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.

First They Sleep

Have you heard the old adage about growing newly-installed plants in the landscape? The saying goes like this: “First they sleep, then they creep, then they leap!”

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This starter ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat is not sleeping after installation: it has doubled in size a month after being planted. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Is your new ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat sleeping, creeping, or leaping? Some homeowners who planted their free buckwheat report bunnies feasting on the tender new growth. If this has happened to your buckwheat, consider fencing it temporarily until the plant grows larger and less tasty to rabbits.

Most ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat starter plants that were planted last fall are nestled into the soil and becoming established in their new home. The rainfall has nourished the leaves, stems, and roots with pure water.

California rains soak California buckwheat. (Elizabeth Wallace)

As the weather begins to warm, the new four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants will begin to bud and eventually flower.

Budding buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The buckwheat flowers will attract native California pollinators such as the Acmon Blue, Gray Hairstreak, Brown Elfin, Blue Copper, and Dotted Blue butterflies, as well as many species of California bees including the tiny Masked bee.

Masked bee visits a buckwheat flower. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you haven’t had a chance to attend A Buckwheat in Every Garden event to pick up your free buckwheat, consider visiting the San Juan Capistrano Garden Club monthly meeting on January 20. The club will give away 96 ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the San Juan Hills Golf Course banquet room.

Buckwheat in flower. (Kris Ethington)

The ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat is a must-have for every Orange County garden, and now is the perfect time to plant it in your home landscape. Get yours while supplies last.

Restored Habitat at Shipley Supports Wildlife

I took advantage of the break in the rain last weekend to visit Shipley Nature Center for their A Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway in Huntington Beach.

Sycamore tree overhangs natural pathway. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The 18-acre Shipley Nature Center is a California native botanical area and wetland. The centerpiece of the gardens is a fresh water pond surrounded by various California native habitat gardens, restful seating areas, and natural pathways.

Red toyon berries flank an adirondack chair in autumn. (Elizabeth Wallace)

Shipley offers vermiculture (worm composting) demonstration sites, rain harvesting and storage examples, and a native plant nursery on site. Fallen tree branches are stacked along some of the pathways, providing perfect habitat for California native bees.

An Urbane Digger Bee in flight. Photo by Kris Ethington.

The City of Huntington Beach and the nonprofit Friends of Shipley Nature Center began restoration of the site in 1974. They removed invasive plants such as tamarisk and black mustard, then planted fifty thousand native plants. This site now supports snowy egrets, great blue herons, ducks, turtles, Cooper’s hawks, cedar waxwings, and many other species of birds, and butterflies.

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

Shipley Nature Center is an oasis in the city of Huntington Beach. Take your family to visit over the holidays and walk along 4,000 feet of trails that wander through oak woodlands, Torrey pines, willows, coastal sage scrub, and butterfly gardens. Admission is free, and visitor hours are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Matilija poppies in full flower at Shipley. Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

Don’t forget to look for the buckwheats planted near the entrance of the site, and remember to look up! You may be rewarded by the site of a snowy egret near its tangled branch nest in the tree tops.

Do you see the ghostly figure of the snowy egret near the nest built in the sycamore tree at Shipley? Photo by Mary LeBoeuf.

More Buckwheat, More Butterflies

When you plant California buckwheat in your home landscape, you bring immediate relief to butterflies and other pollinators searching for nectar and shelter.

California native bee, solitary and docile, visits a California Buckwheat. Do you see the bee? Photo by Kris Ethington.

California buckwheats flower for months, enrich the soil with their tiny leaves, are easy to grow, and are evergreen. Buckwheat is a foundation plant for any garden.

Buckwheat graces a suburban garden. (Elizabeth Wallace)

The California Native Plant Society Orange County (OCCNPS) chapter is partnering with the Shipley Nature Center to give away 200 California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants at the Holiday Crafts Faire on Saturday, December 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free.

Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach.

Visit Shipley Nature Center this Saturday to pick up a free California buckwheat, select from 70 California native plants to purchase, and see 18 acres of restored wetlands, woodlands, and pristine coastal sage scrub habitat. Shipley’s address is 17851 Goldenwest Street in Huntington Beach. See you this Saturday!

Bernardino Blue butterfly on California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasiculatum). Photo by Chuck Wright.

Buckwheat with a Side of Natives

The Shipley Nature Center of Huntington Beach is partnering with STEMscopes students to host the final Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway of 2019.

Restored coastal sage habitat at Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach.

The December 7th Shipley Nature Center buckwheat giveaway is especially exciting because along with the 200 buckwheat plants being distributed for free, Shipley will offer 70 additional California native plants for sale.

California native plants and books about gardening with natives. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Located in an 18-acre fenced natural area within Huntington Beach Central Park, the Shipley Nature Center is owned by the city of Huntington Beach. Several years ago, the Friends of Shipley Nature Center and the city of Huntington Beach joined together to remove invasive plants, upgrade the trail system, improve wetland areas, and install 50,000 California native plants.

Shipley Nature Center field of poppies.

This Shipley garden event will help OCCNPS supply northwest Orange County homeowners with buckwheat for their home gardens and fill in the Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map. One buckwheat plant is given to an Orange County homeowner in exchange for the homeowner’s street and city to plot the buckwheats as they are planted across the county.

A Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map showing 975 buckwheats planted across Orange County as of November 29, 2019.

Join us at the Shipley Nature Center, 17851 Goldenwest Street, Huntington Beach, on Saturday, December 7 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. to pick up your free buckwheat and buy some California natives too. While supplies last, see you December 7.

Gray Hairstreak butterfly on Red Buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Buckwheat in the Headlands

Last Friday I visited the 60-acre Dana Point Headlands for the first time. I was interested in seeing the place of origin of the ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat that is being given to Orange County homeowners in A Buckwheat in Every Garden campaign.

Ocean view of the Dana Point Headlands. Photo by Debra Kettler.

We started at the Dana Point Nature Interpretive Center and walked along a sandy trail leading to viewpoints overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was mid-November, and the Dana Point Headlands hadn’t had a drop of rain for six months. Many of the plants in this environment are summer dormant, waiting for winter rains to refresh their leaves and begin new growth.

Walking through the protected path at the Dana Point Headlands. (Elizabeth Wallace)

I enjoyed the rare pristine Coastal Sage Scrub environment in this protected area. It has been a long time since I have traversed a natural environment untouched by invasive black mustard. The most noticeable hints of color in the headlands were the rusty red color of the California Buckwheat flower in autumn, along with patches of green from Laurel Sumac and Prickly Pear Cactus.

California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) at the Dana Point Headlands. Photo by Debra Kettler.

The Dana Point Headlands is a coastal promontory managed by the Center for Natural Lands Management. It is home to about 106 native plant species including, of course, California Buckwheat, and the rare California Boxthorn, Cliff Spurge, Prostrate Spine Flower, and Seaside Calandrinia.

Cliff Spurge (Euphorbia misera). Photo by Wayne D. Johnson.

Because the Headlands is home to the threatened and endangered Pacific Pocket Mouse and the Coastal California Gnatcatcher, the area is carefully managed to prevent disturbances to the vulnerable creatures. My husband was fortunate to hear the kitten-like cry of the gnatcatcher and then see the tiny bird hopping on a coastal sage for a few moments near the trail.

California Gnatcatcher. Photo by Debra Kettler.

The Dana Point Headlands is one of the few places left that protects endangered California coastal plant and animal species. Bring your family to visit the Headlands, and enjoy the beautiful swaths of buckwheat in a pristine environment and many other rare plant and animal species as well.

California buckwheat “Dana Point.’ Photo by Kris Ethington.

Our next Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway will be on Saturday, December 7, at the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach. Two hundred ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat plants will be distributed at this event, and many more varieties of California native plants like Encelia (below) will be for sale too. More details to follow.

Springtime fields of California bush sunflower (Encelia californica). Photo by Debra Kettler.

 

Buckwheat Giveaway in Dana Point

The city of Dana Point is partnering with the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) on an ambitious 200-plant Buckwheat in Every Garden giveaway this Friday, November 15 at the Dana Point Community Center.

Four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plant is ready to be planted in a new Orange County home landscape. (Elizabeth Wallace)

OCCNPS and the city of Dana Point will give away 200 four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Dana Point Community Center at 34052 Del Obispo Street on Friday, November 15.

Buckwheat giveaway earlier this month. Photo by Thea Gavin.

Tree of Life Nursery selected the ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) from a buckwheat plant growing at the Dana Point Headlands. The ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat is a long-flowering shrub that grows one-foot tall and three-feet wide, making it well-suited to smaller home landscapes and gardens.

‘Dana Point’ buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

One ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plant per homeowner will be given in exchange for the homeowner’s street and city. OCCNPS is mapping the buckwheats as they are planted across Orange County home landscapes on the BIEG iNaturalist map. A recent version of the iNaturalist map is shown here with nearly 700 buckwheats planted across Orange County.

A Buckwheat in Every Garden iNaturalist map.

Please join us this Friday and help make Dana Point’s namesake buckwheat giveaway a success. The plants are ready to go into the ground. Get yours this Friday, November 15, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Dana Point Community Center at 34052 Del Obispo Street, Dana Point, California.

Newly installed ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat. Photo by Rob Skinner.

Buckwheats Buzz

Most people recognize the common honey bee as a social creature that lives in hives and makes honey. However many people don’t know that honey bees are non-native insects, introduced from Europe.

European honey bee visiting buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

There are 1,600 species of native bees in California, ranging in size from one-inch long to less than one-quarter inch long. California native bees are often solitary, living in wood or underground tunnels, and most do not make honey. They are important to the existence of our wild lands, and serve as food that supports other species.

Fairy Bees visit buckwheat blossoms. Photo by Kris Ethington.

California native bees love buckwheat’s profusion of blossoms. If you look closely at your California buckwheat when it’s in full bloom in the summer, you will see hundreds of tiny bees and butterflies scattered throughout its blossoms.

Fiery Skipper butterfly visits buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

If you would like to learn more about California native bees, visit the website for UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.

And if you would like to support our native pollinators, join us as we give away California buckwheat plants (while supplies last) at three upcoming events in November:

  1. The Fullerton Arboretum is hosting A Buckwheat in Every Garden give-away on Friday, November 1, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  2. Roger’s Gardens is giving away four-inch California ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Corona del Mar on Friday, November 1.
  3. The San Clemente Garden Club is hosting a buckwheat give-away on Wednesday, November 6 from 1 to 3 p.m. Brad Jenkins, President of the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society, will be presenting that afternoon as well.

    An Urbane Digger Bee in flight. Photo by Kris Ethington.

    OCCNPS gave away more than 400 ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants in October. Visit our iNaturalist map to see the hundreds of buckwheat plants that have gone to their new Orange County home landscapes.

Buckwheat Builds Soil

California buckwheat is an evergreen plant with small leaves that occasionally drop to the ground, forming a natural mulch. The fallen leaves enrich the soil around the plant and allow the plant to grow and spread in its own loamy mulch.

California buckwheat leaves and stem. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

If you are an Orange County homeowner who hasn’t picked up your free ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat yet, stop by Roger’s Gardens at 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd., Corona del Mar on Tuesday, October 22 through Thursday, October 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This is the only three-day giveaway we have planned, so take advantage of it if you can.

Rogers Gardens is participating in the A Buckwheat in Every Garden campaign.

 

Birds, Bees and Buckwheat

The California Native Plant Society Orange County (OCCNPS) chapter created A Buckwheat in Every Garden to encourage homeowners to plant California native plants in their home landscape– which in turn supports and increases bird populations.

Hummingbird and native California fuchsia. Photo by Kris Ethington.

My neighbor recently sent this photo of a swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on the leaves of her kumquat tree. She had previously considered removing the kumquat trees from her garden, but decided against it and was thrilled to see the swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on the leaves.

Swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on the leaves of a kumquat tree. Photo by Amanda Morrell.

California buckwheat has a long, prolific flowering season that attracts tiny native California bees and butterflies. When I looked closely at my California buckwheat plants this summer, I was astonished to see thousands of tiny pollinators on my buckwheat flowers. These pollinators support my vegetable garden and fruit trees, and they support bird life as well.

Butterfly visits a California buckwheat. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

On Thursday, October 17 at 7:30 p.m., Mike Evans, owner of Tree of Life Nursery, gave a presentation at the OCCNPS chapter meeting called Horticultural Valor in the Native Garden–Be Bold! OCCNPS gave away 61 four-inch ‘Dana Point’ buckwheat plants during the chapter meeting.

Paper wasps visits a buckwheat flower. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff.

On Saturday, October 19, OCCNPS board member Thea Gavin gave a presentation at Orange Home Grown Farmers Market about how beneficial pollinators increase in numbers when native plants are installed near fruit and vegetable gardens. OCCNPS gave away 42 ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheat plants at the event.

California buckwheat

Butterfly visits buckwheat. Photo by Kris Ethington.

Would you like to help the buckwheat campaign? Join us as a Buckwheat Ambassador and help distribute baby buckwheat plants to your garden club or environmental group. Click here to learn how you can be a part of A Buckwheat in Every Garden.

Buckwheat Brings a Party

One hundred and fifty ‘Dana Point’ California buckwheats found new homes in Orange County. The first outreach event at Acorn Day at O’Neill Regional Park and the second outreach at Smartscape were very popular, attracting many gardeners eager to install a native California buckwheat in their home landscapes.

California buckwheats are in high demand at Acorn Day in O’Neill Park. Photo by Laura Camp.

The Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society (OCCNPS) has created an interactive iNaturalist map that shows the distribution of the 1,500 buckwheat plants as they are given away and planted throughout the OC. You can follow along as the new buckwheat plants are being installed in Orange County by clicking on the link here.

Four-inch California buckwheats ready for distribution. Photo by Ian Morrell.

If you didn’t have a chance to pick up your free California buckwheat plant last weekend, OCCNPS will be hosting more events throughout October and November.

One of many clusters of blossoms on California Buckwheat. Photo by Ron Vanderhoff

Go to www.OCCNPS.org for more information about upcoming buckwheat distribution events, buckwheat care, planting information, and more. We look forward to seeing you soon.

California buckwheat

California buckwheat in full bloom. (Elizabeth Wallace)