The duck saw a small group of compatriots gathered along the edge of the pond. He shot downward, leveled and extended feet out in preparation to land in the water. The top of the pond was frozen. The duck hit the surface and began sliding, not splashing, wings and feet going in all directions as he vainly tried to stop. Nothing graceful about it. So embarrassing.

The duck saw a small group of compatriots gathered along the edge of the pond. He shot downward, leveled and extended feet out in preparation to land in the water. The top of the pond was frozen. The duck hit the surface and began sliding, not splashing, wings and feet going in all directions as he vainly tried to stop. Nothing graceful about it. So embarrassing.

Until recently, we have been residing in the Arctic. Right before the bottom dropped out of the thermometer days ago, I cut several daffodils about to burst into bloom and brought them inside to become part of the Shrove Tuesday display. When Tuesday arrived, the daffs were in full bloom, unlike what it would have been if they were outside!

Bees have a strategy for coping with winter. In a bee colony, the older bees cluster together forming a mantle over layers of younger bees. They are masters of thermoregulation by maintaining core temperature. I wear a down-filled puffy coat, gloves with hot hands….

March 1st and 2nd the Oklahoma Native Plant Society, the Oklahoma Horticultural Society, OKC/OSU and the Oklahoma Nursery and Landscape Association hosted brought pollinator champion Heather Holm. This fascinating person grew up exploring the woods and fields of her great-great-grandfather’s land that has been in the family since the 1850s. With a background in biology and horticulture, the Canadian is on a mission to save native bees and plants. Heather has written two books about pollinators and participates in landscape restoration and native bee research projects.

In order to make Heather’s presentation in Tulsa on Friday night, I first had to conquer two earlier problems that had unexpectedly cropped up. The heat pump refused to go into the defrost cycle during the chilly morning and stood outside proudly coated in thick ice. Worthless. After surveying the situation, I walked into the house to discover the washer had flooded the utility room. The drain pipe had partially frozen. Great. Water was mopped, a towel placed along the base of the washing machine and, later in the afternoon, the heat pump was adjusted. Time to go to Tulsa.

Heather was well into talking about color when I arrived, so I tippy-toed into the room of 70 people and sat at the back. Hummingbirds can see red, but bees cannot. They work in the UV range. The Black-eyed Susan has a two-toned UV light pattern that bees home in on. Texas bluebonnets produce flowers with light banner petals along a stem. If the flower has been visited by a bee, the petals turn dark. The next bee knows to bypass those and go to light ones, saving time and energy.

Fragrance is another way a plant can influence insect visitors. American plums are highly scented bee magnets. Familiar with electrical charges? Bees carry a positive charge and flowers are negative. Opposite charges attract. The pollen literally flies off and adheres to the bee. If the flower charge is low, the bees sense the flower has already been visited.

The wasp is another beneficial pollinator, although the mention of wasp initiated groans. The solitary wasps (most wasps) are specific hunters and flower specialists but not aggressive. They like white flowering plants and milkweeds, golden rods and prairie clovers. Solitaries include the thread-waisted sand wasps and hole diggers who sting and paralyze their prey, carry the poor insect back to their hole, lay eggs and the baby larvae have live food. Fresh is best. Great interest has been generated in the Square Headed Wasp versus the Emerald Ash Borer. This wasp attacks the small brilliantly green but deadly borer currently attacking ash trees in the US. The distinct S H wasp has become a biosurveillance tool used by researchers. This could help save 8 billion ash trees, the backbones of North American woods.

The paper nest makers such as yellow jackets and paper wasps are social wasps. They are generalist predators that can be quite aggressive, but usually not when on flowers. Heather quipped their motto could be “Don’t defend the restaurant, defend the house.” Spotted Beebalm (Horsemint) lures wasps. When a wasp flies in, the flower drops pollen onto the wasp thorax (its back). Clever.

Flowering plants lined the walkway to Heather’s home last year. Aphids first arrived in the spring. Choosing not to use any chemicals, Heather waited to wait to see what would next happen. Aphid wasps soon appeared. Lady bugs and syrphid flies that resemble hovering bees then came. These were followed by brown and green lacewings. Ms. Holm had witnessed natural predator control using no pesticides. When the plants bloomed, they were filled with bees, much to the chagrin of her friends. Heather recommends to leave the garden leaf litter on the ground; don’t rake. The decomposing leaves provide homes for lacewings and their miniature alligator-like larvae.

Insecticides, fungicides, herbicides……the toxic chemicals all play a part in declining bee populations. The loss of habitat due to flowerless landscapes is a huge contributor. I only have to look around at most of my neighbors’ yards to see this. Very few have time for flowers, but plenty of time to mow; dozens of derrieres riding on cutting machines week after week. Flowering native plants stand little chance of ever blooming.

Bee a Habitat Hero! Plant, let live and bloom the native plants. They provide a nutritionally complete diet. Keep the garden chemical free. Mimic Mother Nature in garden maintenance (leave the leaves; flower stubble at least 15” tall houses cavity dwelling bees), and put in dense herbaceous plantings to host a continuous succession of flowering plants throughout the growing seasons. Remember, the restaurant has to stay open 24-7!

Across town, NatureWorks was holding its 2019 juried art show (and sale) of outstanding wildlife artists and sculptors. Based in Tulsa, NatureWorks, Inc. is an exclusive all-volunteer non-profit dedicated to wildlife conservation and education. Since 1994, life-size bronze monuments have been donated to the city in honor of a person or group who actively supports the NatureWorks mission. Several monuments are along the Arkansas River. Saturday I located the indoor art show and strolled through a huge partitioned area occupied by 46 artists and their works: oils and acrylics of birds, eye-catching still life pictures of native wildlife posed with flowers, fruits and veggies, bright impressionistic paintings, wildflowers, wild animals and animals in bronze, including a few roadrunners and scaled-down bison.

In the center was the 2019 bronze wildlife monument “The Great Blue Heron” sculpted by Raymond Gibby of Spanish Fork, Utah. It will be unveiled at the Quik Trip Plaza by the Arkansas River this May. In 2017 “Grand Lake White Pelican” was installed, also near the river. The 600-pound bronze bird with 12-foot wingspan (pelicans weigh 7-10 pounds with a 9-foot wingspan) was created by Bryce Pettit of Colorado. The giant stands guard over the dozens and dozens of living white pelicans now on the Arkansas.

The blue heron from Utah is the last of the large monuments, at least for a while. A herd of forty bronze bison are being created to run free in LaFortune Park.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.