Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mum's the word for bees, or not #phenology

Many poets call on us to pay attention. None that I can think of better than Mary Oliver. In her poem Yes! No!, from her 1994 volume White Pine, she tells us "To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work." Over the course of the past several days, I've discovered just how valuable and practical that guidance is.

bee on aster blossoms
bee on aster blossoms
Photo by J. Harrington

In a general way, I've become familiar with growing concerns about losing pollinators, particularly bees, to neonicotinoid pesticides. This morning, while walking the dogs, I actually paid attention and noticed there were bees and flies (hoverflies?) on the newly planted asters, but none on the chrysanthemums that had been planted at the same time nearby. Was there something about the mums that didn't attract bees. Good old Google came to the rescue again.

no bees on these chrysanthemums
no bees on these chrysanthemums
Photo by J. Harrington

According to a Home Guides web page, mums aren't an ideal nectar source for bees and so aren't very popular with them, but may provide other benefits. As I was looking for that reassuring piece of information, I came across a fact sheet I hadn't seen before. The University of Minnesota Extension Service has a Pollinator Conservation guide that helps identify different types of bees and locally native plants helpful to bees in different seasons. If I hadn't been paying attention this morning, I probably wouldn't have wondered why bees on asters but not on mums. Thus, I wouldn't have looked for and so wouldn't have found any of this information, would have continued to worry about bees and mums, and would still be sitting in my chair wondering what to write about today. So Ms. Oliver has it right with her poem, especially the title.

Yes! No!
by Mary Oliver


How necessary it is to have opinions! I think the spotted trout
lilies are satisfied, standing a few inches above the earth. I
think serenity is not something you just find in the world,
like a plum tree, holding up its white petals.

The violets, along the river, are opening their blue faces, like
small dark lanterns.

The green mosses, being so many, are as good as brawny.

How important it is to walk along, not in haste but slowly,
looking at everything and calling out

Yes! No! The

swan, for all his pomp, his robes of grass and petals, wants
only to be allowed to live on the nameless pond. The catbrier
is without fault. The water thrushes, down among the sloppy
rocks, are going crazy with happiness. Imagination is better
than a sharp instrument. To pay attention, this is our endless
and proper work.


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