One great plant that's often overlooked as a choice for the bee garden is flannel bush -- also referred to as California fremontia -- (Fremontodendron californicum). While the species is sometimes available, you're more likely to find one of the cultivars. Look for this plant at specialty nurseries or well-stocked independent garden centers. The species and its cultivars 'California Glory', 'Pacific Sunset', and 'San Gabriel' are quite large, reaching up to 20 feet in height. The cultivar 'Ken Taylor' is more manageable for a small garden; 'Ken' will reach up to six feet tall and 10 feet wide but can be kept smaller with pruning.
Here's why flannel bush makes a great choice for the California (Sunset zones 4-24) bee garden:
1. It's an attractive, eye-catching plant. The large, 3-inch wide flowers cover this plant at peak bloom. You may have noticed large plants along California highways that are covered in yellow flowers come springtime. That's flannel bush...from California Native Plants for the Garden: "A California fremontia in full bloom is an unforgettable sight." This plant was photographed at the Old City Cemetery in Sacramento.
2. Going low water? Flannel bush needs NO summer water, in fact summer water is HARMFUL to this plant. Like many of our California natives, it evolved in hot, dry areas in the absence of the root diseases that are favored by warm, wet conditions. It thus has no defenses against these diseases.
3. Fast growing. Flannel bush grows quickly; you'll have lots of bloom by the second year after planting. This also makes it a good candidate for an espalier. The best cultivars for this are 'California Glory' and 'San Gabriel'. This photo of 'Ken Taylor' was taken one year after planting, at which point is was already about 4 feet across. This cultivar, which is a cross of the Sierra foothills species Fremontodendron californicum decumbens and 'California Glory', has a prostrate form that looks nice on a bank orberm. This is also a great way to provide the excellent drainage this plant needs. Another small (3 feet tall by 6 feet wide) flannel bush is 'Dara's Choice', which was introduced by the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. It is a cross between Fremontodendron californicum decumbens and Fremontodendron mexicanum.
4. Fun fact for plant nerds....flannel bush nectar fluoresces blue under UV light. Amaze your friends and family with this neat trick! This was first observed by UCD Entomology's own Robbin Thorp many years ago (Thorp, RW et al. 1975. Science (189): 476-478). This property has been observed in many plant nectars and is thought to provide a visual cue to foraging bees (remember that bees see in the UV spectrum).
5. Flannel bush nectar is nutritious. It is rich in isoflavenoids, which may have antimicrobial properties helpful to bees (Scogin, R. 1979. Bot. Gazette (140): 29-31).
We have Fremontodendron californicum and the hybrid 'Ken Taylor' at the Haven. There are also several nice specimens at the UC Davis Arboretum. This plant is at its best in early spring. One note of caution: some people are irritated by the small hairs that cover its leaves. Plan on wearing gloves and long sleeves when pruning.
One of the most popular The Bee Gardener posts to date was published on November 10, 2014 in honor of Veterans Day. Since that publication, we've added lots of red, white, and blue flowers to the Honey Bee Haven; beekeeping programs to help vets have proliferated as well. Today's post covers some of the additions.
Both bees and veterans work hard and make contributions that many of us take for granted. In recognition of their service, some agricultural and beekeeping organizations provide support to veterans who would like to make beekeeping their profession. These include:
USDA-ARS: Putting Honey Bees to Work for Veterans
Bee Veterans, based at the University of Minnesota's Bee Lab
Facebook: Bees for Vets
A red,white, and blue bee garden is a great way to honor a vet. Although bees do not see red, they will use red flowers. The flower color 'blue' can be anything from a true blue to purple, while the color 'red' often includes orange and pink tones. A complete list of plants in the Honey Bee Haven, including information on water use and pollen and nectar resources, is here.
|Common Name||Color||Bloom time|
|Aster (many cultivars; see our post)||Blue||Fall|
|California buckwheat (see our post)||White||Summer-fall|
|Catmint (many cultivars)||Blue||Spring-summer-fall|
|Ceanothus (many species and cultivars; see our post)||Blue||Winter-spring|
|Coneflower 'Powwow White'||White||Summer|
|Lavender (many species and cultivars)||Blue||Winter-spring-summer|
|Manzanita (many species and cultivars; see our post)||White||Winter|
|Russian sage (many cultivars)||Blue||Summer-fall|
Here are some of the red, white, and blue flowers you'll see at the Haven during the winter:
Join us at the Haven at noon on October 12 for a discussion about bees and climate change. Part of the UC Davis Campus Book Project discussion series, our event features two presentations. This year's book -- Stuffed and Starved -- is about the world's food system. What could be more relevant to a discussion about food than bees?
Native bee expert Robbin Thorp will talk about how climate change might affect the synchrony between solitary bees and their host plants, and Haven program representative Christine Casey will discuss making bee gardens resilient to climate change.
We know it's fall at the Honey Bee Haven is when our asters come into their full glory. This large (more than 600 species) group of plants even has its own book. Asters recently underwent a taxonomic revision that split the genus Aster into five genera. The commonly-available species either remained in Aster (Old World species) or were moved to Symphyotrichum (New World species).But the common name aster still applies to all. True plant nerds will want to read this detailed summary of the cultivated species. Blooming into November, asters are a valuable late-season source of pollen for bees and nectar for bees and butterflies.
These are the species we have at the Haven, listed in order of bloom:
Aster 'Purple Dome': Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'. The species is native to the US east of the Rocky Mountains. This cultivar, which is a UC Davis Arboretum All-Star, is the first aster to bloom at the Haven. It typically starts flowering in late June; deadheading results in several more flushes of bloom until frost. It produces deep purple flowers and stays under 18 inches tall. It will spread and we divide ours every other year.
California aster: Symphyotrichum chilense. This one is about 24 to 30 inches tall; the amount of spread depends on how frequently it is watered. Ours receive a deep soaking about every three weeks and so far we've not seen any invasive tendencies.
Aster 'Wood's Pink':Symphyotrichum dumosum 'Wood's Pink'. This aster has bright pink flowers and is native to the northeastern US. Ours is watered daily. It grows 12-16" tall, making it a nice addition to the front of a border. The species was used as a parent for developing smaller cultivars by Victor Vokes of the UK War Graves Commission, who needed low-growing, late fall color for WWI cemeteries.
Aster 'Fanny's': Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'Fanny's'. The story of this cultivar of a southeastern US species is that Ruth Knopf of South Carolina acquired the aster from her maid, Fanny, who in turn received it from her grandmother. Fanny is 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.
While most folks don't want to have to search down plants for their garden, some of us avid gardeners love the chase. Here are profiles of some great bee plants that, despite being easy to grow in most of California, can be difficult to find for sale. To add these to your garden you'll likely need to track down a specialty nursery or an arboretum or native plant society sale, or luck out at your favorite garden center. I've listed them in order of bloom.
Butterfly rose, Rosa x odorata 'Mutabilis'. There are few roses that we recommend for bee gardens; most garden roses have flowers with excessive petals and scent that are produced at the expense of pollen and nectar resources. In addition to our native California rose, this Asian native and UC Davis Arboretum All-Star is a good choice for the bee garden. Needing only a deep soaking every two weeks in our area, its only downside is that it can grow quite large and may need summer pruning to keep it in check. Flowers are present nearly year-round and open as yellow but change color to pink and then red as they age. This colorful combination pairs nicely with other bee plants such as the yarrow and hummingbird mint shown here. At the Haven it is used primarily by honey bees. It provides nectar and pollen.
Tall sunflower 'Shiela's Sunshine, Helianthus giganteus 'Shiela's Sunshine'. This eastern US native will grow throughout California and makes a striking addition to the bee garden. All sunflowers are valued for their long bloom time, which generally extends from mid-summer into fall, and the fact that they provide both pollen and nectar. 'Shiela' can reach up to 8 feet in height with sturdy stems that don't need staking. Naturally occurring in moist areas, it will need at least weekly watering in central California; at the Haven we grow it in a container where it's watered daily. Look for honey bees, sweat bees, and longhorned bees to use it.
Asters. California aster, Symphyotrichum chilense, and aster 'Bill's Big Blue', Symphyotrichum 'Bill's Big Blue'. The asters (New World species were recently moved from the genus Aster to Symphyotrichum) are a great late-season pollen and nectar source and a staple of the bee garden because they bloom when little else is in flower. With the exception of our native California aster, these plants need ample water, typically about once per week. California aster cultivars 'Purple Haze' and 'Point Saint George' have deeper purple flowers and tend to be more attractive to bees than the species. The non-native asters are from various regions in eastern North America, depending on species (of which there are about 600; they have their own book). Asters are used by honey bees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees. Of the non-native species, we especially like 'Bill's Big Blue' at the Haven. Measuring about 6 feet tall and wide, it blooms continuously through October and November. Asters will grow in all of California; the native species does well everywhere except the desert and high mountains.