This time of year one of my favorite flowers is in bloom — Monarda fistulosa, commonly known as wild bergamot or bee balm. Every time I walk out the front door, I can smell its sweet, minty fragrance, and hear the buzzing of all the pollinators that love it.
Today I decided to take five minutes and just sit next to the monarda to see who was visiting. I counted at least nine pollinators: tiny solitary bees, gnats, ants, an iridescent lime green bee (perhaps a sweat bee), a black and white striped Anthophora urbana (digger bee) and the orange-striped Hunt bumblebee (Bombus huntii).
My five minutes extended to 15 and I continued to observe, camera in hand. Just sitting still and observing has always been one of my favorite activities as a naturalist. I remember one time on the farm going down to the swampy creek to squat and look for critters in the water. It took me a few minutes to realize that less than two feet away on the other side was a snake hanging in a bush observing me. I backed away very slowly, and then ran up to the farmhouse to get a book to identify it.
Back at the monarda, the bees came closer and closer until they were within inches of my face (and camera). I was delighted that they trusted me. The lesser goldfinches were calling, and rufous-winged sparrow stopped by and perched on the rabbitbrush. Hummingbirds darted in and out of the scarlet Penstemon barbatus. Earlier in the day, I had ridden my horse, Scout, and was thrilled to see monarch butterflies, Nokomis fritillaries and painted ladies feeding on the horsetail milkweed.
So much life! My sister and I, both naturalists, have always said that there is a whole other world out there that most of us don’t ever get to experience (or are afraid to). Take a walk after a light snowfall first thing in the morning, sit next to a patch of monarda or squat by the edge of a pond. It’s amazing what you’ll see once you train your senses.
Which brings me around again to my endless promotion of native plants, creating wildlife habitat — and not mowing! I’m not talking about planting a few shrubs or trees, but building habitat that includes food, cover and water. A few horsetail milkweed plants might not do it, but since it grows wild in Doney Park — and in any meadow or prairie area — don’t mow it down! It’s a favorite of monarchs and other butterflies. Monarda self-seeds, and pollinators love it. Desert cottontails need cover, so don’t pull out the rabbitbrush. Add a birdbath or two, and that’s all you need. It’s easy — and so gratifying!