Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bees on the Prairie

A few weeks ago, I added a post about the butterflies that visit my prairie. Where there are butterflies, there are almost always bees because they both are attracted to the same flowers for nectar. Bees also collect the pollen from the flowers, like this bumble bee (probably a carpenter bee according to Kim at Texas Bee Watchers) on Mexican hat in the photo below.

It is surprising how many people there are that do not realize how important bees are. Many of our food crops require bees and other insects for pollination. Without these insects, the pollen is not distributed and the plant may not produce fruit. In parts of China, people must hand pollinate the flowers on pear trees because there are no bees.

Sadly, misinformed and uninformed people want to kill bees because they are afraid of them. There is no reason to be afraid of bees. Sure they can sting, but they will not bother you unless you bother them. They are too busy flying from flower to flower to collect pollen to think about you.

I recently heard about the Texas Bee Watchers website. The website promotes awareness of native bees and gives suggestions for attracting and maintaining bees. Earlier this year, the website challenged Texans to plant 52 bee gardens in 52 weeks. The year is almost over and they only have nine certified bee gardens listed on their website.

My suburban prairie has been around for a couple of years and continues to grow as I remove more of the turf grass and plant more native prairie grasses, flowers, shrubs and trees. It is always buzzing with a variety of bees and is already certified as a wildlife habitat and a monarch waystation, so I am submitting my prairie for consideration as a certified bee garden too.

Here is a look back to warmer days and some of the bees and other pollinators that visit my prairie. I do not know all of their names, but I am learning. At the end of the post are several plants and features of my prairie that attract bees.

This is a view into the backyard prairie. The snow on the prairie in the center attracts a number of pollinators in late summer.

In the front yard prairie are several flowers that attract bees at different time of the year. Starting at the top left of this photo are red yucca, datura, Gregg's mistflower, zexmenia, cowpen daisy, Mexican buckeye, mealy blue sage, scarlet sage, four nerve daisy, chocolate daisy, and Gregg dalea. In the background is a crepe myrtle in a neighbor's yard. It has lots of flowers, but they are not particularly attractive to bees.

Here is a close up of the mealy blue sage and scarlet sage in the above photo. If you look closely, there is a bumble bee (possibly a carpenter bee as well) on the mealy blue sage. 

Here is a European honeybee sipping nectar on gayfeather.

This bee is collecting something on little bluestem. The grass was full of bees doing the same on this day. I had never noticed bees taking an interest in grass before.

I think these are some type of mason bee (possibly longhorn bees - named for their long antenna - according to Kim). They appear in the yard early in the season and spend the day collecting pollen. At night, they cluster together on plants in the backyard and kick the pollen off of their legs. I feel sorry for them. It seems like they are missing something in their lives. Maybe a home? They did not show any interest in the mason bee house I bought for them. Anyone know what they are and what they need? They come back every year and disappear sometime during the summer.

Here is a bee collecting pollen on four nerve daisy.

This wasp is on Gregg's mistflower.

Frostweed attracts many pollinators when it blooms in late summer.

Here is another wasp on frostweed.

I think this is a fly. It looks a lot like a bee. The flower is fragrant mistflower.

This is probably some kind of fly too. It is on a zexmenia flower.
Here is a list of some of the favorite bee plants on my prairie:

Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora Beebrush, Aloysia gratissima
Mexican Bird of Paradise, Caesalpinia gilliesii
Angel’s Trumpet, Datura wrightii
Greggs Mistflower, Conoclinium greggii
Zexmenia, Wedelia hispida
Salvia species – Gregg, Mexican Bush, Mountain, Mealy Blue, Picher
Prairie verbena, Verbena bipinnatifida
Pink Skullcap, Scutellaria suffrutescens
Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis
Mexican Hat, Ratibida columnaris
Frostweed, Verbesina virginica
Fragrant Mistflower, Eupatorium havanense
Possumhaw Holly, Illex decidua
Yaupon Holly, Illex vomitoria
Gregg Dalea, Dalea greggii
Fall aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa
Horsemint, Monarda citriodora
Snow on the prairie, Euphorbia bicolor

Help Texas Bee Watchers meet their goal of 52 bee gardens and submit your garden before the end of the year. If your garden does not swarm with bees during the warmer months, go to their website for information that will help you provide a habitat for bees.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Grasses on the Prairie

The most noticeable feature of my prairie at this time of year is the prairie grasses. As the prairie flowers fade, the colors of the prairie grasses change from blue green to various shades of amber, red, and copper. In the morning hours, the moisture in the air settles on the grasses and intensifies their colors.

Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium, is the prominent grass in the front yard prairie. Here, it grows among pale-leaf yucca, spineless prickly pear, four-nerve daisy, rock penstemon, several salvias and several other prairie flowers.

Bushy bluestem, Andropogon glomeratus, prefers moist soil and grows in the front yard rain garden. 

A clump of Indian grass, Sorghastrum nutans, its stems glowing in the morning sunlight, adds height (over six feet) to the front yard prairie.

 Another shot of the Indian grass.

Dallas Blues switchgrass, Panicum virgatum, and Indian grass grow in the backyard prairie. 

By afternoon, the fuzzy white seeds of the little bluestem glisten in the sun.

Little bluestem is the backdrop for rock penstemon, pale-leaf yucca, and four-nerve daisy.

 An afternoon view across the front yard prairie.

Butterflies are still flocking to the prairie, but they are finding fewer flowers every day. This yellow and pink southern dogface butterfly is not the rarity I thought it was. I do not recall ever seeing one with this coloration before. It turns out they are very common and this is a fall color pattern.

It will not be long before the flowers and butterflies are gone. The grasses, however, will continue to add interest to the prairie until I cut them to the ground in February to make way for a new season’s growth.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Butterflies on the Prairie

The number of butterflies flying around my suburban prairie has increased over the last few weeks. Monarchs are making a pit stop on the prairie as they migrate to Mexico. Other visitors include queen, common buckeye, painted lady, American snout, gulf fritillary, gray hairstreak, and various varieties of skipper butterflies.

The flowers of blue mistflower are the crowd pleaser right now. The plants are covered with butterflies all day long. Other favorites are frostweed, zexmenia, cowpen daisies, four nerve daisies, frogfruit, and the many types of salvia on the prairie. The white mistflower plants are sure to become the favorite flower on the prairie when they begin blooming this week.

Here is a look at some of the butterflies and other flying creatures that posed for a photo op.

Monarch on Blue Mistflower

 Great Purple Hairstreak on Frostweed

 Painted Lady on Frostweed

 American Snout on Blue Mistflower

 Common Buckeye on Blue Mistflower

 Gulf Fritillary on Blue Mistflower

 Yet-to-be-identified Yellow Butterfly on Zexmenia

 The tiny Eastern Tailed-Blue. Thanks for help with the ID Kathleen.
 Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar on Hercules Club Tree

 Dragonfly on Gayfeather

Interesting Green and Black Fly? on Frostweed

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Fall on the Prairie

This is my favorite time of the year to be in my garden, or should I say "on my prairie". After the hot, dry summer, fall rains and cooler temperatures brought the prairie back to life.

The growth on the forbs is fresh and green. The colors of their flowers are more intense than ever. The grasses are tall and blooming. Their leaves and flower stalks sway with the slightest breeze.

 Butterflies and bees swarm the Mealycup sage, Salvia farinacea 'Henry Duelberg', zexmenia, Wedelia hispida, scarlet sage, Salvia coccinea and little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium.

The flower spikes of gayfeather, Liatris mucronata, peek through the little bluestem grass.

The light blue leaves of pale-leaf yucca, Yucca pallida, and four-nerve daisy, Hymenoxys scaposa  are a nice contrast to the changing colors of the little bluestem. Earlier in the year, the yucca and little bluestem were about the same shade of blue, but now the little bluestem is gradually changing to a copper color.

Birdbath and zexmenia.

Entering the backyard prairie, there are more flowers and grasses in bloom. Zexmenia, Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, Indian grass, Sorghastrum nutans, switchgrass, Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues', autumn sage, Salvia greggii, and blue mistflower, Conoclinium greggii, to name a few.

Turning to right, frostweed, Verbesina virginica, turk’s cap, Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii, and scarlet sage, are among the flowers under my only shade tree.

Whether taking advantage of the cooler temperatures to work on an outdoor project or just enjoying the plants and wildlife, it’s a great time to be on the prairie. You just can’t beat Texas in the fall.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Late Summer on the Prairie Part 2

In my backyard prairie, I have several other plants that become more interesting and attractive to wildlife in late summer and fall.

This snow on the prairie, Euphorbia bicolor, is blooming among Indian grass, Sorghastrum nutans, the red flowers of autumn sage, Salvia greggii, and the sky blue flowers of pitcher sage, Salvia azurea 'grandiflora'.

Eryngo, Eryngium leavenworthii, is blooming in an electric shade of purple. The bracts surrounding the flowers are very spiny, but they do not keep monarch butterflies and other pollinators away from the flowers. Notice the little white spider on one of the bracts?

The flowers on this patch of switch grass, Panicum virgatum 'Dallas Blues', glow in the morning sunlight. The switch grass, as well as my other prairie grasses, will provide height and motion in the garden, as well as food and shelter for the prairie wildlife, until I cut the stalks to the ground in February or March.

On the edge of the backyard prairie, a large American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, is covered in clusters of bright purple berries.

Mockingbirds love the berries of American beautyberry. The birds eat the berries almost as quickly as they ripen. This mother mockingbird and her young fledgling (hidden by the leaves) spend much of the day in the branches of the beautyberry. She used to have two babies, but a neighborhood cat got one of them. Note to neighbors: Keep your cats indoors or train them to hunt only rabbits, squirrels and grackles.

Before long, the mockingbirds will get an urge for some spicy food and they will fly over to my chile pequin plants, Capsicum annuum, for the little red peppers. Amazingly, they swallow the peppers whole.

If your late summer landscape looks a little boring, add some of these late season plants to your garden. You will not only have colorful flowers and berries in your garden, but you are sure to attract colorful butterflies and birds as well.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Late Summer on the Prairie Part 1

It’s September. As summer lingers, many of the plants on my prairie have bloomed since spring and they are still going strong. Zexmenia, four-nerve daisy, autumn sage, blue mistflower and standing cypress are some examples of the prolific bloomers.

While the spring and summer bloomers were putting on their show and attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to my prairie, several other plants were quietly enduring the heat and drought - waiting for their time to shine in late summer and fall.

In the front prairie, pitcher sage, Salvia azurea 'grandiflora', is beginning to bloom among the flowers of little bluestem grass, Schizachyrium scoparium. The little bluestem is about two and a half feet tall and sways gracefully in the late summer breezes.

This gayfeather, Liatris mucronata, has just a few flowers, but it is already attracting bees. Before long, its numerous spiky stems will be covered with flowers and the flowers will be covered with bees and butterflies.

In my next post, I will feature the late summer plants in the backyard prairie.