the nice native spiderwort and the beneficial bumblebee that
these species comes courtesy of Helen Hamilton, author of
"Wildflowers and Grasses of Virginia’s Coastal Plain."
gardener to grow native spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana, in
cultivation was John Tradescant, gardener to Charles the First of
England and a subscriber to the Virginia Company, which is the origin
of the plant’s name, according to Hamilton. John’s son traveled to
Virginia in the 1630s, and sent spiderwort back to England where it
became part of English cottage gardens.
can be a good indicator of environmental problems since a high
sensitivity to pollution and radiation causes it to mutate
quickly," says Hamilton, a retired biology teacher.
on the stamens have long been used in botany classes, because the flow
of protoplasm can be viewed through a microscope. These hairs give the
plant the common name "wort," being the old England word for
plant. Also, the sap from the broken stem forms filaments like a
spider’s web or the angular leaf arrangement suggest a squatting
often found in abandoned gardens — along with classics like lilacs
and shrub roses. Each flower lasts a day, but new blossoms continually
appear. Old blooms do not fall to the ground — they seem to melt off
the plant, due to enzyme activity, says Hamilton. The three petals are
typically shades of purple and blue, but rose, pink, and white
cultivars are offered by today’s nursery trade. Propagation is by
division or seed; flowering happens April-July.
plants tolerate full sun and adapt to part sun, and thrive in dry to
moist soil. They look good as border plants, and stand out when
planted against backdrops like a wall. In the wild, spiderwort
inhabits dry upland forests, rocky open woods and wood edges, so
providing the plant with a similar habitat makes it happy in the home
garden, according to Hamilton. The plant can become aggressive, but
thinning and pulling unwanted seedlings keeps it under control.
from a wildflower nursery, the plants sold today are usually a series
of hybrids, which are sold at garden centers. Today there are more
than 30 cultivars: Snow Cap has pure white flowers; Valor bears deep
reddish purple flowers, both on 20-inch stems. Pauline is
pink-flowered on 12-inch stems, and Concord Grape grows 18 inches high
with dark bluish-green leaves contrasting with beautiful purple
flowers, says Hamilson.
spiderwort ranges from New England to Georgia, Minnesota and Missouri;
a western spiderwort ranges from southern Canada to Texas and Arizona.
Tradescantia appear on lists of both edible and poisonous plants;
minor skin irritations have resulted in some people from contact with
the principal pollinators for many species of spiderwort.
More than 20,000
species of bees have been described worldwide, including 250 species
of bumblebees in temperate regions of the Americas, Europe and Asia,
according to Hamilton. About 46 species of bumblebees are native to
North America, 21 in the eastern United States.
Eastern bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) frequents the Atlantic Coast,
foraging farms, suburbs and urban areas. The species name refers to
its favorite plant for nectar and pollen, Jewelweed (Impatiens
capensis). Brown-belted bumblebee (B. grisecollis) is also common,
particularly in urban areas. Two-spotted bumblebee (B. bimaculatus)
has a long tongue that gathers nectar from mints; coloration is very
similar to the brown-belted, Hamilton noted.
species were once common along the East Coast, and are now uncommon or
rarely seen. These are the American bumblebee (B. pensylvanicus),
yellow bumblebee (B. fervidus) and black and gold bumblebee (B.
auricomus). If you like "citizen science," the Xerces
Society invites home gardeners to collect information about bumblebee
sightings. The website — http://www.bumblebeewatch.org
— allows you to upload personal photographs, provides information
about identifying species, and sends an e-newsletter after signing in.
groups of bees are social — honeybees and bumblebees," says
have a sophisticated social structure with a queen bee producing
thousands of worker bees through the season, and large amounts of
honey. They nest above ground in hives. In contrast, bumblebees nest
in the ground, their societies are relatively primitive, contact only
a few hundred workers, do not communicate information about food
location to members of the hive, and produce little or no honey."
easily recognized by their large furry bodies and smooth hind legs
with stiff bristles for carrying pollen. Bumblebees are among the
first bees active in spring and the last bees active in the fall. They
can regulate their body temperature by shivering or basking in the
sun, allowing them to forage during wetter and cooler conditions than
those tolerated by honeybees and other native bees. Therefore, they
are important pollinators of early-blooming wildflowers and fruit
crops, and need habitat with lots of blooming flowers throughout the
Learn more about
bumblebees at www.bumblebeeconservation.org