Ramble: Echinacea, and the Bees

EchinaceaDear Readers, It was REALLY hard to write about Echinacea and stay on topic! There was an idea running through my head which I tried to pin down for you, but so many intriguing subjects popped up. Herbal medicine, ethnobotanical uses of the plant, wildlife food value, stories about plant breeders, plant marketing, “snake oil salesmen”, morphology of the Asteraceae, scanning electron microscope photos of pollen…

Echinacea — a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the Asteraceae family. Commonly called Coneflowers, there are 9 species in the genus (according to USDA PLANTS) and they are endemic to Eastern and Central North America. The word Echinacea comes from a Greek word meaning “spiny”, (as in Echinoidea, the word for sea urchin,  ) and refers to the stiff, bristly center disk of the flower.

EchinaceaEchinacea is a great perennial garden plant. It is tough, drought tolerant, cold tolerant, and not invasive! They are impressively able to hold their own against insects and diseases as well. Three species –Echinacea purpureaEchinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida, have been utilized in creating new garden cultivars. There have been so many cultivars released in the past 10-12 years that it’s hard to keep track. One website I checked had 28, and another lists 53!

Echinacea trialThere are a few Echinaceas which can be started from seed in January to flower the first season. ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ is one. This is unusual in a perennial plant and lots of fun for the gardener! Seeds for the All- America Selections Display Garden have arrived and they include the appealing ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ Echinacea cultivar. It’s shorter and stockier than the species Echinaceas, which can be 3 or even 4 feet tall. It is a rainbow of warm color tones, rich orangey red, paler orange, yellow, gold, pink, and cream. A sturdy little plant with long-lasting pretty flowers –what could be better?

EchinaceaWell…

It’s not so busy in the garden and I have been thinking a lot and reading a lot about honey bees, being a beekeeper as well as a gardener. Everyone knows that it is hard times for the bees! Diseases, mites, lack of forage, and chemicals of all kinds are combining to take their toll.  Last year I observed that bees and other pollinators love Echinacea purpurea, which we have here in the garden. But the ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ and other recent cultivars had no pollinators visiting them. Like many flowers that have been “engineered” for certain qualities by plant breeders, they may no longer be particularly attractive to insects.

butterfly on echinacea“…When it comes to ornamental flowers, plant breeders select for beauty. What you lose in this process are many of the characteristics that made the flower attractive to pollinators in the first place. By selecting only for beauty, for example, you may lose fragrance, sweet nectar, nutritious pollen—or any number of things that the pollinators liked. This loss of pollinator-attracting features … happens in all sorts of flowers from roses to pansies. It is the main reason why people interested in planting native bee habitat or wild pollinator habitat are encouraged to plant either native species or heirloom species that have not been highly manipulated. The important thing to remember is that the flowers most attractive to humans are often not those most attractive to pollinators.” (From “Who Pollinates the Daffodils?” by Rusty Berlew of Honey Bee Suite. Read the original article here.)

echinaceaIt seems to me that much has been lost in this type of “improvement”.  I am certainly not against improvement; for example, some hybrid vegetables have a welcome place in my garden. Disease resistance, drought tolerance, heat tolerance; these are plant “improvements” that we probably could not live without. And I am not against beauty, but I think in this case I find the beauty in Nature and her system of plants and pollinators who go hand-in-hand.

honey bee on echinaceaTo conclude, I will just say that I don’t want “beautiful” to outweigh “useful” in my garden. I want both! I would love to know what plants and varieties you find attractive to honeybees and other pollinators in your gardens. And another day I will fill you in on some of those other topics which distracted me today.

 

Thanksgiving Holiday

It’s only Tuesday, but I am looking ahead to Thanksgiving on Thursday, my favorite holiday! Being with family and friends to celebrate and be thankful for all that we have seems like the best kind of day. Tomorrow we bake pies (lots) and Thursday we have very traditional turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and cranberry sauce. It’s our stay-at-home holiday, and not traveling –especially this year, with predictions of bad weather for Wednesday– make it a leisurely day. A long walk after dinner, and maybe a game of Scrabble or Seven Wonders as night falls.

Just as I always talk about my favorite holiday in this post, I also take the opportunity to let you know about the annual Buy Nothing Day and, in Rhode Island,  Winter Coat Exchange on Friday. Buy Nothing Day is an international day of protest against rampant, out- of- control consumerism.  As Scott MacKay, Rhode Island journalist and historian says:

“The coming of a New England winter reminds us once again that poor Rhode Islanders face a tougher time than the better-off. So once again it is time for us to search those closets for old winter coats to donate to the annual Rhode Island Buy Nothing Day Winter Coat Exchange. The brainchild of community activist and environmentalist Greg Gerritt, the coat exchange  will be held on the Black Friday shopping day, the day after Thanksgiving. The main site will be at the founding location, on the State House lawn in Providence, which is located in the shadow of both the Independent Man and the Providence Place Mall.

‘Buy Nothing Day is the international day to point out how consumerism is destroying our planet and our communities. We collect and giveaway winter coats to give back to the community while pointing out how consumerism is a dead end,’ says Gerritt,”

Coat collection and giveaway runs from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Nov. 28 on the State House Lawn.  In South County, coats will be gathered and given away at St. Francis Church, 114 High Street, Wakefield, between 10 a.m. and noon on Nov. 28. For more info contact Tom Abbott at dawgdays@cox.net or call 401-364-0778. There are many other locations around the state to donate coats or pick them up; the list is here:  Winter Coat Exchange 

From the URI Botanical Gardens and your grateful gardener, I wish you Safe Travels and a  Happy Thanksgiving with those you love!

 

 

 

Not Ready!

 

first snowWell, a little bit ready for winter, as in: prepared. The gardens are mostly cut back, although the Dahlias still need to be dug up and packed away. There’s plenty of wood in the wood shed. Pulled out my winter coat, hat, and mittens. But ready for a couple more months of cold and dark? No.

leaf in snowsnow on sedumsnow on rosesWhat are you doing to get ready for winter?

 

Edible Garden

dahliaHard frost came to my home garden in the wee hours of Monday morning. Here at the top of Kingston Hill, the Botanical Garden had none to speak of, but the plants are looking pretty tired. Lack of rain, deer, woodchucks, and rabbits took their toll this year! Wide swaths of Phlox and Chelone were eaten to little nubs, then eaten again. Hostas disappeared early on. Echinacea has become a wildlife delicacy. Annuals were lunch as soon as they were set out. There are a few bright spots:  Japanese Anemones (eaten and recovered), Dahlias  (near the road= not eaten), Toad Lilies (also eaten and recovered), Ornamental Peppers (untouched!), Callicarpa, and of course, beautiful fall foliage.

Toad Lily/Tricyrtisanemonedisanthus leavesstewartia

Callicarpa/Purple Beautyberry

Oh, and last but not least: Gaillardia, in the All-America Selections Display Garden. These little plants fly under the radar at the annual Plant Sale, but they can’t be beat. They are perennials blooming first year from seed (started April 1st), withstand heat, drought, animals, and insects. October 21 –still blooming! Save a garden spot for them in the spring.

Gaillardia

 

Real Rain

That’s what everybody here is walking around saying, with a smile and a grateful look at the gray skies. Yes, it’s been quite a while. I like having a rain day to focus on the greenhouse, dividing and potting up plants, rearranging, cleaning up, and taking cuttings. Here are some greenhouse plants which caught my eye today.

Tibouchina

Tibouchina/ Princess Flower

Mimosa

Mimosa / Sensitive Plant

Anthurium

Anthurium

Canna

Canna

Cactus

Cactus–unlabeled!

Justicia

Justicia carnea / Plume Flower

Polypodium

Polypodium Fern

September Sights

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’   ‘Indian Summer’,  I think!  That’s what happens when I let everything seed in…

rose

Rosa ‘Dortmund’

locust borer beetle

Megacyllene robiniae, the Locust Borer Beetle. A new one to me!

ant and bee

Apis mellifera, warming my beekeeper’s heart, and an ant (Lasius niger??) on Hydrangea ‘Tardiva’.

goldenrod and physostegia

Solidago and Physostegia, the colors of September.