I wrote at some length about bees in the October newsletter last year, but couldn’t resist sharing some interesting information I came across recently, especially for people who are keen to attract these important little creatures to their gardens.
On the Oregon State University blog, its Garden Ecology Lab talks about “pollinator syndromes”. This is a fancy scientific name for the flower characteristics that are attractive to pollinators such as bees and butterflies. It isn’t difficult to work out that colour and scent are important factors, but so are nectar guides (visual patterns on the flower), flower shape, and the amount and location of nectar and pollen.
According to the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (and I have no reason to think that this would not also apply here), bees are generally attracted to white, yellow and blue. They are also partial to flowers in shades of purple because, believe it or not, these give off ultra-violet light which makes them more visible to the bees. Apart from colour, the fragrances that bees like are described by the Garden Ecology Lab as “fresh, mild and pleasant”. And then, maybe because they work so hard all day long, they appreciate a shallow or tubular flower shape with a landing platform. How interesting! Perhaps these other qualities are what have the bees in my garden buzzing around the decidedly pink flowers of our Dombeya burgessaie.
Butterflies are attracted to red and purple flowers and a faint but fresh fragrance. They also like a wide landing pad (those big wings, you know...) and a narrow tube with a long spur – the kind of long extension that you see on nasturtium flowers, for example, that often houses the nectar that other less well equipped insects won’t be able to reach.
I decided to select the plants to feature in this newsletter with all this in mind. What a fun exercise! Please note, though, that not all these plants are in stock right now.
IN THE GARDEN
IN THE NURSERY
Click here to view all the plants featured in this newsletter.
· Indigenous plants
The fast growing Anisdontae scabrosa is one of my Stellenbosch Botanical Garden finds which grows beautifully in my Gauteng garden, reaching a height of about one metre. The large cup shaped pink flowers of this rounded shrub provide nectar for butterflies from spring to summer. Evergreen and hardy, it likes full sun and dry, sandy soil.
Bauhinia natalensis is a dainty rounded shrub with roundish two-lobed green leaves and crinkly scented white flowers in summer. One petal has a deep red stripe as a nectar guide for moths and butterflies. Evergreen and semi-hardy, it reaches an average height of 2 m and can take sun or semi-shade.
Loved by butterflies, the Egyptian star flower, Pentas lanceolata, has clusters of star shaped flowers all season. A multi-stemmed, evergreen and hardy shrub, it grows about 90 cm high and prefers semi shade. We have pink, white and red varieties in stock.
Carpenter bees (and birds) are attracted to the purple blue flowers of Rotheca myricoides cv Ugandense from spring to summer. This is a fast growing, evergreen and hardy shrub that makes a good screening plant as it grows about 2 m tall. It likes sun to semi shade.
· Exotic plants
The perennial Hummingbird plant, Dicleptera suberecta, has tubular red-orange flowers in summer that attract birds as well as bees and butterflies. This soft-stemmed groundcover has blue grey leaves that look like little fluffy rabbit ears and grows to a height of about 60 cm. Evergreen and very hardy, it likes sun to semi shade.
Passiflora Silly Cow is a gorgeous floriferous climber with deeply lobed dark green leaves and extremely large fragrant white flowers with central filaments of purple, blue and white - perfect nectar guides. Evergreen and very hardy, it flowers from summer to autumn and likes sun to semi shade. At an average height of 4 m, it is perfect for a trellis or arch, or as a screen. When our Passifloras were attacked by amaryllis borer, we picked off the worms and fed them to the chickens.
Another climber no garden should be without is the rare deciduous summer-flowering Rangoon creeper, Quisqualis indica. The white, pink and red flowers of this strong growing plant have a gorgeous scent. A researcher at the United States National Museum of Natural History has observed that bees visit the pink flowers, butterflies visit both the pink and the red, and moths visit the white flowers at night. Fascinating! Plant in full sun.
If the finely cut almost black foliage of the multi-stemmed Sambucus Black lace is not enough reason to have it in your garden, the insects will appreciate the panicles of fragrant white flowers in summer. This deciduous, very hardy shrub can take sun or semi shade but it wants moist soil. It reaches an average height of 2 m.
A big thank you to Gretchen Grenville of Grow Wild Indigenous Plants in Midrand for her wonderful lists of plants that attract or encourage bees, birds and butterflies. I have also enjoyed working through “Gardening for Butterflies” by Steve Woodall and Lindsay Gray – what a fabulous book!
Don’t miss the Aloe Festival at the Aloe Farm at Hartebeespoort from 20 June to 5 July. We were there about three weeks ago and the aloes were already a sight to behold.
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