Guest contributor, Sara Scheil is an Emeritus Extension Master Gardener and a Missouri Master Naturalist. She established and manages St. Paul’s Community Garden in Independence, MO, where participants can grow vegetables. The perimeter of the garden is surrounded by many Missouri native wildflowers which support beneficial insects including pollinators.
Ever meet someone new and not think much about it? Then, someone tells you how amazing this person is and why? Suddenly, this person becomes interesting and respect is generated! This can be true of many beneficial insects, including pollinators.
Let me tell you about some beneficial insects that you can invite and get to know right in your own garden, especially if you plant Missouri native flowers.
The black and yellow, fuzzy bumblebee (Bombus spp.) is really quite docile and getting a close look at it is easy. Missouri has at least 6 species of native bumblebees. They visit an important native plant, the Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), in my garden and when the pink fragrant clusters of flowers burst open in June, the bee has to work hard to obtain the nectar, the sweet energy food, and pollen, a source of protein. The bee has to perform “buzz pollination” by pressing its thorax against the base of the anthers which hold the pollen and vibrating its flight muscles without flapping its wings. This releases the pollen for the bee. You can actually hear this happening; it sounds much like a middle C musical note. The pollen collects on the bee’s upper hind legs in a structure called corbicula or pollen basket. Next time you take a look at a bumblebee, look for this feature.
These two food sources, pollen and nectar, are what bind the plant world and the insect world in a strong symbiotic relationship which had lasted for thousands of years. The bee receives the food it wants and the plant is aided in pollination, the act of transferring pollen to the flower’s pistil to generate seeds- the ongoing goal of all living things to perpetuate their species.
Another beneficial insect that we humans normally scorn is the Paper Wasp (Polistes spp.) that usually annoys us by building its compartmental nests under the eaves of our homes. Because this insect feeds on caterpillars and beetle larvae, they are good biological control insects- who needs chemicals with insect control by the wasps?
Paper Wasps love the Rattlesnake Master plant (Eryngium yuccifolium), native to Missouri. With characteristics like the yucca plant, this flowering plant offers interesting texture to a native plant garden. Each round, white flower head on a long stem has 106 five petaled flowers and blooms from July to September. Besides wasps, this plant attracts butterflies and beetles who value this plant for the nectar offering hydration and sugar. Bumblebees forage, in addition, for its nectar.
For more information on native plants, beneficial insects, vegetable and ornamental gardening, feel free to contact Cathy Bylinowski, Horticulture Instructor, University of Missouri Extension, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources: Missouri Extension; M401 brochure; Pollinators of Native Plants by Heather Holm; Attracting Native Pollinators; The Xerces Society Guide
Great Golden Digger Wasp Sphex ichneumoneus, a gentle and benign wasp, gathering nectar and pollen from a flowering oregano plant. Photo by Sara Scheil
Bumble bee Bombus spp. gathering pollen on thistle flower. Photo by Sara Scheil