Desert Door Field Guide: Conservation Series #3 | Pollinator

Our latest Conservation release highlights one of the overlooked heroes of the earth’s ecosystem — the humble bee. Recently, we’ve seen an alarming decline in Texas’s bee population. The good news is there’s something simple each of us can do to help: plant more native plants. Native plants provide the pollen and nectar that are the primary food source for bees. The mesquite, persimmon, and honeysuckle featured in this special release are all native to Texas and pollinated by a native bee species.

The Backstory

Our connection to bees began with a challenge. When Desert Door purchased its ranch in West Texas in 2020, we knew we had a lot of those ahead. We wanted to keep the land untouched, wild, but the very small piece of the property with living quarters had to be — well — livable. The homestead on the property, a live oak house built in the 20s, was not. While working on it, we discovered a hive of about 80,000 honey bees living in one of the exterior panels. We knew the bees had to keep their home on the ranch, just not quite so close to ours. So we connected with local beekeepers to help us move the hive into Langstroth hives, which remain on the property to this day.

Langstroth hives are the most common hives used in North America and Australia, and made from stacking rectangular boxes with removable frames. Many call them bee boxes.

This action would fuel curiosity, and eventually a passion, for members of the team to learn more about bees and what we can all do to support them. On our journey we discovered honey bees (at least the ones that dominate North America today) aren’t even native to the continent. They were brought over with early European settlers for food and for farming. We’d also learn about native bees, and that Texas is home to a huge variety and a large population of native North American bees. Just like honey bees, native bees are seeing a huge decline in population due to an array of problems including loss of habitat from global warming.

We wanted to learn more about our pollinators, both native and non-native, and what we could do to help! That’s why the project attached to our third conservation series release is three fold.

Part I — Xerces

As we started to dive into pollinator conservation, we quickly realized that we were a bit out of our league, to put it lightly, so we enlisted the help of Xerces Society — an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. Talking with them about what we could do to help pollinators, specifically those native to Texas, they said we were already doing it. Having 8,000 acres of untouched land with loads of native plants for pollinators is hugely impactful to supplying not only sustenance for bees, but also habitat. Beyond that — wild harvesting rather than opting for traditional agriculture, which most often comes with the use of fertilizers and pesticides, also supports bee populations.

But not everyone has the ability to purchase 8,000 acres and just leave it. So our next question was — how do we bring the benefits of wild land to urban areas where most of the population resides? Their response: plant native plants.

We were hugely thankful to have Xerces Society as guides throughout this process. Beyond bringing them on board in a consultation capacity — Desert Door also donated to help support their many conservation platforms — one of which is the Bee City program.

Part II — Help Austin Become a Bee City

We were very inspired by the Bee City program when we first heard about it, and after some digging, we were excited to learn that Austin had already assembled a team of volunteers that was working on securing this prestigious designation! The team included city government officials, students, and local business owners who had been meeting since 2020. It was serendipitous that Desert Door and Wild Spirit Wild Places reached out at the end of 2021, because this was the exact point when they were looking for partners to help support and finance the installation of native pollinator gardens throughout the city — one of the requirements for becoming a certified bee city.

Wild Spirit Wild Places has not only sponsored two gardens at the Austin Nature and Science Center, which were planted in Spring 2022, but the non-profit also connected with local businesses (including ACL Live and Kammok) to install more. Today there are 7 native pollinator gardens already planted or scheduled to be planted by the end of the year.

Part III — Enlist an Army

We wanted this conservation series to be different from our last two in that we wanted the project to extend beyond our team. After talking to Xerces Society as well as working on the Austin Bee City committee, we discovered that to truly make an impact we would have to enlist an army.

Supporting pollinators is easy in that everyone can take action. By planting native plants in your backyard, or in a planter on the balcony of an apartment, you’re supporting local bee populations. But it’s tough in that you really need everyone to take part to truly make a difference.

So this project doesn’t end here. Oh no, friends — it’s just begun. The rally cry for Conservation Series #3 is PLANT NATIVE PLANTS.

And we are here to help! Every bottle of Pollinator comes with a pack of seeds native to your area, whether that is right here in Texas, or all the way in Colorado, Georgia, and Tennessee. If you’re purchasing in our tasting room — we’ll give it to you that day. Those doing so out in the wild will find instructions on how to redeem their seeds on the bottle.

Not a drinker? You can still take action, friend. We implore you to opt for native plants as you start to map out your gardening for the year. Read on to learn more!

How to PLANT NATIVE PLANTS

Ready to get your hands dirty? Let’s plant some native plants! Xerces Society sent us a breakdown of native plants that benefit pollinators in Texas, which you can find in the list below. Beneath that, we’ve listed resources for planting native plants in Texas, as well as the rest of the country. You’ll also find info on where to source seeds in your area, and tips on how to create a native plant garden.

NATIVE POLLINATOR PLANTS — TEXAS

This list was created as we began sourcing our own seeds to support the project. To help you understand the list better, let’s start with the criteria that was used to assemble it:

  • Native to Texas
  • Flowers preferred by pollinators
  • Pretty flowers
  • Easy to grow from a seed
  • Should work over a broad area of Texas (Please note that given the size of Texas and the extraordinary differences in climate between West, East, North, and South Texas, no plant is perfect for EVERY setting in Texas, so we recommend learning more about your area.)

The Top 10

  1. Asclepias tuberosa — Butterfly Milkweed
  2. Coreopsis tinctoria — Plains Coreopsis
  3. Gaillardia pulchella — Firewheel (also known as Indian Blanket)
  4. Lupinus texensis- Texas Bluebonnet
  5. Monarda citriodora — Lemon Beebalm
  6. Oenothera speciosa — Pink Evening Primrose
  7. Phlox pilosa — Prairie Phlox
  8. Salvia coccinea — Scarlet Sage
  9. Salvia farinacea — Mealycup Sage
  10. Verbesina encelioides — Golden Crownbeard

Further Reading

Pollinator Friendly Native Plant Lists | Xerces Society

Native Plant Seed and Services Directory | Xerces Society

Plant List and Collections | Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

How to Plant a Pollinator Garden | US Fish and Wildlife Service

Gardening for Pollinators | US Forest Service

10 Tips for Building a Pollinator Garden | Almanac.com

Wild Talk: Planting for Pollinators | Wild Spirit Wild Places

Which Bees Are Which?

As we mentioned above, honey bees are not actually native to Texas. So which bees are ours?

We attended an “Intro to Introverts” class held by Two Hives this past spring and learned more about which bees are native to the Lone Star State. Below is a list of those species. Within each of these species are a variety of unique bees. If you want to start identifying bees (and plants) in the wild — we highly recommend downloading iNaturalists and Picture Insect to your phone.

If you want to learn more about native bees in person — Wild Spirit Wild Places will be welcoming out Two Hives for their “Intro to Introverts” class at Desert Door on July 9th 2022. Learn more about it here.

Native Bee Species of Texas

  • Bumble Bee
  • Carpenter Bee
  • Mason Bee
  • Leaf Cutter Bee
  • Sweat Bee
  • Alkali Bee
  • Cuckoo Bee
  • Chimney Bee

Bees de Yucatan

While there are no native honey bees to Texas (that we know of), it’s a different story with our neighbors to the south! Mexico is home to the Melipona beecheii. You can find this rare species of bee in the Yucatan Peninsula and they were cultivated by the Maya 3000 years ago! Like so many bee species they are facing extinction. You can read more about them and their mysterious relocation to Cuba in this NPR article.

WATCH:

It’s easy to get lost in the world of bees, and there are so many stories about these whimsical insects. Here are a few that we love:

A Ghost in the Making: Searching for the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee

My Garden of a Thousand Bees

Masters of Bees

Marla Spivak: Why bees are disappearing

The Pollinators

More than honey

Honeyland

FOLLOW:

Xerces Society

Wildflower Center

Wild Spirit Wild Places

Desert Door

Bee City USA

Raise Design Studio

Pollinate Austin

Native Plant Society

Two Hives

Crown Bees

New Leaf

VISIT | EXPERIENCE:

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Austin, TX

In conversations with any sort of expert on bees or plants — this public garden and all their resources frequently come up. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin is the state botanical garden and arboretum of Texas. The center features more than 900 species of native Texas plants in both garden and natural settings, and is home to a breadth of educational programs and events.

Austin Nature & Science Center: Austin, TX

Here you can find two of Wild Spirit Wild Places’ Pollinator Gardens. Since 1960, the Austin Nature & Science Center has provided hands-on nature exhibits, education programs, and recreation activities for countless visitors, teachers, and children of all ages that increase awareness and appreciation of the natural environment. Located on the western edge of Zilker Park, ANSC is dedicated to the exploration of the natural world.

Two Hives Bee Ranch: Manor, TX

Owned by local beekeeper Tara Chapman, Two Hives is a great place to get inspired and maybe even begin your own journey into the world of beekeeping. They offer tours, classes and host events. Beyond that, they have an apprenticeship program and a shop with everything you need to get started in beekeeping. You can also purchase and pick up bees through Two Hives to start your own apiary.

Desert Door: Driftwood, TX

Along with Wild Spirit Wild Places, we’re celebrating bees throughout the month of July 2022. We kick off the month with a launch party and seed swap. Then Wild Spirit Wild Places will be offering a series of Wild Talks featuring different experts in the pollinator field. All Wild Talks are free and you can sign up online at the links above.

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