Pollinator Insects are Beautiful as They Buzz in the Garden

The Natural Garden, Eastside Chronicle, Tallahassee Democrat 8/13/09

In the heat of the day, I ambled around our front yard. It is alive with bees and butterflies. On a summer day, observing these beautiful insects is just a pleasant interlude between thunderstorms, but in reality, the survival of the human race depends on these little insects and their brethren for their pollination services.

The insects’ favorite plants in our yard that are blooming now are African blue basil, pentas, Mexican sunflower, dwarf ironweed and Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’. The flowers of purple coneflower are beginning to fade, but on the few new flowers, bees visit regularly. There are even bees and occasional butterflies nectaring on the white flowers of the garlic chives.

It is fun to position myself right in the thick of things and take notes on who is visiting what. During my ten minute walk about, I watched a hummingbird work the deeper flowers of the dark blue Salvia guaranitica, red shrimp plant, orange firebush and red cigarette plant, but also visit popular butterfly plants like pentas and Mexican sunflower.

The tall, bright orange Mexican sunflower attracted zebra longwings, lots of Gulf fritillaries and a couple of giant swallowtails. Big lumbering bumblebees were abundant on the African blue basil, the Agastache and the tall growing pink pentas grown by O’Toole’s Herb Farm.

The hot spot during this particular ten minutes was the dwarf ironweed, a North Florida native wildflower. Its pretty purple flowers were absolutely loaded with pollinators – metallic green sweat bees, yellow and black sweat bees, large bees with yellow and black striped abdomens, honeybees, skippers and some other small butterflies that I could not identify.

If you want to create a haven for pollinators, be selective when you choose perennials and other plants for your yard. Most need a fairly sunny spot to thrive with good organic soil that drains nicely. I learned recently at a seminar by Julie Neel, an experienced butterfly gardener and naturalist from Thomasville, that more nectar is produced while sunlight is shining upon the flowers so the pollinators seem to follow the sunlight through the garden.

When Jody and I walk about our yard on a hot, sunny day admiring the beauty of the flowers and insects, we feel greatly rewarded for our efforts in transforming this yard from an unproductive average lawn to a refuge teaming with pollinators and other wildlife. It didn’t happen over night; it has been a seventeen year transformation and happened one plant at a time. You can do it, too!