Thursday, September 13, 2012

Everyone Loves Bidens

Spanish Needles (Bidens alba)
I talk with people a lot about butterflies and gardens and I'm often asked what flowers are best for attracting butterflies to your yard. There are any number of beautiful plants available that will do the job--milkweed brings in the monarchs and pentas and butterfly bush are also excellent. If you have a wide selection of plants that will provide nectar and a food source for the caterpillars, the butterflies will come. But over the years I've come to believe that the very best plant, one that will bring more butterflies than any other plant I know of, is also one that I won't let grow in my yard. Spanish Needles, or Bidens alba is a pretty native plant that grows in disturbed sites just about everywhere. It is covered with lovely, daisy-like white flowers with a yellow center. Just about every small critter loves this plant, either for the nectar, the leaves or to hunt the nectar and leaf lovers. Butterflies, moths, flies, bees and beetles go for the nectar. Birds eat the seeds. Caterpillars and grasshoppers eat the leaves. Lizards hide in the green. Spiders hunt from the shadows. A perfect, beautiful plant for any butterfly garden, right? Not quite.  Each flower produces numerous needle-like seeds (thus the name, Spanish Needles) that stick to your clothes and anything else that brushes by them. They spread like a cold. Every year I'm tempted to let just a tiny patch grow because they're so pretty and attractive. And every year I regret my mistake as I pull Bidens sprouts from every corner of the yard. I'm not an obsessive, tidy gardener. Far from it. But even I have limits. Now, Bidens is perfect for nature parks, fields, roadsides, and other large swaths of property where weed control is no issue. But it just doesn't work so well in my urban, neighborhood setting. So, reluctantly, I've come to this position regarding Bidens--I will love it forever, but from a safe distance.

I wrote this poem to express my conflicted love of Bidens:

Ode to Bidens

Where Bidens grows there is no doubt,
Butterflies will be about.

Its snow-white flowers with yellow dots,
Insects like an awful lot.

Nice green leaves give places to hide for
Beetles or a little spider.

Seeds that spread on wind and air,
On trouser legs, my shirt, my hair.

You're easy to grow, it isn't hard,
But just not in my own front yard.


  1. You write superbly and photograph even more so. I wonder you have so few followers. I have the same issue with our blog. We both get more notice on Smug Mug!
    I am glad you put in a few predators to balance thongs out!
    So glad you put a link on your Smug to here!
    Thank you Katherine for inspiring us all!

    1. Hi Michael and Hanne,
      Thank you for checking in on my little blog! Your comment are so kind. I hope I have so few followers because it's still new, but there are a lot of people out there writing. Meanwhile, I'll keep plugging away.

      I'm going to check in on your blog, too.
      Thanks again,