What are we talking about, you may ask? This!
Composite flowers look like one flower, but are actually many small flowers grouped as one. See the teeny little petals sticking up in the middle? Each is a flower! And if you know sunflowers, each flower makes a seed. Composite flowers actually evolved to be like this as a strategy to attract bees.
“What?” Hickory popped his head up from digging a hole. “Flowers think?”
Not really, but Mix Flora says they tend to change according to what works. Like some flowers smell a particular way–sweet, or like rotten meat–to attract insects to pollinate them, others like Lady’s Slipper make a very small passage to push pollen on the bees.
But back to composites! A flower that is really many flowers is very efficient if you’re a bee. I’m sure all you humans have heard the phrase “busy as a bee”, and it’s true. They work hard, but they also like shortcuts.
You can give bees two shortcuts in your garden:
Plant composites, like zinnias, which are easy to grow.
Group your flowers in masses of color.
This sweat bee will go from this yellow flower to the next and the next and the next. It’s like going to the biggest oak to gather acorns, instead of running around to a bunch of small ones. They see that huge patch of color and know they can collect what they need in one visit. We think you humans do this, too, when you go to stores.
Planting flowers to bloom throughout the entire growing season will help bees find nectar and pollen for the longest possible times they are active.
One of the earliest composites to bloom in the spring is–wanna make a guess?
Dandelions! Yes, each of those seeds was a flower on a dandelion, so don’t pull them if you want to help bees! The latest composites to bloom are likely asters or goldenrod.
We could give you a flower list, but other blogs have done it for us: Please visit The Peace Bee Farmer’s post on The Composite Family.
The University of Sussex’s Goulson Lab has a picture directory of The best garden flowers for bees.
Or go back to @helpthebees to see this great list they have pinned on their twitter feed.