Monday, September 7, 2009

Good Flowers, Good Bugs

Most gardens need more flowers during the mid- to late-summer because it's the bugs that are also blooming. Why? Because good bugs (properly called insects) use the pollen and nectar of flowers to fuel their relentless pursuit of what we call pests. Bug scientists (entomologists) have discovered plants which seem to attract beneficial bugs. Many of these helpful plants belong to the parsley and sunflower plant families.

The parsley, or carrot, family of plants has a large flat-head of tiny flowers—often white or yellow. The tiny flowers make it easy for small bugs to tank-up. Many culinary herbs belong to the parsley family—anise, dill, parsley, caraway and fennel. Other parsley family attractors of beneficial bugs include: angelica (Angelica spp.) and carrots (Daucus carota)—when left to flower.

The cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) (along with CA poppies) pictured here is a spice in traditional Mexican cookery. The small, accessible nectar-bearing cilantro flowers have been observed by entomologists to attract a large array and high number of good bugs—specifically a beneficial fly called the Tachinid fly which is a parasite of grasshoppers, beetles, sawflies and caterpillars.

The sunflower family, the Composite Family, also has tiny, readily-accessible flower parts. A tremendous number of our ornamental flower garden plants are in this large, floriferous family. Examples include: marigold, dahlias, daisies, Artemesia spp. (wormwood), chamomile, zinnia, asters, cosmos and ornamental thistles. Edible Composites include: burdock, dandelion, chicory, calendula (flowers), sunflowers, lettuce, endive and both the Jerusalem and regular artichoke. Some Composites found by entomologists to attract good bugs are: camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis), wild lettuce (Lactuca canadensis) and yarrow (Achillea spp.).

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