Posts Tagged ‘native plants’

Gardening to Support Migrating Insects

The Monarch butterfly is famous for its cross-continental journey from the northern U.S. to Mexico. People have planted milkweed and other flowering plants to support them on their journey. Yet Monarchs aren’t the only insects to make such long trips. Several kinds of butterflies, moths, and dragonflies undertake seasonal migrations, some traveling hundreds of miles.

Just like migrating birds, insects need rest stops where they can find food and shelter before continuing on. What we choose to plant in our own backyards can have a huge impact on butterfly and dragonfly populations.

This article by the Cornell University YardMap program highlights some of our long-distance travelers and the plants that can help them. The original article has some additional tips not listed here.

Gardening to Support Seasonal Migrations of Insects

 

Dara Satterfield, April 25, 2017

Monarch butterflies are famous for traveling long distances each year, but they’re not the only insects that migrate. Many butterflies, moths, and dragonflies take to the air for seasonal migrations, and–although they’re pretty quiet about it–some travel hundreds or thousands of miles.(open_in_new)The success of their journey largely depends on the habitat they encounter along the way. Here, we look at some of these six-legged critters and discuss how even the smallest garden can add fuel to their journey.

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People were once skeptical that insects could migrate long distances. Historically, scientists assumed an organism so small and short-lived couldn’t move more than a few miles. As we now know, they can. Bogong moths (Agrotis infusa) in Australia can migrate over 1000 km every spring.(open_in_new) Danaid butterflies (cousins of monarchs) in Taiwan migrate over 300 km in the fall.(open_in_new) Wandering glider dragonflies (Pantala flavescens) cross the Indian Ocean (the image above depicts a beach in India where migrating dragonflies are coming ashore).(open_in_new) The brown planthopper (Nilaparvata lugens), a tiny insect only 4 millimeters long, migrates over 200 km in China.(open_in_new) These are just a few of the hundreds of insect species around the world that make incredible journeys.

dragonfly fixed

By the mid-1900’s scientists finally recognized that insects could move long distances; but still, they assumed insects were being haphazardly blown by the winds, unable to control their direction. In recent years migrating insects like the Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma) (open_in_new) provided evidence to contradict that theory, showing, instead, that insects selectively choose directional winds to maximize their speed, allowing some to fly up to 650 km a night. (open_in_new)

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Photo © pingked

Many insect populations have adapted to make round-trip migrations over the course of a year, with the help of multiple generations. Painted lady butterflies, for instance, fly north out of Mexico in the spring to travel to the northern U.S. and Canada; later, their grandchildren or great-grandchildren return south in the fall. Monarchs behave similarly. A handful of insect species engage in single-generation migrations, where the same individual moves during one season and returns a few months later.

 

 

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In eastern North America there are over 30 insect species that migrate north in the spring and south in the fall. Below we describe a few of these migrating dragonflies and butterflies and we also note the butterfly’s’ host plants (i.e. caterpillar food) to inspire your garden selections.

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Left: Nearly full grown caterpillar of the Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia, on plantain in southern Greenville County, SC, USA Right: Common buckeye butterfly nectaring on a species of aster

Common buckeyes (Junonia coenia)
Large eyespots on all four wings make these butterflies easy to identify. In the spring, buckeyes migrate north from Mexico and the southern U.S. They reach the midwest and northeast by May and breed throughout the summer. Male buckeyes will defend territories with host plants to await the opportunity to mate with females. To keep their patch of land, males chase off anything that moves–even birds that enter their territory. In the fall, the next generation of buckeyes makes a massive migration south to avoid a harsh winter of low temperatures and lack of food. Common buckeye caterpillars survive on the leaves from snapdragons (Antirrhinum), false foxglove (Agalinis), American bluehearts (Buchnera americana), plantains (Plantago) and–my personal favorite–turkey tangle frog-fruit (Nodiflora), among other plants.

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Right: American Lady caterpillar – Vanessa virginiensis, Jones Preserve, Washington, Virginia, Left: An American Lady butterfly photographed at the Bob Jones Nature Center in Southlake, Texas in May ’09

American lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
These butterflies have an intricate cobweb-like pattern on the underside of their wings. American ladies live year-round in the southern U.S. and Mexico and migrate into the northern U.S. and Canada for the spring and summer each year. Larvae munch on leaves of pearly everlasting (Anaphalis), ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata), and asters (Asteraceae). American ladies are closely related to, and often confused with, painted ladies (Vanessa cardui), which migrate along a similar route in the U.S.

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Left: Cloudless Sulphur caterpillar, Phoebis sennae – eating a partridge pea plant, Right: Cloudless Sulfur butterfly on Zinnea

Cloudless sulphur (Phoebis sennae)
Each spring, these yellow butterflies with pink-edged silver spots migrate from Central America and the southern U.S. into the northern U.S. and Canada. Cloudless sulphurs reach the Great Plains by April and the Midwest by May and June. They can be seen gathering at mud puddles to sip water and salt. Cloudless sulphur caterpillars eat plants in the pea family (Fabaceae). Males relentlessly pursue potential mating partners, but uninterested females may reject males by raising their abdomens in the air, much like turning up your nose. In the fall, a later generation of butterflies returns south, sometimes traveling in enormous numbers.(open_in_new) Sadly, cloudless sulphurs have dropped in numbers since the 1980s in the eastern U.S. Reasons for population declines are not well understood, but habitat loss is a likely cause.

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Left: Question Mark larvae Polygonia interrogationis, Right: Question Mark – Polygonia interrogationis, Natchez Trace, Natchez, Mississippi

Question mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
Question mark butterflies, named for a quirky little “?” shape on the underside of their wings and known for their hooked forewing (a.k.a anglewing butterfly), migrate south in massive numbers in the fall along the east coast. Some of the same individuals are thought to return northward into the northeast in the spring where they reproduce, lay eggs, and start the next generation. Plants that support these caterpillars include elms (Ulmus), hackberries (Celtis), nettle (Urtica dioica), and false nettle (Boehmeria Jacq.), but interestingly the females often lay their eggs on non-host plants and when the larvae hatch, they are tasked with finding host plant species to eat. The question mark is commonly confused with the eastern comma butterfly (Polygonia comma), which also have hooked forewings (a.k.a., anglewings) but are currently not known to migrate.

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Left: Mourning Cloak, Inner Canyon, Bright Angel Trail, GRCA, AZ, Middle: Mourning cloak butterfly, Right: Mourning cloak butterfly – wings closed

Mourning cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
The mourning cloak could just as well be from the wizarding world of Harry Potter as from anywhere. These butterflies look like Potter’s invisibility cloak – and when they close their wings, they “disappear” into a landscape of dried leaves. Mourning cloaks are globally distributed and thought to be the longest-lived of butterflies, frequently surviving 10-11 months. In the U.S., some of these butterflies will migrate into the southeast in the fall while others remain in the north, but little is known about what controls this behavior. The caterpillars consume willow (Salix), cottonwood (Populus), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), elm (Ulmus), and common hackberry (Celtis occidentalis L.).

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Left: Red admiral caterpillar, eating a stinging nettle, Right: Red admiral feeding on fallen plums

Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Red admirals are recognizable from the orange-red bands on both forewings. They live all over the world. In North America, they undertake northward migrations in the spring, colonizing the northeast by April. In October, they appear in massive migratory groups of hundreds to thousands of individuals headed south to Texas and beyond to escape the cold. Males are aggressively territorial over important resources (nettle and false nettle) and will chase off potential competitors. Adult red admirals prefer to consume sap flows on trees, fermenting fruit, and can be found collecting salts and minerals from bird droppings. In a pinch, they can also nectar on flowers.

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Photo © Anne Reeves

Common green darner (Anax junius)
Green darners are one of at least nine species of dragonflies now thought to migrate each year in North America. Highly recognizable, the green darner has a pale-green face with a darker green thorax, blue abdomen, and clear wings. During August-October these large dragonflies migrate up to 2800 km from eastern North America to southern Texas, and beyond. During this migration, swarms can reach over 1 million individuals. Using small radio transmitters, scientists have tracked these movements and discovered that common green darners can cover up to 140 km per day.(open_in_new) Not all common green darners migrate; some, in northern locations, will delay pupation and overwinter in the water as nymphs, emerging as adults the following spring.

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Photo ©

Wandering glider (Pantala flavescens)
These dragonflies are regular annual migrants in North America, moving from Mexico and the southern U.S. in the summer and arriving into the northern U.S. later than common green darners. They cannot survive the winter in the chilly north, so they return southward in the fall, often traveling at night (presumably to avoid predators). Their pale-yellow face with darker yellow abdomen, dorsal brown stripe, and clear wings make this species of dragonfly easy to identify.

Providing habitat in gardens can go a long way towards protecting these insects and their migrations. Here’s how to make your yard a stopover or breeding site for insect migrants:(1) Plant host plants for the caterpillars and nectar plants for the adult butterflies.
Visit our Explore tab, type in your zip code under “Local Resources”, and a Pollinator Planting Guide for your region can be downloaded. Use this guide for choosing plants for pollinators. A quick summary of those species highlighted above are summarized below.Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 2.02.18 PM

(2) Plant native rather than exotic host plants.
Recent scientific studies suggest native plants provide the best support for butterflies. For monarchs, for instance, the natural seasonality of native milkweeds helps to maintain butterfly migration and health. In contrast, tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), an exotic plant not native to the U.S., can grow year-round in some places and has been linked to high infectious disease risk for monarchs. We suggest planting native milkweed like swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) or butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) whose blooms are more seasonally aligned with monarch lifecycles.

(3) Avoid insecticides.
Synthetic pesticides, including neonicotinoids, can kill butterfly caterpillars. Alternatives to synthetic pesticides include insecticidal soaps (such as those from potassium salts of fatty acids), which can be sprayed on plants when no caterpillars are present and rinsed off with water.

(4) Contribute to citizen science.
Much of what we know about butterfly migration is thanks to the help of citizen scientists. Want to help and contribute to these citizen-science projects? Check out Monarch Joint Venture’s Monarch project list.

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Photo ©

Scientists have a lot more to learn about insects (including ~5.5 million estimated species(open_in_new)) and their migrations. In some cases, insect migrations provide ecological services, like nutrient cycling and pollination, which we are only beginning to understand. As we learn more,we can support these insect migrants through gardening in the spring and fall. If you want to pledge to support pollinators and dragonflies, check out our Planning Tool and let us know about your best intentions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Edible Flowers, a Springtime Treat

Local foods have been the focus of many people recently. Well, you don’t get much more “local” than foraging in your own backyard.

Foraging is a way to get back to our roots, so to speak, and gather food the way our ancestors did. It’s a way to learn about native edible plants, things that might otherwise go unnoticed, and get to know your surroundings in a different way.

Now, when it comes to foraging, knowledge is key! It is especially important to know exactly how to identify what you’re consuming. You won’t like the consequences otherwise.

If this is your first foray into foraging, edible flowers may be a good place to start. Unlike mushrooms and other fungi, they’re easy to identify and many don’t have look-alike cousins that could trick you. When searching for edible flowers, be careful of where you pick them. Avoid areas that have been sprayed with pesticides or herbicides. And when in doubt, you can always grow your own. 🙂

Here’s a nice list in this article by West Coast Seeds to get you started.

List of Edible Flowers

List of Edible Flowers

Before you venture out to the garden and harvest a bunch of flowers for the dinner table, it’s important to remember that some flowers are poisonous. Make sure you’ve made a positive identification of each variety you’re using. Obviously, you should avoid flowers that may have been sprayed with pesticides or other chemicals, so either grow your own organic flowers, or harvest them from a location you’re sure about. Organic or not, all flowers should be shaken and washed in cold water prior to use, as they may to be homes for insects.

Pick your edible flowers in the morning, when they have the highest water content. Keep them on some dampened paper towel inside a sealed container in the refrigerator for as long as a week. You can revive wilted flowers by floating them in some ice water for a few minutes. Prepare them for eating just before serving in order to prevent further wilting.

Remove the stamens and styles from flowers before eating. Pollen can cause allergic reactions when eaten by some people, and it may overwhelm the otherwise delicate flavour of the petals. The exception here is the Violas, including Johnny-Jump-Ups and pansies, as well as scarlet runner beans, honeysuckle and clover. The flowers of these varieties can be enjoyed whole, and will probably be more flavourful this way.

This list of Edible Flowers is not comprehensive so if you notice a flower missing from this list, please do further research before you consider it edible. Don’t assume that all flowers are edible – some are highly poisonous.

Agastache BloomsAgastache – Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is also sometimes known as licorice mint. Both the young leaves and the striking purple flowers have a mild licorice flavour. Pull the purple flower tubes away from the central structure of the flower and scatter them in salads or fancy drinks for a pop of colour and flavour.

Angelica – This relative of celery (Angelica archangelica) has licorice-scented pinkish flowers borne in large umbels. The flowers make an interesting addition to salads, but it is mostly grown for its stronger-tasting leaves.

Apple – Be sure to only try flowers from trees that have not been sprayed. Apple blossoms (Malus spp.) have an appealing but delicate flavour and scent. They work particularly well with fresh fruit salads. Use in moderation, as the flowers contain very low levels of poisonous chemicals.

Edible flowers arugula flowersArugula – Once this cool-season plant (Eruca vesicaria) begins to bolt, its leaves will have become tough and almost too spicy to eat. So let it bolt, and enjoy some of its very small, spicy, white or yellow flowers. They add a nice, unusual zing to salads.

Edible basil flowersBasil – Most growers use basil’s leaves (Ocimum basilicum) before the plant has flowered. After blooming, the character of the leaves changes and becomes less appealing, but the flowers can be eaten. They may be white to lavender, but they look stunning when sprinkled over pasta. Thai basil is sometimes allowed to flower before whole stems, with leaves attached, are harvested. The whole flower is edible.

Edible tuborous begonia flowersBegonia – both tuberous (Begonia x tuberhybrida) and wax (B. x semperflorens-cultorum) begonias have edible flowers with a slightly bitter to sharp citrus flavour. Tuberous begonia flowers contain oxalic acid, so should be avoided by people suffering from kidney stones, gout, or rheumatism.

Edible flowers of Bergamot, wildBergamot, wild – This plant (Monarda fistulosa) may be listed as bee balm, Monarda, Wild Bergamot, Oswego Tea, or Horsemint. The flowers (and the young leaves) have an intense flavour of mint with undertones of citrus and oregano. This plant that has a scent highly reminiscent of Earl Grey tea. Somewhat confusingly, the “oil of bergamot” used to flavour Earl Grey is actually derived from citrus peel from the Bergamot Orange. Monarda flowers are formed by large clusters of edible tubular petals that can be separated before adding to cakes, fancy drinks, or salads.

Borage edible flowersBorage – This familiar garden herb (Borago officnialis) has furry leaves and exquisite blue, star-shaped flowers. Both have a cooling taste reminiscent of cucumber. Try some of the flowers in a summer lemonade or sorbet – or a gin & tonic! They work particularly well as garnishes for gazpacho, cheese plates, or just sprinkled over salads.

Calendula Seeds in bloomCalendula – All “pot marigolds” (Calendula officinalis) have flower petals that are edible. They have a nice flavour that ranges from peppery to bitter, and they add bright yellow, gold, and orange colour to soups and salads. They may even tint some dishes like saffron does.

Edible chamomile flowersChamomile – Choose the German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla syn. M. recutita) for its daisy-like flowers. They can be used fresh or dried, and make a particularly nice tea that tastes vaguely like apples. Drink the tea in moderation – some allergy sufferers may have a negative response. Otherwise, sprinkle the petals into salads and soups.

Chervil – The lacy leaves of this shade-loving herb (Anthriscus cerefolium) are topped by delicate white flowers borne in umbels. Both the leaves and the flowers have a very mild anise or licorice-like taste. Add chervil to your dishes just before serving to maintain the best flavour.

Edible flowers of chicoryChicory – All endive varieties (Cichorium endivia & C. intybus) produce, at summer’s end, tall stems with striking, sky-blue flowers. The petals can be pulled off and added to salads for their earthy, endive-like flavour. The unopened flower buds can also be pickled like capers.

List of edible flowers including chivesChives – The flowers of chives (Allium schoenoprasum) are ball-like clusters of hundreds of little florets that can be separated and scattered onto salads for colour and a mild onion flavour.

Shungiku edible chrysanthemum flowersChrysanthemum – The edible chrysanthemum and garland Chrysanthemum (both are Leucanthemum coronarium) that we offer produce both edible young leaves and appealing white daisy-like flowers with yellow centres, or flowers that are entirely yellow. The petals of both types are edible and faintly tangy.

Edible flowers of cilantroCilantro – This leafy herb (Coriandrum sativum) is also known as Coriander. In summer heat it is quick to bolt, and will send up tall umbels of white flowers. These have an intensely herbal flavour, just like the leaves, roots, and seeds of the plant, and can be used as a garnish where cilantro leaves would otherwise be used.

Edible clover flowersClover– The flower heads of clover (Trifolium spp.) are edible, and have a sweet, mild licorice flavour. In fact, the whole above ground plant is edible, but it’s best to grow clover as tender sprouts or to use the flower tubes in moderation as a salad garnish. Mature clover is tough to digest, and may cause bloating.

Blossoms of Cornflower Seeds in bloomCornflower – The pretty, blue flowers of cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) have a slightly spicy, clove-like flavour with a subtle sweetness. Cornflower petals look wonderful in salads. Use torn petals as a garnish, or whole flowers in fancy drinks.

Dame’s Rocket – The petals of this tall relative of mustard (Hesperis matronalis) are pink, lavender, or white, and always come in fours. Perennial Phlox looks similar, and also has edible flowers, but always have five petals. The petals (and the immature leaves) of Dame’s Rocket are worth adding to salads, but have a mild bitter flavour.

Edible dandelion flowersDandelion – The ubiquitous dandelion (Taxacum officinalis) is entirely edible. When picked small, and unopened, the flower buds have a surprising sweetness, reminiscent of honey. Young greens are also tasty either raw or steamed. Dandelion petals look very nice when scattered over pasta or rice. While dandelions are rather easy to come by, make sure to harvest them only from organic gardens. Avoid any grown near roads or picked from lawns where chemicals may be present.

Edible day lilies flowersDay Lilies – The fleshy, short-lived flowers of day lilies (Hemerocallis spp.) are sweet, with a flavour resembling mild melon or cucumber. Make sure to cut the tasty petals away from the bitter base of each flower. Try them in salads! Eat in moderation.

Dianthus – Look for the large-flowered carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), and cut the sweet tasting petals away from the bitter white base of each flower. The bright red and pink petals have a mild clove flavour and are great for desserts or salads.

Edible dill flowersDill – Stronger in flavour than the leaves, the flowers of dill (Anethum graveolens) can be used when cooking fish, or raw in salads. They are very small, yellow, and borne on tall umbels. Best used when they have just opened, as they set seed quickly.

Edible flowers English daisyEnglish Daisy – The low growing flowers (Bellis perennis) have a bitter flavour, but are entirely edible. They are small enough to use simply by sprinkling the petals onto salads or other meals, and will not overwhelm stronger flavours.

Fennel – Both the garden herb and the vegetable Florence fennel(both are Foeniculum vulgare) will eventually produce attractive and tall umbels of tiny yellow flowers that have the same mild licorice flavour as the leaves. These work very well in desserts!

Edible fuchsia flowersFuchsia – Avoid nursery-bought Fuchsia (Fuchsia x hybrida) flowers, as they may have been sprayed. Otherwise, the extraordinary looking flowers make great garnishes and have a slightly acidic flavour.

Garlic – Allowed to open, garlic flowers (Allium sativum) are pink to white, with florets that can be separated and inserted into salads for a mild garlic zing. However, allowing the plants to flower may divert energy that would otherwise go to the bulb. Many garlic growers prefer to cut the flower stems (scapes) before they open. These can be sautéed in butter for an intense, early summer side dish, or run through the food processor and mixed with Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and pine nuts for a sensational pesto.

Hollyhocks edible flowersHollyhock – The large, brightly coloured flowers of common hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) have almost no flavour of their own, but they sure look nice cut into salads or sprinkled over desserts. Be sure to use the petals only – cut these away from the central structure of the flower just before serving.

Honeysuckle – The long flower tubes of various honeysuckle species are edible, but Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is best, with its distinctly honey-like flavour. Do not eat the berries that follow, or any other part of the plant, as they are all poisonous.

Impatiens – The flowers of Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) may be bright white or shocking red, but the petals are edible and have a surprisingly sweet taste. They can be torn into salad or mixed into fancy drinks.

Johnny-Jump-UpJohnny-Jump-Up – This plant (Viola tricolor) produces masses of small, brightly coloured flowers that have a faint wintergreen taste. They look great served on cakes, served with soft cheeses, or as a topping for salads. Use the whole flower intact.

Lavender – Pull the clustered flowers of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) apart and sprinkle a few pieces onto chocolate cake. Submerge one or two pieces in a glass of chilled champagne. The sweet, intensely floral flavour of lavender should be used with restraint, but adds an incredible to pop savory dishes as well as desserts.

Edible flowers lemon bergamotLemon Bergamot – Like its wild cousin above, Lemon Bergamot (Monarda citriodora) has a perfume-like, intense, almost astringent quality, but it is strongly scented with citrus. Use portions of the flower conservatively in drinks or desserts or in herbal teas.

Lilac – Like lavender, the flowers of lilac (Syringa vulgaris) have an intensely floral, almost perfumey flavour with lemon undertones. A little goes a long way, but one or two individual flowers added to a summer punch looks wonderful and tastes very refreshing.

Gold Gem Edible FlowersLemon Marigold Tagetes tenuifolia

Edible marigold flowersMarigold – Both French marigolds (Tagetes patula) and African marigolds (T. erecta) produce flowers that are technically edible, but the pungent scent is probably worth avoiding. African marigold flowers are used as a food colourant in Europe, but have only been approved for use as a poultry feed additive in the US. However,T. tenuifolia has a refreshing citrus, lemony flavour, and its petals work well torn into salads or smart drinks.

Mint – All mint varieties (Mentha spp.) have minty-flavoured, edible flowers that may be sweet or lemon-scented, or even with chocolate overtones depending on the type.

Edible Nasturtium flowersNasturtium – All garden nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) produce edible flowers and leaves. Even the fresh seeds can be pickled like capers. Curiously this familiar garden flower is a cousin of the Brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, mustards, etc…). All parts of the nasturtium have a pleasant, sweet, peppery flavour. The flowers can be used whole to decorate salads and a variety of other foods, but you may want to remove the long spur at the back of the flower, as this is the nectary and may harbour small insects.

Edible pansies flowersPansy – The flower petals of the familiar garden pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) are edible and highly decorative. The petals have little flavour, but the whole flower can also be used. It has a grassy, wintergreen undertone that works well in fruit salad.

Edible pea flowersPea – Edible garden peas (Pisum sativum) produce edible flowers that look great in salads. Serve a blend of peas in a meal: shelled peas, pea tendrils, pea pods, and some flowers for garnish. Note: Ornamental sweet peas are poisonous.

Perennial Phlox – Be certain that you’ve got the tall-growing perennial garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata), and not the inedible annual, creeping type before you try the flowers. The perennial type bears pink to white flowers with five petals that have a pleasant, peppery flavour. They look great and taste great in fruit salads.

Primrose – With its bland, but highly colourful flowers, primrose (Primula vulgaris) is worth cultivating if only to tear its petals into a few summer salads. The flower buds can also be pickled, steamed, or fermented into wine.

Queen Anne’s Lace – The Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) produces tall umbels of exquisite, tiny, white flowers, each one marked by a blood-red centre. Although this plant is grown for its decorative, edible flowers, it can cross-pollinate with its close relative the carrot, so if you happen to be growing carrots with the intent of saving seed, avoid this plant in your garden. The flowers of Queen Anne’s Lace have a mild, carroty flavour. Be absolutely certain that the plant you are harvesting is not the invasive weed known as Wild or Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which looks very similar. The stems of Queen Anne’s Lace are hairy, while Poison Hemlock has smooth, hollow stems with purple spots.

Rose – Another surprisingly edible garden flower is the rose (Rosa spp.). Although its petals are intensely perfumed, their flavour is subtler and a bit fruity, with complex undertones that depend on the variety and soil conditions. The petals of all roses are edible, but you should remove the bitter white base of each petal. Be sure to use only rose flowers that have been organically grown from a reliable source, as nearly all nursery or cut flower roses will have been treated with pesticide.

Rosemary edible flowersRosemary – It takes nimble fingers to pull the strongly scented flowers of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) from between the tightly packed leaves. The leaves contain more oil than the flowers, but both are similar in flavour. Use the flowers as you would the herb. Flowers are deep blue to pink, depending on the soil.

Safflower edible flowersSafflower – The dried yellow flowers (Carthamus tinctorius) are sometimes sold as Mexican saffron, and used like saffron as a food dye. Otherwise, fresh petals can be torn into salads, soups, and sauces. They have a very mild flavour of their own.

Sage makes the list of edible flowersSage – The deep blue flowers of sage (Salvia officinalis) add an interesting mild-sage flavour to salads or savory dishes. Pull individual flower tubes from the stems and use with discretion, as the taste is strong.

Scarlet runner bean edible flowersScarlet Runner Bean – The flowers of this vine (Phaseolus vulgaris) are vivid, intense red, and also delicious. They make excellent garnishes for soups and salads, providing a real visual high note.

Sorrel – Like the leaves of sorrel (Rumex acetosa), its flowers have a strongly lemony flavour, and can be scattered over salad or used in sauces. The flavour comes from oxalic acid, so should be avoided by those with kidney conditions or rheumatism.

Squash-BlossomSquash – Both male and female flowers of all squash and zucchini varieties are edible, and have a faint squashy flavour. It may be sensible to only use the male flowers, as they will not form fruits. They can be torn into salads or stuffed with savory items like herbs and goat cheese, and then fried in a light tempura batter. There are many squash blossom recipes online.

Edible sunflower flowersSunflower – It’s still a little known fact that unopened sunflower (Helianthus annuus) buds can be steamed or sautéed in butter and served whole. They have an artichoke-like flavour. Alternately, the petals can be pulled from the edge of the opened flower and added to soups and salads. Their flavour is somewhat bitter.
Violet – Many varieties (Viola spp.) are suitable for decorating food. They come in a range of sweet, perfumed flavours, and a wide range of colours. Some of the tiniest violet flowers make the best additions to cakes, drinks, and salads.

What’s the Buzz About Pollinators?

bumblebee

By: Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day AllianceEaton Conservation District

Pollinators have been making news headlines lately. There has been a greater push from the federal government for programs and funding supporting pollinator habitat. More research is being done on honeybee colony collapse syndrome. And recently, the rusty patched bumblebee has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

So what’s the big deal about pollinators? Why should we care? Let’s look at some facts:

  • More than 100,000 different animal species play roles in pollinating the 250,000 kinds of flowering plants on this planet. Insects (bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles) are the most common, but as many as 1,500 species of birds and mammals also play a role. Vertebrate pollinators include: bats, hummingbirds, perching birds, lemurs, and even one lizard (gecko).
  • At least 3 bat, 5 bird, 24 butterflies/skippers/moths, 1 beetle, and 1 fly species identified as pollinators are federally endangered.in the United States.
  • Honey bees (the most commonly known pollinator) help pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the United States each year.
  • Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America.
  • 15% of the crops that make up the world’s food supply are pollinated by honey bees. At least 80% are pollinated by wild bees and other wildlife.
  • Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on animal pollinators. This contributes 35% of global food production.
  • Declines in pollinators may make plants more vulnerable to extinction.
  • Pollinators support biodiversity. It’s been proven through studies. There is a correlation between plant diversity and pollinator diversity. Put simply, the more kinds of pollinators you have in an area, the more kinds of plants you will have.
  • Native bees are often more efficient at pollinating than commercially used European honey bees. Crops like blueberries and squash have bees that specialize on those plants and have developed better ways to dislodge pollen from their flowers.

Shall we go on? We could, there are more facts just like this out there. The point is, pollinators are important. We don’t often see the work they do, but we wouldn’t be able to continue our standard of life without them. Many of the food and fiber products we use every day depend on them.

Fortunately for us, there are a lot of ways to help our native pollinators. Whether you have an entire homestead or just an urban backyard, every little bit helps. After all, think about what you’re helping. Some of these pollinating insects don’t take up much space. 🙂

Here are a few tips to help you on your way. There are additional resources at the end of this article as well if you want to dive deeper.

  1. Use pollinator-friendly plants. Native plants are best, as these are the ones your native pollinators prefer. Shrubs and trees such as dogwood, cherry, willow, and poplar provide pollen or nectar in early spring when food is scarce.
  2. Choose a mixture of plants. Different flower colors, shapes, and scents will attract a wide variety of pollinators. Look into bloom times for plants and have a variety so there’s always something out there for them in every growing season.
  3. Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your landscape. Use them correctly and sparingly. Better yet, incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects for pest control (here are some websites that will help with that: 26 plants for attracting beneficial insects; Native plants for attracting predatory insects, New Moon Nursery; MSU Extension bulletin: Attracting beneficial insects with native flowering plants (pdf)).
  4. Accept some plant damage. Unfortunately, it’ll happen. You’re attracting insects like butterflies and moths whose larval stage may take a bite out of your plants. Your garden may not be picture perfect, but it’ll be perfect for them.
  5. Provide clean water. Pollinators need butterflies like water just like any other animal. A shallow dish, bowl, or bird bath with half-submerged stones will help. Just keep an eye on any standing water source as you will still have a breeding ground for mosquitoes if you don’t.
  6. Leave dead tree trunks. These help wood-nesting bees and beetles.
  7. Support land conservation in your community. Help create and maintain community gardens and green spaces to ensure there’s good habitat around for your growing pollinator populations.

Pollinator Resources:

References:

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Pollinators: https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/pollinatorpages/aboutpollinators.html
  2. White House Press Release, 6-20-2014, Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations
  3. Mother Nature Network, 9 extraordinary facts about North America’s native bees: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/9-extraordinary-facts-about-north-americas-native-bees

Food for the Birds. And Butterflies. And…

You might not have much more than a standard city lot for a yard, but even you can make your space a wildlife haven. Simple additions to your yard can make it attractive to birds, butterflies, bees, and others. One of the easiest? Food.

Food is essential to life. Everything eats something. What you choose to provide will depend on what you’re looking to attract as well as what lives in your area. And don’t forget variety. Many animals’ diets change as the year goes on and depending on their life stage. By providing many different food sources you can satisfy your local wildlife through a greater portion of the year and may even attract the attention of something you weren’t expecting.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife website has great resources for the backyard habitat enthusiast. This program not only covers food options, but also other components of good habitat – shelter, water, and places to raise young.

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They even have a handy menu that will lead you through it all.

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So if you have ever thought about how you can help the animals in your neighborhood, surf around this website a little. Hopefully you can find the next great addition to your yard. Your local wildlife thanks you in advance.

 

Help Out Bees and Other Pollinators in Your Own Backyard

Pollinators have been making news. We depend on the numerous insects, birds, and mammals for the majority of the food we eat every day. These creatures serve a vital part of the ecosystem, but they’re disappearing fast.

In North America, most of our pollinators are of the insect variety – native bees, honeybees (and yes, honeybees are not native to the United States), beetles, flies, butterflies, etc. While much of the news stories have been focused on the large-scale problem and several large-scale solutions, there are several things you at home can do to help out pollinators in your very own backyard. No matter the size, any help at all is useful. Think of it this way, if everyone in your neighborhood planted one small plot of native wildflowers, or put one bee block (aka bee hotel), all of those small things would add up to a LOT of good habitat for our little insect friends.

National Geographic has put together a list of 9 simple things you can do at home. Bonus: many of these things help out more than just the pollinators.

9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home

This week the White House released new strategies to boost the insects so crucial to our food supply. Here’s how you can do your part to support pollinators at home.

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By Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic

If you like to eat, you can thank insects—in particular, pollinators such as honeybees, which provide much of the U.S. food supply. Sadly, pollinators in the United States have been in crisis for more than a decade.

Beekeepers continue to report major hive losses each year, while many native bees and other pollinating insects are likely in steep decline—for a host of reasons. This week the White House weighed in on how to make things better, releasing a new National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. (Related: “Obama Unveils Plan to Reverse Alarming Decline of Honeybees.”)

Meanwhile, are there things the rest of us can do to help relieve pollinators’ plight?

Absolutely, says Ed Spevak, curator of invertebrates and director of the Center for Native Pollinator Conservation at the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri. He talked to National Geographic about the best ways regular folks with lawns and gardens, wherever they live, can help the birds and the bees (and the butterflies).

Go Native

Choose native plants in a variety of shapes and colors to encourage diversity. Remember that native wildflowers will be better adapted to your climate than exotics. And one size doesn’t fit all: There are over 4,000 bee species in North America (some 20,000 worldwide) ranging from two millimeters to an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, so blossoms should vary in species and size, too. (Read “Quest for a Superbee” in National Geographic magazine.)

Keep It Blooming

Among your native plants, make sure something is blooming each season (spring, summer, and fall). Some bee species are active all year, others only in April and May, still others in July and August, and all need to feed regardless of the date.

Save the Queen

Newly emerging bumblebee queens need spring-blooming flowers, shrubs, and trees. Bumblebees, unlike, honeybees, have an annual cycle. New queens are born in the fall, and after breeding they find a place to hibernate for the winter. When the insects emerge in spring, they need nectar and pollen sources—or they can’t start their colonies. (See beautiful, intimate portraits of bees.)

Plant Milkweed

Adding milkweed to your garden provides food for monarch butterfly caterpillars, but don’t forget nectar sources for the adults, such as flowers that bloom in late summer. Adults get especially hungry in the fall as they head south to their overwintering sites in Mexico.

Save Money on Mulch

Leave a little bare ground. Most species of bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young—something they can’t do if mulch is in the way (Read more about creating a sustainable home and garden.)

Picture of man opening beehive on a honeybee farm

Bret Adee opens a beehive in Lost Hills, California, home to Adee Honey Farms, the world’s largest commercial beekeeping operation.
Photograph by Anand Varma, National Geographic

Offer Bee Real Estate

Install a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores. (Or, build one yourself.) You could also drill holes of varying sizes in a dead tree that’s still standing (if beetles haven’t done it for you). This offers habitat to the many bee species that nest in pre-existing holes.

Make a Border

By bordering your fruits and vegetables with native flowers, you’ll improve pollination of your crops and also support bees when the crops stop blooming. It will also attract and support other pollinators such as wasps and hover flies that control crop pests. (See National Geographic’s list of the world’s top 10 gardens.)

Go Easy on the Chemicals

Pesticides can affect more than pests. Adding plants that draw natural pest-eaters (see above) and “companion planting”—including plants that naturally repel pests, such as garlic for aphids and basil for tomatoes—are good strategies to reduce chemical needs, according to organic gardeners. Maintaining healthy soil to keep plants’ immune systems strong can also help.

Get Involved

Learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats, such as Pollinator Partnership or the Honeybee Health Coalition. You can also participate in citizen-science programs for pollinators such as Bumble Bee Watch (Xerces Society), The Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State University), Fourth of July Butterfly Count (North American Butterfly Association), and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (Monarch Watch).