Posts Tagged: tower of jewels
it's a traffic stopper.
The plant, reminiscent of a Christmas tree, attracts not only vehicular and foot traffic, but honey bees, bumble bees and hummingbirds. It's basically a tower of bees when it blooms.
The one in our yard is about eight feet tall. Honey bees, eager for the nectar and pollen, keep creating traffic jams. If you sit and watch them, you'll see them constantly bumping into one another as they forage for food.
No wonder it's a favorite of beekeepers.
The species, a biennial, is native to the Canary Islands. It's endemic to the island of Tenerife.
Last year several towers of jewels bloomed near Storer Hall on the University of California, Davis campus, and a couple of others graced the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, about a mile west of the central campus.
The UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery sells these at their plant sales, but they go fast, says Ellen Zagory, the arboretum's director of horticulture. "We don't have any left," she said.
Honey bee foraging in a tower of jewels. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee gets down to business. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Upside down honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's worth the wait.
The two towers of jewels (Echium wildpretti) are blooming in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the half-acre bee friendly garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis.
The plant is a biennual and it blooms the second year and that's it. Plant specialists call this a monocarpic (dies after flowering).
There's no better place for the towers of jewels to "bee" than next to the six million or so bees at the Laidlaw facility.
The garden is open from dawn to dusk (no charge) year around. It's located on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus.
If you go, bring your camera!
If you like to take photos of insects that are as small as a grain of rice, then you'll love--absolutely love--stalking a sweat bee.
Sweat bees, members of the worldwide family Halictinae and order Hymenoptera, are so-named because they are attracted to human perspiration or "sweat." They probably lap up perspiration because of the salt content, according to Christopher O'Toole and Anthony Raw, authors of Bees of the World.
The most important of the many genera, the authors say, are Halictus and Lasioglossum, which are common to both the Old World and New World.
Speaking of common, Halictus is also common in bee friendly gardens and swimming pools. Ever gone for a swim and feel a tiny insect sting you? It may have been a sweat bee. ("Their sting is only rated a 1.0 on the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, making it almost painless," according to Wikipedia.)
O'Toole and Raw point out that some sweat bees are only 4mm long, which is why they can be easily overlooked and so difficult to identify.
What's unique are about these ground-nesting bees? The females of all species of sweat bees mate before winter. "This means that, unlike female solitary bees of other families, those of halictids do not have to mate before founding a nest in the spring," they write.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, identified this little pollen-packing sweat bee (below) as a female sweat bee, Halictus tripartitus.
She was nectaring a tower of jewels (Echium wildprettii) in our yard and packing a heavy load of blue pollen she'd gathered from the plant.
The tower of jewels is native to the Canary Islands. So, if you visit the Canary Islands, you can probably see--and photograph--this little sweat bee there, too.
Every insect looks prettier when it lands on a tower of jewels (Echiium wildpretti).
When in full bloom, the 9-to-10-foot-high plant, native to the Canary Islands, blazes with firecracker-red flowers. It's a showstopper.
Syrphid flies, aka flower flies or hover flies, battle with honey bees to sip the sweet nectar.
The flower flies flit in and out of the blossoms, barely visible.
However, these insects suffer from an identity crisis. Their wasp-like coloring wards off predators. That same coloring confuses people, too. The average person on the street--or in a flower bed--thinks they're bees.
They're not. They're flies.
UC Davis-trained entomologist Robert Bugg wrote an excellent pamphlet on flower flies that's downloadable free from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Titled Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents (Publication 8285, May 2008), it will help you identity flower flies.
Not bees. Not wasps. Flies.
It wasn't an itsy bitsy spider.
And it didn't climb up the water spout.
It was climbing all over the tower of jewels, ready to stalk and pounce on prey.
We spotted this male jumping spider in the genus Phidippus (as identified by Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology at UC Davis) cruising the interstate of a nine-foot-high tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii).
The tower of jewels is a bee-friendly plant, but it's also spider-friendly.
The eight-eyed jumping spider (four large eyes on its face and four smaller eyes on top of the head) is considered an excellent predator because of its keen eyesight and amazing speed. Although it's only about two centimeters (less than 0.8) long, it can jump about 40 to 50 times its length. It's distinguished, too, by its iridescent green chelicerae or mouthparts.
The kneeling photographer and the jumping spider went eye to eye--well, two eyes versus eight eyes--and then the spider crawled under a stem.
I was hoping it would jump.