Pursuit of the Perfect Pollinator Post

Last week, the New York Times trumpeted: Come Hither, Bumblebee, and Pollinate. The article went on to discuss the benefits of native plants for attracting pollinators. "Gordon Frankie, an entomologist at the University of California, Berkeley ... and his students have surveyed 1,000 different plants, both native and nonnative. 'Only 50 were native plants, but of that 50, 80 percent were attractive to pollinators,' Professor Frankie said. 'In contrast, only 10 percent of the 950 nonnatives were attractive to pollinators.' " The author of the NYT article goes on to say "So don’t be too quick to mow. Those so-called weeds are important sources of food for pollinators, which need protein and sugar to build up their populations. We need to keep feeding them from early spring to hard frost if we want vigorous, well-pollinated plants."

I'm a little puzzled that the author still assumes that native plants are the ugly weeds, to be kept only to get the cucumbers going, while the exotics are the beauties. My ceanothus, finally in bloom in the picture above, clearly refutes that myth. But regardless, it's encouraging when even the NYT takes note of natives and of pollinators. So, this afternoon, I set myself the goal of preparing the perfect pollinator post.

Here's what I hadn't realized, though. While I have a lot of bees, photographing bees is probably just as difficult as herding fleas. Maybe more so. Above are two bees on the ceanothus, a rare lucky shot. I ended up with 20+ ceanothus close-ups, and only 3 or 4 had bees in them. Usually they'd moved to the underside of the blossoms just as I pressed the button.

It was a little easier with the poppies. Native bees truly love poppies, rolling around in the open blossom and sometimes falling out as if drunk. It's really fun to watch.

Columbine was not as popular, so I was left with just one bee (to the left of the bottom plant) after quite a bit of waiting and watching. Well, not a native columbine. I'm curious whether the native columbine, almost ready to open its bud, will be more popular. Back to the ceanothus.

Then I got smarter and changed turned the dial on the camera to the picture of a runner, which I believe changed the shutter speed. I was rewarded with a nice close-up of a bee. You can really see the orage pollen she has gathered on her legs.

Now, this was going to be the part of the post where I have educational links and information about native bees. Interestingly, a lot of the articles are mainly about getting your watermelon or zuccini pollinated. But Bay Nature Magazine has a very interesting article that makes me want to learn more.

What I do know is that bees are short of habitat because we remove old trees that have holes in them. So this spring I asked Mr. Wood Mouse, who lives up in the country with Ms. Country Mouse, to make me a bee house. He actually made two, so each Mouse has one in her garden. Here's mine. Thanks again Mr. Wood Mouse, I much appreciate it.

Native bees are not at all aggressive, so I really hope they'll enjoy the house and move in. I actually added a set of smaller holes to the house shortly after the picture was taken so that bees of different sizes can find a comfortable abode. I was also pleased to see bee houses for sale at this year's CNPS plant sale. And it's fun to look at the German posts about wild bees. Those posts show a Wildbienenwand, which is a wall for wild bees, that has been put up by a group.

For now, I'm waiting for the first occupants. And it may be a while. To my great amusement, I saw a bee crawl into the hole in the bamboo trellis just a few days after I'd put up the bee house. I tried to reason with her, but she would have none of it. Maybe her sisters will move into the house, providing entertainment for me and maybe pollinating some tomatoes for my neighbor.


ryan said…
The NY Times writer sounds a little bit like a sportswriter who got transferred to home and garden. I like the bee house, hope you reach maximum occupancy.
I think the ceanothus is very pretty. I think a lot of people think natives aren't very pretty. I've been looking at our states natives and found lots of them with very pretty flowers.
Good luck with the bee house! I have some that have moved into a birdhouse, not really where I want them, but maybe they'll make sure the pear trees get pollinated.
I love how bees look fuzzy and pettable up close! I like a variety of pollinators and have a variety of plants, some native, some not. I love beneficial insects!
Country Mouse said…
You know where they are appreciative of California native plants in the garden?

Aiyana said…
Good luck with your bee house, and I hope we both get some occupants soon. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. It's always good to see what others are doing with the same goal in mind.
Barbara E said…
Is your Ceanothus 'Concha'?

Great posting - so much info. I am really excited about the bee house. Maybe I can get my daughter to make it when she comes home from college - she's more handy than I am. I'll be sure to put a "for rent for b's" sign on it so the bees know that it is there for them to occupy.

I couldn't agree with you more that the native plants are beautiful - and the native bees are so cool!!!
Great post! Whether the NYT got it right or not, at least they're waking up to the worth of natives.

It's mason bees who live in that kind of house, isn't it? That's what I dimly recall.

Loved the bee photos. They are hard. My own tactic is: wide aperture, fast shutter, sit very quietly and keep shooting, one of them will probably work.
Anonymous said…
Its amazing to me how fast sustainable and native gardening terms are catching on. A year ago, if I had mentioned creating a pollinator garden or using pollinator plants to a client, they would have thought I was talking about some exotic new fertilizer. Now it seems almost mainstream (although sadly people still confuse bees with wasps and yellowjackets, so think they are garden pests).
red studio said…
I would love to see drunken bees rolling around in a poppy. I will have to pay more attention. Thank you for the post and excellent blog.
Town Mouse said…
Barbara, that's a ceanothus ceanothus thyrsiflorus 'Blue Jeans'. Relatively low growing, and seems happy so far. Garden chick, I certainly confuse bees, wasps, yellow jackets, and bumble bees myself. There are actually CA native wasps, who knew ;-> So much to learn.