Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Snapdragon Family

There are several families of plants that are considered to be important to the honey bees and other pollinators because they are good sources of nectar and pollen. With the pollinators in decline, many are attempting to help restore the food and habitat that the pollinators require. One way of doing this is by creating pollinator gardens. These are gardens of various sorts: flower beds, kitchen gardens, herb gardens, landscape plantings, vegetable gardens, even planters and window boxes. A key element in making a pollinator garden is to prudently avoid the use of chemical pesticides that will harm the pollinators. Having some undisturbed soil around the plantings helps provide habitat for underground nesting insects, like the bumble bees. One should choose plants for the pollinator garden that will provide food in the form of nectar and pollen or food for developing larvae.

One way to choose plants that will be effective attractors to the various species of pollinators is to select members of the important bee plant families. One of those families is the snapdragon or figwort family, Scrophulariaceae. This family is made of a number of colorful plants which make for beautiful natural plantings. Among the snapdragons are Gerardia, false foxglove, Indian paintbrush, blue toadflax, red penstemon, woolly mullein, and speedwell. This family also includes the foxgloves and snapdragons from which Digitalis is produced. The honey bee, through pollination of flowering plants, helps produce some of our important medicines. There is one woody member of the snapdragon family which can be found in old homesteads around the Arkansas Delta. It is the Empress tree shown in today’s photo: a large, spreading tree and a native of China, which was planted in the past and later escaped. Empress tree flowers in April and May. The flower buds are rusty tan husks that remain on the tree through the fall and winter.

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