The Plight of the Bumblebee

An important, albeit unfortunate, historical event was marked recently with the official recognition of the Rusty-patched Bumblebee as an endangered species in the United States. So very rare, Bombus affinis now is found only in about 1/10th of 1% of its original range. This designation is historical for a second reason in that it is the first native Bumblebee in the United States to be declared endangered. Before this, as for bee species, only seven species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees have been so listed.

There has been much coverage over the past several years regarding the issues being faced by Honeybees. And while we do not want to diminish their human-induced importance to the production of food crops, the Western (aka European) Honeybee (Apis mellifera) is not native to North America, having its origins across the Atlantic in Western Asia, Africa and Europe. Our continent is well represented in the bee world with approximately 4000 native species – the image here gives you an idea of the range in size. Why in New York State alone we lay claim to over 450, many of them being one of several tiny Sweat Bee species. Our native bees can be “loners” or live in small colonies. BeeSizeRangeAs for shelter, they may be ground nesting or use wood for making their homes. Keep in mind that before the arrival of Europeans to this continent, our endemic bees, along with their innumerable pollinating moth, butterfly, spider, ant, wasp and fly cousins, did a fine job ensuring the continued propagation of plants across North America.  In fact, some studies suggest that native bees do a better job at pollinating than do the alien honeybees1 and contribute approximately $3 billion to the agricultural economy each year. Additionally, because these species have evolved here for millennia, they are far hardier and less susceptible to disease, pests and weather.

Protecting our native bee populations has never been more important. The listing of the Rusty-patched is a bellwether for its protégées and, given the grave issues that abound with the alien honeybee, we may need to rely far more heavily on our indigenous friends. Among the many pressures threatening their existence are habitat loss, climate change, invasive plants species (less nutritional food), and the use of neonicotinoid-based chemicals commonly found in homes, schools, and farms. There are many simple ways you can help in this regard, some making great projects for kids, families and community groups. Below are links to suggested projects and actions to support these important pollinators. Please feel free to share your success stories through our Facebook or Twitter feeds!

  1. Danforth Labs: http://www.danforthlab.entomology.cornell.edu/pollination-biology.html

An Oakmoss Summer

Our program line-up for the Summer of 2015 includes two field outings and a hands-on workshop in East Aurora, NY as we continue our mission to share the lessons of Nature to benefit the planet and all its inhabitants. Details and registration information available on our website. Please join us!

Twilight Trek
Saturday, July 11 – 7:00 to 9:00pm at West Falls Park. Enjoy an interpretive stroll through the woods and along the creek at dusk, one of the most active times of day as diurnal creatures wind down and nocturnal critters begin to rouse.

Field Flutterers
Saturday, July 25 – 9:00am to 11:30am at Knox Farm State Park. We’ll be seeking out the flighted creatures of the open field, be they insect or avian. From butterflies to birds, there are many species that fill the morning with activity.

Introduction to Herbal Concoctions
Saturday, August 1 – 1:00pm to 3:30pm at the Roycroft Campus Power House. A hands-on workshop in which students will become acquainted with incorporating common herbs into simple preparations for body care and overall general health.

Habitat Restoration Series: Native Plant Suggestions for Western New York/Southern Ontario – Part 5

Here is our fifth and final installment in our Habitat Restoration Series for Spring.
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Native Plantings for WNY/Southern Ontario – Submission #5 – Flowers and Herbs:
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Flowers

Full Sun – Dry to Moderate, Well Drained Soils

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Perennial with rhizome growth form so will spread over time. Excellent for very sunny areas that drain well. Tolerant of dry conditions but flowering can be affected in drought situations. Feathery, fern like leaves with bundles of tiny flower heads.

  • Wildlife benefits: May be used as nesting material for some birds
  • Human benefits: Several medicinal uses
Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

Echinacea, a native composite, supports human health and feeds native pollinators

Coneflower (Echinacea sp.): Perennial coming in many varietals. Tall plants, with daisy like petals and large rounded seed center (cone). Does best if NOT mulched. For best growth and spreading, divide every few years.

  • Wildlife benefits: Butterflies and birds
  • Human benefits: Certain varietals have immune boosting characteristics.

Full Sun to Part Shade – Moist, Well Drained Soils

Bee Balm (Monarda sp.): A member of the mint family, this tall perennial has long petaled flowers in pink, light purple and dark red. Pungent scent when leaves are crushed. Excellent companion plant for a variety of flowers and vegetables. Monarda will spread so divide every two or three years if you want to keep it neat.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
  • Human benefits: Long used as an antiseptic, to treat headaches. and for seasoning foods

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum): Perennial with light purple flowers, this native of the Northeast United States made the transfer from wildflower to garden cultivar generations ago. Flowers from mid-summer to mid-autumn. Begin pinching the plants in early summer to help them be shorter and bushier. It’s a creeper so should be divided every two years if you want to keep it under control.

  • Wildlife benefits: Butterflies, bees and birds
  • Human benefits: Named after a New England Indian healer, it is reputed to have several medicinal benefits.
JoePyeBed

A bed of amazingly tall Sweet Joe Pye Weed dwarfing the Echinacea and Cardinal Flower

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis): This beauty will do best when do-planted with taller plants which can filter the hot sun in warmer locales. It blooms in late Summer offering a showy finale as Autumn approaches. Most importantly, it is an important nectar source for Hummingbirds as they “bulk up” for the Fall migration.

  • Wildlife benefits: Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Traditionally used by the Hodinöhšönih (Iroquois) for a number of ailments. In the modern world, it is

Herbs

Although not truly indigenous to our area, many culinary and fragrant herbs do offer benefits to wildlife along with being just plain useful to humans. And cultivating your own herbs is the ultimate in locally grown.

Most herbs require full sun for at least 6 hours a day. All prefer moist well-drained conditions, although some make do under dry conditions for a time and are noted.

Thyme: Tolerates dry soils. Perennial that will spread so is good as a ground cover. Low growing and comes in several varieties.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Oregano: Best in moist, well drained environment. Can be perennial depending on variety. Some are tender perennial and may not make it through very cold winters.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Basil: Best in moist, well drained environments. Annual. Many varieties available with varying pungency, flavor and color.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees
  • Human benefits: Culinary

Lavender: Tolerates dry soils: Perennial with a number of varieties. Be sure to note the agricultural zone for variety chosen. Some varieties can get shrubby so pruning and thinning could be required.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Culinary, cosmetic, medicinal and ornamental

Sage: Best in moist, well drained soils but will tolerate moderately dry conditions. Many varieties available with varying pungency and color. Some are perennial; those that are tender perennials should be treated as annuals in our climate.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Chamomile: Roman is the best variety for our region (Chamaemelum nobile). It can do well during dry spells but is not as happy during the heat of Summer so looks its best during the cooler times of the season. Prefers moderate, well drained soils.

Roman Chamomile - small bright flowers atop delicate fern-like leaves

Roman Chamomile – small bright flowers atop delicate fern-like leaves

Although a perennial, it is really an annual in WNY but readily re-seeds.

  • Wildlife benefits: Honeybees
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Mints: Use care in planting mints because they WILL spread so consider confining them to containers, the only sure way to keep mints under control. Consider Lemon Balm, Spearmint and Peppermint. Note: While Peppermint and Spearmint generally spread via their root systems, Lemon Balm readily “jumps ship” so expect to find it popping up all around the area it’s been planted – it is easily harvested, however, and with so many uses, you’ll be happy for the volunteers.

  • Wildlife benefits: Bees and butterflies
  • Human benefits: Culinary and medicinal

Don’t miss our previous installment in this Habitat Restoration Series:

Gardens and Plantings: Tending the Base

The green world of plants is the base of all life on the planet. Providing oxygen, nutrients and implicit in innumerable ecosystem services, we often fail to pay due respect and honor to the world of primary production.

On “The Acre” plants have a place of utmost importance. About 2/3 of the property is predominantly wet meadow and allowed to naturalize with human manipulation playing a minimal role helping control alien invasives and propagating native species. Dealing with invasives can be daunting so “control” rather than eradication is the more realistic goal. For example, deflowering the majority of Purple Loosestife (Lythrum salicaria) before they go to seed helps keep them from spreading; they are notoriously difficult to uproot and given that the wet meadow receives a great deal of runoff, it is impossible to eliminate them. So interfering with their further propagation is far more practical. Natural succession is in process with the appearance of Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum) and Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) sprinkled throughout the meadow. Curly/Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus), an alien, politely competes with native Common Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) as some of the predominant herbaceous plants in the meadow with numerous Grasses, Sedges, Asters, Pinks and Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) scattered throughout.  On the higher, dryer end of the meadow, native White Spruce (Picea glauca) have been planted, along with White Pine (Pinus strobus) and Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) creating bird habitat and Winter feeding opportunity for Red Squirrel and White-tailed Deer.

The rest of the property, where possible, is little by little being turned over to garden beds for food, medicine and visual pleasure while also functioning to assist wildlife as much as possible.  A 12 by 24 foot vegetable garden surrounded by herb beds is the major garden installation with a number of flower beds created throughout the rest of the “manicured” section. A mammoth Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) provides the annual supply of maple syrup and a generous source of wild berries have appeared thanks to bird droppings and my personal disdain for trimming around trees.  An old Apple tree makes a valiant effort to provide fruit each year in the dense shade of the Maple.  The last of the dead Scot’s Pines still stands providing valuable Woodpecker sustenance while across the way, long ago planted Austrian (P. nigra) and White Pines provide excellent cover for the many songbirds that visit and live here.

Below are posted some photos of plants that have been introduced around “The Acre.” They are part of a hypnotic, if not obsessive, pleasure that brings balance to not only the property’s environment but also to my own emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. All hail the Green!

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Nasturtiums hang in pots around the vegetable garden providing a lovely, peppery flavor to salads.

Blue Columbines

Lovely blue Columbines have naturalized all over the shady areas of “The Acre”.

Echinacea

A bright orange variety of Echinacea stands out from the more common pink variety planted in other areas of the property.

Pileated Woodpecker

Leaving a dead Scot’s Pine snag standing brings the Pileated Woodpecker in for regular visits.

Shasta Daisies

This bed of Shasta Daisies is full of happy smiling flowers.

Blanket Flowers

A new bed of Blanket Flowers has moved in next to the Shasta Daisies.

Monarda

Monarda, aka Bee Balm, is a favorite among Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, a variety of Butterflies as well as the Bees.

Marshmallow

Ants are busy sipping nectar while pollinating these Marshmallows.

Foam Flower and Fern

The base of trees is a perfect place for small beds of native Foam Flower and Ostrich Fern.

Wild Ginger

This new planting of Wild Ginger beneath the shade of the Pines is thus far doing quite well.

Naturalized Black Raspberries

Much credit goes to the birds of “The Acre” whose droppings provide a wonderful supply of wild Black Raspberries.

Common Elderberry

Among the most useful plantings are these beautiful Common Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) which provide powerful medicine for humans and important bird food just in time for Autumn migration.