Me and the bees

Me and the bees

April 19 2020

Joe Pye Weed in it’s second year in my garden has reached over six feet tall, each of the 24 or more red stalks topped with a pinkish purple dome of flower heads more than a foot across. Each dome, more accurately described as a panicle, is composed of dozens of tiny tubular disk flowers and is apparently a mecca for bees. Imagine 4 or more bees per flower head, the plant’s abuzz. Ecstatic, as am I.

There is no definitive reason for the name Joe Pye Weed, but one theory holds that is is named after a Native American named Jopi who used the plant to cure typhus in the 1800’s. It is also called gravelroot for it’s purported use as an herbal remedy for urinary problems including kidney stones. It can also be toxic, so don’t just go out and eat it for pete’s sake.

We share a passion for flowers, the bees and I, even if it’s for different reasons. Sustenance for the body or sustenance for the soul. I feed the bees and the bees feed me. Honey bees come to mind. There are about 4000 species of native bees in the United States, maybe 1 or two make tiny amounts of honey. Commercial honey bees are not native and not particularly great pollinators. I’ve been told that honey bees don’t like alfalfa as it’s flower whacks them with a little spur when they try to feed on it.

Tomato and pepper flowers must be buzz pollinated (vibrated at 3mgs, jets are 2mgs) which bumble bees can do but honey bees can’t. Fortunately, there are 28 or more species of bumblebees in Montana, more than any other state I read. Which begs the question, why? What native plants would lead to such a profusion of bumblebees? I knew of a commercial tomato grower who used an electric toothbrush to painstakingly hand pollinate her greenhouses full of hundreds of tomato plants. I would rather grow lots and lots of flowering plants in the hopes of encouraging the bumblebees to hang around.

It is interesting to notice that the sunflowers were attracting a different kind of bees than the Joe Pye Weed-tiny quick bees zipping around like mini helicopters. Probably some wondrous physiology at work that makes certain flowers more attractive to certain bees.

The extraordinary array of flower colors, sizes, scents, shapes, bloom times and pollination methods is astounding. I never cease to be amazed-every trip into my garden is a little discovery. I get down on my knees and look closely. It’s the proper position for reverence and besides, I’m usually down there weeding anyway. Working and working, me and the bees.