Unearthly fragrance, cat-scratching thorns

By Rachel Cywinski

(This article is an abridged version originally appearing on the Native Plant Society of Texas website, November 30, 2020. Thanks to the author for allowing us to reprint her article here.)

Huisache flowersThe portals of heaven open to announce [that] spring will soon return—that’s the only way that I can describe the aroma of huisache (Vachellia farnesiana) in bloom. Texas A&M University’s Aggie Horticulture website describes this tree as “intensely fragrant.” 

For years, I was drawn to this delightful scent but stayed away because of an extreme sensitivity to bee stings. Never are bees more evident than when huisache blooms. Many people also stay away because they fear the thorns.

Huisache tree in Alamo Defenders Cemetery in San Antonio, TexasBut one day, looking for emerging native plants as I often do in the neglected historic cemeteries of San Antonio, I ducked under the branches and stood near the trunk. My senses were transported by the unearthly fragrance and the amazing sound of thousands of bees, who were all so entranced by the blooms, that they had no interest in what a human was doing. As I deeply inhaled the fragrance, breezes moved the fine leaves like caresses across my face. I was hooked. Ever since, when I see huisache blooming in the hot and high parts of San Antonio, I look for it each week in places a little farther north or more shaded, until all the trees have bloomed, and spring has arrived.

picture of Guerlain's Apres L'Ondee perfumeIn the 1800s, some enterprising Europeans imported what we in southern and central Texas take for granted; the macerated blooms of huisache grown commercially in southern France and Portugal are used in some of the world’s most expensive perfumes made in Cannes. Huisache is an “overlooked indigenous plant” that is “very valuable” to urban gardens by fixing nitrogen in the soil and attracting pollinators, said San Antonio City Arborist Mark Bird. “The bees and other pollinators can’t resist.” The Native Plant Project states that the bees particularly need the pollen more than the nectar of this tree and cites it as attracting insects and birds (1).

ISA-Certified Arborist® David Vaughan, one of the charter members of the ISA-Texas chapter, recommends huisache for dry sites. Vaughan listed benefits of huisache as being a pioneer species, fast-growing, maturing to a medium size, fragrant and “gorgeous” with early spring flowers that last a month, with the perk that “compound leaves are small and do not need to be raked.”

Huisache thorns adult and juvenile forms

Young huisache trees have large thorns on new foliage (right). More mature trees have sharp pairs of barb-like thorns at junctures.

Mature trees do have two small barb-like thorns at the base of each leaf, but only the youngest trees have the long spiky thorns to protect themselves. This adds to their attractiveness in urban landscapes, where so many birds fall prey to domesticated cats let outdoors. Birds nest in huisache, according to the Natives of Texas website. Native Plant Project lists it of particular value for white-winged doves (1).

Huisache, a Nahuatl term meaning “many thorns,” is the most common name for Vachellia farnesiana, though it has been called an “acacia” for so long that many will likely continue to remember it as such. The gum derived from the tree is considered higher quality than gum arabic. Other historic and current uses of huisache include medicine, wood, dye, tannin, ink, pottery, glue, toothbrushes, and firewood (2). David Vaughan cautions that, although huisache and mesquite wood have a similar appearance, grilling meat over huisache wood will ruin it.

Other medicinal uses recorded for huisache include: an astringent and demulcent; in treatment of wounds, skin inflammations, and swellings; sore throat, diarrhea, typhoid, stomachic, dyspepsia, dysentery, leucorrhoea, conjunctivitis, uterorrhagia, neuroses, and headaches (3).

Vachellia farinesiana seed podsThe ebony-colored seed pods appear to bulge with numerous small seeds that contain a toxic alkaloid. But that does not prevent them from being invaded by insects as soon as they drop to the ground. If you plan to start huisache from seed, be on the lookout to get the seeds before they are eaten.

Mark Bird has found huisache valuable for controlling erosion and restoring degraded soils. He said, “In some ways the tree can be considered a pioneer species, because it can establish in poor quality soils and lead to future, ‘more desirable’ trees, such as oaks and elms.”

Another ISA-Certified Arborist®, Mark Peterson, concurs with Bird. Peterson, who is a project manager in the Conservation Department of San Antonio Water System, said huisache “is definitely a pioneer species. In certain regions of south and southeast Texas, it is the primary woody species during the first five to thirty years of succession after land clearing.” Peterson has observed that establishment of huisache and mesquite improves soil quality for later growth of hackberry, pecan, mulberry, or oak, particular to site conditions.

Huisache tree blooming and Diana Kersey Art on bridge over San Antonio RiverVachellia farnesiana’s native range is considered to cross from southern Florida to southern California, south to northern South America. Vaughan said, “a few grow more north, but seldom survive the occasional very cold winter of the [Texas] hill country.” Huisache is not freeze-hardy, but it is fast-growing and exceptionally drought-tolerant. Peterson says, “The only thing that can seriously affect its growth is over-watering.” In the San Antonio area, one could almost draw a map of the waterways by the presence of huisache, as it is pervasive on the upper banks of streams, creeks, and the river. I think of it as one of those unique plants that so often grows near, but never in, waterways as they are uniquely able to tolerate periods of moisture and yet withstand dry conditions.

This past spring, I happened to be in northwest San Antonio near the place of the most extraordinary annual sight of huisache in bloom. The trees near where I live, between Salado Creek and the San Antonio River, had bloomed a few weeks earlier. And so, I realized this might be the time that trees along creeks in more elevated areas were blooming. Indulging in huisache viewing would really brighten my day, I rationalized—and there were so many trees [from which] I could get whiffs of the fragrance just driving past.

Huisache trees along byway

Huisache trees between the roadway and hike-and-bike trail provide visual calm to drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians along the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River in southern Bexar County.

With great anticipation, I found my way to a large roadway that serves traffic exiting and entering a main entrance of a major local employer. I remembered how stunningly the display of golden blooms gleamed all along the upper bank of a stream tributary to Zarzamora Creek and took deep breaths to maintain calm as I rounded the bend, where the setting sun would create such a breath-taking display.

I did not remain calm. I rounded the bend and saw the sunset. There was nothing between us. I pulled over. There were no trees: there was nothing. Where was the “rain of gold” that blooming huisache made in the wind? 

As I stared, stunned, another motorist pulled her car in front of mine, and came running back, asking if I was okay. “The huisache [trees] are GONE,” I said to her. She looked at me with confusion.

She asked several times whether I was all right, and I continued to explain the huisache were gone. Her confusion concerned me. Perhaps she might think I was some dangerous person. Then we both changed the conversation. I asked her if she didn’t remember the huisache. Clearly, she didn’t. Then I realized that she just did not know the NAME of the trees. She probably missed them but did not know what they were called. So, I explained it was the trees that always had such beautiful blooms every year, the ones that looked like shining yellow all along this area. I motioned to where the trees had been and said, “It makes me want to cry.”

Huisache blooming at Ecumenical Center of San Antonio, TexasThe woman stared open-mouthed then looked to where the trees had been, then at me, then to the stream bank, as if trying to remember. But she couldn’t.

The woman explained it was very dangerous to stop a car along the roadway, even with flashers on. I asked if it wasn’t between shifts when there would not be so many employees driving. She agreed, and said it was still very dangerous. Even though there were many lanes, there were constant motor vehicle collisions. It was not safe even to be on this roadway. 

I told her that I was going to leave. But, I insisted, didn’t she miss the trees that had been there? Again, she seemed confused and unable to place any trees where they had been. She said if I was okay, she was leaving, but that I really needed to get my car off the road altogether; there were too many drivers who ran into people here.

Huisache tree bloomingI thanked her. As I waited for her car to move, I began crying in earnest. How many times had the concerned woman driven past the beautiful delicate-looking green of huisache branches dancing over the breeze? Had she passed golden huisache blooms thousands of times and never noticed them?

To me, this was the saddest thing of all.

*For more information about supporting native herbs in the landscape, visit The Herb Society of America’s GreenBridges™ Initiative website.

Photo Credits: 1) Huisache (Vachellia farinesiana) flowers (R. Cywinski); 2) Huisache tree in Alamo Defenders Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas (R. Cywinski); 3) Perfume by Guerlain containing huisache essential oil (public domain); 4) Mature and immature thorns (R. Cywinski); 5) Mature and immature seed pods (Creative Commons, Starr Environmental); 6) Huisache tree blooming and Diana Kersey Art on bridge over San Antonio River (R. Cywinski); 7) Huisache along roadway (R. Cywinski); 8) Huisache bordering the Ecumenical Center of San Antonio, Texas (R. Cywinski); 9) Huisache flowering boughs (R. Cywinski).

Medicinal Disclaimer: It is the policy of The Herb Society of America, Inc. not to advise or recommend herbs for medicinal or health use. This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation or an endorsement of any particular medical or health treatment. Please consult a health care provider before pursuing any herbal treatments. 

References

(1) Native Plant Project. https://www.nativeplantproject.com/. Accessed 8 October 2021.

(2) Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products. https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Acacia_farnesiana.html. Accessed 8 October 2021.

(3) Plants for a Future Database. https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Acacia+farnesiana. Accessed 8 October 2021.


Rachel Cywinski’s professional background is in journalism and mathematics education, including degrees in international business and business economics. She is a native plant enthusiast (with a special affinity for plant identification) and serves as a volunteer for the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in the San Antonio region and is a member of the Native Plant Society of Texas.

What Can One Person Do?

By Bonnie Porterfield

Darrow Road Park projected meadow signAs you drive along State Rt. 91 in Hudson, Ohio, you pass a community park, Darrow Road Park. As long as I’ve lived in Hudson (38 years), it’s just been there, nothing really to look at. An occasional pick up football game on the lawn near the parking lot and a few people using a trail, but nothing more notable, until this past year, when I noticed a sign posted near the parking lot with a picture of a beautiful meadow.

Around the same time, our local garden club put together member garden visits with limited numbers of attendees due to Covid. The featured garden that piqued my interest was a pollinator-friendly garden. What an inspiration! The owner had transformed her whole yard into a haven for all kinds of pollinators using native plants, trees, and shrubs. During the tour, she mentioned the Friends of Hudson Parks (FOHP) and described what they were doing with the Darrow Road Park to restore it as a pollinator meadow. This led me to the FOHP’s website for further information.

As it turns out, there was one woman with a strong interest in pollinators that got the ball rolling. She had attended programs by the Ohio Natural Areas and Preserves Association in 2019, as well as visited some previously restored native habitats. These were the inspiration for her idea of transforming Darrow Road Park into a more pollinator-friendly meadow that she brought before the Hudson Park Board. Her perseverance with the Park Board proved successful! This, in turn, led to a collaboration with the US Fish and Wildlife Private Land Division, the Hudson Park Board, and Friends of Hudson Parks.

Darrow Road Park meadow before June 2020After much work behind the scenes, the restoration of this 6-acre park began in June 2020, with the first phase consisting of removing native spring flowering plants. These plants found a temporary home in local gardens to be returned to the newly restored meadow in the spring of 2021.

During the following month, large woody invasive trees and shrubs, along with invasive grasses, were removed. FOHP members and community volunteers gathered in August and dug out hundreds of native plants amongst the invasive weeds and moved them to the Hudson Springs Park Monarch Waystation Garden. FOHP members also found monarch eggs in the field, which they hatched off site, and returned them to the milkweed plants at the Monarch Waystation Garden. Many of these eggs became caterpillars, formed chrysalises, and emerged to join the migration south.

Monarch Waystation signUS Fish and Wildlife biologists removed the remaining weeds and cold season grasses in August and September. Then in October, they tilled the meadow for late fall/early winter seeding. After the first frost, the meadow was “frost seeded” by the USFW biologist. (For a description of frost seeding, click here.) In early spring 2021, the field was mowed to cut back invasive grasses and to encourage native plant root growth. First growth from the 2020 frost seeding should be well under way. Since this is a 3-year project, the meadow will be managed under the direction of the USFW biologist.

Restoring this area to a more pollinator-friendly site will increase wildlife biodiversity and provide a beautiful meadow for wildlife and the surrounding community. In the future, as I drive past this park, I will enjoy the beauty of this new pollinator meadow and realize that one woman, with a group of like-minded individuals, can make a difference in our communities by bringing man and nature together to create amazing Green Bridges.

To learn more about The Herb Society of America’s GreenBridges™ Initiative, go to https://www.herbsociety.org/explore/hsa-conservation/greenbridges-initiative/greenbridges-initiative.html.

Photo Credits: 1) Darrow Road Park Projected Meadow sign; 2) Darrow Road Park “meadow” prior to June 2020; 3) Monarch Way Station sign. All photos courtesy of the author.


Bonnie Porterfield is a forty year Life Member of The Herb Society of America and a member of the Western Reserve Unit.  She has served in many roles during that time including two terms as Great Lakes District Delegate, Unit Chair, Co-Chair of the Western Reserve Unit’s first symposium and member of the GreenBridges™ and Library Advisory Committees.  She is an avid herb gardener, reader, learner and supporter of local efforts in reestablishing natural areas that promote native plantings.

Safe Passage for Plants & Pollinators: Building GreenBridges™

By Debbie Boutelier, HSA Past President & GreenBridgesTM Chair

It’s summer and the living is easy for our pollinators. There is an abundance of blooming plants from which to choose. A little here, a little there, moving pollen around from plant to plant and increasing the abundance. It’s glorious now, but come later in the year, it will not be as easy. Our little miracle workers will be struggling to get enough to eat.  I’m also reminded as I watch these miracle workers in action that all of this is threatened, and without our help a lot of the abundance may disappear forever. 

What can we do to ensure that these summer miracles continue? We can construct GreenBridgesTM that will provide places of respite and offer safe passage for our native plants and our pollinators. The Herb Society of America offers a program to do just that. Get involved in the GreenBridgesTM program to learn best practices for creating a sustainable habitat for our native plants and pollinators, learn to identify and grow native herbs that are unique to your region and will best support your region’s pollinators, and best of all, join a community of environmentally aware herb gardeners. 

Learn more about GreenBridgesTM on the HSA website by clicking on this link: https://www.herbsociety.org/explore/hsa-conservation/greenbridges-initiative/  Then, take the next step and get your garden certified as a GreenBridgesTM garden. The process is easy: complete the application found on the web site, attach a check to cover the cost of a plaque for your garden, and mail to HSA headquarters. Be sure to include some pictures of your garden to share with other members. Your plaque and a certificate will be mailed to you shortly after receipt of your application. 

Display the plaque in your garden to open conversations with your neighbors about the importance of providing healthy ecosystems for our plants and pollinators. Introduce your neighbors to the GreenBridgesTM program and invite them to become a certified garden also. Working together by connecting our gardens to our neighbor’s garden and then to community green spaces, we can effectively create GreenBridgesTM across the nation! Our plants, the pollinators, and we will be the beneficiaries of the healthy ecosystems we create.

In closing, I’d like to share a story about continuing to impress upon my granddaughter the importance of pollinators. A couple of weeks ago, my granddaughter and I were enjoying a beautiful early summer day in the garden. She loves to help me in the garden and today we were harvesting her favorite garden treat: blueberries! She remembers me telling her that without the bees pollinating the blueberries, she would not have this luscious treat. Now, when she sees bees hard at work, she no longer runs from them, but watches intently as they complete their work.  Her comment continues to be —”Go bees!” She loves her blueberries. Now she realizes that all of the other garden treats she enjoys are also the result of bees and other garden insects hard at work. So much fun to see nature through a child’s eyes and introduce the next generation to gardening with the purpose of protecting our native plants and pollinators!


A life-long lover of all aspects of gardening and nature, Debbie Boutelier’s interest in herbs and other edibles began in the early ’80s when she planted her first edible garden with vegetables and culinary herbs. Her interest rapidly grew into a vocation spanning the many different aspects of using herbs in everyday life, and incorporating organic techniques in everything she grows. After moving to Alabama, Debbie served as a County Extension Agent for a number of years. She is an Alabama Advanced Master Gardener and has studied the medicinal uses of herbs for many years, completing a three year intensive study of the medicinal aspect of herbs at the Appalachian Center of Natural Health. Debbie now teaches nationally and presents seminars and workshops on the many aspects of herbs, organic gardening, nutrition, and other garden related topics. Debbie’s herb passion has led to the creation of her small cottage herb business, Rooted in Thyme Apothecary. Debbie is a long-time member and past president of The Herb Society of America.

Turn Your Yard into Flowery Mead

Turn Your Yard into Flowery Mead

By Beth Schreibman-Gehring, Chairman of Education for The Western Reserve Herb Society unit of The Herb Society of America

Dandelion (1)I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those gardeners who see a perfectly manicured lawn and thinks to herself that there must be something more. Here in America, we seem to have an obsession with the pristine, green and weed free lawn, but is this is at all practical for the world we live in now? Lawn grass is the largest crop that we grow, and it serves no real purpose and requires so much water to keep it green and alive.

Lawns as we know them today began to appear in the 18th century England and France, when the trend began to move towards the large open landscape. A large swath of overly manicured green lawn with a deer park or a bowling green was seen as a sign of affluence, but today we are living in a world with completely different environmental challenges. Our pollinator populations are in peril and what makes sense is to find new ways of living sustainably in the natural world, adopting greener approaches to landscaping.

Sometimes it’s best to learn from the past. Consider allowing your lawn to revert to its original state of luscious and abundant variety or what medievalists would call a “flowery mead.” That would happen naturally if you stopped weeding and seeding.

First would come the dandelions and the sweet little flowers of chickweed and purslane would probably be next. Quickly you would begin to see small patches of flowers and different grasses and herbs begin to emerge in small patches and very quickly, all types of pollinators would begin to find them. It seems to happen like magic, but the biology is easy. Birds and small animals eat the flowers, herbs and fruits but the seeds are generally indigestible. As their droppings begin to be deposited in your lawn, these seeds begin to sprout and very quickly, a natural flowery meadow will begin to establish itself!

Untitled design (64)If you are quietly wondering if I’ve suddenly taken leave of my senses, you need look no further than the beautiful French tapestry named “Unicorn in Captivity”. The captured unicorn is sitting in the fenced paddock, surrounded by a sea of low growing flowers and herbs. That is a perfect example of a medieval “flowery mead,” or flowering meadow!

My father was an organic gardener who allowed his yard to evolve in this way and the results were truly beautiful. He turned the perimeter of his property into an English style border filled with historic roses, lilies, daisies, and many other flowers and herbs. Once his borders were well established, he allowed his lawn to be slowly transformed into the mead he desired. The result was a still a composed garden, but it was much wilder and very much alive.

My father was frustrated by the amount of work that it took to simply keep his lawn green and healthy every year. A grass lawn is a monoculture and by its very nature, not easily sustainable without a large quantity of human interference, excessive amounts of water, chemical pesticides, and herbicides. Dad’s gardening philosophy was that all plants needed different companions to thrive and his lawn was no exception to that rule. His thought was that left to its own, a lawn will revert quickly into a beautiful meadow, so why not help it along and at the same time support our pollinator friends? What started out as an amusing experiment turned into a romantic and beautiful green space. My father’s yard was always filled with the buzzing of honeybees, fluttering butterflies, and bird song.

He began by allowing plants to be naturally introduced into his lawn like violets and perennial pansies, little wild strawberries and sweet woodruff, bluebells, beautiful blue flax flowers, lady’s mantle, ground ivy, and buttercups. He had huge patches of lilies of the valley and beautiful swaths of coltsfoot everywhere.

IMG_7340He loved the dandelions and let them stay, knowing that they provided the first suppers for the bees every spring.

He allowed the chamomile and thyme to take off and spread. He let daisies spring up wherever and whenever they wanted. He had abundant amounts of multi-colored cosmos in his border that reseeded. With so many different plants his garden ecosystem easily remained strong and healthy. He had virtually no disease among his plants. On the rare occasion a plant would perish, others quickly replaced it.

If he were doing this today his yard would qualify for HSA’s GreenBridges™ certification. The GreenBridges™ Initiative creates opportunities for the safe passage of plants and pollinators and avoids habitat fragmentation. Each GreenBridges™ garden is a link in the chain across the nation, providing safe movement for the plants and pollinators that help maintain healthy ecosystems.

img_7341.jpgIf you are tired of trying to keep your lawn green and alive every summer, I encourage you to consider planting your very own wild garden. A wildflower meadow is a thing of beauty. An easy way to start is with a low-growing wildflower seed pack. I’ve had great luck simply scattering the seed, but it works even better if you can lightly loosen up the top 2 inches of soil where you want your meadow, toss the seed, and then cover them with compost and/or straw. Be sure to water frequently and soon you will be rewarded with a beautiful flowering meadow of your own. All you’ll need then is a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, some fruit, cheese a good book and thou…..

Just curious! Do you love or hate your lawn? Let me know in the comments!

Growing Native: What’s All the Fuss?

Growing Native: What’s All the Fuss?

By Rie Sluder, Guest Blogger, HSA Vice President * From the NorthEast Seacoast Unit newsletter Snippings

Queen Anne's Lace 2Exactly what is a native plant? To most people’s surprise the wildflowers that populate our road sides are not all native plants. Queen Anne’s lace, the ox-eye daisy, dame’s rocket, and common chicory were introduced to North America by early settlers. They escaped cultivation and have adapted to the environment so much so that they have become ubiquitous throughout New England and beyond. So exactly what is a native plant and why all the fuss?

Many define a native plant as a plant that was here before European settlement. It evolved over time with the other organisms in the area creating an ecosystem that is beneficial to all. In Grow Native: Bringing Natural Beauty to Your Garden, Lynn Steiner defines a native plant as a plant that is an integral part of a biotic community, establishing complex relationships with other local plants and animals.  Steiner points out that indigenous people lived in harmony with the natural ecosystem while the colonists did not. When settlers arrived, they chopped down the trees, ploughed the land and planted seeds from their homeland to replicate a lifestyle they had left behind. Many of these imported plants escaped cultivation and invaded the countryside changing the local habitat.

purple coneflowerOver time many native habitats were destroyed affecting the population of animals and insects that depended on them. The practice continues to this day. The decline in the Monarch butterfly population is an example of what happens when its natural habitat becomes threatened.

The plant industry often looks at plants as decoration only. Plants are chosen and developed because they are a particular size, color, have attractive leaf variegation or have double blooms. While this is pleasing to the eye and promotes sales, little thought is given to how it will impact the environment or the local wildlife. While we all want beautiful gardens we must realize that we do not live in isolation.

Growing natives helps to secure the biodiversity of our environment. Native plants attract pollinators which in turn help the plants produce seeds to replicate themselves. Having genetic diversity allows for new combinations of plants to form over time resulting in new adaptations that allow our planet to evolve and survive as climatic conditions change.

Another good reason to grow natives is that they are more sustainable to grow. They have developed a natural resistance to local insects and diseases and, therefore, need little if any intervention such as the use of pesticides. When grown in the proper conditions for a species, native plants thrive with less water and maintenance then many nonnative ornamental plants do. For many parts of the country having survived a drought last summer, this becomes an important asset.

goldenrodDeciding what to plant in your garden is a personal decision. If you want to go native, Steiner recommends that the best way to start is to integrate native plants with your established nonnative landscape plants. Choose plants that fit the conditions of your garden rather than trying to force them to adapt. A strong healthy plant is more resistant to insect infestations and to disease.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Database is a good resource to use to determine if a plant is native. You may discover that many of the plants that you already grow are native plants such as black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), bee balm (Monarda didyma), purple cone flower (Echinacea purpurea) sunflowers (Helianthus), lance leaf coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata), blazing star( Liatris spicata), lupine (Lupinus perennis), butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa L), and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum).

The Herb Society of America has two programs that support native conservation. The Native Herb Conservation Committee, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, identifies and promotes the use of native herbs. Its fact sheets and essential guides can be found on the website (www.herbsociety.org) under “Explore”. The 2017 Notable Native HerbTM is Solidago spp.

GreenBridgesLogo_LoThe second program offered by HSA is the GreenBridgesTM program which was created to secure safe passage of plants and pollinators by helping to prevent habitat fragmentation. Become a GreenBridgesTM partner by registering your garden with HSA. Details can be found on the HSA website .

New Signs Announce GreenBridges Garden Certification

Herb-garden-wSignBy Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

Among the various things I am planting in my garden this year is a GreenBridges Garden Certification sign. It’s attention-getting and, I hope, will spark discussion of its meaning. That way I can educate others on the importance of bees and other pollinators. And, maybe even inspire them to choose pollinator-friendly plants in their gardens.

GreenBridges SignThe 8.5- by 11-inch signs — developed by HSA’s editor/designer Brent Dewitt — are durable all-weather PVC. Carrying the new logo, these colorful signs are included in membership to to GreenBridges Certification.

The GreenBridges Program encourages native, pollinator-friendly gardens that offer safe passage and help avoid habitat fragmentation. Each GreenBridges garden is a link in the chain across the nation, providing safe movement for the plants and pollinators that help maintain healthy ecosystems.

Call me a bee-vangelist and I’ll wear the label proudly. While honey is a sweet product of bees, these busy little guys are important to agriculture as a whole. That’s because more than two-thirds of the food we eat depends on their role as pollinators. Alas, many bees, butterflies and other pollinators are suffering from loss of wildflower habitat, pesticide poisoning, and more. Imagine what that could mean to our food supply?!

Can’t imagine? Just google it and you’ll find more than you can read over lunch.

To qualify for the GreenBridges Program (and receive the sign) I’m saying “good-bye” to the wisteria vine that’s hiding my yellow siding and amping up my coneflower collection. When that’s in place I’ll fill in the HSA application with a description of my gardens and garden practices, pay a fee, join the movement and feel good.

Asheville’s Bee Charmer: Oh, Honey

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America

honey-store-1There’s a lot of buzz about bees lately. For good reason. Their populations are in jeopardy. And, that could lead to pollination problems, thus less produce, thus food supply issues. Using honey to build awareness, Jillian Kelly and Kim Allen are doing their part.

If you’re headed to HSA’s April 29 annual meeting, prepare for a sweet time at Jillian’s and Kim’s The Bee Charmer, 38 Battery Park Avenue downtown Asheville. You can belly up to the bar for a honey tasting similar to a winetasting. Sample honey from different states, countries and flowers – lavender, blackberry, sunflower, wild carrot.

As winemakers might say: Taste the terroir. The source location.

Sourwood honey — made from the flowers of a tree that grows in southeastern forests of the United States —  is a local specialty. Its characteristics are considered superior, by some, to clover, orange blossom, fireweed or any other honey.honey tasting

Behind the bar at The Bee Charmer your hostess will interpret what the tastebuds perceive. It goes far beyond sweetness and color. Flavor profiles can be boldly obvious. Taylor, our hostess for the trip, was an articulate guide.

  • Sage is herbaceous with a finish of tobacco and roses
  • Dandelion is grassy, and a bit like a French sancerre (sauvignon blanc)
  • Meadowfoam, my favorite, has a toasted marshmallow finish

I don’t want to stop. But, after 10 or so my palate is fatigued. Then, Taylor tells me about the “reserved” honeys, those which have sold out because of popularity or rareness. I’m recharged and holding out my tasting spoon.

That’s when I discover real gold – leatherwood honey from Tasmania. Like a fine wine, it has three movements. Up front it has big floral characteristic. The midnotes are leathery. And, the finish is light menthol. I want, especially because I can’t have it.

We walk out with lavender, meadowfoam and sourwood. Now, what will I do with so much honey?

Probably backtrack and start my own pollinator garden to keep these precious providers alive in a changing, challenging ecosystem.

Meanwhile I’ll be waiting for the cookbook being written by Jillian and Kim.


Tell us about your bee garden and plans for using honey.

ScottsMiracle-Gro Makes Pollinator Promise

By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, Herb Society of America

Bees lavenderI’m a dedicated supporter of small and local businesses. I buy organic, grass-fed, cage-free. I avoid corn syrup and hydrogenated fat. I advocate social responsibility and promote social justice.

Given my crunchy idealism, I sometimes, even unfairly, snub corporate America. I forget small movements turn into big movements that change the world. When big business seizes those opportunities we all benefit.

I was reminded of that in a previous blog post about seasoning giant McCormick & Co. going organic. Organic demand may have started small, but McCormick heard the demand and initiated the supply. And, thus, a considerable market shifts.

With that in mind, I applaud $3 billion gardening giant ScottsMiracle-Gro Company for its mid-December announcement of the “Pollinator Promise.” This is yearlong effort to improve consumer education about pollinators and promote backyard and urban habitats where pollinators thrive.

Sounds a lot like The Herb Society’s Green Bridges Program which shows members and others how to develop butterfly- and bee-friendly gardens. These create “green bridges” linking islands of habitat so critical pollinators can move safely around the country.

Scotts recognizes that bees, butterflies and other pollinators are critical to the sustainability of one-third of the planet’s food supply and the health of flower gardens. The company’s program also combats the loss of pollinator habitats and encourages new ones.

Following is the text of the company’s press release explaining the “promise” and funding effort to support it. Every effort helps.

The “Pollinator Promise” will fund the establishment of at least 50 pollinator gardens throughout the United States in 2016, as part of the company’s GRO1000 community gardening initiative.  The GRO1000 initiative, now in its sixth year, partners with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Pollinator Stewardship Council, and others, to promote the availability of grants for gardens and green spaces throughout the country.

“The importance of pollinators is unquestionable and it is easier than most people think to create a habitat where they can thrive,” says Jim King, senior vice president of corporate affairs at ScottsMiracle-Gro. “The Pollinator Promise is a year-long effort to help home gardeners and urban planners understand the critical role these creatures play in our ecosystem and to provide them the tools necessary to grow successful pollinator gardens.”

ScottsMiracleGro.com/PollinatorPromise provides online answers to common questions about backyard pollinator gardens.

“We are calling upon individual gardeners and communities to help reverse the downward population trend by restoring the natural habitat bees and butterflies need to survive,” says Michele Colopy, program director of the Pollinator Stewardship Council.

To join the effort, non-profit organizations can submit a grant application by February 22 for up to $1,500 in funding.