- Joe Dlugo
A Bee Safari at NatureScape Wildlife Botanical Gardens, Washington
The name says it all. This place is a demonstration garden for what a backyard could (and should) be, a three acre wonderland where pollinators are measured by the square foot. Situated just a half hour from Portland in rural Brush Prairie, Washington, this three acre plot offers several themed gardens aimed at inspiring the million or so nearby homeowners to be nature-minded in their landscaping choices.
The setting is the afternoon of July 21st, among the warmest and sunniest days of the year in the Pacific Northwest. Although the bloom of all but a few native wildflowers is long past its prime, it is the height of garden perennial bloom season. Everything from oregano to monarda is in peak state and the bees, oh the bees, were extraordinary.
I made my way down “NatureScaping Lane” through the center of the gardens and could hardly walk a few feet without seeing dozens of bees. When I finally committed to viewing things closely, it was this delightful long horned bee visiting the pink yarrow in the Water Wise Garden that enveloped me into the world I would be entranced into for the next three hours.
Not far from the yarrow, a furrow bee (likely Halictus rubicundus) male was about. There were several of these bees working various flowers in this garden, which according to the map “features permeable hardscaping to filter pollutants from storm water.” These bees are ground nesters and perhaps had found a home in the various surface types found in this garden.
In the same garden, Just a few feet from the yarrow was a Douglas spirea, a native woody shrub that blooms in July. A close inspection usually reveals the presence of masked bees. These very small bees measure about five to eight millimeters long and have very little hair. Most bee species use their hair as a means of transporting pollen to their nests but the masked bee carries the goods internally. If by chance it is not overlooked, it can easily be mistaken for a small wasp.
The sun became hot in the Water Wise Garden, so I moved over to the Hummingbird Place for a little shade and a shot at some bumble bees. The many tubular blooms designed for a hummingbird’s beak can also host bees with long tongues. This female black-tailed bumble bee (Bombus melanopygus) looked quite exciting as she visited wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa).
And speaking of long tongues, this male yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnesenskii) visited the same flowers before I got a shot of him grooming his proboscis before flying back for more nectar.
And to take the mouthpart thing even further, I present to you two photos of a rare find, Protosmia rubifloris. The image taken in the Manor Garden shows its extensive mandibles and between them is what’s called a medial projection. It’s purpose? Well, after scouring as much bee literature as I could find, I have no answer. An enigma I suppose, of which there are many in the frontier world of native bees.
A relative of Protosmia bees in the family Megachilidae, but far more common to find are the leafcutter bees of the genus Megachile. I would find two discernible species about. A bee hotel on the premises could increase the numbers of these bees considerably, as many species will nest in wood blocks with holes drilled in them, hollowed reeds, or paper straws.
Then there was the magical Flying Flower Garden with the sun touching a sizeable patch of gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) in just the right way to entice a thousand pollinators to pay a visit. Among them was the truly glorious gem, Agapostemon texanus. There are several species of these bees in the Pacific Northwest, most having white and black striped abdomens. This species has an abdomen that is all green, making it immediately identifiable. These are the bees dreams are made of.
And if wasps are something anyone would dream of dreaming about, the loosestrife was crawling with the large candy corn colored great golden digger wasps. Those who enjoy bees inevitably develop an admiration for the world of wasps, which when one looks beyond the three pesky species we all speak of they find a trove of diversity and wonder.
Last, but in no way least, was the most numerous bee of the day, the Melissodes long-horned bees. Here one can be seen on Erigeron glaucus, or Oregon seaside daisy, a native plant of the Oregon and California coastlines. Long-horned bees probably numbered in the thousands at the garden this day, but most were males. This one is a female, apparent by her shorter antennae and pollen carrying scopae on her hind legs.
And this one is a male on a black-eyed susan “Goldsturm” flower. Those antenna really are considerable.
I hope that if you’re in the area and you’re curious about bees that you’ll consider a stroll at this fine garden. I know I did.