[permaculture] NYT: Native plants attract pollinators better
rafter t. sass
rafter at liberationecology.org
Fri May 1 14:37:33 EDT 2009
Pretty significant findings for polyculture guilding...
rafter t. sass
The Liberation Ecology Project
> The New York Times
> April 30, 2009
> In the Garden
> Come Hither, Bumblebee, and Pollinate
> By ANNE RAVER
> MY native black cherry tree is covered with little white flowers,
> and if the bees and other pollinators do their job, I'll have plenty
> of sweet black cherries by midsummer.
> My Korean spicebushes (Viburnum carlesii) are also in full bloom,
> their clusters of pinkish-white flowers filling the air with the
> heady scent of cinnamon and honey. But it's striking how few bees
> are sipping nectar from these Asian shrubs compared with my native
> redbud and sassafras trees, which are literally vibrating with
> It bears out the research that Gordon Frankie, an entomologist at
> the University of California, Berkeley, has begun in gardens around
> that city, where he 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."
> My spicebushes don't seem to be among those pollinator favorites,
> but I would never trade them, or my Asian lilacs and peonies, for
> natives. So I am adding native plants wherever I can to feed the
> pollinators - in particular the native bees, because there are so
> many different species, and far fewer nonnative ones, like the
> European honeybee (Apis mellifera), which doesn't seem to be much in
> evidence around my old farm in Maryland these days.
> Douglas W. Tallamy, an ecologist at the University of Delaware, and
> the author of "Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain
> Wildlife in our Gardens" (Timber Press, 2007), inspired my new
> plantings. "We have 4,000 species of native bees in North America,"
> Mr. Tallamy said. "If we gave them food - flowering native plants -
> and a place to build their nests, they would be able to take up the
> slack from decreasing honeybee populations."
> While some native bees are particular about the plants they like,
> about half are generalists, scientists say, which explains why I see
> native bumblebees and mason bees on my pear tree, an Asian plant.
> And why my unmown yard is abuzz with pollinators, from tiny wasps
> and flies to solitary native bees, nuzzling the dandelions
> (transglobal weeds), violets (found throughout the temperate world)
> and clover (largely European).
> 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.
> Crops like tomatoes, peas and beans are self-pollinating, but they
> still have to be shaken by the wind or bees to release the pollen
> inside the flowers. Bumblebees and a few other native bees are able
> to vibrate the flower - something a European honeybee cannot do -
> shaking pollen from the stamens to the stigma, where it fertilizes
> the ovules that will become seeds inside a pod (think snap peas or
> green beans!) or fruit (juicy tomatoes! strawberries!). These bees
> also travel from flower to flower, cross-pollinating, which improves
> the vigor of plants and the size of that tomato.
> Other crops like the cucurbits - melons, cucumbers and squash - are
> entirely dependent on pollinators for fertilization, because they
> have separate male and female flowers.
> Both honeybees and natives do an excellent job of pollinating such
> plants when they are around, but all these pollinators are in
> serious decline from many stressors, and scientists suspect that
> habitat loss is key.
> David Salman, the founder and chief horticulturist at High Country
> Gardens, a mail-order nursery in Santa Fe, N.M., said he has noticed
> a big decrease in pollinators as the fields of wildflowers around
> his greenhouses have been developed.
> "I'm not getting the seed production I used to, because I'm
> physically cut off from pollinators," he said. "I am excited beyond
> words about this resurgence in home food production, but the big
> thing left out of the equation is bringing pollinators into these
> gardens, particularly in urban areas."
> In the kitchen garden, where many plants are a mix of European,
> Asian and American species, I don't worry so much about whether an
> herb or flower that attracts pollinators is native or not. I just go
> for diversity, and it all seems to work out.
> So I'm not going to give up my Mediterranean lavender, catmint,
> oregano or any of the other age-old plants imported to the New
> World. I'm just packing in more natives.
> In a wide border around the kitchen garden, I've planted Purple
> Smoke, a native baptisia or indigo, with charcoal stems and violet-
> blue flowers the same shape as those of the sugar-snap and snow peas
> climbing a nearby fence. And I've put in two indigo plants, rather
> than one, to get a good six-foot-wide clump, because according to my
> "Pollinator Conservation Handbook" (Xerces Society/The Bee Works,
> 2003), native pollinators are more likely to home in on flowers when
> they're in masses at least four feet across.
> I've put in more native coneflowers, too: Echinacea purpurea, the
> purple coneflower, and E. paradoxa, the yellow coneflower, as well
> as black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and Rudbeckia maxima, the so-
> called cabbage-leaf coneflower, a six-foot plant with big blue-green
> leaves and bright yellow flowers.
> "I love the purple coneflowers and rudbeckias, the ratibidas, or
> prairie coneflowers, which are all wonderful for bumblebees," Mr.
> Salman said. "If you have melons and squash, plant these right in
> the patch."
> Other native perennials that provide plenty of nectar and pollen
> include giant hyssop, coreopsis, larkspur, Joe-pye weed, blanket
> flower, sunflower, lupine, evening primrose, poppy, penstemon,
> salvia and sedum. Annual and biennial flowers like milkweed, spider
> flower, cosmos, poppy, mullein, daisy and verbena also draw
> pollinators. So do wild roses and blueberry bushes, raspberry and
> blackberry brambles, elderberry and sumac, and nonnative herbs like
> lavender, mint, basil, marjoram, rosemary, borage and lantana.
> And don't forget late-summer favorites like goldenrod and asters.
> Ecologists are encouraging home gardeners to experiment with all
> these plants, and to observe what pollinates what. It's as
> fascinating as bird-watching.
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