Trekking for pollinators
Here’s my newest crazy project: I want to learn which native pollinators visit which native plants in my local forests. So far, I’ve spent a lot of hours trekking around and finding very little. Oh, there are plenty of flowers; I just don’t see many pollinators on them. Furthermore, I can find almost nothing about this subject in books or online. My hunch is that little is known about who pollinates what in the wild.
Today, though, I found this bumble bee on a flower of Siberian minor’s lettuce, Clatonia sibirica. This plant, sometimes called candy flower, is common in the wetter wooded areas of our region. Whole hillsides of it are in bloom right now. The flowers are tiny and the bumble bee was huge, causing the flower to drape nearly to the ground. As you can see, the bee’s proboscis is slipped down between the sepals and the petals, rather than through the middle of the flower. I don’t know if this is common or if this particular bee was just clumsy.
And that brings me to another problem. I’m pretty good with plant identification and, when in doubt, I’m not too shabby with a dichotomous key and a dissecting kit. But bug i.d. is something else. Right now I’m shooting for family. If I can place the insect in a family, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something.
Right now the hillsides that were logged several years ago are teeming with native grasses and not-so native daisies, but the combination is enchanting. Also in abundance are native foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and introduced dandelions (Taraxacum officinale). Honey bees are all over the dandelions and small sweat bees frequent the daisies. Bumble bees normally pollinate foxglove, although I saw none today.
Then there are the gorgeous flowers that everyone ignores, including the brightly lit native tiger lily (Lilium columbianum). Local superstition says that if you smell a tiger lily you will get freckles on your nose. Who knew?
And of course there are always surprises. I took a photo of a thimbleberry flower (Rubus parviflorus) and wondered about its lack of pollinators. But once on the computer, I saw bugs all over it. Hmm. No clue what they are, but they apparently like the flower.
It’s hard to convince people we need to conserve species when we know absolutely nothing about them. Wouldn’t it be a giant step forward if every field guide to flowers noted what pollinators normally attend that species? It’s something to think about—perhaps something to strive for.