Posts Tagged ‘Wildflowers’

Durango, Colorado


Block Island, Rhode Island


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Durango, Colorado 

Irvine, California

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We’ve written a lot about Colony Collapse Disorder and the nearly overwhelming problems that affect honey bees, but things are at least as dire for our native bees, most notably the lovely bumble bee.

Bumbles are the stuff of our childhood memories. Who, when remembering walks through wildflower fields, doesn’t see in their mind’s eye fuzzy, funny bumble bees drifting from flower to flower? These pollinators were plentiful years ago, but now, like many plants and animals, bumbles are suffering from loss of habitat, pesticide poisoning, changing climates, and diseases that were introduced along with non-native bees.

There are almost 50 bumble bee species native to North America and many of them are threatened not with just a serious decline in numbers, but with extinction. In a report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a study done over the last three years shows a widespread pattern of decline in bumble bee populations. The western bumble bee, the rusty-patched bumble bee and yellow-banded bumble bee used to be very common, but their numbers have decreased by 96 percent and their range shrunk by as much as 87 percent. (This is video Native Bumblebees features an interview with Scott Black of the Xerces Society who’s been tracking the disappearance of the western bumble bees in Oregon.) Franklin’s bumble bee, found in a relatively small area covering southern Oregon and northern California, is now thought to be extinct.

Many other bumble bee species have also experienced serious declines in their numbers and ranges which is a big problem because bumbles are an important pollinator for high-value crops such as cranberries, blueberries and clover. They are also important elements in many ecosystems, pollinating wildflowers and plants that produce seeds and fruits that feed everything from songbirds to bears.

Bumble bees are unique in that they are able to fly in colder weather than other bee species and this makes them key pollinators for native plants in the tundra, prairie and  higher elevation climates. In fact bumble bees are the most effective pollinators for certain plants and seem to have evolved along with particular species of plants — the length of their tongues is exactly what is required to pollinate them. So if that particular pollinator is in decline you can reasonably expect that the plant that depends on it will decline as well. And that’s exactly what appears to have happened in parts of Britain and the Netherlands where native insect-pollinated plants have declined along with bee populations.

There are many ways you can help bumbles survive and perhaps thrive. The most important is DON’T USE PESTICIDES in your gardens. The stuff on the shelf at your local big box stores and nurseries is dangerous to man and beast. Really, this stuff will poison you, your kids, the dog, the cat, the chickens, and any other creatures that happen to be in the vicinity. Make a resolution to forego poisons in your garden this year. (We’ll write a post or two about organic alternatives and how to safely use them in your garden soon.)

Other ways to help the bumble bees:

  • Plant natives in your garden and plan for a succession of pollen and nectar-bearing blooms throughout the season.
  • Bumbles like asters, bee balm, blueberries, borage, clovers, lupines, mints, and rhododendrons to name a few.
  • Bumbles will nest lots of different places like logs, trees, old mouse burrows and grass tussocks. Leave a bit of your land wild if you can.
  • Bumbles are very gentle and won’t act in a threatening manner. If you find a nest move away slowly and walk softly and they’ll leave you alone.
  • Learn to identify the different types of bumble bees. Free I.D. guides can be downloaded here.
  • You can participate in studies that are tracking bumble bees. Athena Anderson at the University of Georgia has developed a nest site survey to learn more about nest site and habitat features for bumble bees throughout North America and make this information available to anyone at no cost. If you find a bumble bee nest, please click on this link to fill out the survey and increase our knowledge of the range of native bumble bees: Bumble Bee Nest Survey
  • The Xerces Society has asked that folks send them photos of yellow-banded and rusty-patched bumble bees and the locations where they were spotted. Email to bumblebees@xerces.org

May the bumbles be with you! Mary Beth and Barbara

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Durango, Colorado


Irvine, California

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Mary Beth: I’ve been dreaming about planting a meadow in my yard for a long time and the new gas line we had installed a couple of months ago provided me with the last push I needed to get this project underway. After searching for the right mixture for my zone (intermountain climate, Sunset Zone 2B), I purchased my seeds from Durango Nursery and Supply Co. and Western Native Seed.

Envisioning a mixture of grasses with attractive seed heads that would catch the light and serve as a soft back drop for the wildflowers, I decided on a one-pound bulk bag of Mountain Meadow from Southwest Seed Inc. To that I added a two-pound mix of Western Native Seed’s Montane Grass Mix and Montane Wildflowers and one packet of Ratibida columnifera because I love those little Mexican hat flowers. And finally, I bought a packet of Solidago Canadensis for the bees. I was also lucky enough to have a neighbor give us a gift of wildflower seeds from Clear Water Farm which had a wonderful mix of wildflowers. Might be overkill, but that’s me!

The meadow will be behind the split rail fence and down the hill.

I was so excited that I wanted to plant the seeds right away, but the instructions suggested waiting until after the first frost to plant the native grasses and delaying the wildflower seeding until the spring. On the other hand, it said that if you have a mix of both to plant them all in the fall. Sound confusing? A little! And one bag of seeds was a mixture of wildflowers and native grass seeds which really didn’t help. Finally, after going back and forth on how to approach it, I decided I would mix all the seeds I had and plant now.

I was really careful when I mixed them because some of the very tiny flower seeds tended to sift down to the bottom of the bucket.  Next I had to deal with our weather which is very unpredictable. While I was waiting for a first frost, we got a first freeze which made some of my other garden chores a bit more urgent, especially since I hadn’t yet dug up my dahlia tubers. Luckily they were unscathed from that first freezing night and after I put them in their winter resting place, I was able to start on the meadow.

Because I had to wait for the sun to warm the soil so I could prep it, I didn’t get going until late afternoon. Fortunately my job was a little easier as the ground was already loose from the excavation work for the gas line and most of the prep of raking the soil and removing rocks had been done back when I planted 300 daffodil bulbs five weeks ago. All I had to do was rake up the pine needles and rough up the soil a bit so the seed would have good contact.

I spread the seed by hand and went back over the area with the rake scratching the seed into the soil. For good measure I lightly spread some Gro-Power fertilizer on top. In the book The American Meadow Garden, John Greenlee suggests covering the seeds with a 2 inch layer of mulch. Since I have an unending supply of pine needles (also called “pine straw”), I spread a very light layer on top of the seeded area.

As an experiment a while ago I had spread a little bit of the wildflower seeds down where I planted the daffodils. I was pleased to see that those seeds had taken and were doing very well. I saw lupine and California poppies sprouting, yea! For a little insurance I saved about a quarter of the seeds which I will put down in the spring.

So now I’m hoping for the ground to get covered next month with a blanket of snow which will keep the seeds protected until the spring when it melts away and the meadow starts to come alive.

Here’s the area I’ve been working on. It starts through the trees up to an area where there are no pine trees and on up to the north side of the house. It will take 2-3 years to see the meadow fully mature. Even so I should see a few flowers blooming and some of the grasses will start to grow. I’m hoping more butterflies and dragonflies will be visiting next year and I know the bees will be happy!

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Colorado Wildflowers

Spring Beauty Claytonia lanceolata

Holly Grape Mahonia repens

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Barbara: Is there any color more beautiful than the velvety yellow-orange of the California Poppy? It’s one of those colors that grabs your attention and won’t let go.

California Poppy with Owl's Clover

Each spring I put a trip to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve on my list of things to do and each year I wait too long and the flowers fade before I can get there. Last week my friend Jane came to visit and mentioned that she and her friend Sharon would be going and invited me along. I’m so happy I went (and kicking myself for all the times I didn’t go).

The California Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica) is a native wildflower which, before the 20th century, blanketed our coastal regions — imagine the sight as you approached the shores! It has been called copa de ora (cup of gold), la amapola and dormidera, referring its habit of closing up at night, when it’s cloudy, or when a cold wind blows. While poppies grow wild throughout California, this 1800 acre reserve is apparently one of only a handful of large flower fields left in the state — a very sad thought.

The wide, rolling fields are surrounded by the beautiful Antelope Buttes. Driving along a two lane road little patches of poppies tempted us, but it was the fields in the distance that were truly mesmerizing. It looked like an artist had brushed the hillsides with golden-orange paint.

There were many other wildflowers coloring the landscape along with the poppies, purple Owl’s Clover, yellow Bigelow Coreopsis, golden Fiddleneck, and Blue Dicks were among those we saw. There was a cold wind blowing the day we were there so the poppies on the windward side of the trail weren’t completely open, but it was spectacular nonetheless.

Let me say a little bit about the color in these photos. In landscape photos I normally don’t like supersaturated color. I think it looks like the old Kodachrome photos from the 60’s where everything is super bright, super saturated and very contrasty. But that’s the way it was out on the trail. The colors were so intense I could hardly believe it.

Many thanks to Jane and Sharon for letting me tag along. And you can bet I won’t be missing another year in the poppy fields.

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