Native bees are an essential component to our natural environment and our very existence. Without their services as pollinators many plant species would not be able to reproduce and productivity of our agricultural food crops would suffer. Australian native bees are able to pollinate many of our fruits and vegetables in our home gardens, along with pollinating many of local flowering flora.
Our native bee populations are under threat as more of our natural vegetation is cleared for development and the use of pesticides increases. We do not want to lose our natural ecosystems like much of America and Europe has.
I remember being shocked and disheartened after watching a show on ABC television showing how the almond industry in America was dependent upon the importation of bees from Australia to provide pollination services to allow for the nut to be produced. The almond tree dominated the landscape as far as the eye could see and further. Monoculture and the use of pesticides created an environment where bees could not survive past the flowering period of the almond trees. It was particularly sad watching on the TV an Australian beekeeper loading his bees onto a Jumbo jet bound for America virtually in tears as he was explaining he was sending his bees to certain death.
In Australia we are fortunate to still have natural environments. We all have a responsibility to preserve and enhance our natural environment for future generations. At Wariapendi this preservation and enhancement is our main function and we are passionate about achieving this. It is our main business plan to provide quality products and expertise to the community to achieve this goal.
Many native plants attract our indigenous bees. These include grevilleas, native daphne, westringias, wattles, bottlebrushes and tea trees. The greater variety of flowers we grow the greater the diversity of bees we will attract. There are over 200 different native bees found in the Sydney basin and its environs.
Our favourite plant genera for assisting indigenous bees are tea trees. (Leptospermum species). Not only are they important for the survival of bees, the medicinal honey produced from them is taking the world by storm. Recent research shows that some of our local species (such as Leptospermum polygalifolium) are far superior to the well-known and marketed Manuka honey that is derived from Leptospermum scoparium
Tea trees for bush bees
Tea trees are particularly important for the survival of our native bush bees. Our indigenous bees get up late in the morning compared to the industrious European bee that has a very early start to the day. By the time the bush bee is active harvesting there is often very little pollen left by the exotic bees. Fortunately the exotic bees find it very difficult to harvest all the pollen produced within the tea tree flower, thus there is always some left for our native bees.
There are 86 recognised species of Leptospermum and of these, 81 are endemic to Australia. Apart from being a food source for a wide variety of bees, tea trees have many uses from oils to medicinal purposes, so it makes sense to have a few in your garden.
As well as being a habitat staple for plantings, the humble tea tree can be used for screening, hedging, and in windbreaks. It is particularly useful for providing food and habitat for small birds. Regardless of how it is incorporated, it makes a spectacular statement in any landscape.
Many people wrongly believe tea trees are short lived, prone to insect attack and are unattractively woody. They are actually very long lived, with insects only being a problem in those gardens that lack biodiversity and plenty of birds for natural insect control. Like most plants they will also not be woody if given some green thumb care such as watering, pruning and fertilising.
There are many different species and cultivars available to satisfy a diverse variety of environmental conditions or design requirements, making them a very versatile plant. They come in many different foliage and flower colours creating a very captivating visual effect. Heights and sizes vary amongst the species and cultivars. This makes the Leptospermum an incredibly adaptable species, one to be considered for all landscapes, big or small.
A few of my favourite tea trees are:
Leptospermum ‘Daydream‘ A medium upright shrub with light green foliage with vibrant bright red-purple flower colour. An ideal screening plant that tolerates damp as well as dry soils.
Leptosperum ‘Tickled Pink’ A beautiful upright medium shrub with small mid-green leaves. It produces a flourish of showy pink flowers in spring, which make great cut flowers.
Leptospermum ‘Pink Cascade’ An incredibly hardy prostrate variety with pastel pink flowers. This species of tea tree is a select form of the Manuka honey producing Leptospermum scoparium.
Leptospermum ‘Copper Glow’ Beautiful copper coloured foliage to create amazing contrast in all planting situations. It produces a mass of white flowers in spring.
Leptospermum ‘ White Wave’ An attractive, dwarf shrub that is easy to maintain and useful as a ground cover or cascading over retaining walls and banks. It gets masses of white flowers during spring.
Leptospermum ‘Rudolph’A fast growing medium shrub and features purplish new foliage growth and large pink to red flowers in summer rather than spring as for most tea trees. They tolerate a moist soil
Leptospermum polygalifoliumThis plant has been used as garden plant for many years, both as a specimen planting and in conjunction with other plants in-group plantings. It is hardy and can be relied on to produce a good display of flowers in early spring. It is also easily shaped into a hedge
Leptospermum obovatumAn erect shrub or small tree with small bee attracting creamy white flowers during spring, tolerates a moist soil. Frost hardy.