In much of North America, the month of August can be virtually flower-free. Where I live, the wild places are bleak. Most plants have long since dried and withered in the hot summer sun. Because forage is so sparse, I spend a lot of time trying to notice those few things that are blooming, and who is benefiting from them. Are those plants something I can encourage in the future?
Last week I took a notebook with me as I wondered the woodland trails and logging roads. I found quite a few species with a few blooms, although most things where not exactly lush.
Fall forage in my garden
My own vegetable and flower gardens are well-watered, but even they are showing signs of stress. At this time of year, the big draws for honey bees are the open-centered dahlias, oregano, and autumn sedum. Not only are these three crowded with honey bees, but they are equally popular with bumble bees and woodland skippers (small butterflies). The dahlias and sedum also sport tiny green tree frogs, who seem content to sit and watch.
The bright yellow blossoms of squash and cucumbers are also filled with honey bees, bumble bees, and solitary wasps. Of the vegetables I’ve let go to flower, the onions are favored by honey bees and solitary wasps, while the carrot blossoms are attracting Ceratina (small carpenter bees) and Sphecodes (so-called blood bees). Going into a second flowering this year is mountain hollyhock which is attracting honey bees and Lasioglossum bees. Both sage and catmint are blooming again and seem to attract anything with wings.
Other fall-blooming plants are honeywort, which is popular with both honey bees and bumble bees, and partridge pea which is favored by leafcutters.
Fall forage in the wildlands
Along the woods and trails, the blackberry vines growing in substantial shade are still blooming and attracting honey bees and bumble bees. I’m also seeing isolated patches of hard hack (Spiraea douglasii), everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), heal-all (Prunella vulgaris), common burdock (Arctium minus), and pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). In addition there is a spattering of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare), goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), hairy cat’s ear (Hypochaeris radicata), St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum), and queen anne’s lace (Daucus carota). In damper areas, I’ve seen occasional bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), hedge nettle (Stachys cooleyae), field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), and smartweed (Polygonum spp).
Truth be told, I don’t see many honey bees on the wild plants, except for the heal-all, goldenrod, fireweed, and smartweed. The bumble bees like everlasting pea, the Melissodes like bull thistle, Ceratina and Lasioglossom like the queen anne’s lace, and the leafcutters and woolcarders are partial to bird’s foot trefoil. Of the wild plants that seem to survive the summer drought, I don’t see any I actually want to propagate. Most are introduced weeds.
What to plant next year
I go through this process every year as I try to decide what to provide for next year’s summer bees. Although it seems like I always come up short, I have to remember that the lush crop of open-centered dahlias, autumn-flowering sedums, and late-blooming mints resulted from this exercise in previous years.
Of course, the plants in your local area will be different from those I find here. But I urge you to take a look around at your garden, your neighbor’s garden, or the local wildlands and see what’s blooming during this very dry season. It may give you some idea of how you can help your bees through the next summer dearth. And remember to keep notes! These things are very easy to forget.
Honey Bee Suite