Native Goatsbeard – Pollinator Plant Extraordinaire

It’s National Pollinator Week in the US! Let’s all tip our hats to the superheroes of the natural world, the pollinating insects, birds and other animals who enable 75% of flowering plants to set seed and reproduce, and many of our food plants to produce their crops! We need our pollinators!

But pollinators need more than symbolic gestures to help them overcome the many obstacles to their continued survival – what they really need are areas where they won’t be sprayed out of existence and lots of flowering plants supplying nectar and pollen. They also need nesting sites nearby…

Walking through our central MA habitat gardens this weekend, I looked around to see where the pollinators were hanging out. By far the most popular pollinator plant right now is the native eastern plant Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) growing on the edge of our woods. The number and variety of tiny insects making use of these flowers is astonishing:

Look closely and you’ll see the fuzzy flowers swarming with tiny insects. They are busy gorging on pollen and nectar (and in some cases, each other!) – most of them are NOT interested in stinging or biting you!

The frothy goatsbeard flowers (also called Bride’s Feathers) are covered with pollinators, including moths, tiny flower flies, butterflies and beetles of every shape and size. I even saw an ant crawling over the blooms, no doubt attracted to the abundant sweet nectar. I’m sure there are tiny bees and parasitic wasps in there too, but without a macro lens handy, I couldn’t quite identify everybody. Let’s just say the goatsbeard is the biggest pollinator party in town right now…

Goatsbeard at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum. Aruncus dioicus needs only a few hours of sun each day (preferable eastern) and some soil moisture to explode each June into something more akin to a flowering shrub than a perennial plant.

Have you added pollinator-friendly plants to your gardens? If so consider helping to spread the word about helping pollinators by installing one of these pollinator habitat signs from the Xerces Society, as part of their Bring Back the Pollinators education campaign:

Pollinator Habitat sign in our Virginia Rose Garden – this native eastern rose is buzzing in June with pollinators and beneficial insects attracted to the heavy fragrance of the pink blooms.

You can also sign the Pollinator Protection Pledge, promising that you will:

1. Grow a variety of bee-friendly flowers that bloom from spring through frost

2. Protect and provide bee nests and caterpillar host plants

3. Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides

4. Talk to your neighbors about the importance of pollinators and their habitat.

So this week, take some time to walk around your wildlife gardens and notice what’s attracting the pollinators out there. Share your experiences here so we can all learn about the best pollinator plants for our region. If you’re lucky enough to have a macro lens for your camera – take some pics and try to ID the insects using bugguide.net or DiscoverLife.org (or your favorite field guide). You’ll likely be amazed at what you discover…

The blooms of a 2-year-old Goatsbeard are dramatic contrasted with a green background. This slope has been taken over by Hay-scented Fern, an aggressive native fern that’s difficult to eradicate from gardens. The gardener’s plan is that the goatsbeard plants will gradually dominate/push out the hay-scented fern.

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Comments

  1. says

    I have parsley growing in my garden- it’s a biennial, and this is its 2nd year, so it’s flowering and will soon go to seed. My husband and I noticed recently that it has been swarming with pollinators- not big bumblebees or butterflies or even smaller honeybees… but tiny little flying things. We’re not sure what’s on there, either, but I would call that plant the “pollinator party” of our yard today :)

    As far as the bees go, I have milkweed flowering in the garden and that’s where the bees are all hanging out. At any given time, any single cluster of milkweed blooms has 4-5 big bumblebees on it and maybe a honeybee or two as well. That plant is the bee party!
    Samantha Gallagher recently posted..We hit triple digits!!

  2. Kelvin Boyle says

    I recently noticed a hummingbird buzzing around the flowers of Goatsbeard. I was told that hummingbirds, like other birds, need to feed their young protein. Perhaps the tiny bugs on the Goatsbeard are helping to feed the hummingbird young?

  3. says

    I am being so patient, waiting for my Aruncus dioicus to do something. It blooms, but it is tiny and it only has one or two bride’s feathers (love that!!) showing. I know this is a slow one to establish. This is the third year in my garden, and it is not impressing yet. But I know it will. I just need to wait.

    I have had the tiny dwarf goatsbeard, Aruncus aethusifolius growing for years, and after five years, I can finally say it is blooming with abandon and forming neat green mounds. So slow to get going though, and its bigger goatsbeard cousin is a slow one to get going also!
    Laurrie recently posted..New Trees

      • says

        oh. Now I am concerned. It gets sun for much of the day, and shade late in the afternoon. Too much sun maybe. The soil is regular garden soil mixed with compost, a little raised, the drainage is good. Thanks so much for the feedback, I do need to reconsider where this is planted.
        Laurrie recently posted..What, No Blooms?

        • says

          Hmm, as a woodland plant it’ll prefer a woodland-type soil enriched with leaf matter to introduce essential fungal communities – try adding chopped leaves as a mulch or soil amendment and see if that helps? They should be capable of tolerating quite a few hours of sun each day in the north…

  4. says

    I look forward to the blooms of Goats Beard each year. Mine is about three years old now and stunning in my “woodland edge” border. My blooms have just faded and I’m sorry I didn’t take the time to observe them up close! I will be sure to catch the Golden Rods, though. I just took the Pollinator Pledge!
    thevioletfern recently posted..What’s Blooming: Black Lace and Roses

  5. says

    Ellen,
    My goat’s beard has also been fantastic this year for pollinators. I’ve seen three new (for me) long horned beetles, flies, wasps and tons of bees! Small flower beetles and tumbling beetles. Just amazing.
    Heather

    • says

      Heather – the long-horned beetles are an interesting one…I was trying for days to identify the ones on my Aruncus (shown in the 1st pic in the article) and finally nailed it as a Flower Longhorned Beetle thanks to bugguide.net. Mostly a tree dwelling beetle but the adults feed on pollen. Part of a very very large family of long-horned beetles, not to be mistaken with the Asian Long-Horned beetle which is an imported beetle that ravages trees and threatens the future of New England’s hardwood forests…

  6. says

    Happy Pollinator Week to you, Ellen. I absolutely concur with you re pollinators “what they really need are areas where they won’t be sprayed out of existence. ” No matter what part of the country you live in, either pollinators or the plants they love are being sprayed or mowed as part of “weed control”. Can’t the weed control wait until the flowering is finished? And can’t the spraying be done with altogether.
    Kathy Vilim recently posted..California’s White Sage of the Chaparral

  7. says

    my goat’s beard is huge this year and just full of blooms…the pollinators just swarm all over it and it is fascinating watching them…I feel this is such an under utilized plant and even did an plant profile post on this wonderful plant…perfect plant Ellen for Pollinator Week
    Donna Donabella recently posted..A Special Garden Book Review

  8. says

    Great reminder to everyone about this fabulous plant Ellen. It is quite remarkable to see all the insects attracted to this native and to HEAR the sounds that come from the plethora of pollinators combing the plumes. Mine are popping up everywhere around the gardens lately. I love the wispy airy feeling they add to the summer garden. Happy Solstice and NPW!
    Carolflowerhill recently posted..Orange Unfurling Oriental Poppies and Baltimore Oriole

  9. says

    I’d have to say that this week the bumble bee/fly/wasp pollinator-attractor of the week is winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum), not to be confused with that invasive scourge of most of the U.S. PURPLE loosestrife (L. salicaria) which luckily doesn’t appear in FL.

    As always the Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) is the favorite of the butterflies.

    The honey bees are also set on Fanpetals (Sida spp.) and my wildlife trapper guy (for the rats in my car engine, people…I love the other critters) was shocked to see so many honeybees. He was impressed with my habitat and said he can see why it works.
    Loret recently posted..Condo living for bluebirds?

  10. Kelvin Boyle says

    Hi, I just remembered something. Goatsbeard is the host plant for the Dusky Azure butterfly. Unfortunately, the butterflies are found only in North Carolina. So if there are any readers in North Carolina, Goatsbeard is the way to go. (Sorry I’m so late with an additional response.

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