by Charlene Burgi
I would have missed the celebration if not for the headlines seen on an internet nursery promotion this morning! It’s National Wildflower Week! Ironically, I’d been thinking about bees, butterflies, and birds for this week’s blog topic. After all, it seemed like a perfect follow up to the spiders and snakes blog that we posted last month. But, how could I not address National Wildflower Week with this newfound knowledge?
It didn’t take long to consider that native flowers would tie in perfectly with bees, butterflies, and birds. Native plants go hand-in-hand with supporting our wildlife. To further confirm and validate my choice of blog topic, a swallowtail butterfly found itself trapped in our greenhouse, and the first poppies emerged in the same garden area this week. Is this a coincidence?
A force greater than me was pushing me to discuss the timing of nature! Isn’t it amazing that the very needs of bees, butterflies, and birds coincide with food and shelter sources for migrating patterns, the awakening of winter dormancy, and emerging pupation of butterflies? Simultaneously, bees and butterflies are popping up everywhere along with wildflowers.
The chirps of baby birds are now heard when entering the barn. Robins along with various species of birds not commonly seen flock to the birdfeeders or are viewed pecking the juiciest worms from the earth. Sandhill cranes, bald eagles, hawks, geese, and ducks fly overhead and delight us in their aerial show during the spring like no other time of the year.
To provide sustenance for migrating and emerging wildlife, early spring produces sprays of lavender-blue lupine, brilliant orange poppies, and soft pink, creeping phlox highlighting the roadsides and nearby hills. Phlox is a favorite for swallowtails, and it is little wonder that one surprised us when we entered the recently watered greenhouse!
Wildflowers can also be found in our trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals. Western dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) are now peaking through the thicket of the forest with their showy white flowers and giving away their understory cover. It doesn’t take long for the bees, butterflies, and birds to seek out this treasure for its nectar. Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) and Ceanothus (wild lilac) are wild-flowering shrubs that have an attractant that helps sustain these garden visitors during the spring months. The perennial yarrow is pushing out multi-floral, flat-landing petals that bees and butterflies find so easy to perch upon. Douglas iris are found in profusion throughout grassy slopes and woodland areas. Their flowers are beacons to honey and native bees, as are Salvia spathacea (Hummingbird sage) and Clarkia.
While I barely touched on meadow type wildflowers, it is important to remember that many bees, butterflies, and birds depend on the shelter of trees and shrubs for nesting and protection. In addition to shelter, butterflies require food sources to complete their lifecycle and find these by foraging on favorite plants in the garden.
Even though early May is dedicated to celebrating National Wildflower Week, may I suggest a strategy to keep the bees, butterflies, and birds around for a longer period of time? Provide shelter by planting tall native shrubs. Create a shallow muddy area where bees and butterflies can drink. Set out baths for birds to drink and clean their feathers (be sure to clean your bird baths weekly to control the spread of disease), and leave areas of loose soil, which are ideal for quail to dust themselves. Find summer blooming flowers that will provide nectar to keep birds close by. And situate feeders in trees for added protection from overhead hawks.
Let me challenge you to do something this week to honor the natural beauty surrounding us. I found one website (wildflower.org) that suggested 20 ways to celebrate National Wildflower Week. Bay Nature’s Gardening for Wildlife with Native Plants is a great resource. If you’re nearby the district’s Corte Madera office, there are free copies in the lobby.
The weather is going to be beautiful. Seize the day with a packet of poppy seeds in hand!