Tag Archives: salvia

The Bombini are not the robbers.

bee in the neighborhood

This is a post about bees. If you find them icky or boring and don’t care which bee is a robber, I understand! I put a pretty flower at the bottom for you to look at before you leave.

One morning this week I went back and forth along the front walk, for fifteen minutes or so, stooping over the germander hedges to watch a bumblebee. It caught my eye because of its yellow markings that were not what I’m used to seeing, and also because  of its nectar-gathering style.

Was it because of its size and weight, that it couldn’t manage the flowers near the tops of the germander stems? It seemed to get lost in the understory of that purple forest, but would eventually resurface, tempting me to try again and again with my camera to fix his image (I can’t help switching male pronouns so I will just give in to my inclinations and be unscientific, because of course I have no idea of “his” sex.) so as to be able to see his markings better.

Here are the best pictures I got. Bees are buzzy and usually vibrating!

My Yellow-Faced Bumblebee is funny-looking! In that middle picture sprawled on his back like a suckling child, his yellow face is more like a yellow toupee. Here is a clearer, more classic image of the bee:

yellow faced bumblebee seek

It is from the page Bumblebees of California, which is where I realized that what I thought for years was the primary bumblebee enjoying my pollinator garden is not a bumblebee at all.

It wasn’t until that same evening that I was set straight. As the sun was about to go down, I was snipping spent penstemon blooms in the back garden when I saw one of these “bumblebees” visiting the non-spent ones. He was not trying to go in at the door, so to speak, but was busy at the top. Did he have a short cut to the nectar? Was he making a short cut?

Back inside, when it began to dawn on me that he was not a bumblebee, I searched for “black bees that  look like bumblebees,” and soon realized that he is a carpenter bee. And on the first site I found they described what I had seen a few minutes before: “On flowers such as salvias, penstemons, and other long, tubular flowers the carpenter bee, due to its large size, is unable to enter the flower opening. Instead they become nectar robbers. Using their mouthparts they cut a slit at the base of corolla and steal away with the nectar without having pollinated the flower.”

I learned that there are 500 species of carpenter bees! Most of them are all black and hard to tell one from another. The easiest way to tell them apart from bumblebees is by their abdomens: The bumblebees’ abdomens are covered with dense hair, while the carpenters’ are shiny. This last fact I was well aware of, because it has been the biggest hindrance to me getting a picture of these bees that usually show up as shiny black blobs. But now that I  have identified two bees in one day, and have blurry pictures to refer to when I forget, I will relax and move on.

But — early this morning I went out looking for Yellow Face. I didn’t see him, but I did see the carpenter bees, and what were they doing? Stealing nectar from the tubular white salvia flowers!

I wasn’t shocked, but pleased. And I don’t see why this should be called “stealing.” Is there a law of nature that says a bee has a right to nectar only if he pollinates the flower at the same time? Have the tubular flowers filed a complaint about the theft?

Last year I was trying to identify a strange-looking wasp, and I browsed entomology sites to no avail. Entomologists can’t even keep the thousands of species straight, and we common people who deal with insects our whole lives have strong and conflicting beliefs about their names and identities. I realized back then that wasps were a low priority for me; I’m sorry to say that I even hate some of them. But I feel otherwise about bees. Here is a photo from the U.S. Forest Service showing the smallest bee with the largest bee:

It is the Perdita minima on the head of a female carpenter bee. Wasps and bees, along with ants, are among the members of the Order Hymenoptera, but wasps are not bees any more than ants are bees. The first very readable paragraphs on this site I found helpful in refreshing my own memory on these creatures: Bees, Wasps, and Ants.

The tribe to which the 250 species of bumblebees belong is called Bombini. Isn’t that cute?

Okay, enough entomology for today. Here is that flower I promised you. It is my Belle of India jasmine that Soldier and Joy gave me for Christmas one year. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to make it happy, but now it is healthy and blooming and so sweet! I wonder if any Bombini will come by for a taste?

I slake my thirst with gardens.

Way back in October, I think, was the last time a certain one of my favorite plant nurseries was open — until Saturday, when I drove over for the reopening. The retail aspect is a small part of a larger sustainable agriculture/ecological/educational project, and is only open on weekends in the warmer months. Over the years I’ve bought lots of annual vegetables there, but lately they focus on perennial edibles and and medicinal plants.

It’s a beautiful drive, out into the more rural areas of my county. I remembered to wear my sun hat to keep my scalp from burning, but when I got into the nursery area itself there was netting all over above, which probably made it unnecessary. Passionflowers bloomed like stars up there.

For an hour I got a huge rush of excitement and energy, as I saw more and more species of perennial salvias and echinacea species that I could take home and add to my pollinator garden. Echinacea Purpurea, Pallida, and Paradoxa. Salvia hians (Kashmir Sage), Salvia forsskaolii, Clary Sage and Dune Sage. The forsskaolii, or Indigo Woodland Sage, I used to have in my “old” garden, but it didn’t survive the transition. None of the new plants is in bloom yet so I’ll show them later after they are revealed in their fullness.

There was one plant that I had no desire to bring home for my garden, though they say it is grown worldwide as an ornamental. That is the Porcupine Tomato:

Solanum pyracanthos

This flowering tree grows near the entrance/checkout. Does anyone know what it is?

In my own garden, June seems to have arrived early, and so suddenly… I guess that’s because I’ve been sitting around moping and confused; I know I am way behind in planting the second planter box. But the rest of the garden just went on doing its thing, and is ready to comfort me now that I desperately need it. When there is a lull in the strange high winds we’ve been having, I can sit out there and silently bake, in the company of other creations and creatures. For a few moments at a time I revel in just being.

The showy milkweed is over five feet high already, and in the back yard it’s a favorite of the bees, along with the lavender and the echium. Oh, speaking of echium, I saw my type at the nursery; I must have bought it there several years ago. It is not the Pride of Madeira-echium candicans that is more typical here. As recently as last week, though, I thought it was just an oddly growing form of it. If it were Pride of Madeira it would have blocked the path by now; good thing it’s more vertical!

See the bee on the left, against the sky?
Pretending to be real trees.
In a spring storm two branches broke off.
Back before spring had fully sprung.

At the nursery my kind was called Tower of Jewels, and just now I found a helpful site that explains all the different forms. Mine is also called Tree Echium, echium pininana. I never noticed before how the echium flowers resemble borage and my newer plant, bugloss. Well, they are all in the borage family.

echium Tower of Jewels
bugloss

I took a slow-motion video of the bees out front on the germander (teucrium). In real time they seem very excited, almost frantic, in their buzzing from flower to flower, but when I watched the video it showed their true selves as purring bee-copters taking all the time in the world, that is, the whole day and their whole short lives, to do their work.

I’m needing to take long breaks from talking this week, mostly my own, which seems like more and more idle talk. No one talks in my garden. Even the tropical birds have been moved to their new home far enough away that I can’t hear them; now I can hear the native singers’ quieter tunes and gentle chirps.

I think I was looking for a quote on a different topic this morning when I ran across this beloved one (a beloved quote? really? Yes.) from G.K. Chesterton:

Women have a thirst for order and beauty as for something physical;
there is a strange female power of hating ugliness and waste
as good men can only hate sin and bad men virtue.

Forget for a moment the reductionist nature of these ideas — most short quotes, in order to be pithy, have to focus on one or two ideas and lay aside the complexities of the subject. Just think about what we are thirsty for… (You men also thirst, naturally.) I realized just this morning — by bathing in the the sunshine and the lavender scent, the breeze and the humming — and this afternoon, by speaking briefly about it with a wise person, that the very concrete realness, the materiality of my garden satisfies something. Maybe my garden has to do double-duty right now because of the recent lack of human touching.

How it helps me pray… I don’t need to figure out that mystery. I just want to enter in.

On Passover afternoon, ten days ago now, we had Kneeling Vespers of Pentecost. Almost everyone took part at home, but I live close to the church and I drove over in hopes that there would be few enough of us that I could participate indoors. My hope was realized! I’m sharing this picture because of the golden sunshine. May God fill us with His light!

Looking autumn in the face.

What sets this autumn apart from any other is my distaste for leaves turning color. Out of the corner of my eye I’ve seen it happening, and my heart protests, “Oh, please don’t!” I look the other way. Time has been swallowed up in remodeling, or waiting for remodeling, and the steady progress of months and seasons was not in my face so colorfully until now, telling me that without a doubt that the end of the calendar year is drawing near as well.

Until yesterday, when on the way back from the gym I drove around a corner and was met with this familiar tree that had just put on its late-season dress. I couldn’t help loving it, just as I couldn’t help being angry with those other orange leaves a week earlier.

The cold weather I dread is holding off, and it’s gotten to 90° for a few days, making for unusually balmy evenings. Sunny weather means I can work in the garden for hours every day, putting up pea trellises, weatherproofing the planter boxes, and staining the rim of the fountain that had built up a layer of white mineral scale.

Rain would be better, though. In Northern California the combination of tinder-dry foliage and wind gusts creates a situation that threatens to repeat the horrors of the fires of the last two years. Too bad we can’t put all that behind us — but “it” is trying to be part of our future as well, a reality of which the power company keeps reminding us, and shutting off the power as a precaution.

A few of my volunteer tomatoes turned pink. They look like Juliets. Barely any sun is shining on them these days so I brought several into the house and when they turned red I ate them. They taste as one might expect from such culture!

 

These moths are all over the garden, but especially on the salvia here pictured – I think I have identified them as Fiery Skippers. What a cute name for a cute moth. [oops – not a moth! See about skippers in the comments.] I began to wonder if it is their caterpillars that are eating my sunflowers, so I researched that, too, and I don’t think so. Next photo is in the Disturbing Photos category. 😦

But look at this: The most fun insect I have discovered this week is these caterpillars…

… and they appear to be the Black Swallowtail again, on the parsley again, looking as though they wanted to be eaten by birds, so I brought the two of them into my mesh cage, after the carpenter and I took pictures outdoors near the parsley patch.

Other heartening events: One window in the soon-to-be sewing room has been framed, and irises keep blooming like they want to be my best friends; the tropical milkweed also, and it makes more and more seeds! I harvested the mystery squashes. [Update: I found the tag that came with the 4″pot, and they are Buttercup Heirloom Squash.]

Tiny harbingers of spring caught my eye as I came up to the front door yesterday, just after my encounter with the bright tree. Yes, the daphne is putting out new leaves, so that in a very few months it can put out those divinely aromatic flowers. See, I do know that the seasons are good! Of course. And when winter comes, this particular challenging and wonderful time will be a thing of the past. I must enjoy it while I can!

Les papillons et les fleurs.

When I got home from church this afternoon I baked a cheese tart from Trader Joe’s and ate it outdoors, and as the sun did not go behind a cloud, I read the Heritage Farm Companion and did some Spanish lessons. The Companion is a little magazine for members of the Seed Savers Exchange, an organization that I’ve loved for more than 25 years, though I’ve never participated by contributing seeds that I save.

Today I learned two interesting things from that issue: 1) People are growing rice in Vermont, and 2) Hoverflies/syrphid flies are attracted to the flowers of sweet alyssum; they also eat aphids, so planting alyssum as a companion to whatever you want to protect from aphids — in my case that would be milkweed, and several other plants — can be very helpful. This photo showing how that might look I found online, from the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Before my garden makeover, I had alyssum everywhere, but I haven’t let it grow since I re-landscaped. Alyssum used to sprout up everywhere, but now I see that situation as benign, whereas the aphids are a plague. Maybe there is a connection?

Three different people had been watching over my garden while I was in DC greeting the new grandson. Plus I have automatic irrigation, and drought-tolerant plants. So I should not have been surprised that it looked great, even better, when I got back — all the plants were bigger, and various things were in bloom, like the coreopsis that I had only set out the day before I departed.

Several times in the last week I’ve been able to sit in the warm garden, usually in the early afternoon. The morning is often overcast and around 55°; dinner times a cool marine breeze often drives us indoors. Today after I finished my tart I glanced behind me and saw that the toadflax is finally in full bloom. It looks pretty weedy most of the year, and even now 🙂 but the flowers are so cheery… I’d say it never looks better than today.

And what do you know – I just found a photo in my files of a hoverfly on toadflax. I also have a shot of one sipping at lavender, and lately they are really busy with the lamb’s ears; that actually seems to be their favorite flower around here. Come to think of it, there are blooming lamb’s ears right next to the aphid-infested milkweed… ? …but the hoverflies are mostly in the front yard… ? I need to think about this some more.

Cabbage white butterflies were dancing all over the garden the whole time I was out there. I assumed it was a kind of mating dance. I tried taking still shots, and even a video of their choreography. Against the blue sky, where one loses all perspective, they look like some crazy white birds. I read that “A male finds another butterfly of the same species by sight, then determines its sex by flying close to detect chemical pheromones—a process that often makes them look like they’re dancing around each other in the air.”

I could never get close enough to get any good pictures, still or moving, but here is a video I found of cabbage whites mating. Butterflies are so delicate and fairy-like, they make me feel that I am a character in a folk-tale where anything magical might happen. Even the name butterfly is charming, yes? Did you ever read my post about the words for butterfly in different languages? In French it is papillon. And in Spanish, mariposa. Those are beautiful, too! The Germans call them the fantastic schmetterling, which gives me almost as much joy to say, as it does to see a butterfly schmettering from flower to flower.

A year or so ago I decided to study Spanish. In much of California it’s kind of crazy not to know Spanish, but I chose French in high school, and several other languages since then. I’ve had close friends who were Spanish majors, and four of my children studied Spanish for two or more years. When I started doing 5-minute lessons on my phone using the Duolingo app I discovered that I already knew quite a lot. It’s been more like play than work, because there are no humans to see my work, no shame in goofing up. I get points for doing the lessons no matter how many times I get something wrong. For six months I managed to do at least one five-minute lesson per day.

When I was at Kate’s for three weeks I didn’t have any gardening or housework or church work to do, and I was able to do so many Spanish lessons one day that my brain grew weary. It occurred to me that there would be no harm in checking out the French course, to brush up on my French; in my youth I studied it first and the longest, so it’s probably stuck deep in the recesses of my mind… While mom and babies were napping, I did quite a few French lessons, and they were even more fun than Spanish. On Duolingo the first lessons of a language are short so you whip right through them — especially if they are ones you did when you were 13!

So the next day what did I do? Turkish! I’ve had very little Turkish instruction, but I did spend six months total in that country, living with Turks, and it has been pure delight to do Turkish lessons. You may ask, what about my work, now that I am home again? It is mostly not stuff that anyone else cares if I do or not. And I’m still in a kind of limbo about my remodeling project, which makes it hard for me to know just what thing is the Next Thing. So I behave as though the maid is going to show up soon, and I am a woman of leisure with nothing more important to do than to read about seeds and learn a useless language.

And it is Sunday afternoon!