By Lori Athey, Habitat Coordinator
The annual Native Plant Sale is coming up April 30-May 3 and our theme this year is Blooms with Impact: Blooms for People and Pollinators. Lots of our pollinators are struggling, just a few examples include: European Honeybees threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder, and Monarch populations dropping alarmingly. Without pollinators, our food supply would be seriously compromised and many of these same pollinators including bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and others, also help keep pest insects under control.
Pollinators need flowers, so providing continuous bloom from spring through fall is the best way to provide for these insects. We are offering some great plants this year at the Delaware Nature Society’s Native Plant Sale, but to help you find the best plants for your garden, here are the favorite plants of some of our staff:
A number of staff chose the Monardas or Beebalms as their top pick in the garden. Joanne Malgiero, Membership and Annual Giving Coordinator combines Monarda fistulosa with Vernonia and a pink Phlox in her garden and says that not only is the combination beautiful but “there is always something happening in that corner”. Michele Wales, Coverdale Farm Site Manager and beekeeper loves the red Beebalm for the hummingbirds and bumble bees. Sue Bara, Teacher Naturalist and Herbalist, loves the Monardas for their healing qualities. I just think the flowers look cool.
As a beekeeper, Michele Wales also loves the Symphyotrichums or Asters, which provide nectar and pollen to not only her honey bees, but a wide array of other native pollinators as well. CSA Farmer Dan O’Brien echoes her admiration and points out that all of those insects attracted to the Asters also help pollinate the crops that he plants in the CSA garden.
CSA Farmer Dan and Jim White, Land Management Fellow and Entomologist both sing the praises of the Eutrochiums and Eupatoriums, otherwise known as Joe Pye Weed and Thoroughworts for attracting butterflies, bees and lots of other pollinators. In my garden we call this one “Butterfly Crack” because it is so popular.
Alice Mohrman, Abbotts Mill Education Coordinator, recommends Vaccinium corymbosum or Highbush Blueberry. Almost 300 species of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) caterpillars use this as a host plant! In addition, it is fun to watch the bumblebees make a hole in the base of the flower to get to the pollen and nectar. It also has attractive fruit for you and the birds, as well as pretty fall color.
Sue Bara also recommends the Solidagos or Goldenrods for their herbal properties. Did you know that the leaves can be used as first-aid for minor wounds (among other healing qualities)? The Goldenrods light up the fall with their bright yellow flowers that attract hoards of pollinators.
Shelia Vincent loves to show groups of children the Asclepias or Milkweed and Butterflyweeds because of their interesting flowers, milky sap and funky seedpods. In addition to a variety of pollinators looking for nectar, you can often find Monarch caterpillars munching on them too.
John Harrod, DEEC Site Manager recommends Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida as a good tough plant for urban gardens and “for its profusion of flowers that are smaller and tend to bloom later but longer than the more common Rudbeckia hirta. I like that it ages well and does not look so scraggly like R. hirta once it is past its prime. In addition to a wide variety of pollinators, it attracts cool creatures like the yellow crab spider I found on one day eating a fly.”
Two more of my favorite plants for pollinators are Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower and Ceanothus americanus or New Jersey Tea. The Echinacea is a magnet for all kinds of butterflies and bees, and after the flowers have gone to seed, flocks of Goldfinches. The Ceanothus is a small shrub with billowy white flowers that attracts some very strange-looking pollinators as well as small butterflies.
Once established, these are all tough, hard to kill plants, so you can try them in your yard with confidence.
Happy gardening and we will see you at the Native Plant Sale, April 30 to May 1!