Befriending the Bumble Bee

Did you know that honey bees were imported from Europe and are not native to the United States?

Honey bee collects pollen. (K. Ethington)

In California, we have about 1,600 species of native bees, and 26 of these are bumble beesThe bumble bee is the largest and gentlest of all the known species of bees. The queen bumble bee hibernates in the winter, then emerges in the spring to collect nectar, rebuild her strength, and find a suitable nest location. Click on this link to learn more fascinating details about a year in the life of a bumble bee from the Xerces Society.

If you look closely at the vegetation in your garden or park space now, you might spot a bumble bee collecting pollen from the flowers. Bumble bees are particularly good at pollination. Their wings beat 130 times or more per second, according to the National Wildlife Federation, and the beating combined with their large bodies vibrates flowers until they release pollen, which is called buzz pollination. Buzz pollination helps plants produce more fruit.

Crotch’s Bumble Bee. (E. Wallace)

When you see a bumble bee, snap a photo and share it with scientists. One of the best places to record your bumble bee sighting is iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. With iNaturalist “every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed.”

The Crotch’s bumble bee pictured above was verified by scientists after I imported the photo to iNaturalist. It is classified as endangered due to the impacts of pesticides, climate change, and human development.

Black-tailed bumble bee. (E. Wallace)

Bumble bees need three things to thrive:

  1. Flowers on which to forage.
  2. A place to build their nest (abandoned rodent holes in the soil, leaf litter, and cavities in rock piles).
  3. A pesticide-free environment.

Yellow-faced bumble bee. (E. Wallace)

Let’s help our bumble bees so we can enjoy their fuzzy buzzing every spring. Now that we have been forced to slow down, we can spend some of our free time watching the secret lives of animals, and then upload our observations on iNaturalist. Maybe we can plant a native plant or two in our gardens, and see if we can help these creatures while we help ourselves.

Buckwheat blossom. (E. Wallace)

Speaking of native plants, the Orange County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) is offering free California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants (while supplies last) at Tree of Life Nursery and  Roger’s Gardens. These two nurseries are operating carefully and have made some changes in light of COVID-19. Tree of Life Nursery has reduced their operating hours — check the web site before picking up your free buckwheat. Roger’s Gardens in Corona del Mar is also operating with protective measures in place.

Digger bee. (K. Ethington)

After you pick up your buckwheat, send us an email at buckwheat@occnps.org. Let us know where you planted your new buckwheat and we can input the location on our Buckwheat iNaturalist map. Wishing you the best in these uncertain times. I hope you spot a bumble bee, and take some solace in your garden or local park space. Be well.

My Interview with the LA Times

Jeanette Marantos, garden reporter for the LA Times, called me in mid-February as I was returning home from a landscape restoration project I work on in Trabuco Canyon.

(L to R) Brad Jenkins, president of OCCNPS, volunteer Vern Jones, Jeff Wallace and myself, after planting four Coast Live Oak trees and two toyons at a landscaping project in Trabuco Canyon. (E. Wallace)

Marantos asked me to provide a short list of the best native plants Southern Californians can plant in their home landscapes, and also why it is important to plant natives in the home garden.

We spoke on the phone for an hour and I suggested California native plants that are beautiful and easy-to-grow. We researched the plants together on the Calscape database. We also discussed Doug Tallamy’s research that shows when non-native ornamental plants are installed in the landscape, insect populations plummet because insects are co-evolved to feed from native plant species, not from introduced plant species.

Marantos’ article appeared in the LA Times on February 28 and is titled “Want to help bees and butterflies? Add these plants to your garden.”

Want to help bees and butterflies? Illustration by Julie Yellow for The Times.

Marantos wrote: “Once upon a time in Southern California, landscaping was primarily about decoration — the greenest lawn, easy-care sculptural shrubs and a few showstopper flowers, almost none native to the region or welcoming to butterflies or bees. In truth, we did everything we could to keep bugs out of our yards, and it worked — far too well.”

She spoke with Ron Vanderhoff, vice president of the Orange County Chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) and general manager of Roger’s Gardens nursery, who said, “Bees, butterflies and other native insects are dwindling because they’re running out of the habitat and food provided by native plants. If we want to save them — and the birds and other animals that need those insects to survive — we need to change how we think about landscaping.”

“There’s been a mind change where gardening is not just decorating, it’s doing something to help the world,” Vanderhoff said. “It’s gardening with a purpose to it.”

Hummingbird visits native manzanita. (Kris Ethington)

Kris Ethington, board member of OCCNPS, and winner of Orange County’s 2018 California Friendly Garden contest for re-landscaping her entire yard with only native plants, discussed her favorite plants for the garden including oaks, lemonadeberry, toyon, and verbena de la mina.

Here is a list of California native plants that Ron, Kris and I consider must-haves in every garden as reported in the LA Times:

Buckwheat growing under fruit trees

Buckwheat blossoms in late summer home garden. (E. Wallace)

If you are going to add just one native plant to your yard, make it a California buckwheat. At OCCNPS, we believe this is such an important plant for the landscape that we gave away 1,500 starter buckwheat plants to Orange County homeowners in our A Buckwheat in Every Garden program.

Hummingbird finding nectar from a Cleveland sage. (Kris Ethington)

Salvias and sages are pollinators’ favorite flowers. White sage is a sacred plant to Native Americans; it has silvery foliage and thrives in hot, dry locations. For shady locations, hummingbird sage spreads abundantly, blossoming with magenta-colored flowers in spring and summer. Vanderhoff also recommends the fragrant Cleveland sage which thrives in most parts of Southern California.

Monarch caterpillar munching on a narrow-leaf milkweed. (Cynthia Grilli)

Narrow-leaf milkweed has white flowers and is the best milkweed for monarch butterflies in Southern California. Many nurseries sell the orange tropical milkweed, but tropical milkweed is not native to Southern California, and researchers have discovered that tropical milkweed hosts a protozoa that makes adult monarchs sickly and weak, according to Vanderhoff. For that reason, Vanderhoff’s nursery, Roger’s Gardens, only sells narrow-leaf milkweed.

Maritime ceanothus. (Kris Ethington)

Ceanothus, commonly known as the California lilac, is a gardener’s favorite. With its honey sweet scent and profuse violet blossoms, this is a must have for every garden. The ceanothus variety ‘Yankee Point’ spills down hillsides in shady inland gardens. ‘Ray Hartman‘ ceanothus is a small-tree-sized California lilac covered with deep violet blossoms in springtime.

Native bumble with pollen on its legs and a lupine. (Kris Ethington)

California poppies and lupine wildflowers are easy-to-grow annuals with spectacular spring and summer flowers. Gardeners can sow the seeds of these flowers just before winter rains and provide abundant support for pollinators. You can purchase these seeds from Tree of Life Nursery and Theodore Payne Foundation.

Black-tailed bumblebee visits manzanita. (Kris Ethington)

Manzanitas are the superstars of California natives. If anything will turn people toward natives, it’s manzanitas. Manzanitas’ bell-shaped blossoms, structural characteristics, and rich red bark make this a garden standout. Two varieties of manzanitas are excellent choices for the first-time native gardener: Arctostaphylos ‘Sunset’ and ‘Howard McMinn.’

Join me at and other members of OCCNPS at The Dana Point Headlands Earth Day Celebration on April 25, and pick up a free California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plant. We care about your garden and the pollinators your garden can support with the right native plants. Join us and bring your questions. We are here to help.

How Many Trees on the Planet?

For many years, scientists could only guess at the number of trees on earth. But in 2015, Thomas Crowther and colleagues at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies used a combination of satellite imagery, forest inventories, and supercomputer technologies to produce a global map of tree density at the square-kilometer pixel scale.

Coast Live Oak trees growing in Trabuco Canyon. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The study published in Nature on September 2, 2015, concluded that 3.04 trillion trees are growing on earth.

California sycamore (Platanus racemosa) growing at Tree of Life Nursery. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Studies also estimate that the number of trees worldwide have declined 46 percent since the onset of agriculture thousands of years ago.

California Sycamore at O’Neill Park in Trabuco Canyon. (Elizabeth Wallace)

In an effort to increase biodiversity and combat climate change, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) launched a Billion Tree Campaign in 2006. By November 2007, they had achieved the goal, and one billion trees had been planted worldwide.

In December 2011, after more than 12 billion trees had been planted, UNEP formally handed management of the program over to the youth-led not-for-profit Plant-for-the-Planet Foundation (an organization that has been participating in the Billion Tree Campaign since 2007).

More recently, in the World Economic Forum 2020 at Davos, the Forum launched an initiative to bring support to plant a trillion trees by 2030.

Native California Sycamore tree leafing out in springtime. (Elizabeth Wallace)

If you want to join the tree-planting momentum, the Audubon Society recommends careful research in Plant Trees that Turn Your Yard into a Bird Oasis. Planting a native tree that contributes to life where you live is important, and the Audubon Society is a great resource that will help you select the best tree for your outdoor living space.

Coast Live Oak trees and deer browsing. (Elizabeth Wallace)

If you have a small yard or patio, and you live in California, a great tree for wildlife is the Scrub Oak (Quercus berberidifolia). The Scrub Oak grows 15 feet tall, is evergreen, and supports more than 100 species of butterflies and moths.

Scrub oak tree. Photo by Valley News.

A versatile California native shrub for pollinators is the California buckwheat. The California Native Plant Society Orange County (OCCNPS) chapter will be giving away four-inch California buckwheat plants during the April 4 weekend at the Fullerton Arboretum’s Green Scene.

California buckwheat in the Dana Point Headlands. Photo by Debra Kettler.

OCCNPS will also be offering a variety of California native plants and trees for sale at  Green Scene. Native plant experts will answer your questions and offer support to help make planting with natives successful and fun. Join us at Green Scene on April 4.

 

Bring More Hummingbirds, Orioles, and Warblers to Your Home

How can you get more birds visiting your garden?

Hummingbird gathering nectar from Cleveland Sage. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Go to Audubon’s guide for plants that attract birds.

Orange-Crowned Warbler foraging on Showy Penstemon. Photo by Kris Ethington.

When you click on this link, you will be directed to the Audubon Society database that recommends plants that help birds thrive where you live. Enter your 5-digit zip code and explore the best plants for birds in your area, as well as local resources and links to more information.

Hooded Oriole feeding chick. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Click the Audubon link and learn which native plants will bring more birds to your garden this spring.

Hummingbird fledgling perched on a Cleveland Sage with parent in the background. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you live in Southern California, you can find bird-friendly native plants for sale at Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano.

Tree of Life Nursery in San Juan Capistrano. (Elizabeth Wallace)

And on Saturday, March 12 from 3 to 5 p.m., you can pick up a free California buckwheat plant at the Arbor Day celebration at Lang Park in Laguna Beach while supplies last.

Where Do Western Monarchs Spend the Spring?

Despite the fact that Western Monarch butterflies are universally loved, their numbers have plummeted in recent years.

Two monarch butterflies cruise together under a Coast Live Oak tree. (Elizabeth Wallace)

What can you do to help? Join the Western Monarch Mystery Challenge–a campaign created to increase awareness of locations where Western Monarchs spend the spring in California after leaving their coastal California overwintering sites.

Male and female Western Monarchs together. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

If you see a monarch from February 18 through April 22, take a photo (it can be far away and blurry). Then report the siting to iNaturalist, the Western Monarch Milkweed Mapper, or email it to MonarchMystery@wsu.edu.

Far away and blurry photo of Western Monarch on baccharis pilularis cultivar and coffee berry. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Your photo will help scientists better understand Western Monarchs’ locations and activities in February, March, and April. When you share your springtime Monarch observations, you help conservation efforts for the butterfly.

In between reporting your spring Western Monarch sitings, plant more native plants in your garden, especially California buckwheat, salvias, manzanitas, narrow-leaf milkweed, and maybe a scrub oak tree!

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is partnering with National Audubon Society to encourage all of us to go outside this weekend and count the birds we see in our backyard or favorite place.

Sandpipers at Laguna Beach, CA. (Elizabeth Wallace)

I spent about 30 minutes this morning with a pair of binoculars and my Birds of California Field Guide by Stan Tekiela. I counted five American Robins, one Yellow-Rumped Warbler, a Cooper’s Hawk, and three White-Crowned Sparrows.

Cooper’s Hawk in search of breakfast. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The count continues through the Presidents’ Day holiday on Monday, February 17. Audubon encourages people from around the world to count wild birds and then submit the data online for scientists to use in their research. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an easy-to-use phone app to help you record and identify the birds you see. It’s called Merlin.

The Merlin app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helps you record the birds you saw during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

You can add this app to your phone for free and quickly identify and record the birds you observed this weekend. It’s easy and fun and will help scientists better understand trends in bird populations worldwide.

Pelicans at sunset in Irvine, California. Photo by Yana Bridle.

After you’ve finished counting birds, join us in April at the Fullerton Arboretum Green Scene. We will be giving away free buckwheat and also offering other California native plants for sale.

California buckwheat plants are flowering machines that attract hundreds of pollinators. These pollinators are an important food source for birds. I look forward to seeing you this Thursday.

Tiny masked bee visits California buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Butterfly Weekend

This weekend was California Biodiversity Day 2019 sponsored by the California Natural Resources Agency.  Scientists sought observations by fellow scientists, gardeners and ordinary citizens in mapping plants and animals living in California.

Male and female monarchs get together on the leaves of an alder tree to perpetuate the species. Photo by Jeff Wallace.

In honor of Biodiversity Day, I took a break from my chores and spent some time outside in my backyard with my husband to observe the local wildlife. We saw eight different species of butterflies, cactus wrens eating California coffee berries, hummingbirds sipping nectar from California fuchsia, a lizard doing push-ups on our garden wall, and a leaf-cutter bee laying eggs.

A pair of woodland skippers resting on a ceanothus. (Elizabeth Wallace)

After taking these photos, we uploaded them to iNaturalist, a citizen science project and online social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe.

Metalmark butterfly at rest. (Elizabeth Wallace)

It’s fun discovering tiny butterflies and native bees that live in the garden.  I spend a lot of time watching the butterflies, wishing they would rest so I can capture their image with my iPhone.

My friend in Costa Mesa noticed Monarch caterpillars had eaten all of the leaves of her two narrow-leaf milkweed bushes this week.  She was alarmed and worried the caterpillars would need more food.  She drove to Armstrong Nursery on Thursday and purchased a large narrow-leaf milkweed and her Monarch caterpillars are happily munching away once again.  They are hungry!

Monarch caterpillar feasting on a narrow-leaf milkweed. Photo by Cynthia Grilli.

Scientists were concerned because the annual Western Monarch butterfly count was historically low this year (fewer than 30,000 butterflies were counted–down 99 percent from the 1980’s).  They fear the Western Monarch may be nearing extinction.

It feels hopeful to see these chubby caterpillars, and the two adults mating in my garden this week.  If you would like to learn more about how you can help Monarchs, go to The Xerces Society.

Local Plants Support Bird Life

Did you know that 96 percent of songbirds rear their young on insects?  That one nest of chickadees requires 4,000 caterpillars and insects to fledge their young?

carolina-chickadee_douglas-tallamy-1

Carolina chickadee prepares to feed young. Photo by Douglas Tallamy.

Our national parks and nature preserves are not adequate to support bird and butterfly populations according to Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home.  Tallamy estimates that only 3 percent of land in the lower 48 is set aside as parkland and nature preserves. The remaining 97 percent of land is being used for agriculture, residential and commercial development.

Tallamy argues that part of the reason bird and butterfly populations have been declining is because we have been planting ornamental plants in our commercial and residential landscapes instead of native plants.

Fountain Grass

Ornamental and invasive fountain grass planted on a residential hillside. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Tallamy’s simple solution to reverse the decline of bird populations, is to encourage homeowners and business owners to plant locally native vegetation instead of ornamental plants.  Even planting a small corner of your garden with locally native plants will help support bird life and butterflies.

Buckwheat and Purple Three Awn

St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum) and Purple Three Awn decorate a patio. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Locally native plants support butterfly life because the butterflies evolved to feed from the native vegetation.  More butterflies mean more birds.

Try planting native.  You will love the results.