Best of Bodega: Bees Buzzing on Echium

Feb 21, 2014

The Pride of Maderia (Echium candicans) is blooming in the tiny Sonoma coastal community of Bodega.

The purplish-blue spiked flowers attract honey bees, bumble bees and syrphid flies.

And visitors. And photographers.

The honey bees were buzzing all over the Echium last Sunday, Feb. 16, as were syrphid flies, aka hover flies or flower flies. But a  yellow-faced bumble bee, Bombus vosnesenskii, preferred to hide beneath the leaf of a passionflower vine (Passiflora). Next time!

The towering Pride of Maderia, which can easily reach a height of six feet or more, is the pride of the Portuguese island of Madeira, where it's endemic. It's an evergreen bush planted as a drought-tolerant ornamental, particularly in coastal communities. It even gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Wikipedia informs us that the genus name is derived from the Greek "echion," and that the root word "echis" means "viper." Think snake. Apparently the shape of the seed resembles that of a viper's head. Another interpretation: there's an age-old belief that another Echium species, Echium vulgare, aka "Viper's Bugloss,"  is a remedy for the adder's bite.

However, Echium candicans is not so popular in the state of Victoria, Australia, where it is considered "a high weed risk" and its very presence prompts the Department of Primary Industries to send in the

The first blooms of the year in Bodega, though, are cause for celebration.

And speaking of bees and blooms, you'll want to sign up for the "Pollinator Gardening Workshop, Your Sustainable Backyard,"set Saturday, March 15 at UC Davis. Hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture (CCHU), it will take place at Giedt Hall, UC Davis campus, with a side trip to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Garden, just west of the campus, on Bee Biology Road.

Registration is underway at on the CCHU website

CCHU program manager Anne Schellman says that this will be an informative workshop where participants will learn:

  • How to identify common bee pollinators
  • How to make a landscape pollinator-friendly
  • Which plants pollinators prefer
  • The latest research about honey bee health and pollinator habitat
  • How UC Davis helps honey bees at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Garden

Honey bee and native pollinator specialists with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology will be among the speakers. (See previous Bug Squad blog.)