The Importance of Weeds

Four Bees on Wingstem
Four Bees on Wingstem

Four hungry bees are busily feeding and loudly buzzing—almost like my cats purr when they really like their dinner—on wingstem flowers growing at the top of the bank of Chartiers Creek.

Two are honey bees, two are blue-winged wasps, both of them highly beneficial instects to have on your side. Honey bees are probably the most familiar bee to most of us. They are important pollinators and, as they are typically easily managed, have provided humans with honey and beeswax since prehistory. Though they are native to Europe they do the same job on this continent in keeping domestic and wild species of plants pollinated.

The blue-winged wasp may look intimidating, but they are not aggressive unless they are threatened. In addition to pollinating they are a beneficial insect, at least to us, because they are a natural predator for Japanese beetles and other beetles. Both the wasp and the beetle are from Japan, so are native to each other, even in their adopted home over here. The wasp will use a beetle grub to feed her young so it doesn’t even have the chance to grow up and defoliate your roses.

Clearly these are two bees we want to welcome. When our country was covered with native plants they could easily survive moving from one flower to another without breaks, but today those native plants, including this wingstem, are considered weeds and are eradicated with pesticides, which sadly also kill bees or damage their ability to reproduce. The brilliant yellow clumps of wingstem hardy enough to survive being sprayed at least once, possibly twice, this year are a lifesaver for them.

I photographed them yesterday on my walk home from the post office just as I did the lovely grasses I found along the way. This creek bank is tall and steep and covered with rip rap, large stones and chunks of concrete that keep the bank stable in a high water event, put in place as part of a flood control program 45 years ago. The bank is regularly sprayed to kill “weeds” because anything growing there could catch something floating by in floodwater and cause damming. But the wingstem managed to grow and bloom in time to provide a midsummer meal for these bees and others. Those plants were humming.

Wingstem may look scruffy and unkept to some, but it’s certainly valuable to these two species of bees we rely on to help keep us fed.

Let the Weeds Grow
Let the Weeds Grow

You can find more information about native plants and bees in Why Dandelions are Essential and “Everything Is Connected”.

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  1. Wonderful post, Bernadette. Last year, I saw a stand of wild goldenrod absolutely covered in bees, in amounts that never see on my goldenrod cultivar ‘Fireworks’ – I’ve let a stand of wild goldenrod take root in my new pollinator garden along the roadside this year, hoping to see the buzzing hordes 🙂

    1. And they do, Composer! I let goldenrod come up in my asparagus bed since it blooms well after asparagus is done and doesn’t compete too much, but it’s well worth it for the pollinators in the autumn garden. You can hear it hum, and for the tomatoes that can still have two months, and that second planting of beans, you can’t beat goldenrod. Plus it makes nice cut bouquets.

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