Colorado Pollinator Garden

Happy spring!  I often get the question, “what can I do to really help pollinators?”  My response is always to encourage people to plant more flowers.  These flowers must be pesticide free to really be of any use to “helping” pollinators, and a tri-season blooming garden is most helpful, as there can be dry spells otherwise, leaving little to no food sources for our pollinating friends.

Lucky for you, Colorado is nearing the “safe” time to plant, and I thought it would be beneficial to share with you a list I have compiled to for pollinator gardens in Colorado yards!

I did some research to construct a garden consisting of food for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, as well as many other pollinators in Colorado.  Additionally, I have chosen plants that would bloom at varying times to provide food for pollinators from spring to fall.

Here’s the list:

Lavender

Yarrow

Turkish Veronica

Dalmation daisy

Catmint (bees of all sizes congregate on this plant)

Hissop/Agastache (of any variety, especially the red ones)

Coneflowers

Columbines

Hummingbird trumpet mint

Chocolate flower

Smooth blue aster

Cashmere sage

Russian sage

Bluebeard

Rabbitbrush

Mountain Mahogany

Sedum

Yucca 

And here are some more with pictures for your enjoyment!

img_4848Sunflowers are always wonderful for pollinators, and later for songbirds.

img_4447Salvia 

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Lupine

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Bee Balm

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Blanket Flower

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Penstemon

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White Aster

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Black-eyed Susans 

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Wildflower mix from BBBseed

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It’s the perfect time to get a plan together for planting in just a few weeks!  And with Colorado Pollinator Month on the horizon (JUNE), it would be good to have flowers blooming in your yard so you can snap some pictures of pollinators and join the #pollinateCO campaign across the state.  Let’s recognize the creatures that make our state colorful.  Look for these posters across the state this June.  At the end of May go to coloradopollinatormonth.com for a list of events related to pollinators.

12 x18 CO Pol Month Poster

If you like to plant seeds, bbbseed, a company based out of Boulder, has some wonderful seed mixes that produce beautiful flowers all three seasons too!

Come join the movement and help our pollinators!!

#pollinateCO #thebeeswaggle

Leafcutter bees are great craftswomen!

 

With a name like leaf cutter, you would think these bees are scary for plants, but they only use what they need.  A leaf cutter bee will carefully carve a half-moon shape out of broad leaves or petals to fashion egg cells for her young, and the size of that cut corresponds to the size of the leaf cutter species.  One leaf cutter variety is around 1″ long, while the other is roughly 1/4″ long.  So, if you see different sizes on your leaves, you have different varieties of leaf cutters in your yard.

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If you see half-moon cuts like this one in your broad leaf plants, you have leaf cutter bees living in your yard.

Leaf cutter bees will use flower petals too!

Leaf-cutter bees are another native species of bees found in most parts of North America. They are smaller than a honeybee, and have darker stripes paired with pastel yellow colored stripes across the abdomen.

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The scientific name for this species is Megachilidae, and their name says it all, they do cut leaves for a purpose. They get their name from the way they use pieces of leaves to form egg cells which they then store in long, hollow cavities.  They use a glue-like substance from glands near their mouths to sew pieces of leaves together, which they have carved from leaves of lilacs and other broad-leafed plants. The shape is that of a half-moon, and the size of the piece they take is very consistent. They only take as much as they need, never destroying the plants from which they take the leaf fragments.

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This is what the inside of a leaf cutter bee nesting hole looks like, as seen in our observation house (soon to be available again).

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A row of beautifully crafted nesting cells from my leafcutter bee house.

Leafcutter bees are a solitary breed, like the mason bee. This translates into a more docile creature with nothing to defend but her life. So the only time she would sting would be to defend her life, and this is a rare occurrence, making her a very welcoming guest in your own yard!  I have spent many minutes peering into the nesting blocks while these busy bees fly in and out going about their nesting business.  I never once felt threatened by them, and in fact, felt ignored, entirely!  This is also true of the nature of mason bees.

 

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There is one row capped with leaves! And there is a leafcutter bee going into another row to nest.

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Here she is coming out!

Unlike mason bees, leaf-cutter bees will do their own excavating of soft rotting wood, or holes in thick stemmed plants, and in any conveniently located crevice.  They also like having conveniently located nesting blocks with inviting holes as well, and we have had success with them nesting in ours.  Nesting blocks need protection, so they must be paired with a nice house, and we have many options.

Like mason bees, leafcutter bees are very good pollinators compared to the honey bee, because of where they carry pollen.  One leaf-cutter bee can pollinate at least what 20, and even up to 40, honey bees can pollinate. Leaf-cutter bees do not have pollen carrying baskets on their hind legs, but they do carry lots of pollen via static cling created by the hairs on their abdomen called scopa. The way they visit flowers is much like the mason bees, diving into the pollen as they fly from flower to flower. This technique sets them apart from honeybees and makes them very effective pollinators.

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Look at all that pollen on this leaf cutter bee’s abdomen!

Finally, leaf-cutter bees do not make honey, but they cultivate quite the production of food sources, as well as flower seed production, through their fierce pollinating efforts, and it would be foolish not to recognize this talent useful to us as humans. Like the honeybee, leafcutter bees, along with all other species of bees, need our help!  Become a great host to these fascinating creatures, along with other species of pollinators, by setting up a complete habitat for them this season.

Thank you for joining the movement!

Moth to Yucca to People

This week I have the opportunity to teach children about the benefits pollinators presented to the Pueblo People, and I know you will enjoy this topic just as much, so here it goes!

YUCCA POLLINATION

Yucca plants rely on yucca moths to pollinate them, and yucca moths rely on yucca to feed their young.

Obligate mutualism is the name of the game with the yucca: yucca moth relationship.  One cannot survive without the other.

IMG_5993Female Yucca moth collecting pollen from the anther of a yucca bloom.

Yucca blooms open early summer, inviting visitors with sweet nectar and shelter within its petals.

Yucca blooms release the most concentrated scent at night, and produce the most nectar in the evening hours, and reason for this, is their most important pollinator flies at night.

Yucca moths fly at night, making them nocturnal. They search for a yucca bloom to take refuge in, and scent plays a large role in moths finding the blooms.  Inside the yucca bloom, the yucca moths will mate.

Once mated, the female yucca moth will collect pollen from the anthers on the yucca bloom, and store it under her chin.

She will then fly to another yucca bloom, lay a few eggs, and deposit some pollen from under her chin onto the stigma of the bloom where her eggs will hatch.  She knows this will result in seeds.

The larvae of the yucca moths feed on the seeds of yucca plants.  The mother moth knows to lay only a few eggs in each bloom, so the bloom doesn’t abort and fail to feed her young.

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Yucca larvae feeding on the seeds inside a yucca fruit.

In many cases, pollinators do not know they are pollinating flowers to form seeds, but this clever girl is very much aware of her purpose for the yucca plant.  Her efforts benefit more than just her young. 

YUCCA AND THE PUEBLO PEOPLE

The Pueblo people used the yucca plant from top to bottom!

The blooms are sweet, and can be eaten straight off the plant.  Those blooms will also become a tasty fruit that can be eaten alone or paired with other foods.

IMG_5925Yucca bloom wide open for visitors.

The leaves are tough and fibrous, and can be shredded down to pieces perfect for weaving baskets, sandals, and blankets.

IMG_5955Yucca plant bearing a row of seed pods.

The tips of those fibrous leaves are sharp, and can be used as needles for sewing.

The roots of yucca plants make excellent soap and shampoo when ground into a pulp and mixed with a little water.  The roots can also be used as a remedy for rashes and sores.  They can be eaten, but have a soapy flavor.

yucca root and pulpYucca root and its’ pulp.

This pollinator isn’t a bee, but very important nevertheless! What a plant, and what a moth!

Thank you for joining the movement!

Jessica

Mason Bee Larva!

Check out this video to spy some live mason bee larva.

Below is a picture of the inside of my observation native bee house.  You are looking at two males nestled in the top rows resting, and three individual egg cells filled with pollen and nectar, and separated by mud in the bottom rows.  This is before the eggs hatched into larva, and the video I took tonight shows the larva, which are growing more chubby every day.  The next phase will be the larva spinning a cocoon around themselves to develop into pupa and then adults, which will emerge next March.  This is so cool watching the entire process!

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Making History

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In 2017 I find myself busier than ever toiling away at raising awareness for pollinators, many of which are insects that people generally dismiss as nuisances. Everyday I rise with the sun and begin pondering ways to reach people regarding the importance of pollinators, and many of my days I don’t have the privilege of witnessing the fruits of this labor, but I press on nevertheless, in hopes of reaching even the smallest of numbers to promote positive change.  I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing people on this journey who are also tirelessly toiling away for change.

2016 marked the beginning of my involvement with, and the establishment of the Colorado Pollinator Network, and what a wonderful journey this has been! We are looking forward to establishing the first annual Colorado Pollinator Month, which will take place in June of every year.  Our goal is to create state-wide awareness around pollinators to bring about positive change for pollinator species in our state.  My team on the Education and Outreach Workgroup has been working to invite as many entities as we can to help raise awareness during the month of June, and I cannot tell you how thankful I am for my team!

I am so very lucky to be working on Colorado Pollinator Month with:

Amanda Accamando (co-chairs the Education and Outreach Workgroup with me) of Hudson Gardens, Angela Jewett of Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, Rebecca Coon of CU Museum of Natural History, Jane Crayton of CSU Extension of Pueblo, Deryn Davidson of CSU Extension of Boulder, Jessica Romer of Denver Urban Gardens,  of Audubon Rockies, Greta Mae of BBBSeeds.

All the hard work we have been putting in has been supported by Public Policy and Advocacy Workgroup of the Colorado Pollinator Network.  They brought a proclamation  to make Colorado Pollinator Month official, and thus a lasting mark on our state, to Governor John Hickenlooper, and he signed it!

When my family heard this news our house erupted with celebratory cheering!  My team of awesome go-getters were overjoyed.  This is a moment I will never forget, and I will always smile when June rolls around in Colorado, because we have already begun making history for pollinators!

Now, let’s do this!  Look for #pollinateCO to see the happenings for pollinators in June, and tag some pollinator photos of your own too.

12 x18 CO Pol Month Poster

I am buzzing with excitement, and determined to keep this state beautiful.

Jessica