Plant of the Month
Plant of the Month: Beautyberry
November 17, 2020
Perhaps you’ve heard the rumors that bees are both critically endangered and essential to our ecosystem. But you might be wondering exactly what is so special about bees - why are they so important? The simple answer is that, without bees, it would become very difficult for many of the plants we humans rely on to continue to grow and yield at their current rate.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that around 75% of our food crops, including apples, almonds, coffee and vanilla, rely on pollinators such as bees. Likewise cotton, widely used for clothing, and even ingredients for some types of medication, would be much more difficult and costly for us to produce without the help of bees.
Although it would still be possible to grow vegetables such as squash, carrots and broccoli if bees became extinct, these and many other plants would become very rare and costly. Of course, bees also pollinate many of the wonderful plants we see growing in the wild, including trees and wildflowers.
Did you know that there are over 300 species of bee living in Florida? Of these, 29 species are endemic - which means they are not found anywhere else in the world! Florida’s bees range in size from the tiny perdita, only as big as a grain of rice, to carpenter bees, which can grow up to one inch long.
There are several things you could do in your own yard to help boost Florida’s bee population. One of the most obvious is to grow native plants that attract bees, providing them with the nectar and pollen they need. Another way to help bees thrive is to provide somewhere for them to nest and feed - perhaps you could leave a small area of long grass, or build a bug hotel for pollinators to make a home in. Finally, where possible, try to avoid the use of pesticides. If they are essential, try not to use them early in the morning when bees are more active. Many beneficial insects such as hoverflies, ladybugs and beetles will hunt aphids and other garden pests, so welcome these helpful bugs to your garden!
There are plenty of beautiful Floridian plants and flowering shrubs which will not only attract and nourish bees but will also make your yard look lovely. There are many to choose from, but here is a selection of plants that love the Floridian climate and that are attractive to our favorite pollinators.
Marigolds are another flower that bring a golden-yellow gorgeousness to gardens all summer long and well into the fall. Most garden varieties of marigold are annuals so they will only last one year, but they tend to be excellent self-seeders, so if you stop removing deadheads towards the end of the season your marigolds may come back on their own the following spring. Some varieties, such as Mexican marigolds (Tagetes lemmonii), are perennials.
Also known as trumpet honeysuckle due to the shape of its long, tubular, pink or orange flowers, coral honeysuckle is a drought-tolerant flowering vine with a sweet scent. Not to be confused with the invasive Japanese honeysuckle, this variety is native to Florida. Bees love it, and it may even attract hummingbirds to your yard! Honeysuckle can be planted in the ground or in a container. The shrubs can be trained into a hedge shape or it can climb a trellis or a fence. Coral honeysuckle is a beautiful way to brighten up an outdoor space!
There’s a lot to be said in favour of perennial plants, which will keep growing year after year once they are established. There are many perennial plants that are perfect for giving bees what they need; the following ones do particularly well in Florida.
One of Florida’s most popular wildflowers, this golden-yellow, daisy-like plant blooms all summer long and into the fall. As well as bees, black-eyed susans will attract butterflies to your yard. The plants grow between one and three feet tall and do best in full sun, although they can tolerate partial shade. The ideal time to plant is between March and May. Rudbeckia fulgida, ‘Goldsturm’, is a perennial variety.
Lavender is a wonderful plant to have in any garden. Its beautiful scent, as well as attracting bees and butterflies, makes it a pleasant addition to your borders. It has various culinary uses and can also be harvested to create sachets or potpourri. French or Spanish lavender would grow well in the hot, humid Floridian climate. The leaves of these varieties have a lovely aroma too. Once established lavender is drought tolerant, so it won’t need much water, unless it’s planted in a container, where it could dry out more easily.
These large purple blooms are attractive to both bees and butterflies. Hummingbirds also enjoy purple coneflower, and other birds, such as finches, are attracted by the seeds. Purple coneflowers can grow up to five feet tall. Like black-eyed susans they can grow in partial shade but prefer full sun and are likely to produce more blooms if given plenty of sunshine.
Which of these beautiful blooms will you choose? As well as bringing a range of vibrant colors, interesting textures and new scents to your outdoor space, any of these will also be helping to support one of nature’s most important pollinators. What’s not to love?
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