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Native Bee Attracting Plants and Their Other Uses

This summer I have been blessed with more native bees in my garden then I have ever seen before. In particular, the blue banded bee (my favourite), which I regularly observe all through the day buzzing around the flowers. This could be because I'm more in tune with 'bee watching' but while this may be true I also think it is due to the type of flowering plants that I have at the moment. In this blog I'll list the ones that attract the most blue banded bees but also, with a nod to permaculture, discuss the multiple uses each plant has.

Basil. An obvious and proven bee magnet. Here I've planted a basil mix where Cinnamon Basil has been the most successful and flowered first. Really only two main uses for this herb but it does them so well I think every gardener should be growing at least one variety of basil.

Catnip. I grew this to make a relaxing herbal tea but in the end I find the tea not to my taste. None of the plants flowered until I moved this one into full sun. The bees love it. Makes me think I will have similar success with Lemon Balm (also called Melissa which is apparently Greek for honey bee) which I haven't had flower yet. Apart from the most known use of catnip as a cat drug (no I haven't seen any cats near the plants) I often crush the leaves and rub them into my skin as an effective mosquito repellent.

Daikon Radish. This was a little unexpected. I managed to acquire a couple of seeds of this vegetable and thus grew this plant to harvest its seed. As you can see is it is doing well but in the process it has become a busy place for all kinds of pollinators. Apart from food (root and leaves) it also can be used to break up clay soils. I will be looking forward to growing more of these vegetables.

Moringa. One of my favourite vegetables. This one has been flowering for months and despite having white flowers is popular with the blue banded bees. Uses - too many to list here but I'm sure most people know them already or can easily find out by doing a quick google search.

Siberian Motherwort (Leonurus Sibiricus). As with most of the Leonurus genus of plants this variety has medicinal properties and in particular this one imparts a calming/relaxation effect when drunk as a tea. Unlike the more commonly known Lions tail (Leonotis Leonurus) this is a real bee attractor and a favourite with the blue banded bees.

Purple Heart (Tradescantia Pallida). Yes this plant is not edible and part of the dreaded 'trad' genus but in my experience it is not invasive and easily controlled. The blue banded bees love the flowers, which the plant does most of the year, makes a easy to grow ground cover and can be used as mulch when it gets too big. I use this plant as a constant food supply for the blue banded bees.

Celosia. Actually I've never seen a bee on this plant but it such a pretty and distinctive flower that I thought I would include it just for its ornamental value. Also, it is small and has edible leaves.

Interesting I haven't seen that many European bees on the above flowering plants and thought this may be because they are scarce in my area. But in other parts of my garden they are swarming on the flowering lilly pillies and previously on the flowering Leucania and Weeping Paperbark. So they are just discerning.

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Comment by Christa on January 30, 2016 at 9:48

We have similar likes, Dianne, I can sit in my backyard and just watch these butterflies gently or swiftly flying or jetting through my backyard and stopping to visit my plants. So far I have identified about 30 butterflies, though some are a bit iffy.  As I am not a huge green vegie fan, my loss is not great, and I am willing to share with the rest.  Bees are in abundance but It depends on the type of day and how often we get rain.  One day I will get a good camera with good zoom lens and leave it hanging around my neck. My fascination is with bugs in general.  It is a natural pet without having to worry about vet bills etc. 

Comment by Phil on January 29, 2016 at 20:45

Dianne I live on the edge of suburbia and bushland so I haven't had to make any bee homes. Previously I did make an attempt but I think they preferred their own bushland homes rather than my clumsy attempts.

Comment by Dianne Caswell on January 29, 2016 at 11:50

This is a very special subject of mine and I am so pleased you posted it.

When do you get your chores done if you are watching the Bees all day. I know what you mean though, today I have spent the morning watching them also and the butterflies, there are so many and so pretty. But if I see butterflies I know what comes next GRUBS to prune my plants especially the Citrus. I don't have the heart to kill them. Have you made any homes for your Blue Banded Bees.

Comment by Lissa on January 12, 2016 at 17:57

I'll keep it in mind Phil, thank you.

Comment by Phil on January 12, 2016 at 7:41

I got a cutting from Andy's Bush Basil at his GV which has now established and looks like it will flower soon. So Lissa you can always use this method if your market plants don't turn out.

The S.Motherwort is still going strong and I've noticed that European honey bees now visit it too. Pity its an annual.

Comment by Lissa on January 12, 2016 at 5:25

I some bought some more Bush Basil at the weekend. At least I hope it's the same Bush Basil plant I bought from Yandina that the bees loved so much.

There were a dozen different varieties of Basil at the Caboolture Mkts but the stall holders looked at me puzzled when I mentioned perennial Bush Basil. Some assured me they would have it "next week", one told me that's really Globe Basil (I looked, it isn't).

I eventually found these five plants sitting in a small stall for $1 each. Hoping they're the real deal.

Comment by Lissa on December 28, 2015 at 17:15

Megans Magic salvia. Lovely.

My native bees love the Pineapple Sage here the best but most salvias get visited. All except the one with the impressive purple flower heads.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on December 28, 2015 at 15:04

Daikons are fine raw when small. They can be cooked - I suppose anything can but specifically in some asian traditions they are routinely cooked. Never associated the salad crunch of Radish with cooking!

Comment by Phil on December 28, 2015 at 14:20

Pretty much all of the Moringa tree is edible Christa but the best part are the leaves. Eat them raw in a salad or lightly cooked like spinach. Not many plants match their wide range of nutrients. And yes take Elaine's advice and keep them pruned otherwise they can get very large. I have mine in pots and they still grow taller than me if I let them. I'm not sure what this particular Daikon tastes like but usually they are pretty mild, a good filler in a soup, etc. When they, the s.motherwort and the basil finish seeding I'll bring some of their seeds to the next GV for you and anybody else who wants to give them a go.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on December 28, 2015 at 13:52

Keep the Moringa to a shrub by tip pruning and eating the tips. 

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