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.
Like to eat? Thank a bee! Join us at the Haven on June 19 to celebrate National Pollinator Week. Our open house will take place from 5:30 to 7:00pm. Visitors will be able to:
- View an observation honey bee hive. Get a glimpse inside the hive to watch the queen lay eggs and the workers tend to the young bees and make honey.
- Observe our many bees "in action" working plants in the garden to collect pollen and nectar. Common bees seen in June include bumble bees, carpenter bees, honey bees, leafcutter bees, and sweat bees.
- Check out our lowest-water use bee plants to get ideas for your own water-wise bee garden.
- Taste and buy honey from the Honey and Pollination Center. A portion of the proceeds support bee research at UC Davis.
- Buy native bee houses for your garden. All proceeds support the Haven.
Winter is when gardeners plan next year's plantings and other changes to our gardens. One consideration in planning a bee garden is creating bee observation spots, along with acquiring tools for bee observation. For many folks this includes photographing bees. Bee photography is challenging and rewarding; here are some tips:
1. Elaborate, expensive equipment is not necessary. I take many of the photos at the Haven with Ricoh CX5 point-and-shoot camera. It has very good macro capabilities for a point-and-shoot that allows me to get nice close bee shots.
2. For action shots, my camera is a Canon Rebel T3i with a 55mm to 250mm telephoto lens. I use the "sport" setting that shoots multiple frames per second, which allows me to shoot bees "in action" as they come and go from flowers.
3. Light. Bees will move if a shadow is cast over them. Position yourself so the sun is in front to avoid making shadows. Photography in full sun at mid-day creates harsh shadows and is difficult. Shade umbrellas help, or try to find a spot in light shade. Although there may be less bee activity, late afternoon is a great time to take bee photos.
4. Time of day. In general bees are most active mid-day, although there are exceptions. Carpenter bees are active until dusk; the charismatic yellow male Valley carpenter bee pictured above becomes active around 3pm. Male longhorned bees form each day's sleeping aggregation at dusk and leave at sunrise the next morning; these are an excellent photography subject. The photos of longhorned bees shown here are from my own garden because of their dawn and dusk schedule.
5. Patience, patience, patience! Plant your bee garden in an area where you can sit comfortably and set up a camera. Target highly attractive plants that bring in a variety of bee species such as salvia and sunflowers.
To view a selection of bee photos from the Haven, visit our Flickr page. Camera and exposure information is included with each photo.
Update February 2016: this blog post from the Xerces Society has more great insect photography tips./div>/div>
On Veteran's Day we honor our military veterans. Like our bees, they work hard and make contributions that many of us take for granted. In recognition of their service, some agricultural and beekeeping organizations provide financial support and training to veterans who would like to make beekeeping their profession.
Our central California weather is conducive to year-round honey bee activity, so including plants that are blooming on Veteran's Day in your bee garden will support honey bees and the occasional native bee that may still be active. On any sunny day with temperatures over 55 degrees Haven visitors will see bees in the garden. Here are some of the red, white, and blue flowers you'll see them foraging on this time of year:
Red (bees do not see red but will use these flowers):
Autumn sage (Salvia greggii) cultivars ‘Hot Lips' and ‘Lipstick'
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
Gaura (Gaura lindheimeri)
Zinnia (Zinnia elegans)
California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)
Early-blooming manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.). The cultivars ‘White Lanterns' and ‘Howard McMinn' are the two earliest bloomers at the Haven.
Blue (shades of blue to purple):
Bush germander (Teucrium fruticans)
Rosemary ‘Mozart' (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Mozart'); this rosemary cultivar has outstanding deep purple flowers
Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha); give it space, as it can reach up to eight feed wide in bloom
Aster (New World species are now in the genus Symphyotrichum, while Old World species remain in the genus Aster). All of the Haven's asters are New World species.
Click here see a complete list of plants in the Honey Bee Haven.