anyone concerned about supporting wildlife through thoughtful native plant selection.

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excellent resource books

Here is a link to the University of Maine’s bulletin on “ Understanding Native Bees, the Great pollinators; Enhancing Their Habitat in Maine ” https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/7153e/. This is suitable information for those of us who live in Connecticut, as the same native bees are found here as well.

echinacea

bumblebees and American lady butterfly on purple coneflower Echinacea purpurea

Many bees are important keystone species who have an essential role in maintaining diversity in ecosystems. This is because they pollinate the flowers they will later bear fruits that will support other fauna in the system. And whatever is not eaten will fall to the ground, where the seed will produce more plants, allowing a landscape that is sustainable(as long as there is no human interference to its natural continuation). If you can provide nesting and food sources for bees that are nearby your property, that will help the birds and other fauna that share the same territory.

fabulous garden- summer phlox, rudbeckia, daisies

Fabulous pollinator plant combination- summer phlox, daisies, Rudbeckia

It has been four years since the renovations in my own gardens, lawn and landscapes. Perennials are now well established, native cherries have been planted to support both bees and other creatures, and a few more plants are popped in as we see what bees we have and what flowers they may also like. There are pollen and nectar sources from spring to fall, so many bee species that are active at different times of year will find what they need. This last summer, there were many species of bees that seemed to be new- at least we had never seen them. We had leaf-cutter and mason bees, all sorts of bumblebees and sweat bees, Hylaeus masked bees, and others.

sweat bee on aster

Halictidae sweat bee on aster

If you are looking to add some plants to your own landscape, consider choosing something that will be enjoyable for you and then useful the native bees. Sort of a dual purpose, double-for-your-trouble investment. Itea virginica, ‘Henry’s garnet’, is a beautiful sweetspire shrub with cascading white flower spikes that are very attractive to all kinds of bees and butterflies. Tree hydrangeas, Hydrangea paniculata, are a great late summer pollen and nectar source for native bees, and Rose- of Sharon is another. They are beautiful to look at and serve a good purpose for our little native heroes of the natural world.

Pamm Cooper

Hydrangea paniculata dwarfing a visitor to Wickham Park, Manchester 2017

Hydrangea paniculata -tree hydrangea

Goldenrods and Spotted Joe-pye at the entrance to Harkness Park in Waterford September14, 2015

Goldenrods and Spotted Joe-pye at the entrance to Harkness Park in Waterford September14, 2015

My tent stands in a garden
Of aster and goldenrod,
Tilled by the rain and the sunshine,

And sown by the hand of God, –   Bliss William Carman

Goldenrods, Solidago ssp., form one of the most interesting interrelationships between flora and fauna of the late- season flowering plants in New England.  The name solidago is from two Latin words meaning  “ to make” and “ whole”, referring to its use as herbal remedies in the form of teas or compresses, among other uses. Goldenrods are perennial herbs that are members of the Asteraceae, or aster, family. Flowering in August and September they are often found blooming together with the Joe-pyes and asters. The time of year that they bloom has made them a scapegoat for many allergy sufferers who believe  they are to blame them for symptoms that are actually due to the ragweeds that flower at the same time.

The colorful brown-hooded owlet caterpillar that feed on goldenrod flower buds as well as leaves

The colorful brown-hooded owlet caterpillar that feed on goldenrod flower buds as well as leaves

Goldenrods naturally produce rubber, the Solidago altissima, or Tall Goldenrod being the champ at 6.34.%  rubber content. Thomas Edison experimented with a cultivation process to increase rubber content in these plants. George Washington Carver and Henry Ford devised a process to make a much- needed rubber substitute during World War II using goldenrods.

Goldenrods have a unique type of inflorescence that consists of many tiny flowers that aggregate together in a flower head and form a “ false flower”. The individual flowers are most commonly in the form of ray flowers or disk flowers. Identification of species is often done by observing the hairs on the seeds, which may be visible when the plant is still in flower. Goldenrods vary in height, with the tallest (Solidago altissima) at six feet. Some, such as Solidago odora (Sweet Goldenrod) have pleasant odors.

Honey bee on Downy Goldenrod

Honey bee on Downy Goldenrod

One of the most common goldenrods in New England is the Canada goldenrod, Solidago Canadensis. It is considered alleopathic to sugar maple seedlings, producing chemicals that inhibit their growth. Habitat is disturbed areas- meadows and fields or roadsides. This is a tall plant with hairy stems and a plume flower arrangement. It is associated with the goldenrod  gall fly, Eurosta solidaginis, whose larva feed inside a round gall on the stem which is formed by the reaction of the plant to the larva’s saliva. You can easily find these galls when green or later in the season when stalks turn brown. The larva chew an exit hole before the plant tissue hardens up for the winter. In the spring, the adult fly will exit through this hole. Downy woodpeckers and chickadees will peck at these galls to access the larva, especially in harsh winters.

Goldenrod bunch gall and goldenrod fly gall.

Goldenrod bunch gall and goldenrod fly gall.

Tiger Swallowtail on Canada Goldenrod

Tiger Swallowtail on Canada Goldenrod

Licorice goldenrod, Solidago odora, has a licorice or anise, scent and the leaves were used in a tea by the Cherokee for colds, coughs, and fevers. This plant is found in the southernmost parts of the New England states, but is absent in Maine. Found in woodlands, along roadsides, disturbed sites and old fields, the flowers have been used to make deep yellow dyes and attract beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewings.

Solidago bicolor, white goldenrod, is found at the edges of woodlands. It is also sometimes called “ silver rod “ in reference to its white flowers, the only goldenrod with white flowers in the eastern part of the country. The stamens and pollen will give it a slightly yellow look. Sometimes the spectacular brown hooded owlet caterpillar can be found on this plant where it primarily eats the flower buds and flowers. Found more often on goldenrods with longer flower spikes, this caterpillar is a favorite  of many lepidopterists.

Silverrod on woodland edge

Silverrod on woodland edge

Solidago juncea, or early goldenrod, gets its common name from its bloom time, which can be as much as a month prior to many other goldenrod species. This attractive, slender plant has a very delicate appearance, and can be distinguished from other goldenrods by the lack of, or near lack, on the stems and leaves. White-tailed deer, woodchucks, cottontail rabbits and livestock may feed on the plant if less desirable food is available.

Goldenrods provide a source of seeds for Eastern Goldfinch, Tree, Swamp and Song Sparrows as well as some migrating warblers such as the Yellow- rumped warblers.

There are many insects and other arthropods that rely on goldenrods for survival. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, cucumber beetles and many others visit flowers for nectar and pollen. Blister beetles are often found on these plants in the late summer and early fall. Butterflies of many species benefit from the long nectar season provided by goldenrods that provide bloom in succession for two months. Migratory butterflies especially depend on this food source as they travel south. Many beneficial insects, such as soldier beetles and assassin bugs use the flowers as either food sources or hideouts, where they wait to ambush other insects. If you see a butterfly hanging upside down without moving, check and see if an ambush bug or crab spider is feeding on it. Caterpillars such as the Asteroid and Brown-hooded Owlet, aphids, tarnished plant bugs, and many other insects feed on flowers, stems and leaves. Wasps, goldenrod and crabr spiders, praying mantids, lacewings, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, spined soldier bugs and birds prey on insects that visit or live on the plants.

Asteroid Caterpillar- named for the family of plants it feeds on.

Asteroid Caterpillar- named for the family of plants it feeds on.

Chinese mantids also hang out around goldenrods, and often lay their egg masses on its stems. Look for these in the winter if heavy snows haven’t mashed the plants into the ground. I sometimes take a stem with the mantid egg case and stick it in my garden. The mantids usually emerge by mid- May.

There is a great interconnection between goldenrods, vertebrates and invertebrates, and nature reveals such things to the careful observer. If you happen upon some goldenrod, or seek it out on purpose, just a few moments of careful observation will be rewarded with a peek into the drama that is on display in a simple stand of yellow flowers.

Pamm Cooper                               All photos © 2015 Pamm Cooper