When I was a kid, the kitchen windows were decorated with colorful curtains printed with flowers and the word “cosmos.” The word was upside down and right side up and sideways. Not only did I think that was stupid, but I didn’t know what “cosmos” meant (I thought it had something to do with the sky) and I didn’t like the way it sounded. I never once associated the word with the flowers.
Many years later I realized the connection, but after spending so many meals with that perplexing word kaleidoscoping in my vision, I never wanted anything to do with cosmos. Of course, all that changed last summer when I discovered cosmos as a bee plant.
I quickly learned that all types of bees visited the flowers, including honey bees, bumbles, carpenters, leafcutters, and sweat bees. Also visiting were an array of butterflies, moths, hover flies, solitary wasps, beetles, and flower spiders. And the flowers themselves are pretty, blooming in various shades of pink, red, white, gold, and purple, all of which sway atop feathery foliage.
I didn’t buy cosmos seeds on purpose, but they came in all the pollinator mixes I tried last spring. Some mixes even contained more than one variety. Now I’m scouring my seed sources, looking for as many varieties of cosmos as I can find. I’d like to plant them in my garden, and I’m thinking of growing them in planters as well.
Of course, you never know how a pollinator plant will behave in a different environment, or how well it will attract insects. A lot depends on what else is in bloom at the same time. Nevertheless, you may want to give this one a try.
Here are some miscellaneous facts I came across:
- Cosmos belongs to the Asteraceae (sunflower) family
- Many species belong to the genus Cosmos
- The plant is an annual
- The seeds can be planted outdoors after the last frost, or indoors 4-to-6 weeks earlier
- The plants need only moderate soil fertility
- The plants quickly reach their full height of 1 to 7 feet, depending on variety
- Blooming can be extended by deadheading the spent flowers
Although the flowers provide both nectar and pollen for the insects that visit, I was most enchanted by the leafcutting bees that freely snipped the flower petals for use in their nests. What a useful plant for bees!
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