Not so with the Biological Orchard and Gardens (BOG) on the University of California, Davis, campus. It's a 24,000-square foot treasure, a living museum planted not only with several dozen species of heritage fruit trees, but landscaped with colorful mini-gardens.
This spring scores of wildflowers bloomed in awe-stopping glory, prompting passersby to pull out their cell phones and take selfies.
“The project began in 2010 when a group of students raised the money to convert an under-utilized lawn into a working orchard with fruits free for everyone to enjoy,” related former student project manager and now BOG volunteer Emily Dorrance. She recently graduated with a bachelor of science degree in environmental policy analysis and planning.
“Since then, the team has grown to involve many other UC Davis faculty, staff, and student groups," Dorrance said. ”Ernesto Sandoval, manager and curator of the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory, has been an advisor to the BOG student leadership for many years now and continues to be an important partner!”
At its core, BOG is a collaboration of students, staff and academic programs and an outdoor ecological laboratory that directly supports the university's popular Introduction to Biology course. Or, as the BOG Facebook page indicates: "An agro-biodiverse collaboration between students, staff, academic specialists and programs at UC Davis!"
BOG is located in front (or back) of the Mann Laboratory on Kleiber Hall Drive, depending on which way you're going! If you park in Lot 26, off Kleiber Hall Drive, it's a short walk down the sidewalk to BOG.
"The orchard you see today was planted two years ago," Dorrance noted. "The wildflowers were seeded four years ago and continue to self-seed, with some supplementation.We're planning on planting some more permanent plantings in the fall. The Mediterranean plots surrounding the orchard will have some more seasonal variety as well! I don't think we have any major planting plans for this summer but that could change!"
Among the flowers blooming in the Bog in the early spring, by color:
- Red: European red flax, Linum grandiflorum rubrum, an annual that's native to Algeria
- Yellow: tidy tips, Layia platyglossa, an annual that's native to California
--The seep monkey flower, Mimulus guttatus, native to California
--Lupine, Lupinus, native to North America.
- Blue: Desert bell, Phacelia campanularia, an annual herb that is native to California and endemic (limited) to California.
- Lavender: Phacelia, also called Lacy phacelia, blue tansy or purple tansy (Phacelia tanacetifolia), native to the southwestern United States
--Lupine: Lupinus, native to North America
- Red-Orange-Yellow: Blanket flower or Gaillardia (Gaillardia × grandiflora), native to North and South America
- Orange: California golden poppies, Eschscholtzia californica
The orchard contains heritage fruit tree varieties threatened with commercial extinction. They include the Gravenstein and Johnathan apples; the Suncrest peach; the Bleinheim apricot, the Mariposa plum and the Meyer lemon. See the full list of trees as well as some fun facts here: https://thebogatucd.wixsite.com/bogucd/single-post/2017/07/18/BOG-Fruit-Trees.
In 2013 BOG received a "Go Green" grant from the UC Davis Dining Services. Then last month, the Green Initiative Fund (TGIF) awarded $19,934 to the BOG for final site development. It was a major effort. (On its Facebook page, BOG thanks Kelly Richmond and Andra George for help on the grant and supporters Geoffrey Benn, Ivana Li, Pat Randolph, Lee Anne Richmond, and Peter Hartsough.)
Future plans? According to the website: "The BOG is joining the campuswide effort in transitioning towards a landscaping genre that embraces lawn reduction and plantings more suitable for the teaching, outreach and research mission of the university and sustainability practices. The motivation for the BOG is to serve as a teaching garden for multiple university courses and provide a relaxing space to enjoy the outdoors and simply delicious fruit. The BOG's main function is to serve a demonstration of and test site for plants more suitable to the region's hot dry summers and cool wet winters, with a focus on drought tolerant plants less commonly available in the Sacramento Valley."
When we stopped by the BOG in mid-April, the Phacelia tanacetifolia proved to be a favorite: honey bees (Apis mellifera), male and female Valley carpenter bees (Xylocopa varipuncta) and yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) were all over it. It's fairly uncommon to see male Valley carpenter bees--"teddy bear bees" or green-eyed blonds--foraging, but there they were, along with the female of the species. "The girls" are solid black in a clear-cut case of sexual diphormism.
Want to get involved? The BOG seeks volunteers, interns and donors. See its website at https://thebogatucd.wixsite.com/bogucd or its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ucdBOG or email "firstname.lastname@example.org."
You can even adopt a tree!
Or become buddies with a bee!
(Note: Most of the annual wildflowers have "passed" since our visit in mid-April, but the orchard is thriving with newly formed fruit.)/span>/span>
It's always held the Friday before Mother's Day to promote awareness of North America's public gardens. The non-profit American Public Gardens Association of Pennsylvania established the observance in 2009.
Want to celebrate it at the University of California, Davis?
The Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and located on Bee Biology Road, next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, Davis campus, has scheduled an open house on Saturday, May 12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Here's what's planned, according to bee garden manager Christine Casey:
- Bee observation and ID demonstrations for kids of all ages
- Bee and plant experts to answer your questions
- Learn what and how to plant to help bees
- Learn about home food gardens and bees
- Free sunflower plants while they last
- Free parking at the garden
- Difficult-to-find bee plants for sale. (See plant inventory.)
A little history:
The garden, installed in the fall of 2009, was founded and "came to life" during the term of interim department chair, Professor Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, who coordinated the entire project.
A Sausalito team--landscape architects Donald Sibbett and Ann F. Baker, interpretative planner Jessica Brainard and exhibit designer Chika Kurotaki--won the design competition.
The half-acre bee garden is anchored by Miss Bee Haven, a six-foot long mosaic ceramic bee sculpture that is the work of self-described "rock artist" Donna Billick of Davis. She and entomologist/artist Diane Ullman co-founded and co-directed the UC Davis Art/Science Fusion Program. The art in the garden is the work of their students, ranging from those in Entomology 1 class to community residents. Eagle Scout Derek Tully planned, organized and built a state-of-the-art fence around the garden.
The garden is named for the primary donor, the premium ice cream brand, Haagen-Dazs. Other major donors include the California State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (under the leadership of then State Regent Debra Jamison of Fresno). Names of many of the donors--those who gave $1000 or more--are inscribed beneath the Miss Bee Haven sculpture.
Missy Borel Gable, now director of the statewide UC California Master Gardeners' Program, served as the founding manager of the garden. Under her leadership and the work of the 19 founding volunteers, the bee garden was listed as one of the Sacramento Bee's top 10 garden destinations. The 19 volunteers chalked up 5,229 hours of service between May 2010 and Feb. 15, 2013, when their assignment ended. At the $10 minimum wage, that would have amounted to $52,290.
Native bee specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, who has monitored the garden since its very beginnings, has identified more than 80 bee species there.
If you visit the garden on Saturday, odds are you'll see many different species, including honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, and sweat bees, as well as butterflies and dragonflies.
Honey bees, yes! Bumble bees, yes! Carpenter bees, uhh, not so much.
Ever seen carpenter bees drilling holes in dead limbs or untreated fence posts to build their nests? No? Well, you've probably seen them in their "robber role," piercing a hole in the corolla of a flower and robbing the nectar, bypassing pollination.
"Beneficial insects or pests?" we asked native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, distinguished emeritus of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
"Carpenter bees are controversial and their status as pests or beneficial insects is complicated," Thorp noted. "Some people consider only the negative effects of carpenter bee behaviors--tunneling in wood structures we create or nectar-robbing from some long-tubed flowers--deeming them pests and seeking ways to control them.
"But carpenter bees are important pollinators in native plant communities, and even beneficial as pollinators of some crop plants such as passion fruit, blueberries, melons, hybrid cotton and they are effective buzz pollinators of tomatoes and egg plant," he said. "Even effects of their nectar robbing are not entirely negative. They may actually enhance out-crossing by forcing legitimate pollinators to visit more flowers thus increasing out-crossing. In some cases, they may actually pollinate flowers while nectar-robbing from them."
"Carpenter bee tunneling into wood is an initial step in breaking down dead limbs and logs as part of the recycling process in natural communities. It is when they burrow into untreated wood used in our constructions that they are considered pests."
Thorp said that "any damage caused by them should be weighed against their positive contributions in trying to determine whether to attempt to control them or not."
Bottom line: we consider carpenter bees beneficial.
California has three species of carpenter bees.
- The biggest is the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. It's about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as "the teddy bear bee," is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It's fuzzy and does not sting--or as Thorp says "Boy bees don't sting."
- The second largest is the California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It's known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body, Thorp says. The females have dark smoky brown wings.
- The smallest is the foothill or mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.
Check out the images and descriptions of carpenter bees on BugGuide.net).
Want to hear more about California's bees, which total some 1600 species? Thorp will be giving a two-hour presentation, "Bee Aware Bee Cause," on Saturday, Jan. 7 starting at 1:30 at the Rush Ranch Nature Center, 3521 Grizzly Island Road, Suisun. The site is located off Highway 12, two miles south of Suisun City. The event, free and open to the public, is sponsored by the Rush Ranch Educational Council, in partnership with Solano Land Trust, owner of Rush Ranch.
Thorp, who holds a doctorate in entomology from UC Berkeley, taught entomology at UC Davis from 1964 to 1994. Although emeritus since 1994, he continues his research, writings, bee identification, public outreach and other "bee-involved" activities from his headquarters in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis.
Thorp co-authored the UC California book, California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists (Heyday) and Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University Press). He annually teaches at The Bee Course (American Museum of Natural History), at the Southwestern Research Station, Portal, Ariz. The two-week course is offered for conservation biologists, pollination ecologists and other biologists who want to gain greater knowledge of the systematics and biology of bees.
Doom or gloom? Boom or bloom?
Today is Earth Day, and millions of folks around the world stopped--at least for a moment--to pay tribute to the 46th annual observance. They planted trees, weeded their gardens, greeted pollinators, or just thought about environmental issues.
Every Earth Day, we pay special attention to the tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The biannual, native to the Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, is a favorite in pollinator gardens, including ours. Seven feet tall and graced with pinkish blossoms splashed with blue pollen, it lives up to its name...tower of jewels.
Then it morphs into a tower of bees. Hello, honey bees, bumble bees, sweat bees and carpenter bees.
As they dive in, will they not only survive but thrive? If we each do our part, we can help the pollinators thrive.
Happy Earth Day!
It's the easy way to do it.
A carpenter bee heads for a foxglove blossom and drills a hole in the corolla to sip the nectar. This is "nectar robbing"--bypassing the pollination process and heading straight for the reward, the nectar.
Honey bees are quick learners. Soon they're sipping nectar from the hole pierced by the carpenter bee and they are not supplying "pollination services," either.