Content note: This post contains images of insects, specifically bees and butterflies, which may be distressing to readers who have insect-related phobias.
A gardener might do the heavy lifting, but some of the most important work in the garden is done by some unusual staff members: pollinating insects. These tiny garden helpers are happy to work for free, but it’s kinder to offer them some compensation in the form of food, water, and/or shelter. That’s why I’m happy to see the bright faces of humble dandelions each spring. These early flowers are an important food source for wakening hives of bees after their winter hibernation, at a time when little else is blooming. Migrating butterflies are also well-served by these plants that so many consider weeds. The shy monarch or monarch-mimic to the right declined to be photographed with open wings.
The current crop of dandelions look like tiny airports, with a variety of small bees and bee-mimicking flies zooming in to land briefly and rummage among the petals before taking quick flight to the next flower, while sleepy bumblebees bounce slowly between clusters and have a leisurely me
The bee in the below photo has a greenish tint, and it was humming merrily among the dandelion patches, doing as bees do. In this close-up view, there are tiny flecks of yellow pollen caught in the hairs on the bee’s legs and abdomen, which will be carried to the next flower. There, some bits of pollen will be transferred to the new flower, and more pollen from the new plant will stick to the bee, some of which will become bee food, and some of which will be transferred to a different flower.
Besides the obvious of leaving dandelions alone, you can encourage pollinators by planting a variety of nectar-producing flowers that bloom at different times of the year, providing an on-going source of food for such beneficial insects. You can also make sure there is a source of clean water with a water feature or a small, shallow saucer that you fill each day. If you have room and no nearby neighbors with bee allergy, you can also consider keeping bees or providing nest-boxes for solitary bees, such as described by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Service. Your county extension office will have information on how to support pollinators in your area.
Blog note: My schedule is still somewhat chaotic due to the previously mentioned family emergency. Construction has started, but the going is slow, and I haven’t had the time to turn my notes and photos into coherent posts as yet. Things should begin to normalize this weekend. Thanks for your patience.