Posts Tagged ‘pollinators’


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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I love this photograph of two pollinators visiting summer flowers. That’s a honeybee on the left, and a big, fat bumblebee on the right. I love to watch bees, all kinds of bees, and other pollinators enliven my garden. But you have probably heard that honey bees are severely threatened by a syndrome that has been named Colony Collapse Disorder. Although multiple causes may be implicated, the smoking gun points to one major culprit: neonicotinoid pesticides. And you can bet that it’s not just honeybees that are being affected. Other pollinators, birds and aquatic life are all at risk as well.


In Europe, precautionary bans of some neonicotinoids are being instituted.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association is supporting a call for a ban of neonicotinoids in Ontario. The banner, above, is from their website. You can sign their petition and read more information at ontariobee.com.

The Sierra Club of Canada is also supporting a ban. You can sign their petition and read more information at Sierraclub.ca.


The American Bird Conservancy have looked into the effect of neonicotinoids on birds.

ABC commissioned world-renowned environmental toxicologist Dr. Pierre Mineau to conduct the research. The 100-page report, “The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds,” reviews 200 studies on neonicotinoids including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The report evaluates the toxicological risk to birds and aquatic systems and includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.

The beauty of bees and the desperate crisis that threatens them, and by extension, us, is documented in the award-winning video, The Vanishing of the Bees. I was able to borrow a copy from my local library and highly recommend it.


Another source is David Suzuki’s Nature of Things special, To Bee or Not to Bee. If you missed this show, you can still watch it online. Time well-spent.


In addition to becoming informed and supporting a ban on neonicotinoids, you can help by buying local organic honey. Did you know that a lot of commercial honey isn’t pure? It has been ultra-filtered to disguise ingredients:

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.

Food Safety News found that more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores had been ultra-filtered.

Note: additional images here are copied from my facebook page where they arrived from unknown sources.


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In April, I wrote about the pruning of my very large hydrangea bush in a post entitled Before and After. What a difference! It seemed that the rambunctious bush had been brought into hand. However, just a few months later, the hydrangea is every bit as large and boisterous as it ever was.


And as always, the bush is a magnet drawing a host of pollinators. Bumblebees are the most numerous visitors. On a sunny day, the hydrangea seems to have a voice of its own, with countless bees at work on its lovely white flower heads setting the bush abuzz.


You’ll find a selection of pollinators portrayed on last year’s post, Pollinator’s Choice. Butterflies love the hydrangea flowers as well. A Question Mark, Viceroy, Northern Crescent and Viceroy were all featured last year in Butterflies Too. To that list, I can add an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma). It is very similar to the Question Mark. Both are named for the small silvery ‘punctuation marks’ on the under-surface of their hind wings.


The Eastern Comma lacks the dot that gives the Question Mark its name. Here’s a photo of the Question Mark from last year’s post for comparison.

The silhouette of the closed wings also demonstrates the source of a common name for these butterflies: anglewings. Below is a photo of the Eastern Comma with wings spread.


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Agastache 'Heatwave', left, with helenium and 'Blue Fortune' Giant Hyssop

One of the garden visitors that I especially enjoy seeing is the Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) moth. These amazing fliers are like miniature hummingbirds, moving from flower to flower and hovering at each bloom as they search for nectar. Also called Hawk Moths, they are often attracted to phlox, and I photographed the moth below in the early summer as it visited woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata).


Recently, they have been regular visitors at the ‘Heatwave’ agastache. All of the agastache (pronounced ag-ah-STAK-ee as per Fine Gardening magazine) are popular with pollinators. For an account of bees at the agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ Giant Hyssop, follow this link to Bee Happy. ‘Heatwave’ is a little different from ‘Blue Fortune’, having long, tubular hot-pink flowers that the moths seem to find irresistable.


This passage is from a June, 2009 post. You can read the full entry here. Additional photos of moths at ‘Heatwave’ agastache follow.

Hummingbird Clearwing moths (Hemaris thysbe) are quite common and widespread. When you think of moths, the creatures that first come to mind might be the drab little characters that flutter around your porch light at night, but some moths fly by day. The Hummingbird Clearwing is also sometimes called a Hawkmoth, and is a member of the Sphinx moth family. Sphinx moths are fast, powerful fliers. The Hummingbird Clearwing has narrow wings with a dark band surrounding the translucent centre that gives this moth its name. Sphinx caterpillars are called hornworms because they typically have a short “horn” on their posterior end. Most hornworms don’t spin a cocoon but pupate in an earthen cell, built from leaf litter, just below the soil surface.





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Colewort (Crambe cordifolia) is one of the delights of the early summer garden. Its charm never diminishes. Every year, it is just as amazing to see its cloud of blooms as it was the previous summer. When the first shoots of its big, dark green leaves appear in the spring, they give no hint of what is to come. Indeed, the low-growing mass of rather rugged leaves, resembling a rhubarb plant, borders on ugly. But then something surprising happens. From this unprepossessing beginning, tall, graceful branches spring upward and produce an airy mass of tiny white flowers. The effect has been compared to a giant gypsophilia, Baby’s Breath on steroids!


The flowers are heavily scented and draw a host of pollinators. Each tiny flower has four petals and 6 stamens, identifying the plant as a member of the mustard or cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Its family connection to cabbage is suggested by its common name, cole…think coleslaw…and wort, an Old English word for flower: Cabbage Flower. Colewort is also known as Giant Sea Kale.

The basal leaves don’t require a lot of space, but its tall flower stalks, five feet tall and four feet wide, form an impressive crown. If you have a roomy spot available in your perennial bed, Crambe cordifolia is a worthwhile addition. It is a long-lived plant that you will enjoy year after year.


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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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