Posts Tagged ‘bumblebees’


Here’s Joe Crow, perched before a backdrop of Verbascum nigrum, or Black (or Dark) Mullein. Just coming into full bloom now, Black Mullein is one of my favorite garden plants. Its large basal leaves are dark green, with small hairs that give the leaves a soft, velvety feel. They start out quite large near the earth, and grow smaller as they march up the stalk until they give way to flowers. Each flower is tiny, about half an inch across, but there are plenty of them as they densely line the stem. The flowers features yellow petals and purple filaments tipped with orange anthers. The tallest plants are a statuesque 5 1/2 feet in height. Verbascum nigrum is a biennial, but self-seeds freely, so there is always a good display of flowers.


Charming as they are, none of those features are what really draw me to verbascum nigrum, however. That would be the bees. They absolutely adore this plant. First thing in the morning, the flowers are alive with bees, getting on with their day’s work. I always take time to stand and admire them for a few minutes. They pay me no heed. They’re far too busy.

Here’s a short clip of the morning visitation.

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As the last of the warm summer days come to an end, asters become the stars of field and roadside. This is appropriate because aster means star. The autumn is their time to shine. Asters are a prolific group and there are many different, closely-related species. To differentiate the different species requires a close examination of the leaves and stems. The most common aster around here is the purple New England aster (A. novae-angliae).


When I stopped to take a few photographs of asters, I noticed that one of the plants had flowers that were noticeably pinker than its more purplish neighbours. I’m not sure if this represents a different species or just individual variation.


There were also bushy plants of small white asters. These are likely the aptly named Small White Aster (A. vimineus). All of the asters had something in common, regardless of their colour. Bees. Every bush was alive with bumblebees collecting a late-season meal. It was a bit sad to think that both the bumblebees and the flowers were reaching the end of their days. Only the Queen bumblebees will hibernate and survive the winter.


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Bee on agastache

In the past week or two, the hydrangea bush has been a huge draw for bees and other pollinators. That’s not to say, however, that the pollinators aren’t visiting the rest of the garden. With the exception of daylilies, which I grow for their beautiful faces, I try to keep the birds and the bees in mind when choosing garden plants.

Bee on coneflower

It’s really the least one can do for them, considering what a heavy toll we take on their natural environment, one way and another.

Bee on astilbe

Pictured here are just a few of the garden flowers that attract bees and other pollinators.

Black swallowtail on monarda

Plants such as coreopsis and sunflowers and native grasses provide birds with a seed crop as well.

Bee on coreopsis

A selection of native plants is great, but I also have some non-natives that are very popular. By far the most bee-loved plant in the garden is Dark Mullein (verbascum nigrum). It is the European cousin of our native mullein. This biennial is short-lived, but seeds itself freely. In the spring, I noticed several large rosettes sprouting in a bare patch where I planted annuals last year.

The large leaves are rather weedy and course, but the rosettes expand at an amazing rate. I enjoyed watching the plants as they put out tall, stately flower stalks.

Each individual flower is quite small, but very colourful, with bright yellow petals setting off wine-pink centres and stamens. Once the flower stalks reach their blooming peak, they have a powerful presence in the garden.

At their peak, the flower stalks are hugely attractive to pollinators, especially bumblebees, who gather in large numbers each morning to collect the day’s bounty of nectar. No doubt, if they could vote, the bees would award Dark Mullein their “Pollinator’s Favorite” award. It is also pretty popular with the gardener.

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Autumn Wood

The daylily season has wound down to a few late blooms. The remaining flowers are still lovely, but the full blush of mid-summer has come and gone.

Flaming Wildfire

Although daylilies like Flaming Wildfire, above, and Golden Tycoon, below, certainly are eye-catching, the daylilies have been overtaken as the garden stars.

Golden Tycoon

The huge hydrangea bush at the corner of the house is now taking on the starring role.

Certainly, this is the case for visiting pollinators! From the time that the sun warms the morning air until late in the afternoon, the hydrangea plays host to a wide range of industrious insects. Spectators can stand next to the bush, ignored by the workers, and listen to and watch their comings and goings.

Many bumblebees, representing several species, set up a buzz, but there are many other insects at work, such as this honey bee.

This bee looks like a honey bee, but lacks the golden coloration.

There are paper wasps…

and yellowjackets,

and several different types of flies, such as this greenbottle (Lucilia sp).

After studying my Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America, I concluded this is probably a flesh fly, family Sarcophagidae.

I’m sure this is just a partial inventory of the pollinators that visit the hydrangea. The longer you stand and watch, the more you see. The bumblebees are my favorites. Below, you can see the salmon-coloured patch of pollen this bumblebee has accumulated.

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