Gone to Flowers

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  3. Where Have All The Flowers Gone

Over evolutionary time, our fickle climate pattern with its brief growing season, nearly endless summer, intermittent droughts and landscape-transforming fires has honed their abilities to hide from adversity. Biding their time in the soil, waiting for the happy promise of enough sunlight and water at the right time, seeds or bulbs may remain dormant for many years. Hiding and waiting is a great strategy as long as droughts are temporary. But as our climate becomes warmer, increased evaporation will make it effectively ever drier, and rainfall will arrive ever less predictably at the right time of year.

Native plants will thus face long-term increases in water stress, often exacerbated by intensified fire and shifts in their delicate coexistence with exotic species.

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My research has aimed to understand how well Californian native plants are coping with these changes. Growing up in Sonoma Valley in the s, I used to hear my mother sigh about the beautiful poppy- and lupine-covered hillsides she saw a decade earlier. Suburbs and vineyards had since consumed them, as has been the case in so much of our state. But as a field ecologist working at relatively remote field sites, and becoming increasingly climate-conscious, I found myself asking questions like: Are the foothill poppy displays as intense after a chaparral fire as they were after a nearby fire in ?

Are the grasslands less solidly blue with sky lupines in the wet winter of as they were in the winter of ? Is this landscape just a little less flowery than when I first saw it plus years ago, or have I been tricked into imagining that by nostalgia and the ever-shifting backdrop of the seasons and years? Those of us with the good fortune to be employed as field ecologists sometimes find ourselves with valuable long-term data sets, usually at around the same life stage when our hair turns fully gray.

Many of these studies began decades ago for totally different reasons and later metamorphosed into climate change analyses. Since the s, my collaborators and I began to study how Californian plant diversity was shaped by fire, grazing and soils. Five years ago, we began to see signs that diversity was being affected by climate. In a Northern Californian grassland landscape, we found that the diversity of native annual plants declined over a year now year period in which most winters were drier than the long-term average.

Wet winters toward the beginning of this period caused upward spikes in native plant diversity, but wet winters in later years did not. Statistical and experimental evidence suggested that the dry winters caused high seedling mortality, depleting the all-important supply of dormant seeds in the soil, in turn lessening the resilience of diversity in these native plant communities to yearly climate fluctuations.

While still vibrant, this grassland landscape lost some of its botanical color and variety even during my brief time studying it. Not political in the sense of a particular party or nation, but political in the sense of how we human beings elected to care for our planet. Humans have consistently put their own needs before that of the environment and we are paying the price. Species around the globe are going extinct at a terrifying rate leaving us with fewer and fewer resources.

Of all the bee species, honey bees are probably the best able to handle the lack of suitable forage. Honey bees have an incredible foraging range which can be measured in miles. In lean times, honey bees have been known to cover up to five miles. Simple math will show you that a circle with a radius of 5 miles covers roughly 50, acres.

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On the other hand, most of the solitary bees travel short distances, some only a few hundred feet from the spot where they were born. A circle with a radius of feet, for example, covers only about 6. For many native bees, a Costco parking lot is a vast desert, both barren and dangerous, that it will never cross.

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The pounds and pounds of honey your bees bring in can be deceiving. Is it possible for a colony with 50 pounds of surplus honey to be malnourished? Sounds crazy, but is it possible for an overweight teenager to be malnourished? The answer can be yes in either case. All living things need a proper balance of nutrients in order to thrive. Crops are supplemented with compost or fertilizer just as dog food and rabbit feed are formulated to provide optimum growth. High energy foods such as sugar and starch do not supply the amino acids, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients needed by living things.

As such, it is very possible for a colony heavy with honey to be light on good nutrition. But even pollen has its limitations. Like everyone else, bees must eat a varied diet. Many aspects of modern life have made the flowers disappear and compromised bee health. Herbicides: Herbicides kill the flowering plants that once lined roads, playgrounds, orchards, and fields.

This destroys a valuable source of pollen, nectar, and bee habitat. Invasive Species: Nature abhors a vacuum, so after you kill the native vegetation with herbicide, the invasive weeds have a perfect spot to take root. With no competition from local plants, the invasives become a type of monoculture.

Monoculture weeds: Like monoculture crops, monoculture weeds have lots of pollen, but of only one type. Worse, instead of having dozens of different plants that bloom at different times and provide food over a long period, you have a single species that blooms all at a once.

After that, there is nothing left for bees to eat. Hybrid Varieties: Hybrid varieties may offer little or no pollen because the plant breeders who developed them were looking for traits other than nutritional pollen. They may have been breeding for color, winter hardiness, drought tolerance, disease resistance, or some other trait that appeals to humans, not bees.

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Climate Change: Regardless of what causes climate change, climate change causes trouble. In some cases, bees and flowers get out of sync with each other. Plants respond more quickly to temperature changes and may bloom early, but bees come out of hibernation after the requisite number of days or months. In some situations, flowering of their favorite species is over before the bees emerge. Agricultural Practices: Growers used to cut forage crops such as clover and alfalfa lucerne after flowering, a practice which provided lots of bee feed.

But in modern times, forage crops are cut just before flowering, so both the pollen and nectar are lost. Lawns of Grass. You often hear that lawns cover more acreage than any other crop in North America. Unfortunately, there is very little about a modern lawn that is good for bees: no forage, no open ground for nesting, no nesting materials, just lots and lots of chemicals.

One landscaper working in front of a bank told me that evergreens are great because they keep bees from scaring the customers away. So sad. So when people ask how they can help the bees, tell them to plant flowers. Flowering trees produce lots of forage, but even small gardens and planters can help. Heirloom and open-pollinated varieties produce the best pollen, but a selection of plants with a wide spectrum of bloom times is the goal.

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If space is an issue, concentrate on those things that bloom in late summer and early fall—the most critical time for bee nutrition. What has amazed me since I came here is how green gardens yards are. Grass, grass, grass, no daisies, no clover etc. So maybe flowers in the garden here are side-victims of attacks on other pests, but I remember gardens full of damsons, pears and apples and the lawn full of bees — honey or bumble.

But hey, blaming the Brits is nothing new! This security addition is for the safety of your site, your readers will understand you are trying to defend your site against hacks etc. Got it. I logged out and left a comment, no problem. Rusty, Grass lawns may not be a bigger crop, but the chemicals used to keep them green may do more harm. Food-crop land is plowed, disked and row-tilled, to promote absorption, altho soil erosion is still a problem.

This post should be shared with everyone who wants to help the bees! Nan Northern Kentucky. The single most important thing we can do as property owners is ditch the big box stores for our landscaping needs and find a native plant nursery in your area. You might have to drive a little to get there, but if you are serious about this, you will. We need to get rid of the exotic and invasive plants that ALWAYS escape no matter what anyone will tell you and start planting with natives appropriate to where you live.

Not any old plant will do. Stretches of european turf grass and neat little rows of petunias might be just what the culture doctor ordered, but they do absolutely zero for supporting life on this planet. Do not be afraid! The results will be amazing, I promise. An alternate approach is to examine your yard usage. Then build your yard around that, using native plants and near-locals in a variety of species with different flowering times.

Set up a nice sitting area where you can watch all the locals—winged and feathered alike. Explore the natural areas around you—the dry areas, the forests, the riparian and marshy areas.

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Look at your yard. What are the appropriate plants for your situation? For example, my front yard in So Cal is hammered by the sun, so there are a variety of sun hardy natives there. Customize and adapt.

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ALL the bees will thank you for it. And yes, some of my neighbors do not appreciate my drought-tolerant approach to the English garden, but many more do.

Where Have All The Flowers Gone

My across-the-street neighbor, the landscape architect with the manicured lawn and pin oaks lovely, but from the east coast , does not appreciate the different colors and textures, but then he works for the huge local development corporation which uses a very small palate of plants. I have an awesome yard bird list and love to watch the native bees and butterflies; his yard is rather barren. I agree that you have to plant according to sun, soil and moisture. Oaks are the one tree that support the most biodiversity, but the right tree in the wrong place does not function.

The whole point of the native plant garden is to restore function. As you point out, there is a steep cultural hill to climb. Why our beautiful native flora got relegated to weed status is beyond me, but I suspect that it has a lot to do with money. As if humans can function in a non functioning environment? We can all do something about this, but only if we get smart about , native flora, reject the current cultural norms and plant gardens the right way.

Again, bringing nature home is a good place to start understanding. Plants matter to insects a lot. You might as well plant plastic. Few things in nature are set in stone, and I have to disagree with your friend Chad, at least in part.