Spring Beauties: Bee + Bloom

[Spring Beauty bee]

I usually use the ol’ Monarch butterfly example to talk to beginners about “host” plants and “specialization,” which can illustrate “Why Native Matters.”

But right now, in lucky lawns all over town, there buzzes another great example: the Spring Beauty bee.

Monarchs can’t raise babies on anything but Milkweed, right?
Well, Spring Beauty bees can’t raise babies without Spring Beauty pollen.

Spring Beauty is Claytonia virginica, a not-common-enough “common” wildflower in Nashville.
And Spring Beauty bees are Andrena erigeniae, a native mining bee.

Did you see today’s facebook post from the Tennessee Native Plant Society? Great pics and info on the Spring Beauty bee, and both are from Holly Taylor, our Assistant State Naturalist. (link)

did you see yesterdays’ NYT op-ed by Margaret Renkl, in which she both laments and celebrates an early spring, and in which she says, “In sunnier yards than ours — if the yards have not been drenched in landscaping poisons, at least — Spring Beauties can grow so thick they take your breath away.” (link)

Renkl’s “if” clause right there in the middle of the sentence, that’s the same IF / THEN that fuels my work.
If we poison our lawns, then we poison the foundation of our foodwebs.
If we kill Spring Beauty flowers – because we want a green carpet of 100% exotic turfgrass no matter what— then we can’t make more Spring Beauty bees.

Spring Beauty wildflowers in Nashville lawns were planted by Mother Nature, not by gardeners.
They just “happen.”
They are part of Place.
But because so many yards have been poisoned,
built upon,
or simply mown too short and too early,
you may have to take a drive to see the flowers.

Try Centennial Park, especially in the old lawns near Park Plaza and 25th Ave. S.
For sure, you can see them in Warner Parks, along the roads and trails.

[Centennial Park, near the Arts Center and 25th Ave.]

If there are Spring Beauties in your yard, make more by simply doing NOTHING:
-don’t mow (at least till flowers have gone to seed)
-don’t poison (herbicide, pesticide, mosquito fog/spray, fertilizer)
-don’t remove all your leaves in the fall. 

By doing nothing, something will happen. More plants will appear. As will bees, lightning bugs, butterflies, beetles, lacewings, flowerflies, crab spiders, and all the other creatures our foodwebs depend on.

Spring Beauty Bee Homes:
Near Spring Beauty flowers, look for tiny holes in the soil. About ¼” wide. That’s likely where a native mining bee has emerged as a new adult, and is now busy making the next generation.
Pull up a lawn chair and sit a spell, to watch who comes and goes? 
The jackpot is a sighting of a bee with pink pollen “baskets” on her thighs: a female bringing pollen to make little cakes for new eggs.
When the egg hatches later, dinner is ready.

Spring Beauties bloomed so early this year—February 9 in our yard—I worried about the mismatch between plant and animal. Native bees don’t usually emerge that early. Honeybees were flying, no surprise: they are generalists from another continent who can forage on warm days even in the winter.
But I didn’t see any native bees until February 28. That’s when I saw male Spring Beauty bees foraging at Centennial Park.
Males emerge first, as is planned by the mom bee: she lays female eggs at the bottom on the tunnel, and then males closer to the exit.

Every day since then, I keep watch in the yard, walking from flower to flower, trying to get at least one good shot of a bee with fat, pink thighs.

The Spring Beauty flower and the Spring Beauty bee is just one specialized plant / animal relationship,
and just one example that shows
Why Native Matters. 

More info

Where to see:
The best yard Spring Beauties I’ve seen so far are a few in West Meade on Jocelyn Hollow Road, a few blocks from Davidson.
My former spots have been bulldozed for infill.

Where do YOU see good swaths of Spring Beauty?

Where to buy:
Buy Spring Beauty seeds from the nearest source. Prairie Moon Nursery sells them, here.

Buy Spring Beauty plants from … where? I think GroWild used to sell them, but I don’t see it on their their current list, here.

Info about the plant:
Claytonia virginica / Spring Beauty
Spring Beauty plant info from Illinois Wildflowers link.

Info about the bee:
Andrena erigenia / Spring Beauty bee
Bug of the Week: Spring Beauty Mining Bee (link)
More photos of these bees: Discover Life (link)


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Joanna Brichetto is a naturalist and writer in Nashville, the hackberry-tree capital of the world.
She writes about everyday marvels amid everyday habitat loss at SidewalkNature.com and on Instagram (@Jo_Brichetto); and her essays have appeared in Creative NonfictionBrevity, Fourth Genre, Hippocampus, The Hopper, Flyway, The Common, City Creatures, The Fourth River and other journals. An almanac of urban nature encounters is forthcoming.

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