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Pics: Welcoming bees and butterflies

Published Sep 15, 2015


Cape Town - Bees and butterflies play an important role in the pollination of crops and plants.

The launch of National Honeybee Foraging Week in 2014 highlighted the threat to bees and the decline in pollinators in many parts of the world, including South Africa. This year, National Honeybee Foraging Week runs from Saturday 19 to September 26 .

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Two sub-species of honeybee are indigenous to South Africa, the Cape honeybee (Apis mellifera capensis) and the African honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata). Both are actively managed by beekeepers who provide pollination services to farmers growing pollinator-dependant crops. Bee colonies are moved to farms during the pollination season. Insect pollination is worth over R10.3-billion per annum to South Africa.


About pollination

Pollination occurs when pollen from one flower is transferred to another flower. Without this, plants would not produce seed or set fruit. The Cape honeybee is an important pollinator for fynbos and agricultural crops and was originally found only in the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape. The African honeybee is found across South Africa. About 60 percent of flowering plants in South Africa are pollinated by honeybees.


Planting for pollinators

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A garden for pollinators is one where no insecticides or herbicides are used so it will not have perfect plants, as some plants are specific hosts for butterfly children (larvae and caterpillars) to feed on. But the pleasure of watching the lifecycle from egg, larva, pupa to adult will more than make up for any damaged leaves.

How can you attract pollinators to your garden? Provide nectar and pollen sources by planting trees, annuals, perennials and shrubs to encourage a greater range of pollinators. Five or six hours of sunlight in the garden and some shelter from wind will attract the most pollinators.


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Bees need nectar for carbohydrates and pollen for protein. The Cape honeybee favours plants of the fynbos. If the soil in your garden is slightly acidic and sandy you will have a wonderful choice of plants for honeybees. African bees visit indigenous and exotic flowers for their pollen and nectar.

Plant flowers in groups to make it easier for bees to find them. Choose single flowers that have not been hybridised to be pollen-free (some modern varieties of sunflowers have no pollen). Flowers that are double or have incurving petals are not easy for bees to gain access. Sticky flowers (some ericas) can trap bees, so are not suitable.

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Bees have different tongue lengths. Some bees prefer the flat, open flowers of the daisy family, while others visit tubular flowers of agapanthus, aloe, buddleja, fuchsia, gladiolus, Halleria lucida, Leonotis leonurus, lavender, protea, salvia and watsonia.

Bee flowers often have nectar guides on their petals in the form of spots (foxglove) or lines (pansy), which point the way to the interior of the flower where nectar is located. As well as dots and spots, dashes and lines that are signposts indicating the way to the bee’s pantry, there are markings invisible to the human eye that reflect ultraviolet light and direct bees.

White flowers absorb ultraviolet and appear blue-green to the bee. Plant a bee friendly garden with yellow, white, blue and purple flowers, such as alyssum, borage, cosmos, daisies, for example.

Bees also need a water source. A shallow birdbath with small stones as landing places would be ideal.


Butterflies and moths

Different species of butterflies have different preferences of nectar, in both colour and taste. Some butterflies have a long proboscis (tongue) to suck up the nectar from long spurred flowers like agapanthus, while others with a much shorter proboscis will visit flowers like scabious.

Butterflies are attracted to brightly-coloured flowers and often these are large, providing a landing area. Butterflies are attracted to the mauve flowers of the butterfly bush (Buddleja salviifolia). Other favourites include agapanthus, alyssum, Asystasia gangetica, Bauhinia galpinii, citrus, wild peach (Kiggelaria africana), for example.


Butterflies need host plants for food for their larvae. There are specific butterfly plants that caterpillars feed on, such as buddleja and the creeping foxglove (Asystasia gangetica) with heart-shaped leaves that bear trumpet-like white flowers with purple spots in summer. Pride of De Kaap (Bauhinia galpinii) is the host plant of the Foxy Charaxes butterfly.

Moth-pollinated flowers are mostly white or pale-coloured and many have a strong evening scent. Some moths hover in front of the flower, while others settle on the flower. Gardenia thunbergia has creamy-white highly scented flowers, and Jasminum multipartitum is pollinated by the hawk moth.

Keen to learn more about bees, butterflies and other insects? Visit Babylonstoren between Franschhoek and Paarl to see their “bug and insect hotel”. They also have a fruit garden where Cape honeybees have hives of different shapes.

Kay Montogomery, Weekend Argus

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