Dandelions and Henbit: Two Early Bloomers
Spring has sprung, or is desperately trying to in most parts of the northern hemisphere. Gardeners across the globe are eagerly awaiting for new growth to peek out from under the leaves and mulch and new growth to appear on the shrubs and trees. But some little jewels have already stepped on stage and are showing off their stuff. These are the “weeds.” These are the wildflowers…some native, many adaptive…that we are urged to snuff out as soon as we see them with our arsenal of herbicides and hoes.
These “weeds” apparently are unwelcome in our neat and tidy gardens because we didn’t put them there. They are volunteers. But I ask you, why are volunteers so unwelcome in the garden when, as we all know, it is the community of volunteers that do the important work? This is true in all of our earthly communities–human and plant. In this case the volunteers are providing the earliest food for our pollinators.
So much attention has been lavished on the plight of the bees and monarchs. The bees for their vital role in our food production and the monarchs for their beauty and amazing migration. (They are also important pollinators.) There has been a cry for planting milkweed and banning the use of herbicides and pesticides–both of which are needed and quite necessary–but neither will solve the pollinator problem. Why? Because the bees and the monarchs are only two of the many, many pollinators that we rely on for our food production.
While planting milkweed and discontinuing the using of herbicides and pesticides are advisable (even necessary), there are other steps you can easily take to provide for all pollinators…the good, the bad, and, yes, the ugly. How? Consider allowing some of the early bloomers to grow. These early bloomers provide the needed nectar for our insects as they emerge from their winter sleep. I know, I know, it may seem downright blasphemous to consider allowing these “weeds” to grow. But what is a weed but a misplaced plant!
Dandelion is the common name for members of the Taraxacum genus, a large genus of perennial flowering plants in the Asteraceae family. (Alright…enough of that!) They are native to Europe, Asia, North and South America and two species are found worldwide. Interestingly, the dandelion has been gathered for food since prehistory and used worldwide for its various (and nutritional) edible properties as well as its medicinal properties.
Historically the dandelion is thought of as a beneficial weed because its long tap root will bring up nutrients that benefit shallow rooting plants. This same long tap root will break up compacted soil and is great for erosion control. It releases ethylene gas which helps fruit to ripen, thus becoming a good companion plant.
Why is it a weed? Because apparently it is unwelcome in lawns and in agricultural areas–both of which have are detrimental or not useful to our pollinators. The dandelion has far more benefits than faults, so if you are willing…let it be. Or at least allow some areas to benefit from this “weed.”
More on how you can use dandelions and its benefits to wildlife:
- University of Maryland Medical Center
- Mother Earth News
- US Forest Service
Henbit or henbit deadnettle is a species of Lamium native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It has naturalized in large areas of eastern North America. Henbit dead-nettle is an annual herb that readily self-seeds. Henbit is edible and is an important nectar plant for pollinators. The tiny purple flowers supply early nectar to hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. It seems to be a “weed” because it is unwelcome in the lawn and in agricultural areas.
Henbit seems to grow in masses and doesn’t last very long. So if you are willing, allow some of this small, very pretty plant to grow.
More on how you can use henbit and its benefits to wildlife:
- Edible Wild Food
- University of Tennessee Extension
There are many early bloomers that serve as nectar plants for our pollinators. If you can give up some of the tidiness for the benefit of our wildlife, allow some of these to grow while your perennials are emerging…the butterflies and bees will thank you!