|Muscari armeniacum with a honeybee|
Pollinators of all kinds have been out, particularly bees who are taking advantage of the introduced species in my garden. Muscari is in full bloom, attracting gangs of honeybees. Last year I witnessed a variety of other floral visitors such as plume moths (Pterophoridae), geometrid moths (Geometridae), anthephorine bees (tribe Anthophorini), and other small arthropods. They don't seem to increase very well here, perhaps the soil is not to their liking or it dries up too quickly after the Spring rains cease. Most of them are planted out in native soil, rather than a raised bed where I grow most of my perennials. Perhaps they would benefit from a fall application of leaves to encourage some microbial activity (thus stimulating quicker nutrient cycling).
The bulbs of Scilla are sometimes considered to be irritating when handled by some people, and my assumption was that the assumed irritating constituents would also deter animal pests. Deer surely ignore them, yet voles are seemingly unaffected. Last year, I had a lot of Scilla siberica planted around and it had been a reliable resource for honeybees and bumblebees. However, this year has seen a drop in the number of flowering plants and honeybees have not been observed visiting them. Still, this wont keep me from attempting to grow more, next time I'll just use mesh baskets or wire cages, a necessary pain in the a**.
|Chionodoxa luciliae (syn. Scilla luciliae)|
The Chionodoxa, now widely accepted as Scilla, are like S. siberica and now are few in the garden. Yet, these tiny blue flowered bulbs have swooned me and I will continue to plant them into the garden, next time with underground protection. The pollen of Chionodoxa is not as exposed as Scilla, perhaps an adaptation to prevent damage or loss of the pollen from rain. It may just be a coincidence, but it seems bees are less interested in Chionodoxa than Scilla (sensu stricto) which have highly available pollen and nectar. Bumblebees were spotted visiting Chionodoxa last year, perhaps because they possess probosces that are robust enough to push between the anthers to reach the nectaries within.
|Hyacinthus orientalis with Mecaphesa, a bee predator.|
A lone Crocus stands under Pinus ponderosa, where dozens of other crocuses were planted and many were uprooted by both deer and turkeys. As the year progresses, fewer and fewer crocuses are to be seen and fewer and fewer are likely to be visited by pollinators in my garden. This is probably due to the increase in competition and the decrease in the population of the crocuses rather than their general appeal. I strongly believe that if I had a field of the latest blooming Crocus they would be crawling with pollinators (and probably also filled with deer, voles, turkeys, and other herbivores). This is probably the last look at Crocus for the year, unless my saffron decided to bloom this year.
|Viola odorata and Vinca minor|
Microbes sequester nutrients which could otherwise be lost due to watering or rain and delve deep out of the reach of plant roots. These nutrients are eaten by microbes, sequestered in their bodies, and released when the microbes either die of natural causes or are eaten by other microbes, thus making them continuously available to plant roots. So a diversity of microbes is a good thing. The microbes are supported by a diversity of plants, all of which release different exudates (the closest thing to plant poop) into the rhizosphere (the area just around the roots) and feeding the microbes. Many microbes occupying the rhizosphere feeding on exudates can crowd out pathogenic microbes and prevent disease in plants. The benefits go on and on.
Now back to Vinca, they are reportedly bee pollinated, though I have made no such observation. The blue flowers are nice though, and with all of the competition I doubt the plant will get too out of hand.
Another very easy plant that is attractive to bees, Lamium maculatum grows in the sunny corners of the raised beds surrounding my well house. It is a low growing maintenance-free creeper that can tolerate a lot of drought when established, is ignored by deer, and unaffected by mole/vole tunneling. Bumblebees are most interested in the odd reptilian-reminiscent flowers, though honeybees will occasionally frequent them.
Further Reading:Lee-Mäder, Eric, and Marla Spivak, eds. Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies: The Xerces Society Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub., 2011. Print.
Walker, Travis S. et al. "Root Exudation and Rhizosphere Biology". Plant Physiol. Vol. 132, 2003.