Scattered amongst the wildflowers I let grow on the back part of our property grows milkweed. A green variety that stays low to the ground and produces greenish flowers with bits of purple within. They’re neat looking plants and I hear tell that Monarch butterflies will lay eggs on them – so I leave them be. However, they have yet another benefit too – my bees seem to love them! I expected as much, but it’s neat to see the bees collecting from these flowers. The plant itself isn’t all that remarkable and the flower-heads are distinctive but not showy. And yet, the bees are so intent on these flowers that I was able to put the camera an inch from them to get closeups without their flying off. That must be some really good nectar!
Unlike other flowers where the bees will fly from flower to flower fairly quickly – even if the flowers are part of a raceme, in this case the bees crawl over the surface of the ball of flowers, going from flower to flower meticulously. They also seem to take longer collecting nectar from these flowers than I’ve seen from other flowers, as if they’re sucking up a large amount of nectar. I have no idea just how nectar rich these flowers are and will attempt to find out with a little more research, but it seems that they hold a special attraction for my bees. So far I only have a small scattering of these plants on my property, tho they are common across the ranch-oriented landscape in this region. But I can reliably find bees on every flower-head with open flowers – usually two or three bees at that. They seem to ignore the butterflies that settle down beside them, and don’t give much attention to the crab spider that ambushed one of their sisters.
I periodically collect seeds from these milkweed, intending to sow them when I get around it hoping to provide for the struggling Monarch butterfly. Normally they waft away into the breeze, never to be seen again so you want to hit them as the pods open and the cottony filaments start to emerge. I collect many of them, remove their filamentous umbrellas and scatter them back out over the property to get a denser growth of them going. It’ll be neat to see them sprouting next Spring and producing a lot more of these balls of flowers for the bees. And perhaps I may find a Monarch caterpillar or three on them too. I also recommend collecting a variety of milkweed to give the bees a wider choice.
You can actually buy milkweed seeds too. Good for the legendary Monarch butterfly, and good for our honeybees, and easy to save seeds for future planting. In fact, I’d go so far as to even recommend dedicating part of your property to wildflowers in general. There are a lot of deals you can get to buy bulk wildflower seeds that benefit bees, butterflies and ultimately you. A lot of properties and yards I drive by seem to be dedicated to very short grass, a scattering of non-flowering ornamental trees and little else. We have displaced prairie lands to create what are essentially food deserts to honeybees and other pollinators. I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to buy and collect seed and get parts of their yard converted to rich and diverse prairie flowers, beautiful for us to behold, and food for our beneficial bees.
A good book on planting bee-friendly gardens is “The Bee-Friendly Garden: Design an Abundant, Flower-Filled Yard that Nurtures Bees and Supports Biodiversity” It is a spectacularly informative book about creating pollinator oasis with a huge emphasis on environmental responsibility. It goes into detail about the different common pollinators including bees, and the flowers they benefit from. Definitely grab a copy for yourself and get to work on your own pollinator oasis.