August 1, 2021
A recent article about how drought is affecting pollinators is worth presenting here at the Bucket, with our focus on wildlife, ecosystems and weather. The current weather pattern in the PNW is drought: we haven’t gotten any measurable precipitation since June 13, that’s 50 days, and we’re nowhere near the start of the fall rains, which begin soaking the ground in October sometime. We did get a tiny sprinkle on Saturday, and while those few drops felt wonderful, they did not signify as measurable, certainly not the 0.66”, our average July precip. The forecast is calling for a possibility of measurable rain next weekend — we have fingers crossed! Meanwhile, it is very parched here in the maritime Pacific Northwest. Trees like Red alders and Big leaf maples are losing foliage already due to our extremely dry spring and summer.
Many of us have birdbaths out for thirsty birds, and some folks even have shallow pans of water out for honeybees or wet sand for butterflies but that leaves out the vast majority of the need pollinators have for moisture right now.
According to this article from Oregon State University, How to support bees in a heatwave, honeybees are actually using water they collect to cool their nest. At temperatures above 36°C (97°F) bee larvae and pupae “won’t develop and may die.” Bumblebees do not appear to use water to cool nests, although many of them nest underground which helps keep them cooler. Bumblebees have trouble flying at temps above 38°C (100°F) and will alter their foraging behavior around that, relying on early morning and evenings to forage. In general, larger bees are more vulnerable to high temps.
So how can we help our insect pollinators during these months of high temps and drought? Besides pans of water for honeybees, or damp sand for puddling butterflies (I’ve never had success with that, hard to keep damp. Commenter below suggests “Try a piece of burlap set in a pond/bird bath and draped over the edge, it allows butterflies to get the water but not get stuck by the surface tension”), the best we can do is to provide good quality nectar and pollen for when pollinators do show up. That means having plants in our yards that are drought-resistant, able to generate nectar even in the harsh dry conditions we’re seeing these days.
Native plants for your area are a great choice, as being adapted to conditions. Where I live in the maritime PNW:
Plant native plants that tolerate drought:
- gumweed (Grindelia)
- tarweed (Madia)
- goldenrod (Solidago)
- Farewell to Spring (Clarkia)
- snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
- ocean spray (Holodiscus discolor)
- Douglas aster*
*Douglas aster supported more bee species than any of the other native plants tested in the OSU Garden Ecology Lab field plots.
Update: Great resource suggestion in the comments for regional lists of pollinator-friendly native plants. The Xerces Society has charts of forbs, shrubs and trees flowering early, mid and late season, with helpful information about growing conditions: Pollinator-Friendly Native Plant Lists. Check out what native plants can be planted in your area that will support insect pollinators.
There are many drought-tolerant flowers we can also grow in our yards that both beautify them and also feed our local pollinators. Lists abound, such as 14 Drought-Tolerant Perennials That Will Look Good, Even Through Dry Spells and Top 15 Drought-Tolerant Plants That Can Handle Dry Weather. Here are the top suggestions from published lists.
WARNING and UPDATE NOTE: Some plants on lists like these are noxious weeds, so check what’s safe in your state. Bésame points out in the comments that Russian sage, Verbena bonarensis, Ice Plant, and Lantana are noxious invasive plants in California — avoid those, and any other problematic species.
In my state the WASHINGTON STATE Noxious Weed Control Board website has lists of what should be eradicated and not be planted. Checking the lists, Verbena bonarensis is invasive here too.
With that in mind, here are some safe choices:
Echinacea spp. • Zones 3 to 9
Nepeta x faassenii • Zones 3 to 8
Agastache • Zones 5 to 11
Salvia splendens • grown as an annual
Lavandula • Zones 5 to 10
Eschscholzia californica • grown as an annual
Artemisia spp. • Zones 3 to 8
Veronica spp. • Zones 3 to 9
Achillea • Zones 3 to 9
Lamb's Ears Stachys byzantina
- Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)
- Balloon flower
- Bearded irises
- Blue flax (Linum perenne)
- Blue spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis)
- Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
- Creeping phlox
- Creeping thyme; wooly thyme
- Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Dianthus, including Cheddar Pink and others
- Gayfeather or blazing star (Liatris)
- Globe thistle (Echinops)
- Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
- Oregano, including ornamental-flowered varieties
- Ornamental grasses (non-invasive varieties)
- Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora)
- Red-hot poker
- Rock rose (Cistus)
- Sea holly (Eryngium)
- Sun rose (Helianthemum)
- Thread-leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata)
Note how many culinary herbs are on that list. Once established, perennial herbs are wonderful in your yard in several ways.
Many composites (the sunflower plant family, Compositae) are very drought-tolerant (which is what makes them such good “weeds”). You may grow more composites than you think. I leave my artichokes to flower, and allow any serendipitous sunflowers to bloom.
This early onset of summer drought in the PacificNorthwest is what climate change is bringing to our region. Our overall precip will be about the same but it’s falling in a shorter interval in winter, with summer drought starting earlier and lasting longer. We should do what we can to help out our wildlife.
Dry dry dry in the PNW: no measurable precipitation since June 13.
Currently overcast, with a smoke layer aloft from wildfires in Eastern Washington or British Columbia. Yesterday there was a field fire a few miles from my house that spread to a power pole; my electricity was off from afternoon into the evening. And then later some tourists or weekenders lit a fire on the beach nearby that the fire dept had to put out. Come on guys! There’s a total burn ban in the county due to extremely dry and flammable conditions. I wish people would pay attention to what’s going on in the world.
WHAT’S UP IN NATURE IN YOUR AREA TODAY?