Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Monday, July 23, 2012

I Dig This Bee!

...and she's digging my coneflowers!
She's a Sunflower Bee or Svastra obliqua* and she's been visiting the Echinacea purpurea all day.
  Those tufts of hair on her legs that look like fuzzy leg warmers (scopae) are designed to collect and carry pollen
Svastra obliqua is found from Mexico to Montana, and east to Quebec, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Florida; it's one of the most common and abundant species in the Svastra genus. Sunflower bees are major pollinators of commercial sunflower crops, but, they will forage on many flowers in the asteraceae family.
She's had plenty of opportunity to sup on nectar and gather pollen as she moves around the new coneflower at Clay and Limestone.  She'll work one coneflower, then move to the next, never stopping to visit the Gaillardias, Asclepias or Zinnias that are planted in the same containers.
You've probably observed this same behavior among many of the pollinators in your garden. Biologists call this phenomenon flower constancy.
Pollinators that practice flower constancy will pass on more nectar rich plants in favor of a known and reliable nectar reward.  The question of why this flower constancy exists is a rich and important one that is beyond the scope of this post,...If you want to explore the science please go here and here.
But, here's what I have observed in my garden! My Bumbles practice flower constancy; some work the agastache, others work the lavender and while Svastra obliqua was visiting my garden, she worked the coneflowers.  (The other thing I have noticed was how much more sense it makes to have drifts of these plants rather than a plant here and a plant there. bees don't have to work as hard to get their rewards or help us get ours~pollinated plants.)
 I am so glad a Svastra obliqua stopped by to hang around on the coneflowers! It was a treat. I met a new pollinator, learned about flower preferences and watched my hard working gardening friends dance among their favorite flowers.
That's what gardening for wildlife is all about!


PS I am so very sure you don't need me to remind you that if you want pollinators in your garden, you must never, ever, ever, ever use pesticides.

  *  The Sunflower Bee looks remarkably similar to another Long-Horned Bee, Melissodes...but, it's much larger.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone." She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. What a beauty! I just love her name too ... Sunflower Bee! Her pollen sacs are literally bursting with goodness. Brilliant photos!

    It's an interesting thing, flower constancy. Over time I've come to notice the flower preferences of the native Blue-Banded Bees in my own garden. They just love the blooms of Begonia semperflorens or Bedding Begonias, Salvias and Durantas.

    1. Bernie, I am going to look up Blue-banded bees~they sound beautiful. Thank you for stopping by.

  2. What a cutie, Gail! The coneflowers are certainly favorites of many of the pollinators here. Must look for this one!

  3. Great post!
    Interesting information.
    Most beautiful photography!
    Lea's Menagerie

  4. Look at those saddlebags full of pollen. WoW.

  5. Once again, I've learned something new here today, Gail. The Sunflower Bee is such a cutie--you almost want to reach out and pet her fuzzy head. I'd never heard of flower constancy either, but I do know my bumbles seem to prefer my coneflowers over any other flower in the garden.

  6. That is one beautiful bumble! She and her kin are so lucky to have you as their friend and defender!

  7. So much food for thought! never really tried to ID bees beyond larger categories...now I want to see if I can figure out some of my bees.And I have never noticed the constancy phenomenon. I need to do some observing on that front also. Thank you so much for explaining all this so well!

  8. I noticed that little girl's sister in my own garden this morning. She was busily working the sunflowers here. Thanks for the i.d.~~Dee

  9. Great photos of your cool bee Gail. I am not as observant as you since I haven't noticed an exclusivity to blooms like you mention. Of course this summer, all bets are off because I've hardly been out in the garden. I wish my neighbors would read your never ever use pesticides reminder....

  10. Wow, Gail, can't believe the size of those pollen sacs! She's prepared! Lovely to see a strong, healthy pollinator. Thanks for bringing her to our attention! Bee kisses! Kathryn xoxo

  11. Such a beauty - would make a poster girl for pollinator friendly gardens!

  12. Fascinating. I did not know about flower constancy. Makes me want to plant more drifts.

  13. Don't you love the bees! I find that my most content moments in the garden are when I just stand still long enough to appreciate the amazing swirl of activity around me...of all the bees and other pollinators.

  14. And I dig your photos. Really sweet macros! Plus the subject is fun to film:)

  15. What great photos and I can't believe how much pollen they've stuffed into their pollen sacs! You're inspiring me to start learn how to differentiate between the bumbles, aside from knowing they're different.

  16. Gail, remarkable shots of the bees, and with their pollen sacs that appear about to burst! ;) We love watching them in the garden.

  17. Fabulous Gail...I agree drifts look so lovely and that is a mighty fine bee...I wil have to keep a look out...still haven't had the time I need to take to really observe all the different pollinators.

  18. Wow Gail, what great photos! I'm always amazed at the number of bees you are able to identify.

  19. Incredible photos of your sweet bee. I am in awe of your knowledge of the different pollinators. This one sure was covered with lots of pollen!!

  20. I enjoyed seeing your photos and reading what you said about the bees being selective in what they feed on.

    I was going to tell you that looks like the bee I have posted in my insect album on FB, but first, I went and checked, and we had decided that's exactly what it is. I haven't seen this very many times. It is on a gray headed coneflower in the photo I have there, and I'm thinking I've only seen it on yellow blooms. I do have a nice sized swath of them. I have been wanting to have more swaths of plants. Next year, I hope to do some dividing in order to accomplish that.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson