Pollinator Series: Late Summer – Tall Purple Flowers and Long Horned Bees

By Mary Brennan, HF&G Volunteer and Ohio Volunteer Pollinator Specialist

Each season has its treasures and late summer does not disappoint! It is a time of tall stately blossoms reaching for the golden sun. Look and you’ll see cheerful yellows, burnished golds and regal purples, all with their own pollinators eagerly gathering pollen and nectar.

Recently it’s the tall Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) – so named because of its straight, tough stems reaching 4 – 6 feet tall topped by intense purple blooms looking almost like exploding fireworks- that will catch your eye. With alternate leaves sporadically traveling the stems, these plants prefer moist soil in the full sun,but they can accommodate clay, loam or sandy soils. They provide late season
nectar and pollen and therefore are a favorite stopping place for pollinators.

A frequent visitor that you will see is the Long-Horned bee, or Mellisodes! An interesting bee which is medium to large, being ¼ – ¾ inch long , robust and round in shape and black/ dark grey with light grey hair bands on their abdomen. They are solitary and nest in the ground and the females line the cells with a waxy substance keeping them waterproof- pretty smart! Males emerge first, staying near the nest to watch for potential mates while the females will return to the nest at night and the guys huddle together on grasses and stems. An interesting way of recognizing the female- they carry the pollen on their back legs so that it looks like they have big, furry boots on! Males are also easy to spot because their antennae are quite long- hence the name “long-horned”

I chose to introduce these bees now because they are easily found and oh so easy to identify! They prefer flowers in the Aster (Asteraceae) family which includes so many of the August – September blooms like sunflowers (Helianthus) ,black eyed susans (Rudbeckia), thistle ( Cirsium), goldenrod (Solidago) asters (Asters), and iron weed (Vernonia) Watch in the mornings and early afternoons in the late summer and early fall. Once you spot one , watch them for a few minutes- those long antennae or baggy legs are fascinating as they go along from floret to floret – but I’ll warn you , once they get ready to move- they are fast!

Enjoy these golden days – continue to make notes or pictures – they will be precious once the snow flies, and Bee Well!