Every year in my garden, and in the garden at Tree of Life Nursery where I work, and maybe in your garden, too, the earliest Manzanita to bloom is Arctostaphylos refugioensis. Last year it had plentiful flowers at Christmas, but this year it’s quite early and in full bloom in time for Halloween.
On Saturday, October 30th, I attended a talk by pollinator and native plant expert Bob Allen at the nursery, and in the course of a talk about gardening for butterflies he mentioned that manzanitas are good nectar plants for adult butterflies and moths. When I arrived home later that afternoon, lo and behold, two Monarch butterflies were fluttering high around my front yard, and further observation showed that their target was the profuse blooms of my Refugio manzanita. Guru Bob strikes again!
I got my camera out of the car and traded out for my close-up lens, and set up shop next to the plant. It is quite eye-catching as you can see – about eight years old and not yet fully grown. The clusters of bright white flowers are beautiful and very showy against the green foliage.
The plant was buzzing with honeybees, and it seemed that the butterflies were a little daunted, either by the bees or by my presence, and at first they alighted only rarely and for a short time. Finally, though, one of them found a good spot near the top of the plant, and took a good protracted drink of nectar while I clicked away.
While waiting for the Monarch, I was treated to several other interesting pollinators on the smorgasbord. The ubiquitous honeybees were too common, and a pair of hummingbirds were too quick and too shy to be photographed, but I did manage to capture three images. One was a very large fly – almost as big as carpenter bee – and the abdomen appeared to flash blue-black in the right light. Aren’t his/her wings interesting, with the black color near the based, graduating to see-through, with a delicate rusty—brown outside border? I also captured the skipper butterfly and a huge fuzzy black & yellow bumblebee. If anyone can contribute their knowledge about the fly or the bumblebee I’d be indebted.
Do you notice sliced holes through the “bells” in several of the photos below? I’ve been told, probably by my guru Bob Allen again, that the honeybees poke holes in the top of the manzanita flowers to “steal” the nectar, bypassing the bottom opening of the flower as they just wouldn’t be able reach far enough to the nectar. So, the hummers beak and the monarch butterfly proboscis are long enough to ensure they are doing their pollination job in exchange for nectar, but the honeybees and probably some of the other insects are just freeloading.
Next day was Halloween, and I checked out my pollinator magnet manzanita again. Here is the previously shy Anna’s Hummingbird with pin feathers showing on his gorget:
I also saw a Painted Lady butterfly. The fascinating thing about this butterfly is that I can see in my photos the proboscis unrolling, and it appears from the positioning of the butterfly and the reach of the proboscis to be, at times, using the holes made by the bees to nectar on the flowers.
Practically every garden should have a manzanita. They are among our most durable and beautiful plants. Find out which ones are native to your area, or what would be appropriate for your yard by contacting your local chapter of CNPS. And enjoy manzanita bloom season right now!