Native Shrubs Offer Blossoms, Month by Month

Skunk cabbage emerges very early.

Who'd have thought the growing season, and pollinator season, of southern New England starts this early? But it does.

First, there's that funky swamp-life called skunk cabbage. The odiferous blossoms smell mighty good to particular flies and beetles. Those flies offer something to the skunk cabbage, too--pollination. 

A mourning cloak butterfly flies on March 21. Early-blooming red maples provide it with nectar. 

Jack-in-the-pulpit appears in late March, attracting its own pollinators--fungus gnats. 

Flowers for the Queen (Bee)

Queen bumblebee on purple hyssop by Kimberly Stoner, Ph.D.

Don’t mistake their small size for lack of importance in our quality of life. Queen bumblebees are among the earliest insects to emerge in our area, and their pollinating activity is critical to both them and us.

And if you imagine that early emergence gives them a leg up on the rest of the bees, think again. It actually poses a problem. The queens are their species’ sole support in April, but very few plants blossom at the same time they emerge.

Slow down to see spring's ephemeral flowers

Bumblebee on bush honeysuckle. Photo: Kimberly Stoner, Ph.D.

Big bursts of yellow forsythia call out to us in late April, like billboards for spring, easy to see as we fly by in cars, trains, or on bicycles.

It's a welcome sight, but the picture is missing something. Forsythia is not native to our area—and, therefore, not of life-nurturing importance to some of the most endangered regional insects, the early-emerging bees, butterflies, flies, wasps, and moths that are known to insect scientists as "feeding specialists." Some of these choosy creatures rely on early-blossoming native flowers for pollen and other support.

Lake Hayward buffer garden, year two

Yarrow in bloom at Lake Hayward, East Haddam, CT

I had fun last year designing and assisting with the installation of a waterside buffer garden at Lake Hayward, East Haddam, CT. Now the garden is maturing and the photos below show what we saw on June 21, 2014: Yarrow and Penstemon (aka Beardstongue) were in full bloom. Both plants have a lot of ecological value. Penstemon is recognized by the Xerces Society as attracting large numbers of native bees. Yarrow is both attractive to native bees and attracts predatory or parasitoid insects that prey upon pest insects. 

See the Lake Hayward garden web site. 



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