Sunday, June 25, 2017

Happy Pollinator Week!

I've talked about this in prior posts, but when I moved away from Florida 2 years ago, one of my priorities for getting settled in the new house was to recreate our native plant/butterfly/bird/pollinator garden. It took me 10 years to get the old garden the way I wanted it and I didn't want to wait that long to get one going in Georgia, so we hired a native plant landscaper to prepare the soil, pick the appropriate plants and plant everything. It took a while to find the right location and then to get the project started, but after we had to remove a big water oak in the front yard, this created a big, open, sunny spot, perfect for garden needs.

The yard when we bought the house--trim grass and dying tree

First plantings last June
Finally, last June, the first plants went in. Over the following months, we added more plants as they came available or when it was the right time to plant. And at last, 2 years after moving here, we have everything planted and the garden has had time to establish and we are enjoying the full effect of our new urban nature habitat. It has been so fun! I don't have as much experience with native plants here as I did in Florida, so when the landscaper, Jeremy, suggested something, I looked at the photos and trusted his judgement. This has led to some fun surprises. I never grew Echinacea successfully in Florida, but it thrives here, growing taller than I've ever seen. The Joe Pye Weed was popular with the pollinators last summer, but after a year in the ground, it is gigantic and I can only dream about the butterfly photos I will be able to shoot this year. And the Nodding Onions have been a delight. Then there is the Mountain Mint (Picnanthemum pilosum) hedge along the front of the yard. When Jeremy first suggested it, I was intrigued, but I didn't have much experience with the plant other than with the Florida version I learned about in a roadside wildflower class. But he insisted that I would love how it attracted pollinators of all kinds with its numerous tiny flowers, so I said yes. The plants went in the ground in December and sat low and dormant for months. My husband and I were so curious about how this would turn out. But suddenly when the weather got warmer and the summer rains started, the Mountain Mint shot up and bushed out. About a month ago the first flowers opened, and now we have a buzzing smorgasbord for pollinators and we are thrilled.

Happy Garden

Mountain Mint Hedge

Anyway, that is a long introduction into the little project I did this weekend. In honor of National Pollinator Week, and in fond memory of the people who studied the pollinators in our old yard, I spent a couple of hours and took photos of different insects that I found feeding in the Mountain Mint, just to demonstrate how diverse the population of pollinators in my neighborhood is, and what a difference a pollinator friendly plant can make. We all are aware of the plight of pollinators that we depend on in order for our crops to grow, and yet are constantly in danger due to our use of agricultural chemicals and loss of habitat. If more people planted pollinator gardens and built bee houses for the solitary native bees, it could make a huge difference. Some people are afraid of having bees and wasps around, but really they pose no danger if you leave them alone. I work all the time in the garden next to flowers and bees and climb in close for photos, but the insects don't care at all about my presence, other than to fly away if they feel threatened. We love having so much life in our yard and it just feels good to be providing a much needed habitat.

Here is my "guest book" of the insects I found in the hedge last night and today. I was hoping to see a Firefly, but they were hiding. They have been abundant in the yard this summer, no doubt thanks to the healthy habitat. I saw no spiders or dragonflies either, but I imagine they will make their way to where the food is. The birds have already caught on and I see them scurry in and out of the bushes, chasing bugs and digging for grubs. There are a lot of photos because these plants are indeed popular! But that is the point of this exercise. I am not an expert on bees, flies and wasps, so I can only identify a few. If you can help me out, please feel free to comment. And a Happy Pollinator Week to us all!

Bee, possibly a Leaf Cutter

Leaf Hopper

Tachinid Fly

Furry Bee

Ailanthus Webworm Moth

Green Bottle Fly

Pale Green Assassin Bug Nymph 

This may be a Stink Bug Nymph. 

Small Parasitic Tachinid Fly. They lay their eggs on stinkbugs.

Camouflaged Looper caterpillar that has covered itself with dead Mountain Mint blossoms

Leaf Cutter Cuckoo Bee

Small Wasp

Predatory Stink Bug

Fiery Skipper

Scoliid Wasp

Thick-headed Fly, Wasp Fly

Another Scoliid Wasp


Mud Dauber Wasp

Honey Bee

Leaf Cutter Bee

Red-banded Hairstreak

Asian Lady Beetle

Bee, possibly a Leaf Cutter

Tachinid Fly

Great Black Wasp

Half-black Bumblebee

Flower Bee covered with pollen

Possibly another Scoliid Wasp  Reader Correction: Probably a Sand Wasp. Thank you!

Gray Hairstreak

Bee with very furry front legs

Carpenter Bee all covered with pollen

Great Golden Digger Wasp

First Monarch Butterfly of the year! (to left of sign)


  1. Hi, Katherine. The one above the Gray Hairstreak looks like a sand wasp (tribe Bembecini, maybe genus Strictia or Bicyrtes) rather than a scoliid. I'm not familiar with Mountain Mint or its Florida equivalents, but after looking at your pictures I'd certainly be interested in finding a few for sale. Your garden is gorgeous. Wish I could figure out how to make mine look like that. Mine attracts plenty of pollinators, but the aesthetics are nonexistent - it looks like an overgrown vacant lot - and I would not be hugely surprised to get a notice from the county telling me to mow it down. Right now my most popular plants with the bees and wasps are Fiddler's Spurge (Poinsettia heterophylla), the problematic Beggarticks (Bidens alba), and ironweed (probably Tall Ironweed, Vernonia angustifolia), but the real champ is a small tree, Gum Bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum), which attracts clouds of bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies in June. I think it occurs too far south for you, but maybe you'd have similar success with Tough Bumelia (S. tenax). Rex in Gainesville

    1. Thanks, Rex. I was counting on you to look over my ID's!

      Garden design is not my strong point, so I am grateful for the help of the landscaper who planted ours. I think it helps to have the flowers contained within a section of the yard, rather than taking over the entire lot. We have decided that a small patch of grass is nice aesthetically, and also is pleasant to sit on to watch fireflies. If you are up to moving plants around, you might consider clumping groups of like plants together, and putting the taller plants in the back. But it is hard to control wildflower patches. My understanding about garden code enforcement is that you are OK if the garden indicates "intentionality". Paths, signs, groupings, etc. I did see the Florida variety of Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum floridanum) once in Gainesville on an Audubon walk with Dana Griffin. We found it just off of 441 and 43rd Street in a ditch. I've never seen it for sale, though. But in my opinion, the best pollinator plant in our old yard was Snow Squarestem (Melanthera nivea), another mint relative. The bees and wasps loved it and it is readily available at native plant sales, such as at Morningside or the Florida Museum. I wish I could find it up here. I think you told me about the Gum Bumelia and I'm pretty sure I bought a bush and planted it in the old yard. It never had a chance to mature. I'll keep my eyes open for some up here. Keep in touch, Katherine