Currants, February Bee Plant of the Month

The Bee Gardener    By Christine Casey   February 2, 2015

From a human perspective, we don't often think of February as an important time for flowering plants, but for bees it's another matter. Honey bees are out foraging when it's sunny and over 55 degrees, while native bumble bees that become active early in the year are in need of pollen and nectar resources to grow their colonies. The solitary bee Osmia lignaria -- an important alternate pollinator in early fruit and nut crops -- is also active.

A group of native plants that provide resources for all these bees with their February flowers are the currants. The first to bloom is chaparral currant, Ribes malvaceum; we grow the cultivar 'Dancing Tassels' at the Haven. This plant starts to flower in January and will continue its showy display through February. In addition to bees, look for lots of hummingbirds on this plant.

Following close behind is fuchsia-flowered gooseberry, Ribes speciosum. Primarily a hummingbird plant, the photo shows how accessible the pollen is for small bees. We don't grow this at the Haven, as it has large thorns that could be a visitor hazard. It can be espaliered up a fence, where the thorns can serve as a living security system. Another consideration when siting this plant is that it copes with our summer heat by losing its leaves in July.

Next to bloom, and the most commonly planted...

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