Plant Life Balance

Four flowers that will set your garden a-buzz this spring

Small but mighty, bees play a critical role in growing the world’s fresh produce, nuts and oils. Find out what makes these insects just so incredible, and how you can help them to thrive in your outdoor space – because when the bees thrive, your garden will, too!

You’ve likely heard people cry “Save the bees!” before, but perhaps have wondered – what’s the big deal with these buzzy little insects? We’ve been chatting with our friends at Wheen Bee Foundation to get the low-down ahead of Australian Pollinator Week (8-15th November), and as it turns out, folks – bees are pretty amazing.

Read on to meet a couple of our native bee beauties, plus discover four pollinator-friendly flowers you can plant this spring for a positively bee-autiful and buzzing outdoor space.

A day in the life of a bee

Unlike animals or humans, plants obviously can’t move around in search of a mate. So how do plants reproduce?

75% of the world’s flowering plants, including 87 of the world’s leading food crops, need pollinators – such as bees – to transfer the male sex cells (pollen) to the female reproductive parts of flowers. This pollination leads to fertilisation, which in turn helps plants develop seeds and fruit. The seeds, fruits, vegetables and oils from these plants feed the world’s animals and people – including us.

So as it turns out, bees perform an extremely important role in keeping the wheels turning in the global food system. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy some of our favourite foods including almonds, apples, blueberries, zucchini, parsley, coriander, carrots and canola… just to mention a few!

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'Portrait Of A Blue-Banded Bee' This is arguably one of the prettiest bees in the world. Named for the beautiful turquoise bands that run across its abdomen, the blue-banded bee (Amegilla cingulate) sports a lush golden and white fluff, enormous green eyes, and tan-coloured wings that look like crisp layers of cellophane. Males can be distinguished from females by the number of blue bands they display – males have five while the females have just four. Adult blue-banded bees typically grow to between 10mm and 12mm. The species is found all over Australia, except in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. — Blue-banded bees are one of only a few native Australian bee species that perform a unique particular type of pollination known as ‘buzz pollination’. Also known as sonication, this type of pollination is really useful on crops such as tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, kiwi fruit, eggplants and chilies. The well-known and very common Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera), is incapable of performing this process. Quite a few native Australian flowers require buzz pollination and for this reason, and the pollination of some farm crops, the blue-banded bee is extremely valuable to Australia. Blue-Banded Bees are solitary bees. — — — ——– – © Photograph By Peter Brown Photographer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED #aussiebees #bee #bluebandedbee #bluebandedbees #earthcapture #wildlifeplanet #nature #wildgeography #ausgeo_wild #ausgeo #macro #macrophotography #insects

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So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately the world’s bees are in a bit of a pickle – the world’s bee populations have been declining at an alarming rate over the last 15 years in what has been dubbed “colony collapse disorder”. Although it’s not completely understood what has caused the collapse, researchers have been able to draw links between this trend and intense agricultural practices; pesticide use; climate change; and pests and predators.

But there is a silver lining. While Australia’s bee populations haven’t been hit quite as hard as other parts of the world, each of us can still make a difference by supporting local pollinators in our very own outdoor spaces. Every action, no matter how small, can make a difference.

Meet some of Australia’s gorgeous native bees

Around the world, there’s about 20,000 different species of bee, and we’re lucky to have 2,000 of them right here in Australia. Most of our native bees are ‘generalist’ foragers, meaning they aren’t too picky – they’ll happily collect pollen and nectar from a variety of flowers.

Blue banded bees

One of the more iconic native Aussie bees, the blue-banded bees have a long tongue and are especially attracted to flowers with long, tubular shaped petals, such as Correa or lavender.

Blue banded bees do a special type of pollination behaviour called ‘buzz pollination’. In some plants, the pollen is trapped inside tiny capsules in the centre of the flower, so blue banded bees curl their bodies around the flower and rapidly vibrate the flight muscles, causing the pollen to shoot out of the capsules.

Stingless bees

Native social stingless bees do a great job of pollinating crops such as macadamias, mangoes, watermelons and lychees in Queensland.

Australia’s native stingless bees also produce a unique type of tangy honey called ‘sugarbag’, which has been shown to have substantial germ-killing properties.

Carpenter bees

The green carpenter bee is a large, beautiful, metallic green native bee, and is friendly and harmless. The species is extinct on mainland South Australia and Victoria, but still exists on Kangaroo Island, and around Sydney and the Great Dividing Range in NSW.

Unfortunately, the 2019-2020 bushfires on Kangaroo Island destroyed many of the green carpenter bees’ habitats, and efforts are ongoing to restore these habitats in order to ensure the bees’ survival.

 

Four flowers for a bee-friendly garden

Native bees love native flowering plant varieties, so for a native-bee friendly garden, try and incorporate these into the mix. Another added benefit of native plants is that they attract other beneficial insects which hunt and eat pest insects such as aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers and katydids.

Try these pollinator-friendly plants for a buzzing garden this spring:

  1. Lilly-pilly – this plant comes with the added bonus of its berries being able to be eaten raw or cooked into jams, jellies and chutney.
  2. Banksia – if you’re working with limited outdoor space, a stunning dwarf Banksia could be just the native for you!
  3. Grevillea – works brilliantly as a screening or informal hedge plant. A great addition to native gardens in warmer climates.
  4. Australian paper daisies – the perfect native wildflower for creating stunning garden displays or overflowing flower pots full of colour.
  5. Herbs: not a flower, but herbs such as basil, thyme, oregano, mint, rosemary, parsley, sage, coriander all all excellent pollinator attractors.

For more information on pollinator-friendly plants you can plant in your outdoor space, check out the Wheen Bee Foundation’s planting guides, and this deep-dive resource from the Australian Government.

Ready to grow a pollinator’s haven? Head to your nearest garden or nursery centre to chat with the experts to discover which bee-friendly plants are available in your region this spring.

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