A PASSION FOR PLANTS: August 2008
by Nancy Schramm
Bee . . . Good!
What would our world be like without honeybees?
Well, no more bee stings, no buzzing insects bothering you
in the garden. No more swarms setting up housekeeping in inconvenient
spots. But then we'd also have no more honey, and no almonds,
because almond trees are completely dependent on bees for pollination.
We'd lose 90% of our cherry and blueberry crops,
both dependent on bees. Apples would be mostly lopsided
because of incomplete pollination. Our crops of melons, broccoli,
and kiwi would be much fewer, too. In short, things would
be awful without bees!
Bees, both native and domestic, provide a great service to agriculture.
Many of our food crops originated in Europe, and the first settlers
that brought both plant material and the bees accustomed to pollinating
it were on the road to success. After all, our honeybee isn't
native to the U.S., but to southern Europe. The European honeybee
(Apis) is an immigrant to the New World. And a most welcome immigrant
because of its industry and productive nature, its willingness
to do an honest job and be a part of the community.
Here's a local bit of bee history: The first bees to be shipped
to the West Coast arrived at the Port of San Jose! The original
name of the local minor league ball club, The San Jose Bees,
celebrated that fact.
But bees (the little flying variety) have had a hard time of
it lately. Several types of mites started causing problems in
the 1990s, and the last few years have seen a tremendous loss
of hives from something called "hive collapse." Beekeepers
and scientists are the ones who have to create solutions for
those problems, but, believe it or not, there is something we
plant lovers can do to help.We can put plants in our gardens
that provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to the honey makers.
A healthy, well established hive can produce 10 gallons of honey
each year, and it takes a lot of nectar and pollen to feed the
process. Yes, bees collect and use both nectar and pollen, with
pollen being the most important source of protein. Not all plants
are created equal, though. A friend recently shared a chart with
me that lists 100 or so different plants and how attractive they
are to both honey and native bees. Some plants are food sources
for both types of bees, but sometimes they don't share the same
For today, let's just look at a few of the plants that are especially
attractive to honey bees.
You might not want to grow plants for bees near where small children
play, but most of us have areas in the garden where bees can
Starting with trees, consider the stone fruits (apricot,
cherry, peach). After all, since many of these depend on
the honeybee for pollination, obviously bees are attracted to
them. Citrus, apples and crabapples are
good candidates, as is the Washington thorn, Crataegus
phaenopyrum. This tree can grow up to 25' tall, and is esthetically
pleasing, with lovely fall color and red berries, that persist
on the tree and provide winter interest.
Bees are quite particular, they single out one of the largest
California lilacs, Ceanothus "Ray Hartman"
as their favorite. This large shrub or tree can get 20' tall
and about as wide, and has large, dark green leaves and medium
Pride of Madeira (Echium candicans) is a large (5-6' tall
x 6-10' wide) dramatic shrub with many branches, most ending
in tall blue flower spikes. Keep this one away from paths, as
the tiny hairs on the long, narrow gray-green leaves can be irritating
to tender skin.
There are enough different Salvias (sage) to fill a
book, and I heartily recommend several such books written by
Betsy Clebsch to help you decide which sages to plant for bees.
Several other plants in our herb gardens provide bee food,
including rosemary, lavender, thyme and oregano.
Besides the origanums grown for culinary purposes (oregano,
marjoram) there are many lovely ornamental ones to choose
from. Many of these have a low arching habit, perfect for hanging
baskets, with small roundish leaves all along the stem. Flowers
start appearing at the ends of the stems by early summer, with
large colorful bracts stacked and hanging like little pink pinecones.
How about plants in our vegetable gardens? Put in some pumpkins,
squash, zucchini or peppers, and watch the bees happily
Be observant, watch the plants around you, and you're sure to
see more blossoms that attract bees. I've noticed loads of bees
around a vine I have covering a chain link fence, Cissus striata.
It's a great plant, but I'm going to save that one to tell you
about in a whole column devoted to vines.
and About Magazine
owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently
moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived
for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual
plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden
plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has
been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003.
She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder
of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the
Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.
Contact Nancy at email@example.com