Book Review: Bees by Sam Droege and Laurence Packer.

A book review today – this one is truly amazing!


Bees:  An Up-Close Look at Pollinators Around the World – Sam Droege and Laurence Packer (2015, Voyageur Press, Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc., Minnesota)

The bees may be from around the world, but the photography is absolutely out of this world in this beautiful hardcover offering from Sam Droege and Laurence Packer.  The detail and clarity of Droege’s images are breathtaking, a true celebration of different species of this complex and valuable pollinator.  The native bee specimens represented in this book inhabit locations such as Guyana, Chile, Paraguay, South Africa, the United States, India, Thailand, England, and Peru (among others); many come from private or public collections or were personally collected by the authors.  It is a delight to armchair travel and learn about the bees that most of us will never be able to see in our lifetimes:  the attractive furry white cape (and contrasting nasty hooked spurs) of the Spurred Grappler (Trichothurgus dubius), the Atlas Morning Glory Bee (which, as its name suggests, takes pollen from morning glories – and only morning glories), exquisitely-iridescent Xylocopa (carpenter bees), and the tellingly-monikered Red-Butted Campanula Lover (Melitta haemorrhoidalis) from England.  There are the deep blue Osmias from the United States and the Maple Solitary Miner, which takes pollen and nectar in early cold spring from emerging maple trees.  The large, metallic green Black-Winged Cuckoo Orchid Bee from Guyana seems almost supernatural, as does the Long-Nosed Sandlover, a bee with a formidably long tongue and head that resides in the Atacama Desert of Chile.  The easily-digestible short profiles of each bee offer interesting facts about their habitat, behaviour, and distinguishing features.

While this isn’t the sort of book that gardeners will likely use to identify the bees in their own landscape, the incredible images and fascinating information make it a must-have in your garden library.  Macro photographers – particularly those interested in insects – will find it a true inspiration for their own work.

If you want to take a look at Sam Droege’s stellar photography, check out the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab gallery here.  

*A huge thank you to Quarto Publishing Group, which kindly gifted me with a copy of Bees.  My thoughts about the book are one million percent honest and true.

Pincushion flower and bee.

Bee Scabiosa

I meant to post this photo ages ago…I’m hoping to pick the brains of anyone who is interested in/an expert regarding/wants to wildly speculate about bees to get an ID for this little one I found on a fading scabiosa bloom in my garden.  I took this image on a chilly morning in late August and the bee seemed awfully cold – it sure wasn’t moving much.

I just can’t resist pincushion flowers (mine is Scabiosa caucasica ‘Perfecta’) – the structure of the blooms is remarkable and the pollinators adore them.  I am determined to add a few more hardy types to my perennial beds over the next couple of years.  Do you grow Scabiosa? 

It’s about time.

I know snow and rain is in the forecast for the weekend, but today, it’s spring here in Calgary!  The sun is dazzling and warm and the earth is finally thawing out.  There’s even some green grass in places….

I’ve been on crocus watch for awhile now – while the horticultural crocuses in my garden have been up and blooming for a couple of weeks now, I haven’t spotted hide nor hair of a wild one.  I went up to Nose Hill this morning, thinking that today was the day for sure.  I went to my favourite trails, the places I knew they were growing…and I found one where there used to be hundreds.  It may be too early yet, and perhaps they’ll be covering the hillsides next week or the week after, but I was overjoyed to see this one!


It froze hard this morning, and I loved the way the mounds of grass looked on the lower slopes where the sun hadn’t warmed them.


That’s part of the downtown skyline in the morning haze.  And here I was telling my parents last weekend that we don’t have smog – my brother is right, we actually do….


As you can see, there’s a sizeable snowpack still up in the mountains…and it’s got everyone just a bit worried about the potential for another massive flood like we had last year. On the right hand side of the photo, you can see the ski jumps of Canada Olympic Park, constructed for use during the 1988 Winter Olympics and now used as a public ski hill as well as a place to train athletes.  In the summer, COP is a haven for mountain bikers and zipline enthusiasts, and there’s even a luge track you can try out.  (Not me – I’m too chicken!).  The mini golf course there is much more my speed, LOL.


I came across several browses for deer and some others I suspect were from porcupines.  It was really a lean winter for wildlife – we didn’t get the Chinooks we usually do and so the heavy snow cover lingered all season.  Apparently that’s part of the reason so many homeowners are complaining about the vole damage to their lawns – the rodents were able to hunker down and feed and nest there all winter, when normally they would be exposed.  (Click here for some tips to repair vole damaged turf).


On my way out of the park, I was happy to see these two ducks swimming on the catchwater basin.  I was starting to think that little pond would never thaw out.


And then when I got home…there was a bee on my one of my muscari flowers, which just began opening this morning.  I definitely need to put in more early spring flowers for the pollinators.


What a wonderful start to the day!  I hope the sun is shining wherever you are! 

Bee surprise.

While trying to stake The Most Infuriating Plant in My Garden™ this morning (more about that in another post), I came across this:

Leafcutter bees on thermopsis

This is my Thermopsis lanceolata (syn. T. lupinoides) , and I’m not upset in the least that it’s been chewed up that way. I just wish I could find the little guys that did it, so I could watch them either at work or in their nesting site! 🙂 Bees in general have been making themselves pretty scarce around here this summer, but I have never seen evidence of leafcutter bees in my garden until now.

Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) are a type of solitary bee.  There are about 140 species of leafcutters in North America. Apparently they have a hankering for legume blossoms, which would explain why they were attracted to my Thermopsis, except that it failed to flower again this year (I seriously can’t figure this plant out – it’s definitely taking its own sweet time to “establish”). Leafcutters munch out half circles of leaves to use in their nests, which may be found in the cavities of trees or fallen logs, or in hollow plant stems.

I read an interesting article at Pollination Canada that described how the alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata) was introduced in Canada in the 1960s in order to resurrect the alfalfa industry. Apparently all the land that was cleared for agriculture in the country in the early twentieth century had destroyed the habitat of solitary bees, and as honeybees can’t properly pollinate alfalfa (because they’re thieves and have no attention spans), growers were desperate for a solution to their pollination problems. Alfalfa leafcutter bees were brought in from Europe, and were highly successful.

Do you have solitary bees in your garden? Do you help them out by offering places to nest?

For more reading, check out this post about the Domestication of the Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee at Pollination Canada.