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Pollinators pollinating

A Hunt bumblebee lands on a wild bergamot in Doney Park.

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.

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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!

Lynne Nemeth, executive director of The Arboretum at Flagstaff, is the editor of Gardening Etcetera. To reach her with articles or ideas, please email


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