Butteflies, Bees, and Blooms: Gardens Transform Yards Into Habitat

Imagine watching a butterfly alight on the purple flowers of a New England aster.  Nearby,  a bee lands on the bright red flowers of a bee balm,  its wings making a gentle hum in the morning.  In the blueberry bush, a robin chirps filling the day with song.   This may sound like a scene in the woods, but it could be and frequently is, someone’s backyard.    As habitat continues to disappear, bees, butterflies, birds, and other wildlife face increasing challenges.   Planting food sources and providing habitat can go a long way to helping threatened and endangered wildlife.  This article will  feature several native plants and the animals that depend on them.

As was discussed in the previous article, bees are major pollinators for a number of agricultural crops and are in serious trouble due to phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.  A number of butterflies, including the Karner Blue,  are also endangered or in decline  As monarchs migrate north from Mexico in the spring, they need both resting places as well as milkweed plants, which are the only ones where they lay their eggs.   Migratory birds need both stopover and nesting areas as they head back north.   Flowering plants provide nectar for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.   Shrubs and taller plants can provide berries, fruit, and nesting places for birds and mammals. Eliminating pesticides from gardens and lawns is also important.  While it may seem that a larger yard is required for this, even a community plot or small balcony can provide space for habitat.

According to Native Plants of the Northeast, Donald J. Leopold, Timber Press 2005, some of the best plants for attracting wildlife include:

Bee balm (monarda didyma)   Beebalm has beautiful red flowers and blooms through July and August.   Its leaves can also be used for tea which was a remedy for the Native Americans.

Swamp milkweed  (asclepias incarnata)  Swamp milkweed needs moist to wet soil, has pink flowers, and as was mentioned above, is in the milkweed family which are the only plants on which monarch butterflies lay their eggs.

Butterfly weed (asceplias tuberosa)  Butterfly weed is, as its name implies, popular with many butterfly species and has orange flowers.  It should not be confused with butterfly bush, which is invasive.

Purple coneflower (echinacea purpurea)   The coneflower also blooms through most of the summer and it is the plant from which echinacea tea is derived.

Asters ( aster divaricatus, ericoides, novae angliae, and novi -belgii) There are several species of asters which attract pollinators and bloom throughout the summer.

Blue lupine (lupinus perennis) Blue lupine has purple flowers and is the sole food source for the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

Strawberry (waldsteinia fragarioides)   Strawberries are a low growimg plant, but they spead and do require some space.

Blueberry (vaccinum angustifolium and corymbosum)  Both strawberries and blueberries attract  birds.  If gardeners would like some fruit for themselves, some plants can be netted and others left alone to provide a compromise.

This list focuses on plants native to the Northeast, due to this the being the region where the majority of my readership is based.   However, people can go to the National Wildlife Federation (www.wf.og) and look up Native Plant Finder to find the best plants for their region.

Bees, butterflies, and humming birds are important pollinators for many wild flowers and food crops.   Birds can fill gardens with song and are also important predators of many pests.    Nevertheless, many of these species are in trouble due to pesticides and habitat loss.  Providing the food and habitat they need can be an important step  to helping the environment as well as creating a place of color and life for all to see.   Happy spring!






Colony Collapse Disorder Threatens Bees


As the weather warms, buds burst, flowers bloom, and gardens are planted.  However, a large number of both wild and agricultural crops depend on bees for pollination and bees have been disappearing in alarming numbers.  The phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder or CCD, has killed a large number of bees since its discovery in 2006.   It causes bees to abandon hives and the cause or causes are still unknown.

It was first reported in 2006 by a Pennsylvania beekeeper who was overwintering  colonies in Florida.   By February of 2007, several beekeepers reported losses.   That same year,  Canada, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, Poland, France, and Switzerland also reported losses.

David Tremblay,  the Vermont State Apiarist, referred to Colony Collapse Disorder as a “phenomenon” rather than a “scientific diagnosis.”   He also said that the definition may change.   He said there had been high loss this past winter and losses seemed to be earlier than in previous years.   He also said that causes were still unknown, but he cited more virulent viruses, habitat loss, and the pesticides known as neonicotinoids as possible causes.   He also stated that more than half of bees are shipped to pollinate almond trees, which exposes them to other bees which was not a very “hygienic practice.”  Tremblay also said that viruses could be shared through flowers between honey bees and bumble bees.  If a virus is the cause, CCD could affect both honey bees and bumble bees.  Honey bees are the genus apis and the European honey bee (apis mellifera)  was introduced from Europe in the seventeenth century.  Bumble bees are of the genus bombus and 50 species are native to North America.  Honey bees also have perennial colonies, while those of bumble bees only last one season, with only the queen overwintering.

Laura Tangley states in “Being There for Bees” published the National Wildlife Federation, March 2016 that bees are needed to pollinate one third of food and beverage crops.  She also said that scientists were worried about how climate change and pesticides affect bees.  There is evidence of neonicotinoids affecting foraging and reproduction.   According the same article, a federal biologist found 19 pesticides and breakdown products in 70% of bees.  The Honey Bee Health Coalition, (honeybeehealthcoalition.og) 2019,  cited varroa mites, the microsporidian parasite nosema, and viruses as possible causes.  They also said that lack of a varied diet, due to declining wild spaces, increased monoculture, pesticide exposure, and selective breeding which reduces genetic diversity, also pose threats to bees.

In 2007 the  Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the USDA, formed a steering committee to research the possible causes of CCD and improve management practices.

While more research needs to be done, there are many steps that people can take.  Bees are active from early spring to late fall and  they need food and habitat throughout this time.  Tangley states that planting flowers which bloom at different times of the year and eliminating pesticides in gardens can go a long way to helping bees.

COMING IN TWO WEEKS:   So, what are good plants for bees, hummingbirds, and other wildlife?   Find out how to help wildlife and have a beautiful garden.  Don’t miss it!